Thursday, August 22, 2013

Traveling Eye

Blue Moon. 12:30 AM. Photo: Jeffrey Hirsch.
Thursday, August 22, 2013. Very warm, yesterday in New York; and sunny. Traffic was much lighter in midtown. The cabbies told me that it was because everything’s quieting down pre-Labor Day weekend. Next week Michael’s will be closed on Friday.

Yesterday Michael’s was busy but not the chatter/clatter you usually get in the mid-week pandemonium. At Table One, Norah Lawlor was hosting a lunch with Christopher Pape, the editor of The Resident — a local metropolitan paper that is distributed in the residential areas of the city. Also at table was Ernie Anastos, John Shavins and Jonathan Cheban.

Cheban and Kardashian.
The watch.
Mr. Anastos has an idea for a new news show, a “positive” news show. He’s had enough bad news. Like the rest of us, no? The question begs: will a new show of “positive” stories change things, or will we just be kidding ourselves?

Mr. Cheban — if his name is sounding familiar but you can’t place it — is a close associate of the Kardashians, the reality-TV tycoons. He made headlines all over the world earlier this week because he was seen in the Hamptons last weekend wearing a gold watch that cost $500,000. (“Positive news”) And someone almost tried to steal it. (Not so positive). Or almost stole it. Or tried. Something.

All this while Mr. Cheban was having a lovely surf ‘n’ turf while lunching at one of the million dollar coffee shops out there. Mr. Cheban’s sartorial splendor, ironically, begins and ends with his half million dollar wrist bling. But that’s the fashion these days: bling ‘n’ blah.

Eye traveling around the room: Gerry Bryne; Jimmy Finkelstein; Joe Armstrong with Patricia Duff; Sanford & Stein; Tom Rogers with Andrea Miller of Your Tango; Bob Barnett; Malcolm Macpherson; Jim Abernathy; Nancy Cardone; Barbara Tober (with this writer); Risa Drabinsky; Peter Gregory; Barry Frey; Katherine Farley with Nicole Seligman; Peter Price with Bob Bradford. Bob’s super-best-selling novelist wife Barbara Taylor Bradford has just handed in her latest manuscript to her publishers in London; Hugh Freund; Elihu Rose; Newell Turner of Hearst; Steven Rubenstein with Peter Lattman, Kelly Langberg; Chris Meigher of Quest; Cindi Berger; David Verklin with Maury Rogoff; Ted Moncrieff with Lynn Hirschberg; Andrew Stein; Rob Weisbach; Neil Lasher; Shelly Palmer; Philippe Salomon.

Today on the NYSD we’re publishing the 27th  (and what may be the final) chapter of the great photo archive of Ellen Glendinning Ordway. If you haven’t seen them, and you love vintage photographs of life in American society in the 20th century, do have a look, this is a treasure trove.

Mrs. Ordway was a committed amateur photographer. Over the decades from the late 1920s through the late 1960s, she took thousands of photos of her friends, their houses, their trips, and their parties, and meticulously catalogued them in photo albums.

Bailey's Beach. The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. September 16, 1962.
Bailey's Beach. John F. "John-John" Kennedy. Jr. Newport. August, 1964.
Each segment represents a photo diary of this woman’s life. It was a life of almost total leisure. Her social circle was wide and international but many members of it were people she knew all her life, even since childhood. That was the basic nature of society in this country. 

A Philadelphian who always wintered in Palm Beach where her parents built a house in the early '20s, she married twice. Her second husband Lou Ordway, was son of a founder of 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing).

Life was simple in its leisure. Women openly smoked and drank at table. It was a generation that no doubt had cosmetic surgery although you can see by the faces that the pursuit was less intense so that women looked like themselves rather than many others.

Last week’s edition featured a shot of John F. Kennedy Jr. (known to the world as John-John) as a toddler at Bailey’s Beach Club in Newport. Several editions back, there was a very rare photo of President John F. Kennedy also at Bailey’s Beach wearing nothing but swim trunks – not unusual but unusual  to be photographed.

In today’s we meet Nancy Lancaster, the famous British interior decorator who was an (American) niece of Nancy Astor. Mrs. Ordway attends the christening of the little baby Cornelia Guest in Palm Beach. I don’t think Cornelia’s ever seen these pictures, so she’ll be seeing them for the first time on NYSD. There’s the erstwhile famous maestro Thomas Schippers, considered a wunderkind of an orchestra conductor in the 1960s.

Schippers had made his debut at the New York City Opera when he was 21 (1951) and at the Met two years later. Movie star handsome, in his mid-thirties he married the beautiful young heiress, Nonie Phipps (whose parents and their Palm Beach house) are featured in this edition.
Tom Schippers and Nonie Phipps Schippers.
At the outset the Phipps-Schippers was one of the most publicized marriages of the decade. They were a glamorous culture/society couple. Schippers founded the famous Spoleto Festival in Italy with Gian Carlo Menotti. While he was known (in his set) to be gay although it was a time when the subject was never mentioned publicly outside of gay circles. However, Mrs. Schippers died of cancer only eight years after they married, in 1973. Thomas Schippers succumbed to the same cancer four years later.

Also featured in today’s is another popular and young musician and orchestra leader of the day, Peter Duchin who was married to his first wife, Cheray Zauderer.
Peter and Cheray Duchin.
Travel played a big part in the life of leisure that many of Mrs. Ordway’s  friends shared. She goes everywhere with them, and with her camera, and doesn’t miss a building or a house or a site that has significance either personally or universally. She visits Lyford Cay in the Bahamas and stays in one of the villas at the Lyford Cay Club. She visits an old friend, a lifelong explorer Suydam Cutting. She goes to Paris and visits the American Ambassador, and to Florence to attend Spoleto. She visits Pompeii and photographs the surviving murals. Estee Lauder invites her to a dinner she is giving for her friends, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (black tie).

Unintentionally Mrs. Ordway became, in retrospect, an excellent photo-diarist of an age (early to mid-20th century America). Hers was a world of one and two degrees of separation for the rich, the powerful and the celebrated. The leisure class lived comfortably and well, even grandly at times. But it was not notable for its extravagance.
Miss Bey, Cornelia Guest, Woolworth "Wooly" Donahue, and his fourth wife, former Super Circus star Mary Hartline Carlson Donahue.
There was a code of behavior that the entire country, all social strata, lived by. Sunday dinner at the family dinner table, for example; also the perfunctory courtesy in one-to-one public relationships; the dress code for men and for women, and for children. It rendered a more conforming world but one that was safer than today’s.

People didn’t lock their doors (not all people of course), no matter where they lived. No doubt in Palm Beach, there was definite security for certain families, but back then Palm Beach was not unlike many small towns across America where “security” meant money in the bank and enough to cover your rent forever. People owned guns but no one talked about it. Many were neurotic and unhappy with whatever troubled them, but there were far fewer prescription drugs, so behavior was key to everyone’s daily life.

Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway demonstrates these realities of 20th century American life in her great archive.

Ellen Glendinning Ordway's photographs are from the Gayle Abrams Collection.

Contact DPC here.