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Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s

Lenny? Lenny himself has been in the living room all this time, talking to old friends like the Duchins and the Stantons and the Lanes. Lenny is wearing a black turtleneck, navy blazer, Black Watch plaid trousers and a necklace with a pendant hanging down to his sternum. His tailor comes here to the apartment to take the measurements and do the fittings. Lenny is a short, trim man, and yet he always seems tall. It is his head. He has a noble head, with a face that is at once sensitive and rugged, and a full stand of iron-gray hair, with sideburns, all set off nicely by the Chinese yellow of the room. His success radiates from his eyes and his smile with a charm that illustrates Lord Jersey’s adage that “contrary to what the Methodists tell us, money and success are good for the soul.” Lenny may be 51, but he is still the Wunderkind of American music. Everyone says so. He is not only one of the world’s outstanding conductors, but a more than competent composer and pianist as well. He is the man who more than any other has broken down the wall between elite music and popular tastes, with West Side Story and his children’s concerts on television. How natural that he should stand here in his own home radiating the charm and grace that make him an easy host for leaders of the oppressed. How ironic that the next hour should prove so shattering for this egregio maestro! How curious that the Negro by the piano should emerge tonight!

A bell rang, a dinner table bell, by the sound of it, the sort one summons the maid out of the kitchen with, and the party shifted from out of the hall and into the living room. Felicia led the way, Felicia and a small gray man, with gray hair, a gray face, a gray suit, and a pair of Groovy but gray sideburns. A little gray man, in short, who would be popping up at key moments . . . to keep the freight train of history on the track, as it were . . .

Felicia was down at the far end of the living room trying to coax everybody in.

“Lenny!” she said. “Tell the fringes to come on in!” Lenny was still in the back of the living room, near the hall. “Fringes!” said Lenny. “Come on in!”

In the living room most of the furniture, the couches, easy chairs, side tables, side chairs, and so on, had been pushed toward the walls, and 30 or 40 folding chairs were set up in the middle of the floor. It was a big, wide room with Chinese yellow walls and white moldings, sconces, pier-glass mirrors, a portrait of Felicia reclining on a summer chaise, and at the far end, where Felicia was standing, a pair of grand pianos. A pair of them; the two pianos were standing back to back, with the tops down and their bellies swooping out. On top of both pianos was a regular flotilla of family photographs in silver frames, the kind of pictures that stand straight up thanks to little velvet- or moiré-covered buttresses in the back, the kind that decorators in New York recommend to give a living room a homelike, lived-in touch. “The million-dollar chatchka look,” they call it. In a way it was perfect for Radical Chic. The nice part was that with Lenny it was instinctive; with Felicia, too. The whole place looked as if the inspiration had been to spend a couple of hundred thousand on the interior without looking pretentious, although that is no great sum for a 13-room co-op, of course . . . Imagine explaining all that to the Black Panthers. It was another delicious thought . . . The sofas, for example, were covered in the fashionable splashy prints on a white background covering deep downy cushions, in the Billy Baldwin or Margaret Owen tradition — without it looking like Billy or Margaret had been in there fussing about with teapoys and japanned chairs. Gemütlich . . . Old Vienna when grandpa was alive . . . That was the ticket . . .

Once Lenny got “the fringes” moving in, the room filled up rapidly. It was jammed, in fact. People were sitting on sofas and easy chairs along the sides, as well as on the folding chairs, and were standing in the back, where Lenny was. Otto Preminger was sitting on a sofa down by the pianos, where the speakers were going to stand. The Panther wives were sitting in the first two rows with their Yoruba headdresses on, along with Henry Mitchell and Julie Belafonte, Harry Belafonte’s wife. Julie is white, but they all greeted her warmly as “Sister.” Behind her was sitting Barbara Walters, hostess of the Today Show on television, wearing a checked pants suit with a great fluffy fur collar on the coat. Harold Taylor, the former “Boy President” of Sarah Lawrence, now 55 and silver-haired, but still youthful looking, came walking down toward the front and gave a hug and a big social kiss to Gail Lumet. Robert Bay settled down in the middle of the folding chairs. Jean vanden Heuvel stood in the back and sought to focus . . . f/16 . . . on the pianos . . . Charlotte Curtis stood beside the door, taking notes. And then Felicia stood up beside the pianos and said:

“I want to thank you all very, very much for coming. I’m very, very glad to see so many of you here.” Everything was fine. Her voice was rich as a woodwind. She introduced a man named Leon Quat, one of the lawyers for the “Panther 21,” 21 Black Panthers who had been arrested on a charge of conspiring to blow up five New York department stores, New Haven Railroad facilities, a police station and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.

Leon Quat, oddly enough, had the general look of those 52-year-old men who run a combination law office, real estate and insurance operation on the second floor of a two-story taxpayer out on Queens Boulevard. And yet that wasn’t the kind of man Leon Quat really was. He had the sideburns. Quite a pair. They didn’t come down just to the incisura intertragica, which is that little notch in the lower rim of the ear, and which so many tentative Swingers aim their sideburns toward. No, on top of this complete Queens Boulevard insurance agent look, he had real sideburns, to the bottom of the lobe, virtual muttonchops, which somehow have become the mark of the Movement. Leon Quat rose up smiling:

“We are very grateful to Mrs. Bernstein”—only he pronounced it “steen.”

“STEIN!”—a great smoke-cured voice booming out from the rear of the room! It’s Lenny! Leon Quat and the Black Panthers will have a chance to hear from Lenny. That much is sure. He is on the case. Leon Quat must be the only man in the room who does not know about Lenny and the Mental Jotto at 3 a.m. . . . For years, 20 at the least, Lenny has insisted on -stein not -steen, as if to say, I am not one of those 1921 Jews who try to tone down their Jewishness by watering their names down with a bad soft English pronunciation. Lenny has made such a point of -stein not -steen, in fact, that some people in this room think at once of the story of how someone approached Larry Rivers, the artist, and said, “What’s this I hear about you and Leonard Bernstein”—steen, he pronounced it — “not speaking to each other anymore?”—to which Rivers said, “STEIN!”

“We are very grateful . . . for her marvelous hospitality,” says Quat, apparently not wanting to try the name again right away. Then he beams toward the crowd:


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