This is New York. A scene from the past.

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The Hudson River currents. 1:15 AM. Photo: JH.

Thursday, July 16, 2020. It was a little cooler yesterday in New York. By mid-morning the temps were in low 70s. There was less humidity, a lot of Sun and huge cloud formations, some of which were warning grey. But they just continued to move along; no rain. I stayed home and went through the doghouse routine. Feed/walks/treats/clean-up. Then I have breakfast.

Under most, or former, circumstances the rest of my day would be preoccupied with tomorrow’s Diary which might include a luncheon appointment/interview or people to see for a variety of daily commitments. None of that. I went to Zabar’s and to the Price Wise Discount store on East 86th Street. I’ve never been a shopper for anything until its needed. But hardware stores and domestic supply stores are my boutiques. How about mopheads? Where else but Price Wise, plus anything else you need around the house (and the car). When I finish I always feel like I’ve been acting responsible. It’s a pick-me-up sort of delusion. And I don’t run out of stuff for all purposes.

Looking south along Madison Avenue from Carnegie Hill.

We’ve been doing our best or our damnedest over here attempting to make the NYSD interesting for you dear reader. As well as for ourselves. With all of this non-activity going on outside in our world and still slowly waking up from the lockdown, I’ve been looking back rather than forward – through my archives of the Diary.  We ran a couple items a couple of weeks ago.  Today we’re running a couple more. The pre-internet world (and the Diary) were what some recall as better times. It was definitely a different time and place and still, New York.

These items are simply a tiny slice of New York lives among the Upper Sets 25 years ago:

November 1994. No Moon Over This Guy’s Miami, or Is it Divorce 21st Century Style?  They’ve been married for 12 years. He’s very successful, a tycoon, big bucks, real estate.  Bigbigbig. Oodles. She’s European gorgeous, elegant; from a very good family a very good name. Austrian, Russian, royal, or something like that. She’s into clothes, so into clothes she has her own store where she sells nothing but coo-tour. And they were so happy. Now suddenly, it’s divorce. He wants out. He wants out because he found out her royal maiden name really isn’t hers.  It belonged to the husband who came before him, just like the good family she didn’t come from. He found out she was a phony. Because before that, the closest  thing she came to royalty was when she was working … as a stripper … in a drag queen club. Because she … originally was a … you guessed it … a he! (ahead of his time). All this while our canny tycoon went for 12 years without a clue? As my hero Fats Waller used to say: “One never knows; do one?”

April 1995. This is New York. A scene. The woman at the party. It was a big apartment above Fifth Avenue. Long, wide rooms of pale green and rose, with 24 or 16 foot ceilings. Gilded 18th-century fauteuil, faded boiserie, Aubusson carpets, Savonnerie tapestries, chandeliers of rock crystal (antique and very expensive), candlesticks of gold. Very grand, very Mittel-europa. It was a cocktail party. Forty or fifty milled comfortably about the drawing room.

She was perfectly dressed for the room (everyone else was underdressed), especially if I were being photographed for a liquor ad. Or the cover of a Judith Krantz novel. She stood off to the side with a glass of champagne, her face peering out from under a hat with two long, shiny metallic looking gold feathers all covering a bundle of blonde. Never moving, as if it were her public passing by, as if she were making an appearance.

The Glad Girls singing at a buffet and dancing party at the Harmonie Club. L. to r.:  Helen Houghton, Barbara Liberman, Joan Jakobson, Barbara Ascher, and Jeanette Watson. Photo by Frick Byers.

She was wearing a Mary McFadden suit (someone told me) in a mauve-ish fabric with gold threads that gave it a soft but glinting texture; and around her neck, a three-tiered choker/necklace of large square-cut canary yellow diamonds each surrounded by large white baguettes.

In all her splendor she was standing next to a tall and willowy-looking man with salt-and-pepper hair that started with a roll at the top of the forehead the way a lot of toupees do. He did not look like her husband, and this woman had a husband. There was something fascinating about the look of her. Like a picture. She had a sweet face, but one that looked perfectly sculpted like the smooth angular perfection of a Leyendecker drawing from the 1930s. It was extremely lifted, yet not an old face.

I stood on the other side of the crowd, inconspicuous, so that I could just look. She stood there, never moving, rarely talking, but just listening to the man next to her. She was a rara avis, like no other woman in the room. In some other room, she might have been a dame, or a broad, or a babe, but here under the gilded cornices she had somehow finally arrived at the right place.

As the party was breaking up, I happened to be standing nearby as she was getting her coat. A small man, bald with glasses, looking like Swifty Lazar’s thinner brother and wearing a black leather overcoat,  helped her into her billowy sable with pelts that ran on the bias and reached to the floor.  It seemed more like a temporary shelter than a coat. The collar reached to the brim of her hat, and then her sweet face was almost hidden. 

She entered the elevator with the small man in the black leather, along with the tall man who had been chatting her up, and another small man, roundish, baldish, dark-haired and thoroughly acquiescent looking. 

According to the friend I was with, she had just bought an enormous house on Long Island. They’re adding on to it and making it bigger.  Her name, another friend told me was Vicki, or Cherie, or Bobbi. My friend who’d met her said she was very nice — sweet, like the face — and she had a voice like Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday.” Except she wasn’t.

June 1995. On a Saturday I was a guest of Beth DeWoody at Carnegie Hall for the concertized version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle.” Angela Lansbury, star of the original cast in 1964, was narrating; and Bernadette Peters, Madeleine Kahn, Scott Bakula, and a company of dancers, actors and chorus were performing. It was a theatrical event that bristled with excitement, an only–in-New York evening where the talent and the audience are slight-specific. 

The benefit raised $650,000 for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Afterwards a party at the Russian Tea Room where the whole restaurant upstairs and down was like a scene from a movie of a Broadway opening party, the social and the theatrical; a lotta noise, moving around, and gnoshing.

Former David Merrick manager Biff Liff was greeting Miss Lansbury as she entered; Stephen Sondheim was standing by the coat check listening intently to a young composer’s summation of his current work activity. And Gerard Depardieu was sitting in the first banquette enchanting his table partners. He’s great just to watch as he talks (non-stop), because he looks exactly like the Gerard Depardieu on the screen — the narrow shoulders on the hulky torso, the big head and open face with knobby nose and chin and the thick shock of brown hair, cut long …. It was a great night for all — stars and fans and Sondheim devotees.

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