Thursday, August 27, 2009


I plowed into the review of a book called, On Kindness, with great eagerness. Haven't I been preaching this for years with the "Because Nice Matters" theme of VICTORIA? My son once had a baseball cap made for me with the phrase, "Nice Matters," embroidered on it. (I think he got it at one of those stands that machine embroider names in thirty seconds.)

Granted, nice and kind are not exactly in the same ballpark, but they are close.

I was always encouraged at VICTORIA to come up with a "bumper sticker slogan" to describe the magazine. We were such a diverse publication, that this was something of an assignment. When I hit on "Because Nice Matters," I thought I had arrived. I still do. The business side of the magazine, good folk all, didn't see it my way and it was never used the way I intended. But I did use it in the pages of the magazine, and even had Janet McCaffrey create a sampler readers could duplicate. I have one on my wall.

I liked the word nice because it has many meanings. And I have never found it trite. Even "Have a nice day," never bothered me a bit, including when said at the end of a recorded message. What better can you say, than, "What a nice baby?" Or, "You have a nice home." Better yet, a husband's greeting: "You look so nice today." How many times has a mom begged her kids to pick up things, so the house looked "nice" for guests?

I'm sure you get my drift. Nice is a good standard word devoid of pretensions.

Back to this book on kindness. It is a study by a psychoanalyst and a historian--and way too complicated for me to dissect here. It seemed like a lot of hard work and, I am sure, new thinking on the subject. But I personally don't want to think about kindness any further than the examples I've known in my own life or see about me everyday. When you live in a big city, kindness is often done "on the fly." Things happen so fast that the kindness meter may not even be running. It's just common decency when someone runs after you to hand you the hat you unknowingly dropped. Or two young men, without a uttering a syllable, hoisting a stroller up the steps at a subway stop. How kind they are.

My grandmother was a study in kindness. She was brought up on a farm in Nebraska, and I think she learned neighborliness as a religion. Her belief that you do things for others without expecting reward for it was the inspiration for the A Star in Crown award and series in VICTORIA. She wouldn't think a thing of sewing, baking,tending a toddler, or a myriad of other daily gestures for others. Her kindness to me was beyond measure.

Anne Frank wanted to believe that people were basically good; and I want to think they are basically kind for some very simple reasons. It's the right thing to do; and it makes you feel good in the process.

Read On Kindness if you want to delve further into this basic human emotion. But if you do, maybe spend the same amount of time in acts of kindness. It would be a nice thing to do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Isabel Keating

This story relates to Victoria, but in an unexpected way. When Marilyn Miller remarked that she loved the Colette audio tape best (see last Thursday's blog), it brought this story to mind.

I saw Isabel Keating on the stage in New York portraying Judy Garland. She was incomparable and won awards for the performance. I wanted to share with her the kind remarks that Leslie Caron, who performed Colette for us and recorded Gigi as well, had told me about Judy Garland. I'd never done such a thing before, but I wrote Isabel a letter, relaying Madam Caron's remark and sending her the Victoria tapes featuring Leslie Caron. It simply went off to The Imperial Theater.

The response I received from Isabel was delightful. (My niece wisely reminded me that actresses are people, too.) That correspondence opened up a lovely exchange for us of notes and Christmas cards. And I made it a practice to see Ms. Keating on stage anytime I could--once even traveling to New Jersey's Papermill Playhouse.

When Isabel's good friend Mark Berman presented his original musical composition The Genesis Project, she invited me to attend the premier performance. We hugged each other like old friends. Isabel is diminutive, like Judy Garland was, but effervescent and very engaging. My husband couldn't get over how darling she was in every way. What I would have missed if I hadn't written that letter and shared Leslie Caron. My dream is to get these two friends together sometime. And it just might happen when Leslie Caron comes to the U.S. to promote her new book Thank Heaven. (More about that later...)

You can meet Isabel on her website and on her blog. And you can hear her incomparable voice and experience her talent in her recordings of many books. Check the offerings on Amazon by searching on her name. I adore Blue Christmas. Maybe it reminds me of how much I enjoy her Christmas notes, often on cards she's created herself. (These days they are signed Isabel and Mark.)

