A Tale of New York Life

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A deflated winterberry along Riverside Boulevard. Photo: JH.

Monday, January 4, 2021.  It was one of those January weekends just past in New York. Grey, wet, cold, blank. I mean “blank”: nothing there. However, January in New York is famously like that, and also the quietest month on the Calendar. Well, it was until this past year when it was like January in June and all the months that preceded and followed.

Here at the Diary we’re “used to” this annual quiet. Although nobody in his or her right mind these days is used to what it does to our heads. Nevertheless, the show must go on. With so little to record, JH has been spending some time going through our now vast archive of Diaries, looking for something to appeal to memory, or just a look at what it was like when it wasn’t like this in New York (or anywhere these days).

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

He found one — a two-in-one — the first published in December 2000, followed by one in December 2009 — a memorial of sorts of Judy Green, a good friend to many, and a great New York party-giver.  Re-reading these pieces I was struck by the nature of New York social life not that long ago. It was high, wide and handsome and certainly lots of fun in memory. Judy, who left us sooner than we would have expected, would have loved this memory too. For your enjoyment, a Tale of New York Life.

December 29, 2009. New York is very quiet right now and those of us, like this reporter, who go out all the time are more than mildly pleased to have Nothing To Do in that department. It is a time to rendezvous with old friends, new books, and the movies that we’ve missed.

Judy Green at one of her annual Christmas parties.

Looking back on the decade. JH and I started the New York Social Diary at the beginning of the “Aughts” in September 2000. Looking through our archives from that year, we found an entry on Judy Green’s annual Christmas party which was held on December 18th of that year.

At that point in her life, Judy Green had been a personality and a force around New York for more than three decades. A born and bred New Yorker, she went to Vassar, became an advertising copywriter after college, and in her late 20s married a wealthy businessman Bill Green who was more than 20 years her senior.

The Greens, who had a son and a daughter, lived mainly on an estate in Mount Kisco where they were active in group that included Pamela (later Harriman) and Leland Hayward, former MayorRobert Wagner and his wife Phyllis Cerf, Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Claudette Colbert, Truman Capote, Morton and Ann Downey, Mary and Irving Lazar, CZ and Winston Guest and a passing parade of New York celebrities and socialites, Hollywood stars and various international A-listers.

Bill Green died of a heart attack in the late 70s, in Barbados where they were staying with the Sinatras at Claudette Colbert’s oceanside villa. Judy sold the Mount Kisco place and bought an apartment at 555 Park Avenue and 62nd Street.

Still in her mid-forties, she was soon the merry widow in New York. She loved entertaining and because of her diverse social connections (New York/Hollywood), her parties which were beautifully done up and kept moving by an ample waitstaff serving up the vodka, wine and champagne as well as incomparable canapés and hors d’oeuvres These were provided by, one of the NYSD’s longest, most loyal advertisers – Vincent Minuto (Hamptons Domestics).

A guest thoroughly enjoying one of Vincent Minuto’s canapés.

Judy Green’s Christmas parties were always very festive with pines and ribbons festooning her large wood-paneled livingroom with fireplace. They were decorated by a talented newcomer named Robert Isabell and he pulled out the stops which is what his client loved. Isabell did the party every year. One year, some of the swags of pine boughs over the fireplace caught fire and the fire department had to come to put out the fire (which did considerable damage). Nevertheless, as soon as the firetrucks left, the party continued.

The sportswoman at Joe and Joan Cullman’s fishing camp in Canada, 1998.

She always had a large guest list, a broad mix of Broadway, Hollywood, Wall Street, Upper East Side, Central Park West, Palm Beach, highlife and, lest it be forgotten, a healthy smidge of the low. These fetes were exactly what an out-of-towner might imagine a snazzy New York cocktail party might be like (in a Hollywood movie).

She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, a writer of four (racy/very racy for the time) novels, a voracious reader with a sharp memory for facts and details, who loved travel, playing the ponies, high-grade gossip and a good laugh. She laughed a lot. I can still hear it in my memory’s ear. And I can see her bright wide smile in my memory’s eye.

2000 was to be the last year of Judy Green’s Christmas party. Not by intent, but just a few days before this particular party was held, she’d taken medical tests to find the source of bouts of great pain she’d been having. It was very troubling. About ten days after this party, around the turn of the year, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died at home three days after 9/11. She was 66.

July crossing Madison Avenue on August 2, 2001.

There are quite a few of us, from all walks of life and interest who still think of Judy Green and her parties with great pleasure (sometimes hilarity) and bittersweet recollections of her life and the good time she provided gladly and vigorously for so many people, herself included.

She was fulla beans, as they used to say about such life forces. She could be demanding, and controversial and at all times absorbed the magnificent culture of New York like a great romance.

Friends who see this page will also be reminded of the many transitions (and departures) of people who met many times at Judy Green’s party at this time of the year, always remembering the good times and bright times.

December 19, 2000. Last night in New York. Judy Green held her Christmas Open House in her great big Park Avenue apartment with pine-paneled living room, the blood red library with the big red, black, and green Rothko hanging over the sofa and the Andy Warhol silkscreened quartet (of Mrs. Green) over the the bar.

Mrs. Green loves Christmas almost as much as she loves giving parties. A fire blazing in the fireplace, the mantle decked with Christmas beads and boughs of holly, the big tree in the corner, and in the dining room — tables laid out with a buffet of tea sandwiches of Vincent Minuto, part-time chef to the rich and the famous (and the savvy).

Steven Aronson and Judy Green. I was at Judy’s for about an hour-and-a-half and remember seeing the following: Sidney Zion, Dominick Dunne, Patricia Duff, Karen Moline, Dennis Basso, Michael Cominetto, Tommy Corcoran, Sam Michaels, Ann Rapp, Chris and Grace Meigher, Mollie Wilmot, Sharon Sondes and Geoffrey Thomas, Ian and Ellen Graham, Dolores Smithies, Edgar Battista, Pierre Cossette, Pierre Scapula, Charlie Scheips, Tom Graf, Marina Pignatelli, Pauline Trigere, Christina and Lloyd Gerry, Ann Downey, Steve McPherson, Paul and Jo Hallingby, Boaz Mazor, Sharon King Hoge, Peter Rogers, Lisa Fine, Jackie Weld and Rod Drake, Heather Cohane, Steve Aronson, Vicky Ward, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Mimi Strong, Iris Love, Joan and Joe Cullman, Jan Amory, Peggy Siegal, Annette Tapert and Joe Allen, Kenza, Mary McFadden, Maria Cooper Janis, John Galliher, Alice Mason, Dominique Michaud, Dr. Patrick Stubgen and Dana Hammond, Christian, Tim Lovejoy, Marty Bregman, Demi Gates, Somers White and Jonathan Farkas, Taylor Stein, Felicia Taylor and Dylan Brown, Jim Power, Ann Barish, Bob Marx, Joe Pachetti, Dr. Sherrell and Muffie Potter Aston, Kenny Lane, Anthony Haden-Guest, Jean Harvey Vanderbilt, Rae Crispin, Deborah Mitchell, Couri Hay, Pat Kerr Tigrett, Kathy Sloane, Edwina Sandys and Richard Kaplan, and Lionel Larner.

The ways begins at 6:30 and like a rocket, just runs on into the night. People go on their way to somewhere else and get delayed because there are always all kinds of people, and a lot of talk. Although not a lot of talk around the buffet tables because of Vincent Minuto’s tea sandwiches. Except for people who talk with their mouth full.

These are nothing little sandwiches — itty-bitty squares on whole wheat and/or white, crusts trimmed away — so small, and so light. But! Each one’s got the thinnest spread of chicken salad or egg salad or ham salad, or watercress or cucumbers. You can’t tell what you’re getting until you’ve popped one in your mouth. And you don’t give a damn anyway, because you never feel like you’re eating too much. And all you want is to eat another.

The most sophisticated have been known to stand by the table with a drink in one hand and the other hand operating like a kind of steam shovel — table-to-mouth, table-to-mouth — over these sandwiches. There are also Christmas cookies and brownies, but people eat them only to pretend to themselves they’re through with the sandwiches.

The other good thing about Mrs. Green’s parties is that the mix is so DIVERSE, and so crowded that you’re forced to talk to people because you’re already pressed up against them.

And what do they talk about? It’s interesting to watch Dominick Dunne. Everyone wants to talk to him. You could imagine them telling him all kinds of secrets. He wends his way about the room, always a glass of Perrier in one hand (he doesn’t drink), deftly and quickly, pausing to say hello and then, before you know it, someone’s telling him something.

Tonight Patricia Duff, who’s really seen a lot of the world Dominick writes about, was giving him an earful. I have no idea what they were saying. I was just watching over the crowd. They may have been talking about how hard it is trying to find a taxi, although I prefer to think it was a lot more intriguing. The beautiful Mrs. Duff has “that subtle charm that makes young farmers desert the farm,” as Cole Porter once wrote. And that is no understatement. Meeting is believing, believe me.

Her divorce from Ronald Perelman is like old used chewing gum, so they probably weren’t talking about that. But you never know what else is new in this woman’s life. The first time I ever heard of Bill Clinton was in Los Angeles in 1987 when Mrs. Duff (then Mrs. Medavoy) had a reception for him (and a lot of other Democratic potential-candidates). He was just this young governor from Arkansas, of all places. Who thought he’d be President in five years? No one. Except Mrs. Duff of course.

I also heard lots of talk about Mrs. Green’s recently completed piece interviewing a number of New Yorkers about Brooke Astor for TALK magazine. Now she’s doing the same thing on Liberace which ought to be a jaw-dropper. And bittersweet.

In Judy’s entry way.
Christmas at Chez Green 2000.

What else? Some social types were discussing a very ambitious woman who is bringing out all the major artillery to establish her place in the New York scheme of things. A drop-dead dinner party in a drop-dead new apartment — but a comme-ci, comme-ca group of would-be’s, should-be’s, won’t-be’s and could-be’s, according to the analysts.

The talk continues about the great reversal of fortune of Saul Steinberg et famille, chronicled in the latest Vanity Fair. The story itself is old news. I alluded to its encroaching reality more than two years ago in one of these columns. What is more interesting now are the stories going around in sotto voce fragments about other well known individuals about to hit the same rocky shores. These are the stories we’ll be reading in 2002. We’re in a sea-change, the kind that impact these parts of New York, often wiping the social slate quite clean. La change, tout de meme.

Meanwhile Judy Green will be putting up yet another tree and Vincent Minuto will be stacking up those tea sandwiches on the buffet, and the cognoscenti, the movers, the shakers, the rich, the chic and the shameless, will be back for more, and glad to be there.

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