In June, I eagerly returned to New York to help produce the Larry King Live broadcast that previewed Princess Diana’s dress auction, followed by the show featuring the actual auction itself. Christies had a party for Princess Diana, and I went. In fact, I made three trips to New York in June. I did not like to leave Spencer, but he took it well. My trips were on weekdays. He was in day-long summer camp and was occupied with Tricia. We talked on the phone each morning and evening. Still, I missed him.
The early summer weather was gorgeous and I let myself enjoy it. Once again, New York was an escape. Once again, it allowed me to be a strong, successful person for a chunk of time. It was a lift. My vitamins. Though I welcomed the positive feelings and the strength they gave me I wondered if I was perhaps losing my mind a little, if I was suffering some “widow’s syndrome,” where it’s necessary to completely escape reality, to adopt some other identity in order to survive.
Against all better instincts, but desperate for something that made me feel good, I called Paolo and told him I was in town. He was happy to hear from me. Our conversation was relaxed, friendly – like whatever attraction we’d earlier revealed never happened. We talked about having dinner and I suggested we aim for the last of my three trips, after the Christies auction. We agreed to go to a new restaurant near Lincoln Center that served dinner late for the theater crowd. I looked forward to talking to him and to being with him. It was three weeks away but it gave me something to look forward to.
A Christie’s publicist said the dresses had arrived from England and that I should come pick out the ones we wanted to feature. I asked Cindy Crawford and Elsa Klensch, CNN’s style correspondent, to meet me there. The walk from the hotel was energizing. I negotiated the packed sidewalks and welcomed the crush of people, the traffic horns, the blazing sun, the breezy, dry air.
Cindy Crawford was tall, beautiful, pleasant, and serious. In my journal I wrote, “Reserved. Not particularly chatty. Maybe it’s because we were not her people and she didn’t know what note to strike with us. We got along fine, but there was no bonding.”
We did look through the dresses, though, which was fun. Some of them were dogs and some were luscious, but all were linked to British royal history, and Diana, and therefore intriguing. They hung from clothes racks and were covered in clear plastic. Some of them were as famous as she was. We commented on the tiny waists and marveled at how skinny she had to be to wear some of them. At this point in her life Diana was divorced from Prince Charles, and the world knew about her past bouts with bulimia and other emotional trauma. The dress sizes were a measure of her highs and lows. One of the dresses had a waist too small even for the petite-sized Christies’ mannequins.
The fabrics, the threads, the buttons, the beads, the satin ribbons and lace and sequins were all of the best quality. My favorite was a genuine “princess” dress made for her by the Emanuels, the same husband/wife team who designed her wedding dress. It was mostly pink and blue, a confection, really, of silk chiffon, which she wore publicly immediately after Buckingham Palace announced her first pregnancy. The waist band was a delicate satin ribbon, designed to emphasize a slender waist.
Elsa Klensch helped me choose the 20 dresses we would feature on the show. To fashion experts like Elsa, even though they lauded Diana’s style, these dresses were not particularly high fashion. They were pretty dresses that had been worn by a pretty girl.
I was delighted to meet Elsa. Some people mocked her Style reports, but at Larry King Live we stopped in our tracks to watch. Elsa covered her beat well. She had a haughty, Vogueish voice that was fun to listen to. When we met she was smart, taller than I expected, and attractive. Handsome, really, but feminine.
The broadcast, when it happened, was almost a train wreck, but some of our best shows were train wrecks. Larry King Live is what’s known as a “studio” show, not a “location” show. While we could do the location shoots with professionalism, they always seemed to suffer some low-budget glitches. It was seat-of-the-pants television. But because so much can go wrong on live television, we were lucky our glitches were manageable. The camera angles weren’t always pristine, and sometimes Cindy didn’t get the directions to switch from camera 1 to camera 2. But audiences are forgiving, especially when Larry King asks Cindy Crawford whether she would bid on one of the dresses, and she answers, “No. Not enough cleavage for me, Larry.”
The evening Christies held its party for Princess Diana herself, the auction house was packed with media, fashionistas, models and a swarm of New York’s social elite. In the crush of bold-faced names, Diana stood out like a glowing, blond goddess. A flying wedge of security eased her from room to room, and they mostly lost the battle to hold back those who wanted to get closer. I was one of them. In all the world there was no bigger prize for a global television talk show. (Nope. Not even the Pope or the Queen.)
A couple years earlier, Larry and I met Diana at a charity dinner in Washington. She was sweet and gracious, and recognized Larry immediately.
“Hey there, Lady Di,” Larry said.
“Hello, Mr. King,” she said. “I get all your letters.”
As the co-author of the letters, I was pleased to hear that.
At Christies I was determined to make another pitch for an interview. The fact that it was hopeless was not a deterrent.
I dropped Larry King’s name to one of her security guards and sweetly asked him to ease me toward her. He nodded and lifted me up to a new position in the crowd, almost in her path. The rest was up to me. Elbows, knees and shoulders wrenched me in every direction, but I held my ground. As she approached I made eye contact. We were almost the same height and that helped. I wore a pretty pink linen suit and did not brandish a note pad, camera or microphone. I thrust my hand toward her and she took it and gave me a firm handshake.
“Princess Diana,” I said over the roar of voices, almost directly into her ear. “I am Carol Joynt, Larry King’s producer, … we met a couple of years ago … you know, all the letters.”
She smiled, and made a modest laugh. “Oh, yes,” she said. “The letters. I get a lot of letters from your program.”
She was radiant. Her blond hair was a mix of buttery yellow and platinum. Her skin was tan. Her cocktail dress was low cut and well-fitted. She looked sensational.
“Well, Larry King is very fond of you,” I said.
“Thank you … but I must tell you, I am not doing any interviews. No, no, no. It’s a shame you put in so much effort for so little result.”
“I don’t mind. It’s my job. You and Larry would be a great interview.”
“No interviews,” she said, firmly but with a smile.
“You know we did a preview of the dresses and we will be doing a live show outside on Park Avenue for the auction … if you change your mind…”
“Thank you,” she said. We were done.
The auction broadcast was a hit. We were “live” from a raised platform in the middle of Park Avenue, attracting attention with lights, cameras and Joan Rivers. She co-hosted from Park Avenue while Larry ran the show from the studio. Drag queens gathered round the platform and waved and yelled for her attention. It was the weirdest scene. In the middle of it all fire trucks roared past, which added to the raw excitement of live TV. The national audience got a raucous (and raw) taste of New York.
The auction broadcasts won me brownie points back at the home office. I needed them. Wendy Whitworth, the executive producer, while sympathetic to my plight, still had a job to do, and she expected me to work at full capacity for her to be able to do her job.
The rigors of widowhood aside, Wendy made clear that being a productive and hard-working member of the LKL staff had to be moved up on my priority list. When Howard was alive I was wildly productive and Wendy was my biggest fan. She called me her “star,” her “cake,” and other wonderful superlatives. We had a good professional relationship. We were the same age, both late-blooming mothers, both women who let careers drive everything until the point where they no longer were everything. Home mattered now, too.
Our working relationship was strong because I did what she asked me to do – land “big game” gets, the hard-to-book people who draw big ratings. That’s why she hired me. When we discussed it over lunch, she said, “I need someone to go after the interviews Barbara and Katie and Oprah are trying to get. I need someone who can write the letters, make the phone calls, take the meetings and get it done.” I told her that it sounded good, that it was what I wanted to do. Because of Spencer, I asked to set my own hours and schedule.
“Wendy,” I said, “If I book the people you want me to book it won’t matter whether I’m ever in the office. If I don’t book them, it won’t matter if I’m in the office all the time.” She agreed and she kept her word.
She knew I was comfortable haggling with the big ticket publicists and agents, the machers, the masters of the PR universe who pull the strings of what passes as the content of modern media – on magazine covers, in newspaper features and on national television. Legendary agents like Norman Brokaw, who decided where Chris Darden and Marcia Clark would do their first interviews. PR giants like Lois Smith, Pat Kingsley and Leslee Dart at PMK Public Relations, with offices in Los Angeles and New York and a roster of clients who, almost literally, are all the major movie stars of modern time, ranging in my day from Robert Redford to Courtney Love, with Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Tom Cruise also in the mix. I regularly talked to Paul Bloch and Fran Curtis at Rogers and Cowan; Paul for Stallone, Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy; Fran Curtis for Mick Jagger and Claudia Schiffer. Books were also on my beat and I wooed the publicists at the big houses like Random House, Simon and Shuster, Warner, Knopf, and others. Every New York trip included at least one lunch with a publisher, or a “drop by” their offices to say hello, to find out what was new and to put in first dibs on hot authors.
