Monday, November 2, 2020. A rainy weekend in New York; off and on, but with temps in the mid- to high-50s, falling into the high 30s at night on, the first day of Eastern Time. It’s raining steadily as I write this, the BLM protester marching by with shouts, to the beat of a drum. Only eight of them, in rain gear and umbrellas.
I went to brunch yesterday at Antonucci with Tobie Roosevelt. It wasn’t much of a day for outdoor eating although there were four tables occupied, and another four tables (only) inside. There are a lot of people who don’t want to eat inside; afraid. I prefer the warmth.
Fame and the famous as well. Talking about the week just passed, including the demise of Sean Connery, Tobie recounted a trip she and her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. made to London back in the mid-1980s. One night they were invited to dine at White’s. White’s, if you didn’t know, is the oldest, most exclusive private gentleman’s club in London. Prince Charles is a member, as is his son Prince William.
On this particular night, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt were seated, Sean Connery appeared at the entrance to the dining room. He was in black tie and looking like the movie star that he was. Tobie was very impressed, as she is a fan.
Mr. Roosevelt waved to Connery to come over to the table. Tobie assumed he knew Connery. As the debonair actor approached offering his hand, he said something like, “Nice to meet you.”
Roosevelt responded likewise, and asked, where were his menus?
Connery smiled and walked away, probably thinking he’d heard it all!
After he was out of earshot, Tobie said to her husband, “Do you know who that was?”
“I was looking for a menu and called the maître d’,” he explained.
“That wasn’t the maître d’, that was Sean Connery!”
Last week Christie’s completed their auctions of the estate of Jayne Wrightsman who died this past April, only six months from her centennial. Mrs. Wrightsman was a fixture of Society in New York that no longer exists. She was born in Michigan in 1919 and moved in her early teenage years with her mother and siblings to Los Angeles. She wasn’t a beauty but she was an attractive young woman. After high school she worked sometimes as a photographer’s model as well as behind the counter of the gloves department of the Broadway department store on Wilshire Boulevard.
She was coming of age when the film industry with its home in Los Angeles, was influencing the world and establishing the mode of 20th century America. It’s been said that she met her husband Charles Wrightsman — an Eastern educated Oklahoma oil heir, who was attracted to the glamour and excitement of the film industry — when she was waiting on him over the counter at the Broadway department store. Being a story borne in Hollywood, it may or may not have been true. But she was also friendly with people in the film industry and was a frequent guest at their dinner parties. That may have been where she met Mr. Wrightsman.
Charles Wrightsman was 24 years older than Jayne, who was 25 when they married in 1944. Mr. Wrightsman had been married before. He was said to have had a very dominating personality at least with members of his family. He could be very critical and unconcerned about its effect on others including his wife.
He also had a deep hankering for the New York world. After Exeter he went on to Stanford and then Columbia. By the time he was in his late 40s and had met Jayne, his ambitions expanded. He wanted to be something more than an oilman’s son (and President of Standard Oil of Ohio). He must have seen something in Jayne that sparked those ambitions. Perhaps he was her mentor. It is also true that she was a child of working class people in a era of great American prosperity, and naturally ambitious to make a better life.
Because together they achieved his ambitions to be recognized as an important collector, philanthropist and a citizen of that world. They were a team. Fred and Ginger — the Hollywood version. All in the eyes of the public. He was the bank but she was the queen. She’d taught herself that. She was in her mid-60s when he died at 90, and with another almost 35 years ahead of her. Those years seemed to be her ultimate reward.
The ace of their interests was 18th century French design. After the death of the monarchy in France and the rise of Napoleon, French style of the Bourbons went way out of fashion, and remained absent for the next century. It was two American women, Consuelo Vanderbilt, then the Duchess of Marlborough, and Elsie de Wolfe/Lady Mendl, influenced by Jacques Seligmann, the antiquarian and art dealer in Paris and here in New York at the end of the 19th century, who revived its popularity.
Today the Met has a 12,000 square foot gallery of the Wrightsman Collections of 18th century furniture, art, interiors. A tribute to history and to the girl from L.A. and the older guy who originally hailed from Pawnee, Oklahoma. With the Christie’s sales we’re also seeing the closing up, the dispensing of another historical era in New York life. Here are a few lots that illustrate just that …