Farewell to Berry Berenson, Who Was In Fact, Beautiful

Dress up, not down. Pull yourself together every day like the proud, snappy New Yorker that you are. It’s not disrespectful: A crisper and more optimistic you will inspire positive thoughts in others. Remember that the Navy Seals, no matter how dire things get, shave every day and polish their boots. And if it’s not too chilly, do what some cheeky New York chicks did last week: throw on a bikini and cheer on the relief workers at the West Side Highway.

Above all, shop! Our Mayor told you to shop, and by God, I’m telling you to shop. Make your contribution to the Twin Towers Fund first, then go buy yourself a brave, flamboyant chapeau and wear it with pride. There is nothing superficial about shopping: It’s life-affirming, it keeps the economy buoyant and it just might make you a tad more beautiful.

Berinthia Berenson, the well-known photographer and human being who died on American Airlines Flight 11 when it hit the World Trade Center, was very beautiful. In fact, you could describe her as one of “The Beautiful People”; it’s a stupid, superficial term, but in her case it was true, both in a profound sense and in the more commonly understood one. The tomboy photographer and sister of model and actress Marisa Berenson, granddaughter of couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and widow of the late Anthony Perkins (yes, she married Norman Bates in 1973), Berry had the beauty and provenance to propel her, unwittingly, into Beautiful People–dom. She was, without ever intending to be, something of a founding member.

The Beautiful People started off as a spontaneous core group of naughty Euro-funsters: the de la Falaises, the von Furstenbergs, Roger Vadim, Gunther Sachs, Amanda Lear, Fernando Sanchez, Joan Buck, Anjelica Huston, Manolo Blahnik, etc., etc.-and, of course, Marisa and Berry. These “B.P.’s,” as the media quickly dubbed them, wore caftans, oozed international grooviness and often had weird names. Don’t you sometimes wish your name was Ricky Von Opel or Florinda Bolkan?

It wasn’t long before the B.P.’s were lumped in with the best-dressed-list bourgeoisie. A 1968 cover of Nova magazine shows a certain Principessa Pignatelli lying on a fur bedspread surrounded by her wigs and falls: “Princess Pignatelli plucks each hair off her legs with tweezers,” screams the headline. What had originally been about bohemian fun had now become more about jewelry, dieting and Valentino couture. By the early 70’s, real B.P.’s like Berry had already started to distance themselves from the whole cringe-making concept: In the recently published memos of Diana Vreeland (in the Sept. 17 issue of The New Yorker ), the Vogue editor gave advice on how to recruit (she names Baby Jane Holzer, Didi Ryan and Valerian Rybar) for a B.P.-themed feature: “Lots of beautiful people do not want to join ‘The Beautiful People’ …. Therefore, when asking anyone to pose, I suggest you do not mention that-but only flatter them into having their picture taken in their beautiful printed coat …. “

The phrase “The Beautiful People” was inching its way into common parlance, and various B.P.’s started cashing in: Principessa Pignatelli, a.k.a. Luciana Avedon, finally bored with all that leg-tweezing, wrote The Beautiful People’s Beauty Book and The Beautiful People’s Diet Book , the latter found by a jubilant moi in a Shelter Island yard sale last year for 25 cents. Some of the original B.P.’s managed to exploit their B.P.-dom without losing cred: Caterine Milinaire (and Carol Troy) wrote Cheap Chic , the best shopping and style book of all time; Bianca snagged Mick; Marisa Berenson lensed (love that verb!) movies with Kubrick, Visconti and Fosse; and Berry became the Roxanne Lowit of her era. She shot fashion shows and events, mostly for Vogue and Interview ; she even shot a Time cover of Halston-clad Cybill Sheperd. “She had the best archive-1968 to ’75-ish,” says Steven Bluttal, whose upcoming book, Halston (Phaidon, $39.95), contains some 60 of Berry’s photographs. In the course of preparing his book, Mr. Bluttal was aided, abetted and inspired by Berry. “She didn’t know me from Adam. I slept at her house. She handed me sheaves of negatives, including tons of early Halston runway stuff. She was so trusting.”

Raising her two kids, Osgood and Elvis, was Berry’s other career. I met Berry during her 1980’s L.A.-mom period and found her delightfully wacky and down-to-earth. West Coast Condé Nast editor Paul Fortune ( House & Garden ) recalls: “You would go to dinner at her house. It would be Sophia Loren and Berry’s gardener-whatever was fun and real.” She took a stab at acting ( Cat People , Remember My Name ). “She was curious,” said Mr. Fortune, “but being in the spotlight wasn’t her bag. She was a nurturing Hollywood earth mother.” In the 1980’s, her compassion toward our mutual friends during the early days of the AIDS epidemic was tested over and over again. In 1992, her own husband, Anthony Perkins, succumbed to the disease after she’d nursed him for two years.

On Sept. 15, I spoke to her old friend, photographer Paul Jasmin, who was in the midst of helping organize her Los Angeles memorial. He was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Berry’s sister Marisa, who had been stranded in Newfoundland since her flight from Europe on Sept. 11 was diverted. Mr. Jasmin was on his way to confer with Elvis, 25, a musician, and Osgood, 27, an actor currently appearing in Legally Blonde . “Elvis is going to play,” said Mr. Jasmin. “The boys want to keep it small, which is impossible. Their mom was such a beacon. People who met her once feel like she was their best friend.”

Since I found Luciana Avedon’s bitchy B.P. diet book in that yard sale last year, I have been hypothesizing about whatever happened to the Beautiful People. Last week I got the answer. The bravery and chutzpah demonstrated by New Yorkers was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The Beautiful People are back, and this time, like Berry, they are real.

Send your avant-shopping check to the Twin Towers Fund (established by Mayor Giuliani to aid those most directly affected), P.O. Box 26999, General Post Office, New York, N.Y. 10087-6999.