Sydney Lumet was an oxymoron. A socialite who loved to portray the gritty side of New York City.
Lumet was a permanent fixture at Elaine's Restaurant, known for its celebrities, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He also enjoyed ordering caviar and champagne which he did for me at the Beverly Hills Hotel prior to taking me to dinner in Hollywood. A director of fifty films, he had just completed The Wiz and had invited me to dinner with Ned Tannen, Joel Schmacker, Diana Ross and Ned Tannen. Lumet was most comfortable and effective as a director of serious psychomelodramas and was vulnerable when attempting light entertainment.
Despite being the director of Serpico, Dog Day in the Afternoon, Prince of the City, Lumet loved being surrounded by glamor. He married Rita Gam, Gloria Vanderbilt and Gail Jones, Lena Horne's daughter, then Mary Gimbel. Yet Lumet was drawn to and inspired artistically by the diversity of New York City, its many ethnic neighborhoods, its art and its crime, its sophistication and its corruption, its beauty and its ugliness.
Sydney and I met at Pearl's Restaurant in Manhattan. My ex-husband, Ron Mallory, and I had been invited by Warren Beatty. Warren, who had met us at a cocktail party moments before, had asked us if we would be his guests at a dinner Sydney was giving for him. Warren's date was the legendary beauty Julie Christie.
Sydney, Gail and Warren had been admirers of my ex-husband's art work. Ron Mallory whose work was in the Modern and the Guggenheim was known for kinetic mercury sculptures that moved ever so slowly depending on the temperature. Mercury, jet engine oil and air were contained in a plastic casing. When the piece was swiveled upside down and mercury hit an air pocket, it had a kind of visual orgasm.
Sydney had met Ron at one of Ron's shows at the Stable gallery, but I remember originally meeting Sydney with Warren Beatty. "I'd like you to star in a project I'm working on," Sydney, who was known as being an actor's director, said to Warren who did not react. Warren was used to directors courting him. This was the time of Mc Cabe and Mrs. Miller and Warren was hot.
"Tell me about the project?" Warren said.
"This is not the place, but I'd like to meet with you about it."
"I understand," Warren replied as he caressed Julie Christie's forearm.
"You were terrific in Mc Cabe and Mrs. Miller. What was Altman like to work with?"
"He's easy. Thorough. But I would prefer more follow through on the publicity."
"I get behind my films, Warren."
"Do you want to stop by Johnny Carson's after dinner?" Warren asked Sydney.
"Thanks, but I have to read a script." Sydney said.
Over the years my ex-husband and I would go to cocktail parties at the Lumet's Upper East Side residence. These were lavish affairs with waiters and fine wines and a stellar guest list of celebrities.
Prior to the dinner party with Ned Tannen, Sydney and I met again in Hollywood at the party for Network. Once more a stellar list of celebrities, Robert De Niro, Ryan O'Neal, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Paddy Chayefsky. Sydney basked in the attention he garnered at these gatherings and was a gracious host.
Lastly each New Year's Eve I would run into Gail and Sydney at the Manhattan apartment of Leslie and David Newman who wrote the Superman movies. Again these parties were glamorous.
When I read Sydney's obituaries, I was moved by his quotation, "You know I never did a film because I was hungry. Every picture I did because I wanted to."
In 2005 the Academy of Motion Pictures honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award while its president, Frank Pierson, said, "Sydney Lumet is one of the most important directors in the history of American Cinema." Sydney's inspiration was there for us all.
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