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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



Click to order "Supreme City."


"Raining as I write this late Tuesday night. Wet and cold; Spring cold, but the kind you half-don’t mind and half-think get on with it Ma Nature. I never left the house, getting edit in order and also preparing for a breakfast  this morning at the Lotus Club where the  Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy are having a breakfast and I am the 'speaker' (read: entertainment) and JH is the interviewer.  The subject is Central Park. Obviously. But from the point of view of this reporter under the guise of social chronicler or vice versa. Coincidentally, speaking of Central Park, I’ve been reading a new book called 'Supreme City; How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth To Modern America.' I’d half-looked at it more than once in the bookstore but didn’t bite. Then I saw it for a third time at the bookstall in front of Zabar's on the weekend and thought what-the-hell.It’s a history I’m ready. Although that doesn’t mean I’ll remain for the ride. Good cover, style-wise. But the title led me to believe it would be academic somehow. The guy who wrote it, Donald Miller is a professor at Lafayette. A professor writing a history of New York, now that’s interesting. And he’s not even of New York. That’s more interesting too. It’s also 700 pages and I’m slow. And the print is not big which to me means it will take even longer.  So how could I get through a history under those circumstances having very little spare time for pleasure reading as it is. But I got it, brought it home, opened it for a look and was hooked. This one is Very Good. And it’s in Technicolor. And it doesn’t upset you about the state of the world we’re all living in. In fact, it gives you pause for thought about It All." (NYSD)





"As has been the case almost every four years since the early 1970s, and much like Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football, the political media is waiting expectantly for an electoral swing. 'Cracks Appear in Democratic-Jewish Alliance Over Iran Deal, Netanyahu,' the Wall Street Journal announced over the weekend. 'G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,' the New York Times added. The problem is that we’ve been reading this headline for the better part of half a century. 'The Jewish Vote' (1972). 'Anti-Semitism Issue Worries Party' (1984). 'Bush and Dukakis Are Engaging in Early Battle Over the Jewish Vote' (1988). 'G.O.P. Courts Jews With Eye to Future' (1992). 'Kemp Lines Up Solidly Behind Netanyahu' (1996). 'Republicans Go After Jewish Vote' (2012).
The question is not so much why American Jewish support for Democrats dips from 80 percent to 60 percent in certain election cycles. Instead, the question is: Why are American Jews still white America’s most liberal voting bloc, well over a century since most of their immigrant ancestors set shore on Ellis Island?  Between 1880 and 1940, the number of Jews living in the United States grew from roughly 250,000 to over 4 million, but in proportional terms, Jews never comprised more than four percent of the population. Despite their relatively small numbers, Jews played an outsized role in the 20th century American political culture. Social scientists agree that American Jews have been an unusually loyal, if small, segment of the liberal coalition since the 1930s, and indeed, there is a wealth of data in support of this observation. In the turbulent political atmosphere of the post-World War II era, Jewish liberalism manifested itself in a tolerance of political dissent, strong support of social welfare measures, faith in internationalism, and a commitment to dismantling legal and social barriers based on race, religion or ethnicity. What historians don’t agree on are the causes of American Jewish liberalism. By one account, Jews have long venerated such qualities as learning, non-asceticism and charity, which translate in contemporary terms to liberalism. (That argument has holes in it, as the Orthodox Jews then and now tended to register a more conservative position on the political spectrum, a fact that militates against a correlation between traditional religious culture and liberalism.) Others have traced the roots of Jewish liberalism to the French Revolution, which aligned Jewish destiny with the forces of liberalism by granting Jews full rights associated with citizenship. Others, still, argue that Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States imported a distinct brand of East European radicalism—one mostly unrelated to Western liberalism—and that the radical politics of the working-class, largely impoverished immigrant ghetto transmuted over several generations into a moderate, liberal outlook. Still others have claimed that Jewish liberalism in its post-war context was largely a matter of self-interest, particularly as it pertained to campaigns against discrimination and prejudice." (Politico)




