Real dramatics

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Driving southbound on the West Side Highway. 7:00 PM.

October 5, 2021. It was a warm, sunny day, yesterday morning, clouding over by mid-day but nevertheless warm enough for my building’s AC on in the corridors. Then around 4 p.m. it turned suddenly dark, almost a foreboding darkness.

Coincidentally it was at that hour that I went on line and discovered (from a news channel) that Facebook and Instagram and their other affiliates had gone dark. I’m not an FB user (don’t have time) although we have an Instagram page. We’re not attentive users, however.  JH and I have enough work getting the site out five days a week without Insta.

Eleanora’s photo that’s been getting a lot of attention.

So we’ve been running the same photo for the past week, taken by our friend Eleanora Kennedy of a completely naked man walking across East 62 Street between Fifth and Madison, and in front of Amaranth restaurant at dinner time (it was still light out). We don’t get those big numbers you see on Insta, although this one, if for no other reason than vulgar(ish) curiosity, we expected more views than usual. The first hour they ran right up into the hundreds with many viewers’ comments (which I didn’t happen to read), so we’ve kept it there. As of yesterday we finally hit 1000 views (big deal for little old NYSD) and 101 comments.

It’s quite a good photo that Eleanora captured with her iPhone — while sitting at table outside at Amaranth — of the man’s naked backside, taken at enough distance that you could see him clearly but you had to look. He was carrying a gym bag (I was told). Getting some fresh air, as they say. Although I’ve been told since that he’s been seen elsewhere on Fifth and Park Avenues, naked as the day he was born, strolling along on his way to the next orgy or place of worship.

Somehow the whole nudity thing seemed to sum up these last 18 months of Whaaa? Fashion Week had just ended and I wondered if this guy was making some kind of point about where Fashion is going these days.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking how these times have been scandal-less (versus scandalous). Things have been that way for quite some time, even long before Covid. You pick up the Post and all you’d get was Prince Harry and his Duchess annoying readers for disrespecting the Royal Family (as in tch-tch), but no Dirt, no bad behavior, except of course the murders, especially of children and young women which can only make you angry to enraged.

The Paulsons in happier times. Photo: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

But last week Maureen Callahan in the Post came through with the story of Hedge Fund tycoon John Paulson who is divorcing his wife of 21 years, having found true love in the arms of a very pretty girl who is young enough to be his daughter (or granddaughter?).  Now this really isn’t much of a scandal anymore. I read something the other day about multi-marriages and how the first one lasts, say twenty years, but the second lasts only five and the third lasts three and a half (thanks to the lawyers), and if he goes for a fourth, time takes over and he’s got dementia or could care less (and so could she … depending of course on the settlement).

Divorce is commonplace in our world these days. I’m old enough to remember when it was rare. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that people were happier (although maybe they were). When I read about Mr. Paulson, the most sensational being that he is reported to have made $20 billion dollars the last time the market folded (2008), and also donated $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy (for all New Yorkers), nothing seemed particularly scandalous.

I read that his wife came to this country as a young woman from Romania and was quite serious. I have a natural presumption from the looks of her and her foreign background that there’s a lot of No-Nonsense with her. She was a serious worker and responsible. You can kind of see it in her photographs. She was a probably a great and dependable partner. But time and money heals all wounds and eventually wounds all heels.

The Paulson residence on East 86th Street, formerly the William Woodward Mansion. Photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Paulsons set up housekeeping in a very large mansion on East 86th Street. That is the most interesting part of the story for this social historian (or whatever you want to call this brand of curiosity). The house — which is a very grand mansion — was originally owned by Elsie and William Woodward Sr. Mr. Woodward was from a very old Maryland family from another era dating back to Colonial times (he was born in 1876).

The original family money was made in the cotton business (selling textiles to the Confederacy). He went to Groton and then Harvard, then Harvard Law, and had a distinguished career as a founding member of the British and American political elite (including personable King Edward VII — great-grandfather of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth). Mr. Woodward was also an original member of the Federal Reserve and owner of the prestigious Hanover Bank, which was long ago merged into Chemical Bank — now Chase.

Mr. Woodward had one wife, Elsie, a  famous New York hostess who lived in the big house until after her husband’s death (in 1953), when she moved to an apartment in the Waldorf Towers where she entertained the world famously.

The Woodwards had four daughters all of whom married “well” as they used to say, to a Bancroft, a deCrosset, a Cushing, and a Sewall, and one son, William Jr., who in 1943 married a showgirl named Ann Crowell, rumored to have been the girlfriend of Woodward Sr. The couple had two sons, William III born the following year, and James, born in 1947.

Elsie Woodward in the du Pont’s living room at Winterthur, 1954, Winterthur Archives.

Twelve years later, after at a dinner party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple returned to their house in Oyster Bay. It was later reported that both were worried about a prowler reported to be in the neighborhood at the time.

The story in the press later reported that the couple both went to their separate bedrooms with loaded shotguns that night. In the middle of the night, Ann claimed later that she heard a noise on the roof. She went with shotgun from her bedroom into the darkened hallway where she saw a figure. Believing it was the prowler, she fired and killed the man. It was her husband.

Guilty or not, the door to society slammed shut for Ann Woodward.

When the police came to the house they found her sobbing over his dead body; she confessed to the shooting, stating that she believed he had been the burglar they were worried about. Later a man named Paul Wirth, arrested by the police as the prowler, was said to have admitted that he had attempted to break into the Woodward house on the night of the shooting but had been scared away by the sound of gunshots.

Elsie Woodward, knowing about her son’s private relationship, believed the shooter was indeed her daughter-in-law but publicly supported her because of her grandchildren, even going so far as to paying Paul Wirth to state that he had been the potential burglar. Three weeks later Ann testified before a Grand Jury that the shooting was an accident, thinking her husband was the burglar. It was determined by the Grand Jury that there was no crime committed.

More than fifteen years after in the mid-70s, Truman Capote wrote about the incident fictitiously in a piece called “Cote Basque 1965,” published in Esquire. The woman in his story resembled Ann Woodward — whom he described as a bigamist. One night after a dinner party she killed her husband. He had  confronted her with the fact that she had never divorced her first husband before they married, in an effort to force her to give him a divorce so that he could marry the new woman in his life. However, in a rage he shot him while he was in the shower, and then moved the body into the hallway to go along with her story.

Billy and Ann in happier times.

Years later, Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill, who had been a friend of the couple and had been present that night at the Duchess of Windsor dinner, told this writer that more than once she had personally witnessed Ann Woodward’s violent temper when it came to her husband behavior. It was known among friends that Ann knew that there was another woman in his life, and it was believed that Ann had, in a rage, killed her husband.

True or false, after hearing about the publication of the Esquire story, in October 1975, almost fifteen years to the day of the incident, Ann Woodward having read the galleys, took a cyanide pill and ended her life. Three years later, her younger son Jimmy jumped from a ninth story window to his death here in New York.  Tragically, twenty-one years after that, his elder brother “Woody” ended his life in the same way.

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