Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Flaming June; and Judy

Guests enjoying the Fifth Avenue Garden at the Frick Collection's annual Spring Garden Party for Fellows.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Yesterday was another beautiful day in New York; almost like an LA day in June – overcast in the morning and burning off in the afternoon. Very warm but not humid.

Sounds of summer. At 8 o’clock in the evening, with my terrace door open, I could hear the motor of the ice cream truck in the street below, still parked and idling since mid-afternoon, catching the neighbors who had hit the Park after dinner and now returning home with a treat.

The Gumm Sisters, a.k.a. The Garland Sisters, circa 1935. From left to right: Mary Jane, Frances Ethel (Judy Garland) and Dorothy Virginia Gumm.
Today is the 93rd anniversary of the birth of Judy Garland born on this day in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Born in a trunk or something as legendary, as Frances Ethel Gumm, the youngest of the singing sisters who was put to work performing by the time she was four. Six or eight years later she was in Hollywood and on the brink of what would become a legendary talent.

There have been many who are well apprised of such matters who claim Judy Garland was the greatest talent  in the history of the movies. She could sing, she could dance, she could act and could play comedy, all very well. However, as anyone who is familiar with her talent, it’s the singing. She was forty-seven when that talent died just twenty days after her birthday, on June 22, 1969. Washed up and drug- and booze-ridden, a sad sad tale of Dame Fortune.

I've known a number of people who worked with her from early in her career, beginning with Lillian Burns Sidney who (as Lillian Burns) was the acting coach at MGM in 1938 when Judy was first under contract to the studio. Besides her work with actors, Lillian was a powerful influence with the mogul himself, Mr. Mayer. She had a critical and shrewd eye for talent, but Judy surpassed all of her expectations with her talent to amaze as well as amuse. The performance was pure thrill.

Click to order Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me."
Summer reading. A couple of weeks ago, someone sent me a new book – “Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + Me;  A Memoir” (St. Martins Press) by Stevie Phillips. Ms. Phillips is a well known talent agent who began her career at the beginning of the 1960s working for David Begelman and Freddie Fields, two super agents who were charting a comeback (not the first) for Garland.  Ms. Phillips was hired to baby-sit the star.

I opened it just to see “what fresh hell” (as Dorothy Parker once said -- and wrote) Stevie Phillips could bring to what everybody knows turned into a sopping tale of woe. Judy Garland’s woe. I wasn’t planning on reading the whole book. There was a time way back, however (teenage), when I’d have plunged into it inhaling every morsel of OMG that the star’s behavior had to offer her victims of sympathy.

But Stevie Phillips has a little bit of the Raymond Chandler in her exposition. It’s a New York kid’s experience and she talks the language. She wanted to be a talent agent from the time she was a very young girl growing up in the Bronx. And she came to the big chance when she was hired by Begelman and Fields to work their phones or some other office job. Taking what she could get, she serendipitously ended up looking after their temperamental star on her greatest comeback.
The author loved show business and still loves show business but Judy Garland gave her a lesson in “behind the scenes” that you’ll never forget if you read this book. It’s lurid, it’s gritty; Garland was – by this time in her life – a mess, a goner, long gone, done in by decades of pill habits laid on her when she was very young, and remaining in residence ever after. Her behavior off-stage was often outrageous in ways that could easily be regarded as insane. Her temperament was so discombobulated that she could “fly to extremes by impossible means” frequently and messily. And yet, and yet ...

No small wonder, Stevie Phillips got so she couldn’t stand the woman. However, the woman, a nemesis became the cornerstone of a very successful career as a talent agent, and the learning of the ropes and the ways of the (show business) world; and she takes you along for the ride. Garland’s story is a turgid one except when she got up there to sing, and then baby, it was an artistry that soared, and it was jam-packed with the experience of being This Person. And the audience got the message in raptures.
For those who love show-business biographies, this is excellent; a primer for those interested. If Nathanael West or Scott Fitzgerald were writing today, they, like Raymond Chandler would get the picture Stevie Phillips re-constructs. It’s hardnosed with a real soft spot just the same. And not easy to turn away (so you turn the page).

Her bosses, Begelman and Fields rewarded Phillips for her patience in dealing with the outrageous fortune of Garland’s comeback: they made her an agent and she was left babysitting Liza, then twelve or thirteen and on her own (Judy was taping her CBS Sunday shows), and not long after became Liza’s agent, launching Liza’s career. Working with Liza, incidentally, was the opposite of dealing with Liza’s mother. The names in the title are  Judy, Liza, David Begelman, Freddie Fields, Robert Redford, Sue Mengers.
Stevie Phillips and Liza.
On a calmer, more serene note.  This past Monday night the Frick Collection hosted its annual Spring Garden Party for Fellows. This year’s theme was inspired by the Frick’s highly anticipated exhibition of Sir Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June which is now on view in the Oval Room. This is the first time this famous painting – painted in 1895, and on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico – has been on view in New York City.

The evening began with guests congregating outside in the beautiful Fifth Avenue Garden, which is rarely open to visitors, and was in full bloom, landscaped with orange trees and seasonal flowers. Wine and specialty cocktails with Belvedere vodka were served along with a variety of seasonally inspired hors d’oeuvres and the music of noted jazz quartet The Flail.
Flaming June, by Frederic Lord Leighton, 1895.
Orange was the color of the night, like the flaming lady, and many guests’ fashion choices were inspired by the painting: its varied hues appeared everywhere on dresses, jackets, pocket squares, scarves and ties! Others dressed in bright florals and bold colors, accented with fresh flower headpieces or boutonnieres echoing the flowering plants in the garden and the dramatic floral arrangements placed throughout the event spaces.

