January 09, 2016
Okay, sports fans, what do Dame Vivien Duffield and Evelyn Waugh have in common? The answer is absolutely nothing, but why start 2016 with a dumb question such as this one? Waugh was short and round and so is Vivien, but except for height and weight there are no similarities. So why ask? Easy. I was reading about a dinner party Waugh gave for Clare Luce in November of 1949 at the Hyde Park Hotel. He later wrote to Nancy Mitford complaining about how much money the dinner had cost him, and how Clare—in my not-so-humble opinion the greatest woman of the 20th century—had failed to write a thank-you note.
Waugh was a hell of a writer but a pretty piss-poor human being. He was petty, a closeted, tortured gay with seven children, and from what I read always down on his fellow man and on life in general. Pretty depressing stuff. Why give a dinner and then complain that it cost too much? I thought of Waugh because Vivien gave a dinner last week for more than a hundred, and surprisingly sat me on her right, and insisted I stay on her right even after I gave a speech that was close to the bone: “The reason Vivien is a dame has nothing to do with philanthropy but for the fact that 3,000 years ago she led the Jews out of Egypt and on to Gstaad…”
Mind you, unlike la Luce, I wrote a thank-you note. The mecca for the new rich and famous, as this village is often called, does turn into a horror show when it’s packed to the gills, especially when it snows only indoors—but as I write, the white stuff from heaven has been falling nonstop for three days and nights, which should make the commonplace interesting. By this I mean that Gstaad is a skiing resort where there are more après-skiers than skiers. When the good white stuff falls, the place turns interesting. Otherwise it’s like being in any fancy resort in Europe.
Although it sounds soppy, this has been a real family treat for me. Both my children and my two grandchildren are here, and the place is always buzzing. It took me a long time to “get it,” but family life can be as satisfying as chasing you-know-what until the early hours each night. Old is the operative word. It has its good points, and being surrounded by one’s family is one of them. An added bonus was the arrival of my NBF, Harvey Weinstein, the only producer making movies nowadays that are watchable, and many high-minded—in fact, the only one who relies on story line and talented actors rather than explosions and car chases. He previewed one of his latest, Hands of Stone, based on the life of the great Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, a very interesting choice for a film, given the fact that Duran is better known for saying “no mas,” no more, in his fight against Ray Leonard than the myriad of knockouts he inflicted on his opponents before that. Robert De Niro is perfectly cast as Ray Arcel, his trainer, and the volatile, hot-tempered, and very anti-American Duran is perfectly portrayed. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to like the flick.
This month, of course, will see the trial of a family that, again in my not-so-humble opinion, should have been put on trial a generation or two ago. The vast Wildenstein art empire is to face scrutiny by the French for tax evasion. When I was very young, a very surly, grumpy, and constantly complaining man seemed to be always at the next table at New York’s El Morocco, always accompanied by a woman, and forever asking the best maître d’ ever, Angelo, to remove me because of—I will let you, dear readers, guess why.
Needless to say, Angelo never did remove me, but made him move more often than not. Daniel Wildenstein croaked in 2001 and his son Guy is now facing the music. The Wildenstein family has often been accused of shoddy practices, but the art world is nothing but shoddy as far as I’m concerned, so cheating on taxes will not exactly ruin an already shady reputation as far as the family is concerned.