No Nightmares for Dashing Society Wildebeest

“Oh, it’s you again!” Nora snorted, then slammed the door. But as he started to leave, the door opened.

“So I understand you wanted to see me,” said Hepburn. “Do you promise me you’re not a terrorist?”

“Oh, no, ma’am, I’m a journalist.”

“She said, ‘Well, I’ll give you five minutes.’ I said, ‘Oh, but I’m not prepared, I don’t have a tape recorder.’ She said, ‘Well, you can take it or leave it.’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’

“My fingers could hardly hold a pen. I was just trying to concentrate on what she said, and then the phone rang, and she said, ‘Oh, I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me, I have an appointment.’”

Hepburn gave him her phone number; he was back a few days later. She asked Nora to bring up some booze. Nora slammed down a silver tray full of bottles and crystal glasses in front of Mr. Speck and said, “How did you do this, young man? Nobody gets in here like this.”

“We felt like soul mates,” said Mr. Speck of Hepburn. “She became like a grandmother to me. I used to go over there once a week. The other stars said, ‘If he’s good enough for Katharine Hepburn, he’s good enough for me.’”

After plumbing the depths of James Cagney, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Helen Hayes and Lauren Bacall, he turned his interviews into a book called  Hollywood Royalty.

 

MR. SPECK’S FAMILY goes way back in Virginia. His mother’s side, which made its money from tobacco, arrived in 1670; his father’s side showed up in 1726 after receiving a 35,000-acre land grant from George II. As a Boy Scout, young Gregory witnessed his first homosexual experiences. “Sort of sex games,” he said. “Boys will be boys. … But it wasn’t like the boys were gay; it was just that everybody was young and horny.”

At 15 he went to Woodberry Forest, a prep school outside Charlottesville, where he acted and sang in the choir. His classmates were boys from rich families. “Almost all of them became wastrels and didn’t do anything with their lives or money or talent,” he said. “It didn’t appeal to me to be Dorian Gray.”

At Amherst College, he starred in plays, sang in the glee club, and was known to be “entertaining and notorious.” Eventually he decided he was too well known for his own good and went to the Sorbonne for junior year, living in a beautiful apartment on the Champs-Elysees.

“I had two girlfriends simultaneously, both of whom I’m still in touch with,” he said. There was Lulu, “a princess and an heiress, and she was determined to marry me. But I didn’t want to.”

(After two failed marriages, she’s now stuck with three boys in Paris and wants Mr. Speck to come over and be their father, but he doesn’t want to.)

Then there was Dominique, “Nicky,” whose father was president of a pharmaceutical corporation. “So Nicky and I had an affair, and I would have lunch with Lulu one day and lunch with Nicky the next day,” he said. “Which everybody thought was very French.”

He moved to New York in 1976. His parents wanted him to do something like architecture or law. Instead he became a press agent for Studio 54. He promoted Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday party. He was standing by the front door with Steve Rubell when the actress stepped out of her limousine wearing a beautiful magenta sequinned Halston pantsuit. “The crowd rushed behind her, so she was pushed right up against me and her boobs were right in my face,” he said. “Margaret Trudeau presented Elizabeth with a big portrait of herself, so she took a knife and cut off her nose. It was actually a birthday cake.”

At the opening night of the Palladium nightclub, he found himself sitting at a banquette with Andy Warhol, Cornelia Guest and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was “very surly” as he rolled joints. “Why don’t you write for Interview?” Warhol asked him.

In 1992 Mr. Speck quit journalism to “make even better use of my abilities” as a cultural historian and scholar. He got busy on a second book, working title: Revelation of Prophecy as History; in it he demonstrates parallels between the Greek pantheon, Egyptian cosmology and other systems. He also solves the riddle of the Sphinx.

“If I don’t find a publisher who can appreciate its impact I suppose I would just publish it myself, ha-ha!” he said.

He maintains an active social life; he goes out “quite a lot” and provides items to Richard Johnson, Liz Smith and Cindy Adams.

“It’s a way for me to stay in the media, without having any particular editorial responsibility,” he said. “And I have never been paid a nickel by any gossip column, and luckily I’m not looking to get paid.”

One afternoon in late August Mr. Speck called to offer me a ride to the Hamptons the next morning.

At 11 a.m. we climbed into his yellow 1990 Cadillac De Ville. He made a sharp right up Broadway.

Asshole!” some peasant yelled.

“I’m an asshole?” he wondered.

He gossiped about some of his neighbors at the Beresford. John McEnroe uses his tower apartment as rehearsal space for his rock band, which upsets a neighbor across the roof.

“She’s an award-winning screenwriter, and so she likes to concentrate but can’t with that deafening racket,” Mr. Speck said. “In the old days, when Tatum O’Neal lived there, we would find her sitting in the lobby sobbing.”

Sometimes Mr. Speck bumps into Jerry Seinfeld.

“He’s very charming and flirtatious with me,” he said. “It turns out that his friend, Larry Miller the comedian, was a fraternity brother of mine.”

Flirty?

“Very flirtatious. I think that’s why Jessica [Seinfeld] got perturbed with the boys romping in their front yard in East Hampton. At night, hundreds of boys are patrolling the dunes and it’s quite a scene—or used to be. They bought Billy Joel’s place, and the gay cruising spot of the Hamptons is right there. She didn’t want her husband to go astray. That’s a Jerry Seinfeld joke. All these things are jokes.”

The first famous resident he got to know was Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, who lived above him. She used to carry a big staff, and when the elevator didn’t come fast enough, she would pound it on the marble floor. After she died, Mr. Speck checked out her apartment, thinking he might buy it—until he saw the kitchen.

“She had smeared it with pig poop!” he said. “I think she did that so she would remember her days in Papua New Guinea. I was shocked.”

I was learning a lot.

So what’s Mr. Speck’s role on the Beresford stage?

“I’m an elegant socialite-journalist-author, and they see beautiful women coming to my apartment. Last night a great beauty came for dinner.”

No Nightmares for Dashing Society Wildebeest