High life

The day Elizabeth Taylor kidnapped my daughter

7 May 2022

9:00 AM

7 May 2022

9:00 AM

New York

Back in the good old days the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the hotel for Yankee swells, rich politicians such as JFK, and, of course, upper-class Eurotrash. Both my children were born at a hospital nearby, and both newborns spent their first month of life at the hotel. Alexandra and I would leave our nearby brownstone, which was more upside down, and move to the Carlyle, which was more sideways, thanks to my dad’s generosity. We were given the presidential suite with round-the-clock service and doctor availability galore. While waiting for her brother to be born, my five-year-old Lolly had the run of the hotel and took full advantage, raiding the formal dining room for sweets, demanding funds from the cashier (unsuccessfully) and playing with her toys in the middle of the reception area as the grandees came and went. Then one day she suddenly disappeared.


Alexandra was in bed having just given birth to John Taki, the nanny had needed a private moment, and I was recovering from a night out. Panic stations all round, but doormen on both exits assured us that no one had seen the five-year-old, and a thorough search of the hotel was ordered. With the cops on their way, the mystery was solved when a lift operator remembered that Elizabeth Taylor, appearing in Broadway’s Little Foxes, had picked up the pretty little girl and taken her to her suite so she could play with some other child she and Richard Burton had collected. Some weeks later, at the play’s opening in Washington, I was seated next to the star having been invited by the daughter of Taylor’s then hubby, a US Senator. I told her about the kidnapping of my little girl but the star remembered little. ‘Oh yes,’ was her only comment. That’s Hollywood for you, but at least she meant well.

Yep, those were the days and nights of youthful exuberance. Jimmy Goldsmith kept a year-round suite at the place, as did my mother-in-law. Bobby Short played Cole Porter at the piano every night, with Woody Allen filling in from time to time. The owner of the Carlyle, Peter Sharp, loved Porter and Arcadia, and he made sure only nice things happened to those lucky enough to live there. After his death the hotel was sold to a Chinese company and it now resembles Miss Havisham’s drawing room, with a clientele that make Millwall supporters seem genteel by comparison. The staff looks disgruntled more often than not, although some of them do speak English, however accented. I once rang and rang a friend staying there and never got an answer from the hotel switchboard. I tried to think of a time when this had happened before, but I couldn’t. Even in Raymond Chandler’s fictitious flea-bitten dumps, there was always an operator who answered sooner or later. Not at the modern Carlyle.

Never mind. Exuberance has turned to exasperation here in the Bagel, yet Robin Birley is going to open a great place one block from me at the Westbury. Robin has never failed and this is manna from heaven as far as I’m concerned. Piling into some limo and spending an hour in traffic to get into a downtown club where some thug at the door runs a device all over you looking for guns is not my idea of fun. And speaking of guns, I went to dinner at the designer Carolina Herrera’s house the other evening and the next day read how swanky Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, starting with the Herrera boutique, has lowered the lights and opens the doors by appointment only due to brazen daytime shoplifting. Carolina’s place has been robbed so many times it now pretends to be shuttered. The designer herself told me that they have to be very careful when refusing someone entry as it may be deemed racist and she could be sued. Her swankiest handbag sells for 4,500 big ones, and a thief picked up four or five of them recently and then ordered the doorman to open it for him. No one dared refuse him. Nearby Chanel and Prada, one block down from me, are also tightly locked up with more security guards than clients.

Even more outrageous than violent daytime shoplifting is the annual freak show at the Metropolitan Museum, run by the egregious Anna Wintour, who looks more simian by the minute (the oversized sunglasses don’t help). It is called the Met Gala and this year the stars were the Kardashian clan, once upon an untacky (no relation) time personas non grata, now greeted like stars of Hollywood’s golden past. The tickets cost 35,000 big ones per seat, and the last time anyone who ate with a fork and knife and not their hands paid this amount I was a kid in short trousers. Talk about how the Carlyle Hotel has changed; the Met Gala has gone from an elegant soirée attended by swells to a horror show overseen by Anna Wintour, just as Madison Avenue’s luxury mile has turned into a violent shoplifters’ paradise. ‘New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!’ sang Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in On the Town. It’s now a freak show, and a dangerous one to boot, sings Taki. What am I doing here? Well, she’s young and beautiful, and she likes older men, and I’m just kidding of course.

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