|Thursday, January 3, 2013. Very cold in New York, just like the weatherman “predicted.”
Our revival this past Monday of the In Memoriam piece I wrote about John Galliher ten years ago, and this holiday time of year reminded us of another great friend to many in New York, Judy Green -- who died a little more than a year before John on September 14, 2001, in her Park Avenue apartment, three days after 9/11.
It’s been more than a decade and I very often think of her. When walking up Park Avenue past 62nd Street, I always look up at her windows, imagining that she is still there and getting ready for her evening – because she always had something going on, something to do, people to see.
There are many people who knew her, who were friendly with her even since childhood, who still think of that energy, that laughter’, and especially at this time of year, those parties she gave so gladly.
She was big on Christmas. Although she was Jewish by birth, she tended to openly turn away from her Jewish-ness. It was a mindset that admired the WASP-ish sensibilities, even when she thought them tiresome or dull. The Christmas season was her cup of tea.
In the early '80s, after her husband died, having sold her property in Westchester, she moved into town fulltime in the big apartment on Park Avenue. It was ideal for her gatherings. At Christmastime, Robert Isabell, then the sensational party designer, did the place up in Ultimate Christmasland. With wreathes and ribbons and silver and gold; pine boughs, holly, mistletoe, the tree, the lights, and then the guests – maybe 150 – with the hors d’oeuvres provided by Vincent Minuto of Hampton Domestics.
People loved these parties because it was a mob scene, a cacophony of the New York social ladder from society matrons to her bookie. There was always a fire in the fireplace and Christmas songs to go with the American songbook (Sinatra) on the sound system. One year, the pine boughs caught fire from a spark from the fireplace, and the fire department evacuated the entire party from the building. A half hour later, fire out, everyone returned and the party started up again. That was Judy Green. Never say never when it comes to a banquet.
The following is the article I wrote about Judy, three days after her death ...
First published September 17, 2001 — Judy Green died last Friday morning 8/14/01 about 3 a.m. in her Park Avenue apartment where she lived and entertained at countless dinners, parties and receptions for the past twenty years. Her friend Ann Downey was by her side. She had had a ten-month battle with pancreatic and liver cancer. It is not clear to me when she learned the finality of her affliction but I know that for several months up until very recently, possibly even a few hours or even a few minutes before her death, she thought she'd triumph and defeat the disease. I know that from things I've heard from the very few who'd been in contact with her and because I knew her. She was a fighter. To the bitter end. She was a competitive woman by nature, deeply competitive, and life was in many ways a race, a race to stay in. Death was a losing. An admission of losing.
I'd heard of her, although only in passing. In the '60s and '70s, Judy and Bill Green had a big country estate in Mount Kisco where they often entertained and were part of a then dazzling set that included Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Ann and Morton Downey, Bennett and Phyllis Cerf, Rosalind Russell and Freddie Brisson, Claudette Colbert, Pamela and Leland Hayward, among others. I knew this only from the pages of W, and from the columns of Liz Smith and Suzy. I knew also that she'd written a couple of novels that created quite a stir amongst the same social set. From the outside looking in, it appeared to be a very glamorous life among the rich, the glitterati and the literati.
Coincidentally, a few days after Dominick had told me about Judy, I went to a luncheon given by Heather Cohane, who then owned Quest, at a now defunct restaurant on East 80th Street. Judy Green was among the guests. I introduced myself. She was quite curious to see this man who'd she'd been reading but had never met or seen. For some reason she imagined me to be different in appearance and age. Again, all very flattering.
At her invitation, I called a couple days later and we made a date to meet for drinks one late afternoon at her apartment on Park and 62nd. I'd never had the experience of someone wanting to meet me because they'd liked what I'd written. Although, of course, I had experienced the opposite more than once. Or twice. So it was a very intriguing, especially since I had no idea what her personality was like or what our conversation would be like.
The Green apartment, decorated by her great friend Ann Downey, was large, plush and glamorously ornamented, and welcoming, with a large wood-paneled living room, a boldly rich red "library" (with a red Rothko over the sofa, a Warhol of Judy over the bar commode, and a Dufy on the opposite wall). It was a real New York apartment in a way that can only exist in New York. The kind where you'd imagine the rich and the famous pass through.
And they had. The tables on either side of the sofa were crowded with silver-framed photographs of the glamorous and rich and famous friends. Men, women and children. Dressed for summer, dressed for grand evenings; on yachts, by the sea, under palm trees. Sinatra relaxing poolside with his wife. Princess Grace with Judy's late husband Bill Green; Truman Capote in his Studio 54 garb, the society columnist Suzy, looking very sportif, under a cabana, adjusting an earring, looking very much like a movie star, Andy Warhol waving, Rosalind Russell laughing, Irving Lazar beaming. The photographs of a golden life, a life of leisure. At least on first sight.
Judy and I sat and talked that afternoon for about three hours. We talked about the people we knew in common. We talked about books, authors we liked, books we hadn't read. She was full of information, details about New Yorkers, Hollywood people, actors, authors, artists. I liked her right away. Her conversation had an "insider's" quality; she was privy to the other side, and often the underside, of the lives so many of the rich and famous who were only familiar to me as "names." The stuff that gets categorized (initially anyway) as gossip. To a writer, (or to me anyway), stories, anecdotes for sake of insight or for sake of titillation about the rich and the famous are irresistibly compelling. Especially if the teller is well informed.
