Monday, May 22, 2017

Hollywood religion

All-Church Picnic and Strawberry Festival hosted by Brick Church on 92nd Street between Park and Madison. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, May 22, 2017. A beautiful weekend in New York; sunny with temperatures in the comfortable mid-60s to low-70s.

If  You Knew Suzy ... This Wednesday at Doyle New York there’s going to be an auction of furniture and decorative arts, and old master paintings from the estate of Aileen Mehle, famous to the world for the last half century as Suzy, the society columnist who died last November 11th in her 99th year (6/10/17).

HIRO (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi)
Portrait of Aileen Mehle
Estimate: $400 - $600
Although I had the pleasure of reading her from the time I was a New York-hungry teenager growing up in New England until she retired about ten years ago, it was during her last ten years as a columnist that I came along. Her response to my presence was to obviously ignore me, or else cast me an unpleasant glance. I wasn’t surprised because I’d heard that was how she treated all would-be “competition” including even the venerable Liz Smith.

At a much younger age I would have been crestfallen. But at an already advanced age (over 50), I thought it was kind of funny. Especially since I was certainly no competition in any way.

Reading about the upcoming auction this Wednesday, having looked at the Doyle catalogue out of curiosity to see the way the woman lived, I learned that although she was born in El Paso, her family moved to Los Angeles, where she grew up and went to school. A young woman of her generation in that town learned glamour from the Studios. It was in the air. The women with ambition and imagination kept it.  It was an American and yet international image, the kind that you’d see on the Big Screen.

She dominated her field like no other who had come before her or since. Her image was a major component in her reputation. She was glamorous; she was gorgeous. It wasn’t a New York Society glamour, but that of a movie star of the era that cast its spell on the world. She came to the fore in New York in the late 1950s, early '60s, a combination of sexy, saucy and serious lady. You could read it in her copy; that was her ace. That image and that wit lit up a changing scene in a world that was rapidly changing. Her presence re-defined Society in New York.

I saw her early last year at a small dinner that Kenny Lane had one night at his fabulous apartment. There were eight at the table. At one point the conversation turned to someone in the social world who had recently had a face lift.  Not the first or the second or maybe even the third. The comments were about the obsession certain women have with serial cosmetic surgery where they change their faces to the point where they are unrecognizable.
Aileen Mehle's ballroom apartment decorated by Mario Buatta. Photo: Scott Frances / Architectural Digest, January 2012 © Conde Nast
Mrs. Mehle commented in passing that she had had one “lift” fifteen or twenty years before and never felt the need for another. She was also at that point, in her late 90s where she looked like the same Suzy when the world first knew her. Conversation turned to “who” were the real beauties in our lifetime. Many famous social names came up and then Mrs. Mehle, when asked, remarked: “Marilyn.” Marilyn Monroe.
Large group of personal photographs of Mehle and other notables at society events. Mostly New York: 1950s onward. Estimate: $400-600.
Group of miscellaneous correspondence items sent to Aileen Mehle. Includes examples of Edward, Duke of Windsor, Cecil Beaton, Barbara Walters, Bunny Mellon, Oleg Cassini, Claus von Bülow, Cary Grant, New Year's cards bearing signatures of Prince Charles and Camilla, an inscribed drawing by Piero Aversa, Rex Reed, Dominick Dunne, Earl Blackwell, Malcolm Forbes, Diane von Furstenberg, Nan Kempner, C.Z. Guest, Martha Graham, Brooke Astor, Geraldo Rivera, Estee Lauder and others.

Estimate: $600 - $900
Group of notes to Aileen Mehle and other signed items. Includes an autograph letter signed "Jackie" on one sheet of Doubleday stationery, dated 1980, complimenting Mehle's article on "Diana's book" (this being Diana Vreeland's Allure, released in 1980), and sending a book to be read "in your delicious bed."

Estimate: $600 - $800
A postcard from Truman Capote (in the photo). It was Mrs. Mehle who, after his scandalous tale of society, "Cote Basque 1965," dubbed him the Tiny Terror.   Gold Link Pendant-Necklace
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Shawls and fur wraps by Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior and a Fendi Sable coat.
Upbringing; sin sin and a gin fizz. I finally finished the biography of Dominick Dunne over the weekend. I say finally because I’ve been sidetracked by so much going on on the calendar, not to mention myriad other distractions that goes with the territory.

Click to order “Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts”
It’s a very good book if you’re even remotely interested in the world that Dominick Dunne made his own and presented to the world. That world is New York, Hollywood and all the characters that pass through. The title is apt: Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts by Robert Hofler.

My friend Peter Rogers who a few years ago abandoned New York and that scene familiar to Dominick (and those who knew Dominick et al) first recommended the book. Peter remarked on how “horrified” Dominick would have been to read about his sex-drugs-and rock and roll-life in print ...” although it didn’t horrify him to write the same about others.” We had a laugh about that irony for it was true.

I knew Dominick, although we were not close friends. In the early days of our acquaintanceship back in the early 90s, he wasn’t welcoming to this younger writer blazing his own trail in New York and Hollywood social reportage.

However that early froideur eventually melted, and thereafter he was always friendly and very kind in his words about my work. We also shared a number of friends, and a close friendship with Colette and Peter Harron, neighbors of his up in Connecticut.
Colette and Peter Harron and with Dominick Dunne.
The beginning of his life, as small child was harrowing. The second of six children – four sons and two daughters, his father was a prominent Hartford doctor. The small child Dominick suffered from his father’s physical and mental abuse because of his effeminate nature. Besides the name calling, his father’s beatings marked him for life. In viewing the whole life, the best thing that ever happened to him was his marriage. It brought him a social respectability that was deeply important to him. She was also rich, smart, beautiful, and she bore him three children. Furthermore they liked each other. He claimed later that she was the only person he ever really loved.
Dominick with wife Lenny and their three children: Griffin, Dominique, and Alexander.
He started out in the television in the production side. His first job was as on the staff of  “The Howdy Doody Show.” It successfully led to film production (including Ash Wednesday, one of Elizabeth Taylor’s films when she was married to Richard Burton). However, the Southern California climate and the Hollywood religion transformed the New England Irish Catholic upper middle class boy troubled by his closeted homosexuality. He could not resist temptation, and ultimately it destroyed his reputation, his career and of course his marriage. He had hit middle age by the time of his great fall into booze, sex and drugs, and was ostracized to the point that he had to leave Hollywood to escape the humiliation, and to rehabilitate himself. The Dominick Dunne the world came to know rose from those ashes. Therein lies the compelling story.
Dunne with Elizabeth Taylor in Italy while filming Ash Wednesday. By Gianni Bozzacchi.
The author has written an excellent biography of a Hollywood life with all of its success and failure in detail that conjures up a late 20th century version of Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust.” After his forced self-exile to oblivion, move to New York to start over, the world opened up with a subsequent great success as a novelist with “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.” And then with his developing career as a reporter of famous murders for Vanity Fair, he was able to seriously achieve self-respect for the first time in his life. Hofler tells a story making it as compelling as the tales of murder and madness and fame that Dominick conveyed to his millions of fascinated readers.

Contact DPC here.