Photo Memoir

Featured image
Memories are made of this.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Yesterday was another warm(ing) day in New York with temps touching 60 degrees and some rain joining in (really more like heavy moisture) late in the afternoon and evening. It’s been such a mild winter, not even a wintry winter that we’ve come to take this weather for granted. However, we are living at a time of such surprises from Mother Nature, as well as from some of her children, that you never know!!!

Straightening up a storage closet over the weekend, I came upon two small, photo-covered bulletin boards that I’d forgotten I had. JH had bought them for my office when we were working to launch the NYSD in 2000. They’d been sitting in the closet for about two decades disappeared from my thoughts. It was like coming across old love letters; a natural wonder. I had some specific but mainly vague memories on first seeing.

I had no plan when I originally tacked everything up. They were a record of a moment, a time, providing memories of good or interesting times. Stories of people, which is where this head always goes.

We’ve accumulated so many photo images in these past two decades. So I didn’t put them back in the closet but placed them on the floor against a table next to my bed maybe we could do something with them. For the past couple of weeks they were what I’d first and last see everyday. They began to look like a memoir come to life. Still life, that is.

That quote you see on the top, “I was a fugitive from Cary Grant” was from a letter by Bob Schulenberg who added the (starring The Man who ran 15 miles from Malibu to Hollywood). It made me laugh, reminding me of its origin.

The now famous Ross Hunter quote created by Schulenberg making up a Hollywood title.

When first living in Los Angeles, A friend gave a dinner party to introduce me to his friends. There were ten or twelve at table, all of whom knew each other and were in The Business (movies).

Because I was a writer, my host seated me next to Ross Hunter, one of the most famous film producers of the era (Pillow Talk, Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life, Midnight Lace, Tammy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Airport, and a score more).

Ross Hunter.

I was very impressed. And Ross was also a genuinely friendly fellow and who loved to talk about the business and its Stars. I was all ears. He’d started as an actor in the 1940s. One of his first assignments, he said, was in a film with Cary Grant. They even had a scene together. One day in rehearsals, Grant suggested that Ross come down to Grant’s house at the beach over the weekend, and rehearse the scene.

So the young, enthusiastic actor Ross down to Malibu that Sunday to rehearse with Cary Grant. He found star relaxing on a lounge in his bathrobe taking in Sun on his terrace. When Ross entered, Grant stood up to greet him, and opened his robe revealing his naked physique.

Ross was shocked! And didn’t know what to say (who would?)! and then Cary Grant said, “I think I’m falling in love with you!”

Ross told me he was so scared, not knowing what to say, he “ran out of the house and all the way back to Hollywood.”

A few days after the dinner party I was telling my friend Schulenberg about meeting Ross Hunter and his story about Cary Grant. At the time of the telling, I wondered if it were really true. (What Cary Grant did or said.) But what did I know, I was a new resident and only vaguely aware of that world.

Schulenberg, however, who was also living out there and was a native, and was in the business, started to laugh. “He ran back to Hollywood?” Schulenberg asked skeptically. “You know that’s about 15 miles …  even if he walked it!”

Years later, Schu sent me a letter and as is his habit, he decorated it along with the message with images of faces, flowers, etc. This time he quoted Ross Hunter’s escape from Cary Grant.

I can’t remember if I took this photo or JH did. Probably JH since in the early days he’d cover a party with me with his camera. That’s Karl Lagerfeld, of course, taking a picture with his camera (it was before cellphone cameras). The lady behind him who looks like she could be a movie star is Daphne Guinness. Nor do I recall where we were and what was the occasion.
Same with this photo. That’s Rupert Everett, of course, and Franca Sozzani,  Editor-in-Chief of Italian Vogue; and  Donatella Versace. This may have been a party in Paris.
We are looking at the Garden – overlooking the Mediterranean on the island of Elba off Tuscany — from the house to which Emperor Napoleon was exiled in 1814. This picture was taken by me on a yachting trip in the Mediterranean, a guest of Anne and Charlotte Ford in the summer of 2000.
A shot of Elba taken from the sea as we continued on our voyage. It was my first time in the Mediterranean as well as my first time seeing that part of the world. I learned that cruising on a yacht is one of the greatest luxuries in the world. And in the Mediterranean, it is like traveling through history all the way back to ancient times.

The old man above is my father sitting on the stoop (his word for it) of the first house we lived in when my mother and father moved up to Massachusetts from Manhattan (where I was born). Pa was always referred to as the old man by my mother, and when you’re a kid everyone is old who isn’t a kid.

Although in this photo Frank Columbia was about 43 years old. It had already been quite a life (and one full of drama and secrets) but naturally I never knew anything about that until I was an adult when fate revealed much. Looking at it now, I see a different man from the one I grew up with. It was a very difficult life for the man who wore it, and also not so easy for all of those around him. Although at this time in my life (he died 47 years ago), I see him with empathy as well as his gifts to me.

I don’t know the pup sitting next to him, but the one on the bottom step whose head is out of the picture was Brownie, the first dog I knew at age 3.

998 Fifth Avenue at 81st Street.

I don’t know why I kept this photo although … that’s 998 Fifth Avenue at 81st Street and the car in front is a “limousine” circa 1927 (an educated guess, not a fact). 998 was the first luxury apartment building on Fifth Avenue. It was already an excellent location, directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum.

