No Nightmares for Dashing Society Wildebeest

gurley 1 No Nightmares for Dashing Society WildebeestLast May, at a benefit for the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Central Park Zoo, a dapper man came over to bum a smoke. I told him he looked just like Tennessee Williams.

“They all say that,” said Gregory Speck with a Southern accent, then proceeded to tell a story about how when he moved to New York in 1976, he bumped into the playwright in an elevator (“he was so drunk”) and they each did a double take.

The 55-year-old Mr. Speck told me he was an author, celebrity journalist and zoologist, and invited me to see his apartment in the Beresford on Central Park West, which he keeps stocked with his own personal zoo of stuffed wild animals.

“Sounds great!”

A week later I was greeted by Mr. Speck and his roommates: cougars, wildebeest, antelope, caribou, deer, gazelles, foxes, bobcats, sheep, a cobra, elk and a black bear.

“I have 200 here and another 200 in Virginia, so they’re like Mrs. Astor’s 400,” he said.

I was dizzy and spooked. Many of the animals looked pretty alive; a Cape buffalo seemed ready to charge.

Mr. Speck, wearing snug tennis whites, led me to his bedroom. Was I about to get mounted and stuffed by Mr. Speck?

He pointed to a tundra swan above his bed, the only species of swan one is legally allowed to hunt. He made it clear he’s never shot any of his animals, but has “rescued” them from farmers, museums and taxidermists.

“I’ve always liked animals, studied them from childhood,” he said. “And of course you can’t very well keep wild animals, unless you operate a zoo, which I don’t want to do. I felt this would be the best home I could give them.”

There were also photographs of Mr. Speck with humans, among them Andy Warhol and Mary McFadden, the striking fashion designer who’s been married 11 times. “We’re very close friends,” he said. “I’m not certain I want to be the 12th of anyone.”

He continued the tour: rattlesnakes, snapping turtles, flying squirrels, wild boar and a moose named Bullwinkle.

Does he ever have nightmares?

“That’s what all the ladies say,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t be able to sleep here with all the animals running around.’ I mean they’re my friends.”

Does he talk to them?

“No.”

More photos. Was that Mr. Speck with Audrey Hepburn?

“She was a very dear friend of mine. And that’s Maureen O’Sullivan—the mother of Mia Farrow.”

“She was in the Tarzan movies, right?” I said, hoping to score points.

“That’s right! Back in the ’30s.”

“So I’m doing O.K., then?”

“I think you are doing fine.”

We sat down and I asked to bum a cigarette.

“The term ‘bum’ is not so elegant, I find,” Mr. Speck said. “But help yourself. I try not to smoke too much.”

On a grand piano were pictures of Mr. Speck with Ava Gardner (“a great friend of mine”), Martha Stewart, Tinsley Mortimer and Jane Fonda.

Last April at a Planned Parenthood event, Ms. Fonda lamented to Mr. Speck how hard it’s been for her to find a man who is both a great lover and an old soul, adding, “Older men seem to think they are riding the crest when they decided to cash in and take it easy once they have hooked up with me, which becomes a burden and a bore.”

Mr. Speck passed along her quotes to the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column. Ms. Fonda’s boyfriend, 75-year-old  Lynden Gillis, wasn’t happy. Mr. Speck spent five hours on the phone with Mr. Gillis, and helped arrange for a Page Six item, headlined “Jane Still Horny at 70,”  in which Ms. Fonda compared her geezer boyfriend to Warren Beatty, saying she’d missed her chance decades back with Mr. Beatty, who “became legendary as a great lover, so I missed out on a good thing back then, but at least I am lucky enough to have found his counterpart today in Lynden Gillis.”

“I like to remain on good terms with the people I write about,” Mr. Speck told me.

He handed me a copy of his first contribution to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. It was 1985, and he was determined to interview Katharine Hepburn. He had her mailing address, so he went to East 49th to hand-deliver a note. Nora the maid came out, took the note and slammed the door.

A week later, on his way to a screening of St. Elmo’s Fire, he stopped by.