"Back at work on Thursday at Foreign Policy the focus was, of course, almost entirely on Lausanne and the impending announcement of whether there would be a nuclear deal with Iran. It was still a mystery as I slipped out to lunch. The last to arrive at the Sulgrave Club, I climbed the carpeted stairs to the pretty second floor with Sondheim and Stritch in my head: 'Here’s to the ladies who lunch,' I conjured Elaine punching out Stephen’s wise lyrics, the fierce showstopper of the incredible '70s hit, 'Company.' Wow, I thought as I emerged into a pastel salon, this is time traveling. A ladies lunch, a concept so obsolete we should have been convening in a diorama at The Smithsonian. Nonetheless, the gathering, while a relic, was as welcomed as the first warm breeze of spring, and all credit to our host, Izette Folger, who is a completely modern Sondheim character – not fitting any old mold, making her own, and breaking it, wife and mother but also an artist entrenched in the cultural scene, a party animal who can outlast her friends, the master of her own unique look, the leader of her own pack ... On Izette’s left, Aimee Lehrman recalled when we both worked together at Larry King Live. That was then. She’s on the advisory board of The Washington Ballet, and lives a philanthropic life with her husband, Robert Lehrman, who is on the board, and past chair, of the Hirshhorn (among other art museum boards). They own an acclaimed collection of contemporary and modern art, including works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Joseph Cornell. They don’t just collect, they also are students of who they collect. On Aimee’s left was Carole Feld, a former PBS executive who is now a marketing entrepreneur. She is married to David Levy, the former head of the Corcoran Gallery of Art who is now president of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. And on around the table: Gabriela Ina Coman, Elizabeth Wilson, Elizabeth Duggal, and others, who preferred not to be mentioned, including a journalist, a gallery owner, an arts entrepreneur and a member of The Washington Ballet board who was eagerly counting down the days to the Ballet’s annual ball, which will be held this year on May 1 at the German ambassador’s residence. The Ballet always hosts the city’s best balls, and at this location, with this space and view and grounds, it should be another hit." (NYSD)






"Mariel Hemingway’s memoir 'Out Came the Sun' has some not-so-sunny memories — including her parents’ drinking and fighting and a sister’s battle with mental illness. But Libby Bonbright, Candace Bushnell, Jay McInerney, Holly Peterson and Carole Radziwill hosted a happy party for the tome at a $9 million residence at Edward Minskoff’s 37 E. 12th St. Hemingway thanked boyfriend Bobby Williams for “changing her life” during an emotional speech." (P6)








"White House Florist Ronn Payne remembers one day in 1998, after President Clinton had publicly admitted to his affair with a former White House intern, when he was coming up the service elevator with a cart to pick up old floral arrangements and saw two butlers gathered outside the West Sitting Hall listening in as the Clintons argued viciously with each other. The butlers motioned him over and put their fingers to their lips, telling him to be quiet. All of a sudden he heard the first lady bellow 'goddamn bastard!' at the president—and then he heard someone throw a heavy object across the room. The rumor among the staff was that she threw a lamp. The butlers, Payne said, were told to clean up the mess. In an interview with Barbara Walters, Mrs. Clinton made light of the story, which had made its way into the gossip columns. 'I have a pretty good arm,' she said. 'If I’d thrown a lamp at somebody, I think you would have known about it.' Payne wasn’t surprised at the outburst. 'You heard so much foul language' in the Clinton White House, he said. 'When you’re somebody’s domestic, you know what’s going on.' As a White House reporter for Bloomberg News, I traveled around the world on Air Force One and on Air Force Two—filing reports from Mongolia, Japan, Poland, France, Portugal, China and Colombia—but the most fascinating story turned out to be right in front of me every day: the men and women who take care of the first family, who share a fierce loyalty to the institution of the American presidency. In the more than 100 interviews with current and former White House staffers, senior advisers, and former first ladies and their children I conducted for my new book, The Residence, I had an unprecedented look at what it’s like for those who devote their lives to caring for the first family." (Politico)



