(Vanity Fair, Autumn 2005 )
OF SUMMERING AND SCHMOOZING
WAS IN A PRE-HURRICANE NAPLES, FLORIDA, recently, for a brief respite from the maddeningly hot summer that has overtaken the Northeast like the media coverage of Natalie Holloway. Although it goes without saying that Florida in the summer is like Alaska in the winter, I elected to forego my usual Hamptoning to mull over purchasing some property on the West Coast of the Sunshine State while the market is considerably ripe for the picking.
Naples, Florida, is an exploding community of exiles from the rollerblading-fast-lane-cum-non-stop erotic cabaret which Miami has become, though I found it to be somewhat lacking in the cultural diversity afforded by Palm Beach and its environs. After a brief spell in the unforgiving heat, I decided it was not in my best interests but managed to enjoy my stay nonetheless. It does appear to be slowly blossoming into the new retreat for the Republican élite and that in and of itself makes it a fascinating place to be.
After a round of golf and an afternoon spent in the warm glow of the nascent West Coast sun; I dressed in my favorite pair of white slacks, put on a comfortable pair of loafers to meet a very close aide to Jeb Bush’s press secretary, Alia Faraj, at Tommy Bahama’s. Faraj’s father was a diplomat in the 60s and 70s and there are rumors of ties to the Iraq government: although, this could be a similarity in name only. But I was looking for more information, and some insight into the possible future of the Teddy Kennedy of the Bush family.
While the spirited beach band played the requisite Jimmy Buffet tunes for snowbirds and the moneyed grandchildren of aging socialites, I enjoyed a succulent coconut-crusted Jumbo gulf shrimp entrée, on skewers with meaty chunks of juicy pineapple and sweet red peppers. My guest favored a mango and shrimp salad, and ice water. As the night air fell crisp with a light wind, we covered a myriad of political subjects, when who should approach out patio table, but my good friend, Hugh D. “Yusha” Auchincloss.
Upon returning to New York City, I attended a benefit for the Bichon Frisé Society, at the Puck Building, hosted this year by my good friend Liza Minnelli, (who looks better each time I see her); and a good friend of my son Griffin’s, Gwenyth Paltrow, the daughter of my good, old friend Blythe Danner. Many of New York’s grande dames were in attendance, as well as a number of up-and-coming young actors, a few regulars from Page Six, and that rascal David Patrick Columbia. IT IS AN EVENT OF STAR-STUDDED REVELRY AND FINGER FOOD (catered by Mario Batali).
Yusha has never looked better. His glowing tan reflected his days in the sun, relaxing and cultivating some much needed time to finish my last book, he offered. Flattered as I was, I could not resist asking him how things were progressing with his fundraising activities. He mentioned an upcoming silent auction, to be held this September in Newport, R.I.; and his possible collaboration with Mark Malkovich on next year’s Newport Music Festival: an adventure of classical proportions held in various summer cottages of robber barons from the turn of the century, with names such as Berwind, Duke, and Vanderbilt. Having attended the Music Festival up in Newport on and off in the past, and not having been for some time, I promised to return again, especially as Yusha hinted that a certain celebrated Asian female violinist with a hyphenated-surname is slated to perform. Yusha also hinted that “Hopedene”, a beautiful Peabody & Stone estate once owned by my good friend, Britty Cudlip, might be the setting of at least one night’s performance this summer. Excellent. And good for Yusha for maintaining the status quo in old Newport; long since overlooked and forsaken for tony Hamptonian excess. Our dinner having finished, I learned nothing about a possible Jeb Bush run for higher office in 2008; “He thought about it, but I think Jeb’s very happy in Florida,” said my friend. Especially with his dubious ties to Enron, one might understand his likelihood to vacillate on a presidential campaign. Perhaps he will change his mind pending the outcome of his brother’s work in Iraq, such that it is.
Upon returning to New York City, I attended a benefit for the Bichon Frisé Society, at the Puck Building, hosted this year by my good friend Liza Minnelli, (who looks better each time I see her); and a good friend of my son Griffin’s, Gwenyth Paltrow, the daughter of my good, old friend Blythe Danner. Many of New York’s grande dames were in attendance, as well as a number of up-and-coming young actors, a few regulars from Page Six, and that rascal David Patrick Columbia. It is an event of star-studded revelry and finger food (catered by Mario Batali). I am passionate about the world of dogs, especially the celebrity dogs of my good, celebrity friends, but I was thunderstruck to see in attendance, erstwhile smokers-rights advocate and charming raconteur-imbiber of spirits, Christopher Hitchens. “Hitch”, as I call him, was puffing away while admiring the dog of a flaxen-haired young debutante, who looked to be the grand-daughter of a certain banker friend, whose name will be overlooked as people there felt that “Hitch” ought to have been concerning himself with someone closer to his age, or at the very least within “legal age”. I was distracted from ruminating on the situation further when I was approached by the former mayor and always fabulous-to-see-in-person Rudolph Guiliani. “Hizzoner”, is larger-than-life, and was smoking a cigar, and I asked him what he thought of Michael Bloomberg and the semi-feud my erstwhile editor had been having with him. My old friend Rudy just smiled that smile that held us together in those awful weeks following “9/11”, and blew a thick cloud of smoke about my head. An American Caesar, “Hizzoner”, moved about the room pressing the flesh in the worthwhile advocacy of our beloved doggies.
