Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Judy Green

In Memoriam. September 17, 2001 - Judy Green died last Friday morning 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. She 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 wondered if she might call 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 quite curious to see this man who'd she'd been reading but never seen. For some reason she imagined me to be quite different in appearance and age. Again, all very flattering to me.

Tete-a-tete with writer Anthony-Haden Guest at one of her parties.

At her invitation, I called her 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 actually 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 converse. So it was a very intriguing circumstance, especially since I had no idea what her personality was like and what our conversation would be like.

The day before our meeting I happened to mention 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 these past few days in all our lives), 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 warm, 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. 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 who was almost twice her age and whos 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.

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 nightlife. She also loved presiding over the festivities, kind of 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 a kind of near-Hollywood movie version of a New York party, where the world — Wall Street, Broadway, Hollywood, and publishing get together with a few other types, such as bookies and very well kept mistresses. Her rooms were full of a lot of laughter, music, frequent entertainment, gabbing, gossiping and the noise of people having a good time.

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 amongst all kinds of New Yorkers, and with no authority, but with a warmth which with she insinuated herself into many people's lives.

Judy at Restaurant Daniel
Judy with DPC, and her Yorkshire Terrior, Lulu.

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 with her friends and 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, 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 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 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. She'd given two Christmas parties last year: one for a couple of 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.

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.