Howard Rubenstein was a particular favorite. He was more than a publicist. He’s a fixer and a handler and a maestro of damage control. He has his own shop in one of the mile high skyscrapers on 6th Avenue. He is as dapper and polished as any CEO, but with a twinkle in his eyes. Howard gets celebrities out of jams, whether the client is Michael Jackson, Naomi Campbell, Donald Trump, Frank and Kathy Lee Gifford, Marv Albert or Leona Helmsley. Howard always had time for me – on the phone, in his office, a meeting over breakfast at his club. He talked straight and kept his word.
At one of our meetings Howard revealed to me that his wife’s family owned the famous Peter Luger steakhouse in Brooklyn. This took our relationship to another level. Now we could talk about the restaurant biz as well as the TV biz.
Wendy Whitworth was Larry’s executive producer because she was a smart, talented television executive but, significantly, she had a personality suited to his. She could read him, anticipate him, tolerate him and bring him down off the ceiling when he went ballistic. He didn’t go ballistic often, but when he did it was Wendy’s job to keep the eruption contained – to protect Larry from Larry. She could talk him into doing things he did not want to do – like a Saturday morning taping, flying out of his way when he didn’t want to, working late – and she also knew precisely when to stop pushing.
Larry King’s executive producer is intimately involved in the whole of his life, as well as the show, because the show is his life. Wendy had to negotiate on Larry’s behalf with the brass at CNN in Atlanta, but she also had to juggle his family, his agents and lawyers, his girlfriends, his doctors, and his hangers on and cronies. My first day on the job I was handed a black binder. It was the standard issue show directory with listings for studios, control rooms, airlines, car companies, home phone numbers, cell phones, etc. But it also had a full page of Larry’s cronies – people we could put through to him or to whom we could give hotel or travel info. Wendy knew all of them on a first-name basis.
Wendy had a gut understanding of the three keys to job security – high ratings, Larry’s contentment, and more high ratings. She liked me, but she especially liked that I did my part to help get those big ratings.
Before Howard died, I averaged 2 big bookings a week, and many of them involved months of negotiations. Elizabeth Taylor took a year of intense haggling with her long-time gatekeeper, the late Chen Sam. Al Pacino took a year, but that chase was particular fun because Larry and I wooed him as a team. Christopher Reeve took months.
In the middle of the Larry King Live Washington, DC office was a “booking board.” It was big – about 7 feet by 8 feet – and displayed two calendar months. As soon as a producer had a confirmed booking, the name of the booked guest, the studio location for the interview and the producer’s initials went up on the board. Nobody wanted white space on the board. As a producer, you wanted your bookings all over it.
In the weeks and months since Howard’s death, I had less time to schmooze publicists and agents. Wendy called me into her office for a private meeting.
“I can’t believe what you’re going through,” she said.
“I think you have too much to do. I’m going to lighten your load.”
While I appreciated the gesture, she took away the least heavy part of my burden: the books. Authors don’t say “no,” to interviews, especially on Larry King Live. I didn’t want to give up books because that beat kept my name up on the booking board.
The show’s senior producer, who I’ll call Becky, was never on my side. She was opposed when Wendy hired me with an agreement that I could set my own schedule and hours. When Becky objected, Wendy said, “don’t worry about Becky. I’ll deal with Becky.” That was fine when I delivered, but as my performance weakened Becky’s doubts and objections had more influence.
“You better watch out for Becky,” a colleague said. “She’s out to get you. She called me into her office the other day and said, ‘I think Carol’s gone nuts since Howard died. I don’t think she can do the work anymore.’”
I knew I was vulnerable, but I wanted my job. The lawyers said I needed it, because it showed the IRS I was professionally and financially separate from Howard’s job. They said, “Don’t lose that job.”
If I had to I would grovel.
Gradually, in addition to books, Wendy and Becky took away movies and some of the lesser movie stars from my target list. This was a setback, because sometimes movie stars – when they had a new picture to promote – were as easy to get as authors. After my load was lightened, my get list was daunting:
The Pope – Remember Cardinal O’Connor’s “improbable.”
Maurice Tempelsman – Jackie O’s companion, who replied to my letter with a polite but emphatic, “No.”
All Royals – I received so many rejection letters from the House of Windsor, I got them framed.
The Three Surviving Beatles – That’s what we called them, the “surviving” Beatles. Only Paul McCartney’s publicist would return my calls.
Michael Jackson – I received a message, “Mr. (Sandy) Gallin wants you to know Michael Jackson will never do your show, so don’t call back.”
Mick Jagger – The closest I got to Mick was a half dozen wonderful meetings with his fabulous publicist, Fran Curtis.
Bruce Springsteen – His people were always nice, but never, ever could come up with a workable date.
Oprah – If it was ever going to happen it would be entirely on her terms. Her people were good, though. Always took my calls. Always took us seriously. Always wanted Larry to come to her.
Woody Allen – Through my pursuit of the reclusive Woody I met the wonderful Leslee Dart of PMK. Leslee did arrange for us to meet Woody at a party and she said Larry was welcome to come by the Woody’s edit room to say “hi.”
Lisa Marie Presley – I dogged her at parties and got nowhere. She was as elusive as a hummingbird. Coincidentally, a few years later she and Nicolas Cage came to dinner at Nathans. When I no longer needed her I could have walked right up with my net.
Ralph Lauren – Ralph and I had good meetings at his Madison Avenue office. His people were great to me. When he saw me on the street or at a party he greeted me by name. But he had no desire to reveal himself in a live television interview. In the nicest possible way he made that clear to me.
Madonna – During my first year at LKL her gatekeeper, Liz Rosenberg, treated me like dog doo doo. Regardless, I wrote letters and left phone messages until finally Liz granted me a meeting. We got along. Her office was a rich nook of Madonna memorabilia. After that meeting we talked often. Madonna did eventually do a Larry interview, but not on my watch.
Princess Diana – So many letters, so much rejection.
Caroline, Stephanie and Albert of Monaco – Their handler in Monaco was great fun to talk to on the phone. He always invited me to “come on over, have some fun.” We set tentative dates to have Larry meet with Albert in New York, but they regularly got cancelled.
Doris Day – One hundred percent unbookable.
I brandished my target list in Wendy’s face and begged for mercy. “Please give me some people who are gettable,” I said.
“It’s like you’ve slipped through the cracks, Carol,” she said. “I don’t know where you are half the time. I don’t know when you’ll be here. It’s like we’re ships who pass at sea. I don’t know if I can take the chance.”
“I know,” I said, “But I try to give the show as much as I can. Please don’t give up on me.”
So much hinged on a few possibles: Marv Albert, Leona Helmsley, Paul Newman, Sting, the Duchess of York, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford. For continued job security, I needed them all to come through.
We were up early yesterday and off to Fauquier Hospital to see Dad. He had been admitted with some heart problems. At first David made it sound like the bell was tolling, but the doctors think that while he is in rough shape it is not his time, yet. They say the main issue is what kind of care he should have at the nursing home. I liked having a visit with him, giving him some loving assurances and kisses, while letting David and Bob handle all the heavy stuff. I have no room, emotionally or practically. I don’t even ask about Sis. They’ll tell me when AND if she surfaces.
We drove to the mountains and took a walk along a mountain stream. We looked for what Spencer called “nature,” and sort of found it in the form of a snake. It was gray with white stripes and we decided it had to be poisonous. I held Spen over a stream so he could drink from the clear mountain water. This he declared “cool.” At a store I broke down and bought him a plastic Davy Crockett rifle. He said, “I feel like a real mountain man.”
He asked me, “Is there a chance you will marry again and if you do marry will you tell me if it is an alien?”
I promised him that I would.
Doug got me alone in the office today, cleared his throat and then hit me with: “Since you are interested in restructuring how the place is run, the managers and I would like to look into getting a retirement plan set up. Like a 401-K.”
“Would Nathans have to contribute?” I asked.
“Well, ah, yes,” he said. “That would be the idea.”
“Doug, as far as I can tell we’re out of money. The legal bills will eat up whatever profit we have, and then some. The government could slap liens on our accounts at any time. For all I know we’ll arrive one day to find they’ve shut us down. This isn’t the time to talk about retirement plans.”
He walked away. He has a way of making me feel I’m always spoiling the party.
