Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mae West: The NYC 400

MAE WEST, Henry Hudson, Berenice Abbott, Meyer Lansky, Dorothy Parker, Jerry Seinfeld, and Diane Arbus all made the list.
• • They all made "The New York City 400," a round-up of New Yorkers who have made a difference since Henry Hudson steered his vessel The Half Moon into what became known as New York Harbor in 1609.
• • Created by the Museum of the City of New York to honor the New York City’s 400th birthday, this update is a revised everyman's version of the original line-up once known as "The 400."
• • As the late Earl Blackwell was the self-nominated judge of "The Best Dressed List" — — not unlike a band of curmudgeons who try to police fashion at red carpet events — — from the 1860s to the early 1890s Samuel Ward McAllister [1827 — 1895] was the self-appointed arbiter of Manhattan society who coined the phrase "the Four Hundred." According to McAllister, an ambitious Southern lawyer who wed an East Coast heiress, this was the number of people in New York who really mattered; the people who felt at ease in the ballrooms of high society.
• • None of the 400 socially prominent New Yorkers lassoed into Ward Samuel McAllister's 14-carat corral over a century ago survived the cut this time — — except for the bewhiskered none-too-comely McAllister, who died at age 67 and committed social seppuku by disgracing himself.
• • Making these decisions in a city rich with native trailblazers and titans was not easy. So the museum's arithmetic was massaged so that, for example, the musical comedy duo of Adolph Green and Betty Comden could be numbered as one individual. Likewise for the 3 founders of Lehman Brothers who have morphed, Holy Trinity like, into one entity. And two heroic Port of Authority employees, who perished on 11 September 2001 during the terrorist attack, have also been coupled to form a unit.
• • Museum prez Susan Henshaw Jones told reporters: “New York City 400 is definitely not a definitive list. It is intended to be fun and provocative, stimulating New Yorkers and those who love New York City everywhere to think about others they believe should be on our next list of New York City 400.”
• • Unlike the original, the retro-fitted 400 recognizes New Yorkers more for their achievements than for their position on the social register — — such as former N.Y. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a man of the people who was born on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. Elasticity being what it is, even Michael Bloomberg turns up in this group though he was born and bred near the ballrooms of Boston.
• • Benign big blonde machines do not figure here in these exalted endpoints of institutional starlight. The museum was seeking substance when they patched this new body of 400 parts together. A number of New Yorkers have already found their portion of sunshine slit, their wit addled, and their deeds forgotten. And then a new accolade arises and reputations such as Mae West's are reassessed and launched kite-high anew, tethered to Henry Hudson. Oh, Big Apple bliss. Such such are the joys.

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