Monday, September 13, 2021. Fair weather with temps in the 80s yesterday in New York, with an inkling of the seasons about to change.
I spent a good part of the day yesterday going through boxes of photographs accumulated over my entire life. A massive photographic morass, I approached it as an organizer, record-wise. Looking through old photos — anything more than 10 or 15 years back — can be very interesting if for no other reason than we all looked “a little” different then. And they all evoke memories that comfort and even provoke laughter as well as sometimes the bittersweet.
Among the morass I found more than a hundred photos taken at a party that the hostest-with-the-mostest Judy Green gave for me in the late ‘90s when I’d been hired by another Judy — Judy Price — to be editor-in-chief of her Avenue magazine.
Judy loved giving parties more than almost anyone I ever knew. And her guests loved them almost as much as she did, and even moreso in memory. Because she liked variety, all kinds of variety — from uptown to lowdown.
She had a beautiful apartment at 555 Park Avenue decorated by her great friend Ann Downey. Vincent Minuto (the Hamptons Domestics man) provided the hors d’oeuvres and canapés and there was always a more ample supply of wines, champagne and booze. When she ran out of the Cristal, she had them re-fill them with cheap champagne and no one ever seemed to know the difference. She dispensed with staff other than Vincent’s helpers. Rarely was there entertainment outside of the personalities of the guests themselves. The receptions were casual in atmosphere although cocktail dressy in the old sense. Men in jackets and ties and the women looking smart and chic.
She was a smart girl, New York born and bred, Vassar educated, very well-read, drawn to theatre and society — a common combination in her upbringing — her interests were reflected in her guest lists as well. Widowed in her late 40s by, her late husband Bill Green, a millionaire businessman who made his fortune in packaging, especially Seagrams products. It’s been said that Bill Green invented the holiday liquor packaging that promoted the libations as potential holiday gifts (it worked). He was also said to be the “best friend” of Frank Sinatra.
The Greens and Sinatras traveled in a social pack (besides the legendary Rat Pack) that included Leland and Pamela Hayward (later Harriman), Phyllis and Bennett Cerf, Claudette Colbert and Dr. Joel Pressman, Armand and Harriet Deutsch, Ann and Morton Downey, Edie and Bill Goetz among others. With the variety of that group — Hollywood and New York, theatre, entertainment, publishing, Barbados, Palm Springs, Southampton, Palm Beach, Judy — one of the younger members of the party — met the world, and loved it.
During those years, the 1970s, when the Greens lived mainly on their estate in Mt. Kisco, Judy wrote a couple of novels, the first of which was about two married women, best friends, who became lovers. That gave everyone something to talk about for quite some time after. Judy loved the notoriety and again, the connection to film and theatre (possibilities). She was an aspiring actress/dramatist who understood that aspiration does not necessarily include talent. However, a would-be singer with no voice or ability to sing on tune, but quick to laugh about it, one birthday she sent Sinatra a recording of her singing “Happy Birthday” to him. The next day she received a thank you telegram: “Stick to your parties, and I’ll take care of the music. Love Frank.” She loved it; that was enough praise for her.
Among her standard gatherings was a Christmas/Holiday party with her party decorated by Robert Isabell, then the event planner extraordinaire in New York (and later a favorite of Bunny Mellon). Pine boughs, ribbons, and Christmas lights everywhere, plus a perfectly stunning Christmas tree. One year some of those pine boughs drooped from the fireplace mantel to the flames below and they caught fire! Fire department was called, showed up almost immediately, with guests all evacuated to the street below. Finally, fire doused, the guests returned and the party went on well into the night.
All of this amused and fascinated our hostess of the party in these photos. We’d met a few years before through Dominick Dunne. Dominick told me that Judy had read a two-part series I’d written on the Two Mrs. Paleys (Babe and Dorothy) for Quest magazine when I first came back here from California. When she learned that Dominick knew me, she asked if he would introduce us, which he naturally did. I had long heard about her but had never met her. I was very flattered by her interest and curiosity, and one autumn late afternoon we met at her apartment in her red library with a Rothko on one wall and a Warhol portrait of her on another. And after that we saw each other frequently.
This particular cocktail reception was not untypical. Judy was a hostess who loved people and all kinds. She’d grown up in the world of New York when people entertained frequently in their homes – very often with cocktail parties. New Yorkers were used to them and rarely missed one.
Looking through these photos we see authors, agents, journalists, columnists, producers, restaurateurs, philanthropists, socialites, major realtors, investment bankers. There’s Zarela, the Mexican chef whose restaurant of the same name was very popular. There’s Gale Hayman, the lady from Beverly Hills who invented the fragrance that made her a great fortune. There was Sam Green (no relation), the entrepreneur-playboy who befriended the fabled including Greta Garbo who rarely spoke to people but called Sam frequently. He encouraged her calls but never telling her that he was recording all of them. When she learned that (I don’t know how), she cut him dead. Forever.
And Dennis Stein, a “man-about-town” who had all kinds of “connections” and had been the boyfriend of Elizabeth Taylor when she first separated from Richard Burton. There was fashion designer Mary McFadden with one of her many conquests; and Anne Slater; Glenn Birnbaum, proprietor of the then fabled Mortimer’s restaurant; and Alexandra Penney, who made her fortune from SELF magazine’s huge success; and Denise Rich; and Janice Levin, who owned the Paramount Building on Broadway and was a major supporter of the ballet here in New York; and Dominick Dunne; and film producer David Brown (husband of Helen Gurley Brown); Anthony Haden-Guest; and Muffie Potter and Dr. Sherrell Aston. And dozens of others just like ‘em. What a swell party it was.
Three years later in September 2001, just four days after the twin towers fell, our hostess died at home of pancreatic cancer, leaving more sadness on the time for those of us who knew her and loved her. She was only 66. With her she took that joie de vivre that set everybody in a mood to party and socialize New York style, even if was just to see who she invited to fill her reception rooms with laughter and gladness.
To this day, 20 years later, whenever her name is mentioned in passing conversation, someone or several voice the same words:
“I miss her.”