Authors: New York Magazine
remember that the first exhibition I was part of was by Chuck Close, and that he sat in my office during the opening listening to the World Series. That was at Klaus Kertess's gallery, the Bykert Gallery. Lynda Benglis, who was my teacher at Hunter College, said, “Oh, if you need a job, my boyfriend owns a gallery.” Because I thought I was going to come here and work
at a museum, but I did that, and it really seemed so lifeless.
Klaus closed the gallery after ten years because it was getting to be too successful! He said it was too much of a business. It's so different now. In the early days I remember Brice Marden had seven one-person shows and never sold a painting. Even when I showed Julian Schnabel, it took me two years to sell the first painting.
Julian was the first artist to leave my gallery, and I was heartbroken. It was like the spring of 1984, and I was sitting in my office, crying. In his explanation at the timeâyou know, it's like anything, probably things change with the telling every time. But in those days, what he said was that he wanted to be separated. He said, “How many artists do you have in the Carnegie International?” And it was basically the whole gallery. And he said, “Well, if I go to Pace, I'm the only artist from that gallery in the Carnegie.” He wanted a kind of separateness from me, but also from his generation. He wanted to be seen as an individual. We're still good friends; I think he's a fantastic filmmaker. I also have a different perception of this, because I think that life is about shared experi
ences, and if you have an experience with an artist, you never lose that. It's like if you're married and you have a child with somebody, you're never, ever really separated. And the child is the art. So anyway, I was sitting in my office crying, and Jean-Michel Basquiat comes in. And he was so sweet! He was so upset I was sitting there crying. He put his arms around me, and he said, “Mary, don't worry. I'm gonna be much more famous than Julian.” And then he walked out, and he came back in with a huge watermelon, which he plunked on my desk, and we ate.
was twenty-two years old and had just gotten married to Prince Egon von Furstenberg. I was pregnant and carrying a big suitcase of stencils I was hoping to sell in America. I decided that instead of flying, I wanted to come very slowly in order to think about my future. So I took a boat. I arrived in October, so it was New York at its bestâthat beautiful blue crisp. Com
ing from Europe, I had expected the city would look modern, and actually, it didn't. I was a young princess, so I lived on Park Avenue and had some small children and blah blah blah. But we were a young couple, and fairly good looking with a nice title, so we were invited everywhere. We would see Andy Warhol, Halston, Diana Vreeland, Giorgio Sant'Angelo, and, of course, lots of Europeans. It was a movable feast: Gino's and Elaine's and La Grenouille. And I threw many dinner parties. What I remember clearly is that you could go to the supermarket and for $50 you could buy pasta, salad, and a big ham.
first came to New York on Halloween night. I was four years old and flew on Air India's unaccompanied-minor program. I remember landing, and seeing all the big buildings, and being superexcited about this new adventure, and also, of course, being reunited with my mother. She was waiting there to pick me up.
There weren't that many Indian groceries in Man
hattan back then, so my mother would take me on little field trips: to Jackson Heights for Indian spices, to Chinatown for noodles and Asian vegetables, to Spanish Harlem to eat empanadas or find sugarcane and tamarind. She wanted to introduce my young palate to all types of flavors and cuisines and ingredients. She didn't want me to be left out at school, and she wanted me to be able to eat everywhere.
My mother worked at Sloan-Kettering, and we lived in subsidized housing on the Upper East Side. I remember roller-skating down from Eighty-first Street and meeting her for lunch in the summers. We'd eat falafel from a pushcart on First Avenue. Looking back, I'm amazed how much we ate street food. My perfect meal would be a pretzel with mustard and then an Italian ice. I was a vegetarian for a lot of my childhood, so I would order a hot dog but tell the vendor to leave the hot dog outâjust the bun and the fixings, like sauerkraut and mustard and relish. Slowly I started eating hot dogs.
'd been living in California for the better part of five years, and what I remember most about the transition to 30 Rock is that I didn't have the required clothes. You know, when I was writing for
, we worked in a motel and wore Hawaiian shirts and pants that flared. I remember going to Saks Fifth Avenue and buying an oxblood-colored V-neck sweater,
and then buying a green corduroy jacket on Madison Avenue. I could wear the jacket with jeans, which then was a relatively fresh style. I was twenty-nine turning thirty, and I felt invincible.
There wasn't much television being done in New Yorkâand the shows that were still here were soaps. The crew who knew how to put on a live show were still around, but they hadn't done it since the industry had moved to California. To do
Saturday Night Live
, it was like we were putting new wine in old television shows.
