Doings and Undoings

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Nicole Kidman leaving the set of the HBO limited series, "The Undoing," at the former George F. Baker, Jr. mansion on 93rd and Park; March 18, 2019. Photo: JH.

Monday, November 30, 2020. The end of the holiday weekend was sunny and cooler in the low 50s and into the 40s in the late night.


Looking across the East River over to Queens in the early afternoon of Thanksgiving.

Friday night I was the guest of Gillian and Sylvester Miniter at Sistina, an excellent high (good) Italian restaurant at 24 East 81st Street between Madison and Fifth, just down the street from the Met. The owner-chef Giuseppe Bruno has been in business since 1982. Up until a few years ago it was located on Second Avenue in the Eighties where without fanfare it was quietly patronized by the gourmands from the prominent New York worlds of finance, medicine, society and just plain gourmands.


Outside Sistina on 81st Street.

More recently its reputation has expanded far and wide because of the HBO limited series “The Undoing” starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Being long out of the habit of keeping up with great television, I was aware of this series because one day, a year ago March, JH, on one of his photographic forays in the city, passed a film shoot in his neighborhood around the old George Baker mansion on 93rd Street and Park Avenue, where he spotted Nicole Kidman in a scene they were shooting. We ran those photos the next day. I remember it specifically because we got mail from readers telling us that that was not Nicole Kidman that he photographed.


Outside the old George F. Baker, Jr. mansion in March ’19 for the filming of “The Undoing.”
Spotted! Nicole Kidman on “set.”

Talking through the scene.

Taking a few minutes to herself.
Walking back to the set.
Action!
Cut! Print it! After only 2 takes, the star was off!

Well, it was. Even I didn’t recognize her in the photo until Jeff confirmed it. It was because her hair was a different color (and it didn’t look like Nicole Kidman to her fans — although the red and curly do is actually reminiscent of her natural hair color). Now, of course, “The Undoing” (written and produced by David Kelley) is a such a huge hit that several people have raved about it to me.

I was reminded again on Friday night with the Miniters, who are ardent fans of the miniseries, because we were seated at the same table that Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant shared when they shot a lunch scene in Sistina in Episode 5. Re last nights finale, did you guess correctly?!


Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman dining at Sistina in “The Undoing.” Niko Tavernise/HBO
At “Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant’s table” at Sistina.

The restaurant has a great menu and its “new” home is also a great location for dining; it’s beautiful. I’d got there first and was seated facing that double portrait of a couple, so I took a photo of it because it’s a great double portrait. Maybe, if you’ve been watching “The Undoing,” you saw the portrait, too. That’s my long story about a short moment on Thanksgiving Day weekend.



A longer moment in the weekend’s social life was last night, and again at another restaurant — restaurants are the closest thing to a social life these days.  Alex Hitz, in from Atlanta. I think this is the first time he’s been in New York since this whole mess started. His apartment is gone; gave it up. The hotels he stayed at (in residence) have closed. Right now he’s staying at one of the top hotels in New York. It’s open and currently at 11% capacity. Its restaurants are closed.  Last night we were at Sette Mezzo, along with Boaz Mazor.

Alex Hitz — A hot tamale or what?!

Alex filled us in on where he’s been and who he’s seen. In the past nine months he’s been in L.A., St. Louis, Texas, Atlanta and a couple other towns. He went to Texas for a dinner party given by a friend who was just trying to revive her sense of being alive — seeing people. He also gave talks there “virtually” about his most recent book The Art of The Host.

That’s a lot of plane rides and Alex reported that it could not have been better. The planes were “so clean,” and often just half full; and the service was excellent. He said it was almost like having your own plane. He even went up to Lenox (I think he probably traveled by car for that one) where some friends had rented a large house that had been on the market (Lenox has some really great and beautiful old mansions.) They invited about a dozen friends to come and stay (and have a look around that beautiful area) for a four-day weekend.

Alex is always moving. After Lenox he went back to Atlanta – his hometown – and spent the time testing new recipes for his next book. His life is his research and he’s a stickler for getting it right. 

Meanwhile he’s here in New York briefly – hoping to get re-acquainted with this great big town and what it used to be. He’s also researching a magazine piece he’s doing on Marguerite Lamkin Littman, a most interesting lady. She was a Southern girl who at the beginning of her adult life made a name in the film industry coaching actors with their Southern accents. Paul Newman was one. Most famous was Elizabeth Taylor. 

Her interests and natural talent opened all kinds of doors of interest to her. In the 1960s she made her way around New York as the entertainment editor for Glamour magazine, a highly popular fashion and social magazine for young women. Later she married a prominent British lawyer, Mark Littman, and became a prominent British socialite as well as an HIV/AIDS activist.  I didn’t discuss her over dinner with Alex because I know he’s going to give us the details of this amazing and charming American woman who conquered the world (the one she was interested in). He knew her; that’s the inside that makes a story.

A good story; good for what ails ya, as my mother used to say.

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