Barbara of Beekman Place

Tucked away in a cul-de-sac on East 50th Street, One Beekman Place was built by the Rockefellers in 1930; previous

Tucked away in a cul-de-sac on East 50th Street, One Beekman Place was built by the Rockefellers in 1930; previous residents include playboy Aly Khan; William J. Donovan, head of the O.S.S. under Franklin Roosevelt; and game-show mogul Mark Goodson. It’s very difficult to get into the building, but once you do, it’s almost impossible to get kicked out. Unless you’re Huntington Hartford, the A&P heir who lived in the penthouse in increasing squalor for three decades before getting the boot in 1982—but only after his ex-wife Elaine, who was still living with him sporadically, was arrested for tying up a naked 17-year-old-girl who was working as his secretary and shaving her head. (Those kinds of things tend to make it into the papers, you see.)

Current residents include TV newswoman Jane Pauley and her husband, cartoonist Garry Trudeau; designer Arnold Scaasi and his beau, publisher Parker Ladd; and Barbara de Kwiatkowski, who was sitting in the blood-red library of her duplex on a recent afternoon.

“It’s probably the most terrible winter I’ve had in my entire life,” she said. A few days before Christmas, she explained, she was making her way down the stairs when her Scottie dogs got in the way. She broke her ankle.

“It really screwed up my Christmas,” she said. “It screwed up everything.”

Aside from the exhibit of her late friend Nan Kempner’s couture collection at the Met, she hadn’t left her apartment for two months. “I don’t do crutches. I don’t give good crutch, ha-ha! Mind you, the weather was awful.”

She was wearing black jeans, a Saint Laurent sweater over a black T-shirt, and Todd shoes. With her smoky eyes and thick auburn hair, she looks like the Ava Gardner of Night of the Iguana. It’s not hard to see why Mick Jagger climbed through a bedroom window to get to her. Or why the current governor of California once said: “I think she’s a very, very, very sexy girl …. I imagine everything possible that one can do with her, and that’s what I want to do with her.”

The palatial apartment we were sitting in was bought by her late husband, Henryk de Kwiatkowski, in the 1960’s. Since his death in 2003, she’s had it to herself and a handful of servants, except when her son Nicholas comes home from college. I glanced out the window at the East River swirling. A servant appeared with a tray of green tea and tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

“It’s a really classy building, but reeeeally classy,” she said. “My husband had a way of doing something that, whatever he did, it was the best. We had the best house in Greenwich, and we have the best house in the Bahamas, and we have the best farm in Kentucky, and we have the best apartment in New York, as far as I’m concerned. It’s certainly livable.”

Society decorator Sister Parish did the apartment.

“I really loved Sister, and she liked me,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “We used to go shopping, and she would test me. She would say, ‘What do you like in this shop?’ And I would say, ‘This, this and that.’ And you’d turn the plate over and it would say, ‘Reserved for Sister Parish.’ So I picked the right things.”

Parish also did her 100-acre estate in Greenwich—Conyers Farms—which sold for $50 million two years ago. Mrs. de Kwiatkowski has been thinking about getting another country house.

“It’s a great time to buy,” she said. “I’m thinking Locust Valley, but then I’m starting to think East Hampton—but I don’t like the fact that it’s really far away. And if I want to go to the Hamptons, I can rent a house there. I could do that. There are times when I just want to go out to the country and not spend hours driving out there.”

Facing us was a painting of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol. “They just sold one for $2 million, which is unbelievable,” she said, getting up. “This one is special, because it’s a really nice one—and look how many times he signed it for me.” She looked at the painting. “It’s nicer than the one that went for $2 million.”

In the 1970’s, Mrs. de Kwiatkowski was part of the inner circle of Andy Warhol’s Factory, the art studio/cult of personality/all-around hangout—located on East 47th Street, then Union Square, then the Flatiron area—for demimonde types such as Anita Pallenberg, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger, the Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgwick, Paul Morrissey and Baby Jane Holzer.

She took a book of photos down from a shelf—Andy Warhol’s Exposures—and paged through it: her with Roman Polanski (“He was pretty randy”); on the back of a horse with Dick Cavett (“Oh, that was so much fun, he lived next-door”); herself and four society swells decked out in leather.

“I didn’t usually dress like this,” she said. “We all decided that we were going to go to the leather bars. They wouldn’t let Andy and me into the worst ones, because I was a girl and he was Andy. Certainly we didn’t get into the back rooms. There was one called the Toilet. They were disgusting. We had this incredible time I will never forget.

“But this is not my life,” she added. “My life is polo! My life is Prince Charles! That was one day. It was one day!”

She said she remembered the infamous blackout of 1977. She was at a friend’s apartment and Studio 54 impresario Steve Rubell came over with “supplies” and they jumped into his Cadillac convertible.

