There’s never been a party like it in New York. I know people who left town because they weren’t invited. I was shooting it for the London Daily Express. Truman half-invited me. Well, he didn’t invite me, but he didn’t stop me. What I did was walk in with Henry Ford. Who’s going to come over to him and say, “Is this man with you?” Truman would say, “You’re a very naughty boy, Harry.” This was the pinnacle of his career. He can bring all these people into this one room and get them to dress up. The only thing that was difficult was identifying who the hell was behind the mask. There’s Bill Paley! There’s Babe Paley! I remember somebody shouted “Oh, there’s Walter Batman!” as Walter Lippmann was going in the elevator. Oh, he was furious. Frank and Mia were dressed as cats. Sinatra was very angry behind his mask. He looked stupid. He had whiskers coming out of his nose. I remember Henry Ford taking his mask off and saying, “I’m not going to wear this fucking thing!” He was just a bad-tempered old man.
I was very pregnant. That was all I was thinking about. I wore a black velvet dress with a starched white collar and cuffs. My husband, Wyatt, adored Garbo’s costume in Queen Christina. It was based on that. Truman said he didn’t have any flowers because he thought the people were the flowers. Also, it was a way of saving money.
Truman said it was for Kay Graham, but really it was to celebrate In Cold Blood. Strangely enough, he took his mask off and never put it back on.
Actually, Truman copied the theme from a party that Lenny and Nick Dunne had in Beverly Hills. And then he didn’t even invite them! Which was very bad of him.
I don’t know if “stole” is the right word. My wife and I had a black-and-white ball at our house in 1964, which he came to. Truman was a great dancer, by the way. Oh, honey, he was one of those people that when the music started he was on the floor. It was elaborate dancing that people stopped and looked at. [For our black-and-white parties], we were both influenced by Cecil Beaton’s sets for the ascot scene in My Fair Lady. I think Cecil even went to Truman’s. We weren’t invited. I wasn’t sad I didn’t go.
All the Grand (and
Not So Grand) Rooms
We played the Grand Ballroom on New Year’s Eve. It used to have a wonderful sound system. Years later the pianos got so bad I had to have my people send one in. One night a table of maybe fourteen had a reservation. The captain asked if I’d ever heard their name. I said no. Apparently they came to see me specifically. They were dressed like Gypsies—and they actually were Gypsies. The captain was a little nervous that they wouldn’t pay the bill. They started ordering a lot of champagne. They had quite a lot of cash. There were children with them, but they stayed all night, till 3 A.M. I think they tipped the band handsomely. The next day I got a call from the captain. He said, “I just want you to know that your fans, the Gypsies, on their way out stopped off in the Persian Room and took all the musical instruments and anything else of any value whatsoever.”
The best interior was Trader Vic’s. I went there many times with wonderful, eligible debutantes who no doubt did not consider me eligible. I remember Fog Cutters, which was a drink. They had serving vessels in the shape of grass-skirted hula girls and ashtrays with monkeys tossing coconuts on them. The basement was dark and wonderful, and you had a sense of a counterpoint between the upstairs older folks, cigar-smoking admen and brokers, and the downstairs younger crowd who thought it was terribly swinging. Asian waitresses would glide past and ask you if you’d like more “po-po” or “cho-cho,” which were appetizers. We took a retired librarian there once. After three Fog Cutters—I suspect she had never had a Fog Cutter in her life—she suddenly looked really, really green. And then tossed everything right onto the table. And, I swear, faster than any of us could jump, there was a woman there with a huge bath towel, which she threw over the entire table and, like a magician, swept it all up! And then she brought out new drinks.
When the Green Tulip opened in the former Edwardian Room, it was a horrible, horrible mistake. Every now and then the hotel tried to reflect what was going on in the outside world. That room, because of its corner location, is a very visible spot, and they really tricked it up in the cheapest kind of seventies way. I mean, they served fondue! Folk singers roamed! The potted plants, they died all the time. The bright waiters’ uniforms were designed by somebody. In the end they copped to making a big mistake. They even sent out fake funeral notices when they closed it.
who designed the Green Tulip uniforms
I thought the Green Tulip was very fine, very good, very tasty. I was a defender of it. I’m afraid I was. It had nothing to do with other restaurants in New York. It was a trip somewhere, a bit of a fantasy. I attempted to make Green Tulip suits look modern and a little like the costumes in The Wizard of Oz. I’m talking about the people of Oz.
waiter at the Palm Court
When I started [in the seventies], it was a different Plaza. The Palm Court was mostly for Park Avenue ladies coming for lunch with big hats. We had a guest named Mr. Louis, a big businessman from the South who’d ask for a double Jack Daniels for breakfast. You won’t find those people no more today. Sometimes there was heavy stuff: One guy was in the Cosa Nostra. A madam used to come in with different girls. I think she was arrested. We used to call her Contessa. She left good tips.
I was crazy about the Palm Court. They used to have cottage-cheese-and-something salad that I ate every day. It was yummy and cheap. Many of those went down through three pregnancies.
The Parade of Stars
In April of 1980, we were in the lobby shooting They All Laughed with Audrey Hepburn when I heard that Alfred Hitchcock died. And the reason I was shooting there was mainly because of North by Northwest, which begins with Cary Grant walking into the Plaza. I made an announcement: We’re going to take a silent minute, stop everything, and think about Hitch. He’ll understand a minute’s all we can afford on a movie. I stayed in Suite 1001 with Dorothy Stratten. I was crazy in love with Dorothy. Doubleday on Fifth was open till midnight. We used to walk there. It was the happiest time in my life. She got killed two weeks after we wrapped.
Gene Simmons of Kiss
who’s stayed at the hotel more than 200 times
I would say my first time was around Christmas 1981, and it would have been for a liaison, which is a French word that means swinging from the chandeliers. I remember not leaving very much. During the day you saw this scenic postcard of snow-covered trees. It looked like a page out of a Vermont come-and-visit-us ad. And I enjoyed the service so much. It would be in the middle of the night and I would say, “Send up a few cans of whipped cream.” They’d say, “Well, we have fresh whipped cream,” and I’d say, “No, I want the cans.” I like it frothier—once you have the can, you can play sculpture. You take a beautiful girl and you sculpt. And then you eat. So they’d send somebody out to the 24-hour supermarket or whatever to bring it back. They really trained their staff right.
I’ve done quite a few things there for National Review. One year I decided to order chicken potpies. They nearly fainted! I had to go into the kitchen and teach them my recipe. It was much too down-home for them.
When I was working as security, Ronald Reagan came to stay. What I remember most is that it was the day that he and Nancy got a dog, because they brought the dog to the hotel.
The queen of Thailand always used to stay. I did a TV interview with her, and I walked in wearing a white-tie silk suit and hat. And she came out wearing a white-tie silk suit and hat. And we looked at each other in horror.