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The Grand Surprise:
The Journals of Leo Lerman

Book Launch Party
Monday, May 7, 2007
The Osborne

Written by Wendy R. Williams
Photographed by Mary Blanco

The invitation read:


Gray Foy requests the pleasure of your company to celebrate
Knopf’s publication of
THE GRAND SURPRISE: THE JOURNALS OF LEO LERMAN
Edited by STEPHEN PASCAL
Monday 7 May
6 until 8 o’clock
Cocktails
The Osborne


Leo Lerman's Life Partner, The Artist Gray Foy

Well, I had definitely heard of The Osborne, the Dakota-like apartment house catty-corner to Carnegie Hall, but just who was Leo Lerman? According to Jonathan Marder of General Strategic Marketing (the source of my invitation) he was a "legendary party host, Condé Nast editor and friend to the stars of the entertainment world like Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Carson McCullers and Noel Coward."

Intrigued, I started my journey through The Journals. Leo Lerman was born in Spanish Harlem, the son of a painting contractor. Lerman was Jewish and gay at a time when being Jewish and gay was much more of a burden than it is today. He was a bon vivant, both a partygoer and a party giver. And in literary New York society, he was a star.



Stephen Pascal

Stephen Pascal met Leo Lerman in 1981 when Condé Publications hired him to be Lerman's assistant. Pascal knew that Lerman had an incredible story to tell and he tried to help him put it down on paper, at one time even starting an oral history. But when Lerman died in 1994 without completing his life story, Lerman's life partner (the artist Gray Foy) discovered that Leo had actually kept diary-like notebooks. Foy showed them to Pascal, who used these notebooks and other outside materials about Lerman's life to put together the book.

In the introduction to The Journals, Pascal writes:"What friends often remember most fondly about Leo is how he changed their lives by a casual introduction or an offhand suggestion." And later in the introduction: "Through decades of reporting on art and entertainment and, perhaps more importantly through years of counseling, introducing, and prodding talent, Leo Lerman helped steer American culture."

But The Journals are also gossipy, ribald and fun. Lerman was a man who liked to go out every night and his journals are filled with tasty morsels like Noel Coward on Mary Martin: "The only two grown-up things about her are her ego and her son." And Lerman himself on Truman Capote: "Yesterday morning, Truman told me so many dreadful things about everybody. It's wonderful how Truman acquires bits of information and then passes them off as his own." And you will have to buy The Journals to read what Lerman said about Yul Brynner; due to our (admittedly loose) editorial standards, I simply can't repeat it here.


Leo Lerman's Slippers

On the night of the party, New York Cool photographer Mary Blanco and I arrived early and were given a tour of the apartment by Mr. Foy's assistant, Joel Kaye, and Stephen Pascal. The apartment is utterly stunning. According to the "talk" circulating around the apartment, Mr. Foy had removed about seven hundred pieces of art (I simply cannot call them knick knacks), but the apartment was still full of the most amazing furnishings, art collections and books.

Lerman-Foy Apartment Hallway Leo Lerman's Bed

In the hall way between the apartment’s foyer (with its witty paintings of Mount Vesuvius erupting) and the bedroom wing, there is a wall full of art, including some of Gray Foy's pencil drawings. Mr. Foy’s drawings have been purchased by collectors like Steve Martin.

Stephen Pascal showed us Lerman's bedroom and told us the most amazing story. When Lerman died, he had left instructions that he was to be laid in wake in his bed for two days. And when New York society called to pay their respects, Gray Foy would bring each person into the bedroom and introduce them: "Label (his pet name for Leo), this is Beverly Sills."


Gray Foy's Bed

Pascal and Kaye also showed us Gray Foy's bedroom with its optical illusion bed. The bed looks like a child's bed but is actually full length; it requires a custom-made mattress.

It was certainly propitious that we arrived a little early because as soon as the party started, the apartment filled up with what appeared to be over two hundred people. Many were formally dressed because they were on their way to the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute Benefit Gala to celebrate Paul Poiret (Condé Nast was one of the sponsors of the Gala).

 
  Hannah Pakula and
Donald and Susan Newhouse
Steve Martin and Joel Kaye
(Gray Foy's Assistant)
 
  Robert Osborne and Marian Seldes Elizabeth Peabody

The Playwright John Guare

One of the guests was playwright John Guare (House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation). When asked how he knew Lerman and Foy, Guare said that he met them when he was working with some producers who lived in the Osborne back in 1967 when he was trying to get his first play, The House of Blue Leaves, produced. According to Guare, it took four years of pre-production work before he could get Leaves produced. "I just couldn't get it produced. It took forever," he said. Now John Guare is one of my all-time favorite playwrights and it is simply incomprehensible to me how the world did not immediately recognize his talent.

It was an amazing night, a trip to a living museum of art and literature.

For more information about Leo Lerman and "The Grand Surprise:The Journals of Leo Lerman," log onto the New York Times book review and the article in New York Magazine. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com.

 


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