I spoke briefly with Blythe and was caught up reminiscing about her episode of Columbo, where she played the cuckolded wife of a conductor and murderer (portrayed by John Cassavettes). She mentioned that I ought to write a book about the classical music world, which was timely, given my conversation only two weeks prior with Yusha. Perhaps, I nodded, perhaps. If only someone at Lincoln Center of any notoriety, say, Ms. Beverly Sills, would commit a murder. We laughed.
I ended up in a rather protracted conversation with my good friend, a certain Mrs. Slocum, who came over to compliment me on my Court TV coverage of a certain homemaker. We talked about the upcoming Débutante Ball, this November, at the University Club; and lamented the great Mortimer’s restaurant on the East Side. I exited early on after spotting Hope Seeley, attorney for Michael Skakel; who was overheard by a friend asking Mrs. Slocum if she enjoyed basketball, or had seen, The Horse Whisperer, which I felt was a tasteless thing to do at a benefit, much less in the company of my good, celebrity friends.
I spoke with a friend on my plane trip to L.A. to attend the festivities at the Annual Celebrity Charity Awards ceremonies not too long ago, and we found ourselves reminiscing about the John Kerry upset of Dr. Howard Dean, and asked if my friend agreed that Dr. Dean had ruined his chances of taking the Democratic nomination with his televised blustering and simpering screaming, however passionate. He felt that it was a singular moment in history, not unlike the Dukakis tank-incident; and conversation turned to John Kerry.
Senator Kerry, a Brahmin descended from the Forbes family, in a masterstroke of political derring-do, had merely behaved like a young George Plimpton, and festooned his campaign with an appearance on The Tonight Show on a motorcycle; only to engender unprecedented support amidst a one-time floundering campaign. This moment, I thought at the time, would resonate with more people in a positive light, even though certain media hacks would excoriate him for once having owned a Ducati, which he has since sold in favor of the American-made symbol of freedom, a Harley-Davidson. I waxed nostalgic for the days when a Harley-Davidson meant rebellion and Peter Fonda, and my friend wondered if it did not still mean that in the long run. I finished my martini and passed out, dreaming of the days of Jackie O and Captain America and what might have been.
The Annual Celebrity Charity Awards is now in its 12th year and honors the charitable efforts of high-profile celebrities and their causes célèbre. As usual, Hollywood was awash in the snarky backbiting and public-relations logrolling, right up until the announcement of the winners. “We are all winners, in that we have been nominated,” offered a certain actor over breakfast on the patio of the Four Seasons, “but if I don’t win that thing, to hell with Hollywood!” Indeed, this is the emotion that everyone out here feels, in spite of their face-time on cameras at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion Red Carpet. If only people could be more honest. After a superbly entertaining and satisfying brunch, I joined my son, Griffin, and my Court TV segment producer, for drinks later that evening at Crustacean, and returned to my suite to ready myself for a week of festivities. I met with several industry friends, and old friends in the industry. We recalled the parties of Swifty Lazar, and encountered many fashionable and unfashionable stars and starlets.
While I was in The City Of Angels and Demons, I wandered over to Vitello’s, the Italian restaurant where Robert Blake was dining the night he was accused to have murdered Bonnie Lee Bakely. I enjoyed a fine antipasto with a full-bodied Amarone, and waxed fancifully with the waiters. One of the older waiters, who had been there the evening in question, had nothing but wonderful things to say about the Barettta star, and one-time Little Rascal. I offered that, perhaps his role in the adaptation of my wonderful, missed friend Truman Capote’s infamous book, In Cold Blood, might have been a more fitting reference. The arched eyebrow of my server was indicative of his humour, and passion for the 70-year-old acquitted “murderer,” and I wondered if I had said too much. Needless to say, nothing was “comped” that evening, and I exited the establishment, leaving only a 15% gratuity. I still feel, and from I hear around the Hollywood insiders who confide in me, that Baretta may not be enjoying his freedom for much longer … especially as new evidence will likely emerge showing Blake’s fondness for a Walther PPK at the Beverly Hills Gun Club during past, frequent, visits; where he is further rumored to be “a real good shot.” The investigating Detectives Jenks and Harvey could not be reached for comment; and further salacious rumor-mongering suggests that a number of book deals are in the offing.
At the time of this writing, I am ensconced in my Connecticut home and looking forward to the latest Martha Stewart television show: “Must-See TV,” indeed. As the sun begins to set earlier with the onset of autumn, I find myself looking forward to Labor Day Weekend and an evening of cocktails and reminiscing on the anniversary of the death my brother, with his wife, the author Joan Didion. She is at work on a new novel, the early drafts/galleys of which are making the rounds of the New York publishing elite. Her finest work to-date: I predict a best seller. And rightly so. She is a wonderful lady, with a singular style and rapier wit; and a woman who is always so well put together, despite the loss of her husband, my beloved brother, John Gregory Dunne. I, myself, am also working on a new book. However, I feel that it will take another year or so to complete before I take it to my editor. In my life, there are so many to-dos to do.
Summer, like old friends, relatives, stocks, and the fetid love lives of white trash and bad actors, to paraphrase Hemingway, comes and goes: gradually, then suddenly.