Monday, August 24, 2015

The Sunday papers

Streetlamp and sunset. 7:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 24, 2015. Mild and sunny, warm but not really humid, this past weekend in New York.
A beautiful Saturday afternoon with massive clouds filling the blue skies. Waiting for the light at 81st Street and Central Park West. David and Helen Gurley Brown's tower apartment in the Beresford is the building on the left.
The Sunday papers. There was an interesting real estate story in the “Fashion and Style” section of yesterday’s Times Who Owns Helen Gurley Brown’s Legacy?” by Katherine Rosman. The center of the piece, the elephant in the living room, is the  quadriplex apartment tower in the Beresford that belonged to David and Helen Gurley Brown. David died at 93 in February 2010, and Helen followed him in August, 2012 at age 90.

Helen Gurley Brown in her office in 1982. Credit Harry Benson/Contour by Getty Images.
The issue in the Times piece is centered around the apartment which some brokers today say could go for $50 million. It seems that the apartment, like everything else that belonged to the Browns, has been taken under the wing of Hearst Corporation and a woman named Eve Burton, who is a Hearst vice-president as well as co-executor of Helen’s will. In fact the officers of the foundation and trustees of the copyrights on Helen’s material are all Hearst executives. They believe that Helen Gurley Brown and the “brand” (as Burton refers to it in the article) are one and the same. 

This is not so remarkable since the Browns died with no next of kin or close relatives, so their entire estate went into foundations and on to charities.

The board of the Beresford co-op, however, want the apartment sold. It is very unusual for an estate with no heirs but charities to be held off the market for more than six months. It is very unclear why Hearst and Ms. Burton have not sold the property and added the proceeds to the Browns’ foundation. William Zabel, probably the most important and influential lawyer in New York in the matter of rich estates, was quoted in Rosman’s piece saying “This is a strange, strange story. There is no good reason for keeping an apartment more than six months.”

For me it was firstly the reminder that as long as I knew the Browns, I was never in their apartment, nor were many of their close friends. Although they were very social they rarely entertained. If they did indeed have people over, it was seldom, and I never knew of it. It didn’t strike me as odd, however, as they, being a working couple, tended to either prefer a quiet dinner at home, or be out with friends.
The Beresford, where David and Helen Gurley Brown's quadriplex apartment tower has not yet been listed.
The piece, however, brought back vivid wonderful memories of knowing David and Helen. We’d met more than 20 years ago at a dinner party here in New York at a dinner given by Alice Mason, the private residential real estate broker who was famous for her dinners at home for sixty. Alice was the broker who sold the Browns their apartment .

They were a hugely successful couple, separately and together; professionally, socially, financially and maritally. Yet despite all that, they were “just folks” too. Right out of the ballpark was that marriage. They were also, as individuals, two of the nicest, most down to earth, charming, entertaining, intelligent and kindest people I have ever known.

The Browns’ financial legacy, including the  $73 million that has already been dispensed, totals almost $200 million. $30 million was given to Columbia and Stanford, $15 million to the New York Public Library, $7.5 mlllion to the American Museum of Natural History.
Helen Gurley Brown and David Brown, 1984. Credit Hearst
Helen’s vast archive of work accumulated over seventy years, from 1938 to 2008, was donated to Smith College, as was the wish of David Brown who wanted his wife’s work to be included in a library archive with Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan, both of whom ridiculed Helen’s point of view about women.

Katherine Rosman reported that Eve Burton, Helen’s co-executor, has hired another longtime Hearst editor Kim St. Clair Bodden to the job of vetting project proposals and archive permissions. Evidently those who do not pass muster with Ms. Bodden aren’t allowed access. Obviously neither of these women are writers, and ironically if it hadn’t been for the great success of Helen Gurley Brown doing it her way and not the way of some publishing executive, neither Burton nor Bodden would have the job they have.

The greatest irony here is that it has been largely forgotten what Cosmo was to Hearst. Hearst did not create Cosmo or the Cosmopolitan that Helen Gurley Brown edited. It was just fate and luck. Back in the mid-1960s, David and Helen were looking for a publisher for a new kind of woman’s magazine which David had dreamed up and created with Helen, inspired by her fantastic success with “Sex and the Single Girl.”
The idea was David’s. After the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” (1962), Helen received so much mail from women about her book and their lives, that she was spending hours every day parceling out responses and advice to her readers. Seeing this, David recognized a potential audience.

Because of his experience in the magazine business – he’d been an editor years before at the old Cosmopolitan (a family-oriented publication that was first published in 1866) – David could sense the change in the air.

Partners for life — David and Helen.
He and Helen put together a lengthy proposal and they took it around to various magazine publishers. They got no interest until they finally had a meeting with the head of Hearst at the time. Hearing the story, the man understood it but was in no mood to take a chance on something new. Business was not good. In fact, he told David business was so soft they were finally going to close down Cosmopolitan, which was then about to hit its centenary.

Seizing the moment, David Brown suggested that they re-publish it as the New Cosmopolitan with their editorial plan and Helen as Editor-in-Chief.  And so it was in 1965 came Helen Gurley Brown’s New Cosmopolitan. Two years later, they dropped the New. For many years that fortuitous meeting between creator and publisher made Hearst Corporation solvent and indeed rich.

