Monday, January 8, 2018

From head to toe

Looking towards the Upper West Side from within a frigid and snow-covered Central Park. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, January 8, 2017. Really cold in New York. Like January in the Winter used to be. The weatherman says it’s going to warm up into the 30s later in the week. Everyone will be thankful for this is the kind of weather where you don’t want to leave the house if you don’t have to. And if you do, you better bundle up head to toe.
NYSD contributor Delia von Neuschatz sent us this photo of Ice chunks floating down the Hudson River from high above Battery Park.
Today is the birthday of Elvis Presley. Elvis would be 83 if he’d lived this long. As millions know, he left us when he was only 42. I was a teenager when he came on the scene, and I first saw him on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater on a Tuesday night on TV. I’d heard about him, heard his first breakout hit “Heartbreak Hotel”  but had never seen him. Well, seeing him – he sang (introduced) “You ain’ nothin’ but a Hound Dog ... Crying all the time ...” changed everything. It was like a gong went off in your head! A whole new world!

Elvis on The Milton Berle Show.
Now mind you, I was a young teenager growing up in a small New England town in the 1950s when America was Corn Flakes and Joe DiMaggio (and Frank Sinatra). We had never seen or heard anything like this, nor had anyone else I knew. Exciting is a tame word for the effect he had on my whole generation, and it was instant. Bumps and grinds became household words.

Of course today, the world that Elvis opened up – while the adults mainly considered it weird – is more than tame compared to the cultural fashions of today. Nevertheless, he remains the Greatest for a large number of the older generation who were in some way transformed during that age that was his.

Today is also the birthday of the chic and stylish Carolina Herrera, and Stephen Hawking. It is also the birthday of the late David Bowie, who would be 71. And Gypsy Rose Lee the American ecdysiast (as the French would say), who wrote herself into immortality with her memoir that became a classic American musical. Gypsy was born 107 years ago (and died in 1970).  It is also the birthday in Southeast Asia of a man named Kim Jung-un who is 34.
Gypsy Rose Lee and friends.
Memories, New York Style. That could be the title of this Diary. I wrote the following in a Diary nine years ago on April 3, 2009.  I had gone into our archives to look for any appearances of Anne Slater. I was surprised to find this one. As it is with most of these Diaries, I had forgotten I’d written it.

I found this paragraph: “New York is a city of dreams, of big lives, of invention, innovation and big energy. This big energy, in my humble opinion, drives the culture that we know as America. For better or for worse. We’ve living through a period now which is showing us the Other Side of this golden equation. These three women – Liz Smith, Elaine Kaufman, and Anne Slater, with whom I lunched yesterday at Michael’s -- have been residing and presiding in the thick of it for quite some time and with natural, unflagging alacrity. That’s what makes New Yorkers and that’s what makes New York.”

And this: “The New York, in the memory of these three women who had lived and seen so much of it, was one of incredible nightlife. Their earliest memories were in the early 50s when the nation was finally home after the War and ebullient with fresh prosperity. New Yorkers went out at night all the time. Nightclubs, bars, restaurants, jazz joints, it was a going out town more than even now. Furthermore, they’ve seen and lived as fully in all the decades that followed right up to this moment. This is when you get into the area of Remarkable People.
My research was motivated by Anne Slater, who died peacefully in her sleep on Christmas Eve at her house in Wellington which she shared with her husband John Cahill.

Longtime companions, more than forty years, I only learned last week when I talked to John that they finally tied the knot fourteen years ago. They never made anything of – sending announcement, celebrating socially – because after all that time together, it was merely practical, and life went on.

A young Anne Slater.
Anne was born in 1924 and grew up in Canton, Ohio which at that time in our history was a prosperous part of the Pittsburgh/Cleveland hub of American industry. Anne’s father was a steel executive. When she was 17 she came to New York to attend Finch Junior College.

Founded in 1900 as The Finch School by Jessica Finch an alumna of Barnard and NYU, Mrs. Finch was an early women’s rights activist. She was also a Socialist. She believed that women back then needed a vocation. Her college would prepare a young woman with a practical education based on liberal arts and hands-on learning. She hired faculty that were from Columbia U but also actors, fashion designers, politicians, poets, musicians and others who worked in the New York City metropolis.