It was designed by McKim, Mead & White and built between 1910 and 1912 by a man named James T. Lee. Mr. Lee in his long career built several luxury apartment buildings including 580 Park Avenue and 740 Park. 998 was the first, a new idea for the rich who either lived in hotels or built townhouses. This was a rental (before co-ops) and the rooms were designed to feel like a house — with all the amenities including location and views.

A second generation Irishman, he had three or four children including a daughter Janet who married John Bouvier —  known to his friends as “Black Jack.” The Bouviers had two daughters — Jacqueline, who later became famous in the world as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Janet Lee, known as Lee who became famous as Lee Radziwill.

My father in his youth (in the 1920s and ‘30s) was a chauffeur in New York. It was the only memory of his life that he referred to in retrospect with pleasure and enthusiasm. Firstly, he loved cars (they were still very new then), and his employers could afford the best. His favorite employer whom he always referred to with pride and a kind of respectful affection was Black Jack Bouvier. Looking at the car in the photo, I must have wondered if that was a car maybe my father drove. That must be why I kept this photograph.

That’s Princess Firyal, and me sneaking into her picture. And she’s handling it with the grace and charm that comes naturally to her. Princess Firyal of Jordan was firstly the wife of King Hussein of Jordan’s brother (I think). This photo was taken at some event in New York and at that time Firyal, who lived between here and London and Paris, was dating a widower named Lionel Pincus. Mr. Pincus was a very distinguished looking investment banker and philanthropist (Warburg Pincus), and a very nice man. He’d come from a happy marriage before his loss of wife. Firyal, being an international woman with connections all over the world as well as the sophistication to maneuver and adapt, charmed Lionel. She had made a fascinating life for him (he loved meeting new people of prominence and prestige as well as leadership). He died 11 years ago at 78. Firyal continues to live between here and Europe.

Ahh! You know the lady above. She looks great. And I am very impressed to be standing there for a photo because I greatly admired her for many years. This was taken at a fund-raiser, I think when she was running for Senate most likely. And it was out in the Hamptons at some supporter’s house, probably a fund-raiser. I don’t recall the conversation but whatever it was, it was brief, because she was working.

I had met her a few times before such events when she was campaigning. I was already an admirer and had once had – at Alice Mason’s – a brief conversation with her. She’d asked me what I thought were the most pressing matters that needed to be addressed in our world. I said, “protecting the environment.” She didn’t agree entirely when it came to priority but she knew what I meant.

It’s twenty years later, and everything has changed. For everyone, and surely for Mrs. Clinton. Time, age, energy and attitude. However, for the lady in this picture I saw promise, maybe even for all of us. You can see that in this image. I don’t think that was naïve, but rather thinking positively. That’s a greater challenge these days; for all of us and of course for the lady in the picture. But what a bright and sweet light remains from this view.

John Galliher.

This is John Galliher, known to his many friends and admirers as Johnnie Galliher. He was 51 in this photo (he died in 2000). I met him first in Los Angeles when I lived out there. He was a houseguest of Billy McCarty-Cooper who is a whole other fascinating story.

John was an old friend of my friend Luis Estevez who introduced me to him. Luis told me I was going to meet “the chicest man I’d ever meet.” I had no idea what that meant. But he was right. Chic is a word assigned to women’s fashion but it refers to an aesthetic that is basically without gender, acted out and easy on the eye, as well as a comfort to the mind. John had that.

He was also something of a mystery although there were many who had known him all his life. When I met him, he was in his late 60s, white-haired, full head. He was proper-appearing although highly sophisticated, and “knew the score” in life. At the end of the Second World War he was sent to work for the Marshall Plan in Paris where he met the world and was befriended by them.

But by the time of our meeting, he was known as a man-about-town (the late 20th century version where “the town” has changed). He was very social, the perfect extra man. He was also very well-informed about many people and many things. He did not divulge but occasionally he could make an off-handed comment that spoke the truth (facts).

I always imagined that during those Paris years when he was “man-about-town” he was working for the CIA. Many who knew him imagined in his later years that he was “supported” by wealthy friends who loved his company. However, when he died, he left an estate of more than $2 million.  Thirty-five friends were each bequeathed $25,000 tax-free. It came as a shock to many including the “heirs.” These included people for thanks, as well as those he knew who could really use it. He divided the rest of his estate between Gods Love We Deliver, Meals-on-Wheels, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and City Harvest.

In truth, that said it all. Johnnie G. He died of pancreatic cancer at age 86. He wrote his own Death Notice for the Times: “He died peacefully in his sleep.”

I wondered for years what happened to this card (before I found it on this bulletin board in the closet). I’d saved it because of the sender: Franco Zeffirelli. I never knew Mr. Z although we must have met because he sent this Christmas card. At the time when I was living in L.A. and when he was in town, he stayed in the house of a friend who lived farther up the hill from me. This was on Doheny Drive where up in the “Bird” streets, there is briefly a sidewalk which I used for walking my dogs. Zeffirelli used to see me with my four-legged friends, and he’d toot the horn and wave when passing by. He missed his dogs back in Italy. The message he wrote: “Happy Christmas to you, the people, and to the lovely animals you love, Franco Zeffirelli.”

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