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Authors: Stephen; Birmingham

Shades of Fortune

BOOK: Shades of Fortune
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF STEPHEN BIRMINGHAM

The Auerbach Will

A New York Times Bestseller

“Has the magic word ‘bestseller' written all over it … Birmingham's narrative drive never falters and his characters are utterly convincing.” —John Barkham Reviews

“Delicious secrets—scandals, blackmail, affairs, adultery … the gossipy Uptown/Downtown milieu Birmingham knows so well.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“An engrossing family saga.” —
USA Today

“Colorful, riveting, bubbling like champagne.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Poignant and engrossing … Has all the ingredients for a bestseller.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Rest of Us

A New York Times Bestseller

“Breezy and entertaining, full of gossip and spice!” —
The Washington Post

“Rich anecdotal and dramatic material … Prime social-vaudeville entertainment.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Wonderful stories … All are interesting and many are truly inspirational.” —
The Dallas Morning News

“Entertaining from first page to last … Those who read it will be better for the experience.” —
Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Birmingham writes with a deft pen and insightful researcher's eye.” —
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Mixing facts, gossip, and insight … The narrative is engaging.” —
Library Journal

“Immensely readable … Told with a narrative flair certain to win many readers.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Right People

A New York Times Bestseller

“Platinum mounted … The mind boggles.” —
San Francisco Examiner

“To those who say society is dead, Stephen Birmingham offers evidence that it is alive and well.” —
Newsweek

“The games some people play … manners among the moneyed WASPs of America … The best book of its kind.” —
Look

“The beautiful people of
le beau monde
… Mrs. Adolf Spreckels with her twenty-five bathrooms … Dorothy Spreckels Munn's chinchilla bedspread … the ‘St. Grottlesex Set' of the New England prep schools, sockless in blazers … the clubs … the social sports … love and marriage—which seem to be the only aspect which might get grubbier. It's all entertaining.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“It glitters and sparkles.… You'll love
The Right People
.” —
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A ‘fun' book about America's snobocracy … Rich in curiosa … More entertaining than
Our Crowd
… Stephen Birmingham has done a masterly job.” —
Saturday Review

“Take a look at some of his topics: the right prep schools, the coming out party, the social rankings of the various colleges, the Junior League, the ultra-exclusive clubs, the places to live, the places to play, why the rich marry the rich, how they raise their children.… This is an ‘inside' book.” —
The Washington Star

“All the creamy people … The taboo delight of a hidden American aristocracy with all its camouflages stripped away.” —Tom Wolfe,
Chicago Sun-Times

The Wrong Kind of Money

“Fast and wonderful. Something for everyone.” —
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Dark doings in Manhattan castles, done with juicy excess. A titillating novel that reads like a dream. Stunning.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Birmingham … certainly keeps the pages turning. Fans will feel at home.” —
The Baltimore Sun

Shades of Fortune

A Novel

Stephen Birmingham

Part One

A FAMILY ALBUM

1

“If you want to make a good impression on people,” my father used to say, “be a listener, not a talker. It's known as drawing people out, and it's not hard to do. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, and when they find someone who'll listen to them, they're happy as clams at high tide. They'll like you right away.”

Most people pay little attention to parental advice, but this one small piece stuck with me. And after a lifetime of listening to people talk, and making notes of some of it, I have developed a habit, which has become something of a private hobby, and that is imagining what people are talking about when I could not possibly be around to hear their conversations. That was what I began doing when I saw that extraordinary-looking young couple step out of a taxi in front of Mimi Myerson's building at 1107 Fifth Avenue that late-August evening in 1987, while I sat on a bench on the park side of the avenue filling out, in a desultory sort of way, the squares of the crossword puzzle in that afternoon's
Post
.

Though I had not yet met this couple, I knew immediately who they were, and knew they were also going to Mimi's dinner party.

I envisioned the girl entering the gilt-and-walnut elevator cab and immediately addressing the mirrored panel at the cab's rear, intently scrutinizing her face, applying the business end of a rat-tail comb to a wayward wisp of dark hair, and saying to her companion, “What's she like, I wonder. I hear she's a real bitch.”

