Lycée Français: Are The Kids Not Alright?
The Lycée Français de New York has a glimmering new school building at 505 East 75th Street inspired by the designs of the philosopher René Descartes, but inside the 150,000-square-foot glass-and-steel structure, some parents have grown increasingly worried after a recent outbreak of unruliness among the school’s élèves.
According to two Lycée parents, the tony Upper East Side French school—whose elite alumni include Philippe de Montebello, Lazard chairman Michel David-Weill, Susan Sontag’s son David Rieff, chef Daniel Boulud’s daughter and the novelist Danielle Steel—has been wracked by disciplinary infractions among the students since the school relocated in 2003 from its collection of six mansions.
In December, according to Lycée parents, three students broke into the school during weekend hours in an apparent attempt to steal items from the school; they scrawled expletives on classroom chalkboards and killed school fish by removing them from a fish tank. And instead of facing expulsion, those students have just been suspended for several weeks, the parents said.
“They’re trying to bury everything that’s going bad, because they have to fund-raise and fund-raise,” one parent said.
“If parents are alarmed, I will speak to them,” said head of school Yves Thézé. “I will speak to my parents the way I want to.” Mr. Thézé declined to address the specific incident.
Lycée board chair Elsa Berry Bankier didn’t return repeated phone messages and an e-mail seeking comment. Antoinette Fleisch, co-president of the Parents Association, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
This recent bit of wilding is just the latest scandale to befall the Francophone institution. In 2004, parents were left smarting after the school sold its collection of six Upper East Side townhouses below market value and was saddled with $195 million in principal and debt to fund the construction of the new school building. The financial burden to pay off the school’s J.P. Morgan bonds has caused tuition to jump in recent years. Tuition for next year is scheduled to rise 7.5 percent. Last year, the school’s subterrannean gymnasium was forced to close after water seeped in, leaving some parents worried about possible toxic pollution from the former industrial site adjacent to the F.D.R. Drive.
Lycée parents also cite an incident last year, when they said the son of a big-shot C.E.O.-type was merely suspended after lighting a fire inside another student’s locker.
At a Jan. 10 meeting of the school’s Parents Association, Mr. Thézé assured the parents that he was gaining control of the students.
“Following several behavior issues with some students, a sanction was taken on Jan. 3. The Lycée wants to remind parents that it follows through on each problem. Six students have been excluded in the past five years,” the minutes from the meeting reported that he said.
Paula and Pals
“Without Paula Laurence, you would not have had the Uncola Man,” said Geoffrey Holder, who is 6-foot-6 and now 75, and whose deep baritone laugh and Caribbean-inflected speech sold millions for 7Up in the 70’s and 80’s. “She heard my voice when I first met her and said, ‘You should be in commercials.’ I said, ‘Nobody asked me.’ She said, ‘Oh, well, I’ll call an agent.’ She called the agent; she got me to do commercials.”
It was going on 9 o’clock last Wednesday evening. The imposing Mr. Holder, insistent that he return home by 10 p.m., was leaving a dinner and musical tribute held at the restaurant Chez Josephine in honor of Laurence, his friend and mentor.
Paula Laurence was a fixture in the musical-theater world; she had acted in numerous productions, both on and off Broadway, since 1937, when Orson Welles cast her in his play Horse Eats Hats. Laurence passed away on Oct. 29, 2005, at the age of 92. (Like many venerable ladies—and gentlemen—of the stage, she had taken to shaving off a few years from her actual age, so that some obituaries placed her age at 89.)
Along came Jean-Claude Baker, Chez Josephine’s proprietor. He planted two quick farewell pecks on Mr. Holder’s cheeks and then retreated around the entryway’s heavy curtain, back into the dining area. “You call me,” Mr. Holder called after him. “I will,” said Mr. Baker, to which Mr. Holder replied, “You bet your ass” and “ Ha, ha, ha!”—scarcely intending a self-referential quip.
Inside, there was muted light, as well as plated filet mignon and halibut. Charles Busch, the sometime gender illusionist and all-the-time satirical thespian, kept people at his table in stitches; Laurence’s goddaughter, Stephanie Zimbalist, recalled being encouraged by her godmother to “do a one-woman piece”; the actress Zoe Caldwell smiled angelically.
“Paula knows where all the connective tissue is,” said actor Simon Callow, who’d flown in from London for the event. “She knew everything about everybody and everything that mattered about everybody and why it mattered.”
“She called me once and asked if I was wearing underwear with the dress I wore the night before,” said singer Klea Blackhurst, also a protégée of Ms. Laurence. “She said, ‘Well, there’s something up with the lighting. You should check on it; it looks funny.’ I’m wearing this dress tonight because it is Paula’s favorite dress. When I made my debut at Carnegie Hall this year, she called me the next morning, so excited. She said, ‘That dress was a triumph!’ She had her priorities straight.”
“It would be her 93rd birthday, and she had planned to have this party here,” said Stephen Pascal, the drinks editor for Condé Net’s Epicurious.com. “I took her to three parties in one week, probably a week before she went into hospital, and one of them was here. She loved this restaurant. And she’s paying for it.”
The tab for the evening was, in fact, picked up by Laurence’s estate, which she had bequeathed to the Actors’ Fund of America and New Dramatists, Mr. Pascal said.
“She was very cagey about money; you don’t get to be a theater producer’s wife for 50 years and not figure out how to manage money.”
