Monday, June 09, 2008
We can’t eat here yet unless we being our food up from Fritz’s old house for each meal. We experienced another disappointment when my refrigerator, which had been working perfectly in Boston, wouldn’t get cold when turned on here. Something obviously happened during the move up here and storing it in the barn, or in the move from the barn to the new house. A Sears repair technician was due this afternoon, but stood us up and is now scheduled for Thursday morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s something relatively simple.
Meanwhile, we’re extremely happy to be “home” at last.
One of the pleasures of my current life is that I’m getting to work my way through the great pile of books on my “to be read” list. After finishing Farley Granger’s autobiography, I realized that the obvious next choice was “The Architect of Desire” by Suzannah Lessard.
Granger had starred in “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” early in his career with the very young Joan Collins, newly arrived from England and an incredibly hot property in Hollywood.
In the film he played Harry K. Thaw who unleashed a mega-scandal in New York City in 1906 by walking up to the famed, iconic architect Stanford White at a glittering social dinner, pulling out a gun and shooting him three times in the face from three inches away. Thaw’s actress/celebrity wife Evelyn Nesbitt (then nineteen and one of the famed Floradora Girls) was involved in a long-term affair with the architect.
A beautiful and amoral woman, Evelyn first occupied White’s red velvet swing (long-rumored to be hanging in one of the many apartments he maintained around Manhattan to house various girlfriends) when she was just sixteen.
The [in]famous swing actually hung in the lavish suite White had designed for himself in the tower of the original Madison Square Garden, a massive pleasure palace containing an arena, several theaters, and lavish public function rooms, in the Spanish-Moorish style. One of its many grand salons was where he would die.
Thaw himself was a major playboy, with sadistic tendencies toward his women. White, on the other hand, paid his girlfriends’ dental bills and made sure they were OK financially when their affairs ended. At the time of the murder, Thaw was only able to have sex with Evelyn after beating her up to get fresh bits of information about her sex with Stanford White.
The trial, predictably, was one of the major sensations of the final years of “The gilded Age.” White had designed urban multi-million dollar mansions and office buildings for the elite Robber Barons of New York society who weren’t anxious that details of White’s “chamber music” evenings (that began with Schubert and ended as group sex parties) be made public. Thaw got through the trial by having all his meals in jail catered by Delmonico’s, one of New York’s greatest restaurants. He got off with an insanity plea and a hung jury. The rest of his life was a parade of events connected to the murder: a second trial, time spent--some of it involuntary--in mental institutions, He eventually moved to Florida where he died.
White’s own family, his wife whose tolerance apparently surpassed that of a saint, his son, daughter-in-law and a growing number of grandchildren, retreated to their country estate near Smithtown on Long Island (home, appropriately enough, to the legendary, extremely well hung Smithtown Bull) and rode out the publicity until things calmed down. The whiff of scandal hung over them for decades nevertheless. They decried the 1955 movie for its “lies,” author Lessard maintaining that a man who was so charismatic, kind and generous to his women wouldn’t have had to resort to the tackiness of drugged wine to seduce them. One of their friends and Long Island neighbors, the well-known stage and screen actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, had a role in the movie and White’s widow, feeling betrayed, wrote the actress to end the friendship.
Lessard writes beautifully and convincingly of Beaux-Arts architecture as a metaphor for the nation’s imperialistic aspirations. She also muses on the impact her grandfather’s buildings had and continue to have on the culture of New York City.
Many fell to the wrecking ball when the Modernists declared Beaux-Arts to be imitative and intellectually corrupt, including the overwhelming Pennsylvania Station, widely regarded as the most impressive and appropriate gateway for travelers to a great metropolis ever constructed. That demolition is still considered one of the great crimes of modern urban planning. Its cheap and dingy replacement, squatting in the basement of a high-rise office building, filled with odors, crowds and poorly ventilated, is enough to make one weep for what was lost.
But New York still has a large inventory of classic Stanford White buildings of all kinds, appreciated and admired once again. The scandal faded; his genius remains.
The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush
The law I sign today directs new funds and new focus to the task of collecting vital intelligence on terrorist threats and on weapons of mass production.
Les Miz and Miss Saigon, I'd be clueless that the French Revolution and Vietnam ever happened... Sad, sad sad...
Anyway, keep me posted on when you're traversing New York State en route to Cooperstown! - A.
I'm glad life in NH is treating you well. Stop by the next time you're around Cambridge, or let me know if you're in town and we can grab coffee and catch up in person.