“We had champagne and we just drove around,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “We drove up to Elaine’s and a ton of people were there, and there was candlelight. It was a very carefree time—everybody was happy, things were not serious. New York became serious after that. It was just really fun, probably because of Studio 54—all I liked to do was dance. I just liked dancing! Believe me. And I used to run out of that place and people were chasing me—I’d be in a limousine or I’d run home. I mean it, and this is kind of important, there were guys—it was unbelievable—running on the sidewalk. And I’m not going to name names, but they’re big-time names.”

What did she make of New York nightlife now?

“People don’t have fun anymore,” she said. “It’s over. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a nightclub.”

These days she’s into dinner parties, but you won’t catch her at a charity event. “I did that,” she said. “I was just looking at all the ball gowns I have. It’s fun to look, but I’m never going to wear them again.”

I noticed a feathered admiral’s hat on a shelf. “My Fritzie!” she cried out. She explained that she had bought the hat at an auction of the estate of Fred Hughes, Warhol’s business partner. “I loved him! I collect a lot of Fred’s stuff. I even bought his clothes, because he used to wear these military uniforms. He was quite eccentric.”

Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said she lived with Mr. Hughes for a spell when too many playboys were on her tail—Ryan O’Neal, Bryan Ferry, Bill Paley, Gianni Agnelli. “There were a lot of them,” she said. “When you’d brush them off, you would just get more attention than you bargained for.” She said she dated Warren Beatty for “a nanosecond” and Jack Nicholson for “a little more than a nanosecond. But it was for their benefit.

“It was difficult being a popular girl,” she continued. “Everyone was after you, and I didn’t like that. In retrospect, I think: Gee, how great. But no, I did not make it with all those people. It seemed like I did, but I didn’t. ’Cause I’m a real regular kinda girl.”

She said she gets up very early. “I wake up and I look out into the sky, and on the river I see the boats going by,” she said “I can be slow after that, if I want. Do I go to the gym? No, I don’t. I’m really lucky. I got the muscles.”

I asked how much she was worth.

“A ton.”

Over a hundred million?

“Uh, yep. Over that. Way over.”

BARBARA TANNER WAS BORN IN ROSWELL, N.M., but six months later the family moved to Suffolk, England. Her father—who would die when she was just 20—worked for the Air Force. “It was all top-secret what he did,” she said. “I just saw red folders on his desk that said ‘Top Secret.’”

She and her three siblings had an English upbringing. She had a thing about dolls. “I didn’t like dolls, and I used to bury them in my backyard—just the heads,” she said. The family moved to Paris, where she attended a school for diplomats’ kids. “I wasn’t keen on boys, because I found—and I don’t know if this sounds really pretentious—I found that a lot of them liked me, all at the same time, and it was overload,” she said.

When did she lose her virginity?

“You rascal! Seventeen and a half. And I didn’t do it for a year after that. No, that’s not true.”

Next stop: New York, where she attended Finch College for women on the Upper East Side. Tricia Nixon was an alumna, and one day the girls went down to Washington to protest the Vietnam War. “We had tea with Tricia at the White House,” she said. “She was trying to be nice Miss Perfect.”

While at Finch, she met Joseph Allen, a 29-year-old newsprint entrepreneur. She was 19. They got married.

“I knew Paris better than he did, but he explained the stock market to me,” she said. “He made you feel secure. There’s no way you could not like Joe, but we should not have been married, because I was too young.”

They honeymooned in Morocco, where they got drunk on brandy with actor Richard Harris. The newlyweds lived on East 72nd Street.

In the early 1970’s, Mr. Allen and budding media tycoon Peter Brant bought half of Warhol’s Interview magazine. “We were financing it for a while,” said Mr. Allen. “And I think they gave us an equity position. It was not really a formal arrangement with Andy.”

“Joe put part of it in my name,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “I owned a fourth of it. He put it in my name, to give me something to do, which is ridiculous. I always find it ridiculous—these men thinking that they have to give women something to do.”

She helped organize parties at the Factory. “Proper parties!” she said. “I had proper food. We had Leni Riefenstahl, all the important people who were in town.”

She started a shopping column and wrote about Helen Arpels shoes. “I wore them and made them popular,” she said. “My husband even copied them from me. I got every color.”

She’d have lunch at the East 63rd Street restaurant Quo Vadis with Truman Capote, who became a pal after he’d alienated his “swans,” Babe Paley and Slim Keith. “He liked to gossip; he could tell you things about everybody,” she said. “And I’d just listen.”

“Barbara holds the keys to the other side of the amazingly enormous Warhol story,” said photographer Peter Beard. “She was there for all the great statements of Andy’s for years before she cared. She was completely innocent, and she literally saw and heard everything and didn’t give a damn. She had the most naïve and unspoiled eye of any human to enter Manhattan.”

