Friday, August 17, 2018

Glamour girls

All is quiet outside the Guggenheim. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, August 17, 2018. Very hot, yesterday in New York although the humidity was a not as bad  as it’s been in these last few weeks.  The city was even quieter than I would have thought on a Thursday afternoon. Probably many people taking their vacations now and getting out of town.

Bette Davis eyes. Out east at Southampton last Friday at J. McLaughlin’s store at 2 Jobs Lane, they hosted a book signing for Kathryn Sermak, author of Miss D & Me, Life with the Invincible Bette Davis. Ms. Sermak had been a featured author at the 2018 East Hampton Library’s “Author Night,” telling her story as personal assistant of Miss Davis who was a force off-screen as well as on. She was a hardworking pro who expected as much from those she worked with and was unabashed about making that known,  a larger than life talent determined to live her life on her own terms.
Kathryn Sermak sitting, signing, and greeting Neal Cronin and Mary John Baumann at J. McLaughlin’s store at 2 Jobs Lane.
Movie stars of Bette Davis era were famous for some particular quality. Davis was known for her gutsiness in her roles. She was known to her audiences as tough, yet earnest with a willingness to play unsympathetic characters in a wide range from melodramas to historical and period films, as well as suspense and romantic dramas. She arrived in Hollywood in 1930 – from the New York stage – when she was 22. Two years later she signed on with the Warner Brothers. Two years after that, this young woman who screen-tested several times before the studio executives thought she had a chance, starred in the film version of Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” a classic to this day.
Davis in "Of Human Bondage."
By the 1940s she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, nominated for Oscars ten times, twice winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was also the first woman to received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. She was famous in the industry for fighting for what was best for her, and delivering with highly memorable performances in such film classics as “The Petrified Forest” (where Humphrey Bogart made his film debut), “Jezebel,” “Dark Victory,” “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” “All This and Heaven Too,” “The Letter,” “The Little Foxes,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Now, Voyager,” “Mr. Skeffington,” “All About Eve,” “The Star,” “The Catered Affair,” “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte,” “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” to name only a few of the films that people went to see Bette Davis.
Bette Davis as Julie Marsden, a spoiled Southern belle, in Jezebel. This was her second Best Actress Oscar win after winning for Dangerous three years earlier. 
The personality was so powerful that no matter the role, she dominated because you couldn’t ignore her. Graham Greene once wrote about her: “Even the most inconsiderable film ... seemed temporarily better than they were because of that precise, nervy voice, the pale ash-blond hair (later brunette), the popping, neurotic eyes, a kind of corrupt and phosphorescent prettiness ... I would rather watch Miss Davis than any number of competent pictures.”

She was married four times and it is telling that she called her best-selling memoir “The Lonely Life.” It is also telling that her daughter B.D. Hyman wrote a book about her mothering that was highly controversial, to put it politely. Davis was hurt and outraged by it and didn’t mind telling the world what she thought. She responded by pointing out that she had financially supported her daughter and would be continuing to now that the daughter had written a best-seller about her motherhood.
Mother and daughter during happy times.
I never met her when I lived out there. I saw her speak once for a Film Institute lecture. She was in her late 70s, if not 80. The character delivering the lecture was instantly recognizable as the character who made her film roles famous to the point of parody. She was commanding, outspoken about herself and her world, arch with her sarcasm as you would expect, and entirely Bette Davis. For the audience it was a piece of cinema history and a thrill of a lifetime.

Watching her, listening to her, I could imagine that as a “mother” she might have been very difficult for a child to understand to the point where she might not even have been aware of the child’s puzzlement. This is quite common in life, as we know, and parents who not only personify but portray authority can easily be misunderstood when it is directed at one’s child. I’m not taking sides but it is also true that the role of Mother is the most challenging of all in life for all the right reasons. A woman who also was married to, and possessed of a successful career, is doubly as challenged, and often not as successful as they would wish.
Kathryn Sermak and Bette Davis ready for 1986 Oscars.
Nevertheless I can imagine that Ms. Sermak’s experience must have been equally as energizing. Her role was one in which all is revealed by the Star Player. Davis had that personality on-screen and off-. She also had the other side of tough in equal content: soft. Her four marriages must have been very disappointing to a woman of her sense of self-respect. And a sadness. No doubt the author saw all of that too.

