Moments in Time

Featured image
The man in the center of it all ... I don’t recall when this photo was taken, nor the occasion. And from the looks of me I’m wondering what was in that glass I have my left hand on. But that’s Mai Hallingby who has her arm around my shoulder and is telling me something. And behind her Karen LeFrak is looking on and listening, so she knows what the story is. But in front me Nancy Missett is listening to Joanie Schnitzer, and to the right is the right hand and part profile of Mr. De Guardiola making a point to someone nearby. This and much, much more is in a new book due out in March, called Mortimer's: Moments In Time, photographed by Mary Hilliard.

Monday, January 31, 2022. Cold in New York, in the teens. The beautiful snow has since mixed with the city streets and the plows and the macadam and whatever else we leave that mucks it all up in the snow and you can’t wait for it to melt and go away. However,  the beginning of the snow story is, and always will be, a beauty. (As long as we’re all inside and nice and warm while it’s going on. I mention that because we are now living in a world where they are many who are vulnerable to that reality.)

For years I thought that January 31st was the birthday of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States between 1933 and 1945, when he died at age 63. Although I came after, I was aware of him very early in my life and what I could only now call his greatness in the 1950s.

FDR knew how to talk to the people in a refined, intelligent and especially common manner. His memory is one of common wisdom. This may be a gross misperception because I did not witness his political presence or the time in which he presided. He nevertheless provided an image of respect and self-respect for all of us; now antique in many quarters.

Newly-elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrates his birthday in 1933.

Anyway, I was wrong about FDR’s birthdate. It was yesterday, January 30th. However, looking it up, I came upon a list of people who were born on 1/31. I was amazed that I was familiar with so many names — Christopher Stokowski, Willard Straight, Alfred Taubman, Zane Grey, Jean Simmons, Norman Mailer, Franz Schubert, Queen Beatric of the Netherlands; Minnie Driver, Tallulah, Norris Church Mailer, Thomas Merton, Stewart Udall, Anthony LaPaglia, Portia de Rossi, Suzanne Pleshette, James Franciscus, Carol Channing, Joanne Dru, Mario Lanza, Anna Pavlova, Philip Glass, Jessica Walter, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Rotten, Kerry Washington, Kelly Lynch, Ellen Easton, Felissa Rose, and Colette Harron. Most of them I knew only from their fame or celebrity. Although a few I came to know personally, and a couple of them I know quite well. January 31. It also means it’ll get darker a little later.

Click to pre-order Mortimer’s: Moments In Time.
News of the Day. Our friend, photographer Mary Hilliard has just come out with her first book of her works. It’s called Mortimer’s: Moments In Time (G Editions) and is authored by Robin Baker Leacock. It technically comes out in March, when we’ll remind you again about it, but you’ll want to pre-order it now. The book is a memory of the years of Mortimer’s, the restaurant on the Upper East Side (75th and Lex) from the mid-70s up to the late ’90s, when its founder/owner Glenn Bernbaum passed away.

In its day, Mortimer’s was the place for the social set to have a relaxing lunch at now astoundingly cheap prices for the favorites (cheeseburgers, roast chicken); along with cocktails and mix and meet with the social set. Its owner/manager Glenn could be just this side of crabby, but knew exactly what clientele he wanted and what he could give them. It was in a way, like a club for many from the neighborhood — which was not just any neighborhood. The atmosphere was cozy. Bernbaum was a stickler for seating Who’s Who, all of whom could sit back and be impressed with their company as the owner soaked it up with masked pride.

Mary Hilliard, early in her career, photographed many private parties and events at Mortimer’s. This book is a record of her lens. It is also a record of an era in New York when the social life was very stimulating. New York was the brightest beacon and the world passed through. Not a few of the top came to Mortimer’s. The cheeseburger, which came with fries and was perfectly prepared (Jackie O’s favorite), on the opening menu (mid-70s) was $1.85.

This book, however, is about the photos even more than the rich and famous, glamorous and garrulous. The photographs are astounding. I’ve never seen such a sensational presentation of what are essentially Party Pictures. Many are full page which give you an entirely different experience of looking. You’re in the room with Mary and her camera. You can almost feel it. You can feel yourself there. And you can get an impression of various subjects almost as if you know them. It’s the magic of this book and Mary’s eye.

Mortimer’s. The scene. A typical night drew a crowd at both table and bar. This is a private party, as per the décor, but the atmosphere reflects the regular customers atmosphere, if a little more subdued. In the book this is a double page spread and it is compelling; you can see all kinds of relationships going on before your eyes.

You will notice, interestingly, that back then, the celebrated and their social ilk, often photographed, rarely if ever looked at the camera. None of that posing and smiling that you see over and over and over (and over) today. The people seemed less self-conscious. And real! And even more attractive than the posing ones. Same people, different view, less isolated.

For those who were once clientele, it is more than a treat because the photos will take your eye back to the scene and it will not only remind, but you will see what you hadn’t noticed at the time. A celebration.