But when I walked into the lobby of Rockefeller Center the first time, I thought, Well, this show is absolutely going to work. There's something about walking into 30 Rock that puts audiences in a good mood. There was so much available space at the time, it was like there were deer running through the hall. And most of us who worked on the show didn't mind spending so much time in the officeâ30 Rock was nicer than our apartments. It felt as if we were on an adventure, tapping into an older tradition.
I met a lot of people right away, and each would show me a different part of the city. Michael O'Donoghue and Anne Beatts wanted me for drinks at the Oyster Bar. Herb Sargent, who came on board to do Week
end Update, took me to Elaine's. Candice Bergen and I went to the Russian Tea Room. But the first and deepest friendship I made that summer was with Paul Simon. We would go to this restaurant called Chin-Ya in the Woodward Hotel, and I would bounce ideas off him as I started to put the show together in my mind.
t was the summer of 1977, and I was terrified of the city. Son of Sam was going around murdering couples, the city blacked out for twenty-four hours, the transit strike stopped all the buses, and all of a sudden women who used to wear little pumps to work now started wearing sneakers. I don't remember leaving
the apartment much. I was just like, “Oh my God, here I am in the city!”
There were a ton of deserted old buildings in New York, and it was just a matter of finding one that someone would let you move into, and that you could turn into something habitable. The first place I lived in was a sublet from an artist friend on Gold and Fulton streets. It was just one room with a toilet down the hall and a shower that hooked up to the sink in the room. There was some printing company on my floor, and I'd be sharing the toilet with these old-time guys who'd been working there for forty years. My kitchen was just a fridge, two hot plates, and a toaster oven. I think we were all there illegally, because sometimes people would make really elaborate systems of hiding the bed and the kitchen.
By five o'clock the neighborhood would be deserted, but Robert Longo, Nancy Dwyer, Michael Zwack, Eric Bogosian, and I would go to clubs like the Mudd Club and Tier 3, where punk new-wave bands would play. The scene then was all about artists who were also musicians who were also filmmakers. Sometimes it was about finding a band that was just good to dance to. I remember being at the Mudd Club when
the B-52s played, and there were only ten of us in the audience, dancing right in front of the stage. Then we'd head to the twenty-four-hour diner on Broadway and Canal Street called Dave's and get egg creams.
The first New York job I got was at Macy's, and I hated it so much I quit after one day. I wanted to work in the cosmetics departmentâI was interested in makeupâbut their personnel screening placed me as the assistant-assistant-assistant buyer to the bathrobe department. It was just so horrible, in some windowless part of the building. After Macy's I worked in the afternoons as a receptionist at a gallery called Artist Space on Franklin and Hudson for $80 a week. Nancy worked at Barnes & Noble. We all wanted to make art, but I don't think any of us expected to live off our work. We mostly showed at alternative galleries where nobody bought anything, and we didn't expect otherwise. If you did sell something, it was such a treat, such a shock, that somebody would buy it.
When I was a teenager in Long Island, I'd come into the city once in a while with some girlfriends, and all we would do is go to Macy's and try on clothes. And when I was in college I would dress up in public and be in character (like, say, a pregnant woman) at an open
ing or a party. I tried that in New York a couple of times at my receptionist job. Once I went to work as a nurse. And another time as a secretary from the 1950s. I sort of fit in because I was sitting in front of the desk, and I'd be like, “What would you like? What do you need?” But it gave me the creeps to do it in New York, I think because I felt too vulnerable.
decided to move our headquarters from San Francisco, we settled on 745 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of the Plaza, with a wraparound terrace overlooking Central Park. If you're going to move across the country, why not move to the heart of the city?
We were the first new thing to move into New York in years. Everyone was fleeing. Corporate headquarters were moving to Connecticut and Westchester. So we had a big party at the MoMA sculpture garden, and Mayor Beame gave us the key to the city. President Ford came by because his son Jack was working for us. Jackie Onassis couldn't have been more gracious. She'd have dinner parties at her house, and invite people she wanted to introduce us to. Literary types like Pete Hamill and Mike Nichols I remember distinctly.
The people we knew were on the East Side. Jane and I sublet and then bought a fantastic duplex on Sixty-sixth Street and Lexington that belonged to Piedie Gimbel, who I met through Dick Goodwin. I had a regular table at the cafÃ© bar at the Sherry-Netherland, where I ate lunch almost every day. The city was smaller then, and we all felt part of this generational renewal of spirit.
