The last playboy: Taki remembers the golden New Year’s Eves of old

From the Gilbert Miller party of old New York to ringing in a black tie New Year in a snowy St Moritz, Taki Theodoracopulos recounts his memories of the annual celebration

Back in the days – nights rather – before the holidays had turned into commercials, New Year’s Eve was a night for great partying among one’s friends. The “jet-set” had not as yet been invented because people travelled on prop airplanes or crossed the oceans on liners.

Ironically, spending December 31st on a transatlantic ship had never caught on, and never did. Most Americans of wealth and social stature headed south, to Palm Beach, where the “Coconuts” gave a New Year’s Eve party. The Coconuts were mostly bachelors who were paying back married folk who had invited them throughout the season to various parties.

The Coconuts were about 20 people but have grown exponentially since then, and now number double that. Last time I attended was about 40 years ago, and the party was fun, up to a point. Too many people pushed hard for an invite and too many men have bribed themselves into the sort of club. The same social push has turned Palm Beach into one big social climb.

palm beach
Palm Beach, Florida

The two exclusive WASP clubs of Palm beach, the Everglades and the Bath&Tennis, have New Year’s Eve parties but they are restrained affairs, like the Wasps, and nothing to write home about. The nouveaux riche now tend to go to the Trump club, where money is the ticket, not social stature.

Back in New York, the hot ticket on the eve was always the Gilbert Miller party, Miller being a top theatrical agent who had married into the upper echelons of New York society. I was invited to the Miller party once, at the bequest of Anne Ford, daughter of Henry Ford, and it was a dreadful affair.

"Ironically, spending December 31st on a transatlantic ship had never caught on..."

Truman Capote was drunk and trying to pick everyone up, Mrs Gilbert Miller was also drunk and complaining about her hubby being gay, and I spent the evening talking to a wonderful man who played the piano, Alan Jay Lerner. He had a glass eye, had lost it boxing. I had a black eye, indulging in the same sport. He had just finished My Fair Lady and was planning a new show On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. He played the tune and then we discussed women. He was on his third marriage.

Of all the eves I’ve spent, talking to Alan Jay Lerner was the most instructive and stopped me from the Karamazovian hangovers that usually followed. In the old continent, New Year’s Eve was not the big shebang that it was in America. In good old Blighty people celebrated it in their country houses, while in London things were quiet. Crowds gathered in Leicester Square but that was about it. Paris likewise.

The last playboy: Taki remembers the golden New Year’s Eves of old
St. Moritz, Switzerland

Switzerland, however, was the place for fireworks. St Moritz and Gstaad led the way. The Palaces hotels in both resorts were the places to bring in the New Year. Black tie dinners were de riguer in the dining rooms, the nightclubs of both hotels filled to the brim and open until daylight. The next day both private clubs held lunches where most of the attendees had not yet gone to bed. The skiing afterwards was a rough and tumble affair.

But back in those innocent days no one sued after breaking their leg, and gossip columnists were not given access to write about the goings on without sleep and under the influence. Yes, along with many other things, innocence has been lost and we have much less fun nowadays bringing in the New Year. Have a happy one.

Further Reading