Kathryn Sermak has also had an interesting professional life herself.  Now the co-founder of the Bette Davis Foundation and co-executive of the Bette Davis Estate, she has had unique career as personal assistant also to HIH Princess Shams, the eldest sister of the late Shah of Iran. Shams lived most of her life in the last half of the 20th century in Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara. Sermak also worked for Isabelle Adjani, the French star; Pierre Salinger; Buzz Aldrin, Berry Gordy among others. People from various walks of life, unrelated except by the peculiar experience of Fame and Fortune. That kind of professional experience observing all that provides its own authority.

Meanwhile, back at J. McLaughlin in Southampton that Friday last week, guests had a meet and greet with the author book signing. 15% of sales during the event went to the Bette Davis Foundation which raises funds to award scholarships to support the creative dreams of aspiring actors and actresses.
Joan McLaughlin, Jay McLaughlin, Kathryn Sermak, and Jack Lynch
Guillaume Roitfeld, Pauline Roitfeld, and Tricia Vulliez
Eileen Powers and Jennifer Powers Eleni Gianopoulos
Greg D'Elia and Kathryn Sermak
Ann Colley and Jack Lynch Francesca Orsini
Click to order Miss D and Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis.
Last week we introduced those “What To Wear” girls, Karen Klopp and Hilary Dick to our friends at the Peruvian Connection on 75th Street and Columbus Avenue. It’s always interesting to watch women “who know” go shopping. They cover the entire territory but are immediately drawn to certain racks which are featuring something they like. Hilary almost immediately grabbed a beautiful green dress. When she took it off the rack and also looked at the price tag, she showed it to Karen with a “look..!” She’d hadn’t anticipated the great value.

She tried it and that was it; she loved it. Later I emailed her and asked about her experience. She wrote back: “It was such a treat to be introduced to the Peruvian Connection. I first noticed the dress I chose because of its amazing rich color. Then I was taken in by the feel. The fabric is extremely soft cotton and hangs well on the body. It feels cozy and enveloping while being chic at the same time.
Karen is wearing the Ariana Dress — Travel-friendly and perfect for all occasions, with a shirred crossover waist and faux-wrap skirt; lined through the bodice; $199.

Hilary is wearing the Celeste Dress — a go-anywhere dress wit an attached sash that can be tied front or back to create an hourglass shape; lined bodice; $99 (that's not a misprint!)
“Being a dress gal, I was surprised that I was drawn to these blue graphite pants. When I was told they were a number one seller for years, I just had to try them on. And now I know why they are a hit. The fit and feel are amazing. They are flattering in all the right spots and the attention to detail on the pockets, knees and hem make them special. Paired with this super soft Peruvian cotton shirt, they are a no-brainer. These pants will definitely be a staple in my wardrobe.”
Hllary modeling PC's classic Motorcycle Pants, with leather-trimmed zip pockets, angled, top-stitched seaming and zip ankles; $199. She's paired it with PC's Condor Pima Cotton Belt; $149. That's Karen's beautful and very well behaved Welsh Springer Spaniel Sadie.
Karen has the same sense of purpose that Hilary has. It’s not surprising they’ve been producing their  “What To Wear” site for ten years now. Karen almost immediately went to this dress. She saw it, tried it on, came out and showed us, and that was that.  I also asked her later her thoughts about the experience and the collection:

“I had noticed Peruvian Connection but had not previously shopped there. Hilary and I discovered a lovely collection of natural fibers, crafted entirely in Peru.  The business began in 1976, a mother daughter collaboration of Biddy and Annie Hurlbut, who discovered the value and quality of Peruvian weaving techniques.
Karen chose the V-neck sheath beause it's perfect for traveling and she liked the pattern of "rich jewel tones" that are so "on-cue" for fall events.
Karen was also wearing these fabulous Lionessa Earrings by Teresa Colley.
“I would venture that this enterprise began, or at least as the forefront, of the women empowering women business model that is so popular today.  What I love about the pieces is the soft feel of them. Since I am always on the lookout for pieces that travel well, I can recommend their cozy Alpaca sweaters, the chic leather pieces and the versatility of their other pieces. I chose a V-neck sheath, so easy to pack, with a pattern of rich jewel tones that are so on cue for fall events.  It functions so well as we head into the season of ‘transitional dressing.’ Wear now with pumps, and later topped with a leather jacket and boots. This one is a keeper!   
Karen and Hilary in their new PC outfits.

Contact DPC here.