Oh, how all the threads of our lives embroider our days. It never ceases to amaze me. I'd love to hear a story of when you did something that brought you rewards you never expected.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Young Victoria

I am thrilled to learn that the film The Young Victoria will be released here in early November. (You can watch a preview on the official website.) I am a fan both of Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, the stars of the film. But I will think back to two not-so-young actors who played the famous shaving scene on a stage in New York, as part of Victoria magazine's Well-Spoken Companions series.

Julie Harris and Richard Kiley were our Victoria and Albert. Miss Harris brought her own costume for this dramatic reading. Richard Kiley, whom I had adored for years, was fitted with a smashing smoking jacket by Susan George, who also produced a set fit for such royalty. These two veterans were a thrill to watch. It was magic before my eyes in many ways. In the first place, here we were the inspiration behind such a pairing. The last time I had seen them on the stage was a reading of Love Letters. Now, they were our "stars."

Julie Harris had portrayed Victoria in the famous play Victoria Regina, the one that Helen Hayes played all over the country. (Many thought Helen Hayes was the queen, her portrayal was so true to life.) Mr. Kiley was new to the role, but not so new to bring his own inimitable touch--the star of Man of La Mancha did something that was not in the script. He sang to his queen Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes. Hey, my eyes were full of tears and I am not sure I was breathing. I don't think the people packed into the auditorium were breathing either.

We began this series as dramatic readings. When the first one was to be announced in The New York Times, we turned with great anticipation to the readings section of the arts pages. There was no mention of our program. We were crestfallen. But this lasted for just a few minutes until we found our program listed in "Off Off Broadway" productions. Interestingly our offices faced Broadway, but we never expected to be anywhere near it in the New York press!

Many Victoria readers shared the experience by purchasing audio tapes we made of the evening, recorded live. I still have a small cache of them. With today's technology they almost seem as quaint as Victoria's handkerchief. I part with one once in awhile to share with an actress or an aspiring one.

Timidly I had gone into this endeavor. But Daniel D'Arezzo, on our staff, had the foresight and the contacts that made it all happen. It was a night to remember, including the reception we held for the actors after the performance. I was like a school girl when someone revealed to Richard Kiley that I was a huge fan. Having that voice talk to ME!

Note: Julie Harris and Helen Hayes were the first recipients of Victoria's "Star in Our Crown" award. When those were awarded, Blythe Danner and Edward Herrmann were the regal newlyweds and portrayed Victoria watching with rapture as her prince performed his morning shave. Bravo!

Monday, August 17, 2009

At Home With Wedgwood

Yesterday, I had a Sunday visit, via email, with Tricia Foley. Tricia worked with us at Victoria in a variety of roles. Sometimes she was on staff; sometimes a very productive freelance contributing editor. She helped pioneer America's interest in and knowledge of tea with her books--and she shared with us her distinctive lifestyle. Trish loves the past--but nor more than the present. And she combines them both beautifully with a touch that looks simple but can't be imitated. She aims to inspire your own creativity.

Tricia Foley stays busy. And recently the fruits of her labor is a marvelous book: At Home with Wedgwood. Two other Victoria folk are associated with this wonderful feat on the products of the company that has produced some of our most treasured china--Cathie Calvert as writer and Jeff McNamara as photographer. The only credit I take here is in recognizing a truly good book when I see one.

Having been behind many a page, I really appreciate how a subject can be treated from a variety of points of view. This book has the history of the company, starting with Josiah Wedgwood. The dedication to him is a Tricia Foley inspiration if I have ever seen one--an antique men's collar with several pieces of black china. Suitable for framing!

But what is most inspiring about this book is the art of the table, it's subtitle. This art is displayed through the work of contemporary lifestyle leaders such as Martha Stewart, Vera Wang, and Tricia herself.