Good, long meeting today with Sheldon and Miriam. No big headlines, except Sheldon said once again, “We work for you. Our job is to protect you and Spencer. We want to build a wall between you and the debt.” God bless him.
I remember my first real kiss. It was from my boyfriend, Tom, when he was 16 and I was 15. It was summer and we were sitting on a dock on a creek; a sunny, breezy afternoon. I wore a yellow sleeveless shirtwaist dress and sandals and he wore khakis, a blue short sleeved oxford cloth shirt, and loafers with no socks. Everything about him was attractive, even his ankles. His dark blond hair was straight and he had a habit of running his hand through his bangs to keep them off his forehead. He was shy, but not as shy as I was, and we sat talking for a while before he leaned over and kissed me. I’d been waiting for that kiss for weeks and when it happened I wanted to jump and shout, “at last, I’ve been kissed!”
Instead, I kissed him back.
My first kiss from Howard was wonderful. He gave it to me in the kitchen of my apartment in Washington two weeks after we met. I was yammering about something and he pulled me toward him and shut me up with a kiss. It was just one kiss, but it said there would be more to follow. What I remember even more is another kiss he gave me, a few weeks later, after we’d driven out of the city for Sunday lunch in the garden of an inn in Middleburg, Va.
The garden was small, with tables arranged in a semi-circle on white gravel. Each had a white table cloth that drooped to the ground and occasionally got fluffed by the breeze. Along the red brick Inn building there was an overhang that had vines growing on it, like an arbor. That’s where we sat. Our table was round and when we were seated the chairs were across from each other, but Howard took his and moved it so he was beside me, arm to arm.
When we weren’t eating he held my hand. We had been lovers for only a short time and our thoughts in those early days were more on nearness and touching than on food.
He brought his head close to mine and whispered in my ear: “I’m so in love with you. More in love than I’ve ever been before in my life. I can’t imagine ever being without you.”
His words warmed me like hot pudding.
I looked in his eyes and said, “I feel the same way, too. You are the love of my life.”
Later, driving back to the city, we were both quiet in the car, listening to music, taking in the views along the highway. Suddenly he slowed and pulled over to the side of the road. He put the gear stick in “park.” Before I could ask him whether something was wrong he took me in his arms and kissed me long and hard. He kissed me with more passion than anything I’d known before. My blood turned to steam. And then just as purposefully he pulled away, settled into his seat, moved the gear stick to “drive” and eased the car back into highway traffic. “I just had to do that,” he said. “I couldn’t help myself.”
Of all the thousands of times we kissed, that’s the one I remember.
After Howard died, I thought about kissing only in an abstract way. I thought back about past kisses rather than about future kisses. When I thought about sex, I wondered whether it would ever happen again. I was in my mid-40s, and a mother who had been enjoying married sex. Everything was familiar and comfortable. The idea of sex with someone new gave me agony. I don’t even know how to have sex with someone I don’t know, I thought. I was totally out of practice. What about AIDS? What about condoms? What about all this stuff in the media that says when you have sex with one person you are having sex with all the other people he’s had sex with? Aaaagghhh! That scared me. It had been too long since I’d been in the world of singles, screwing around, and now all the singles were half my age. The last time I was single we hadn’t heard of AIDS. I was part of the birth control pill generation, not the condom generation.
I braved a call to Harry Shearer, my dear friend in California, who in that role gave me sound advice on all manner of worldly issues from time to time. Harry’s an actor, director and satirist and has a way of getting right to the heart of the matter.
“Harry,” I said, “It’s time for us to have a sex talk.”
“What do you need to know that you don’t already know?” he asked.
“I need to know about condoms,” I said. “I haven’t a clue.”
“Use latex over lambskin to prevent those pesky diseases and make sure the thing is on,” he said.
“That’s all?” I wondered. “Tell me this, what are condoms like?”
“They are okay for the woman but not great for the man and, yes, they do create a pause in the action.”
“Man, oh, man, I am not ready for this, Harry,” I said. “Last time I was out there we just had sex.”
“There are times it will still be just sex,” he said, “but with a condom.”
Harry’s advice did not drive me to the drugstore to buy the necessary items. It had the opposite effect. I decided to stay safely removed from the issue, and the action.
When I did think about sex, it was not with my mind on any one person in particular. I did notice men. I noticed men all the time. At stoplights, for example, I sat in my car and watched men cross the street, wondering about their bodies and what they might be like as lovers. In a government town like Washington, these fantasies were, well, like Washington. “First,” I’d say to myself, leaning on the steering wheel, “I’ll make him remove his key ring, then get rid of his cell phone, then the Palm Pilot and Blackberry from his belt; then I’ll rip the pocket protector off his shirt; and then we’ll go at it.”
Men behaved in different ways toward me. Some, (too often the husbands of friends), showed up at my doorstep, unannounced. I invited them in for a glass of wine and some conversation, but often they didn’t know why they were there. Or, if they knew why, they couldn’t act on it. I was relieved when they went home. Other men kept a polite distance, as if I wore the black shroud of widowhood. They didn’t know what to say to me after we’d covered Howard’s death, Spencer’s well-being and Nathans. Sometimes a man looked at me like a forecast of what would happen to his wife if he suddenly died. In his eyes, my situation was scary. I was too sad. I appeared as a lonely, bereft and pathetic figure, more saintly than someone capable of robust and bawdy sex.
The only man who approached as a woman who needed to be kissed was Paolo. His words to me were sometimes garbled and enigmatic, but he was not timid. I could see the desire in his eyes and I responded to it. There was no logic to my behavior. If New York was my vitamins, Paolo was a concentrated mega-vitamin. One flash of his adoring gaze gave me enough positive energy to last for days in dreary Washington.
That’s why I broke down and called him and let him know I would be back in New York, and why I encouraged our meeting for dinner after the auction show we produced outside Christie’s. Another person might have given him a great big pass. In my right mind I would have called and said, “No, we shouldn’t do this.” Instead, on that last night in New York, after we were off the air and I had thanked the guests and carefully climbed down from the set in the middle of Park Avenue, I couldn’t wait to be released by the control room. I dashed back to the hotel to freshen up and to change from my dressy work clothes into something funky and casual and, well, sexy. As far as I was concerned I was going out on a date and I planned to invest as much imagination and magic into the night as I did when I was a teenager. I was young again.
Rather than on his motorcycle, Paolo picked me up in a taxi and we rode together to the restaurant just off of Central Park West. In the cab we talked about our night’s work. When we arrived the restaurant was half full. The maitre’d recognized Paolo and led us to a square table in a corner. It felt private. There was candlelight. A lovely tapestry hung on the wall behind us. We sat down adjacent to each other and paused, nervous, both of us aware we had now crossed a line. This was no longer about two old friends talking shop. He suddenly seemed like much more of a man to me – strong, powerful, macho. He smiled and the romance swirled round me like a breeze.
“Champagne?” he asked.
“That would be lovely,” I said.
We had a proper conversation over dinner and our hands stayed with the flatware and the food and the wine glasses. We did no touching, no tapping, no lightly placing of fingers on hands or arms. The chef sent out tartare of scallops with caviar, sweetbreads, roasted Dourade with fingerling potatoes, a cheese course, and figs and berries and cookies. Paolo ordered a bottle of Puligny Montrachet. We talked about our pasts, our careers, marriage, life, and how we met. Over the course of dinner the other customers departed, the chef said goodnight, the maitre’d pulled off his tie and followed the chef. By dessert it was only us, the candlelight, the sommelier and a waiter, and those two kept a respectful distance.
Paolo looked at me but said nothing. He reached out with his hand and took my hand and pulled it over to him and kissed my fingers. He kissed them slowly, one at a time.
I leaned close to him and said in a low voice, “You know, you are my secret.”
I pulled his hand to me and placed the back of it against my right cheek and held it there as if it was a precious possession. My eyes met his and we sat like that until the waiter walked over. We collected ourselves and Paolo asked for the check.
“You are our guests,” the waiter said very matter of factly. “There is no check.”
Paolo asked for a credit card slip with $1.00 on it so he could write a tip. The waiter obliged. He added $45 to the $1.00 and signed it. The waiter smiled and thanked him and walked away. When we were alone again Paolo took my hand in his and kissed the back of it and turned it over like a leaf and kissed the palm and the soft skin inside my wrist. The tip of his tongue made that spot on my wrist the source of searing pleasure. I closed my eyes. My breath held for a beat. With my free hand I ran my fingers through his hair, over the back of his head to the nape of his neck. I tried with my touch to give him the sensation he gave me.
