Henry Kissinger’s High Society Life in New York With Celebrities

Henry A. Kissinger, the powerful diplomat who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and accused of being a war criminal for his realpolitik approach to foreign affairs, had a kind of second career on the society circuit, especially in the years after he served as secretary of state under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Even as he published heavyweight books and advised presidents and business leaders on geopolitical matters, Mr. Kissinger, who died at his second home in Kent, Conn., at age 100 on Wednesday, was a frequent presence in gossip columns.

His intellectual pursuits and social aspirations fortified each other as he moved with pirouette precision through benefit galas and became part of the scene at Studio 54. He beat Donald J. Trump, whom he advised late in life, to the idea that celebrity and politics are not separate spheres in American life, and he made sure that he was firmly entrenched in both.

“Henry was not designed for intellectual monasteries,” said the diplomat Richard Haass, who, as the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, often booked Mr. Kissinger to speak at events on global politics. “He was designed to be around people.”

“Henry had a rare conceptual intelligence,” Mr. Haass continued. “He could connect dots and make people see things in ways they couldn’t see for themselves, and that’s valuable around a board table and around a negotiating table — and around a dinner table.”

Mr. Kissinger joined the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was photographed with Dolly Parton and Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Taylor.

Andy Warhol, who shared with Mr. Kissinger a zeal for placing himself in the company of the famous and the powerful, found him to be a bore. “So long-winded,” he wrote in his diary, describing an affair at the Waldorf Towers that was attended by the broadcast journalist Barbara Walters, the television executive Roone Arledge and the newly minted New York City mayor Edward Koch.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who grew up near the Kissinger family in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan and in more recent years frequently bumped into Mr. Kissinger at social gatherings, took issue with that assessment.

“Put a good dinner in front of him,” Dr. Westheimer said, “and he was a very good talker about world politics, and he always took his time. He didn’t rush it.”

“I knew his mother!” she added. “Henry used to say that my accent was stronger than his. It’s not true. His accent was stronger than mine, but he was a brilliant statesman and a brilliant talker at a dinner party.”

The film critic Rex Reed recalled a surreal night at Studio 54 when he found himself “sharing a stained sofa with Bella Abzug, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Kissinger.”

Some years later, Mr. Kissinger made the guest list of the most exclusive and over-the-top party of the 1980s, a gathering hosted by the mogul Malcolm Forbes on the occasion of his 70th birthday. This was not just another night at some New York hotel or restaurant, but a weekend-long extravaganza at a palace owned by Mr. Forbes in Tangiers, Morocco.

Mr. Kissinger and his wife, Nancy, were there with the who’s who of those gilded years, which included Ms. Taylor, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Jann Wenner, Blaine Trump, Henry Kravis, Carolyne Roehm, and Patricia and William F. Buckley. The entertainment included acrobats, dancers, drummers and a mock cavalry charge by 300 Berber horsemen.

A decade later, Mr. Kissinger was still sufficiently sought-after to be among the roughly 1,000 people invited to the end-of-the-century bash hosted by the editor Tina Brown and her backer at the time, Harvey Weinstein, for the launch of the short-lived magazine Talk. Guests who crossed the Hudson River on ferryboats to Liberty Island included Madonna, Queen Latifah and the entertainment executive Michael Eisner.

Mr. Kissinger’s rise in the worlds of celebrity and society resulted in part from the same relentlessness he brought to his work. One facet of his networking skill was his expert handling of journalists, said Walter Isaacson, the author of “Kissinger: A Biography.”

“He courted the media brilliantly,” Mr. Isaacson said. “He was extremely controversial, but pundits were attracted to him, as were Georgetown socialites and women like Jill St. John and Gloria Steinem. The fact that he had celebrity helped him reinforce his celebrity.” (In the early 1970s, when the news media speculated on the relationship between Ms. Steinem and Mr. Kissinger after they were pictured together, she issued a statement, saying that she “is not now and never has been a girlfriend” of his.)

Mr. Kissinger got a taste of the spangled life far from the corridors of power in the early 1970s, when he was a national security adviser to President Nixon and went on a date with the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. In her memoir, “One Lifetime Is Not Enough,” Ms. Gabor recounted that he took her to dinner at the Bistro Garden in Beverly Hills, only to make an abrupt exit after driving her home.

