The letter begins: "My memories of Louise and the time we all spent together at Lincoln Center remain vivid, and I suspect they always will. I close my eyes and I m sitting in front of Louise's desk in her beautiful office with the Navajo White walls and all that brilliant light."
I wrote the letter yesterday to Ernest, Louise's recently widowed husband. Fifty years ago they weren't married yet. Louise was my boss, and we all worked at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It's hard for me to imagine a more thrilling place to be than Lincoln Center in New York in the 1960's.
"I'm so glad I had the opportunity to meet you both, to work with you, and to have had so much fun with you."
So much fun. Part of my job was being in charge of house seats for what was then Philharmonic Hall. It later became Avery Fisher Hall. I don't know what it's called now; to me it will always be Philharmonic Hall. My fingers still fly over the keys at top speed when I type it. Being in charge of the house seats made me a very popular person. This was especially evident at Christmas, when the gifts poured in--gifts from very nice people with very deep pockets.
My employers were generous too. My friendship with Lee, which I've written about here, started at Philharmonic Hall, and her boss managed the venue. I remember one birthday when he gave me a standing rib roast and one perfect garlic. The bunch of us talked about food all the time. Constantly. We shared recipes and cookbook recommendations. I learned to make Julia Child's Soup au Pistou from Lee's boss. Sometimes I ate lunch at my desk while I embroidered. This was referred to as "The Hearth Hour."
We read a lot of the same books. Addicted to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee mysteries, we posted a chart on the bulletin board to keep track of them all. And we lunched. Boy, did we lunch. The famous Madison Avenue lunches had nothing on our upper West Side lunches. Caracalla and the Cafe des Artistes were two of my favorite spots--the latter with the famous Howard Chandler Christy murals. I don't think either restaurant is still there. Much of the time I stayed in a luscious rut: Sole Meuniere at Cafe des Artistes and sweetbreads at Caracalla. I haven't eaten sweetbreads since. I have no idea what these lunches cost. My lack of attention to prices was so very different from my present frugal life in the country. Our food was usually accompanied by alcohol--martinis or scotch. I don't know how we got anything done in the afternoon.
Under my desk you might find my dog, Poppy, who became the official mascot of the Philharmonic's softball team. People could tell she was there when they heard her tail thump as they walked by. Imagine spending a "work" morning in Central Park in the sun with your dog, watching your friends and musicians from the New York Philharmonic play softball. Opposing teams included the Playboy Bunnies.
Music, of course, was everywhere: pianos in some of the offices, random musicians in the hall outside my open door, rehearsals and performances piped in from the stage if we wanted. So heady to have access to all the events in all the buildings. I attended the Metropolitan Opera and dropped in on rehearsals. We attended stage productions and film festivals. I remember being told one of those films, "French Lunch," was extremely sexy. Of course Lee and I showed up, leaving the office that afternoon and slipping into theater seats in the dark. The opening scene showed a large knife cleaving an orange. "Mm," we murmured, nodding, acknowledging the symbolism. The film turned out to be about a chef making lunch. In France.
We were surrounded by the talented and famous, on the stage and in our offices. I wrote in my 40-words-a-day blog about my amusing encounter with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Somewhere exists a photo of me with Leonard Bernstein. Performers abounded in other genres too. Like Peter, Paul & Mary, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Tony Bennett. In 1966 I received the "Annie Get Your Gun" soundtrack from Ethel Merman herself. And I once got a kiss on the cheek from Harry Belafonte, but that was because a cousin of mine is a good friend of his.
The events! The gowns. The buildings, the marble, the architecture. The elegance. The clouds of Jean Patou's "Joy" perfume competing with Chanel No. 5. Somewhere exists a photo of the audience at a stellar gala concert. If you scan the faces you'll see Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And Louise and Ernest. And me.
I left NYC around 1970, and sometime after that Louise and Ernest married and moved to his home in England. We stayed in touch.
"I'm happy we've remained friends even when a lot of time and distance have separated us."
I've searched for community over and over in my life, with varying degrees of success. I found it in spades at Lincoln Center. It was so hard to leave. When I heard that Louise had died, my first thought was to call Lee to tell her. But of course I couldn't. And of course she already knew.