Down with Modernism, up with Mozart

"End of season is always bittersweet, the melting snows a bit like autumn leaves, but the days are longer and soon spring will chase any remaining winter blues away. The Eagle Club’s closing is a perennial festive day, with speeches by our president Urs Hodler, an almost teary goodbye to our very own Pino – seating us and feeding us for 44 years – and the Taki Cup awards, the last two years won by my son J.T. in record time. 34 minutes to conquer the highest mountain of Gstaad. (Only five minutes slower was Charlotte Cotton, an amazing feat for a young woman.) It was a hell of a good season, plenty of snow, some fun parties, and my forthcoming move to the top of a mountain and away from the madding crowd. Actually the best I reserved for last, the two greatest operas by the greatest ever, shown in the arts channel and watched by me while downing some very good Haut Brion. I know it sounds impossible, but even a perfect opera like Don Giovanni improves with good red. As does the second greatest, Figaro. As Paul Johnson wrote in his Mozart book, 'it is difficult to produce Figaro badly, it is not, alas, impossible, and I believe the Don has been massacred even in Prague.' The two versions I watched on the telly were as good as it gets. Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a terrific Don, the Kiwi baritone towering over his rivals, and when he prepares to run through Masetto, or Don Ottavio, it looks terribly uneven. And in the lighthearted Figaro, he amuses and delights. I grew up on Don Giovannis, Cesare Siepi, Franco Corelli, Ruggero Raimondi and so on. Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a heroic Don who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s certainly one of the best looking. When Mozart first presented Figaro, he was overwhelmed by the reaction. The emperor even banned excessive applause, so he could hit the sack early. Figaro is a happy opera but the version I saw was a bawdy one. Cherubino is always sticking his hand between Rosina’s legs, and the count strokes Susanna’s breasts at every opportunity. When Don Giovanni first appeared, following Figaro, in 1787, it was felt to be a tragedy, but Wolfie knew what he was doing. It’s an opera buffa that makes a moral point by sending the Don to hell at the end." (Taki)


Oleg Cassini’s daughter dies in poverty


"Oleg Cassini’s only child, Christina, died in poverty in Paris last week — never having collected the vast majority of her inheritance from her father’s estate. Cassini, the fashion designer who dressed Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly, died in 2006, leaving an estate worth $60 million. He bequeathed $1 million to Christina, his daughter by movie star Gene Tierney. But Cassini’s widow, Marianne Nestor Cassini, the executor of the estate, which was probated in Nassau County, NY, refused to pay as Christina battled ovarian cancer. A Long Island lawyer told me last June, 'There’s an innate cruelty in it. This woman [Nestor] is running out the clock, waiting for Tina to die.' A friend of Christina said the mother of four had been in the hospital since November." (Richard Johnson)




"The new Quest is on the stands. The editorial theme is Philanthropy which plays a major role in the social life of many prominent New Yorkers. Among our features is an article by our regular contributor who writes under the nom de plume Audax about philanthropist, art and book collector, politician and businessman Carter Burden, a remarkable man who first came on the New York scene in the early 1960s when great societal changes were sweeping the world. The following excerpt of my Diary in this new issue is about Mr. Burden, and is of historical personal interest to me as you will see. Time has given me the opportunity to see what is possible in the helping of one’s neighbor, and how transformative such acts are for all involved. Carter Burden’s story, and life, is a fine, even sterling example. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, named for his father, S. Carter Burden Jr., always known as Carter, he was tall, willowy, and patrician – a word rarely used to accurately describe someone – in his comportment. He was an heir to what was the last great Vanderbilt fortune -- possessed by his great-grandmother Florence Vanderbilt Twombly. Mrs. Twombly, who was 98 when she died in 1952, was one of four daughters of William H. Vanderbilt, and the last surviving grandchild of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the family fortune. Two of Mrs. Twombly’s brothers --  Cornelius II and Willie K. Vanderbilt, were her father’s main heirs. Her husband Hamilton McKown Twombly, however, managed to increase his wife’s and his fortunes many times over, leaving her far richer than all of her other siblings including, in the end, the two eldest brothers. Carter Burden was born in Los Angeles and brought up in Beverly Hills in a house designed by Wallace Neff for stage and screen actors Frederic March and his wife Florence Eldridge (and later owned by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). His father, after whom he was named, Shirley Carter Burden was an Easterner who had married Flobelle Fairbanks, a niece of Douglas Fairbanks the legendary movie star whose spectacular career spanned the history of the film industry, from the Silents right into the era of the Talkies. Young Carter was educated in Catholic schools including Portsmouth Priory in Rhode Island and then at Harvard where he majored in English and graduated cum laude." (NYSD)






