Thursday, January 3, 2013

Here's to Judy

Among my souvenirs, a photo of me and Judy Green arriving at a dinner during the holiday season
in 1997.
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.

I’d met her several years before, and we briefly had a time when she got the idea in her head that I should be her husband. She would often introduce me to people as her husband. It was ironic, and funny, and not something either one of us would have been suited for, but she liked the idea at the time. We were, in some ways, kindred spirits. She was also one of those personalities that once she’d befriended you, you became part of her life. And she liked having fun, a good time, an interesting time.

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 met her only eight years ago when I came back to New York from living in Los Angeles. I'd been writing social-historical pieces for Quest. One day at a luncheon of some mutual friends, Dominick Dunne told me that Judy Green wanted to meet me and would I mind if she called me. The whole idea of someone wanting to meet me and asking if they could call was entirely flattering.

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.

Tete-a-tete with writer Anthony-Haden Guest at one of her parties.
The day before our meeting I happened to mention to Gerald Clarke, the Capote and Judy Garland biographer, that I was going to meet Judy Green. He said: "Oh you'll have fun. She loves to give parties and she'll invite you to her parties." In New York, the idea of going to parties (up until this past week -- 9/11), the possibility of meeting new and interesting people is, for many of us, part of what city life is all about.

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 a small woman, probably no more than five-four. Blonde at this age, a brunette earlier on. Perpetually tanned (from frequent trips to Palm Beach in the wintertime and Europe and the Hamptons in the summer). She often wore red, or black. She was not a fashion maven, and although she had the perfunctory fur coats and accessories, and always looked "turned out," she cared little about it. She had by then been a widow, young, for fourteen years. Mother of a daughter Christina (now married to Lloyd Gerry) and a son Nicholas. She'd had a sparkling, if not brilliant career as a novelist. Irving Lazar was her first agent and Bob Gottlieb was her editor.

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.
Christmas at Chez Green 2000.
That's DPC surveying the crowd.
The dessert table.
Bill 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.

Judy at Restaurant Daniel in October, 2000.
Judy with DPC, and her Yorkshire Terrier, Lulu, 1998.
A graduate of Vassar, she had many of the qualities associated with New York girls of her generation. She was worldly and sophisticated. From Herman Wouk (Marjorie Morningstar) to Mary McCarthy (The Group), she moved easily among all kinds of New Yorkers of privilege and connections, with no authority but a warmth with which she insinuated herself into many people's lives. She loved life.

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.

The sportswoman at Joe and Joan Cullman's fishing camp in Canada, 1998.
It was a big personality with lots of laughter and lots of wit. Not unusually, it could also be a very willful personality, at times prone to the temptations of envy or self-centered interests that often seem to come with the territory of being bright, talented, rich and a woman, in what was still basically a man's world. She could have married again after Bill Green's death, but she preferred the independence. She preferred being able to make her own decisions financially. She preferred being able to pick up the check and share the wealth. Her large apartment was often home away from home to friends in from Europe or other parts of the country.

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.

July crossing Madison Avenue on August 2, 2001.
By August, she was convinced that she was on the road to recovery. For the first time in months she began to see certain friends for lunch or for dinner. Everyone, who knew of her battle, was amazed at her resilience. She bought a house in Bridgehampton. Then she went down to her friend Ann Downey's house in Palm Beach to rest and continue her treatments. She called me for the first time in months to tell me her good news. We made plans to see each other when she returned to New York after Labor Day.

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.

I won't.
We won't.