By Published on .

It was both Lincoln's Birthday and Ash Wednesday and in Manhattan they were talking snow, yet precisely at noon here came Katharine Graham in a scarlet pants suit hobbling on a cane over the old stones of the Villard Houses to attend a luncheon in her honor in a not yet opened restaurant few of us had ever even seen.

I knew she'd been out plugging her memoir. "But is it that tough on the talk-show circuit?"

"No," said Kay, "I had a hip replacement, and they promised it would be OK by now but it isn't."

Except for that, the lunch was super and Kay was better. Everyone showed but Amelia Earhart.

When you have Henry Kis-singer and Barbara Walters and George Stephanopoulos and Liz Smith and Ralph & Rikki Lauren and Donna Hanover and Rick Smith and Warren Buffett and Paula Zahn and Bill Blass and Mike Nichols and Aileen Mehle and Henry & Louise Grunwald and Nora Ephron & Nick Pileggi and Felix Rohatyn and Amanda Burden and Bill Safire and Kay's daughter Lally Weymouth, and the whole thing is hosted by Anna Wintour of Vogue and remarks are made by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., with the meal prepared by Sirio Maccioni, you know you are not lunching at Sam's Greasy Thumb on Sheepshead Bay Road.

It is 31 years since Truman Capote's famous Black & White Ball, a tribute to Kay way back when Ben Bradlee was still new to the job and the Watergate hadn't even been built, and here was Kay again being saluted, and rightly so, the week before her remarkable book would leap into first place on the best-seller list of The New York Times over formidable competition (as Schlesinger cracked, "Sorry, Walter Cronkite, but that's the way it is").

Capote was a genius. He knew, decades before the rest of us, the essential worth of this little brown wren of a Washington widow and threw a hell of a party to show off her plumage to those who lacked the vision to appreciate it. And now, with Vogue excerpting a chunk of the book, there was a valid excuse to get some of Kay's pals together yet again.

Once Kay herself made it up the stone steps to the entrance of what will be (come late April, says Sirio) the brand new Le Cirque 2000 restaurant, a couple of guys halted the rest of us. "There's a wind tunnel effect just inside," we were told. But once we survived the wind tunnel, Paul Wilmot or whoever it is does such things at Conde Nast, had a platoon of the prettiest young women in New York take names and take coats and bid us all welcome. Thus feeling right at home, I made my way swiftly to the bar for a glass with which, when it was seemly, to toast our guest of honor.

Then I spied Billy Norwich chatting with Conde Nast editorial chief James Truman and Robert Isabell, and congratulated Billy on his recent coup, tracking John Fairchild down at his new hideout in Vero Beach (John Fair-child in Vero Beach? You astonish me!), but taxed Billy for having permitted John to get away with so much inaccurate folklore.

Laurie Jones of Vogue, long the managing editor behind New York's best years, and then Ralph and Rikki Lauren and I hung out for a bit, and then Andre Leon Talley, in brown velvet, one of his less outrageous get-ups, arrived and with many kisses, greeted Kay. Signore Maccioni then took me behind the scenes to show how the restaurant would be laid out when they finished (a German stove in the kitchen, "one of five in the world!" was pointed out. "How much?" I inquired, rudely perhaps. Sirio's voice fell to a conspiratorial whisper, "over a million.")

Anna Wintour in sleek black leather said of Kay, "How much fun you are and how outrageously indiscreet." Schlesinger recalled the old days in Washington, "the old house on R Street Phil and Kay had" and those grand times "after the war" in Washington. And the sad times, too, when Phil Graham spun out of control and died. Then Kay got up.

She issued mock complaints about dull but worthy stuff the editors had cut out ("tragic deletions" she called them) and why she refused to have a collaborator ("I'd be too jumpy to work with anyone") and how she wrote on yellow legal pads and of titles-considered or suggested. Since Bradlee's book was "A Good Life," hers might have been, "A Better Life." Someone in the family preferred, "Caught in a Wringer." And why do a memoir at all? "These days it seems impossible to stop anyone from writing one. . ."

She's a great gal and hers is a fine book and that was one swell lunch and when I went out one of two liveried doormen had ashes on his forehead. "What about you?" I demanded of the second. "I'm Lutheran," he said. "That's a Catholic without guilt."

Most Popular
In this article: