The Controversy Around a School of American Ballet Photographer

Scandal at the School of American Ballet

When it comes to the School of American Ballet, photographer Mark Lyon does not have many allies these days. Mr. Lyon is at the center of a controversy that involves some nude and seminude photographs he took of the school’s students last year. Now his estranged wife and a former female student who participated in the shoot are co-plaintiffs in a suit against Mr. Lyon, and the school’s administration is battling allegations that it was less than vigilant in the matter.

Mr. Lyon does seem to have one important defender in Andrew Solomon. Mr. Solomon is the author of the novel A Stone Boat and of several New Yorker pieces, the most recent about his battle with depression and a May 1995 article about helping his terminally ill mother to die. Mr. Solomon also has ties to the dance community. His father, Howard Solomon, is president of the New York City Ballet, as well as president of Forest Laboratories pharmaceutical company.

Mr. Solomon, who spoke to The Transom from the Liguria Center for the Arts and Humanities near Genoa, Italy, called Mr. Lyon “a friend and a fantastic photographer” who was “genuinely responsive to the qualities of young dancers … striving to do the athletically and expressively challenging work demanded of them.”

At the beginning of 1997, Mr. Lyon and his wife, Bridget de Socio, who owns a design firm, had been hired to photograph and produce Allegro , an annual publication that functions both as the students’ yearbook and as a souvenir of the school’s year-end gala workshop performance and benefit dinner. In May, however, word began circulating among the faculty that Mr. Lyon had, according to a statement released by the school’s administration, “made arrangements with some students for private off-site photo shoots” for a project of his own that included some artistic nude shots of students, including one that depicted a male dancer concealing his genitals with a conch shell. “When the school initially learned of these photo shoots,” according to the school’s statement, “no nude photography was known to have been involved. The problem was essentially that these private arrangements had not been cleared with the school and no parental approvals had been sought.”

According to sources familiar with the situation, Mr. Lyon met with administration members and turned over the photographs and negatives of the photos in question. According to Ms. de Socio, however, “the school was not given all of the photographs.”

In any case, though Ms. de Socio was permitted to finish the Allegro issue, Mr. Lyon was initially prohibited from attending the gala performance and dinner.

At the time, Mr. Solomon said that he had seen a number of the photographs that the school had confiscated. Although the conch shell photo was among them, Mr. Solomon said that “so far as I was aware, they had not discovered any [explicitly] nude photographs.” He likened Mr. Lyon’s photographs to “early Edward Weston” and said that they were “not titillating or erotic or pornographic.”

Mr. Solomon had been brought in as one of the co-chairs of the school’s gala. Board members include socialites Anne Bass and Coco Kopelman, designer Geoffrey Beene and Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella. Mr. Solomon confirmed that at one point during the fracas over Mr. Lyon’s shots, he became angry enough about the school’s treatment of the photographer that “I said I would resign as chairman,” which would have meant that at least four tables that he had sold for the gala likely would have walked with him. (Table prices range from $5,000 to $10,000.)

Some familiar with the situation contend that it would have been hard to let Mr. Solomon go, given his father’s role in the world of dance. The School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet function independently, but the sources noted that a large number of the school’s students go on to roles with the New York City Ballet, whose director, Peter Martins, is also chairman of the school’s faculty. Howard Solomon said he didn’t know anything about the incident until The Transom contacted him on Feb. 24. “So I couldn’t have played any role,” he said.

Eventually, Mr. Lyon was permitted to attend the students’ performance but was barred from the dinner. Ms. de Socio said she was permitted to attend both. She added, however, that she did lose an assignment to produce the school’s annual report (which is one of the reasons she is now suing her husband). She said that the brouhaha over the pictures helped precipitate her move to divorce Mr. Lyon.

In October, Mr. Lyon requested permission, through proper channels, to photograph some students for a fashion shoot for a magazine in Amsterdam called Dutch . He was given permission. According to the school’s statement, the school was not yet aware of the nude photographs that had been taken during the first shoot. The statement adds that the school did not learn of the nude photos until a reporter from WNBC-TV called about them. “We’ve been as much a victim of this as anybody,” said Albert Bellas, the school’s chairman of the board of trustees.

Reached in Paris, Mr. Lyon referred The Transom to his attorney, Robert Dobrish. Mr. Dobrish said he was not aware that the school had asked Mr. Lyon to turn over any photographs or had “ever taken a position on those photographs.”

Dueling Murder Mysteries

In a fight pitting the glamour boys against the hacks, the hacks recently got in a good punch. Just.

For the past three years, Tim Dumas, the former managing editor of the Greenwich (Conn.) News , has been researching the 1975 bludgeoning murder of a local girl, Martha Moxley, for a true-crime book. Mr. Dumas signed with Arcade Publishers, a small literary trade house, and settled on a September 1998 publication date for his book, called Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America’s Wealthiest Community .

That was until author Dominick Dunne last fall gave Mark Fuhrman some key investigative reports about the Moxley case. The infamous ex-Los Angeles police detective subsequently announced his intention to write his own book and to solve the crime. His book, Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley? , represented by agent Lucianne Goldberg (no stranger to infamy herself), is to be published in May by Cliff Street Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.

Mr. Dumas said that he wrote Mr. Dunne asking for a copy of the reports, which were produced by a Long Island investigative firm called Sutton Associates and were said to show inconsistencies in the alibi of Tommy Skakel, who was a teenage suspect at the time of the murder. (Mr. Skakel, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, was never charged.) Mr. Dumas said that Mr. Dunne called him and said he’d given his last copies to Mr. Fuhrman-an assertion that Mr. Dunne denied. “He never asked me for them. If he had asked me, I would have given them to him. I wasn’t hawking them around,” the writer told The Transom.

