Sunday, August 16, 2009

In Old Manhattan

In the New York Times on Friday appeared a remarkable obituary, for a woman, more or less entirely unknown, at least in recent years, called Ruth Ford, dead at 98. If nothing else, she was the sister of the poet, editor, and man-about-town Charles Henri Ford, and as such likely one of the last links back to ever more distant figures of the first half of the twentieth century - Stein, Djuna Barnes, the Sitwells.

But she was much more - a Manhattan model in the '30s, she survived a profoundly unrewarding film career (28 films between 1938 and 1946, most of them meaty parts like "Cadet Gladdens' Sweetheart" in Men of the Sky or "Pretty French Girl" in Divide and Conquer. It's hard to imagine more forgotten pictures), became a fixture of the New York stage, and found her real calling in life as a saloniste. Married to sometime-film-star-himself Zachary Scott, she settled into a rambling flat at the Dakota and spent the next four decades introducing people - people like Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, who ended up writing West Side Story with another eventual Dakotan, Bernstein.

Oh, and guess what? She was a good friend of Leo Lerman's (I really am starting to harp, aren't I?), even though he called her "as loud and as raucous as a ballyhoo truck on a dim night and even harder." She's seen here at a fitting - with Balmain.

As these folks go, you know, we shan't see their like again...


  1. "as loud and as raucous as a ballyhoo truck on a dim night and even harder," might be a compliment, you know.

  2. I loved that obit when I saw it the other day. I love hearing about these old broads and am so sad to see their kind disappearing.

  3. okay, OKAY...lerman's book is on the way!!

  4. YAY! I hope you enjoy it, though - such pressure. I can't imagine not, though...and I hope you'll forgive me one or two more quotes...

  5. Actually, this photograph is probably not a fitting, but a staging of one by Carl Van Vechten in his studio. Looks that way to my eye, anyhow. Van Vechten knew both Balmain and Ford. This shot could be 1947-48. Balmain was in New York in 1948, because Leo Lerman threw a birthday party for him on May Day of that year (Van Vechten had introduced them).

  6. Sorry to come late to this party but I'm just now making my own journey through Lerman's The Grand Surprise, and I think it's the greatest gay document I've ever found.

    The late James O'Rear (played Dunaway's attorney in CHINATOWN) told me that back in the '40s, he and Ruth Ford were visiting Harry Lewis (proprietor of Hamburger Hamlet) in his L.A. home, expecting a visitor -- a businessman friend of a friend who had been encouraged to look up Lewis while in Hollywood. Feeling mischievous, the three decided to show the man what real life in Hollywood was, and when he came to the door, all three were stark naked. The businessman came in, visited with them, acted as if nothing was amiss, and left without batting an eye.

    I'm not sure anyone who knew Ruth as a consummate "salonniere" would have imagined this.