Image courtesy of Amy Phillips Penn
By Amy Phillips Penn

Had the great elusive legend, Greta Garbo, really made an appearance at Eugenia Sheppard’s funeral?

For days, the New York world that once was Eugenia’s pondered and pontificated at Doubles, Elaine’s, Le Cirque, Le Club and pointed Porthault pillow talk.

Then, quietly, a gentleman dialed his phone.

His hands were shaking from Parkinson’s disease, but his secretary Vine Phoenix was there to assist and opine.

The phone rang and a woman answered.

“Good morning dear, this is Earl Blackwell. We would like to thank Miss Garbo for attending Eugenia Sheppard’s funeral.”

“You’re very welcome,” answered a throaty voice at the other end of the line.

It was Garbo’s phone number, but…had the mystery really been cleared up? Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be answered, only dangled as a gem in the world of competitive glitz.

I had never really known Earl Blackwell until the end of Eugenia’s life.

They lived in the same building.

When the doorbell rang, and it was Earl, Eugenia would put anyone, (First Ladies included) on hold and run to open the door, teenage glee in her foggy eyes.

Earl Blackwell was a New York legend. He lived in the penthouse at 171 West 57th Street. The apartment had endless rooms and and a painted ballroom.  Earl was travelling by train in Italy, and a fellow traveler told him about it. Later on, he convinced Eugenia to move into a vacant apartment in the building.  Adieu, Dakota; Eugenia liked being s close to Earl as possible.

Earl was known as Mr. Celebrity. He ran Celebrity Service, an international business that kept track of celebrities’ goings, and offered private phone numbers to subscribers.

After Eugenia’s death, I moved into Earl Blackwell’s apartment for a while. I’ve never had a more luxurious office.

When Eugenia was dying, Earl brought up the subject of the column. They agreed that I should continue it. Earl wrote a letter to my editor suggesting that I receive a byline along with Eugenia’s.

I later learned that my editor was touched by this, and that Earl’s endorsement, carried a significant weight.

Not everyone was my friend, and I knew that.

One “friend” called me daily to see if I had inked in a contract. He called himself “Uncle Charles.” Puh-lease.

Uncle Charles told me who the top candidates for my column were, including a well known beauty editor. He oozed his support to me, and dished the competition.

A week later, a friend called to tell me that Uncle Charles was “doing lunch” with the beauty editor, center stage at Doubles.

What to do and was I really surprised?

The next time I talked to him, I mentioned that someone had seen him at Doubles and how well he looked.

He got the message…for now.

Friends? So many shadows of razor sharp competition wanted to be in my column until they could secure it for myself.

Et tu Brute, Muffy, Buffy et al?

An out of town opera house was hosting a benefit luncheon in New York. They called me several times and invited me.

I politely declined, as my deadline was at 1:30 and I tried to keep my lunches down to a minimum. Instead, I offered to write about their event.

The day after the luncheon, my friend Edward called me.

“Nan Kempner wondered why you didn’t show up at the lunch.”

“I declined their invitation and offered to write about it,” I answered, puzzled.

“Someone called, said they were you and demanded the best table in the room. Then you didn’t show up.”

“Of course, not. I declined the invitation. Besides, I would never demand a great table.”

“Welcome, my dear to the world of a society columnist. Fasten your seatbelt and make sure that it’s from Harry Winston.  Be careful what you wish for. You’re on the road to “anything you want.”

To be continued…

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