Debbie’s Week at a Glance: Perfect, grand. Period.

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The glorious cast of "Downton Abbey," the movie. The staff, dazzling and almost unrecognizable, glam and glittering.

Could there be a more welcome, enveloping, soothing escape, than one to Downton Abbey? Andrew Saffirs’ Cinema Society, Focus Features and Carnival Films packed Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall with fans, and more specially, the cast. The movie was wonderful, and not just according to me. As much as I love J Lo, there was something heartening seeing Maggie Smith edge out “Hustlers” as the #1 movie at the box office. Of course the D.A. crowd are hustlers too, but with better accents. We forgive everything English.

Andrew was simultaneously hosting the “Godfather of Harlem,” a noteworthy new series produced by and featuring Forest Whitaker, with an after party at The Apollo. Nicole Miller sent me a picture of her and Cuba Gooding Jr., and teased that I’d missed the good one. Nope. I was happy with Mrs. Patmore. 

With swollen hearts and a yearning to crawl through the celluloid in to the D.A. world, we headed over to The Plaza Hotel, which was the perfect, grand, period place for this party. British bites were served — tea sandwiches, many mollusks, fish and chips, and an embarrassment of sweets.

The Plaza has never looked better or seemed a more appropriate setting.
British food. Why am I obsessed with tea sandwiches?

It was fun to see the DA staff rivaling the Crawleys in beauty and sophistication. It was a testimonial to make up. Daisy was divine, Mrs. Patmore radiant, Mrs. Hughes drop dead chic and the real life marrieds, Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter, were an upstairs/downstairs character combo. I tried to balance my rosè as I clicked their pic, but dribbled a bit into the camera. “Is this a comedy routine?” Jim wondered in his signature, sonorous baritone? Imelda said “Carry on. You’re lovely.” And so I did, and love her most.

L. to r.: Yes! Our beloved Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicole), dressed for upstairs; and her underling Daisy (Sophie McShera), more movie star than maid.
And Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) intimidatingly chic as she is intimidating as Head Housekeeper.
Brilliant Imelda Staunton and her real life huge hubby, butler, Jim Carter.
Lovely Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith Crawley.
L. to r.: My date, Patricia Duff, pretty as any star; We made him our personal butler. Equity trader by day, caterer by night — what does that tell you about the state of affairs?
Butler Kevin Doyle, who has the funniest scene in the film as butler Joseph Molesley, with Masterpiece Theater’s Susanne Simpson — original DA producer.
Our sofa station.

If “Downton Abbey” was in Atlanta, Alex Hitz would live there. Upstairs. Alex, known to all as the consummate host, chef and swell fellow, has shared his know-how in his new book: The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining. 

Louise Grunwald hosted a cocktail for her friend Alex, in the jewel box that is Verdura’s showroom. Alex’s mouthwatering recipes had me hankering for one of his Bel Air Onion Puffs, the To-Die-For-Brisket-of-Beef or Caroline’s Tipsy Ambrosia, but he promised to cater his next book party in December. Till then, he told me “I’m off on a 36-city book tour, cheffing, speaking and shamelessly flogging?

Alex with his book, The Art of the Host (Click to order).Just be sure I look young, tan, and thin’. He is.
Enter Verdura’s Ward Landrigan.

How can we not salute the flogging when his Southern inspired, French influenced entertaining (from his childhood there) combines “elegance, comfort and wit, with a little decadence” and “defies diets and trends”? Marina Rust, Deeda Blair, Mayme Hackett, Sandy Golinkin, Lisa Jackson, Carolina Herrera and many other fans, agreed.

L. to r.: Hostess Louise Grunwald and Caroline Herrera; Deeda Blair and Ward Landrigan.
Marina Rust and Sandy Golinkin.
Peter Pennoyer, Marina, and Mark Gilbertson.
L. to r.: My mentor, DPC; Barbara de Portago.
Carolina Herrera and Lisa Jackson, relatives by marriage.

A book of a different sort, Steve Schwarzman’s “What it Takes” was celebrated at Steve and Christine’s home with many of their best friends, a group I’m happy to be part of. He will have other fetes, in Washington, London, Boston and probably more, but this was at home, and that was palpable. His twin brothers Warren and Mark were there, daughter Zibby, and granddaughter Phoebe; and the rest of us. Christine, who could write her own book on perfect entertaining, created a cake modeled after the book that was as delicious as clever.

