It was said that in order to host a book party last night, the painter Gray Foy had to remove approximately 700 objets from the sprawling apartment on the sixth floor of the Osborne, on West 57th Street, that he had shared for 27 years with the longtime Condé Nast writer and editor Leo Lerman, who died in 1994. Yet every conceivable surface—tables, shelves, walls—was covered with trinkets and statuettes, photographs and paintings and drawings, candelabras and candlesticks, miniature fake pastries arranged around a samovar, Tiffany lamps, framed butterflies and other insects, books, "good Russian silverware," gnomes, decorative boxes, and in one of the three bedrooms, a now-empty hornet's nest, hanging delicately on the corner of a large mirror.
Photos by Nikola Tamindzic.
Leo Lerman was someone who knew everyone, in that New York world of magazines and theater and gay men that for so long intersected so perfectly. Every Sunday night, his parties brought the well-known and the soon-to-be-well-known together, and this party seemed like a throwback to those days. "He was the king of New York," sighed David Noh, who was wearing a bright blue plaid blazer. "He was this city's best-kept secret." When he died, Mr. Foy kept his embalmed body in bed for two days wearing a fez and a purple robe, as his friends paid their respects, as Mr. Lerman had requested.
Mr. Foy sat in front of the fireplace in the living room, surrounded by two of Lerman's former co-workers at Vogue—Amy Gross, now the editor of O magazine, and Grace Mirabella. The actress Patricia Neal sat on a low sofa, and decades-old gossip came up. Someone tittered that Ms. Neal had had a famous affair with Gary Cooper while filming The Fountainhead, and that Mr. Cooper's daughter was also at the party. Awkward! A few Newhouses milled about. Steve Martin arrived, and someone said he had taken the stairs, and that he was not wearing socks. A woman named Fiddle said she was working on a book that she planned on dedicating to Mr. Lerman, which featured drawings of frogs by famous people.
The tuxedo-clad waiters poured more prosecco and offered guests salmon-wrapped asparagus. "He was glorious," said Ms. Mirabella of Mr. Lerman. "He was full of energy and information." She paused. "I really loved him." In the study, a large dragonfly decorated a wall. "It's a fly on the wall!" a guest said. Suddenly, the lights went dark, and the apartment became illuminated solely by candles. "Oh, that happens at every party," said the book's editor, Stephen Pascal. He was Mr. Lerman's assistant at Condé Nast for 12 years, and began compiling the book when Mr. Foy found decades' worth of journals that Mr. Lerman had kept. Everyone likes to tell the story about the time that Marlene Dietrich invited Mr. Lerman into her bathroom to watch her take a bath, so he would know what a naked woman looked like, but we asked him for a story that didn't make it into the book. Perhaps a blind item?
"A certain socialite," he began, and paused. "I don't even know if I should be telling you this!" But! "This socialite had led a spotless life. At one of Leo's parties, an actress told a story about her. The actress had worked with the actor Jose Ferrar on a Broadway show. Every afternoon there was a show, the lady would come up during intermission to, shall we say, play around with Jose Ferrar." Here he paused. "There was a midget in the show, and...." He paused again. "Well, the actress said something about a Cuban sandwich. So all I can think is, the midget was the pickle?"
We spoke of Leo. Mr. Pascal said, "We think of ourselves as so liberated now, but when you read the book, you realize we're really not so liberated."