One may love Wedgwood, as I do. My best dishes and my everyday ones are the same--Wedgwood's strawberry and vine. It was Queen Victoria's, too, by the way. But this book is also full of great table setting and entertaining ideas. My husband always says that I think holiday dinners are done when I've set the table. I just adore doing it--and plan them days before. He does the cooking while I'm coolly setting china and flatware on our table, arranging fruit displays, and making sure the candles aren't going to poke anyone in the eye. Our table is one that came out of my association with Hooker Furniture and you'll find on their web site some hints I gave for setting hospitable tables.

Take a sneak peek of At Home with Wedgwood. You'll also get a view into what Tricia has been up to since she produced pages for Victoria. She helped set our style--now she can help you set your table with a simple grace. Bravo to all who put out this unique book. It's not on my bookshelf--it's on my dining table, open to a page I want to make part of my art of everyday living well.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

PS regarding Shops I Love

Please tell us about the shops you find that you love. New ones that Victoria didn't cover. It's exciting to find them and it's wonderful to support the new entrepreneurs. I have seen many primitive collections--Sylvia is bringing a new interpretation to the genre. That's something I found so interesting. It's not imitative. Pumpkin Man has me charmed at the moment. He's unlike any Halloween decoration you'd see commercially made.

Visiting a shop online is different from being there in person. It's better than not, but I was especially charmed by the environment and display that Sylvia created in Simply Gianna. Looking forward to creating a list of shops I'd love to see based on your experiences.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Shop I Love

Several summers ago, a love of tennis, and particularly the great Pete Sampras, drew me to Newport, Rhode Island. Pete was being inducted into The International Tennis Hall of Fame and participating in an exhibition match.

Tennis and Victoria? Yes, there's a story there. John Mack Carter, who was the father of Victoria in many ways, is a great tennis fan and for many years shared his box at the U.S. Open with many of his friends and colleagues. Because of John's generosity, I was at The Open in New York when Pete broke through as the youngest champion ever. I was hooked on this brilliant career and the game. I've tried to taper off a bit in recent years because following tournaments on television can take a lot of time. But I still keep a hand in.

We did get to see Pete and his family--and we did get to have a lovely time in historic Newport. Ambling around I found Sylvia Benedetti's charming and original shop My husband said he heard my feet come to a startling halt as we walked by. Sylvia hadn't been open very long, but she was already attracting a lot of attention. Yes, she one of my kind of girls, having been a business executive before striking out in Simply Gianna.

I bought an ornamental child's dress that I intended to give as a gift. I still have it. And when I got back home, called Sylvia to send me her gingerbread family of dolls. Not long after, I added the farmhouse apple pie soft sculpture as well as a bunch of prim carrots. I have tons of fun with the pie, as it is often taken for the real thing. I have family members who are not supposed to have sweets, so the pie is for them at holiday time! One of my door decorations in spring, is that friendly bunch of carrots with green plaid fabric stalks. So far, no bunnies have found their way to my door--but lots of smiles from visitors and neighbors.

I emailed the editor of Country Living to tell her about the shop. I'd never done that before. I've seen my share of wonderful shops--but this one swept me off my feet with its well-edited vision. Sylvia's Simply Gianna is now two years old. Growing along with her daughter Gianna, for whom the shop is named. I'm sure she's delighted folks in Newport with her eye for primitives and the artists who create them. It's a shop I love, and hope you'll enjoy checking it out online. Continued success, Sylvia.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Sue Team

I first met Susan Maher when her paint brushes were wet behind her ears. She was hired by Better Homes and Gardens fresh out of design school to work on the covers of the magazine. I thought she was "younger than Springtime." We worked happily together. She left the magazine to strike out for a design career in New York, which she found at Clinque. It suited her clean and discrete style. Not long after, I was in New York with Victoria about to emerge. At the beginning, Sue worked with us freelance, and then came on full-time. She was on my staff almost to the very end of my tenure.

(By the way - I used to joke that when our delivery man Nick retired, I would leave, right behind him. I retired from Victoria, but I think Nick is still in business working for former Victoria staff members!)

