Thoughts of Thanksgiving

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The moon and mars side by side. Photo: JH.

Friday, November 27, 2020. A very warm Thanksgiving Day it was here in little ole New York. It was otherwise quiet. Midday there were many neighbors out on the promenades and sidewalks and even the macadam; walking, running, cycling, scootering, dog walking. The temp was in the mid- to high 60s and it was comfortable. 

My 28th Thanksgiving in New York (this time around) was spent here, solo, at my apartment. Well, not really solo what with four members of the canine world accompanying me. And me them. The first thing I did this morning when I got up was to check out the falling leaves. Yes. The rain from the night before dampened the pavement and the roads (and parked cars) pasting the falling leaves on the surfaces. It’s nature’s art to these eyes. The view from the terrace: beauty everywhere.

I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as a day to “be together” as we learned as children with our families, and then later in adulthood with friends and/or more families. It always has a Sunday sort of feeling, although gilt-edged with all the stuff you can put on your plate and then some more. Until you finally stop yourself knowing you’re going to want some of the one of the pies like the pumpkin or the squash or the blueberry or the apple.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to join friends over the years, as well as a variety of other family dinners. Up until this year, many families had their holiday dinner at restaurants and hotels across the city. For several years, from the mid-90s, I was the guest of David and Helen Gurley Brown at the (old) Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagrams Building. 

David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown.

I’d met the Browns through Alice Mason at her famous monthly dinners. They were friendly, congenial people who loved conversation which always included New York, Hollywood, publishing, society and politics. A feast for the kid’s ears. In the mid-’90s they invited me to join them at their annual table by the pool in the pool room at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Helen would call to invite me in April !

“Hello Pussycat,” I’d hear her soft businesslike voice at the other end of the line, “we’d love to have you join us for dinner this year …” And I would go happily. 

They were an amazing couple, a real team although they had separate business lives. Helen was a “just a little girl from Little Rock” who went West to Los Angeles when she finished her schooling. She got a job at an advertising agency as a secretary to the head. Her ambition was to become a copywriter. It was a climb for a young woman in those days, but she was a nose-to-the-grindstone girl and she eventually was promoted to the role.

It was out there that she met David who worked for Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox as a story editor and talent scout for properties. As Helen progressed professionally, so did her private life. She was a naturally “liberated” self-sustaining woman, and she enjoyed the company of an interested male, especially one as charming and interesting as David Brown.

From this meeting, their association grew to be literary. Helen’s experiences socially was something that fascinated David and he naturally guided her writing “Sex and the Single Girl” which was published in 1962 with great fanfare and sales figures. To quote Wikipedia “… written as an advice book that encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage.” It sold 2 million copies in the first three weeks it was out.

It was made into a movie 2 years later starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, and Mel Ferrer.

Helen had a new job. She was getting thousands of letters from readers seeking advice on all the categories. And she was dutifully answering each letter personally. A full time job, it was.

David, observing this activity could see something else:  why not make a magazine about the subject for these women! He had previously been editor at the old Cosmopolitan Magazine. He knew how to set up a sale to a publisher.

Me and Helen at Literacy Partners gala in the 2000s.

After they put the plan together they made the rounds to magazine publishers. No one picked up on it. Then he heard that Hearst was planning on shutting down Cosmopolitan as its circulation had dropped along with its advertising revenues. Hearst was persuaded to re-publish the magazine under Helen’s editorial direction. The rest is history. The magazine was so successful for so long that there was a moment in Hearst’s empire that Cosmo was “paying the rent” so to speak.

David Brown, who had been a writer and editor, later became famous and hugely successful as a film producer in partnership with Richard Zanuck with ‘”The Sting,” “Jaws,” “The Sugarland Express,” among other films as well as a Broadway producer. 

So it was always pleasure for which I remain grateful — a dinner with the Browns, and also joined by Alice Mason. There was a wealth of conversation, information, fun, charm and even laughter at their table. It was always a learning, because the Browns shared their experiences, their insights and their knowledge as a matter of course.

It became a tradition for several years with Helen always getting a commitment on the first of April, until about 2008 when age and ill-health advanced. David died in 2010. He was 93. That same year I again had dinner with Helen although it was now just the two of us. Fate got in the way of the future, and finally completed it: she died in 2012 at 90, and still that Single Girl who married and lived a version of Happily Ever After. I remain grateful and thankful for the friendship that day we met brought into my life.

Meanwhile, here in New York this year, there was no Parade. There was something, not much, that Macy’s put together to remind us of that traditional holiday celebration. Our friend Paige Peterson who always covers the Macy’s parade for NYSD was not here in town this year, but I’ll let her explain:

From Paige: For the last 40 odd years I have never missed a Thanksgiving Day Parade. For the last 10 years or more years I have covered the parade for the Diary. This year 2020 my Thanksgiving was in my hometown of Belvedere. I have been sheltering in place here for the last eight months with my 94-year-old mother. She got a new hip. I wrote a book. Even though I got to float in my neighbors beautiful pool on this Thanksgiving morning, I would much rather have been on the street in the parade for the New York Social Diary. Next year. Next year.

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