More Tales of Swans

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Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza (Fifth Avenue at 59th Street), with Bergdorf Goodman behind. Photo: JH.

Friday, February 16, 2024. A partly sunny, partly overcast day, yesterday in New York. Followed by a forecast of some more snow falling through the night into this day, except it skipped New York and went straight up to New England.

We had that one night and day of heavy snow which was beautiful to watch (from inside), and picturesque gorgeous on the following morning when stopped, covering the roads, the sidewalks, the bare branches of the trees making it a winter wonderland for about six hours when the Sun came out and melted it all away (except for the parked car tops) by that afternoon.

Blair Sabol’s coverage of the first three installments of FX’s Feud: Capote vs. the Swans brought a great response from NYSD readers, two of which were not only noticeable but new “news” about one of the most famous of his Swans:

From one reader:

I have not written to you for many months because I moved to Nashville, although I am on line always enjoying your news. Today’s story about the Truman Capote “Swans” was fabulous to read. 

One more Swan story. When I was working at Bloomingdales’ in the early ’70s as Executive Director for Training, I was asked by Marvin Traub, who was my boss, to please “see the famous furniture floor and observe the salespeople … because they can be snobs at times.

This one day, a woman walked in looking very wet from the rain, kerchief in her hair and crumpled rain coat. As she got off the 5th floor elevator, all the sales people avoided her because she didn’t look elegant!

I found a salesperson far away from where the escalator reached the 5th floor, and he said he would help.

The woman went straight to the famous designer rooms, created by Barbara Darcy, and she said, “I will take the entire room.” In those days about $100,000.

A Barbara Darcy room at Bloomingdale’s from the early ‘70s.

I was standing next to her when the salesman asked, “Do you have a Bloomingdales account?”

“Yes,” she said, “my name is Jackie Kennedy.”

There were a lot of embarrassed sales people who turned their back of the very wet looking woman, not wearing a Gucci scarf. I have photos of her leaving Bloomie’s … all wet.”

Norm Goldberg also included a friend in the same email sent to the NYSD, named Maryann Karinch who responded, including NYSD in her message:

Love it, Norm. Here’s one more: The same Jackie once accidentally set off an alarm at Bergdorf’s. Ira Neimark told me she’d put something in her bag intending to buy it, forgot about it and started walking out of the store, and the alarm went off!

Lots of good stories from our old friends …!

And from photographer Mary Hilliard who had photographed many of the “Swans” many times over:

I loved how well Blair described the ladies of those days; she hit it right on as far as I know. The younger people of today have no idea. I haven’t seen the series yet but I suspected it would be just as awful and phony as Blair says it is. I hope many people read her article!

A Mary Hilliard photograph of Kenny Lane and CZ Guest. They are not alone.

And from a member of the family of one of the Swans:

Agree about Chloe Sévigny as CZ Guest. She’s not sporty and crisp enough.

I think the hostess present of Guerlain Fleurs des Alpes should get a mention. I wish it would come back!

And from another reader:

Deborah Dixon, a year after the Black and White Ball, in a two-piece dress by Forquet. Photograph by Regina Relang, Rome, 1967.

One detail about the Black and White Ball that I always found very charming, in its way, was that super-model Deborah Dixon, of “Farmington,” Vassar, and Tim Leary’s group at Harvard, a pal from Zurich-Jung Institute days, very blonde, took as her date Roscoe Lee Brown, underlining the Black and White theme. In addition to all that stunning beauty, she had a devilish sense of humor, which she particularly savored on this one, “pour épater le bourgeois.” Bob Schulenberg also knew her and would have a wry comment about this.

And for those who don’t know the meaning  of the French phrase referred to:

Épater la bourgeoisie or épater le bourgeois is a French phrase that became a rallying cry for the French Decadent poets of the late 19th century including Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. It means “to shock or scandalise the middle classes.”

Looking at the current TV series from a historical point of view. Truman died 40 years ago this coming August. For all the harsh judgments of his character in current commentary about him, he captured authentically a time and place and attitude that is now not just a memory but old-fashioned where women did what they had to to get what they wanted, which could be boiled down to two realities: financial security and social position. Those were the elements of power that were potentially attainable to women of that Age – and on the edge of what was called Women’s Liberation.

Those women who succeeded did attain/possess certain powers that were desirable, and especially money (in most cases), which in the Middle Class is referred to as “security.” This is the result of natural ambition, attention and wit. All of these matters are of common interest to us creatures who need the financials to exist on this planet.

Successful pursuit of such requires what I call a “toughness” in the individual. This is true in both genders except in women a greater subtlety is naturally required. It is readily noticeable as a talent. Those with the greatest talent remain of great interest. Truman’s “Swans” had that talent. Sleek, and chic, naturally elegant and singleminded in their objectives as well as managing their territory exclusively, except of course with her partner. A tale which will always fascinate us about ourselves, especially those girls!

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