RUTH’S DAY WITH CLEOPATRA
Photo by George Platt Lynes
Today marks the third anniversary of Ruth Ford’s passing. Ruth died at home at the Dakota on August 12th, 2009, and in some ways it feels as if a lot of time has passed since her last day. But sometimes her passing feels like yesterday. I had been prepared for it I thought, but when it happened it was still a surprise. She was such an important person to me, every day and for so many years, that there was really no adequate preparing for her suddenly not being there.
Ruth was a very important person to many people, especially in New York, and for a very long time. She was famous for her beauty and for her theatrical work, but she was also famous for her salons where people met and important collaborations happened as a result. I think it’s for her salons as much as anything else that Ruth was legendary. She affected the lives and creativity of people who in turn made art that affected the whole culture. And so it seems fitting that Ruth died on the very same day in August—the twelfth—as did Cleopatra. Ruth and Cleopatra both lived lives full of drama and consequence, even if Ruth’s drama was a different kind, and unlike Cleopatra, Ruth lived a very long life and left the date of her passing to fate.
In reality, the closest Ruth ever got to Cleopatra was in 1963, when she co-starred with Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams’s play, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Ruth’s friend Ned Rorem, who still lives in the neighborhood not far from the Dakota, composed the music for that production, which also starred Marian Seldes, a wonderful actress and another old friend of Ruth’s. Marian Seldes is still working, as far as I know, and she’s been working consistently for many years. It was Tallulah Bankhead who had the starring role in William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra a long time ago. The show closed after just a few performances and Tallulah got a terrible review in the New York Post: "Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra, and sank." That happened in 1937, which for Ruth was a year full of glamorous photo shoots.
During her time as a fashion model, all the great photographers of the day photographed Ruth, including George Platt Lynes, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray. Both Ruth and Tallulah Bankhead were photographed by Carl Van Vechten, whose novels were on the shelf in Ruth’s bedroom when she passed away. I still have them, and quite a few other books from Ruth’s shelves, many of them by famous friends who inscribed them to her. Ned Rorem’s numerous published diaries were always among Ruth’s favorite books.
On the first anniversary of Ruth’s death I was in Montana visiting my daughter on the big ranch where she and her husband are caretakers. It had been a long time since I’d been free to travel too far away from Ruth, and after being so long in New York, the sky really did seem big in Montana. Last year on August 12th, I was way down South, having driven with Ruth and Charles, both in their urns, to let them be buried in the cemetery near their parents. It was my first trip there, down to Mississippi where Ruth and Charles were born, and it was their last trip home.
This year on August 12th I will be on my way to Canada for a family trip, and on the road I will think of Ruth and Cleopatra. I used to think that Ruth would never leave, that she’d just stay forever in her apartment at the Dakota. For me, the day of her passing will always be a solemn one, and wherever she is, I hope that her spirit is happy and at peace.
|Ruth Ford. Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolf|
12th August, 2012