Friday, September 22, 2017

Mrs. Mellon and Mr. Trump

Rooftop dinner party on Park Avenue. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, September 22, 2017. Warm and humid, often sunny day yesterday in New York, with temperatures remaining in the high 70s by midnight, and forecast to remain so (and hotter – 80s) over the weekend.

On Wednesday I went down to Michael’s (via the Q) to lunch with Meryl Gordon to talk about her new book “Bunny Mellon; the Life of an American Style Legend.” Meryl, as you may know, is the author of the best-selling “Mrs. Astor Regrets” and “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue,” a biography of the reclusive Fifth Avenue heiress Huguette Clark who lived a long life outside of fame and celebrity until her death just before her 105th birthday in 2011.

Before her books, Meryl had a great career at New York magazine. She had the reputation for being “nice” about her subjects as a journalist, and so she was often assigned pieces. After her great successes, she decided to pursue Mrs. Mellon as her next subject.
DPC and Meryl Gordon at Michael's.
So she got out her best stationary and approached her subject politely with a handwritten letter to Mrs. Mellon. A few days later, her phone rang and on answering she got a hello from an older, cheerful (read: polite) female voice speaking in a cultivated (what used to be described as an “upperclahs”) voice and accent referred to in Show Business as a mid-Atlantic accent. Movie stars had it but this voice was the real McCoy. Her name was: Bunny Mellon.

Author Gordon was surprised and delighted to be speaking to the respondent. It could be read as a good sign. However, Mrs. Mellon called to say: “No.” She was very nice about it, and accommodating in her tone. She was by that time celebrating her centenary and those nonagenarian years leading up to it were remarkably associated with scandal and married politicians whose morals and financial activities as well as marriage faithfulness were being questioned.  She had, unwittingly, she explained, been unaware of the man’s proclivities. She just liked him.

She also had a famous party planner, a gay man in his fifties, who had become her faithful companion. The relationship was well known to a certain sets associated with Mrs. Mellon and this man’s private life, and to the media. He and Mrs. Mellon were like-this, two peas in a pod in the world of interior design and its associations. 
He was very successful in his business because he was very good. She loved his talent. He, on the other hand, had come to believe that one of these days she was going to buy him a large building in Brooklyn where he could expand his still growing business as one of most important party/event planners in the world. But that never happened, not because she didn’t buy it, but because before she could, he was murdered (or something like that) one weekend in his house downtown here in New York, found on a Monday morning by an employee. There were rumors about that murder too, although rumors don’t mean truth.

She was a woman known generally to the public as a rich man’s wife. That, and being a “best friend” to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on whom she was said to shower many spectacular gifts. Paul Mellon, her husband, son of Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury during the Administrations of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, was one of the richest men in America. Bunny also came from wealth (her grandfather invented Listerine mouthwash) although it was nothing compared to her husband.
Bunny and Paul Mellon.
But I’m wandering off-subject now. Shortly after Mrs. Mellon’s death at 104, however, Meryl was contacted by a relative (I think a grandson) of Mrs. M. He knew about Meryl’s proposed request, and was willing to cooperate in a biography although it would not be “authorized” — which meant she was free to write whatever she wished.

Why the change? If I were to take an educated guess, it would be that they were familiar with Meryl’s work and that she was a writer who was “nice” to her subjects no matter the story. That was her reputation and it was deserved.
Bunny Mellon, right, with Paul Mellon, and Lady Bird Johnson at the National Gallery of Art.
With "Best friend” Jackie Kennedy.
Delighted of course, in starting her research she was given access to everything personal about her subject who kept all personal papers including diaries, journals, love letters, invitations, and personal information (phone books, photos, business papers, clothes, etc.). She was a famous student of horticulture and built a library on her 5000-acre property in Virginia devoted to the subject. The family approval gave Meryl access to many of Mrs. Mellon’s friends and associates and employees. A biographer’s treasure chest.

Click to order "Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend."
Was she nice? ... as she was said to be to those who were her favorites? Yes. A lady who knew how to behave in public, just like the voice who called Meryl on the phone and said “no” very politely. Did she have other sides to herself, this woman married to one of the world’s richest men, a man who had a longtime mistress who lived in nearby Washington and for whom he had a special phone installed in her house so he could speak privately to her anytime he wished? You have to read the book. It’s all there, a feast at times, and fascinating, and primer on what it’s like to be in that life, that environment, those surroundings, houses, luxuries, twenty-four/seven.