In the late 90s, Helen invited me to share Thanksgiving dinner with them. I did, and so began a custom. Always at the Four Seasons and always at the same table in the Pool Room (by the pool). And always at 6 p.m. Alice Mason was the fourth guest. And later a woman named Charlotte Veal joined us.

She and Helen had been pals in Los Angeles in the 1950s when Helen was private secretary to Don Belding at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising. After Helen was promoted to her “dream job” (copywriter), she persuaded Don Belding to hire Charlotte to replace her as his secretary.  And he did. The two women spoke to each other and saw each other regularly, sometimes  weekly for the next half century.

The last time I saw Helen was Thanksgiving 2010.  She called me in April to make sure I would be there. She called to remind me again in September, and then a few days before.

This was the first Thanksgiving without David. The year before, 2009, had foreshadowed the loss. David was in a wheelchair. He was now on dialysis, and had to have an attendant in his presence all the time, including at meals. This meal was difficult for him – although he’d insisted on keeping the date – but just getting the fork to his mouth without assistance was challenging. 

He was in a foul mood over this physical state. Yet it was only slightly detectable when he responded impatiently to a question or remark by Helen. It was notable only because he could see Helen too had had grown weaker mentally; her memory was failing. The mention of an old friend’s name brought her asking who that was. David was exposed to it also. He was facing his own end and no doubt  worried about her future without him.

The following year, 2011, there was no invitation forthcoming. Nor did I expect one. I knew I had seen the last of Helen the year before. In a very real way she had already left us. When David died, he took a big part of her with him: her raison d’etre.
Out of town in Beverly Hills. Last Tuesday night out there our friend Alex Hitz gave his annual summer dinner to celebrate his 18th “August in Los Angeles” on the terrace of a private club in Beverly Hills. Alex, who is basically bi-coastal (New York and LA) first went out there in August of 1997, and he loved it from Day One. I can attest, having lived out there for fourteen years, the summers there are better than anywhere.

The first year, he gave a little dinner for six friends. Last week there were 140 on his guest list. A dinner party for Alex, who is a Contributing Food Editor at Quest Magazine and at House  Beautiful, and three years ago published the best-selling “My Beverly Hills Kitchen; Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist” is a celebration.
 Wendy Stark and Alex Hitz.
It was a beautiful day, last Tuesday in LA. – 85 degrees, clear, hot but not humid and cooling down to 65 in the evening. Alex described the sky as “Technicolor blue” and after sunset there was a sliver of a new moon in the dark desert night sky.
There were pale green hydrangeas, white roses, and white delphinium in glass bowls in the center of the 16 tables—and Cold dry Italian Gavi di Gavi and Santa Barbara Pinot Noir!

The menu was just what you might think from a guy -- an Atlantan born and bred who wrote a book on classic Southern cooking -- a barbecue buffet dinner: Baby Back Ribs, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Fried Chicken, Grilled Salmon, Corn on the Cob, Cole Slaw, and Heirloom Tomatoes.  With Homemade Onion Rings and French Fries delivered to the tables in wicker baskets after the guests were seated. Alfredo, Ron, and Marco were also grilling homemade chicken sausages  to order.
140 For dinner.
For dessert there was a Vanilla/Raspberry cake from world-famous Hansen’s cakes who’ve been making cakes in LA since the 1930s for everyone from Mary Pickford to Taylor Swift. This course was enhanced by mini Chocolate Chip cookies, Lemon Bars, and Brownies.

Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha, The Honorable and Mrs. Ron Spogli, Natalie and James Bloomingdale, Joan and Ron Linclau, Rose Tarlow, Zoe and Olivier de Givenchy, Wendy Stark, Betsy Bloomingdale, Nikki Haskell, Lord Freddie Windsor, Maria Tuttle, Frank Bowling, Grega and Leo Daley, Peter Dunham, Anne and Arnold Kopelson, David Niven, Lauren and Richie King, Frances Schultz and Tom Dittmer, Beth DeWoody and Firooz Zahedi, and Kay Pick—and on and on into the gorgeous Southern California night.
Blake Davenport, Brooke Davenport, and Alex Hitz.
Laurie Maccaskill and Nina O'hern.
Leo Daley, Frank Bowling, Grega Daley, and Steven Boggs.
Nathan Turner, Rose Tarlow, and Maria Tuttle.
Karen Santo Domingo and Victoria Brynner.
Nathan Turner and Ross Cassidy.
Bret Parsons with Kimm and Al Uzielli.
Jackie de Ravenel, Karim Ariyani and friend, Eugenio Lopes, and Estella Provas.
Sarah Perot and Suzanne Rheinstein.
Jonathon Ztolov Amd Craig Higgins.
Frances Schultz and Konstantin Kakanias.
Maria Tuttle and Kelly Day.
Robin Plunket. Billy Kimball.
Lisa Fine, Jackie De Ravenel, and Kimm Uzielli.
Kelly Day and Dr. Robin Farias-Eisner.
Betsy Bloomingdale, Burt Boyar, and Robert Bloomingdale.
Kai Loebach and Nikki Haskell.
Nathan Turner, Georgia and Lou Howe, and Martyn Lawrence-Bullard.
Kimberly Bini and Eugenio Lopes.
Chip Conlan and Beth DeWoody.
Lyn Rothman and Craig Higgins.
Beverly Johnson and Brian Maillian.
Jane Gosden and Frank Bowling.

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