THE BLOG

Visiting the Richest (In Talent) Part of The Nutmeg State...How Eccentricities Survive...Philanthropy -- Its Own Reward?

10/17/2013 01:56 pm ET | Updated Dec 17, 2013

"If Michelangelo had been a heterosexual, the Sistine Chapel would have been painted basic white and with a roller," says Rita Mae Brown.

Writer Brown is still making perspicacious comments on art, like the above, and still riding to the hounds in the Virginia countryside she loves.

Here is just a fragment of a photo she sent me of one of her beloved hounds saying goodbye.

I spent a large part of the Columbus Day holiday with my Texas pal, Joe Armstrong, a master of media in the past. He quit publishing to become a total functioning philanthropist serving children of the Paul Newman charities.

Joe and I were guests of HBO's most beautiful legend and icon, the talented documentary maker, Sheila Nevins and her husband of 40 years, former Wall Streeter Sidney Koch.

They own a 20-room plus sprawling mansion in a posh, but still bucolic area of Northwest Connecticut, bordered by Litchfield and Washington. (Their mostly invisible, but important neighbors include Joan Rivers, Oscar and Annette de la Renta, the Kissingers, Travel & Leisure's editor Nancy Novogrod and husband John, award-winning actress Christine Baranski, AIDS fighter Larry Kramer, literary agent Helen Brann, former

Tavern on the Green owner Faith Stewart Gordon, TV's Doug Cramer and playwright Hugh Bush, philanthropist Anne Bass, Graydon and Anna Carter of Vanity Fair -- and like that!) Oh yes, Helen will sign her book "Silent Night - A Spenser Holiday Mystery" on October 26th at 2 p.m. at The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington, Ct.

The Sheila-Sid showplace has been fitted out with everything! Magnificent paintings which Sheila says mostly benefit local artists...antiques and fabulous fakes..oddities...lamps...gee-gaws....fabrics...hundreds of fully framed turn-of-the-century females whom Sheila insists were her "ancestors"...fabulous antique books which Sheila sardonically claims she buys "by weight." In my bedroom alone stood two statues carved out of wood from Grant Wood's "American Gothic" famous painting (the farmer with pitchfork and his wife)...and Bogie, the alive little white dog who stands in for "Ya know how to whistle don'tcha?"

SHEILA AND SID claim they want to sell this magnificent property with its extra building for caretakers, its flowing waterfall that can be turned on and off for the heated pool, expansive lawns, a view of a lake through the trees, concrete horse troughs...and even two kitchens--one a full wok workplace--though neither of the owners cook.

I began to feel I'd been there before when they took us to lunch at the Litchfield West Street Grill where the owners Charles Kafferman and James O'Shea fussed over us and we ran into local radio hotshot William O'Shaunnessy. One usually sees him only in Le Cirque. I also saw former Timesman James Greenfield and his wife Ena eating out on the sidewalk in balmy weather. (Jimmy reminded me that he hadn't known me, when I was only a knee-high trainee for Mike Wallace at CBS Radio, "but only later when you became a big deal!" Oh, yeah! )

Here we had our photo snapped by San Francisco's famous lensman Fred Lyon, who is off to Paris to widen his horizon.

Then when we hit a local somewhat old-fashioned little movie theater named the Bantam, which is across from a Bar-B-Q place, I remembered many visits when my handsome ad-man Peter Rogers lived in these parts, before he escaped to New Orleans.

Sheila's husband Sid, owns the Bantam Theater and maintains it as a hobby, gleaning local advertising to keep it open. (Otherwise, I guess people in this part of chic Connecticut would have to go all the way to Hartford to see a film in an actual movie house.)

Here, we were treated to a preview of Sheila's coming next spring HBO documentary dedicated to the memory of Texas Governor Ann Richards. (As Joe and I both appear in this documentary, we preened. Chiefly because we were hanging around with the likes of Bill Clinton, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Diane Sawyer. )

The next night, after we came down to earth, we ate popcorn just like old times while we watched James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the delightful and touching romance "Enough Said." (DON'T DARE MISS THIS FILM! IT IS GREAT.)

I refrained from visiting the Bantam's neighboring café, where a rave for the barbecue and Mexican food is hung on the wall under my byline.

Sheila and Sid insist they want to sell their masterpiece real estate and its vast collections for a simpler life. But conversation, argument, political niceties, and gossip make the walls reverberate with history. The ghosts of the late Geraldine Stutz, Bill Blass, and, the still-very-much-alive Mike Nichols, who all used to live in this part of chic N.W. Connecticut, continue to reverberate. (Sheila's poolhouse is not decorated in modern bath towel style, but more like an ante room of Catherine the Great at the Hermitage!)

I think if someone came to buy this magnificent showplace, they might be turned down when push came to shove. The owners admit they are both "iffy" and crazy about the place. But if you have $10 million or even a bit less, you might give it a try.