Very Warm For May

Family picnic in the park. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Very Warm For May. That was a Broadway show written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II which opened in November 1939 at the Alvin Theater which is now the Neil Simon Theater on West 52nd Street.

(Details: the theater’s original name came from two producers ALvin Aarons and VINton Freedley. Fred and Adele Astaire opened it in 1927 with “Funny Face” by George and Ira Gershwin. Ethel Merman made her Broadway debut and became a star overnight three years later in the Gershwins’ “Girl Crazy.” Now you know.)

Anyway, New York theatre history aside, I woke up yesterday morning thinking of that title because I’d read the night before that warm was in the forecast, and I was wondering if May were warm or cold back in the day (1939). Well yesterday the temp was 81 and the “real feel” was 91. Humidity. The stark reality. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting another scorcher this summer and another hurricane in New York. I don’t read the Farmer’s Almanac but my friend Pax does. Drama everywhere. And heat. Yesterday was too warm in my book of favorite temps. However.
On my way to lunch over on Madison Avenue and 82nd Street yesterday, I passed this spiffy townhouse where the hydrangeas had just been delivered. When I was returning from the lunch, they been signed and sealed too. And beautiful.
Helen and her little brother DPC on Easter Sunday of her 17th year.
Today is the birthday of both of my sisters who were born on this day six years apart. My eldest sister, Helen, who is celebrating her 87th today, has been looking after her little brother, like a second mother, all of his life. She moved out of the house to get married before I was of school age, and she had her first child (a son) when I was six.

But because our mother worked, much of Helen’s new family married life time was shared with me. My sister Jane, though older than I, is still at the age where she’d prefer to keep the number to herself. There comes a time when most of us feel that way. Either way, I was lucky to have them as sisters.

Yesterday I went to lunch with an old friend from Los Angeles whom I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. She was in town briefly and I met her for lunch on Madison Avenue near the Met. 

The flowers we’ve been photographing for the past couple of weeks are now getting to their end. Yesterday’s heat probably helped. I got a shot of some hydrangeas being added to someone’s front stoop in the East 80s. At the same time, JH was in Central Park working his magic lens recording the last of the first Spring blooming.
Vanitas by JH ...
Yesterday afternoon Betty Sherrill died. I don’t know the details except that I know she was in her 90s. Although up until recently she was still going into the office which came as a surprise to no one who knew her.

I’d known Betty for almost 25 years. Betty was a force. I met her when I first came back to New York and started writing these social columns.  She was president of McMillen, the decorating firm. Sometime back then, the firm was celebrating its 75th Anniversary, and she invited me over to their offices to see all the photographs of their (rich and) famously prestigious clientele over those years.
Betty with husband Virgil.
She was Old School – a term that has outlived its meaning in the land of No School. There were rules; a code of behavior. They was followed. She was a Southern girl from New Orleans or thereabouts. She came to New York like a lot of us to make her way in life. And yes she did. She still had some of that Southern drawl in her sentences all those years later, and with it she could say the most trenchant things in an offhand, almost lazy/daisy way, and you got the message.

Three generations of Sherrills: Betty with daughter Ann Pyne and grandaughter Elizabeth Pyne.
She always spoke her mind (or said nothing – which I’ll bet was always hard for her). She had decided opinions, and expressed them. But she was a lady, which meant she was respectful and kind in her methods. Mrs. Brown who had owned McMillen took her on even though Betty admitted she “knew nothing” about interior decorating. What Mrs. Brown probably saw was what anyone who ever met Betty saw: she’d find a way.

She and her husband Virgil (who was an investment banker) lived here in New York at One Sutton Place South (when I knew her) and a lovely house in Southampton which Stanford White designed for Elihu Root, a New York lawyer, who was in Secretary of War under McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and later Senator from New York (he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912). There in their younger years they entertained the smart young social crowd of Southampton summers mid-20th century including Anne and Henry Ford II and Gary and Rocky Cooper.

She had two children, a son and a daughter, both of whom she was very proud (her daughter Ann Sherrill Pyne joined the firm about a decade ago, as has Betty’s granddaughter Elizabeth). She was a career mother long before it was fashionable for society women to work. She was a child of tradition obviously, and although I never asked her, I’d guess she was a “conservative” politically. But there was a side of her that was in touch with the times (coupled with a side of her that was uninterested in what other people thought).

One of our earliest HOUSE interviews was done with Betty (with a subsequent interview with her daughter Ann) about ten years ago. I re-read it last night and decided that Betty can tell you best about herself in this interview, so we’re running it again in tribute to the plucky lady who knew what she wanted and achieved it. Betty, as you will soon see, didn’t need anybody to explain her.
Last night in New York, the American Ballet Theatre’s opened its 2014 Spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House opens with the annual Spring Gala benefit.  Sponsored by LANVIN, the evening featured ABT’s renowned Principal Dancers in preview performances from the eight-week season. 

Michelle Obama served as Honorary Chair. I’m not sure if Mrs. Obama was there; I didn’t see her and heard no one referring to her. The Gala co-chairs were Emily Blavatnik, Nina Rennert Davidson, Nancy McCormick, Kalliope Karella Rena, Mary Elizabeth Snow and Monica G-S Wambold.
The principal dancers of the second half of last night's performance in the Metropolitan Opera House of the American Ballet Theatre's annual Spring Gala. The evening on stage was a Wowser.
Vice Chairs for the evening included Cecile Andrau-Martel, Valentino Carlotti, Donna and Richard Esteves, Susan Feinstein, Victoria Phillips, Martin and Toni Sosnoff and b.  Junior Co-Chairs for the evening were Sarah Arison, Julia Spillman-Gover and Mark Tashkovich.

A portion of the proceeds from the Spring Gala will support ABT’s education and community outreach programs. These are very important because they give children the opportunity to find about something that can enhance their lives, a rare element in these harried times. Also a rare antidote for angst that seems to envelop the world these days. What you see on stage, undeniably, is the beauty of the work of artists, dancers, composers, musicians, set and costume designers and the brilliant musicians. And it’s reality; that’s the awesome part.
The Met Opera House letting out after the performance of the American Ballet Theatre, last night about 9:30 p.m.
I was never a fan of the ballet. Not because I knew it and had rejected it, but because I had no idea what it really required to accomplish, and how extraordinary the performers are in achieving their goals. I’ve learned this over the years on this beat beginning with the ABT, the New York City Ballet and the extraordinary School of American Ballet and the Jacqueline Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

If you love music, and if you love dancing, you see what these dedicated dancers (many of whom start at age four and five) are able to achieve. From the schools, you are able to see what the rigors of learning to dance provide to everyone who participates: dedication, commitment, focus, and discipline. All of the students of ballet develop these qualities early in life, giving them a head start with any education, and capability with any pursuit.
The view looking east from the Met Opera House, with Avery Fisher Hall on the left, and the David Koch Theater on the right.
The evening began with a cocktail reception at 5:30. I couldn’t make that early hour. It was a black tie evening for those hundreds attending the dinner after the performances.  The performances featured selections from the 2014 season’s full-length ballets including Don Quixote, Cinderella, Coppélia, La Bayadère, The Dream, Giselle and Manon; Kylián’s Nuages and excerpts from Gaîté Parisienne.

Last night’s performances kept the audience in their thrall. The evening opened with a performance by students from The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. They call it the JKO School. The program lasted for about two hours with one intermission, as well as a few minute pause after each performance. Afterwards, the gala guests moved to the tent set up in Damrosch Park next to the Metropolitan Opera House for dinner.
 

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