Published on New York Social Diary (

A beautiful almost-summer day in New York

Fifth Avenue cigarette break. 1:45 PM. Photo: JH.
June 16, 2010. A beautiful almost-summer day in New York. No lunch appointment which, as much as I enjoy my lunch interviews and conversations (which lead to information and stories), it’s a luxury to have a solid block of time before the nightly rounds.

Sometimes when I think about this business I’ve created for myself, it occurs to me that it doesn’t look like it takes much of anything – other than the physical health to go around and then come back and report on it. If that is so, I ask myself, then why am I in a half state of exhaustion by the end of May, beginning of June?

Last night was going to be a piece of cake. I’d planned to visit three venues, two book parties and a painting exhibition at Wally Findlay on East 57th Street. All running approximately between the six to eight pm hours. After that I was going over to Donahue’s on Lex and 64th to dine with Liz Smith, Peter Rogers and Adolfo. This is always a merry bunch with no small amount of laughs or sotto voce info.
The gang and then some at "21" last year: Peter Rogers, Casey Ribicoff, Alex Hitz, Elizabeth Peabody, Adolfo, DPC, and Liz Smith. I'm telling everybody to "keep your eyes open" and now think I shudda kept my mouth shut.
In that proposed foursome, only two of us are working (me and Liz). The other two are luxuriously retired. And often traveling to one luxurious destination or another. If I’m sounding slightly facetious, it’s true: jealous. Everyone has his moments. But then I look at Liz who is currently traveling through her 88th year (to be marked next February), and she works more than I do. And has for a lot longer. All the time, morning noon and night. And she travels. And luxuriates. And watches TV shows and movies and goes to the theatre and sees everything. And does a lot of favors for a lot of people. When I want to consider my realities, I look at Liz. I’m way behind.

I digress. So when I left the house last night about 6:30, I was relieved that it wouldn’t be a long night. First stop, the UES townhouse of Roger Altman and Jurate Kazickas who were hosting a book party for Nancy Collins The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots; A memoir of an Extraordinary Life by Archbishop Philip Hannan with Nancy Collins and Peter Finney, Jr. “With” means that the name following that preposition actually wrote (rather than “wrote”) the book.
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Nancy with a copy of the Archbishop's memoir written in collaboration with her and Peter Finney Jr. Click to order [3].
Tina Brown and Nancy Collins. Lesley Stahl and Nancy Collins.
It was a happy crowd, by which I mean, there were a lot of people there who know each other, and so seeing each other on a lovely night in New York in June (“I love New York in June; how about you?”) really sets the tone for a good time.

Also Nancy has lots of friends. She’s an effusive working lady, industrious, curious, boundlessly energetic and friendly. She’s one of those people who you just know moves mountains (or paints their kitchen) in her spare time.

There were also a number of women present whom I see frequently lunching together in groups or “a deux” at Michael’s like: Ellen Futter, Lesley Stahl, Erica Jong, Lynn Nesbit, Tina Brown (who was once Nancy’s editor at Vanity Fair), Toni Goodale with her husband Jamie a/k/a James, Stephanie Krieger and Brian Stewart, Barbara King, Patricia Duff, Judy Licht and Jerry della Femina, Shelby White, Tim and Ann Forbes, Jill Abramson, Steve and Cynthia Brill, Kathy Berlin, Janet Rousel and Peter Lewis, Shelby White, Nancy Milford, Manana Freyre, Dolly Fox, Steve and Beverly Friedman, Peggy Noonan, Ralph Schlosstein, Judy Bachrach, John Walsh, Sheri Rollins, Joan and John Jakobson, Gay and Nan Talese, Steven Aronson, Lynn Sherr, Lyn Paulsin.
Jurate Kazickas, our hostess, had gathered everyone around her to introduce Nancy and recall their Washington Post days together when Nancy made her famous remark about what was "kinky" in Washington. Funny as you can see.
At just about the time I should have left for the next stop, Jurate took the floor and introduced her friend who needed no introduction. Except: Jurate told us how they met when they were both working for The Washington Post. She said that after some political scandal Nancy made one of her most quotable remarks (are you ready Barlettt’s?): “Washington is a town where people think that ‘kinky’ is getting laid.”

Thousands of years later, here they are standing in the Altman/Kazickas tree-shaded livingroom with flowerboxes festooning outside the windowsill. Nancy takes the floor to tell us how amongst her literary experiences now is the ghostwriting of a prelate’s memoir.

