A real-life soap opera

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The Falconer, dedicated on May 31, 1875, in Central Park.

A grey, colder, overcast day, yesterday in New York. Mainly overcast with temps in the low-40s and then the high to mid-30s in the evening. And the weatherman telling us snow may be coming this way.

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” — E.M. Forster — via Joseph Epstein from the introduction of his book “Charm, the Elusive Enchantment.” Hear! Hear! The city is back in business (its “charm”) but this month is always the slowest and quietest in the people-watching business of the metropolis.

I had dinner at Sette Mezzo this past Sunday night with my old friend Joan Kingsley who had just come in from holiday in Barbados on her way back to her home in London. Joan is an American born girl, brought up in New York and its environs.

We met in the summer of 1967 when we were both performing a season in summer stock, pursuing acting careers in the theatre. We got to know each other the way you get to know people you spend a summer with living under the same roof and working on the same pursuits.

DPC and Joan Kingsley.

In retrospect it was a carefree time although (at that stage in life) it was fraught with anticipation of the future (i.e., career). And as much as we liked each other, Joan and I lost touch after that summer and never saw each other again for more than ten years. The next time was in 1979 when one night in West Hollywood, we both happened to be in the same restaurant. She had met an Englishman whom she was about to marry. I had moved out there to pursue my writing. We chatted but then again, we never saw each other again after that. Until the mid-90s when Joan and Philip and I were coincidentally at the same dinner party given by mutual friends here in New York.

The conversation that we started that summer thirty years before just picked up as if … “and so you were saying …” Our conversations are always about ourselves, life and lives around us, as well as the books we read, the films and plays that impressed (or didn’t), and of course “the dish” (hold the foie gras, I’ll take the bacon cheeseburger loaded, medium-rare).

Joan Kingsley with her late husband, Philip in 2016. Philip was the famous “hair doctor” and one of those rara avis whose natural harmony made him a unique kind of friend. One always felt a certain calm in his presence.

Joan and I, like millions of others, are devotees (or call it vulgar curiosity) of the London Daily Mail on the web. She reads the London edition, and I of course, the US — although I peruse the UK edition from time to time. If you’ve never read it/them, they can be found on the same site, carrying many of the same stories but focusing otherwise on the life in each country. Either way, it’s unabashed tabloidal: sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and often with interesting historical photo archives and biographies of historical and celebrated characters. And of course, the Royals.

I’ll read anything about the Royals. I like it for the complete distraction from reality even though, ironically — the key word — it’s like a real-life soap opera. Joan likes reading about them too. Although both of her daughters who are British and in their early 30s — along with their generation — have zero interest in anything about the Royals. They see them as boring people living off the fat of the land. American women don’t necessarily agree and tend to enjoy the domestic dramas abroad.

The Queen stands alone.

We both agree that Elizabeth, the Queen herself is one of the most amazing women in the world in our lifetime. My interest in her was borne in Sally Bedell Smith’s biography “Elizabeth, the Queen; the Life of a Modern Monarch.” In a non-material way, she is very possibly the most powerful woman, perhaps the most powerful person, in the world today. Because she is The Queen, but specifically because she has no legislative powers at all. She only possesses the right to ask the pointed questions of those prime ministers presiding under her reign, expressing a universal conscience that she clearly understands.

Which doesn’t mean she can change things, alas. However, while Joan and I both expressed our admiration, I asked if she thought those stories in the Mail about Meghan and Kate (the Duchess of Cambridge), and Harry and William not getting along were true. If you haven’t read about their alleged schism, it’s been rumored (in the Daily Mail) that Meghan and Kate aren’t copasetic, as sisters-in-law. See what I mean about soap opera?

A small sampling of the Daily Mail headlines about the “schism.”

Then there is the ongoing brouhaha of Meghan’s father and half-sister who live over here and are always complaining in the DM about not being asked to the Harry and Megham wedding. A recent report was that Meghan’s father publicly suggested the Queen herself step in and mend things for him. Yeah, right. Get everyone together in Buckingham Palace. Maybe in the Throne Room. Or the House of Lords. Get Judge Judy to preside.

I don’t know these people, obviously; have never met them, but I’m a child of the life voyage of the boys’ late mother. And when I think of them, I always think of her, and her motherhood — a noticeable departure from the lives around her. As if their story were my own private play, I prefer a happy ending for her beloved boys, and especially for Prince Harry whose international reception mirrors that of his grandmother, a man of his time.

Public Image, Private Heart. When I asked Joan about the “rumors” of those disagreements between the boys’ wives and even between the bros themselves, she nodded her confirmation. Or rather her belief. The Mail, she said, have sources everywhere and this has been going on for some time. Then she said that maybe Harry and Meghan will spend more time away from the family, maybe spend some of their time living over here in this country which she thought Harry would like.

The Daily Mail filling us in ….

That sounded interesting. But then of course, that’s the job of the Daily Mail and that’s why millions of us read it. It’s a compatible distraction from the matters in our world that defines the distraught.

While I can imagine that the DM has sources everywhere, as Joan said; it is also true that a tabloid is there to entertain mainly, or even entirely. It is also true that we the readers, the spectators, translate the images of celebrities and famous people into our own dramas. Like watching a movie and deciding which characters you relate to (or dislike).

Technology and the media have so super-saturated us with these dramas and “personalities,” that we naturally assume we actually know these people — as if they were parts of our private lives. Most often the opposite is true. The public’s perception is based almost entirely on moving and photo images of those people, projected and run entirely for the public’s eye and ear. Very often, the real person behind that image is quite different, even mondane. This is true of actors, politicians as well as official public figures including the Royals. Off-camera, off-stage, many are unremarkable and without Joseph Epstein’s “elusive enchantment,” charm.

Many years ago here in New York, I was at dinner one night with my late friend Judy Green, and a woman friend of hers and the woman’s boyfriend, an Englishman who was a friend of Harry and William’s father, Prince Charles. What was Charles like? I asked the man during our dinner conversation. What was he like to be around on a one-to-one?

The man, who’d played polo with Charles, liked him very much. He thought for a moment about my question. Then he said: “Common Sense, he has no common sense. He’s intelligent, informed, interested, but if he has a problem he hasn’t been able to sort out, and you suggest a solution that is really just common sense, he’ll think it’s brilliant.” The world he occupies never provided that universal insight. The Daily Mail leaves that sort of thing to us readers.

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