We could hear the waiter shuffling in the distance and it snapped us back to where we were, at the table. I picked up my small clutch and sweater. Paolo had no jacket or sweater. He wore a striped long sleeved shirt of soft Eypgtian cotton. It was open at the collar. The cuffs were rolled up to just below his elbows. Its color, mostly shades of dark blue, looked good with his khaki colored gabardine trousers. We were a nice pair – matched in height, size, color and desire.
We walked along West 61st Street toward Central Park. We were close together, with his arm around my shoulder and my arm around his waist. The air was balmy. The streets, even Central Park West, were quiet. It was almost 1 o’clock in the morning.
“Let’s walk a bit,” I said.
“But not in the park,” he said.
“No, no. Just along it, okay?”
We had walked only a short distance when, under a streetlight, he stopped and turned and took me in his arms. I went, at first tentatively and then eagerly until my face was buried deep in the warmth of his neck where the collar was open.
He pulled back enough to put his hand under my chin to lift my face toward his. And then he kissed me. And the kiss went on and on and on as our lips and tongues melted into each other and our arms and hands moved from shoulders to backs to necks and faces. The kiss continued. He stopped and started, his lips pressed against mine softly and then hard and harder, and our bodies pressed together in an embrace. The kiss continued, as we moaned and sighed and welcomed the release of stored up passion. The street light’s golden wash cast us as the lovers we were but we paid no mind to it or people or cars or anything but this kiss that could not stop.
It was l0 minutes before Paolo pulled back, his arms still tight around me, and said, “We must get a cab.” As he held me close we hobbled to the street, and he alternately kissed me deeply and waved his arm to flag down a cab. When the driver pulled up and stopped Paolo opened the door and continued to kiss me. We separated only long enough to jump in, give the driver instructions – “Across the park,” Paolo said – and then the kiss resumed. The windows of the cab, all of them, were open to the soft air and it buffeted us as we flew through the park, jostled by the cab and the bumps in the road, but adjusted our kissing to the motion.
He stopped to speak.
“We are not going to become lovers,” he said.
“I know that,” I said. “I am not ready for that. Nothing more will happen. We can control this.”
“We are only kissing,” he said.
“Yes, only that,” I said.
We flew back into each others’ arms and kissed again. His hand ran along my back and down my thigh and across my tummy and toward my breast. I cupped his face in my hands and kissed his eyes and nose and lips.
When the cab stopped at a light at 79th and Fifth, I said, “Let’s get out of here and walk. I have to get some air.” Paolo handed the driver a handful of money.
We walked about a half a block before he grabbed me and embraced me and kissed me again. We stood in front of an apartment building on Fifth Avenue. He kissed me so vigorously the commotion caused one of my earrings to fly off, roll across the sidewalk and down the grate of the building’s basement window. “These earrings were a gift from Howard,” I said. “I think he just sent us a message.”
We walked along Fifth Avenue, the only people on the street. I walked backward with my arms around his neck, looking him in the face, exchanging more kisses.
“This has to be it,” he said. “I don’t want to become lovers and then have it end and lose our friendship.”
As quickly as he said it he pulled me close and stopped us in our tracks and kissed me again. He held me so close our bodies were practically welded together. He kissed my neck and my ears and my mouth. The desire consumed me. I was limp and warm and flushed.
At the entrance of the hotel we decided we should part right there, but each time he walked away he turned and came back and kissed me another time.
“Let’s get away from the hotel cameras,” he said, and took my hand and pulled me into the shadows just beyond the entrance. He kissed me again.
“I must go now,” he said. “It is late.”
“So, go,” I said.
He kissed me again.
“I guess this was dessert,” I said, nibbling on his neck at his collar bone.
“The chef’s special,” he said.
“You have no idea how wonderful this is for me,” I said. “I didn’t know I could have this again. This hasn’t happened to me in 20 years.”
“To me, either,” he said, holding me tightly next to him.
“Let’s not wake up in the morning and regret this,” I said.
“We won’t,” he said, kissing my neck and my lips again.
Before we parted we inhaled each other and pulled the scent up into our heads to capture it for long keeping. And then all I saw was the back of him. He was gone, walking toward Park Avenue to hail a cab.
The staff at Nathans come to me with preposterous demands. Terry, the night manager, asked again for a raise. I said, “I don’t mind giving you something but in return I’d like you to knock off the sauce when you’re on duty.” He sulked. You’d think I asked him to murder the owner of Budweiser. I’m trying not to be heavy-handed. I could ban the staff’s shift drink. “You have to be a grown up,” I said. “I want you to just do this for me.” He nodded.
He then told me that Doug thinks all the managers should get raises. WAIT JUST ONE BIG MINUTE HERE! They are the most highly paid managers in the entire city, and their pay scale is out of line with what the business makes. Not only that, they have to know I’ve got the government breathing down my neck. Douglas Sullivan deserves a raise like I deserve more debt. He wants a raise, he wants a retirement plan! I have a hard time figuring out exactly what it is that Doug does for his $100 thousand salary. He does some ordering, some banking, a tiny bit of staff management. I think he is useless, basically.
I’m weary. I was up at 5 a.m., worrying.
Wendy asked me to book George Stephanopoulos (“Here,” she said, “I’ll give you an easy one.”), but failed to tell me everyone else at CNN, including Wolf Blitzer, had pursued him unsuccessfully. He’s writing a book about the Clinton White House, for heaven’s sake. His publisher would be nuts to let him do any interviews before it comes out! But we’re needy for bookings. “These are the doldrums,” she said. Anyway, George did not return my calls.
I was in no mood for the show today. In my new reality, the unreality of what we do is sometimes just too much. Some of what I used to think rocked the world now seems to me to be shallow and pointless. I still like to take on world issues, but I can’t get stressed anymore over whether Michael Jackson will do an interview.
I got some tough love from Elise on the phone. I told her about Paolo. I told her I’d been thinking of him and wanted to call him. “You can’t call him! He can’t call you! You can’t go to his restaurant! You can’t have anything to do with him. You made-out with him. He’s married. You can’t have a relationship with him. You just have to back away.”
I know she’s right. I KNOW SHE’S RIGHT! But for a moment there I felt whole again.
The pace of my life was quickening. While June was packed with enough New York high life, professional success and personal excitement to make me believe my problems in Washington had relocated to another planet, July and August reminded me I was still in a struggle. My new reality waited for me, patient as a cat.
“You don’t look the same,” my French friend Martina said to me. “You used to always look like a woman who was walking to work, and now you look like a woman who is walking on the Champs Elysee.” My psychiatrist, Dr. Webb, called me, “Sleeping beauty. Something in you that was dormant is waking up.”
It was a mystery to me. I was changing, and I could see it, but I didn’t understand it. It’s not that I became General George S. Patton, but I stood up straighter and my step was more purposeful. Was it widowhood? Was it the struggle for survival? Was it New York? Was it Paolo’s kiss?
I think it was all of them.
Much of my old wardrobe, proper “lady” suits and dresses, felt fussy at the restaurant, inappropriate at the lawyer’s office and cumbersome as I hopped in and out of the S.U.V. to drive from job to job. They hung in my closet unused. I spent more time in jeans and blazers. When I did finally buy some new clothes, now from the markdown racks, rather than choosing the conservative, matronly and “safe” outfits of my past, I picked the ones that were younger, more contemporary and that fit a little closer to the skin.
Though Nathans was part of my life every day of the week, I committed myself to Larry King Live as the top priority. I stubbornly refused to accept that one of the costs of Howard’s death and inheriting the restaurant would be my career as a news producer. Chasing stories, tracking down interviews, producing a show – this was all I’d known how to do since high school. I resented the restaurant because it demanded so much of me. I cared about it but I didn’t understand it, and it seemed that every step of the learning curve was mired in bad news.
Douglas Sullivan seemed to take pleasure in lobbing problems into my lap. It was a classic passive/aggressive stance, the same as saying, “Okay, if you want to own the place, how are you going to deal with this?”
I noticed we paid for all our deliveries C.O.D., and I asked him “why?”
“Because Howard wanted everything that was in the place to belong to him,” he said. “He didn’t want to owe anybody anything. He also felt that if he was paid up he had them under his thumb rather than the other way around.”
I knew we could no longer afford that luxury. I asked Doug to apply for credit with all our suppliers. He did, but when he placed the applications on my desk for a signature I noticed he listed me personally as the guarantor rather than the business. He had put down my Social Security number, my home address and my home phone number.