Washington is the location of this story. Archbishop Hannan’s best friend was Nancy’s father who died when Nancy was a young girl. The Archbishop (he wasn’t an archbishop back in Nancy’s youth) was an important father figure. He had also had a large and adventurous life that included an association and friendship with John F. Kennedy. He was also the priest who presided over the President’s funeral, personally chosen by Jackie.
Patricia Duff. Joan Jakobson, Sherri Rollins, and John Jakobson.
Judy Bachrach, Nancy, and John Walsh.
The book opens with that long fateful weekend in late November 1963. Nancy reminded everybody in the room last night that we all were old enough to remember clearly where we were when we heard the news.

(It was a Friday, the 22nd of November, a grey coolish day in New York. I was sitting in Paul Mole’s barber chair on Lexington Avenue and 74th Street when the news that the President had been shot in Dallas and had been taken to Parkland Hospital. Nothing about being killed. The shock was yet to come. Which it did a few minutes later. At the same moment, Henry Fonda, who lived in the neighborhood, happened to walk by the shop window. Incidental but engraved in memory. He had an odd, stiff/erect, wide gait to his movement, unlike his loping screen presence and personality.
Judy Licht and Erica Jong. As I was about to take the picture Judy was telling me she and Erica had known each other "forever."
Lyn Paulsin. Sandi Mendelson, Lynn Sherr, and Susan Mercandetti.
As Nancy said last night, “The rest of that weekend for the entire country was grey inside and overhead, from round-the-clock hours of watching what was then black-and-white TV. And the assassination news.

The memoir came about because the Archbishop called her one day when he was 94 and told her he was thinking of writing his memoirs.

Nancy told him “It’s not a moment too soon.” Everyone laughed. She really did. She then got involved in “helping” which led to more and more and finally ...

When they were finished, the Archbishop lamented his lagging energy in recalling, and remarked “It would have been a lot easier if I’d done it when I was younger, like when I was 88.”
Toni and James Goodale. Nan Talese and Toni Goodale.
All of this was taking place at an hour when I should have been completing my second visit for the evening, which would have been at the Regency Hotel where Billie and Andrew and Ann Tisch were hosting book party for Barry Petersen and a much different kind of memoir: Jan’s Story; Love lost to the long goodbye of Alzheimers.

And by the time I could discreetly leave (I was enjoying myself, incidentally), I should have been finishing up my third visit which was an art opening Jill Fairchild was hosting with a group of friends at the Wally Findlay Galleries for Gustavo Novoa’s paintings, benefiting Panthera.

By twenty to eight I knew I was even far from keeping my 7:30 dinner date. I called the restaurant to let them know to go ahead without me.
On East 80th Street between Madison and Park, a tiny garden set out by the brownstone's occupants. The brownstone with the second story copper framed bay window is one of my favorite houses because of that touch. You can see that it once had a twin next door, later transformed by some well-meaning re-designer.
I was in the East 90s, walking down Madison Avenue with the Jakobsons and Steven Aronson, all of whom were going my way. At 80th I left them and crossed over the avenue heading east.

I told myself I was taking that route so I could stop by Eli’s to pick up some dinner. But actually I like that block of 80th between Madison and Park and then again between Park and Lex. When I was fresh out of college and first in New York, I lived in that neighborhood (81st between Park and Lex) and so it is like passing through an old neighborhood. There are a lot of townhouses and many of them are brownstones providing reverie of a New York that was well before my time.
This house was often said to be either briefly owned or the object of acquisition back in the early 1960s by Barbra Streisand, who never occupied the house. The garden of the house next door.
In the past decade or more a lot of these old houses have been restored and refurbished and look spiffy. At the height of the real estate boom the smaller ones were going for as much as $12 million. But they’re beautiful blocks in beautiful neighborhoods that define the charisma of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

It’s not the grandeur or extravagance that defines that charisma, however. It’s the coziness, the perfect looking neighborhood-iness. Yes, the upscale version; but why not? As it is was a lovely evening with occasional moments of that almost blinding orange-yellow light of the setting sun beaming on a building’s windows, or spires, or the glass towers here and there along the avenue, everything seemed the perfect reverie.

And so I just felt like walking, taking my time, and taking it all in. This is New York.
Clockwise from above: Looking east across Park Avenue at 80th Street.

Another petite garden on the block.

Southside of the block between Park and Lex, Georgian and Federal style small mansions. The famous interior designer Mario Buatta occupies a floor of one of these grandhouses built in the early 20th century. The limestone house on the left, now home of the New York Junior League was built by Vincent Astor when he was married to his first wife Helen, after selling the family double mansion on 65th and Ffith Avenue to Temple Emanu-el.
After Astor divorced Helen, he moved on, developing East End Avenue and building 120 East End Avenue overlooking the park and the river, with a 10,000 square foot penthouse for himself and his second wife, Minnie Cushing. The second story diamond pane windows are one of my favorites on the block between Lexington and Third. For years the former owners had a window length blue and white-stripe awning that shaded the front door also. Very chic and sportif.
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