THE LEMMING REPORT — 18 -Privileges — part 2

I ended yesterday’s blog with mention of the artist, Toulouse Lautrec. Further mention was of chains of acquaintences and one of these was a relative of the artist. I first met Michel Tapie, the art critic, writer,collector at my New York gallery. He attended the exhibition of the Italian artist, Franco Assetto for whom he had writen a tribute. He was a delightful man, large in stature and to me he showed a marked resemblance to the French statesman Charles deGaul. Tapie was quite restrained in behaviour with lovely manners. However, if he got close to a piano he would let loose with surprising and marvelous “boogie woogie” music.

Several years had passed and I was living in Madeira, where I wrote a column on the arts for a Portuguese newspaper. My friends told me there were some “important visitors” whom I must meet. To my great surprise, the visitors were Tapie, Assetto and Franco’s American wife. We were all pleased to meet again and in my usual manner I entertained them at my home. This raised my status greatly in Funchal society.

Another welcoming gesture was my arriving in St Louis driving with a friend in his new car which had broken down. I had been given a name to call in St Louis if I had time in passing through. I am grateful to the friend, a museum director, to Chevrolet for a bum auto and to Morton D. “Buster” May who made us so welcome. May headed the chain of department stores (The May Co.). Told of our plight he suggested a very good inexpensive hotel and invited us to breakfast at his estate the next morning. Connections in the art world are always eager to meet with and show their collections to strangers thinking of them as kindred. The car needed a part which had to be ordered so there was lots of time to spend in St Louis.

The morning of the visit. We were welcomed and taken to a small sitting room and asked to wait for a few minutes. Above the sofa in this room was a Rembrandt portrait. Mr May came to greet us and lead us to a dining room and breakfast. We discussed art and artists. After dining he took us to show his collection of German Expressionist paintings. These were the pride of his collections and in a sense he was at that period rather a maverick in the art world as this art had not been re-valued and admired as it is at present. He had even given shelter before the war to one of the painters who had left Europe fleeing the Nazis. The artist and he had become great friends. He mentioned that he also dabbled with paint and had put a brush to his friend’s work, a picture he had purchased and showed with double pride. The visit was an unexpected and remarkable experience to have shared. I almost forget; I enquired about the Rembrandt, which he brushed off telling me, “Something my father had bought”.

The May Company was connected to the Kaufman department stores (all middle western). My Six Degrees is having known Edgar Kaufman Jr. He had insisted his father commission Frank Lloyd Wright for the Falling Water House, later given to the State of Pennsylvania by Edgar in perpetuity. In London I had met the married architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry and it was at luncheon with them that Edgar Kaufman was also a guest. We did not need an introduction. The Fry’s were impressed as to them I was an oddball American who supported himself through cookery. For two of Maxwell Fry’s birthday celebrations at their country house, I had cooked and brought masses of food from London and stayed to barbecue, serve and cater during a few days of festivity. I was a house guest as well. For one party I had used Justin deBlank’s bakery ovens to roast two huge turkeys and two very large lamb joints. When I called for them and the meats were passed to me through a basement window, it looked as if Burke and Hare were active again. I was then part of deBlank’s, “cottage industry” of suppliers. For him my expertise comprised frozen foods and my speciality ice creams and sorbets. One of the regular customers of the deBlank emporium was the writer George Axelrod. I did not renew my acquaintance with my former neighbour. We lived eons before in a Manhattan town house divided into flats. Axelrod riding high on the success of his play, “The Seven Year Itch” occupied the main duplex apartment and I at the start of my career in troglodyte living was in the first of my basement homes. Axelrod liked to pretend that I was the house porter and directed his deliveries to my door. The most irritating was a weekly delivery of a case of bottled CocaCola given him because some of the sticky liquid was consumed in the performance of his play. It kept blocking my doorway. We were never destined to become friends, so when he and I happened to be in the deBlank shop at the same time I ignored his presence and I doubt he noticed me.

It goes on these connections and the longer I survive, the more coincidences, if I can call them that continue. Or maybe we are truly all acquainted.

More to follow.

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