But at least one more set of the Sutton investigation findings were in existence, and in late January, Mr. Dumas got a look at them. “I felt bad for Tim,” said Newsday columnist Leonard Levitt, who possessed that set of the reports and had written about them in a series of articles that ran in 1995. “Here’s this young guy who’s deep in debt.… He’s been writing this book for three years and, all of a sudden, Fuhrman comes in and is getting all the publicity.”

Rushton Skakel, a brother of Ethel Kennedy and father of Tommy Skakel, commissioned Sutton Associates in 1992 to re-examine the Moxley case in the hope of clearing his son’s name. But, according to Mr. Levitt’s stories and an August 1997 Vanity Fair piece, both Tommy and his brother Michael Skakel made statements to the Sutton investigators that differed from what they had told Greenwich police in 1975. (Both brothers had been among the teenagers out with Moxley on the night she died.) For three years, Skakel family lawyers were able to keep the reports under wraps. But in 1995, a Sutton Associates source gave copies of them to Mr. Levitt. Mr. Dunne, whose own daughter was murdered in 1982, wouldn’t say how he received his copies of the reports. But Mr. Levitt maintained that in 1996, an aspiring writer at Sutton Associates who wanted to impress the elder wordsmith handed them over.

“It’s not that I’m favoring Mark Fuhrman over Tim Dumas. I want to see some justice done on that case,” Mr. Dunne said. “I’m a big admirer of [Martha’s mother, Dorthy] Moxley. What happened to her happened in my life.”

The number of articles about the previously dormant case has soared since Mr. Fuhrman got involved, and on Jan. 20, the Today show featured him prominently in a piece on the murder. While Mr. Fuhrman’s modus operandi has been showcased with headlines like the Oct. 19 Stamford Advocate blurb that read: “O.J. Detective: I Think I Know Who Killed Martha Moxley,” Arcade has tried to portray Mr. Dumas’ book as a more serious and detailed account of a murder that left a pallor over tranquil Greenwich. Still, Arcade, perhaps realizing that its country reporter was out of his commercial depth against an O.J. Simpson trial alumnus who says he has solved the murder, pushed up the Greentown date to April and decided not to issue galley proofs of the book.

Mr. Dumas and his editor at Arcade, Timothy Bent, said their book is in some ways complimentary to Mr. Fuhrman’s. But in the same breath, they argued that it is better researched and more reliable. Mr. Dumas said that the Sutton reports, while full of details, do not decisively lead to the name of Moxley’s killer. Several other people, including a tutor who lived at the Skakels, were previously considered as suspects. Mr. Levitt concurred, saying simply, “Fuhrman is full of shit here.” Mr. Fuhrman could not be reached by The Transom for comment.

Despite the significant material in the reports, both Mr. Dumas and Mr. Bent said other facts create reasonable doubt in the case and that the only way it will be solved is if someone confesses. The two theorized that Mr. Fuhrman’s obsession with solving the Moxley murder stems from a desire to rehabilitate his reputation. Indeed, Mr. Dumas’ chapter heading on Mr. Fuhrman, “Mark Fuhrman’s Redemption,” suggests as much. Mr. Fuhrman’s own agent agreed. “He would like to leave O.J. behind him,” Ms. Goldberg said. “That was one of the worst experiences of his life.”

– Carrie Cunningham

Scared Members

Could there be any more appropriate place to plotz than at the bris of the son of ABC movie critic Joel Siegel? On Feb. 18, Mr. Siegel and his artist wife, Ena Swansea, held a star-studded traditional Jewish circumcision ceremony for their son, Dylan Thomas Jefferson Swansea Siegel, that was attended by ABC correspondents Elizabeth Vargas and Lynn Sherr, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, publicist Peggy Siegal and others. And some who attended the event noted that when the actual ceremony began, plastic surgeon Dr. Gerald Imber, adman Jerry Della Femina and director Andrew Bergman headed for Mr. Siegel’s kitchen. Squeamish? “It was a joke,” Dr. Imber told The Transom. “Our joke was, We don’t want this kid to remember us for this.”

The Transom Also Hears

… In poker, a loaded semiautomatic beats a royal flush. In New York power restaurants, the scent of scandal trumps a full reservation book. Witness Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan who, on Feb. 12, whisked into the Four Seasons restaurant without a reservation. No problema . Mr. Jordan and the two lovely ladies who accompanied him were given one of the coveted booths in the Grill Room. A procession of lunchers, including Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and shadows-loving public relations consultant Gershon Kekst, then made the trek to his table.

… The Transom would pay money to see Ray Charles in a silver unitard. Instead, we’ll have to settle for a bunch of models. On Feb. 26, the Ray-Ban sunglasses company will unveil its 1998 collection and global ad campaign at the club Twirl on West 23rd Street, and it has hired one of its customers, Mr. Charles, to play a few numbers there. The company has also hired Keith Thomas, a costumer for the Broadway production of The Lion King , to design some skintight outfits for the models who will be showing off their shades. Mr. Thomas, who also goes by the designer name Fabu, said that he’s sewing up one-of-a-kind silver unitards with hoods. Phone wires are also involved. Let’s hope no one gets hurt.

The Controversy Around a School of American Ballet Photographer