Friday, November 12, 2021. Temps in the 50s, with some sun but mainly clouds to keep things cooler and expecting rain, yesterday in New York.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the Liz Smith who left us on this day at the tender age of 94. Coincidentally her great friend Joe Armstrong recently sent me a book: Growing Up in the Lone Star State: Notable Texans Remember Their Childhoods by Gaylon Finklea Hecker & Marianne Odom.
As a kid growing up in New England, the world out there was New York and Hollywood. That huge place in the Southwest, Texas was big and cowboys and cattle and oil millionaires. It was other-worldly to me, more like a legend.
Living in New York first out of college, I first met people from Texas. They were interesting. They loved New York, made lives here, were very successful but: they still loved Texas. Generally, they have a kind of optimism that after reading this book, I understood.
But, in both — L.A. and New York — I have met and even come to know a lot of Texan natives. They’d migrated to the big towns for their work, and often for fame and fortune as well. They were always a cut above in their approach to their work, as well as in their interests. And very often the most sophisticated.
So when Joe Armstrong sent me a copy of the book, I was naturally curious. I love books and I love books about people. Real people. This one is 47 oral history interviews of people who grew up there. Including a number of prominent and famous men and women such as Mary Martin, Lady Bird Johnson, Dr. Denton Cooley, Jimmy Dean, Dan Rather, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Schieffer, Jaclyn Smith, Rex Reed, and Tommy Tune to name just a few.
Then there’s Ruth Simmons (“A sharecroppers daughter”) who grew up to be the first black president of an Ivy League university. Now a half century later, she’s headed Brown University from 2001 to 2012, headed Smith from 1995 to 2001 and has held other trailblazing roles at USC, Princeton and Spelman College. Her professional associations and honors are abundant. The story of her childhood is fascinating and a lesson. And a pleasure to learn about.
Liz Smith’s interview took place here in New York in 1982. She was in full form professionally. Her memories of growing up in Fort Worth in the ‘20s and ‘30s, then going to college, are a fascinating biography.
Personally it wasn’t a book I would have chosen. I wouldn’t have thought it would be all that interesting to me personally — Children growing up in Texas early to mid-20th century? But the childhoods were those I could relate to on one level or another. The beginning is ultimately the story. They were children of the Depression; or children of children of the Depression. And in a land of 20th century opportunity. And mostly children of families who were often just getting by. BUT. The mood of that land was upbeat in the long run. The code word was WORK — at whatever they had to do to feed themselves and their families. And then their children went out into the world and they worked at what they liked to do. Deep in the heart of Texas.
It is an amazing array of individuals, some very famous, some heroes, some ordinary working people, originally mostly from lower middle income families, but all with a kind of optimism borne of effort and caring and passion. The variety of interviews keeps it fresh because of course, we’re all different. Like the interview with the man who grew up on the King Ranch (originally 1,250,000 acres). I knew about the King Ranch when I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts. The ultimate cowboy ranch to this kid’s imagination. I was having the kid’s experience reading about it: fascinating, other worldly but beautiful.
These experiences, the memories of youth and childhood, draw you naturally into that time in your own life. You’re relating to all of them as different levels of a universal experience. BUT also in the remarkable, enormous, abundant world that was and still is on many levels — Texas. A land on its own while being a State of the U.S.
Back to the heart of the Big Apple. This past Tuesday night, The Shed, a cultural center in Hudson Yards, hosted their second fall gala. The gala honored board members Misty Copeland, principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, and Monica and Frank McCourt, founding Board members of The Shed. The night also featured appearances from Bruce Springsteen and Cecily Strong.
The evening kicked off with an immersive performance of Drifters, followed by a brief program recognizing the honorees that featured some pretty notable speakers. Misty Copeland was introduced by the President of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, and Frank and Monica McCourt were introduced by Springsteen. The program ended with a speech from Cecily Strong, who will be making her NYC theatre debut with the Shed in December.
In total, the fall gala raised over $4 million and Dan Doctoroff, The Shed’s Board Chairman, announced that the McCourts along with the support of a few other generous board members pledged to match every donation up to $2 million until the end of the year. The money raised will continue to support The Shed’s mission of creating a space that reflects the rich diversity, innovation, and creativity of artists and creators across disciplines.
And late last month, women’s global activist Marcia Dyson celebrated her 70th birthday at a private luncheon at Le Pavilion with close friends hosted by ColorComm Founder Lauren Wesley Wilson.
Guests included CBS Correspondent Michelle Miller, businesswoman Marvet Britto, Endeavor’s SVP and associate general counsel Erika Munro Kennerly, fashion designer Aisha McShaw, Erika Liles, Traci Otey Blunt, Karen Alston and more.
The luncheon began with a champagne toast, followed by a four-course meal and wine pairing prepared by chef Daniel Boulud himself. For dessert, guests dined on a pink rosette buttercream coconut cake designed by celebrity favorite bakery Empire Cake in Chelsea.
Photographs by BFA.com