I called the accountant, who said, “No, no, no. Don’t let him put your name on those. You don’t have to guaranty those accounts. If Nathans defaulted they could come after you personally. He’s just trying to mess with you. Don’t put down any of your personal information. The business is the guarantor and you sign for the business.”
I asked Doug to get new applications and I filled them out accordingly.
The lawyers tried to find ways to bring down the tax debt. Miriam Fisher asked me to sift through five years of Howard’s credit card charges, particularly restaurant charges, and to mark those that were business related. What qualified as a business dinner, I wondered? I recognized so many of the charges. Did champagne and steamed lobsters at the romantic window table of The Black Pearl in Newport, RI, count as a business dinner? It was October 1993, our first trip away from Spencer, and even though Howard said I had to do it I was in agony over leaving my almost two year old baby in Washington with the babysitter. That dinner was on the eve of a week-long sailing trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands.
When I booked the table I asked, “Please have a bottle of Dom Perignon waiting in an ice bucket.” Howard liked that.
He also liked the Pearl’s New England Clam Chowder - so much he put it on the menu at Nathans.
But was that a business dinner?
When I asked another restaurant owner, he said, “You write off all your meals. Why else be in the business?”
Within reason, I followed his advice.
“Why does Deborah Martin’s report cover only five years?” I asked Miriam Fisher at one of our meetings.
“Because that’s when they decided to stop looking. Deborah had enough. She had a good case. She could have gone further back and would probably have found more, but she said she had enough and stopped.”
I submitted everything the IRS wanted. Also, at my own pace, I cut emotional ties with possessions. I looked at my furniture in terms of what could go and what should stay. I needed cash, desperately. Spencer and I were living on a third of the income we had when Howard was alive, but our household expenses stayed the same. I had to pay the utilities and upkeep for three homes. It seemed ridiculous, but it was important to keep them in good working order so they could be sold. The pool, the lawn, the dock and boats all had to be maintained, but there was no pleasure in it. I viewed myself as a caretaker of government property. I didn’t want to have a “fire sale.” I had to be patient, keep it going and try to find money somewhere.
The estate was fat with money. Dividend checks regularly arrived in the mail. I fondled them with yearning, but because they were in Howard’s name I had to put them in the estate bank account. The money from the sale of the boat and the sale of one of his cars went to the estate account. His inheritance checks stopped the day he died. There was a lot of money around me, but none of it mine.
About this time I made my first new friend who understood some of what I was going through.
Roger Cossack worked at CNN, co-hosting a legal affairs program with Greta van Susteren. He was also a widower. He sought me out at a CNN staff reception and offered, “to help in any way I can.” In Roger I found a person who spoke the same language I did in a world where everyone else spoke gibberish. His wife, Michele, died of cancer a few years earlier. After successfully analyzing the O.J. Simpson trial for CNN from Los Angeles, his hometown, the network offered Roger and Greta a show called Burden of Proof. It originated from Washington. Their offices were next door to Larry King Live.
He thought giving up his L.A. criminal law practice to move East and be a television host would help him recover.
“But I’m still getting over it,” he said at our first dinner. I invited him to be my guest at Nathans. We sat at booth 26. When the evening manager walked up and greeted Roger by name I learned he was a regular.
“Oh, yeah,” Terry said, “Roger is a real good customer. We like seeing him here.”
Terry walked away, Roger sat back, shrugged, sighed and said, “I’m so lonely. I’m just so lonely. I’m so happy to be here with you, who I can talk to about this. I really need a friend and I hope we can be that for each other. Nobody has been that for me since Michele died.”
I was impressed by his change of demeanor, that he could go from cheerful banter with the manager to a blunt confession of his loneliness to me. He knew what it was like to put on the brave face for others, to portray an image of “moving on,” to keep the pain and sorrow private.
“I can be that friend,” I said. “I need it, too.”
I explained my IRS problems to him and he was sympathetic in a lawyerly way. I told him that even though I have lawyers “building a wall around me,” letters from the IRS arrived in the mail almost every week. “They include threats to put liens on my bank accounts, to seize my homes, my cars and other possessions.” The letters made me think of the people who didn’t have a wall of legal protection.
“They are really scary letters,” I said.
“What do you do with them?” he asked.
“Once I actually called up the IRS 800 number to tell them I had legal representation, but the woman at the other end acted like that didn’t make any difference and started asking me when I was going to send a check for the full amount. To her, I was just a case number. I realized the bureaucracy is set in its ways no matter what. Since then I have simply opened them, read them and then faxed them to Miriam Fisher.”
“The problem you have is that you’re now on their radar, which means you are in the IRS computer” Roger said. “Most of us live our lives hoping to never be on their radar. When this is over, you’ll be off it again, but that may take a while. Don’t be surprised if they keep auditing you for years.”
“But what about the people who don’t want to have a lawyer or who can’t afford a lawyer,” I asked. “I think about them every time I get one of these threatening letters. The tone is that I am a total deadbeat.”
I suggested a show for Burden of Proof, exploring the different treatment given to a tax defendant who has a lawyer and the defendant who doesn’t. “If I didn’t have lawyers explaining everything to me, calming my paranoia, I probably would be locked in my home with furniture piled against the door. I hope when the hearings on the Hill are done one result is that the IRS has to tone down its language. They need to hire Miss Manners.”
“You forget, though, a lot of the people they pursue did commit fraud, did break the law. Those letters are crafted for the guilty, not the innocent,” he said.
Roger’s son was grown and out on his own. I told him about Spencer and how much it weighed on me each time I went to New York on trips for the show.
“It’s tough because they are good for me but I worry I’m some kind of awful mother leaving Spencer with the babysitter,” I said.
“Go,” he said. “Give yourself the time away. Enjoy yourself. Spencer will be fine. If it makes you feel better, call him one thousand times a day, but he’ll be fine.”
I made another friend, a widow, who came into my life through Larry King Live. C.Z. Guest, (who died in 2003), and I were as unlikely a pair as Fred Astaire and Tom Arnold. When writers write about C.Z., and they often do, they describe her as a grand dame of New York society or as one of Truman Capote’s famous “swans,” or as one of the best dressed women in the world, or as a legendary horsewoman, and gardener. All of it true. When we met she wrote a newspaper column and books about gardening both for adults and children. Though the mistress of a grand estate in Old Westbury, L.I., and a home in Palm Beach, and a woman who was able to lead as undemanding a life as one could dream of, C.Z. did not like to be idle. She liked to work. She liked to do something.
I booked her for a show about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Wendy, through her connections, had been tipped that Mohammed al-Fayed, father of the ill-fated Dodi, owner of Harrods department store and lease holder of the home where the Duke and Duchess lived outside Paris, planned to sell all the Windsor possessions that were sitting in the house – museum like – since the Duchess died. Though not quite as populist an event as the Jackie Onassis’ auction, or Princess Diana’s dresses, this auction had the markings of a big deal. The Duke and Duchess were fascinating characters, the proprietors of a particular lifestyle and brilliant masters of their own public relations. Most of all, the Duke gave up the throne for the woman he loved, Wallace Simpson, who became his Duchess. They were a famous love story and a notorious part of British history.
Wendy was keen for it for the auction. “This will be good, but it will all come down to who we get as guests,” she said. “We know about the Duke and Duchess, Carol, you and I, but how many people out there know?” she asked, with a gesture to the great beyond outside our office windows. She asked me to look into it and try to set up a show.
I met in New York with Dee Dee Brooks, her spokeswoman, Diana Phillips, and other Sotheby’s executives at their offices on First Avenue.
“The auction will include everything of theirs that is in that house,” Dee Dee said. “Mohammed al-Fayed has decided he doesn’t want to keep it as a shrine to the Duke and Duchess anymore. He’s living upstairs and he wants to live downstairs. He has young children. Virtually everything is packed up and on its way here. We will have a preview and auction in September.”
“When can I look at what you will have?” I asked.
“Come back in a few weeks. It will be at our warehouse. We’ll show you around.”
“Is anybody else getting a shot at this?” I asked.
“The Today Show will do something,” Dee Dee said. “But you can have the first look.”
“Exclusivity will mean everything in making this happen,” I said. “We’re not sure about an audience for it.”
“It will be an amazing collection,” she said. “It’s perfect for Larry. We’re getting the Duke’s famous great coat. We’re getting the abdication table. Her clothes, his clothes.”
“Even the stuffed Pug dolls?” I asked.
“Even the stuffed Pug dolls,” she said.
