Friday, July 7, 2017

Hanging out the ham

432 Park Avenue from a window within Central Park. 10:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, July 7, 2017. Back in the city, yesterday’s temperatures were in the mid-70s with some humidity but not enough to force me to turn on the air conditioner that I acquired just before going off to Nantucket last weekend.

“Hang out the ham and they’ll all come running ...” as the late and not-so-lamented Kitty Miller used to say about her guests and her soirees which were numerous and very popular with the crème de la crème In New York, Palm Beach, and London.

Gilbert and Kitty MIller photographed by Diane Arbus in 1965.
I refer to the lack of lamentation for the Wall Street heiress to her father Jules Bache, because Mrs. Miller (whose husband was the London and New York stage producer Gilbert Miller) was famous for her mouth. Not because of the lipstick she wore — and she was very fashionable — but because she knew what her guests were about. Hungry.

Which reminds me. When I returned from Nantucket and those four days of utter respite, good friends, beautiful flowers, perfect temperatures, and good food, I checked on one of my favorite web sites — Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism (nakedcapitalism.com), and a daily column called Water Cooler by one Lambert Strether (a nom de plume via Henry James) to find this, which although I wasn’t there, I repeat because the item is all over the web including Emily Smith’s Page Six:

OUT AND ABOUT IN THE HAMPTONSLALLY WEYMOUTH held her annual summer party last night at her house in Southampton. There was a long gold carpet entrance from where the parking was to a big tent next to her house. She served champagne, rare filet, fried chicken, cornbread, a big chocolate cake, ice cream and cookies decorated as American flags. Brother Don Graham did a big tribute to toast Lally (whose birthday was the following day) and shouted out Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film about how Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham challenged the government for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Tom Hanks is playing Bradlee and Meryl Streep is playing Graham). Don made a big deal that Spielberg was there and jokingly conceived a Spielberg movie about Lally and described the cast (some actors and some in the room).
I hadn’t heard about the Spielberg film on the Washington Post publishing of the Pentagon Papers. It made me wonder if this great filmmaker knew what the real story was. It was always my understanding (having followed the case at the time) that Daniel Ellsberg, who had “purloined” the Pentagon Papers - which were highly secret, and were an accurate account of our involvment in the Vietnam War -- brought them to Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times. Abe decided they had to be published, and publisher "Punch" Sulzberger agreed. Abe then assigned James (Jimmy) Greenfield  the job of establishing their authenticity. He booked Jim and a staff into the Hilton Hotel for weeks while they checked and doubled checked.

When the matter was presented to the Times’ (White Shoe) lawyers, they declined dealing with its legality.  Once it was established that the Papers were authentic, the Times began publishing them. When Abe Rosenthal took the authenticated Papers to the Times’ publisher “Punch” Sulzberger, he actually had to push them in a big trolley to Sulzberger’s office. On arrival, Rosenthal said to his publisher: “They should be published. What d’you think?”  Mr. Sulzberger responded with his famously dry wit, “Fifty years to Life!!”

The case against their publication was brought against the paper. The government issued major threats. They stopped publsihing them for a day or so and resumed. The Washington Post followed after the major legal obstacles had been resolved. The paper's lawyers walked out, and James Goodale came in to defend the Times’  case and which the world now knows, he won and the rest is history. James Goodale wrote a book about it, published in 2013: Fighting For the Press: the Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers an Other Battles, considered by many reviewers to have been the best Non-Fiction book of the year.
Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham in 1971. United Press International
In the room at the Weymouth party: Jared and Ivanka chatting with Joel Klein and Alan Patricof, Kellyanne Conway on the dance floor, Boyden Gray, Chris Ruddy, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and wife Iris, Katharine Weymouth, Mary Jordan, Richard Cohen, Margaret Carlson, Gillian Tett, Steven Spielberg chatting with Steve Clemons and Robert Hormats, Carl Icahn, Tom Lee (famous for doing a leveraged buyout of Snapple and now lives in Princess Radziwill’s house), David Koch, John Paulson, Dina Powell, Richard Edelman, George Soros and his wife Tamiko Bolton, former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham (Lally’s uncle), her cousin Gwen Graham (who is running for Florida governor), Maria Bartiromo, Kellyanne Conway, Ray Kelly, Bill Bratton, Jeff Rosen, William Drozdiak, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.).

Strether describes Mrs. Weymouth thusly as “Beltway aristocracy, being the daughter of WaPo’s Katharine Graham, and current Senior Associate Editor.” He also includes a YouTube vid of George Carlin talking about that world down Washington way as “... a big club and you ain’t in it.”
Mrs. Weymouth has been a New Yorker for most of her adult life. She has had a long career writing on foreign policy for the family publications. Her family fortune has allowed her to effortlessly straddle what used to be called New York Society, along with what is now called Media (versus Press), Wall Street, and the political corridors of Washington.

