Monday, December 7, 2009
muriel and binky
By the time I met Lee, she had already used at least seven of her nine lives. She was a silver haired lady whose deep blue eyes betrayed the wisdom of many pasts. Still a very dashing woman, it was obvious she had been a great beauty in an earlier time.
And what a time she had. Private school, finishing school, a debut, a career as one of the hottest fashion models in New York all by the age of twenty two. She told me how she was making so much money that she was able to keep a second apartment for a year so that her parents would not realize that she was living with her penniless artist beau.
He had been the love of her life, although it was not for lack of opportunity. Her romances were many and included none other than Henry Luce, Jr, for whom she retained great feelings even sixty years later. And she amassed a lot of experience in both love and life.
Her second husband, an top ranking executive at CBS, stole her away from her first in a scandal worthy of Mad Men. They shared residences in Sutton Place and Bermuda. She claims she drove both her first two husbands crazy and was taken to Bellevue twice in strait jackets herself. Then to top it all off, she married her cousin.
She had long retired from romance, a game to which she realized that she was not particularly adept, when she met John in the mid-seventies. He was twenty years younger and coming to terms with his orientation. He dressed outlandishly in order to deflect attention from his gayness. She was the perfect foil, Karen to his Jack. They became great friends and hosted fabulous parties. They had dinner party nicknames for each other, she was Muriel and he was Binky. They had a grand and rich friendship which endured some thirty years. There were dinner parties and fun and trips and boyfriends and heartbreak and texture, texture that wove them tightly together in a way that only old friends understand.
And there was comedy. We all sailed the Caribbean aboard the brand new Queen Mary 2 in the spring of 2005. After the ship returned to port, there was a memorable weekend in New York. The highlight of the weekend was Saturday night at the Rainbow Room. John wore his finest suit and Lee a two piece sparkling dress, the skirt of which, in the middle of a dance with John, suddenly fell to the floor. At that moment she revealed her disdain for undergarments. John was mortified, and rushed her to the door, although recalling it subsquently made them both roar with laughter. To this day I somewhat wonder if it had been accidental.
One cold December night Ken and I took her to dinner at Windows, atop the Transamerica building in downtown LA. Ken had his chauffeur Michael and his deep blue Rolls-Royce for the event. We were dressed to the nines. Ken decided to stop for an after-dinner drink at the Abbey, a We Ho gay nightspot. Michael wheeled the Rolls-Royce up to the front door and we piled out. Lee looked and acted like a movie star, so we decided to let her have her fun. We gave her a sufficiently vague movie star name, Helen Taylor, and began fawning over her. "Is there anything you would like, Miss Taylor?" The crowd did the same. People began whispering to me "Should we know her?" "She's done films" was my reply. I neglected that they had been primarily Super 8's in her own backyard. She danced in the center of the room surrounded by mesmerized gay boys. It was magical. We howled about it on the way home.
One Bastille Day we all met for dinner and I was asked to drive her home. On that journey she told me about her life as a model in New York after the war, and her life with the artist. They lived together for over a year, maintaining two apartments as a ruse to keep her parents from discovering. They were both deeply in love, although he was struggling with a deep depression caused by his wartime service. The relationship ultimately failed, she observed, because he had seen so much death, he couldn't see life. She ultimately had to choose life, she said.
She was shattered when her Binky died, but did not lose her own will to live. At age eighty-four, she looked me on the eye and said "I'm not done living yet". That following spring we rode Ferris Wheels at Santa Monica park. She was as feisty as ever.
But the last year her health declined and her will faded. She began to let us all know that she was ready to move on. She passed away quietly on Saturday. Last night I made an exquisite Martini and drank a toast to Binky and Muriel. They're together again. I wonder if Heaven knows what it's in for.