The young man, who appeared more poised and certainly more worldly-wise, says, “Didn't you have an
interview?
I had an
interview
.”

“I was chosen from my composite,” the girl replies, still studying her image in the glass. “Out of a hundred finalists. Do I have too much eye makeup on? Tell me the truth.”

“Rule number one,” the young man says, “is that if you have to ask
whether
you have too much eye makeup on, you
do
.”

“You're the one who's the bitch,” the girl says.

Their names were Sherrill Shearson and Dirk Gordon, known by certain of his friends as “Flash” Gordon. His name was real, while hers was the invention of the Ford Modeling Agency. Sherrill Shearson was born Irene Godowsky. That much I knew about them, and I could imagine Buddy, the elevator man, whom I'd already gotten to know quite well, listening impassively to this exchange while pretending not to, as he guided his passengers upward to Mimi's apartment entrance on the fourteenth floor.

Eleven-oh-seven is one of the few buildings left in New York City where the two elevators are still manned by a pair of uniformed operators who wear gold epaulets and white gloves. It is a building whose entrance lobby is secured not only by a doorman but also by a concierge who sits all day long at a desk inside the entrance, behind a sign that reads,
ALL VISITORS TO 1107 FIFTH AVENUE MUST BE ANNOUNCED
. It is a grand old building, put up in the twenties when cost was no object, and its splendid old Otises rise slowly, majestically, almost noiselessly. It is the kind of building that, as Mimi Myerson herself has said humorously, “If you live here, you become instant old money.” No one was surprised, a while back, when Ralph Lauren bought the duplex just two floors below Mimi's. The people who live here, many of them, are the kind of people who the people in Ralph Lauren's ads pretend to be. If you had seen Sherrill Shearson and Dirk Gordon entering Mimi's building that evening, being announced, and being ushered to the north elevator, you might have imagined them stepping out of a Ralph Lauren ad, but with a difference. Their faces were less jaded, fresher, younger.

The reason I happened to be sitting on a park bench across the street, working the
Post
's crossword, was that I was early for Mimi's dinner. Traffic up from the Village had been lighter than I'd anticipated. At the time, I didn't know Mimi as well as I later got to know her—hadn't fallen in love with her as, in an odd way, I later did. But I did know her reputation as a fastidious hostess, a perfectionist in every detail of entertaining, and I knew that at the last minute before any party there were always small, last-minute details to attend to—an anthurium with a browning pistil to be plucked out of a centerpiece, for instance. I also happened to know that it wouldn't matter if Dirk Gordon and Sherrill Shearson were a full ten minutes early. For they were, essentially, no more than a part of Mimi's decor, not much more important than one of her flower arrangements.

But that's not quite fair. From a business standpoint, they were important to her, though their importance was not of the sort that they appeared to attach to themselves. Watching their entrance into the building, one might have supposed that these two were principals in some sort of currently unfolding national, or even international, drama. For one thing, there was a certain studied exquisiteness about this pair, an insouciance—he in that impeccably fitted dinner jacket, she in a lipstick-red Scaasi, which, knowing who she was and where she came from, I suspected had been borrowed from a more affluent roommate. Then there was that moment when, after alighting from the taxi, they both paused almost haughtily beneath the building's marquee, looking first up the avenue, then down, as though they expected flashbulbs to start popping and videotapes to start rolling and were giving the cameramen time to adjust their shutters and set their lights. “Where is
Women's Wear?
” they seemed to be demanding. “Where are the people from NBC's
Nightly News?
” Of course there were no cameras. And yet in just a few weeks' time—or at least this was Mimi's plan—these two were to become the focus of just that sort of national attention. Fame and recognition were part of Mimi's plan for them, and I knew that Mimi Myerson was a woman who always had a plan.

The plan was to make Sherrill Shearson's face as famous as Brooke Shields's and Dirk Gordon's as recognizable as Robert Redford's as, in the next few weeks, they began seductively addressing Americans from their television screens and the glossy pages of the fashion magazines as the Mireille Woman and the Mireille Man.

BOOK: Shades of Fortune
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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