“Barbara represented the difference between the 60’s Factory and the 70’s Factory,” said writer Bob Colacello. “The 60’s had the speed freaks and the whacked-out heiresses—and street people, really—and the 70’s Factory was kind of like, Andy had been shot, and so it was more about upper-middle-class clean, good kids who, at least on the surface, did not seem quite as self-destructive as the 60’s bunch.

“She was the prettiest young lady you have ever seen—better than Elizabeth Taylor,” said fashion designer Mary McFadden.

“She was a great beauty,” said Picasso biographer John Richardson. “And she didn’t look like other beauties.”

“She was not prepared to deal with the lifestyle that she was introduced to,” said her then husband, Mr. Allen. “And if it wasn’t by me, it would have been somebody else. I mean, she was that good. Everybody was after her.”

“I have to tell you New York was packed with beautiful girls in 1971,” said writer Fran Lebowitz, who was hired at Interview (to review movies and drive a truck to deliver plates of the magazine to the printer to New Jersey). “Barbara had this look particularly prized at the Factory, this very WASP-y look and very fresh. Andy took Barbara up because she was his idea of the great all-American beauty. I don’t think it had anything to do with what Barbara was like as a person. I doubt that Andy would have noticed, you know, or cared.”

SOON HER MARRIAGE ENDED. “I loved Joe,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “But I had to sow my oats.”

“Once she was discovered by Andy, her marriage was essentially over,” Ms. Lebowitz said. “I mean, how can you keep ’em down on the farm? She started traveling around with Andy. She was his ‘girlfriend.’”

In 1974, she got an assignment to interview Peter Beard. They went on safari. “That was a proper safari,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “I killed cobras. Women are good shots.” They became an item.

Mr. Beard’s cottage in Montauk was next-door to Warhol’s compound, which the Rolling Stones rented in 1975 before an American tour. Mr. Colacello was staying at the Beard cottage and, in the night, a rattling woke him up. “It was Mick Jagger climbing through my window, thinking that was Barbara’s room!” he said. “It was about 3 in the morning. We all had a good laugh.”

“We died laughing on the floor,” said Mrs. de Kwiatkowski. “‘Mick, you got the wrong room!’ Nothing happened. I was in love with Peter Beard. Wasn’t I a lucky girl? He chose me. All the men in my life chose me. They all chose me.”

“Usually, people who say that things ‘just happen’ to them, it’s not true,” said Ms. Lebowitz. “They make them happen. But I think that in the case of Barbara, it was true.”

She went through a “brief Hollywood period” and auditioned for Jack Nicholson’s Goin’ South and appeared in Andy Warhol’s Bad.

“It was one of his sordid movies,” she said. “I played the worst character in the world. He asked me to play a woman who threw a baby out the window, and I said, ‘No, I will not do that, Andy.’”

She had more success modeling. She was the first woman to wear jeans on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Who else did she model for?

“That’s a stupid question. You model for whoever asks you to model—Calvin, Halston, Ralph. You model for them!”

She made the cover of Interview in 1977. “I hated it! I looked like a chipmunk,” she said. The magazine named her Girl of the Year, and there were quotes from Mr. Jagger (“She leaves me speechless”) and fashion designer Halston (“Men adore her because she doesn’t pull any of that feminine crap … ”).

Halston was her neighbor for a while on East 63rd Street. “Halston was very grand,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski said. “He gave parties all the time and everybody would dance. Go over at 9 and stay until 6. It was fairly decadent, but it was civilized. I mean, Martha Graham would be there.”

At a drag party there one night, Mrs. de Kwiatkowski wore a jock strap over a silk robe. “Steve Rubell came dressed as Scarlett O’Hara,” she said, “and a lot of people wore Liza Minnelli’s clothes—one guest caught fire because Halston had a staircase with candles on it. Halston wore high heels—no, I got it wrong. Steve dressed in a big fat red dress and H dressed—what the hell did he dress as? All I remember are the high heels, and he walked in them perfectly.”

Her relationship with Mr. Beard lasted around three years. “I moved on, kiddo,” she said. “I moved on to Philip Niarchos [son of Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos]. Quite quickly.” Then she told me about the “little flirt” she’d had with temperamental tennis star Ilie Nastase.

“He was the most fun,” she said. “Once he arrived at my door and he had all his tennis rackets and he said, ‘Barbarella, I’m so tired. Can I stay with you?’ And I said, ‘Surrre, but I’ve got kind of a date.’

“So I go out with a group of people, Taki amongst them, and I said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to go home, Nasty’s there.’ And he said, ‘Oh, come on. I don’t believe you.’ I said, ‘Well, come see.’ So we get to my apartment and we creeped along, and then Taki sees all the tennis rackets and he just couldn’t get over it.”

By the early 80’s, she was ready to settle down.

