Remembering a rare bird

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No reining in the rain. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, May 1, 2023. “It’s raining, it’s pouring; the old man is snoring …” And then there’s “Rain rain, go away; come again some other day.”  Remember those when you were a kid stuck in the house all day because of the rain? Well, I do; it’s Sunday evening in New York as I write this Diary and I ain’t no kid by a longshot and we’re on our fourth day of it. Or is it the fifth? And I’m feeling like that kid. 

Well, it was a busy week just passed. There was the annual Spring City Harvest event at Cipriani 42nd Street where they took in more than $5 million. JH was there with his beautiful wife Danielle.

City Harvest raised enough money at their 40th anniversary gala to provide more than 9.6 million meals to New Yorkers in need.
The $5 million City Harvest raised at their 40th anniversary gala will allow them to provide more than 9.6 million meals to New Yorkers in need.

That night, I was up on Madison Avenue at the Café Carlyle where author Candace Bushnell was holding forth for five days only with her One Woman show. 

I’d never seen her before; nor read her, nor watched the television show that said it all. You get the whole story in her one woman show, however. Back in the mid-60s, Helen Gurley Brown wrote a best-seller “Sex and the Single Girl.”  A major hit because it marked a change. A generation later, Bushnell affirmed it when she published “Sex and the City,” based on her original columns for the New York Observer.

It was a tremendous best-seller; hence the very popular HBO series. Her one woman show defines it. It is very funny, very real, and a perfect demonstration of the changes in our world with the liberation of women in the 20th century. It’s hilarity to watch but serious business. I was amazed at how it was articulated. Bushnell is a blast to watch playing the role of Every Woman On Her Own. It’s reality therapy.

Candace Bushnell on stage at Café Carlyle last week for her hit one woman show, Is There Still Sex in the City?

The following night Alexander Cohane, the son of the late Heather Cohane, hosted a memorial gathering about his mother who died several weeks ago in the South of France.

Heather was the founder and publisher of Quest magazine which she created back about 1986. She had been widowed, living in New York with two daughters and son Alexander, and she needed to earn a living.

Heather was firstly naturally self-motivated and independent-minded. Starting a magazine to solve a financial problem is outside the box of enterprise because it requires raising a lot of money to pursue an idea (the popularity of the matter). But Heather achieved that.

Heather with her great friend and fellow dog lover, and Alexander’s godmother, Liz Weicker Fondaras, in Central Park, circa 1955.

I’d first heard about Quest when I was living L.A. because Larry Ashmead, an executive editor at what was then Harper & Row, used to send me copies. They always interested me — as Larry knew they would — and I’d say to myself about the editorial: “I could do that!”

Heather, a natural beauty, photographed by Slim Aarons in the late ’60s.

Coincidentally, a few years later I’d come to New York to write a memoir for Bobby Short. I was staying with an old friend Beth DeWoody who one night took me to a cocktail party at the Chanel store on 57th Street. Among the crowd Beth introduced me to was a little English lady, slight in stature, and modest in bearing but clearly certain in objectives. She was introduced to me as the publisher of Quest (which I knew from learning her name).

Heather told me that she knew my byline, and would I like to write something for her magazine? I was flattered naturally, and agreed. Over the following six months I wrote several pieces for Quest. So we had got to know each other.

She ran the magazine in a moderate sized one room on the second floor of a building, an old house converted to business — on the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 80th Street. Her intention was a magazine for the New York high end private real estate market. She based it on a similar magazine in London that I think was called Cavalcade. 

Her advertising sales technique, a minor matter with a major response: Heather persuaded her advertisers to include photos of the residences to be placed with each ad. This is now totally ordinary and common technique everywhere, but it was a first at the time, and it brought her a lot of initial business.

The Heather I knew and loved, photographed with her beloved terriers, Juansito and Sparky.

One day when I delivered my copy for the next issue, Heather asked me if I’d like to write a column. I was surprised, particularly because the idea had been in my head since was an adolescent reading the daily two New York tabs — the Mirror and the Daily News — which my father got everyday. This was up in Massachusetts, far far away from the razz-ma-tazz of Manhattan. Although it never occurred to me consciously until I was reminded 30 years later that the boy was always interested.

At Alexander’s reception in his mother’s memory, I was naturally reminded of her — her plain and unique style, her frankness, her honesty and her easy-to-laugh kindness. When you enter the apartment, there is an oil portrait of Heather as young woman, a naturally very pretty woman with her blonde hair up, wearing only lipstick and completely nude to the waist. She might have been in her early twenties, definitely a young woman. 

When guests came in and happened to see it, they’d laugh with the pleasure of her presence. It probably was somewhat daring for her to sit for at the time. Although Heather was honest and serious as well as amused and sincere.

There must have been 35 or 40 old friends who’d gathered. Alexander had written his memorial of his mother. There were two others who spoke briefly and then Christoper Mason, who was waiting in the wings, turned on his electronic keyboard and his computer and sang his version of a toast to Heather.

Dog lover, adopter and supporter of many a stray being, Heather was also an avid walker — remembered by many in Central Park for her ability to befriend a passing stranger. Photograph by Patrick McMullan.

Heather sold Quest in 1996 to Chris Meigher and retired to Monte Carlo to be close to her two daughters who lived nearby. She had a history of Monte Carlo. When she was a teenage girl, in the late 1940s, her mother and father divorced and her mother married a very rich Englishman. The Englishman spent much of his time living in Monte Carlo where he was devoted to the casino. Heather would often accompany him nightly to the casino beginning at age 14. That was where she got her first taste of the international High Life.

Mother and son in NYC in 2012. In Alexander’s words: “My mother was an extraordinary woman, highly unorthodox and mischievous, who led a rich, varied and colourful life. Deeply passionate with a wonderful energy and zest for ever more life. Fiercely loyal to friends and family, and deeply loved by many for all her eccentricities and for the laughter she brought in her wake.”

Because her stepfather was such a good customer, Heather was allowed entry as long as she did not drink or smoke or go near the tables; and also, dress formally. Heather loved that. In time, however, the rich Englishman lost everything and Heather and her mother returned to London.

However, at the time I was writing for her, she ran into that ex-stepfather decades later, in London. He worked as a traveling salesman. He told Heather that he’d never been as happy as he was as a traveling salesman. She was very impressed by that.

It was a long life, she may have been 90; if not, close. She was even tempered at all times and rarely strayed from that presence. But she was very serious about her pursuits and her results. She loved her children; she was motherly but she was still daughterly herself. She had a very good, and, even at times, wicked sense of humor. Getting and giving a good laugh was her nature. 

I didn’t know or recognize quite a few of the guests although surely I was the only one in the room writing for Quest thirty years later. I could tell by the laughter Alexander evoked in his reading about Heather’s way of looking at the world, that they all were all very pleased just to be reminded of the friend she was to all of us.

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