I read several books about the Duke and Duchess and knew they worshipped their Pugs – the dogs were like children to them – and famously had several stuffed Pug dolls that sat on a loveseat at the foot of one of their beds. Any photograph of the bedroom showed those pillows.
I started to book the show. I had only three weeks from start to air - in the middle of summer.
And that’s how I came to call C.Z. Guest. She was on a short list of people who knew the Duke and Duchess well. Other targets, who may or may not have known them, were our typical odd assortment of characters: the writer Dominick Dunne, Joan Collins, Dina Merrill, the Duchess of York, Prince Edward, who made a documentary about the Duke and Duchess; Ralph Lauren, Lauren Bacall, Madonna, Ali MacGraw and Kitty Kelley. Often the Larry King Live “get list” read like a casting call for Hollywood Squares.
But C.Z. was my first call. She talked like a page of dialogue. Her words came out in italics, bold faced and underlined.
“Oh, I knew the Duke and Duchess so well,” she said, when I got her on the phone. “They were Godparents to my two children. Darling, we were at that house all the time! They were here. Oh, come and get it.”
Her accent was an upper crusty lockjaw, but her observations were earthy, and delightfully wacky and candid.
“Such style! Such chic! Such elegance!,” she declared. “Nobody has that anymore. That Jackie sale, that was all from the attic, you know.”
I didn’t know, but I sure hoped she would say it on the air.
“This is real taste,” she said of the Duchess. “This is perfection. That woman ran a home!”
C.Z. charmed me with her eagerness to play. She would be great television. Americans happily accept a person like C.Z., who is rich and social, when they are a bit eccentric and not too serious. C.Z. had a sense of humor and was wonderfully eccentric.
When Wendy heard the verbatim of my conversation with C.Z., she said, “Book her.” I told her I had struck out with other targets. Joan Collins was in Europe for the summer. Dina Merrill had a Lehman Brothers board meeting. “No, No, No,” from Prince Edward, Fergie and Ralph Lauren. Lauren Bacall passed. Madonna’s people didn’t return my call. Dominick Dunne balked. From my first canvas, other than C.Z., only the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta was on board.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do an hour on this,” Wendy said.
“Give me a little more time,” I said. “Let me see who I can shake loose.”
Within a few days Oscar de la Renta backed out.
“Someone got to him,” his handler said.
“But why?” I asked. “What’s the downside of talking about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.”
“You never know.”
I called C.Z. for some advice. Who else was out there who could help fill an hour talking about these two very stylish but self-centered people?
She suggested another famous dress designer, Hubert Givenchy, whose name she pronounced “Who-bear.”
She said, “He’s a great guy! He knew them! He would be wonderful! Let me give you his number in Paris.”
C.Z. also suggested Joan Rivers. “Joan’s the only person I know who can fit into the Duchess’ tiny clothes.”
“What about Yves Saint Laurent?” I asked.
“You could say his English is bad, which is true, and you could say he is painfully shy, which is true, but really, honestly, he has other problems!”
I shared with her my frustration to get the show booked and that at the moment I felt pretty low about the whole project.
“I need this show to work out,” I said. “I have a lot riding on it.”
We added to our “wish list” the name of Mohammed al-Fayed himself. Dee Dee Brooks earlier had dangled the possibility that he might agree to the interview. I made the arrangements for Larry to have a phone chat with Mohammed. I worked with Michael Cole, a former BBC correspondent, who was the al-Fayed spokesman. Cole assumed immediate intimacy on the phone, as if we were long lost pals.
When Cole and I talked, al-Fayed was at his home in the south of France.
“I’m going to tell you something nobody is supposed to know,” he said. “Princess Diana and the boys are down there with him as his guests. It’s top secret. I’m telling you only so you’ll know why this is a tough time to get Mr. al-Fayed on the phone, but we’ll do it.”
Within a couple of days the tabloid press reported about Diana’s visit with the al-Fayeds, complete with photos of her and Prince William and Prince Henry jumping into the Mediterranean from his yacht. Soon there were more photos from the same location, but these were of her trysting with Dodi al-Fayed, Mohammed’s son. I wondered whether this was Michael Cole’s version of keeping it secret, or if Diana had encouraged him to get the word out. It was possible Princess Diana, Mohammed al-Fayed and Michael Cole had similar goals.
Larry talked to Mohammed al-Fayed on the phone and he agreed to do the interview via satellite from London.
Two weeks later in New York, C.Z. Guest, Diana Phillips, the PR woman, and I rode a freight elevator up to the top floor of a dusty old warehouse on East 110th Street. C.Z., tall, trim, blond, fit and neat as a pin, had posture like a flag pole. She wore her short hair straight and behind her ears with a little flip at the neck. It was classic. I studied her. I wanted to understand what made her so stylish. I decided it was because she brilliantly adhered to the rule that less is more. She had no clutter. And even in a dark, cruddy warehouse she looked like a glass of lemonade.
When the doors opened we were led into a big room with bare wood floors, no walls to speak of, and large floor to ceiling windows. Before us were the lifetime possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor … stacked, boxed, and hung on racks. A crew of Sotheby’s staff sorted, recorded, and tagged the items.
“Oh My God!” C.Z. gasped, expressing the awe of our whole group. “Look at all of this!!”
Heading off in different directions, C.Z., Diana and I explored.
It was all there: their French bed linens, their crystal wine glasses, their personal engraved stationery, their monogrammed plates and coffee cups, their shoes, her handbags, his famous plaid golf pants, his christening cup, the dogs’ leashes, the furniture, their telephones, his pipes, personalized matchbox covers, engraved silver of every sort, paintings, his needlepoint, her hats and gloves, her caftans and fur coats and suits and cocktail dresses. I put my hand in a box and fingered embroidered pillow cases.
Against a wall was the love seat with the Pug pillows, just as I had seen it in so many photographs. I sat on the blue, silk sofa and wondered what secrets and miseries it had known. In another area the famous abdication desk sat alone and unheralded. Beside it, on a mannequin, was the Duke’s great coat.
“C.Z.,” I said, “You have to come over and try this on.”
The coat was made of dark and heavy wool. It was long to the floor. It was cut in almost an A-line shape. I recalled the photographs of him in this coat during the short time he was King. C.Z. worked her way into it because of the weight, but it fit her like it was tailor made.
“Oh, this is chic,” she said. It certainly was on C.Z. She would have been able to use it as a very stylish winter coat. I wondered who would bid on it and where it would end up.
In another area there was a mannequin wearing the servant’s livery.
“Oh, that’s Bernard’ uniform,” C.Z. said. He was the Duchess’ loyal servant, always at her side. “There are so many things here I recognize from their home. It’s quite amazing.”
“Let’s take a picture,” I said.
“No pictures,” Diana said.
“You know, al-Fayed let Prince Charles come and get whatever he wanted. He did that before it was packed up,” C.Z. told us.
“I wonder what he took,” I said.
“I believe it was something small,” she said. “Everything that was truly royal or had to do with his regiments went back to the royal family some time ago.”
Of everything there before us what intrigued me the most were the countless dark blue jewelry boxes that were embossed with entwined WW’s. There were dozens of the boxes. They were nothing special in terms of value, but they were gorgeous. The Duchess had a jewelry company make them for her. At one time they held her costume jewelry. Her real jewelry, the good stuff, had been sold at an earlier auction in Geneva. The embossed blue boxes said something about the lavish extremes a person might demand in order to have everything in her life under control and just so. It was all in the details.
Though fascinating, the experience left me sad. This was a dusty warehouse. It was absent any charm or elegance. Here, together for the last time, were the remnants of two people, one of them the former King of England, who were always stylish and elegant but ultimately frivolous. This was all that was left of them.
In the end Wendy, Becky and I pulled together a good line-up and did an interesting broadcast previewing the Windsor auction. It was a little goofy, but interesting.
We taped the show late on a Friday night after a live show. Earlier, C.Z., Diana Phillips, the jewelry designer Kenneth Lane, Michael Cole and I had dinner at Harry Cipriani at 59th and Fifth. Mohammed al-Fayed at the 11th hour changed his mind about appearing on the show and chose Michael to take his place. Dinner was long and boisterous. Kenneth Lane drank six Bellinis, which resulted in his being rather quiet during the taping.
As a result of this show, though, C.Z. Guest and I became friends. We became close enough that I felt comfortable talking to her about widowhood.
“You just have to get back up on that damned horse, Carol. You have to pull in those reins and go for it!!!”
Another widow I got to know was Leona Helmsley. In my pursuit of an interview, I invited her to dinner.
