The remaining collectibles from the home of New York's most celebrated salon hosts go to auction at Doyle New York
“Everyone who was anyone was there” is a cliché trotted out for every nightclub opening and B-grade movie premiere in New York. But once in a great while, it’s true. That was the case in the buzzy, glamorous lavender-toned living room of Leo Lerman and Gray Foy. For nearly three decades on West 57th Street, the couple entertained a parade of prominent guests in something of a time-warp Gilded age. After their passing, the trappings, furnishings and antiques of the late Lerman, the late Foy and of their dear friend Joel Kaye headed for the auction block September 24, 2013.
"Leo, Gray and Joel represent a particular culture, when the likes of Lauren Bacall, Al Hirschfeld and Steve Martin all connected at a single party, says Robert Osborne."
Who were the storied hosts? Lerman was a boy from Queens who repackaged himself nattily as an aesthete while toiling as Vanity Fair editor-in-chief in the ’60s. Foy, his partner of nearly 50 years, was an artist, primarily a surrealist. In 1967, the two men took up roost in a cavernous apartment in The Osborne directly opposite Carnegie Hall and began to host their grand salons. The afore-mentioned everyone who was anyone who was there: Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, Rudolf Nureyev, Hal Prince and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. And more.
“Leo, Gray and Joel represent a particular culture, when the likes of Lauren Bacall, Al Hirschfeld and Steve Martin all connected at a single party,” says Robert Osborne, neighbor, frequent guest and dapper Turner Classic Movies host, speaking of soirees where four cases of fine wine were routinely consumed. “That kind of salon has gone out the door.”
Upper East Side boutique auctioneer Doyle New York, which has handled the estates of Bette Davis, Rock Hudson and Beverly Sills, will hold the sale. “It was time to let go,” explains Joel Kaye, 69, who wed Foy, then aged 90, less than a month after gay marriages became legal in New York State in 2011. (Son of the founder of the Russian Tea Room across the street, Kaye all but grew up in the apartment.) Foy passed away in 2012, Lerman in 1994. Strolling through the Osborne with Kaye, The Aesthete got a peek into the vast array of items the three had squirreled away.
Stylistically, “Leo and Gray kind of skipped the 20th century,” explains Kaye. Indeed, dandified collectors of both the high and low, they sometimes favored quantity over quality. (The sales is expected to bring $414,000 to $630,000, with many items priced at a few hundred dollars.} There’s the classic Tiffany lamp or two, but also shell-encrusted consoles, dog paintings galore, parlor watercolors of Mount Vesuvius erupting, umpteen framed butterfly and moth collections and scads of Majolica ceramics, among them pineapple-shaped pitchers and garbed monkeys toting vases, along with gnarly twig tables coupled with dreadfully uncomfortable chairs amidst Black Forest oak umbrella stands with carved bears. And, “in terms of historical memorabilia, there’s the swatch card for Marie Antoinette’s servants’ uniforms,” says Kaye, smiling and gesturing around a room with 16-foot ceilings.
In advance of a broom-clean by Doyle, the quirky mélange headed to the block is left exactly as if the three men had just walked out the door. Adding a note of the melancholy, or macabre, Lerman’s and Foy’s ashes, ensconced in cardboard boxes topped by dried red roses are tucked on a book shelf just off the main drawing room. They’ll be jetted off soon to their final resting place on a vast English country estate owned by close friend Lord Crathorne.
There’s none of Foy’s own art in the auction, but there is some in the Museum of Modern Art: Steve Martin gifted a Gray Foy surrealistic drawing, Dimensions, to the museum. Among the more interesting lots that are actually for sale, however: 17 silver gelatin prints of Clare Booth Luce by Horst B. Horst. Leo was a fan, Kaye explains. David Hockney created artworks for the couple and faxed them to them; those are also on the block. And a first edition of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby starts at $4,000.
But most of Lerman’s papers and 15,000 books are housed at Columbia University, attesting to his cultural significance. “The contents are tea-time talk,” says Michael Ryan, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. “But it’s the archives that are a rich lode as the three of them were at the center of ballet, Broadway and books.”
"The contents are tea-time talk, says Michael Ryan, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. But it’s the archives that are a rich lode as the three of them were at the center of ballet, Broadway and books."
In pursuit of their quirky pickings, the collecting trio sometimes vied with Andy Warhol and André Leon Tally at auction. But they largely skipped tony Sotheby’s and Christie’s and zeroed in on treasures at establishments like shops under the Third Avenue el, prop houses and even the street. “Only a month before Gray died, we picked up a Majolica teapot in the shape of a tree trunk at the Chelsea flea market,” says Kaye, who’s holding on to that, along with Cary Grant’s sunglasses and the family silver, too.
Kaye inherited everything, along with the eight-room apartment, decorated in various now-faded shades of purple. Today, he is downsizing and headed for a rental.
Sotheby’s Realty has tagged the apartment at a tidy $4.5 million. Lerman picked it up for a mere $40,000 in 1967. But then, he was a bargain-hunter extraordinaire.