Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The season has begun

Escaping the heat. 3 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015. Very hot in New York. Like in a room full of furnaces right up into late evening.

The season has begun; summer is over, temperatures excepted. Last night there were only two events on my calendar but that was enough that I missed one.  Jackie Weld Drake hosted a cocktail reception along with Aileen Mehle and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia in honor of John Bernbach and Veronique and Bob Pittman. The occasion marked their receiving the Casita Maria Gold Medal of Honor.

Mr. Bernbach and the Pittmans, along with director Baz Luhrmann will be honored at the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education’s annual “Fiesta 2015” which will be held Tuesday, October 13th at the Plaza. Mrs. Mehle, Prince Dimitri and Jackie Drake are the gala’s co-chairs.

NoMad Hotel on Broadway and 28th Street.
It was my intention to catch a glimpse of the reception which was held at Mrs. Drake’s Park Avenue apartment, after attending a reception at the NoMad Hotel on Broadway and 28th Street for Erica Jong on the publication (yesterday) of her new novel “Fear of Dying.”All did not go according to (my imagined) schedule. Didn't happen.

The hotel which was built in 1869-71 as a hotel called the Gilsey House and then in the 20th century became an apartment house, was renovated and refurbished in 2012. It reopened as the NoMad. NoMad is short for North of Madison Park which is just a couple of blocks east. At the time of the building of this Second Empire confection, that was the neighborhood for prominent and important New Yorkers. Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden was close by. Winston Churchill’s American grandparents Leonard and Clara Jerome lived in a mansion on the corner of Madison and 26th Street. The famous Delmonico’s nearby hosted Diamond Jim Brady, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, J. Pierpont Morgan, Jenny Lind, Lillian Russell; even King Edward VII (still the Prince of Wales) and Napoleon III of France dined there.

Erica’s party was hosted by Barbara and Ken Follett and they brought out the literary publishing crowd. Despite the heat, the canopied penthouse terrace provided a little bit of coolness (from a light breeze) and so it was very comfortable for the guests, which included Judy Collins and Louis Nelson, Julie Taymor, Ed Victor (Erica's literary agent), Jane Friedman, who has published Erica’s “Fear of Flying” electronically; Lynne Meadow of the Manhattan Theatre Club and Milt Wilson, Daphne Merkin, Erica’s daughter Molly Jong-Fast, and Molly’s father Jonathan Fast; Tracey Jackson and Glenn Horowitz and their daughter Taylor; Susan Cheever, E. Jean Carroll; Erica’s editor Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s Press; and Erica’s husband Ken Burrows, to name only a few. And of course, Jill Krementz, NYSD’s Associate Editor, whose Part II of her Hamptons summer days is featured on today’s NYSD, who was busy photographing the scene and the players. Her photographs accompany this piece.
The penthouse terrace, scene of Erica's book party for "Fear of Dying," published yesterday by St. Martin's Press.
Welcome toast by Ken Follett while Erica looks on.
Proud husband Ken Burrows and hosts Barbara and Ken Follett raising glasses in a toast for Erica.
L. to r.: Erica Jong; Ken Burrows, proud husband of the author; and Molly Jong-Fast, equally proud daughter.
The title of Erica’s new novel closely reminds of her first novel, “Fear of Flying,” which was published forty-seven years ago. At the time of publication, her editor – who was also editor for Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, among other greats – told her they’d be happy if she sold a project 3,000 copies. The book sold 27,000,000. “Flying” was about a young woman’s life going out into the world. This flight deals with a woman’s life four decades later. Erica’s fiction borrows liberally from her own life (fictionalized, of course) which makes it even more interesting (she’s lived). I was curious to see the “how” and the “what” when I first opened it to read.

Click to order Fear of Dying.
The first chapter deals with the main character Vanessa Wonderman, now a veteran stage and film actress living in New York going to visit here nonagenarian parents who live nearby. The parents are both in failing health but nevertheless have all their wits about them. We get the pictures: endings. However, almost from the first page and the introduction of her mother, I burst out laughing at the whole scene. Enter the father: more laughter. And the two sisters in attendance provoking historical family disagreements: more laughter. I thought of Woody Allen.

Not so coincidentally, I learned last night when reading the blurbs on the back of the published copy (I’d been reading the galleys at home), that Woody Allen indeed did read the book and even agreed to write a blurb for it (a first for him) in which he stated: “How Erica Jong is able to deal with all these sensitive issues and still make the book funny is amazing. I loved reading it.” Ditto; same here. It’s just wonderful, and real and sometimes at some of the most unlikely moments, hilarious.

Only Erica; brilliant. Take it from Woody (or me), “Fear of Dying” will leave you laughing, even thinking about it after you’ve finished. Bravo!
Erica Jong, Jennifer Enderlin, and E. Jean Carroll, who writes a monthly humor column for Elle.
Susan Cheever and Ken Follett. Barbara Follett.
Molly Jong-Fast and her father Jonathan Fast.
Amanada Benchley and Jennifer Ash Rudick are working on a documentary film about Erica.
Glenn Horowitz. Tracey Jackson and her daughter Taylor.
Ken Burrows and Barbara Follett.
Molly Jong-Fast, Sarah Schlesinger Hirschfeld (a scientist in genetic research at Rockefeller University), and Erica Jong.
Judy Collins and Julie Taymor. Louis Nelson.
Ken Follett, Julie Taymor, and Judy Collins.
Jane Friedman and Ed Victor. Jane published "Fear of Flying" electronically. Ed has been Erica's agent for thirty years. Jay Parini's new biography "Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal" will be published by Knopf next month.
Milt Wilson and Lynne Meadow, artistic director of The Manhattan Theater Club.

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