A Fresh Look at an Old Story, Chapter 2

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The view of Carl Schurz Park, the East River, and the northern tip of Roosevelt Island taken last winter from high above East End Avenue on a beautiful, peaceful night.

12_8_22. Rainy weather in New York with temps way up in the 50s.

Here’s another series of images from our desks and diaries over the years.

Truman Capote on stage tipping his hat with three drag queens in New Orleans in 1993, photographed by Harry Benson for an article on him in People magazine. 

I had been sent to meet Truman the day after this photograph was taken by Lester Persky, a film producer for whom I was working at the time. Lester had just bought the rights to a story Truman had written in Interview magazine for $500,000 dollars. He had come to Los Angeles to discuss it with Lester. It was my job to pick him up LAX and drive him to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where Lester had reserved a room for him.

He was more than tipsy when he got off the plane, and on meeting he told me, speaking very slowly in his lethargic alcoholic state, that he had just come from being photographed in New Orleans “with sixteen of theee most bee-you-tee-ful drag queens …!” as he was pleased to report and repeat several times.

I had long admired his work, and had seen him more than once on television talk shows all the way back to the 1960s. He was always very congenial in his state of inebriation — except toward what became the end.

When we arrived at the hotel, an assistant met us in the driveway, and I accompanied Truman as he was led to his room. As we got off the elevator, he noticed that all of the rooms had the name of a California winery on each door, remarking “I seeee we’re on the al-co-hawlics floor,” he commented.

On entering the room he said very soberly to the executive in charge, “where’s the Stolichnaya?”

“It’s coming, it’s on its way,” he assured Truman who immediately went into the bathroom, leaving the door open and immediately we could hear him snorting (something).

That was a Thursday afternoon. I never heard another word about him until I went to work on Monday morning when I learned that Truman had had a complete “lost weekend” from Friday night on, having never left his mattress. When a friend found him on Monday morning, his mattress was covered with vodka bottles and what was left of the cocaine.

Lester was very upset but understanding with his author, and Truman was removed to Lester’s house (and office) in Bel Air where he spent the next three days drying out. It was a sad story to behold. In the sober state he was a frail, lost and broken man; and then Lester accompanied him on the plane back to New York.

I never saw Truman again although a few years ago, I came to know Harry Benson and his wife Gigi. In the conversation Harry told me about photographing Truman in New Orleans (Truman had never mentioned who had taken that photograph in People). Harry’s experience of Truman had been an amusing pleasure. Very open about his sexual interests, Truman insisted on taking Harry to see some of the gay bars that Truman liked in New Orleans.

“As soon as he entered a place, he’d go right up to the stage or wherever the entertain was, and participate in the show. He was funny,” and Harry had a good laugh recalling the experience.

And speaking of authors (no lost weekends here), this is the cover of a memoir written by my friend Tom Huth, published a few years ago. The lady in the photo, Holly, was a very old friend who grew up with my former wife Sheila. Holly, who was a New York girl, born and bred, a debutante who after college married and had two sons by her first husband. She met Tom in Colorado after her divorce.  Tom was a writer (still is; always will be even if he doesn’t write another word) and after they married, they lived for several years in Gold Hill, Colorado from which they traveled when Tom was on assignment.

Holly’s second marriage and lifestyle came as a surprise to her Eastern friends, but it was a very very successful relationship. Tom, as the book title implies, was a regular marijuana smoker (whenever it was available) although Holly was not. Eventually in their travels, they acquired a house in Santa Barbara and a cottage on ocean in Costa Rica, occasionally coming East to see her sons and her friends.

Although the book cover photo of the couple might provoke an imagination about their lifestyle, it was especially taken mainly to interest the reader in the subject, and they were not inclined to costume (ever – as far as I know and I knew them well).

Traveled far and wide on Tom’s assignments (and also out of curiosity) but in the early ’90s Holly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. She lived with it, and fought the deterioration, consistently losing her ability to function, for more than twenty-five years, with Tom never leaving her side. She was one of the finest women I’ve ever known — strong, kind, a devoted mother and wife, and brave. Her death was a very great sadness for everyone who ever knew her.

After her passing, Tom left Santa Barbara and returned to their cabin in Gold Hill. The challenge of Holly’s illness was very taxing on her husband although he stuck with her to the bitter (although Holly was never bitter.) There wasn’t much time for Tom for writing as it wore on but his book tells the story brilliantly and honestly. Writing about Holly, as I sit here writing these words, I am still overcome by her loss. An angel, she was.