Many years ago I was talking to a woman who was a close friend of Mrs. Mellon’s next door neighbor — an adjoining property to the Mellon farm. While this other woman was giving my friend a tour of her estate, suddenly, less than a mile away, a private jet roared above the treeline, having just taken off. My friend, surprised, asked her hostess where it came from. “Oh that’s Bunny Mellon,” the friend explained derisively, annoyed by the private jets coming and going on the Mellons’ private airstrip next door. 

Five minutes later, the jet suddenly returned and with a roar descended again to the same air-strip. “Oh, Bunny probably forgot her scarf so they had to turn around to get it for her,” said the neighbor.
Mrs. Mellon spent decades crafting the gardens with her signature touches: plentiful topiaries and wildflowers, grand crab-apple tree entrances, and stone walkways with plants emerging from the cracks. The gardens exemplify her preference for imperfect perfection and a desire that “Nothing should be noticed.”
Special to the New York Social Diary. Meanwhile, in that same part of the world (our nation’s capital), last Thursday night the President and Mrs. Trump hosted a black tie dinner at The White House for The White House Historical Association. Guests were welcomed with champagne and canapés and the Marine Band in the East Room. There they were treated to a treasure trove of artifacts such as Edith Roosevelt's ivory fan, Ronald Reagan's personal diary turned to September 14th, 1985, Jacqueline Kennedy's first edition of The White House Guide Book, and one of President Monroe's Bellange chairs, freshly gilded and ready for its new upholstery.

Guests were then ushered through the Green Room to the Blue Room to greet The President and Mrs. Trump for official photographs. Guests then proceeded to the State Dining Room, awash in soft light, to their tables.
The table settings in the State Dining Room.
The President and Mrs. Trump (shimmering in silver sequins over sheer) both made remarks.
Dinner began with Late Summer squash velouté followed by a main course of Dover sole, and a delightful Nectarine Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Guests included Karen and Richard LeFrak, Peter Lyden, head of the ICAA, White House interior designer Tham Kannalikham, and party impresario David Monn from NewYork. Washington society was represented by doyenne Martha Bartlett (who introduced Jackie Bouvier to (then) Senator John F. Kennedy and is Caroline's Godmother).

The nonagenarian Mrs. Bartlett, still erect and full of vim and vigor recounted being in The White House the first night the Kennedys were there, and Jackie lamenting the sorry state of the place. She pointed out the corner of the East Room where the plan was hatched to restore it to its former glory.
Martha Bartlett and Bryan Huffman.
Also from D.C. were Buffy Cafritz, Ambassador Nancy Brinker, Ann and Lloyd Hand (She the jewelry designer who created the ubiquitous eagle pin with a pearl atop favored by Pamela Harriman, Madeline Albright, and Hillary Clinton). Jane Scott Hodges, owner of Leontine Linens from New Orleans, was at The President and Mrs. Trump's table along with Palm Beachers Michele and Howard Kessler. Fellow Palm Beach/Cape Codders Darlene and Jerry Jordan were also in the mix. At another table Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chair of the Red Cross Board of Governors (replete with a beautifully jeweled minaudière with the Red Cross symbol emblazoned on top) seated next to Trump team member and Goldman Sachs exec Gary Cohn. Also in the crowd were North Carolinian and Pebble Beach entrepreneur philanthropist Ben Sutton (Teall Investments), member of the Reagan Library Board and close friend of Nancy Reagan, and Peter Bowe, Baltimore and Chicago resident and CEO of Ellicott Dredge Enterprises. Rounding out the festive group was Laura Bush, Chief of Staff Anita McBride, along with Stewart McLaurin, president of The White House Historical Association.
Ann Hand and Ben Sutton.
The guests did not want the dinner to end as they mingled afterwards as The President led the group to the North Entrance Hall for music by the Marine Band. As the revelry continued, The President escorted many of the lingering guests on a tour of the Lincoln Bedroom. Rickie Niceta Lloyd, White House Social Secretary, certainly displayed her savvy social skills on a most well received  evening. Mrs. Lloyd is the wife of Thomas Lloyd, a grandson of Bunny Mellon.
5. Howard Kessler and the President — who are neighbors in Palm Beach.

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