"The Obama administration has slipped past self-imposed deadlines and minced words over red lines before. Although certainly an embarrassment for the White House, another missed deadline in the seemingly never-ending Iran nuclear negotiations — which stretched beyond the latest deadline of March 31 — may not matter much in the end. From Iran's point of view, it was a deadline to be exploited, not one to fret over. Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, had expressed misgivings about a framework agreement, insisting that the deal is not done until all core issues are resolved in a final deal. The White House imposed the March deadline to prove to Congress that enough progress was being made to hold off on sanctions. Still, a dodged deadline and a diluted progress report are unlikely to calm dissenters in Congress. Even if a bill calling for additional sanctions in the event of a violation of an agreement makes its way through Congress, it will be vetoed in the Oval Office. Congress overturning that veto is a less likely prospect.  Ironically, the U.S. congressmen vehemently threatening more sanctions are working in Iran's favor in this stage of the negotiating process. The more effort the U.S. negotiating team has to put into keeping Iran at the table, the more leverage Iran has in the talks. So, as the plethora of leaks on Monday all pointed toward the drafting of an agreement, Tehran strategically dropped a bombshell at the last minute. It said that while it would agree to reduce the number of operational centrifuges to 6,000 — going against the supreme leader's earlier demand for at least 10,000 centrifuges to remain in operation — it would pull back on an earlier concession to ship its low-enriched nuclear fuel to Russia. This is a classic negotiating tactic: One party throws up a flare, panic ensues and once all sides return to the table, any further concessions from the instigator appear that much more generous. The next three months will be filled with such twists as the window for negotiations narrows. In Iran's neighborhood, states like Saudi Arabia do not have the luxury of betting against the United States and Iran and have to prepare for the worst. The developing U.S.-Iranian relationship is what has driven Saudi Arabia into action in leading its Sunni allies against Iran across multiple fronts, with Yemen now in the spotlight. Israel may also be upset at the United States for negotiating what it considers a bad deal with Iran, but it cannot deny that the upsurge in Sunni determination to contain Iran is a good thing. For example, Sudan's recruitment into the Saudi-led alliance had been months in the making, but the end result is that Iran has lost a critical conduit to supply arms to militant groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad through supply routes that run from Port Sudan up through the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip." (STRATFOR)