Saturday Night Live
was just getting started, and we all hung out together, operating almost in tandem. Norman Mailer had moved back to New York. We had Andy Warhol do a big portrait of Bella Abzug for the cover of our “Wel
come to New York” issue, and a few months later got Tom Wolfe starting to imagine
Bonfire of the Vanities
. It was an era of parties, and a great time for drugs and alcohol. Elaine's was thriving. We felt more than welcomed. New York loves ambitious peopleâeats them up.
hen you first approach New York City by car from the north, the signs directing you to the actual island of Manhattan are small and easy to miss. I was twenty-nine and driving down from Ottawa, and I did almost exactly what Sherman McCoy did. I took a wrong turn and wound up in the Bronx. I stopped at
a McDonald's and got directions and somehow managed to get safely into the city.
I had seen an ad in the
New York Times
for the Prince George Hotel on Twenty-eighth Street. It was slightly raffishâI mean there were police in the lobby most nightsâbut you could see the place once had great bones. My room had a bed, a dresser, and an old television set with rabbit ears. And no phone. It had a student rate of $22 a night. The trouble was, I couldn't go to work in a suit and tie and still get the student rate, so I had to dress like a student in the morning, go downstairs to settle the bill for the previous night in cash, and take my suit with me to work.
I had landed a job as a writer in the business section at
magazine, which in those days was considered one of the plum places in journalism. On my first day, I got in Monday morning at 8:00 am sharp. Unfortunately, nobody told me that the writers and editors, having put in late hours on Thursday and Friday, didn't show up Mondays until noon. So I had about four hours to cool my heels. I bought some papers and went down to the wonderful old coffee shop in the bowels of the Time & Life Building, that had a long, snaky counter and waitresses with those
little Dutch hats and white aprons. I hit it off with one of the luncheonette waitresses, who was older, and clearly took pity on me, and always tried to get me a stool in her working area.
When I returned, I was taken around the writers' offices and was introduced to, among others, Walter Isaacson and Jim Kelly. Libby Waite who was the secretary for Assistant Managing Editor Ed Jamieson, thought Jim, who had started a week earlier, and I should get to know each other. And so the next week we went off to the East River Savings Bank in Rockefeller Center, where we opened bank accounts and then across the street to have lunch at Charley O's. Libby had a good eye. Jim and I have been friends since, and were best men at each other's wedding.
Writers in those days typed on huge Underwood upright typewriters with five sheets of carbon paper separating the canary yellow copy paper. When stories were done we separated each of the copies and sent them by pneumatic tube to the editors who needed to see them. The work was put into the system and in a few hours, a formal manuscript came back with the disheartening stamp “writer's version.”
As writers we were encouraged not to do any actual
reportingâthat was done by correspondents. While they were out in all corners of the globe reporting and filing early in the week, we slipped off for lunches at Chez NapolÃ©on or Tout Va Bien, two gloriously quaint French restaurants in the West Fifties that are still in business. It would be the rare lunch when two of us wouldn't polish off at least a bottle of wine. Everybody smoked: in offices, in hallways, in elevators.
In the evening, when I was waiting for my story to come back from the editor or fact-checking, I'd use the long distance phone line to call home, and then go down to the morgue, and sift through the files.
maintained clipping files on everything and everybody. Presidents and ex-presidents got their own individual rooms. Every newspaper or magazine story had been carefully cut out, stamped, and clipped together. I remember finding the business card for Fred Waldo Demara Jr., the great imposter, in his file. And I came across a 1935 letter CondÃ© Nast had written to Henry Luce informing him that he was folding
Talent was thick on the ground at
in those days, and I never felt very confident. I wasn't particu
larly good or useful, and I was terrified of losing my job, because if I got canned, I'd lose my work visa and I'd have to leave the country. I didn't want to crawl back to Canada in defeat. I tried very hard to blend inâwith mixed results. One day I was wearing a blazer with a crest from my parents' yacht club that had a little letter
on it. Somebody in a meeting asked if I worked at the Copa at night. I went home and took a razor blade and sliced the crest off.
I didn't have a ton of friends, so on weekends I got the
AIA Guide to Architecture
and would just walk the streets to see what the city looked like up close. I discovered that it's not this huge mass of stone and commerce you imagine from afar; it's an exquisite mosaic of neighborhoods and people and families and schools. Because it was the area north of the Prince George, I had, and still have, a great appreciation for Murray Hill. I think it's the most unchanged part of New York. It's never really been discovered in the Dumbo or Williamsburg sense, but it has never been forgotten either. And in those days it was filled with stewardesses.