Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Secret History

Looking south from the Great Lawn in Central Park towards the ever-changing Manhattan skyline. 3:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015. Beautiful, sunny day and a beautiful night in New York also with temperatures hovering around a very mild 70. Not like late Spring exactly, or Indian Summer, but not like November in the Northeast also.

I went to lunch at Swifty’s with Susan Cheever, the author of biographies of “E. E. Cummings,” “American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau – Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work” which is about all of those famous American authors, all of whom lived in and around Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-19th Century, and “My Name is Bill” about the man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous.
Susan Cheever.
She has also written five novels and four memoirs, including the first one which I have in my library, “Home Before Dark.” Susan comes from a writer’s family, including her father John Cheever. She also teaches writing at the New School.

Susan has a brand new book out called “Drinking in America; A Secret History.” Liz Smith gave the book a rave review a couple of weeks ago in her column which is featured on the NYSD. Susan is a neighbor of mine – she lives a block away on East End Avenue – and we share several mutual friends. We also run into each other not infrequently while walking our dogs, or on our way to and from the local Gristede’s. 

Click to order "Drinking in America: Our Secret History."
However, we’ve never sat down to have a conversation tete-a-tete, as we did yesterday. Two things: we arranged this lunch because she’d sent me a copy of “Drinking in America: Our Secret History” and I thought I’d interview her about it.

I hadn't yet cracked the book. I picked it up to read at least a few pages before our meeting. After I finished the intro, I was only sorry that I had a lunch date because I wanted to continue on this fascinating history of our relationship to booze, the history of our relationship (going back to the Pilgrims) and the part drinking plays in all our lives, and has always played in American lives and American history.

It’s not a sad or tortured book but instead a compelling story about US (us). So I’ll finish it this weekend – not out of respect for my highly respected writer friend but because I can’t resist the story. Did you know that John Wilkes Booth was plastered the night he shot Mr. Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, and that before the actual assassination he was across the street in a bar drinking with the President’s bodyguard?!

And that when he exited the theater, those who saw him remembered him because he stunk of booze? And you may or may not know that when it gets that bad, the imbiber has departed consciousness for a drunken state of blitz? More on this next week when I’ve read it all.

In the meantime, Swifty’s was busy and at the end of the lunch Ashley Schiff Ramos and her mother Lisa Schiff (it was her birthday) and Joy Ingham and Barbara Carroll  who were celebrating with their friend came by our table on the way out. Hence the picture.
Joy Ingham, Lisa Schiff, and Ashley Schiff.
I started out early in the evening at the shop of Liz O’Brien, who has an atelier in fields of collecting in the decorative arts at 306 East 61st Street between First and Second Avenues. She was hosting an opening of a collection photographs by Mark Shaw of a woman named Joan Morse, who had a shop on the Upper East Side in the 1970s called A La Carte. Morse was known as “Tiger” Morse in those days, a kind of Warhol-related character.

I only knew of Morse back then because Blair Sabol (who writes NYSD’s “No Holds Barred”) wrote a weekly column in the Village Voice called “Outside Fashion” in which she wrote a piece called “How To Get Waited on At Bloomgindale’s.”  In those days Bloomingdale’s was the center of retail shopping in New York. It was, a mecca, where thousands, men and women, visited frequently, even daily just to see what was up and what was new. It was so busy that it was famously often difficult to find someone to wait on you.
I made a quick stop first at John Rosselli's gallery for a book party for Robert Kime, interior decorator, antique dealer, textile collector where I ran into Lisa Fine and her friends Alison Levasseur and Roxanne Ingoe. Click to order.
In her piece, Blair wrote that Tiger Morse’s way of getting a sales person’s attention at Bloomie’s was to: dress up in a cowgirl suit – hat, skirt with fringe, holster and gun, cowgirl boots, and jump up on a counter and yell, “Where the fuck’s the manager??!!” Evidently it worked.

