Evoking a single memory

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Waiting ... patiently. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, December 8, 2020.  It was cold yesterday. Sunny but cold. Temp at 35 felt like 32, and down down down as day wore into night. And windy too. Gusts. Scarf, cap, gloves (and don’t forget the mask!).

I told JH late in the afternoon that I had nothing for tomorrow (today) and maybe we should wing it. He suggested he look through the archive to what came before to renew our memories of times when we were all moving along. He came up with this Diary from December 6th in 2007! It was perfect because it reflected New York the way it used to be back then.

The opening shot (below) reminded me that newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, one of the legendary press moguls of the first half of the 20th century, built a mansion on 11 East 73rd Street, still standing.

Snow dust settles alongside the house that Stanford White designed for Joseph Pulitzer based on the Palazzos Pesaro and Rezzonico in Venice, completed in 1903. Photographed by JH on December 6, 2007.

It was a real mansion, nearly palatial. Pulitzer was one of the first press tycoons in New York. Print was the only media in those pre-tech days, and it was flourishing right on through the first half of the 20th century.  He clearly liked the architectural grandeur that harkened back from Europe through American eyes.

I knew the house on East 73rd from my early days in New York. A girl I had a big crush on had a grandmother whose apartment occupied the fourth, top floor of the house in the 1950s and 60s. That gave it an even more interesting qualities to this kid’s imagination. 

The pipe organ at the top of the stair hall at 11 East 73rd. The guest apartment was behind the organ and with bay windows that looked out on the alley in the photograph above.

Coincidentally back in 1990, living in Los Angeles, I was working on a book and had to come to New York for interviews. My friend Schulenberg, meantime, had introduced me to a couple living in New York whom I should call when I arrived here. This I did. They took me to a nice New York lunch at the original Le Cirque restaurant on 65th and Park where Daniel Boulud is now located. I was very impressed to be their guest — a writer from the West Coast and the land of movie stars meeting the New York swells.

During the luncheon I mentioned that I was going to be here in New York for a couple of months doing research. Where would I stay? I didn’t know, I replied, because I also had a dog whom I had to bring (a little black and white Shih Tzu named Mrs. Fa Fa).

My luncheon hostess told me that they had an apartment in their building where I could bring my dog, that they could lend me for the duration. Just like that.

Amazed and grateful, after lunch they took me back to show me the apartment. The apartment was a separate part of a greater apartment occupying two floors of a mansion built at the beginning of the 20th century. 11 East 73rd Street, the house that Joseph Pulitzer built (and Stanford White designed).

This simple beautiful photograph of JH evoked this single memory.

Thursday, December 6, 2007: New York had heavy grey skies yesterday and then in the late afternoon there were snow flurries and it was cold.

There were two very prominent and important dinner parties hosted by two very prominent women in New York last night. I was at one of them.

Peter Rogers and Casey Ribicoff.

Casey Ribicoff, the very chic and soigné and popular widow of the late US Senator from Connecticut (and former Governor also), arranged a birthday party for herself. Yesterday, December 5th was her birthday. I don’t know if Casey is your typical female Sagittarius but she’s definitely a very popular kid on the block of life. I don’t know who was there but I’m sure if I saw the guest list we’d recognize more than a few of the names.

Because she’s got a wide array of friends and admirers. She took over the Four Seasons grille room and entertained 50 (or was it 60?) of these nearest and dearest, who could read like a Who’s Who depending on where you’re from. Casey.

Mrs. Ribicoff  always looks the way she looks in this picture of her. She is one of those rare ones for whom impeccable is not just a word, it’s a point of view, and even a modus vivendi.  She is one of those individuals unique to metropolitan life who knows. The cosmopolitan woman. Part country, part city girl, woman of the world who’s tread alongside highly in the corridors of power and kept her eye on the ball at all times. Casey takes people on their terms and leaves them thusly. It’s a treat to be around and so it must have been that Mrs. Ribicoff was feted by the many admirers so pleased to celebrate that date with her. They were in her thrall, and rightfully so.

Dominique Richard and Alice Mason.

