In little ole Manhattan

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Begonias growing wild on Park Avenue. Photo: JH.

Monday, Labor Day, September 7, 2020. Following a beautiful, quiet weekend in New York — the demonstration activity notwithstanding. We have had beautiful weather for the past few days in New York. Some rain passing through to wash the streets and water the vegetation.  Plus the trees in Carl Schurz Park that hang over Gracie Square are beginning to turn and touch down on the pavement. We’ve had some humidity but by nightfall it goes into the mid-60s. It’s Mother Nature’s gift to us city-dwellers, and New York’s always much quieter without the massive traffic and crowds.

Labor Day in America. When I was a kid it was a serious holiday in terms of history. I was well aware that for the adults it was an important matter. By mid-20th century the American people generally believed in the work of the unions that improved our way of life. There was a vague sense of reverence and respect about it. So in the picnicking and the last days of summer at the beach or around the swimming hole very often had a reverence of the holiday. Like it was the brother to the Fourth of July.

All of that changed at least two or three decades ago. Today Labor Day is the hallmark for the End of Summer Back To Work in our world. Or was, until this year. Now all of that appears to have changed right now too, thanks to the pandemic and other fiscal issues that remain vague to most of us.

Labor Day Parade in Union Square, NYC, 1882.

I spent the glorious Summer here in the city as you may have gathered if you read the NYSD regularly. It has been a challenge to report since there has been NO social activity except now we can go out to lunch and dinner outside. I happen to like Summer in the City anyway, because it’s quieter than the melee of the social scene (that was).

Yesterday, I found myself thinking of friends and people I know who go out East for the season, and then on this last weekend are traditionally preparing to return to New York in the next 24 to 48 hours.  Now, so many of those Out East inhabitants who lived on that schedule will NOT be returning to little ole Manhattan.

Many are planning on continuing to stay out perhaps even permanently. In fact, the real estate market is said to be booming out there because of all the interest in city dwellers moving out of the city permanently. Rentals, I’ve been told, are running at peak numbers all the way to seven figures (depending of course on the property). Recently I read about one guy, a hedge fund operator, who was paying $2 million in rent for one house for a year.

If you read about the real estate market in the papers you can get the impression that practically everybody in New York is leaving. However, that “everyone” are those who are well fixed financially and don’t need to be concerned about being close to the center (i.e., the rich, filthy and otherwise). As many as we might know (I, for example, in my line of business) who are departing the town, they represent only a tiny subsection of the world who don’t depend on employment in order to exist.

I haven’t been out to the Hamptons in a few years. In the 1990s I tended to go almost every weekend during Summer. There was a lively social scene, more relaxed than New York, but also drawing an interesting agglomeration of personalities and types to tell you about.

Sisters Hilton establishing “their presence” back in the day. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Thinking back on the those days when I was regularly out there, I looked for some early Diaries about the life at that time, and found this from the Summer of 2003.  It was mainly, to these eyes, a party scene and in that year, it was also the emergence of the younger generation into the social world with the presence of the Hilton sisters, Paris and Nicky. They were the new generation and establishing a new and different presence.

It ain’t new anymore because their “influence” (before the word became commercial) turned out to be marked and even profound.  Today now in their 30s, both girls are well established in their own worlds and their own paths and individual interests. When in their youth (and I mean young) their interests caused talk and controversy, in the end we see, what they really had and which we all need ideally, was a good Mother (and Father). Hail!

Looking back on New York in 2003: While the rest of the world was coming apart, the big stories of the last quarter of the year were Paris Hilton’s sex home video and the Michael Jackson arrest. The debut of Ms. Hilton’s “reality” TV outdrew Barbara Walters’ interview with the President of the United States — 11 to 11.5 million viewers each — a phenomenal social commentary in itself. Not so much because of the number who tuned in the Hilton show but because of the very small number who tuned in to watch this very popular president.

The Simple Life starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie had a five-year run on FOX.

Society had a field day with the Paris video. “How could they allow such a thing?” the askers were asking, referring to the girl’s parents Rick and Kathy Hilton. As if any parent could monitor or control anything their 19

-year-old daughter (or son) feels like doing outside their purview. Anyway, it didn’t matter, as I suspected at the outset, the vid scandal was dynamite for Paris’ “reality” show and her career is now hot. In the world of Marketing it’s called Branding. Just think of the numbers Barbara Walters could have got if she’d been interviewing Paris Hilton, instead of the Prez. Boggles the mind, no?

“What mind?” did you say?

Paris was an old story at this point but with a real feel for … publicizing herself. We have seen that a decade later her contemporaries and their mother made centi-millions, even billions, following the same technique. What they are selling was and is what Broadway and Hollywood have always sold: Sex. At least in the American century I was born into. We’d arrived. We had the car, the telephone, the electric lightbulb and from those three elements, the entire world changed to an unimaginable state.

I met the Hiltons mere and pere early on in this voyage, although not in Beverly Hills from which I had only recently been forced to abandon, but in Southampton, New York. They are a very pleasant couple. They are a strong partnership. They are united; you get that feeling. It’s not laid on; it’s just the way it is with them. I don’t doubt it because I’ve seen them with their daughters throughout their escalation to worldwide celebrity. The mother and the father have their daughters’ ears and their respect. 

Kathy and Rick Hilton out in Southampton around the time we first met. Photo: Patrick McMullan

I’ve known them only superficially for the past twenty years; always cordial, welcoming and pleasant. This seems like not much of a relationship but in this business it is a lovely relationship. When Paris was in her early teens she was going out to local late-night bars patronized by the young and wild and older crowd of guys and girls. 

The talk around the Southampton Bathing Corporation was “how could they let her do that? Wasn’t it bad enough she could be out until all hours?  The Bathing Corporation — the beach club — is one of the last holdouts of the age where there was a Register called Social.  It determined the ultimate terms of buying your way into snobbery and rubbing elbows with second and third generation wealth, even fourth or fifth, whose fortunes came from Wall Street, banking or industry. It has always been the beach club to hope you can join. If you can afford the dues and maybe then some. You can be blackballed for not behaving like a gentleman or a “lady.” 

This was all in the days of exclusivity in which in order to belong to this organization you (allegedly) had to have some kind of breeding, as if to imply perfection, a marriage of assets for the cosmo-spiritual, or the king of the hill. The intention was honorable, and honest: the members got to choose whom they wanted to be in the club. And everybody loves exclusivity as long as it caresses the ego and perhaps the liquid assets.

The Hiltons celebrating Paris’s 21st in 2002.

Having lived in the land of dreams out there in Los Angeles, it was easy to see the Hiltons’ reality. Hollywood is their hometown. They are prominent members of the community. He had a name with a grandfather’s fortune behind it. They are very sociable people who enjoy social friendships with many people. They entertain comfortably but grandly with big dinners of a hundred or more. He likes golf and she has many interests among her friends. So they have daughters who may not even know it but they have that strain of Hilton ambition in their blood. And parents who like them.

From the looks of it, Paris and Nicky Hilton have no particular talent, the kind that would assure or perhaps insure a great celebrity, and especially one that was income producing. Because at the end of the day, the girls have managed their financial lives and social lives in a way that is stable. Unlike so many of their ilk and followers who get lost on the road to Dreamland. And they like their parents.

Paris and Nicky all grown up. Photo: Darian DiCianno/

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