Real Life and Reel Life

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Below ground. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024. A very warm day in New York yesterday with temps reaching up to the high 80s and forecast of it into the 90s today. With lots sun as well as the accompanying humidity.

It cooled off by nightfall (75 degrees). And just as I was about to sit down to write today’s column, I heard fire sirens in the background and within two to five minutes there were more than 25 trucks, maybe more, full sirens, from out of nowhere, coming to a massive stop right on the corner by my building. Rushing out to my terrace to see “what,” a massive hook and ladder turned and stopped catty-corner into 83rd Street, with its enormous ladder rising up to the corner of the apartment building directly across the avenue from me.



Just as suddenly dozens of neighbors, all ages, dressed for the heat of summer were standing on the opposite corner gazing upwards. I rushed downstairs with my cell phone to try to photograph the scene. They say the cellphones today take better photos than cameras. Maybe; if you know how to use them. JH does easily and even brilliantly. Not me, however; though I took a lot of shots (but looking them over not much).

The fire was in an apartment on the 12th floor facing south of the building with lots of a thin line of black smoke pouring out of its windows on the 12th floor facing south. And then a fireman on the floor below must have punched out the windows facing the avenue as the crowd below got even bigger. Neighbors, after-dinner types, a small mob (wrong word but right idea because of the firemen and their trucks), eyes glued to the 11th and 12th stories with more sirens and more trucks arriving, lots of flashing red lights on both sides of the avenue extending all the way down to 79th Street.




Serious business. I have no idea what happened or how or to whom if any were personally affected, although the firemen had several specialized response vehicles ready if so. By tomorrow I’ll get the whole story from the doormen who are the information experts in these neighborhoods. They’re very discreet on a daily basis about the who’s and what’s, but a fire occurring is open season on what happened. At least, I’m concluding there were no ambulances needed, and by 8:45 the firemen were packing up and returning to their firehouses. Thankfully.


What this kind of occurrence does do, is make the neighbors and the spectators nervous as well as hoping there are no injuries for families, including the dogs and cats. As far as the latter, naturally I never see the kitties in public, but the dogs are always about on leashes reminding everyone especially the little ones in their carriages  of the beauty and value of these creatures.

Meanwhile, the Diary. In my daily emails (and probably everybody else’s too) I get lots of ads, most of which I delete on sight. Although there are certain ones that always draw me in immediately, such as a real estate office in Beverly Hills called PRIVATE BEVERLY HILLS located on North Maple Drive. Their ads are simple and elegant and always a number of interior and exterior shots of very expensive real estate that I could never afford in that part of the world.

Beth Rudin DeWoody and me in the 1990s when I was still living in that part of the world.

I lived out there from the late ’70s through to the early ’90s, in BH as well as West Hollywood right next door in the hills,  and to say I loved it is an inadequate description. It was the climate yes, but also the way of life and the surrounding all-American elegance of the movie colony with all of its characters, artists, actors, directors, and producers involved in the portraying of the make believe of Real Life.

It was endlessly fascinating. Needless to say I met many members of those groups, all types, kinds, nationalities, temperaments, highly creative personalities both real and fake, and artists.

I had the good fortune (for my imagination if not my bank book) to see and get to know how they lived and where they lived. The really successful ones often lived not only glamorous lives publicly but comfortably privately. At least as long as they could afford it.

Meanwhile, the real estate firm of Private Beverly Hills always drew my attention with what they were hawking “elegantly” in their ads each week. This past week was especially compelling because it was for a house in Malibu, very modern, right on the water, and simply elegant in Carbon Beach, possibly the most expensive neighborhood in Malibu.

What drew me right in was the ad’s photo of a open section of the residence (although that seems like an inadequate word for it). It was just a “rental” but what immediately caught my eye and even astounded me was the price … or would we, or could we, call that the “fee” for living grandly: $350,000 a MONTH. Duh.


The picture that caught my eye.

Now who could afford a rental like that? Well, if you lived out there regularly or long enough, you know the prospective renter — movie stars, TV stars, directors, producers —  is somewhere in the wilds of that part of town (the western section of LA by the beautiful sea). The ad copy defined it for that special renter:

Known for its pristine sandy shores and stunning ocean views, Carbon Beach is one of the most exclusive and picturesque stretches of coastline in Malibu. Its prime location provides easy access to upscale dining, shopping and entertainment options, while still offering a sense of seclusion and tranquility.

Of course it is summer and those who can often rent for the season and return to their home-sweet-homes in the autumn (or after the breakup or contract suspension or some new gamble).


No doubt, the concrete and steel facade of this beachfront residence captures the attention of those traveling by yacht along the Pacific Coast waterway.

Meanwhile back here in the East Coast we have an example of similar (if not quite) sensibilities. My very good friend Colette Harron is a real estate broker for William Pitt Sotheby’s Realty in Essex, Connecticut where she has been a longtime resident with her artist husband Peter, and she’s very good at what she does including a suitcase full of designations and accolades for her work. Which she loves.

Real estate broker and old friend Colette Harron. Get in touch with her here.

I met Colette about 30 years ago through our mutual friend Lady Sarah Churchill. Sarah, who in general liked people, went on and on about how wonderful she was to know to the point where I could only think “yeah sure, uh-huh.” But alas, Sarah was right. Colette and I became instant friends. And if you met her you could see why. She’s charming but she’s honest and charming. And these days I also get real estate ads from her in the mail just like Private BH. And the prices are comparable although it is the East Coast and people are less likely to seek public attention for the price they’d pay for living-it-up. Conservative is part of the parlance no matter the bucks.

However, this past week Colette sent me a photo of a summer rental (monthly) for a totally New England totally elegant, simple and comfortable “cottage” by the sea called the Atlantic Ocean, with views and guest rooms and fireplaces and privacy overlooking the water for only $40,000 a month.

You could probably end up buying it or wanting to buy it because you just couldn’t resist. Although you’d have to ask Colette. She’s very good for personal advice on these matters too, and she’s neither a fantasist or a gimme-that girl when it comes to living sensibly and even wisely. And very honestly … So do what I do: enjoy the looking over the products for a good daydream if nothing else.


Fabulous, Furnished, Fenwick Summer Rental!

Colette like the gang out in Beverly Hills is happy to accommodate and advise no matter your bankroll. Oh, and years ago, in the 1960s, when she was more than a kid but just a gorgeous very young woman, before she met her very longtime adored husband Peter, she had a bohemian shop in the East Village that was a “fashion mecca” for Hubert Givenchy and Jimi Hendrix whom she also was crazy about until he left us.

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