Just 20 blocks north, Alice Mason, the doyenne of Upper East Private Residential Real Estate had her annual Holiday dinner greeting her guests in her red gallery and her red pailletted Galanos. Alice, as readers of the NYSD know – if they didn’t already know, is famous in New York for two things: for her expertise and shrewdness as a real estate broker and for her dinner parties.

Alice has been giving her dinners for close to a half century, and the party was the guests. Alice, with her shrewd eye and endless curiosity, has entertained literally thousands of people from all walks of prominence in New York. Her guestbooks are historical documents, references of this past half century in New York in the dynamic of its hey-day.

For years her dinners had the signature of her interests at the time. Marilyn Monroe was an early client when show business people were verboten in many of the better buildings. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was a pal and client who always called Alice “Fluffy” or”Fluff.” Many Presidents have come to dine in Alice’s rooms. Many candidates have curried favor.

She raised $1.5 million from fifteen couples one night at a dinner for the first time-running Bill Clinton and Al Gore. She raised more for Jimmy Carter than any other individual. She also brokered many of the changes that occurred in the social acceptance of individuals in New York cooperative apartment houses.

Once upon a time there was an Alice Mason dinner every three or four weeks and the world came to her door to break bread with the world who came to her door.

From Arab sheiks to Wall Street titans, from media tycoons and their messengers, movie stars, and famous authors. Aileen Mehle writing as “Suzy” recorded the goings-on in her inimitable and shrewd wit, casting the Mason dinners as one of the most sought after invitations in New York.

The late Norman Mailer, no socialite, loved Alice’s black tie dinners where eight were purposedly placed at a table for six, because he knew he was going to meet people and have conversation.

There were 40 for dinner, a reduction of a third of the traditional Alice Mason list. From her guestbook of hundreds she invited people who’d been there before. The result was people seeing people they knew and maybe rarely saw, people out there in the Big World of New York taking it all in.

So last night at Alice Mason’s was, as it always is, about the spirited conversation from the moment one arrives for cocktails until one enters the elevator to leave. At my table, which included Roz Jacobs, Pat Altschul, Victor Shafferman, Jeanne Lawrence, John Dizard, Mario Buatta, the conversation was about the financial markets and was most intense. Mr. Dizard, who writes a column for the Financial Times, led the way. Most interesting but little took notice on the news was that Jeanne Lawrence, who divides her time between here and San Francisco, is planning to move to Shanghai for a good part of each year.

The list: Besides those at my table, Mona Ackerman and Richard Cohen, Soon-Yi and Woody Allen, Joe Armstrong, Norberto Bilgoraj, Katherine Bryan, Doug Cramer, Carmen Dell’Orifice, Barbara Goldsmith, Olivia and Warren Hoge, Kenneth Jay Lane, Pablo Manzoni, David Margolick, Christopher Mason, Boaz Mazor, Laura Montalban, Lee Radziwill, Ann Rapp, Bridget Restivo, Dominique Richard (Alice’s daughter), Carolyne Roehm and Simon Pinniger, Dr. Brian Saltzman, Charlie Scheips, Maurice Sonnenberg, Nan and Gay Talese and Wendy Vanderbilt (the eldest daughter of the late, aforementioned Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt). As you can see, there are a lot of writers and creative people on Alice’s lists and always an infusion of creative lives. The talkers talking.

Mid-dinner Warren Hoge got up to toast our hostess, recalling that he could still remember the “first” time he was invited to Alice Mason’s (and how he was single at the time), and how he’d met Presidents there and dined with the best of them. Last night was a kind of homecoming, an observance of a tradition, a gift from our hostess.

L. to r.:  Gay Talese talking to Richard Cohen; Nan Talese greeting Warren Hoge.
Jeanne Lawrence, Pablo Manzoni, and Carmen Dell’Orifice.
L. to r.: Katherine Bryan; Laura Montalban and Charlie Scheips.
John Dizard, Dominique Richard, and Victor Shafferman.
L. to r.: Warren Hoge and Mona Ackerman; David Margolick and Barbara Goldsmith.
Roz Jacobs and Mario Buatta.
L. to r.: Pat Altschul; David Margolick and Joe Armstrong.

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