By the 1950s it was regarded as a kind of  “finishing school,” but the “finishing” was intended to assist a young woman in following her interests. And ambitions. I’ve known a lot of Finch girls who’ve demonstrated that both ably and with finesse. I mention this because it is easy to see in retrospect how Doris Anne Kerr from Canton, Ohio, a beautiful young woman with a movie star smile, bright eyes and platinum hair moved from Finch into the glamorous and sophisticated world of New York.
Anne and her companion of more than forty years, John Cahill. That's me in the background, with with Sharon Handler-Loeb, taking a photo of somebody or something when I should have been taking this photo. We can thank Patrick McMullan for capturing this wonderful moment.
Among the familiar names who attended Finch were Anne Cox Chambers, Tricia Nixon Cox, Arlene Francis, Francine LeFrak, Blair Sabol, Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, the ill-fated elder sister of John, Robert and Ted Kennedy; Marion Jorgenson, Los Angeles socialite, philanthropist and business leader; Gloria McLean, who later married Jimmy Stewart: Suzy Pleshette, Joan Schnitzer, Lois Chiles, Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane and Peggy Siegal to name only a very few of its illustrious alumni.

She first had an early marriage a young New York socialite William Grace Holloway Jr., a member of the W.R. Grace shipping family. I know this only because I’ve read it. In 1959 when she was 35 she married Denniston Slater., a young socialite/sportsman and private investor who was often referred to in the press as the Fanny Farmer (candy) heir because he and a group of investors bought it.
Anne was a fixture in Bill Cunningham's style section spreads.
Life with Denny Slater, as he was known, was the El Morocco lifestyle, the successor to Café Society. They met and wined and dined and traveled among the celebrated, the playboys, the tycoons, the heiresses and Social Register-ites. That was post-War New York society, far more liberated than Mrs. Astor’s at the end of the 19th century. If Edith Wharton were the recorder of Mrs. Astor’s world, then Aileen Mehle, writing as Suzy in the Daily Mirror was the recorder of Denny and Anne Slater’s world. Mrs. Mehle and Anne Slater met early on, and were soon friends for the rest of their lives (Aileen Mehle died a year ago last November at age 98).
Anne, always with a smile and her signature cobalt blue glasses.
Denny Slater died in hospital suddenly in 1971 at age 44.

Anne remained unmarried although her companionship with John Cahill began in the ensuing years.  It was a time in New York where the post-War prosperity and the emergence of women and women’s rights was flourishing through the ranks. New York attracted women like Anne Slater, Aileen Mehle, as well as Liz Smith – all women from the Midwest and the West. They came to New York in their youth and established themselves at its core. They created their lives, and all three notably lived them out impeccably.
Anne Slater with Aileen Mehle, 1985.
Liz and Anne.
I met Anne only back in the early '90s when I first returned to New York. I saw her frequently at Mortimer’s, the lunching spot for fashion and social glamour girls. She was a pleasure just to look at, a real beauty in her presence, a kind of quiet elegance, a movie star theatricality, and the cobalt blue glasses which was more than a “trademark” but an invitation to the literary.

In all those years she always looked the same, without age: the serenity, the elegance, the stylish, easy chic. Along with the enormous pear shaped diamond on the third finger of her left hand. It was not the center but the natural antecedent that only looked right on her hand.
Anne Slater, Elaine Kaufman, Liz Smith, DPC, and John Cahill at Michael's in 2009.
I know it seems as if I’m idealizing. And I am. She provoked that with her remarkable energy. If you saw her walking on the street – and she could often be seen walking to or from, in the neighborhoods of the Upper East Side – perfectly, matter-of-factly turned out, you saw all of this as clearly as if you were sitting at table with her. It’s filmic in memory. Although at table you also got the voice. Melodic contralto, and warm.

When I think of that voice that always had an available smile in it, I recall the story she told me about lunching at Mortimer’s one day when Jerry Zipkin, the man-about-town who regarded himself as the ultimate critic, passed by her table and muttered in his sharp, stentorian voice, “I don’t like that lipstick you’re wearing today!” ... to which Anne, smiling in her dulcet tones, quietly replied, “well then you shouldn’t wear it, darling.”
Photo: Mary Hilliard

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