Meanwhile back in little ole New York. This photograph was taken from the terrace of the two story penthouse of Tony-winning Broadway producer and Wall Street heiress Terry Allen Kramer on top of what was once the Westbury Hotel on Madison Avenue and 69th Street. It was taken about 10 or 12 years ago (as you can tell from the lack of “pencil towers” that currently dominate the New York skyline). Terry was a very kind woman who lived very luxuriously here in New York where she was actively involved on Broadway, and in Southampton and in Palm Beach. She died at age 86 in May 2019.

The smiling couple are very recognizable to New Yorkers, Jamie Figg and Patty Hearst. They are smiling at the remarks of the man who might not be as recognizable from the back angle and the bald pate of age: King Charles III.

Jamie Figg, Patty Hearst, and Charles III.

The view of very East Side of Manhattan looking southwest taken from a terrace in the River House on East 52nd Street at 8 p.m. on a weekend evening. The glowing tower between the two closer buildings is the Chrysler Building on East 42nd Street. The tallest tower in the photo was built by the man who later became President of the United States.

The very chic and beautiful woman, a lifetime New Yorker, is the supermodel and actress with longest career in fashion modeling and still working at age 91, one of the great women of New York Carmen Dell’ Orifice. Here she is in 2008 with her escorts (and you can see they are delighted) author Kohle Yohannen and the late fashion designer/ artist Michael Vollbracht.

Meanwhile, later that night (like any night) Elaine’s was a calling for a lot of the creative set (writers/artists/actors) were gathering by, and after, mid-evening, at the establishment of Elaine Kaufman on 89th Street and Second Avenue. Artist (and writer with a photographic memory) Schulenberg was often there, sketchbook always in his hand or by his side, listening to Elaine tell him what she thinks (or knows), which he finds very interesting and can maybe use it.

Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and many others from Paris that the lady wears at night (and during the day) when she gets out and about in her couture gowns and dresses.

Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and many others from Paris

Two prominent interior designers, who are no longer with us ad missed by masses, having cocktails at some reception in the early autumn, Ann Downey from Palm Beach and Mario Buatta, who’s giving the photographer some advice or “what for?”

The seersucker in summertime boys at Michael’s restaurant. As it happened my table where I was having lunch with Peter Rogers and at the table next door wearing a broad smile with his seersucker was Andre Leon Talley waiting for his guests. Andre frequently had that table when I was there. Although he was never gracious, let alone friendly, the the seersucker (and the camera) brought him to life. He was an enormously talented man, perhaps just very shy under many circumstance. He is also missed by many.

Back to Harry. Just this past Tuesday night Kerry Kennedy presented Harry’s photo of Princess Diana to Prince Harry and Meghan at the RFK Gala right here in town. Harry and Gigi couldn’t make it as Gigi was a feeling bit under the weather (“Darn it!”), but thankfully Harry’s talented assistant Jon Delano was there and captured this touching photo.

Let’s dance! The big guy is the 10th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace who looks like he’s concentrating and keeping up (or going along) with the little lady who looks like the belle of that ball — and undoubtedly was at many others. The little lady was the energetic and naturally charming Hope Montgomery Scott, the Philadelphia Mainline heiress whose natural charm was so great that she inspired the 1940 MGM George Cukor-directed film The Philadelphia Story starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart.

The 10th Duke of Marlborough trying to keep up with Hope Montgomery Scott.

Hope, whom I had the great pleasure of getting to know briefly at the end of her life (then close to 90), was still full of that energy.

She made friends wherever she went and was occasionally attracted to many a man who got to know her a little better (although she was married and never left her husband). She grew up on the Ardrossan Estate in a 50-room Georgian revival mansion (named for her family’s ancestral Scottish home).

A frequent guest at Ardrossan was Philip Barry, a college friend of her son, who became a major author and Broadway playwright. Barry was so charmed by the little lady that he wrote a play based on her called The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn, who had been a guest and also friend of the family, paid tribute to her by buying the film rights. It won two Oscars and was later remade into the 1956 musical High Society, starring Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong with music by Cole Porter.

She was also a great horsewoman and rode her horses everyday whenever she was home. The last day of her life she went riding. When  returning her horse to the stable she was accidentally kicked as she was bending over to pick up something. Back in the main house she told a staff member that she was feeling very uncomfortable and going to rest. She went up to her room to lie down. An hour later, her maid found her  still resting. She had passed. She was 91. It had been a rich and active, interesting, amusing and even a fun life well lived.

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