In 1974, soon after Mr. Kissinger married his second wife, the former Nancy Maginnes, Nixon resigned the presidency under duress. Mr. Kissinger stayed on as secretary of state under President Ford. When he left Washington for New York after Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election, his friends were not surprised.

“He wasn’t a Washingtonian,” said Robert D. Hormats, a vice-chairman at the consulting firm Kissinger Associates, who previously worked with its founder in the Nixon White House.

The Kissingers bought a duplex apartment in River House, an Upper East Side cooperative that has been home to New York society types including Kermit Roosevelt (a son of Teddy), Deeda Blair and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. The move to that building was “very much its own statement” about having arrived in Manhattan, according to Holly Peterson, an author and social commentator.

“It’s no different than the seventh-grade cafeteria,” Ms. Peterson said. “These people want to be at the table with each other and living in the same posh building.”

The apartment was adorned with gold trimming and Impressionist paintings. The dining room table seated 40.

Mr. Kissinger’s roles in the upper echelons of New York society and in world events became intertwined in 1979, when he and a friend, the Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockefeller, pressured the Carter administration to admit the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to the United States, a decision that was a proximate cause of the 444-day Iran hostage crisis. The New York Times reported in 1981 that those calling for the shah’s entry had misled President Carter by exaggerating the urgency of his medical problems.

In 1983, the Kissingers bought a white colonial-era clapboard farmhouse on a large plot of land in Kent, Conn. The house was relatively quaint, but many of the people the Kissingers socialized with there — including the designer Oscar de la Renta and the violinist Isaac Stern — were not.

The milder political climate in those years was an important factor in the couple’s social standing. When the Kissingers attended dinners with Agnellis, Astors, Buckleys and Erteguns, Democrats and Republicans were in broad agreement about Communism and other issues of the day.

“There really were no woke Democrats or neo-Nazi Republicans then hanging around Park Avenue,” said Bob Colacello, the author of “Ronnie & Nancy: Their Path to the White House,” a portrait of the Reagans.

Still, there were moments of tension with critics who deplored Mr. Kissinger’s brand of realpolitik. The former secretary of state was accused of breaking international law for actions he took in the White House, including his authorization of the carpet-bombing campaign in Cambodia from 1969 to 1973, which killed tens of thousands of civilians.

At a dinner party in 2002, the ABC News anchor Peter Jennings buttonholed Mr. Kissinger, asking him, “How does it feel to be a war criminal, Henry?”, according to Ms. Walters, who described the evening in a 2006 interview with New York magazine. Mr. Kissinger said nothing in reply; his wife was deeply hurt.

That night was an exception, though. Mr. Kissinger carried on as a frequent party guest into June of this year, when he was feted at the New York Public Library for his 100th birthday.

The author and former gossip columnist William Norwich noted that politics had little or no effect on the number of invitations one received in the years of Mr. Kissinger’s social ascent.

“People did not then feel the need to condemn and cancel others the way we do now when one doesn’t agree with someone,” Mr. Norwich said. “You made your own decisions and carried on accordingly. It was history’s job to judge people. It was Mrs. Astor’s to get the soup on the table.”

Mr. Kissinger did have concerns about how history would view him, and he could be thin-skinned when he was written about. For instance, he was not a fan of Mr. Isaacson’s 1992 biography, recalled Louise Grunwald, the wife of Henry A. Grunwald, the former editor in chief of Time Inc. who died in 2005.

“My husband was having lunch with him one day,” Ms. Grunwald said, “and he said: ‘Henry, I know you didn’t like Walter’s book. I felt it was very evenhanded.’ And Henry, this is Kissinger, said, ‘And what right does he have to be evenhanded?’”

Mr. Kissinger put those differences aside in exchange for a place at one of Manhattan’s most-talked-about social events of 1998, Time magazine’s 75th anniversary party. As the top editor of Time in those days, Mr. Isaacson was a host of the gala at Radio City Music Hall, which included President Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sharon Stone as guests.

“I had had a frosty relationship with him because he didn’t like the book,” Mr. Isaacson said. “And then I remember my assistant sticking his head in and saying, ‘Henry Kissinger is calling.’ I picked up, and Henry said: ‘Walter. Even the Thirty Years’ War had to end at some point. Although we have to work on Nancy a little. She’s partial to the Hundred Years’ War.’”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com