As the sun set over Central Park, the Fellows and their guests moved inside where people could visit the museum’s permanent collection and special exhibition galleries and, for the first time, had access to a substantial portion of the mansion’s second-floor spaces, which remained open throughout the evening. After that, The Bob Hardwick Sound led the call and kept everyone, of all ages, on the dance floor until the evening’s end.
Servers with wine and the evening's specialty cocktails made with Belvedere Vodka.
The Flail.
Guests in the Fifth Avenue Garden.
Frick Director Ian Wardropper, Alejandra Peña Gómez, Director of the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Frick board member Juan Sabater, Frick board Member Barbara Fleischman, Mariana Sabater, Frick Board president Margot Bogert, Associate European Art Curator at the Museo de Arte de Ponce Pablo Pérez d'Ors, Frick Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon, and Andrea Cavaggioni.
Allison Ecung and Maurice Gritzalis.
Sara Gilbane Sullivan and Jay Sullivan.
Lacary Sharpe, Sarah Flint, Kate Horvitz, and Christina Eberli. Polina Proshkina.
Marc Lewinstein, Catherine Blessing, and Andrew Shore.
Bill Williams and Barbara Reuter.
Frick board member Emily Frick and Robert Froelich.
Elizabeth Stafford and Thomas Knapp. Frick Director Ian Wardropper and Sarah McNear.
Allison Ecung, Allison Young, and Nicole DiCocco.
Emily Rafferty, Rob Freeman, Inge Reist and Stephen Geiger.
Caitlyn Frank, Andy Pickens, and Samantha Cohen. Scott Asher and Lucy Jane Lang.
Jerry Ann and Victor Costa.
Patrick Verdonck, Lara Devgan, Scott Asher, and Lucy Jane Lang.
Luis Velez and Sarah Maslin Nir. The Frick's Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Robert Goldsmith and Adela Goldsmith.
Charles M. Royce, Nina Haydock, and Deborah Royce.
Kate Horvitz, Christina Eberli, and Sarah Flint. Kate Hemphill and the Frick's Associate Director of Development Maureen Nash.
Jay Riebel, Deborah Royce, and Frick board member Charles M. Royce.
Clarissa Post, Caitlyn Frank, and Alexi Hoffman.
Alexis Light, the Frick's Manager of Media Relations and Marketing, with Frick Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon. Karl Yeh and Yuli Lin.
Agnes Gund and Craig Starr.
Joann, Jennifer, and Victor Wright.
Blake Keesee, Amanda Haynes Dale, and Christian Keesee.
Larry Keigwin, Chistian Keesee, Konrad Keesee, and Blake Keesee.
Henry Arnhold and Helen Klisser.
Andrea Cavaggioni, Frick Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon, Julia Siemon, Matthew Bradbury, and Karen Lamberti.
Olivier Cordonnois, Lorenzo Marcelli Flori, and Eric Le Goff.
Museo de Arte de Ponce Board President Maria Louisa Ferre and Patti Cisneros.
Sam Loring, Helen Clay Chase, and Martha Loring.
Anita Jorgenson, Senior Curator at the Frick Susan Grace Galassi, and Isabel Galassi.
Lisa and Jeff Volling.
Pauline Eveillard and Jennifer Wright.
Suz Massen, Chief of Public Services at the Frick Art Reference Library, Nera Lerner, and Annika Connor.
Simon Lewis, Frick Associate Curator Aimee Ng, Stephen Scher, and Janie Woo Scher.
Christina Eberli, Lin Gao, Juliet Falci, and friends.
Megan Petrie Ramm, Amory McAndrew, and Casey Sills.
Sofia and Peter Blanchard.
Rufus Chen and Blake Funston.
Museo de Arte de Ponce Board President Maria Louisa Ferre, Cyril Meduna, and Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon. Jaffer Akbar and Ayesha Kazi.
Tiffany Frasier and Annika Connor.
Guy Robinson and Elisabeth Stribling. Mariana and Juan Sabater.
Lydia Fenet, Jay Sullivan, Caitlin Davis, and Sarah Gilbane Sullivan.
Harrison He, Saheer Mathrani, Frick board member Ayesha Bulchandani-Mathrani, and Sandeep Mathrani.
Virginia Maloney, Christina Maloney, the Frick's Deputy Director for External Affairs Tia Chapman, and Caroline Maloney.
Associate European Art Curator Ponce Pablo Pérez d'Ors and Director Alejandra Pena of the Museo de Arte de Ponce. Kate Reibel and Barbara Reibel.
Museo de Arte de Ponce Board President Maria Louisa Ferre, John Chachas, and Lauren Ferre.
Sandeep Mathrani, Harrison He, Seheer Mathrani, Frick board member Ayesha Bulchandani-Mathrani, City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, and Frick board member Juan Sabater.
Clare McKeon, Jennifer Wright, and Lee White Galvis.
Sarah Thein-Weber and Owen Weber view Flaming June in the Oval Room. Sean and Amory McAndrew.
Dancing in the Music Room.
Karl Yeh and Yuli Lee.

Photographys by Christine Butler and Billy Farrell.