We went to the ultra upscale French restaurant Daniel, which was small and charming and a long-time favorite of Howard’s and mine. It was at the top of the heap among New York restaurants. I’d heard that Mrs. Helmsley liked haute food and haute wine. Daniel seemed like the appropriate place to woo her.
The Helmsley-mobile, a long black limousine, pulled up outside the restaurant precisely on time and out stepped the alleged “Queen of Mean.” She looked great, much brighter than she was at an earlier lunch she’d had with Larry, Shawn and me. Her short dark hair looked finished but soft and not like a helmet. She wore an attractive, short black linen dress. Around her neck was a double strand of pearls so amazing that later, during the meal, I asked if I could touch them.
“Sure,” she said, like it was a perfectly logical for me to ask. They were the size and weight of big marbles.
We walked to the table through people who grabbed at her to say “hello,” or to tell her “you’re the best.” She was gracious. I did not sense any of the bitterness I had noticed before. Maybe this would be my night. Maybe she would agree to an interview.
“That man who just kissed me on both cheeks,” she said, as we took our seats, “He tried to outsmart me in a deal.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I outsmarted him,” she said, putting her napkin in her lap.
Daniel Boulud, the chef, came to the table to say hello and to ask, “Can I cook for you?”
We both said yes.
Mrs. Helmsley flirted with him.
“You ought to come work for me,” she said. “I’ve got a good restaurant over at the Park Lane. We could be a good team.”
I wondered what this successful and famous chef thought about the offer. He behaved flattered.
When he walked away, she leaned into me and said, “He’s good, you know. Very good.”
We talked about her life, my life, her IRS story, my IRS story, her husband’s death, my husband’s death, her business, my business.
“You know, they liked me there,” she said, referring to the inmates she met while serving a prison sentence for tax fraud. “But I wanted out of there. Every day I wanted out.”
I wondered what it would have been like for Howard if he’d been indicted and convicted and sentenced to a term in prison. It would have killed him. The humiliation would have done him in. But, Mrs. Helmsley seemed to be made of tougher stuff.
I told her only a few details of my predicament, but they included the merits of the case and the amount I owed.
“Sell what you’ve got to sell,” she said. “Give them the money. Get on with your life.”
I looked at her. “That’s easy for you to say, Mrs. Helsmley. You’re a billionaire.”
To my relief, she laughed. But it was true.
We got along well. I liked her. She showed me a soft side that would win people over if she could only reveal it on television.
“Exactly what properties do you own in New York?” I asked her. “How big is your real estate empire?”
She ticked off a list of addresses. She said she was in the midst of selling off a lot of them.
“But I’m not going to sell the Empire State Building,” she said. “I’m going to keep that.” It amused me to hear someone make a statement like that.
“You go, girl,” I said. “You keep the Empire State Building.”
The wine made her happy. She made jokes, though I can’t remember any of them. She flirted with the handsome French waiters, and invited them to come to work for her, too. She’s a human being, I thought, and I haven’t seen a trace of mean.
I didn’t do a heavy pitch for the interview. I made light, useful references to all the ways Larry had made reputed scoundrels look good. I suggested there would be positive response from the public and media.
“They’d kill me” she said. “They’d still kill me. I could go on the show and Larry and I could have a good time together, but the next day the press would kill me.”
After dinner, at her car, I said, “Leona, come visit Washington. Come to Washington and have dinner with me at Nathans. Come see the studio. See Larry. We’ll all get together and have some more fun.”
“When I get my jet out of the shop, dear,” she said, disappearing into the back seat of the long black car.
The next day her publicist, Howard Rubenstein, was on the phone, “She had a good time, Carol. She thought it was a lot of fun, but she’s not changing her mind about an interview. There’s no good reason for her to put herself out there.”
This morning Spencer decided he wants to wear boxer shorts from now on.
“Because Daddy wore them and Cousin Zal wears them and Uncle Vijay wears them,” he said.
So he put on boxer shorts under his play shorts and strutted around the apartment. He came into the bedroom and said, “The boxer shorts really make me feel like a man.”
A little later he stood at the foot of my bed, looking out the window toward the street and the city skyline.
“Mommy, I really miss Daddy,” he said. “Sometimes I get a funny feeling. Like right now I have that funny feeling.”
“Because you have on your boxer shorts and you want to talk to Daddy about that,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’d really like to talk to him right now.”
“I know, angel, I know.”
In July my home phone rang a lot after midnight. I would be asleep in bed and when I heard the jangling of the ringer I knew it was Paolo. It was always after his dinner business was done, when it was quiet in his kitchen office, and we talked easily. If we recalled our last time together it was only to say, “We lost our heads. It won’t happen again.” But I yearned to see him, not because of kisses but because being with him made me feel good. After the Windsor show taping and the dinner with Leona Helmsley, I needed a dose of his special vitamins.
“Are you in New York?” he asked.
“Yup, about 25 blocks north of you. I’m at CNN. We just got done with a show. I want to have a glass of champagne.”
“I will come up there and meet you,” he said from the kitchen phone. “I have friends here. It would be no fun here because we would have to sit with them.”
I wondered whether he thought it would be awkward to explain me.
“We’ll go somewhere near your hotel,” he said. “I will call you when I am parked.”
I dashed out to 8th Avenue fast enough to catch a ride with Larry, who was happy to have his driver continue on to my hotel after dropping him at his own on Central Park South. In my room I tore off my clothes, hopped into the shower for all of 60 seconds, dried myself and then slipped on a little black dress with cap sleeves and a flouncy skirt that was light and young.
We met on Madison Avenue. He walked up as I walked down and when we got face to face we just stood there, inches apart. I could see his black motorcycle parked nearby. He wore a dark polo shirt and dark trousers. His hair was longer and in the back touched his shirt at the collar.
“It’s good to see you,” he said. “It’s good to see you, too,” I said.
“Your hair is wet,” he said. “Did you swim here?”
“Very funny. I took a shower. Just for you. I didn’t want to smell like CNN.”
“Well, I probably smell like fish and garlic and lamb,” he said.
“Smells good to me,” I said, leaning into him just a bit, pretending to smell him. Like before, the scent was caramel.
“Let’s go there,” he said, pointing over his shoulder to a bistro named Nosidam. It looked open and not too busy.
“Good idea,” I said.
I walked beside him and followed him to the bistro. He chided me for taking Leona Helmsley to another restaurant and not his. “I would have felt awkward,” I said, “and then you would have picked up the check.” We let it go.
At Nosidam the maitre’d met us at the door.
“Can we still get something?” Paolo asked.
“For you, chef, anything,” he said. He gave me a close look. “We’ve got a good table in the back.”
Paolo asked for two champagnes. When the maitre’d walked away I said, “And I thought this was a place where you would not be recognized. Is there any place in New York where you are not recognized?”
“On my motorcycle,” he said.
“I doubt you’ll ever get me on that,” I said.
“Oh, it is fun. I just take off. I drive and drive until I am tired of one direction and then go in another,” he said. “And if you are on the back you have to hold on to me very tight.”
“That I would like,” I said. “Can we do that and just stay parked?”
A waiter brought our champagne. The glasses were misty with frost and the bubbles danced. We clinked them together and took our sips.
“Your hair, it looks different, pretty,” he said. “Did you do something?”
“You noticed. Thank you. I went to the hair salon and got trimmed. I treated myself.”
“You look very pretty,” he said. “You always look pretty.”
“That’s so nice to hear,” I said. “You have no idea…”
“I remember the first time I met you,” he said, “You know, so long ago, when I was chef at Umbria, when you and Howard came for lunch…”
“…I remember,” I said, “I remember you coming out of the kitchen and you looked so handsome.”
“I thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” he said. “I wanted to send you everything in the kitchen.”
“I would have eaten all of it, you know.”
“You ordered soft shelled crabs and I cooked them myself very carefully.”
“Watch it,” I said, half joking. “You know I can’t help myself when you talk to me like that.”
We stared at each other. We looked into each others eyes and smiled. There were no words. We blushed and smiled and sipped our champagne. Under the table he reached out and found my hand and took it in his and squeezed it and held on to it. I squeezed his hand and then opened mine and stroked his leg on the inside of his thigh, slowly. He closed his eyes.
“I’m being bad,” I said. “Forgive me. You started it.”
“You are a bad girl,” he said. “I will punish you with truffles.”
“Oh, more than I can eat. More, more.”
We continued to hold hands under the table. He held my hand so firmly. His flesh was warm. I wanted to kiss him right there at the table but noticed the maitre’d across the room and held back. All I could do was put my head down on the table by his arm. He ran his fingers through my hair.