Lally Weymouth.
Grandpa Meyer on the cover of Time in 1932.
Her annual summer party, held at her house in Southampton, has long been a magnet for all four corridors of power. Judging from the guest list, that remains so. From it you can also comprehend what George Carlin meant by his reference the “big club” that you and I don’t belong to. There were the Kushner-Trumps, Kellyanne Conway, et al mixing with those members of their not-so-loyal opposition, and quiet amicably.

Mrs. Weymouth comes from money, as they used to say. Her grandfather Eugene Meyer bought the Washington Post in 1933 after Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated and kicked Mr. Meyer off as head of Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Prior to that he had been President Coolidge’s chair of the Federal Farm Loan Board and before that head of Woodrow Wilson’s War Finance Corporation; and before that, the first chairman of the Board of Governors of the newly formed Federal Reserve.

Mr. Meyer who was born in Los Angeles in 1875, started out his professional life working for Lazard Freres (where his father was a partner). In 1901, at 26, he went out on his own with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and a very favorable career as an investor. By the time he was forty in 1915, he was worth $40 million (or hundreds of millions in today’s dollar). Then in 1920 he and a partner created Allied Chemical, which has long since been merged into Honeywell and made him richer.

Eugene Meyer bought the Washington Post in bankruptcy for $825,000 — a princely sum in those Depression days — from Ned McLean (famous in society because of his heiress wife who owned the Hope Diamond) who had run it into the ground. There was stiff competition for press in the nation’s capital in those days and paper was wobbling. But the new owner, who was nothing if not shrewd, predicted his paper would be “hard hitting and independent, a paper that nobody can ignore.” And so it was. After running it for thirteen years, in 1946, he turned the paper over to his daughter Katherine’s new husband, Phil Graham, and became the head of the newly formed World Bank.
Eugene Meyer and publisher Philip Graham look over the first edition of the Washington Post and Times-Herald Merger in 1954.
Katharine and Phil Graham had five children, the eldest being Lally (whose birth name is Elizabeth). Phil Graham had a dynamic and at times charming personality. He was also very close to the political world. His half-brother Bob Graham had been a senator, and by the 1950s, he was a close adviser to Lyndon Johnson. It is reported that it was Phil Graham had persuaded John Kennedy to put Johnson on the ticket in 1960.
Katharine Graham with daughter Lally in 1988.
At that point, however, Phil Graham’s great success with the Washington Post, which had been enhanced by his purchase of Newsweek from the Vincent Astor foundation, had become distracted by seriously complicated personal problems, later described as “bi-polar.” On August 3, 1963, 16 days after his 48th birthday, according to the New York Times, “According to the sheriff’s report,” he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in the bathroom of his country house.

His wife Katharine took over her husband’s position on the paper and continued her husband’s great success. 54 years later, in October 2016, Mrs. Graham’s family, who were now running the paper under the aegis of her eldest son Donald and her granddaughter Katharine Weymouth, sold it to Jeff Bezos for $250 million cash.
The sale of the paper is a significant change for the family. Washington is like Hollywood: its inhabitants participating in its industry tend to think of themselves as the center of the Universe, humans beans and all. Another thing they have in common sociologically is their cultural roots which were basically small town America; ordinary people rising, transported, placed in political power which is basically the power to appeal to the Common Man.

Lally Weymouth’s drawing power considering that it came from her close proximity to the Washington Post for four generations is now gone, replaced with cash but not editorial influence. Mr. Bezos has made that clear just from observing the way he runs all of HIS businesses. So last week’s “annual” guest list is a kind of memorial to a time passing in our history and our social history which is actually one in the same.

Newspapers historically are almost always owned by the rich. That is a highly effective way to protect oneself in a world fraught with potential obstacles. If they are successful, they serve both owners and readers. For the principals of this particular financial transaction, to quote Mother Goose: “the dish ran away with the spoon.”
Charlie reciting the Declaration of Independence.
Meanwhile, back in the Hamptons, over the same weekend Charlie and Susan Calhoun Moss hosted their annual party for their friend Peter Brown celebrating the 20th anniversary of his becoming a U.S. Citizens.

Every year Charlie Moss begins a lunch with an edited, memorized version of The Declaration of Independence. This is the 20th year.

Paige Peterson
was there with her camera.
The seating chart.
Shirley Lord Rosenthal toasting Peter Brown.
Cocktails and conversation.
The group disperses after lunch.
And on the night of the Fourth, JH's brother, Jason Hirsch, took to a Manhattan rooftop to record the celebration of fireworks to mark this important anniversary in our nation's history.
 

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