Nostalgia and back to reality

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Backing up the truck, Bridgehampton. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021. Warm, but not too humid; sunny and bright until some grey clouds covered the sunbeams. Showers were forecast. But no, it remained dry and pleasantly warm in New York, so that by late evening it was 71 degrees in Manhattan. And quiet. It has been very quiet except traffic-wise.

A lot of people have been getting out of town on the weekends, and even earlier; not to mention those who’ve left town for the “duration” or do it as much as possible. The upshot of that is not good for local business in general but very good for the residents who have more space for themselves. New York is a glorious place, believe it or not.

Mary, the pro, instructing DPC, the novice, a couple years back.

Last night I had dinner with Mary Hilliard the distinguished social photographer whose archive contains the last 40 years of social history of New York and environs. Mary regards herself a “retired” although she’s currently working on three different book projects of her photographs. One of them is a book on the late restaurant Mortimer’s for which this writer wrote its history to accompany Mary’s photographs.

An American girl, daughter of a doctor, who grew up in Miami, Mary was sent off to boarding school, and then college. She married a college sweetheart, settled in New York, bore two sons. After the boys were brought up and making their own way in life, Mary and her husband, divorced, and she took up photography out of natural interest from childhood and knowing there was a profession out there for her to pursue.

Which she did. I met Mary at least 20 years ago doing what I do here in New York. We were covering the same events many times. The “social” events in New York are almost all covered with photographers — those hired by the events and those pursuing the photos for their own backgrounds. Photographers have different approaches to their tasks. The most successful are those who have the natural aggressiveness to pursue a subject for a standard fee.

Mary has a natural modesty about her. A naturally goodlooking woman, she is also as nice as she looks. She also knows what her job is (photographing public events that often are attended by prominent individuals who are regarded as famous or important — with egos abounding). And she is respectful, courteous, even friendly because not a few may be friends, and she gets results.

She was telling me at dinner how the subject (the photographed) has changed over the years to the point where people now are all ready with their pose whenever they see a camera. It’s a challenge for the photographer who is looking to capture your interest. Whereas she may have been going for a shot of the way a ballgown moved in the light and the crowd, instead she gets the subject’s face-on and ready with hand-on-hip for their “look.” It’s instagram or bust; we’re all pioneers.

Between the two of us — natural observers of the phenomenon of people — the subject is endless and always interesting. We sat outside. It was a beautiful night, perfect weather. And at the end of dinner we were visited by Gigi and Harry Benson and Linda Buckley who were just departing.

Harry and Gigi Benson stopped by the table so I asked Harry if he’d take our picture. Harry generously obliged. So now Mary and I have a personal photo by Harry Benson.
Then Gigi Benson gets busy with her iPhone and catches Harry and Linda Buckley bidding us goodnight.

The blind item while we’re on the subject:

This has been a summer that has not been titillated by a public private affair out East in the Hamptons, or even somewhere over there on the Mediterranean. No marriages threatened, it would seem. No topic of Saturday night dinner table talk about who and what and how could she, how could he?

I attributed the lack of local drama to the current financial and pandemic situation that has so many people guessing, and stressing. It is also quite possible, of course, that I just hadn’t heard about it because no one told me.

It turns out it was the latter. And as far as I know, this one has remained under the radar for a couple of reasons.

It’s unlikely. He’s from one world, she’s from another. Both high profile worlds, but far apart. There’s also the age difference, which is quite wide and also quite obvious on sight, if you catch my drift. He being the senior. Then there’s the husband whom she is apparently devoted to, and has always seemed so. Even though many have wondered aloud many times in many places how she can take it. Take what? The “abuse” (I use the quotes to leave the definition broad and wide and thorough). And the other women. And his public remarks as to what he plans to do (leave) and what will happen to her (too bad).

For a long time, it was assumed that it was the money that drew her to him in the first place. And kept her with him in the long run. She’s always been enthusiastic about taking advantage of what she got a wealthy husband with social connections to keep them at the center of a lot of things going on and a lot of parties being given. He loves all that stuff as much as she does. Or vice versa. And he loves having a wife who strives for soigné and chic and often successfully.

So you’d eventually conclude that despite the rough parts, it suited him, and it suited her, this “marriage.” And besides, this was not a new relationship. The years have been accumulating, and with them flaming youth (hers) has been ebbing.

If it were so bad, you might be inclined to question; if it were the bad scene some have claimed to know that it was, or is; if it were more than humiliating as it had been in the past not only for her but for her predecessor, she would have jumped ship by now. You’d think.

Which led others who think about these things (and talk about it on their iPhones on their way out to the Hamptons or down to Palm Beach or St. Barts), and conclude that she has no place to go. It is well known that a lot of women in her world don’t leave the Park Avenue co-op and the Southampton beach house for that reason: because they-have-no-place-to-go. According to the matrimonial lawyers they’ve discussed it with.

And she likes her lifestyle, the one he provides, and she wears it especially well, even admirably well. Admirable to some of the fashion mavens, and admirable, it turns out to certain gentleman, especially one who is now feeling younger than springtime, having met the girl of his dreams. This girl I’ve been referring to.

I don’t know where they met although there are many possibilities because he is a man of the world who has had a colorful career and life amidst the rich and the powerful. He’s not exactly Superman among those boys but he’s never been far from it. And he’s known them all. He’s far more sophisticated than the Mister than nobody thinks she’ll ever leave. This guy can charm her with his savoir-faire and tales of the two cities (New York and L.A.). No doubt she’s amazed by his energetic approach to his life, and quite flattered that such a sophisticated and worldly man would be mad-about-the-girl.

So right now it looks like it could be a cozy autumn in their secret rendezvous, and evidently that is still a secret. I say “still,” because it seems she corresponds with her Lothario the way most of us do with anybody these days: that’s right, email.

No worry that the husband’s going to find evidence of the cyber hugs and kisses because he’s beyond computer illiterate. The new big guy however, is not computer illiterate. There’s the rub. He’s so savvy, he can print out her messages which come with the pangs of cupid’s arrows. Who wudda thought; at this time in his life? And after he reads them, he prints them out and folds them up and tucks them in his wallet. Sweet, no?

And sometimes when he’s talking to some of his pals, and telling them how he got lucky at this time in his life, because he’s found the girl of his dreams, and she even writes him these emails … he’ll pull out his wallet and show the guys the evidence.

Who wudda believed it? Nobody I know. Except, there’s a growing number, it would seem. Of his pals. Who have seen the emails and noticed the name of this chick who’s nuts about this guy who may not be Methuselah but certainly no Prince Valiant either. Although I don’t know if the husband’s caught on. Then again, I don’t know if he’d even care. Anything’s possible these days.

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