L. to r.: Steve Schwarzman’s new book, What it Takes (click to order); The man! Steve Schwarzman.

The book is already #11 in the business/finance book category on Amazon, and I suspect it will be assigned reading at business schools everywhere. His accomplishments are legend — his founding of Blackstone which manages over $500 billion dollars, his fellowship program, the Schwarzman Scholars, in China, the endowment for A.I. studies at MIT, humanities studies at Oxford, or a first-of-its-kind student center at Yale, his alma mater. 

L. to r.: Story time, and it’s a good one; Adoring and adored wife, Christine Schwarzman.
Pride and love.

But many don’t know that he is riotously funny, unpretentious and a wonderful storyteller. The book reveals this. He gave us a snippet, reading from a perch on the stairs, about his first fundraising call with Pete Peterson. After a long wait for an apparently absent fund manager, a janitor informed them that in fact, he was long gone. “It’s Friday”! It poured, they were soaked and had to coerce a cab passenger to share with them. An inglorious start, but a pretty amazing trajectory afterwards.

I’m sure he will be over the moon about my review, but probably a little more by the raves from Eric Schmidt, Janet Yellen, Ray Dalio, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger and more.

L. to r.: Steve’s accomplished pod casting daughter, Zibby Owens, and her daughter, Phoebe; Pia Getty and Jose Antonio Ruiz Berdejo y Sigurtá.
Steve’s twin brothers Mark and Warren, with son and daughter-in-law.
L. to r.: Golden friends, Meg Braff and Susan Bodnar Malloy; Ulla Parker.
Fab four — Dixon Boardman, Frédéric Fekkai, Karl Wellner, and Pepe Fanjul.
Debra Norville joins the fraternity.
My host this week, Phineas Duff.

I missed the Schwarzman’s three Jack Russells, but travelled down Park to Heidi and Allen Roberts to celebrate all things animal — preservation, art, photos and their presiding pup, Bentley.

By the time Heidi and Allen had taken their third South African safari in 2005, they were familiar with marvels and surprises of encountering wildlife in their natural habitat. But seeing endangered animals at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, temporarily, or for the rest of their lives, revealed to them how fragile the survival of these majestic animals had become, particularly as poaching was escalating alarmingly. Heidi and Allen created U. S. Friends of HESC, funded originally, primarily by them, then by Heidi’s unique and personal form of fundraising.

L. to r.: Heidi Roberts, hostess of the Hoedspruit dinner; Julie Siff, fellow cat lover (with Julie’s bobcat/domestic mix in her hand).
We wrenched attention from the divine caviar, to the also divine, Heidi’s toast.
Michael Lynch and Sana Sabbagh.

Every year, Heidi and Allen host 14 dinners in their apartment, with provisions and wine fully underwritten.  More amazingly, Heidi overseas the cooking, which this year included caviar on a froth of egg in its shell, velvety soup, crisp duck, finished with opera cake. This cozy collegial way of raising needed funds and gathering like-minded conservationists has raised $2 million, through 2018. It’s a winning formula for very important work. And that retiring, socially uncomfortable little fellow in the blue jacket, Bill Cunningham, came every year. Animal lovers, all.

L. to r.: Heidi, Allen, and their Pomeranian rescue pup, Bentley; A Bill Cunningham capture of this party in its early incarnation. He loved animals, too.

That was enough New York, so back to the country I traveled, and took in what was essentially the chicest drive-in (actually walk) movie of the season. The Bridge Golf Club’s Bob Rubin and Stèphane Samuel invited us to sip, sup, and watch a classic movie, “The Gun Fighter,” with Gregory Peck, outside under the stars. This unconventional golf club is set among preserved signs from its racetracks days, decorated with museum quality art work, with top notch food, surrounded by water vistas. The evening benefitted The Sag Harbor Cinema Reconstruction effort. A compelling and chill way to close the week.

Remnants of The Bridgehampton Racetrack, preserved at The Bridge Golf Club.
The Bridge’s sleek clubhouse.
L. to r.: Nicole Miller and Taylor Barton; Tracy Snyder.
The screen was much more visible than this!

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