New York Lives

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Moon tree. 10:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Cold out. In the high 20s last night in New York.

New York Lives. I went over to the Museum of Natural History about six-thirty for a book signing reception for Karen LeFrak who has just published “Sleepover at the Museum.”

I think it’s a mystery. It’s likely I’ll never read it. It’s published by Random House Children’s Books for those little guys and girls, ages 3 to 7. Reading is everything to that crowd as it is in life. If you’re lucky and had someone to get you started back then. Karen LeFrak’s stories can get them started on a lifetime of personal satisfaction and curiosity.

The reception was held in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life with the 94-foot-long, 21,000-pound model of a blue whale suspended from above.

Children’s stories aside, the author is also one of those New York women who is always the story. She is quietly industrious. There is a placid quality to her personality on meeting, as if perhaps she meditates. Maybe she does; I don’t know. But it comes with a kind, ready smile and a natural modesty. That quality disguises how industrious she is. This is her third children’s book.

I kind of knew that. But on another level, she’s a distinguished composer of symphonies and concertos, whose work has been conducted by Valery Gergiev and other distinguished maestros across the world. I am told this new book will be made into children’s ballet with the music composed by the author/composer.

Karen being introduced by her editor. She’s holding her “speech” in her hand and once speaking she explains how this kind of thing (public speaking) comes with great trepidation without having everything written out and read. I personally know how she feels.

She and her husband Richard are very active in philanthropy here in New York, and she herself is frequently a volunteer on committees fundraising for cultural projects. She has long been raising poodles, the big elegant guys who win prizes at the shows. She’s also a mother of two sons, as well as a grandmother, and friend — as was evidenced by the crowd last night.

The author with Muffie Potter Aston. Click to order!

The reception was held in the Milstein Hall with the big whale suspended from above. After all, the story takes place during a Sleepover at a museum. The AMNH is just about any and every kid’s dream for a sleepover. The LeFrak family has long been one of their major providers of support and endowments.

I ran in and out last night to get the photo of the author (and some of her many friends and admirers). The entrance gallery empty of visitors, with the dinosaur skeletons to greet you in the dim night lights was a different atmosphere, much darker, and unconcerned with life. I moved through quickly to the lighted hallway and the elevator.

I was on time to hear Karen’s written-out thank you to her guests. They were passing the can’t- resist hors d’oeuvres (pigs in a blanket, etc.). Patrick McMullan was covering it for the full picture.

The author with her husband Richard’s sister Francine LeFrak and Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College.

There Goes the Neighborhood. For those who are always intrigued by the lives and stories of local residents, strangers except to the eye in passing, Monday’s Diary about the nabe and Babs Simpson’s longtime residence in my building evoked from a neighbor of mine, a letter/email additional information about the lady and her life. She wrote:

Babs Simpson photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, 1951

“Some more information on Babs Simpson’s companion Paul Magriel who lived in the corner apartment — not the supers’ — at 85 East End. I read the Babs Simpson obit in the Times with fascination. I knew she was an original the moment I saw her, but I really learned about her from the obit.

I knew Babs a bit from the building through Paul Magriel. We would exchange hellos when we saw each other. She was striking, elegant. At the time I knew her she was an editor of House and Garden, and she was a friend of my boss, Gerry Stutz, the creative force behind first incarnation of the old Henri Bendel.

Her friend Paul used to take a folding chair and sit in front of the building on sunny days. He was a fascinating person who was also a bit of a math genius, who had a influential career in the dance world, librarian at the American School of Ballet, and curator of the dance archives at MoMA.

This building had quite a history as well under Lew Rudin (who built it with his brother Jack). Woody Allen’s sister and brother-in-law, the Aronsons lived here, and there was always a deputy mayor because of the close proximity to Gracie Mansion.”

My neighbor’s recollections inspired me to further research Bab’s longtime companion Mr. Magriel.

According to the New York Times obit of Mr. Magriel on Sep 13, 1990, I learned that he was an editor of Dance Index — a magazine dedicated to providing a historical and critical basis for judging dance. He was also an editor of many books on the subject such as “Nikjinsky,” “Isadora Duncan,” and “Pavlova.

He also had a wide range of interests including sports in art, American still life, numismatics, watercolors, drawings and sculpture. His collections were exhibited in more than 84 museums and galleries in this country. He was an authority on Italian Renaissance bronzes, and had a collection of watercolors and pastels, expecially those of John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and John LaFarge.

Mr. Magriel was also a tour guide at the Metropolitan Museum and with another man, John T. Spike, wrote A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Met, a booklet that gives information on four one-hour tours that present the visitors with 100 art objects — “the very best that the Met has to offer.”

Mr. Magriel’s son Paul Magriel Jr., who died this past year at age 71, became a backgammon world champion, and served as the backgammon columnist of the New York Times.

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