One weekend, she was at her friend Minnie Cushing’s place in Newport. “All of a sudden, we hear a helicopter,” Mrs. de Kwiatkowski recalled. “Who’s landing on her property? And out comes Henryk. And he came up to me—he was going to a ball we had no intention of going to. And he came up for a drink before the ball, and he said, ‘I’m going to marry you.’ He claimed to have seen me before, but he hadn’t.”

Born in Poland, Henryk de Kwiatkowski had fled the Nazis in 1939, was imprisoned in a Russian camp in Siberia for two years, escaped, enlisted with the British Royal Air Force, and flew missions against the Germans. After the war, he immigrated to Canada, became an aeronautical engineer and went on to make a fortune as a broker of used airplanes. Legend has it that over a game of backgammon with the Shah of Iran, he made a $20 million commission from the sale of nine 747’s.

“He was kind of old-world Polish, a proper gentleman,” said Mrs. de Kwiatkowski. “He never walked out of his bedroom without wearing his suit and tie, maybe his polo outfits.”

She met him at an auspicious time.

“She really wasn’t financially independent,” said her ex-husband, Mr. Allen. “She was in little bit of a trap as she was getting older, in her mid-30’s, because she really had no security. It’s great to be the toast of the town, but you’ve got to be able to fund it. Henryk had the dollars. He was not the type of guy that she went out with before. She’d gone through this stage of the young, attractive, wonderful woman, being well liked by some of the most attractive people in New York. But she was not independently wealthy. When she married me and divorced me, we were not wealthy at that time.”

Barbara and Henryk married in 1986. De Kwiatkowski was major player in thoroughbred breeding. He later bought Calumet Farms in Kentucky, which had produced nine Kentucky Derby winners.

“We were always in Europe all summer,” she said. “We followed the polo circuit, so we’d go in June to England and then July in Deauville, and then Saratoga in August and Greenwich.”

When the Warhol Diaries came out in 1989, she said, “It was terrible. I was with Henryk, and his children were saying, ‘Have you read this? Look what Barbara did!’ And I thought, ‘Oh, he’s just going to die.’ And he said, ‘Barbara, I don’t care. I married you because I love you.’”

She is mentioned 73 times in the Diaries. “Andy really exaggerated, and he didn’t tell the truth all the time,” she said. “Andy could be really bitchy.”

“I was the only person I know who wasn’t surprised by those diaries,” said Ms. Lebowitz. “A million people were upset, and they kept saying, ‘I thought Andy was my friend.’ Whatever gives them the idea that Andy was anyone’s friend?”

Mrs. Barbara was in Palm Beach when she heard Warhol had died. “It was awful,” she said. “It was Henryk’s birthday, and I was giving him a party. So I had to be this gay, fabulous person, and that morning it flashed across the news: Andy’s dead. They showed a video of Andy and me walking into the White House, and they showed it over and over.”

After a battle with cancer, Henryk de Kwiatkowski died at age 85 in 2003. “I miss him enormously,” she said. She buried him in the Bahamas. “I found the most beautiful monastery, which could be the highest mountain in Nassau,” she said. “Only monks are buried there, but it was the only decent place that was suitable for my husband.”

She has not remained close to each of her six stepchildren. “They’re still my family,” she said. “They were my family for more than 20 years—but I was a stepmother and, you know, stepmothers aren’t popular. But stepchildren aren’t, either.”

It was after 5 p.m. A servant mixed her a vodka cranberry. In the dining room, she pointed out the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper (“from a very important house in England”). In the living room, she gestured toward a drawing of her by Warhol. “And he never did drawings,” she said. “Never. So it makes it special.”

Two weeks later, we were in her chauffeured Lexus suburban, heading downtown to the Waverly Inn. She was wearing a fur coat over a chinchilla vest, black Saint Laurent pants and Prada boots—the first time she’d worn heels since she’d broken her ankle. She had a Victorian garnet cross around her neck and a huge sapphire ring.

She said that the next day she was flying to Nassau on a friend’s plane. She had some houseguests and thought she might invite Sean Connery over. “He always comes over for dinner, and he’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I always get seated next to him at dinners.”

We pulled up at the Waverly and got a good table up front. She ate almost an entire steak. “I can’t believe I ordered this,” she said. “Do not put that I ordered this. Say I ordered the Dover sole.”

After dinner, back at One Beekman Place, we looked at old photographs: of her and Henryk and their son with Queen Elizabeth; of Henryk with Prince Charles; of her with Margaret Thatcher.

She confessed she thought she’d had a “really fun, fabulous and exceptional” life.

“I just did,” she said. “In a way, things happened to me. It’s not like I went after them; they just happened.”

She mentioned that, two weeks before, there’d been a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s death. She didn’t go.

“It was ridiculous,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why are they celebrating his death? Why?’” Barbara of Beekman Place