Monday, October 25, 2010

A friend of a friend

That there are six degrees of separation between me and anyone else on the planet is a concept that both troubles me and makes me skeptical. Nonetheless, I was reminded of it one weekend recently at a party in another state where I knew none of other people present - I had one of those well, that explains a lot moments, when I learned something about an acquaintance here from a friend of a friend of a friend - a man whose other plans at the last moment fell through and he attended the gathering at which we were also last-minute guests.

What I learned, and I use that word advisedly, is of no consequence and neither should it be, but what is important is that the world if one moves in certain circles really is growing smaller and tighter. I cannot imagine there are six degrees of separation between me and the Queen but if I moved in her circles I might well find it to be so. And so another connection was made when I received an email - an instance of a correspondent helping me with my thoughts about Roderick Cameron - in which he writes "As I recall there was another part of that circle, a gentleman named Ludington who lived in Santa Barbara and had a strong impact on Mr. Baldwin. Just a data point for you."

"I had known Wright Ludington all my life, and his house in Santa Barbara remained the one thing in America I wanted to see and had not. So I was doubly delighted when he called to ask me to come out for a visit.

"Even if I had not known Wright's special magic, I would have felt it in that house. As we walked through the rooms, I could feel the powerful force he exerts on his environment - in the architecture, the decoration, and especially in the pictures and sculpture that fill his world.

"'Come,'  he said. 'I'll show you to your room.'

"He opened the door not to a guest room, but to an art gallery. We entered at one corner and looked down what seemed like an endlessly long room - at least sixty feet. The white walls were filled with a fantastic collection of paintings of every period and nation. I stopped at every picture. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there weren't any windows - yet the room was filled with light. I looked up to see an ingenious skylight that extended the room's entire length. No one has ever awakened to such glorious sunlight.

"At each end of the room was a four-poster bed with blue-and-white curtains. Each bed had its own table, chest of drawers, books and a good light for reading. The beds were so remote from one another, and the curtains pulled so cozily around them, that even if you had to share the room, it would be like having the place all to yourself.

"Beside my bed was the bath and dressing room, painted brilliant yellow, with an enormous window directly over the tub. From that window I could look down the tawny-grassed valley to the blue Pacific far below."

Billy Baldwin does not give a date to his visit and clearly he is describing a room other than this. The point is, I think, not that Ludington - the donor of 175 works of art to the Santa Barbara Museum and erstwhile owner of Val Verde, an estate described as "a retreat for the nation's gay cultural elite" - knew Roderick Cameron, but that he was a life-long acquaintance of Billy Baldwin who employed Arthur Smith a good friend of Andrew Crispo, who very possibly walked along the same street as William Pahlmann, called "the best known decorator of his day," by Mark Hampton, who worked for David Hicks, who was influenced by Van Day Truex, who in turn was a friend of Roderick Cameron, who may well have danced with a man who'd danced with a girl who'd danced with the Prince of Wales.

However small the degree of separation it is membership of a circle that matters. It is perhaps facile to think of circles, cultural elites, and in a way too horizontal, siloing being more to the point. Siloing is a name for a form of vertical segregation of society where depending on your belief, sexuality, race, income etc., you belong to your silo and have little or no connection with the members of other silos. As a phenomenon it is pretty obvious in modern-day American society - there are the broader categories: straight, gay, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, black, white, Democrat, Republican and within those are smaller categories such as ideology, denomination, sect, club, team, university,redneck, yankees, red-haired stepchildren, young, old, male, female, immigrant, illegal, left, right, center, etc., etc, etc.

Friend of a friend, indeed, you might say.

Photograph by Ezra Stoller (I think) from The World In Vogue from the Viking Press, 1963.
Quotation from Billy Baldwin Remembers, Billy Baldwin, Harcourt Brace Jonanovich, 1974


  1. Just placed 2 books about the estate on my wish list -hopefully for christmas!

  2. Did you mean to say Arthur Smith not Michael? I had dinner at Arthur's with Andrew the night before Andrew went to prison and I had sex with Mark...I love this game!

  3. The picture is of the James and Marilynn Alsdorf apartment in Chicago.
    A very Chicago look-and the collection is legendary.

  4. ArchitectDesign, thank you! Can you tell me the name of the books?

    Anonymous, Thank you for pointing out that mistake. I did indeed mean Arthur Smith and it has been corrected.

    Anonymous, thank you. If you are correct then the book's text is wrong. It quite clearly states the room is Ludington's. Accompanying the larger photograph is a smaller one of a view from his living room over a pool to the Pacific.

  5. As a youngster I saw pictures of Wright Ludington's house in a library book on decoration ("The Finest Rooms"?) and have been enthralled ever since. What I remember is that it appears to have started out as a relatively modest ranch style house, but transformed into a very chic pavilion.

  6. My father's prep school was up in the hills in Carpinteria, our summer cottage was in Montecito, and I was held in the water and taught to float at the Coral Casino, by a young man whose arms I still remember. I disagree warmly and fondly with all of the structures you advance in your final paragraph to account for the coincidence of your predicament. It comes, B, from plausible accident at every turn.

    Remember Mr Mellon? His entire rapport with the Department of English at Yale was predicated on an ignoramus friend's suspicion that it was better than Princeton's, where he was planning to matriculate. [There's a merry rivalry at work in this remark].

    Rather, contemplate your whole entry at this post in the context of your commitment to teaching. You are not wrong to place the value you do, on your privileges, and the story of this posting is the passion to pass along what they gave to you. First among these, as you have made plain in the Cameron series, is the necessity of "getting it right." This is the indispensable nourishment of taste.

  7. I am trying to imagine which six degrees might separate you and me! Surely we can route via the Celt and possibly Balmoral??

  8. Are you still researching Rory?
    Jimmy Douglas was friend of his in the old days...
    maybe he would help you?

  9. Anonymous, thank you.I am still researching him but am taking a detour. I'm grateful for the address and shall certainly contact him. Again, thank you.

  10. Rose, I would think it more likely to be Atholl. Balmoral too dour for the Celt.