Nan Kempner, Glenn Bernbaum, and Gloria Vanderbilt. You can barely get a glimpse of two other members of the table. This table was located in the northwest corner with windows looking out on Lexington and on East 75 Street. Its convenience was the extra daylight that was flattering as well a view of the arriving guests as well as the passers-by. Nan Kempner who lunched and dined at Mortimer’s frequently had this table. It was easy to imagine the information/conversation at the table was full of lightly expressed heavy-breathing gossip being discussed sotto voce.
Irving Lazar, the Hollywood literary agent, known as “Swifty.” The name was given to him by referral by Frank Sinatra, a compliment for his ability to line up work for Sinatra. He was famous for the mega-deals made for clients. He had a beautiful wife named Mary – much younger (and taller). In Hollywood it was said that Irving married Mary because she looked like Audrey Wilder, wife of Billy, who was beautiful and a force socially. Mary Lazar. Mary died in her late 50s of a disease that came on quickly, leaving her older husband a widower. Mr. Lazar died later on in the same year in his mid-80s.
Mica Ertegun, prominent international interior designer and wife of record mogul Ahmet Ertegun, speaking to Judy Taubman and her husband Al Taubman. Mrs. Ertegun had a powerful, soft-spoken personality and was highly successful in her business as well as the social world. In this photograph I could imagine she was breaking the news to Al Taubman in a way that either bored him or left him uninterested (and looking off to the left of her). Mrs. Taubman looks like she’s taking it all in with some opinions of her own.
Then there’s Joan. Always a treat when she enters the room, back then and even now.
Then there’s the lady who would one day be a fashion legend, Anna Wintour, looking slightly askance with much of her countenance given over to her coiffure. The gentleman in black tie on the left looks like he’s very seriously considering something, maybe the same thing Anna Wintour looks doubtful of.
Another evening another private party, Nine Griscom and what from the back looks like Gayfryd Steinberg tete-a-tete over a matter on her mind. Both women were strong and serious as well as imaginative and ambitious. Both liked Luxury and Common Sense which can often be incompatible.
Kitty Carlisle Hart charmed by Peter Duchin who is also a dinner guest. You can see that Mrs. Hart it absolutely thrilled to be talking to Mr. Duchin, who is nothing if not charming both in life as well as at the keyboard. While the photo must have been taken forty or more years ago, Peter, who has now had a long and difficult and harrowing and glamorous and amusing and exciting life, has put it down in a new memoir, Face the Music. And as they say in Show Business, “I’m still here.”
Also at the party and amused by what she’s being told is Brooke Hayward, married at the time to Peter Duchin. Daughter of a famous Hollywood agent/Broadway producer Leland Hayward and a Hollywood and Broadway star Margaret Sullavan, Brooke wrote Haywire, the classic Hollywood childhood and life that remains today riveting almost a half century later.
Another Mortimer’s party — that’s the back of Dominick Dunne on the left, next to Estee Lauder. Next to Estee is the silver-haired John Galliher. The woman between and behind them smiling is Duane Hampton.
Bobby Short, Jessie Norman, and Gene Hovis. Both Bobby and Gene were frequent customers as well as close pals with Glenn who were his guests along with a couple of others when he made his sometimes annual jaunts to Europe in summertime.
Glenn with two of his star customers not because of their frequent business but simply because of their presence. The two beautiful glamour girls were good friends. Anne Slater (on the left) often wrote, or “covered events,” for Aileen Mehle (aka “Suzy”), but they were longtime pals and much admired for their public images. They were both girls who came to the big town (Anne from Ohio and Aileen from Los Angeles/Hollywood) and made a life at the top of the game. Behind them in the photo, and waiting patiently, is their friend Bill Blass.
Glenn Bernbaum, Jean Howard, and Lauren Bacall at a book party for Jean and her book Jean Howard’s Hollywood. Jean herself was a legendary character in the history of Hollywood and its creations. A girl named Ernestine Smith from Texas in the 1920, she went from Ziegfeld Follies to Louis B Mayer threatening to kill himself if she didn’t marry him, to a long marriage to an agent Charlie Feldman and a life in Hollywood and international society.
CZ Guest seated at that corner table next to Andre Leon Talley, then an editor at Vogue. The book on the table, indicating the party Glenn gave for Jean Howard and her then brand new book of photographs, Jean Howard’s Hollywood, is a classic today and Mary Hilliard’s inspiration for this book.
Glenn behind Bobby Short blowing out the candle on his cake, age 70.
The one, the only Malcolm Forbes who eventually gave it all up for his motorcycle. That’s an exaggeration referring to the personality of the man, a classic American WASP who became a leader in the publishing and financial business as well as an expert at living life to the fullest to the very end. That motorcycle wasn’t a hobby; it was a way of life, a route to reality for Mr. Forbes.

All photographs by Mary Hilliard

Recent Posts