"The retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week gives Republicans something they have been lacking in the early stages of this Senate cycle: a 50-50 shot at picking up a seat currently held by a Democrat. True, Reid’s poor approval numbers meant he was going to be a target of Republicans anyway. But he’s also a proven commodity who would have had the power of incumbency. In our view, the open-seat race is now a Toss-up, as opposed to the prior rating of Leans Democratic. Democrats are only defending 10 of the 34 Senate seats that are up for election in 2016, which is a consequence of their poor performance on this map during the 2010 cycle, the last time this group of Senate seats (Class III) was contested. But of those 10 seats, three are open: In addition to Reid, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) also have already announced their retirements. Reid’s retirement is almost certainly the most costly — we still consider both the California and Maryland seats to be Safe Democratic, a rating that so far has been vindicated by the seeming lack of interest from big-name Republicans in running for either seat. California and Maryland probably will not become top-tier races in large part because both states should be comfortably won by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, even if that person loses nationally. The same cannot necessarily be said of Nevada. True, Nevada — just like California and Maryland — has been trending the Democrats’ way, at least in presidential elections. For the first time since 1960, when John F. Kennedy narrowly carried Nevada and outperformed his national percentage of the vote, the Democratic presidential nominee (Barack Obama) did better in Nevada in 2008 than he did nationally, and he repeated the feat in 2012. Assuming a tight presidential election, one would expect the Democratic presidential nominee to be a tiny favorite to win the Silver State, and that would of course be helpful to the Democratic Senate nominee. But we don’t know that the presidential race will be close, and we don’t know how the White House nominees might affect the Senate race. Nevada did not have a Senate race in 2014, but it did in 2012, when appointed incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) barely hung on against ex-Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), despite Obama winning the state. However, Heller ran about the same as Mitt Romney in the state — Heller won 45.9% of the vote, just 0.2 points more than Romney. Berkley ran nearly eight points behind Obama as the state’s unique 'none of these candidates' option proved a more attractive option for some voters ('none' got 4.5% in the Senate race, compared to just 0.6% in the presidential), while a right-leaning Independent American candidate got 4.9%. Berkley ran a poor race — by her own admission — and she was dogged by criticism that some of her actions in office benefited her husband’s business interests. Nevada’s split decision in 2012 — a Democrat winning the presidential vote while a Republican won the Senate race — was somewhat unusual, and we shouldn’t expect that to repeat in 2012, assuming both Senate candidates are evenly matched." (Sabato)


Erica and I lunching in 2006.


"I had lunch with Erica Jong at Sette Mezzo. Erica, who is prolific, is publishing her 24th book, “Fear of Dying” (St. Martin’s Press) on September 9th.  We didn’t discuss it although I learned that it too is a novel, and whether or not it’s related to 'Fear of Flying,' her debut novel which was published forty-two years ago in 1973, the first Fear…’s main character Isadora Wing re-emerges in this new novel. She is not the main character but she knows the main character. Like life. Erica and I talked about writing. This sounds fatuous, I know, but the psychomechanics of the process – the way we think, the way we convey, and the doubts that accompany so much of the experience – are very real yet otherwise boring for anyone not involved in it. With Erica, I can “tell her everything.” She’s like that too; very open about herself and freely expresses her personal opinions with gentle matter-of-factness. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with her, or like what she’s saying. It’s her opinion – and often well-considered. Erica and I have known each other for several years. I can’t remember how we met. We rarely see each other: she is as daily active in her work as I am in mine. Although she, like me, lives in the New York social life where one can have a lot of pleasant relationships which really are acquaintances, and often with people who are doing interesting things in their lives. And then there are the close friends whom we are at home with, like extended family." (NYSD)


Chaplin’s ‘degrading’ sex demands with teen wife


"Charlie Chaplin’s teenage wife Lita Grey described in bombshell divorce papers how the movie icon seduced her while she was underage, got her pregnant and made 'degrading' sexual demands.An original copy of the 1927 divorce papers filed by Grey has emerged, the Times of London reports.
The 50-page document, discovered in an abandoned bank in LA, includes claims that Chaplin first seduced the actress when she was 15 and he was 35. Chaplin had known Grey since she was 8, and a few years later she appeared in his movie 'The Kid.' After she became pregnant at 16 and refused his demand to have an abortion, her mother allegedly threatened to report Chaplin to police unless he married her. They wed in 1924 when she was still only 16. She also claimed Chaplin made 'revolting, degrading and offensive' sexual demands and forced her to perform acts that were illegal in California in the 1920s, which he said he had performed with 'five prominent moving-picture women' before their marriage. The shocking details helped Grey land the world’s then-largest divorce settlement of $825,000." (P6)

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