Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Huntington Hartford: A Recollection

One of the hallmarks of an interesting life spent in big cities is that one runs into all kinds of people. Sometimes they are rich, or famous, or strange. Huntington Hartford, the A&P heir who died yesterday at age 97, was all three.

A party boy of my acquaintance brought me to Hartford's sprawling apartment at One Beekman Place many years ago. A butler answered the door, the first time I'd ever experienced that, and I was led into a low-lit living room ten times the size of my current apartment, filled with bibelots and Persian rugs.

There was a group of six or seven young women there, all with plenty of cleavage. Conversation was desultory, punctuated by occasional bursts of animation as cocaine, never my intoxicant of choice, was passed around. One girl had apparently just bought or been given a Cartier lighter, and she was fiddling with it distractedly, opening and closing its red leather box.

In the middle of it all sat "Hunt," as he'd introduced himself - pleasant, patrician, disheveled and entirely unfocused. This was apparently a lifelong trait, as he managed to squander a very large fortune by having lots of expensive ideas that he couldn't quite carry out. (I've since seen that happen with smaller fortunes and with no fortunes at all, but squandering aplenty.)

Though I thought of myself as worldly then - I'd concocted a distinctive vintage look that incorporated a pencil skirt, stilettos, anklets and a pillbox hat - I was far from it. I didn't really understand that men of means liked to collect pretty young girls, and that my function was to be part of the pack.

And though I was invited back, I never went. Except for being able to say I'd been there, as I'm doing now, it just wasn't that much fun.

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