“She lent me some money to open [Chez Josephine] in 1973,” said Mr. Baker, whose restaurant pays tribute to the woman who adopted him as a teenager, Josephine Baker. “Paula’s husband—Josephine wanted him to be her agent,” he added in his Gallic syntax. “[Paula] knew how difficult he was, and she said, ‘No, Josephine, I want us to remain friends!’”
Laurence’s husband, who died in 1996, was producer Charles (Chuck) Bowden. He and Laurence co-produced Lily Tomlin in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. They were friends and collaborators with Tennessee Williams.
“She had a very active life before she married in 1950,” Mr. Pascal said. “She was Al Hirschfeld’s girlfriend; she was Kitty’s husband Moss Hart’s girlfriend.”
Kitty Carlisle Hart, now 95, sat at the head of the room in flaming red.
Soon enough, it was time for Ms. Carlisle Hart to take the microphone. “I don’t think that they were planning to get married,” Mrs. Carlisle Hart, still a professional comedienne, said of Ms. Laurence and Mr. Hart. “But who knows?”
“In the movies, she always got played by Eve Arden—all of her parts,” Mr. Pascal said. “This kind of sexy, sassy, secretary-sidekick character that never got the man but was always kind of around. And that was kind of Paula’s personality.”
Mr. Hirschfeld’s widow, Louise, couldn’t attend the celebration, but sent along a letter, which cabaret performer Steve Ross read aloud.
“When I first married Al Hirschfeld,” Ms. Hirschfeld’s letter said, “I found some vintage photographs in his collection, and I asked about the woman with the black hair and the wonderfully strong facial features. ‘Oh, that’s Paula. She worked with Orson at the Mercury Theatre. We lived together after I separated from my first wife.’
“That was all the information I could get from him.
“I researched his drawings from the 1930’s and 40’s and Paula was everywhere. Al had chosen to draw her in various character roles; her outgoing personality and unusual facial structure was perfect as caricatures. We all finally met and sat together at a party, and although Al and Paula didn’t communicate very much, Paula and I became fast friends. How I learned to adore her larger-than-life personality and great warmth! When The Line King, this documentary about Al, was being created by Susan Dryfoos, I advised her to interview Paula about Al’s life in the 1930’s. She was very astute: ‘He was a very private person and kept his stories for himself.’ About Al and sports: ‘He never sweated or participated in sports. The only thing he ever lifted was a coffee cup.’
“So,” Ms. Hirschfeld’s letter concluded, “she passed down some words of wisdom to me, which came in handy in our marriage. I never asked Al about his former lovers and I never asked him to play tennis. Farewell, Paula.”
The week of Jan. 23 through Jan. 29:
Surprisingly, Sundance was a publicity bust for the ladies that matter last week. Of the 62 nice ladies being tracked by The Transom, very few schussed the slopes of what the publicists called Perk City, Utah.
But that doesn’t mean that the ladies didn’t hit the town of Manhattan last week.
Bronson van Wyck’s 30th birthday party on Jan. 28 at Element was a total get-down blowout—and also a garden of womanly delights! Scoring on Patrick McMullan’s photo Web site were Alex Kramer in three photos, Stacey Bendet in two—but really, it was all about Celerie Kemble in a stunning 17 photos, which included documentation of her dirty-dancing with Moby and—a-ha!—a snuggle with Mr. McMullan himself. Celerie, you’re now our favorite vegetable! (We kid!)
Also last week, there was some Valentino showroom party? From there, Alexis Bryan took home three photos on P-McMull, Jacqueline Sackler grabbed one (with Roberta Amon), and Coralie Charriol Paul won the night with six pictures.
And Holly Dunlap, where have ye been? Why, there you are, at the Young Collectors Night of the Winter Antiques Show! All alone, but are you ever really alone when you have a great big gold shiny purse?
It should be noted that Ms. Bendet, mentioned above, also scored some verbiage in Crain’s New York Business this week in an article on the rise of 80’s fashion: “We did some of the ’80s stuff for spring, and we’re doing a lot more for fall,’’ the Alice+Olivia designer told the business-minded mag. Unfortunately, the article came with a Sally Singer smackdown: The Vogue fashion news editor said, “I lived through the ’80s, and I don’t ever want to own that stuff again.”
Oh, but it’s true: Sally Singer has a very serious New Wave past. Just remember that as Fashion Week starts! Go on—ask her!
Elsewhere in the media this week, Stella Schnabel made Page Six for appearing at Sante D’Orazio’s birthday party, along with Naomi Watts—and Lucy Sykes got done up by Richard Johnson as well, on Jan. 26, as a promo for the Fashion Week Child magazine fashion show. (But what about Cookie, Lucy? WHAT ABOUT COOKIE?)
And on Jan. 23, the New York Post announced that tower of nightlife power Amy Sacco had just begun tea service at Bette! Tea! At Bette!
Last week’s winner of the Ladies’ Rankings was Amy Fine Collins, who suffered no drop-off in documentation this week due to her appearance at Richard Turley’s Chinese New Year’s party at PM lounge. Ms. A.F.C. nabbed a shocking 15 Patrick McMullan photos of her own—with the likes of guest of honor Yue Sai Kan, no less. She also scored a Page Six item on Jan. 23, a nice bit of fallout from last week’s triumph at the Winter Antique Show opening gala, with some odd little item about dinner for the Pakistani prime minister and Jack Kliger and … well, we got confused.
And so! While Ms. Collins came close to a twofer, the week that was belongs to Celerie Kemble. Mmm, crunchy!