But "The Sue Team" began with the magazine and stayed by my side. The other member was Susan George, who produced some of our most memorable stories. They were the extravaganzas that never ceased to amaze me or enchant our readers. Our family Christmas trees were always her assignment, and I could count on a best-selling cover from her work.

One of my favorite stories was in the early days of the magazine--a fashion layout inspired by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. We hired planes from an aerodrome that ended up flying right over our heads, the photographer asking for ever closer flybys. WOW! I said my prayers a bit longer that night.

I am writing this and sharing the photograph taken on another shoot (by Toshi Otsuki) because of something that Sue Maher recently wrote to me:

There is a great Victoria story to be told in that not only did we all have the great fortune to work together for twelve plus years, we also were genuinely good friends as well. I'm not sure that's always the case with a group of creative and talented people. It was really quite collaborative, which is what I miss most.

In the photograph here, The Sue Team is producing a fishing story for Victoria (Sue Maher on the left, Susan George on the right). Toshi Otsuki, the photographer, couldn't resist the "behind the scenes" shot that shows good nature as well as the obvious hard work involved. Knowing the women as I do, there is definitely more than a hint of that.

Work friendships are a great story. The good ones survive for years after people have gone on their way to other pursuits.

Sue Maher works her design magic in an architectural firm these days, and Susan George is still behind the camera producing advertising campaigns. But their relationship goes beyond, "Those were the days..." And there are incredible laughs when things that seemed horrendous problems at the time fade into being tall tales with humorous overtones.

There is a kind of friendship that only friends who have "been in the fire together" know. Would you like to tell us about your work friends?

On a sad note, Kim Waller, a senior writer and editor at Victoria died early this summer. Kim wrote many stories our readers loved--as well as Victoria books. Before coming to Victoria, Kim had a distinguished career at Town & Country. There was never an ordinary assignment for Kim. Give her something like a round-up of books and she'd make it into a journey. You didn't skim Kim Waller's writing. Her friends at Victoria, for all its years, will miss her.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Tina I Saw

Many of you won't recognize the name Tina Brown. Those of us who were part of the "New York media" know it well. She's an icon editor who made a huge success of the magazine Vanity Fair. Then, she went on to The New Yorker to great acclaim. Backtracking, I was never part of "New York media." I always tried to stay under the radar and tend to my knitting, so to speak. Fortunately for me, for a good many years, I was allowed to function that way while working in a large corporation.

When Victoria was launched and it appeared that it was going to be successful, Tina Brown invited me, along with other editors with new magazines, to have our photograph taken by the esteemed Annie Leibovitz. I met Kate White that day, with her magazine then, Child. Kate is now editor of Cosmopolitan. (The last time I saw her, about a year or so ago, she was on her way to an event wearing a huge hat; Victorian, I might add.) Next to me in the lineup for the photograph was Tina's husband, now Sir Harold Evans. He was very complimentary of our cover, I recall. We were all given lunch and then the photo session began. Tina never appeared during the entire event.

Our paths were to cross, however, when Tina Brown came to the Hearst Corporation to create the magazine Talk. There was great fanfare--a party, now ten years ago, that was the talk of the town. It's being talked and written about now because it seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the end of an era. When Tina Brown collected us editors, the point was to show a new crop of focused publications, designed to fulfill the needs and interests of specific audiences. But Talk was a general interest magazine, perhaps in a time that had lost its appetite for what magazines like LIFE had represented with great success in its time. Many of the magazines featured in our photograph that day didn't survive very long. Many of the editors either left the business or moved on to other products. I was fortunate to be at Victoria for more than another decade.

One night after work many years ago, I stopped by the diner near my building on 57th Street to grab a bite before heading home. In a nearby booth was a mom and her young daughter. No one was paying much attention as she tried to engage her child--I believe there were crayons, but I can't attest to that after all these years. She did not seem like the invincible Tina Brown--just a woman, like me, tired after a day's work but still on the job of being a mother. That is the Tina I saw and remember most--not the hard-driving editor, not the composed and confident woman on TV.

In all our journals, there are moments small and heartfelt that seem to loom large as the years go by. This is one for me.