That’s all I knew about Tiger Morse until last night when I stopped by to see the Mark Shaw photographs which was a series he did for LIFE Magazine of Morse in 1962 on one of her buying trips to Thailand. Interestingly, there was no Dale Evans business about her in these photos. She was smartly dressed in the style of the day, and chic, and game to take it all in. I took a couple of photos of the photos to give you an idea.
Joan "Tiger" Morse photographed by Mark Shaw.
Morse shopping in Bangkok, trying on a special headdress -- maybe for her shop A La Carte, photographed by Shaw.
Joan moving through the shopping area via special transportation.
From Liz O’Brien’s shop I moved on to the Plaza where the American Hospital of Paris Foundation was holding its annual award gala and honoring Ezra Zilkha, the international financier and philanthropist. I couldn’t spend the evening but wanted to get a photo of Ezra and his wife Cecile Zilkha. My timing was off; it was during the cocktail hour before the dinner and Ezra was in the ballroom going over his speech.
Cecile Zilkha at the Plaza last night.
There was a large contingent of Francophiles, philanthropists and friends of the Zilkhas including former US Ambassador to France, Howard Leach and his wife Gretchen, Michel David-Weill, Claude Wasserstein, Violane and John Bernbach, Vernon Jordan, Lily Safra, John and Susan Gutfreund, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, Beatriz Santo Domingo. I did get a shot of Mrs. Zilkha however, and we’ll have more on it in our Party Pictures in the next few days.
From the corner of Central Park South looking across Fifth Avenue.
The Plaza, with Bergdorf Goodman to the left and the Crowne Building (on the corner of 57th and Fifth Avenue directly behind it), and Number 9 West 57th behind the Plaza.
From the Plaza I went over to the Metropolitan Club where the International Women’s Health Coalition was hosting its annual dinner where they were honoring The Ford Foundation for its founding support of the IWHC and its “deep commitment to human rights, equality, and reproductive health.” Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundaton, spoke about the foundation’s important relationship with the IWHC.
Heading for the Metropolitan Club at 7:30 p.m. for the IWHC dinner.
The cocktail reception before the dinner.
The dining room of the Metropolitan Club just before guests took their seat.
Darren, as you may have read here before, is one of the most distinguished citizens in New York and in the world of philanthropy, and a great friend to many. His connection to the Ford Foundation and its mission – as a beneficiary, grantee, and grant maker has spanned his life.

Born in Louisiana and brought up by a single mother in Goose Creek, Texas Darren was a member as a child in 1965 as a member of Head Start’s inaugural class. He attended the University of Texas where Pell grants and scholarships helped finance his college and law school – both programs of which, coincidentally, were Ford Foundation funded pilot initiatives.
Marlene Hess, Darren Walker, and Francoise Girard.
Francoise Girard, President of the IWHC and a leading expert on women's health, human rights, sexuality, and HIV and AIDS. Ms. Girard, an impassioned leader, is regularly consulted by governments and UN agencies and collaborates closely with women's groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America to advance national policies on issues such as preventing child, early, and forced marriage, promoting comprehensive sexuality education and ensuring access to safe and legal abortion.
As head of the foundation, he oversees more than $12 billion in assets, $500 million in grants. He also serves on the boards of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Friends of the High Line, New York City Ballet and is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The evening also honored Pinar Ilkkaracan who received the Joan B. Dunlop Award. Ms. Ilkkaracan is the founding president of Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Way. Ms. Ilkkaracan is a leading women’s rights activist and research based in Turkey. She has also founded several organizations, including the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies, a network of 45 academic and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. She is also co-founder of the Berlin Initiative against Violence against Women (BIG) and AZREA, the International Association against War Crimes against Women.
Marlene Hess, Chair of the IWHC Board of Directors, and Nancy MIssett.
Joan Dunlop, for whom the award was named, was the first president of IWHC from 1984 to 1998. She is credited with extending the organization’s work globally and shaping its crucial role in global policy development. The award in her name is presented annual to a “deserving activist working to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in developing countries.” The award provides well-deserved support and recognition to activists who work under difficult circumstances to fight for the right of women and girls to control their fertility and bodies.
On the walk up Madison Avenue on my way home, I passed a distinguished woman in the Hermes window.

Photographs by DPC.

Contact DPC here.