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Monday, June 11, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Augustus Ward Morehouse III, Author Our Coverage Sponsored by Claw New York

Ward Morehouse III

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When a building is magnificent, unusual and has a storied past, it’s deemed a landmark. Ward Morehouse III, arguably one of the most fascinating people in New York, comes to mind. The scion of a theatrical and newspaper dynasty, he is the author of 9 books on hotels and theater and is a co-host of "The New Yorkers" TV show. We recently highly recommended the new edition of Inside the Plaza:

Ward’s books on hotels – Life at the Top: Inside New York's Grand Hotels;Inside the Plaza; The Waldorf-Astoria, London’s Grand Hotels, a hard cover edition is due in several months; Discovering the Hudson, about Broadway's jewel-box Hudson Theatre those who performed there from George M. Cohan to Elvis; a forthcoming biography about his father, The Bear Who Lived at the Plaza, (really!) and one in progress on Paris Grand Hotels -- natural consequences of his having been brought up in hotels, and only the finest. A revised and updated version of his book, Inside the Plaza, has just been published (April 2012) by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. 

Ward was a staff correspondent for 10 years for The Christian Science Monitor and worked for another 10 at the New York Post where he regularly had page one celebrity stories. For five years he was the Post's "On and Off Broadway" columnist. He’s now a drama critic for Black Tie Magazine and a travel writer for TravelSmart, which Money Magazine calls the "Best Newsletter for Travelers." He is the author of three plays, including "The Actors" which ran for 9 months Off-Broadway and was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, Post and others. His play, "Gangplank," co-written with Mark Druck, is being readied for production this Fall.
Fueled by insatiable curiosity, Ward became an intrepid explorer living for a time with a tribe of Indians in a remote region of the upper Amazon. Ward, at this moment, is on one of the Thousand Islands he owns. The tale of Ward’s acquiring the island involves his mother, beautiful actress and co-publisher of “New York Theatre Critics' Reviews” and “Theatre Information Bulletin," and his father who were living at The Waldorf-Astoria when they obtained the island. So addicted to hotel living was his father that it was said the epitaph on his tombstone should read, “Room Service Please.” But Ward III is not only enjoying room service in the here and now, he’s sharing the experience with those who enjoy luxurious living, including both active and armchair travelers. 

Like some famous actors, notably Jimmy Stewart, Morehouse has the somewhat rare gift of self-mockery, and a gentle, shy humor. Even though his play, "The Actors," ran nine months Off-Broadway, Morehouse's standard line to friends and acquaintances who wanted to see it echoed one of the late George S. Kaufman's line about a play of his that fell short of expectations: "Be alone with your girl!" In fact, Morehouse said this and other things with such a straight face you it took some people a several moments to catch on to the "joke." Morehouse himself has been married twice and twice divorced, his second marriage to highly-respected New York interior designer Liz Morehouse. Morehouse's real first name is "Augustus" So it's Augustus Ward Morehouse III. When a woman in Montreal was thinking of canceling a meeting with Morehouse, and didn't, she explained to him, "There was just no way I wasn't going to meet someone called Augustus Ward Morehouse III."  We are so pleased to present 

Augustus Ward Morehouse III as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Ward for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: 
If you could live in any room in the Plaza disregarding that some of it is condos now, what would be your top five rooms and why?

Augustus Ward Morehouse III: 
I would live in 1) The Palm Court because of the sheer beauty of the room and memories of celebrating my 20th birthday there and all the times of just relaxing - and dreaming; 2) A corner suite on Central Park because of memories of celebrating the publication of my Plaza book there; 3.)Any suite on Central Park because it's in one of these that Jay Gatsby and Daisy in The Great Gatsby spent a hot afternoon cooling off with the breezes of Central Park wafting into their room; 4) my family's one-bedroom suite, rooms 660-662, facing the hotel's interior courtyard because that's where my father and I played "wolf": he would climb into bed in his signature blue suite, put on a wolf's Halloween mask, and jump out of bed growling when I opened the bedroom door; 5) the kitchen in my family's suite where my father and I would light gunpowder in the sink and watch it flare up and smoke.

Peachy Deegan went to the Plaza auction in 2005 probably over 40 times and went in every single room and regrets not owning a digital camera at the time...did you go to this sale and if so what did you purchase and did it have any sentimental meaning?

I didn't go to the auction but have several mementoes from The Plaza, including a miniature porcelain bathtub to hold soap. 

Please tell us about your encounters with Eloise if you have had any!