“I don’t fit well with my arrangement,” he said, referring I gathered to his marriage. “But we have been together a long time, since childhood. I think it is important to be faithful and to not betray. I may not like it, but it is the way I think I have to be. I am not fond of marriage but nobody yet has come up with something better. Did Howard have friends? Did he see them?”
I pointed to myself. “I was his friend. I was the only person he wanted to see. He really only wanted to spend his free time with me and that is what we did.”
He had a look of surprise.
“You had something very rare then. Something very special.”
“I know,” I said, “It was very special. I loved marriage, but it was hard work. You know what happens with death? It makes it like it was all perfect, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t always easy and there are parts of married life I don’t miss. We were a marriage like any other. But I miss the security and the routine. I miss the comfort. I miss that a lot.”
I played with his hand under the table.
“I was always faithful in my marriage,” I said. “I would not have been able to be otherwise.”
“Was Howard faithful?”
“I believe so. I do believe so. I never asked. But I don’t know when he would have had the time. He was always with me.”
We mooned and flirted and debated who is more in control, who has more to lose, who doesn’t want to cause hurt, get hurt, spread hurt around. It went back and forth like that, playfully. He talked about all the people who depend on him, how they would be affected if he split with Marceline.
“But what about you? You deserve some pleasure, too,” I said.
“I have it,” he said, “I cook.”
“Maybe we should be making love instead,” I said.
“You are not ready.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m joking with you. I’m not sure I’m ready for anything more than this. This is perfect.”
“It’s our secret,” he said.
We closed Nosidam and walked up Madison hand in hand. On 69th Street we turned the corner, me following him. There was a linen shop, Porthault, with a small covered portico in front. It was dark there.
“We must find a shadow,” he said, leading me to the shop’s doorway.
The entry was framed by two short metal fences and he leaned back against one of them. I fell into him with a succession of small kisses that built in length and depth and intensity until we melded, as we had on Central Park West. He ran his hands along my thin dress, down my sides to my hip bones, tracing the details of my body. He kissed my lips and then my neck, my arm, and my shoulder.
“If I am here one more minute I am going to rape you,” he said.
At that moment the street suddenly erupted with activity. While we were wrapped around each other kissing we did not notice the boisterous approach of a full blown motorcade, just like in Washington, complete with cop cars and Secret Service vans, limousines and motorcycle escort, all with lights whirling. The convoy wailed off Madison and parked on both sides of the street, surrounding us, and then a dozen or so people piled out of the vehicles. They were headed to The Westbury Hotel across the street. We were not alone anymore. All of this action happened only mere yards from us.
“I love this city,” I said. “Should we continue?”
“They don’t even notice us,” he said.
We kissed once more. Some of the agents took positions near where we were and I could see they were looking at us. One of them smiled.
“I think it’s probably time to move on,” I said.
We walked along until the corner by my hotel.
“I don’t know what we do with this,” I said, waving my hand back and forth between the two of us.
He kissed me.
“But I’m happy to be able to see you,” I said.
He kissed me again.
“This is just what I need right now,” I said.
“Me, too,” he said, kissing me one more time before walking off into the night.
Dad’s birthday today. He’s 80-years-old. When I called he was napping. I sent him a huge bouquet of red and white carnations, his favorite flowers. I hope he was having a lucid day and was able to appreciate the gift. I couldn’t think of what else to send him. When we visit he is happiest looking at the television.
This was one of those days I knew would happen sooner or later, when all the demands of my new life reached critical mass. Larry King Live on one arm, Nathans on the other, with Spencer, the lawyers and everything else in between. An enormous balancing act – on one toe, on the high wire, above the abyss.
The morning began normally enough for July. Searing heat by 7:30 a.m. Too hot to run. Walked down to the bagel shop and Starbucks and back home. At 8:15 Wendy called. She wanted me to get on the Versace story (he had been shot the day before) and get a show together for tonight.
Great. I had been waiting for an opportunity like this: a big breaking story.
I showered and dressed in something swelter-proof and walked Spencer up the hill to camp. We held hands and he was particularly talkative. The patter is all about toys and friends and games they play and I love the sound of him.
As I walked back down the hill to Nathans I used my cell phone to call Valentino, Chanel, Donna Karan, reps for Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, PR people like Susan Magrino and Paul Wilmot, and the office. A bee stung me on the toe in between the bands of my sandal and it hurt like hell. I imagined it was some odd bug carrying a “hot zone” virus and that soon I would be in convulsions on the street. It’s amazing to me that with as much as I have going on I am able to find room in my brain for this kind of paranoia.
But I did not collapse. I kept walking and making calls.
Got to Nathans. Made my “good mornings” all around and jumped on the phone at my desk in the basement. Wendy called: “Carol, I think I’m just going to have them work on the show from here. I can’t have you there and my not being able to control what you’re doing. This is just too big. I have too much pressure on me. Tom Johnson was on the phone with me at 7 o’clock this morning and I have to deliver. I just can’t take the chance.”
“I hope you’ll understand,” she said. “You would feel the same way about your own shop. You have too much to do there. You can’t possibly give this the time it needs.”
I said, “Wendy, I understand and I’ll do what you want but I wish you would just give me a try. I can do it. I am going to work on nothing else. I’m here. That’s what matters at this end. Besides, this isn’t any different from any of the other shows I’ve worked on from out of the office.”
“But this is a big breaking story,” she said.
“I know. I know. But just give me a chance. Let’s see if I can do it. If it gets over my head I’ll be the first one to pull out. Why don’t we wait till lunchtime to see where I am? I have already put out so many calls.”
She said okay. I got on a conference call with the staff and we hashed around ideas. Very loopy ideas. Gianni Versace dressed Elizabeth Hurley, Courtney Love, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, Elton John and Jon Bon Jovi, and one of the producers suggested we go after Dina Merrill and Jane Seymour.
Maybe I’m just too picky.
I continued to pursue my targets and angles. Sometimes I had so many calls coming in that all three lines into Nathans were on hold with show calls. Deliverymen were coming into the office to deliver fish and beer and toilet paper, and I’m loudly haggling with model reps about Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.
“I know Naomi cannot stop crying, but that will be okay for us,” I pleaded into the phone while one of the delivery guys waited for his check. He gave me the strangest look, and I couldn’t blame him. An architect was there to look at the upstairs for me, standing at my desk, as was Douglas with the new reworked menu for me to look over. I actually had a line of men at my desk. But it was cool.
One minute I was vetting some menu items with Doug and the next I was getting rejected by Sylvester Stallone or Demi Moore or Jon Bon Jovi. A wine salesman showed up. I forgot I’d made a lunch appointment with him. He brought in some of his top wines for me to try, as a favor, because Nathans is not on his route.
Before I’d taken a few deep breaths it was noon and Wendy was getting nervous because the big designers, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, as well as a half dozen big stars, were beginning to look like wash outs. I sat with the wine salesman at a table in the bar. He brought a vintage Oregon pinot noir and two rare rose champagnes. Some of the staff gathered round and he offered to show them how to properly uncork a bottle of champagne.
When he got to the part about the importance of keeping a thumb on the cork so it won’t fly out, saying “that happens about one in one thousand times,” the cork shot out with a loud BANG. It careened from the ceiling to the floor and every man at the bar ducked. God, I laughed out loud. The salesman did, too, to his credit.
“You’ll have to give lessons more often,” I said.
Then one of the waitresses said I had a call from Paris. That got everyone’s attention. It was the Chanel rep saying Karl Lagerfeld would do the show. JACKPOT. I called Wendy immediately. She was so happy. “That’s huge!!!” she said. “Wow!!!”
I was relieved. I had actually pulled it off. There were never any guarantees. I needed this booking to stay in the game. I returned to the table and said to the salesman, “Well, I get to keep my job for another day.” He had no idea what I was talking about.
In the middle of booking Lagerfeld, Miriam Fisher called. She told me I have to pull together figures on my cash worth, and the stock value of Nathans. She went through a list of issues that will be coming up next week, such as the final tally on my total debt and a meeting she will be having with Deborah Martin at the IRS. “She’s very relaxed, so far,” she said. I hope that’s a good thing.
I told her about a friend’s suggestion that I should stash some money away for Spencer and me – just in case – and she said it was not a good idea. “In light of your debt and the circumstances the government would probably charge you with fraud,” she said. So much for that plan.
I didn’t tell her the suggestion came from a friend who’s a congressman.