That and my endless curiosity, combined with her welcoming personality, created an instant bond between us.
She was born and brought up in New York, on Central Park West, daughter of a wealthy businessman. From an early age she moved in the social circles of the Our Crowd families, as well as tycoons of publishing and show business. She was a very pretty girl. Author/historian Barbara Goldsmith recalled meeting Judy when she was seventeen, "at a Christmas ball Mrs. Arthur Lehman gave for her grandchildren the Buttenweiser, Loeb, Bernhard kids. She was wearing a lemon yellow dress and she was so beautiful, with those cat's eyes and cameo face (before the sun, before Bill Green, before books and articles and people like Swifty)."
She was very proud of and duly impressed by the fact that she was related, on her mother's side, to Dorothy Fields, the great Broadway lyricist. Judy, too, was very facile with words, and loved to, and often did, whip up a witty and clever lyric or poem for a friend or an occasion.
When she was in her late 20s, she married a businessman named Bill Green, a man almost twice her age, and who had a previous marriage. Green was, as I said, a very close friend of Sinatra's, as well as Edgar Bronfman, the Seagrams heir, with whom he had close business connections. By this time Judy had already published her first novel and embarked on her literary-social career. The combination of friends that the two brought to the marriage provided an energetic, peripatetic and rich social life, that characterized the marriage. In his late sixties, Bill Green died suddenly of congestive heart failure, having been stricken while they were staying with Claudette Colbert at her house in Barbados.
Green's death left Judy a rich and independent woman. She
wrote three more books and became a popular hostess on
the New York scene. As bright and well-read as she was,
she had a tireless interest in social life. She loved the
camaraderie. She loved the variety and changeability of
city life. She loved the rich and the glamorous. She loved the nightlife. She also loved presiding
over the festivities, Auntie Mame-like in her role.
She was not a quiet, behind the scenes kind of hostess. She loved music although she could never sing on key and she loved stirring things up to something resembling a near-frenzy of excitement. The effect, however, was near-Hollywood movie version of a New York party, where the world Wall Street, Broadway, Hollywood, and publishing got together with a few other types, such as bookies and very well kept mistresses. Her rooms were full of laughter, music, frequent entertainment, gabbing, gossiping and the noise of people having a good time.
Many friends were acquired by many, through Judy.
She loved people, especially creative people, or brilliant people, or powerful people. She loved theatre people and movie people. She read their books, saw their shows, their movies. When you got to know her, you got to know someone who could be bossy at times, or possessive, or even petulant, especially if she thought she was missing out on something. She had an intelligence as "sharp as a knife," as one friend put it. "And like a sharp knife, she could cut too."
Yet she was magnanimous and generous to her friends with her assets, and quick to share. A friend in sudden financial straits could call her anytime and a check for five or ten thousand would be waiting with her doorman within the hour, no questions asked and no time limit on the loan. If she thought you needed something, she wouldn't wait to be asked, but offered instead. One famous authoress once borrowed several thousand dollars from her, and shortly thereafter fell out with her. Riffs with Judy could happen. However, the woman never spoke to her again, and Judy was never repaid. Her only regret was the sad loss of friendship.
She was very energetic. A late night party, even with a lot of drinking going on, and she could do her share, didn't stop her from being up the following morning by seven or eight at the very latest. She read everything all the periodicals, all the newspapers, all the gossip columns, and all the latest bestsellers. She remembered everything that passed through her eyes and ears and never forgot. An inveterate sports fan, she loved betting on the football games, the big tournaments, the horses, the gaming tables. Her limit, which she rarely approached, was always ten thousand. Like many women of her means and energy, she never turned down an opportunity to travel and saw much of the world many times.
Last November (2000) she suddenly fell ill with a mysterious pain that was too much to bear. All kinds of tests discovered tumors. Whatever she was told, she chose to tell almost none of her myriad friends and acquaintances that she was suffering, and possibly very ill. The single picture of Judy in the red dress was taken at the last party she gave in her apartment last December 2000. She'd given two Christmas parties last year: one for a couple dozen friends that included dinner and then another for about two hundred fifty. The big party especially was vintage Judy. A wide array of New York turned out (as seen in NYSD 12/00) to meet and greet and see their hostess. Very few knew anything about what she was facing; and all her great fears remained covered by her smile and her laughter.
A couple of weeks later she started her treatments. The whole process was a terrifying one for her although few saw her experiencing it, as indeed many never knew, until her death, that she was ill. She chose instead to withdraw from the world. Phone calls were not returned, invitations were turned down without explanation.
Friends were confounded and concerned, but to no avail. Stories went around that she was very ill. The stories angered her. That, to her, suggested defeat. She was adamant. She was determined to "beat it." Her condition worsened over the following months. Then she found a doctor who gave her a special experimental treatment which had produced positive results for others. She took it, and by last summer it looked like she was making almost miraculous progress.
However, within days, her condition suddenly reversed itself. It was there in Palm Beach that she collapsed. She was brought back up to New York a couple of weeks ago, and checked into a hospital. A few days later she returned to her apartment. Despite the agony, she remained defiantly steadfast. And then on Thursday, she ran out of time; she left us.
Responding to an email I'd written to Barbara Goldsmith about Judy, she wrote back what so many of her friends must be thinking about her now:
Ever since I received your Email I've been thinking of that song:
I've seen fire and I've seen rain.
I've seen sunny days
I thought would never end
... but I always thought that I'd see you
one more time again.