I never met Eloise but have written about and interviewed Liza Minnelli, who lived at The Plaza with her mom, Judy Garland, and who speculation has it Kay Thompson patterned Eloise after. I also think that as a boy I ran to fast through the corridors of The Plaza myself to ever stop and meet Eloise or any little girl who was 6.

Where is your favorite place to dine at The Plaza?

I used to love going to Trader Vic's on the Lower Lever of The Plaza (where Todd English's Food Hall is today.) I knew "the Trader," as Victor Bergeron who started Trader Vic's was called, and interviewed him several times. Trader Vics was where I ate as a child and later as a young reporter.

If you could have added more chapters to your book what would they have been?

I would like to add a chapter about Chester Dale, who had one of the world's most fabulous private art collections in his suite on the same floor my family lived on and a mysterious "countess" who lived behind a suite with double-doors on this same floor and who, at least according to my own imagination, looked like Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind.

What should the world know about your dad that they may not know yet?

That he had was passionate about owning wild animals in hotels such as a bear from Thailand, a lion cub from South Africa, a silver fox and raccoons. The bear lived at The Plaza, the lion cub with my mother and myself when we moved to a hotel called The Seymour, next to The Algonquin, and the raccoons at The Algonquin. On a much more serious note, he never ever forgot a stage performance that moved him as a critic or columnist and those actors who gave those performances no matter how forgotten they were by most people.

How does one acquire an island?

It was a gift to my mother from an actress who had been friends with my father for decades. When she was about to marry one of the country's wealthiest men, she gave the island to my mother and father.

What does luxury mean to you?

Much greater than money or grandeur, even something like The Plaza's grandeur, luxury means peace of mind and time to write and create.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?

One of the editors I had as a young reporter on The Christian Science Monitor who taught me that "clarity" is the most important element of a story. Without it, no one will know what you mean no matter how good your style may or may not be.

What are you proudest of and why?

I'm proudest of stories I didn't write because I didn't want to hurt the people I would be writing about. This may seem strange for a Broadway columnist who was on The New York Post but true.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?

I'd like to travel to the Far East which I haven't yet done -- as well as travel back in time to the 1920s to the expatriate days of Paris. As in Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?

I received letters of commendation from New England officials for series I did for The Christian Science Monitor -- and some nice reviews of books and plays I wrote.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?

Central Park.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?

Barnes & Noble anywhere in Manhattan.

What is your favorite drink?

Cranberry juice and soda.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?

Trying to eat one of those chicken and salad "wraps" that are impossible to bite into at a posh Fifth Avenue apartment without making "another fine mess," as Olivier Hardy said about the messes Stan Laurel used to get them into.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?

The dining room of The National Arts Club.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?

Matinee Tomorrow - a history of the Broadway theatre for the first half of the 20th Century that my father wrote.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?

Mayor of New York City so I could void all parking tickets for the last year! Except those for speeding and running red lights!

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?

I guess a bench in Central Park because it seems, according to the inscriptions I've read on benches, these are thrillingly heartfelt.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?

Jogging in Central Park around the Reservoir and anywhere in the park.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?

Go to a Broadway show.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?

I suppose F. Scott Fitzgerald because I admire his prose so much.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?

The thrill of a Rodgers and Hammerstein overture such as South Pacific or Brigadoon at the Lincoln Center Theater or the old New York City Center Theater.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?

Although this may sound corny, I work church, occasionally helping to coordinate Sunday services.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?

Luxury is both underrated and overrated depending on your point of view. As I've tried to say the greatest luxury anyone can have is peace of mind to think (and write) clearly. There is no greater luxury. What many people commonly think of as luxury items, such as expensive cars, clothes or fabulous apartments pale in comparison to having a sense of genuine accomplishment and the ability to do what you do well and, in the process, make a difference in the world, no matter how small. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?

I love many of the non-movers and shakers columns. A favorite is your NIGHTLIGHT/Charitable Peachy coverage on the "Preservation Oscars" recognizing outstanding preservation work such as John Belle of Beyer, Blinder Belle Architects. To me, many of these columns not only put a well-deserved spotlight on some of the most talented people in New York but inspire me to try and think beyond my own writing, neighborhood and city-wide interests. Bravo! 

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
No, I have not - but look forward to it!

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?

I guess my belief in the basic goodness of mankind and that the world, despite what we see and hear on the 24-hour news on TV and the Internet, is slowly, every so slowly becoming a better place.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

Email at:

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