Bill Cunningham’s Columns, the Early Days


In that first On the Street column, Mr. Cunningham focused on women wearing ankle-length coats or skirts. “Those who sell material by the yard have had a few worries lately, with the return of the miniskirt,” he wrote in the introduction to the seven pictures. “But it’s not all bad news for purveyors of cloth, not by any means. The long look remains very much with us.” The images he shot and selected show women of racial diversity, another hallmark of his work.

Mr. Cunningham had begun contributing this photojournalistic coverage to The Times years before the columns became regular fixtures of Sundays and took the names Evening Hours and On the Street.

“They Dined and Danced as a Tribute,” read the headline of a Nov. 6, 1975, article about a charity benefit held in memory of Katherine Murphy Groat, a Bloomingdale’s executive who had died. Mr. Cunningham’s photographs showed a young Ralph Lauren and a youngish Geoffrey Beene.

For a Jan. 11, 1978, article called “Portrait of the Artist as a Furry Creature,” Mr. Cunningham supplied the words, candid street-shot photographs and even an illustration to tell the story of Edward Gorey, an author and illustrator with a penchant for fur.

“In the beginning, when he was relatively unknown, he contented himself with vintage raccoon,” Mr. Cunningham wrote. “Time passed. Mr. Gorey labored. And he was rewarded. By the early 70’s, could be seen along Fifth Avenue, his body enveloped in a fingertip-length wolf coat. A few years later, he was dodging traffic and pedestrians in a steamer coat of sheared beaver.”

When On the Street and Evening Hours were published in 1989, they ran in a section known as Sunday Main 2, a repository of news and lifestyle features. The photo columns were presented with a minuscule credit at the bottom of the layout that read, “Photographs for The New York Times by Bill Cunningham.”

By 1992, The Times had decided to start a weekly section to be called Styles of The Times. Adam Moss, now the editor in chief of New York magazine but then a consulting editor for The Times, directed the creation of a prototype, with Stephen Drucker and Penelope Green.

Mr. Moss and his team wanted to pull Mr. Cunningham’s columns into Styles as marquee features to be called Bill Cunningham’s Evening Hours and Bill Cunningham’s On the Street, Mr. Moss said. But the editor did not anticipate that the idea of elevating Mr. Cunningham would enrage him. It did, and the photographer refused top billing. “His sense was that he wasn’t the star, the subjects were the star,” Mr. Moss said. “I had never met anyone like this before.”

Characteristically, Mr. Cunningham celebrated regular people (relatively speaking) far more than celebrities. So it was in that February 1989 Evening Hours column. While Mr. Cunningham noted in text that Lauren Hutton, Val Kilmer, Bruce Springsteen and Patti LuPone attended the various events he covered, you wouldn’t know it from the four photographs he selected for publication.

Photo

This Evening Hours column, published on Feb. 26, 1989, may have been Mr. Cunningham’s first of that long-running series.

There was Mr. Pennoyer and Ms. Ridder, who were snapped standing with Nicolas Berggruen, who at the time was engaged in a Brooklyn-based real estate partnership with Mr. Pennoyer and is now overseeing the Berggruen Institute. (As could happen in a column filled with names collected at nighttime parties, there was a misspelling in this one — Mr. Berggruen’s given name. He is Nicolas not Nicholas.)

Shown in the upper-right-hand photograph was Madeleine Hartmann at the Worthington Gallery display at an Art Dealers Association of America event. Her inclusion in Mr. Cunningham’s early work was a small enough happening in her life that, when contacted by phone 27 years later, she had no recollection of it. (This lack of recall might please Mr. Cunningham more than all the adulation expressed since his death.)

“Countess Gabriella Moncada” was pictured at the Lincoln Center event in conversation with Peter Bacanovic, then 27 and soon to embark on a career as a stockbroker and private banker. Ms. Moncada is now Gabriella Moncada di Paterno. “I’m now married to a prince and live in Rome,” she said.

Mr. Bacanovic, 54 and a management consultant, said he subsequently appeared in Mr. Cunningham’s Evening Hours a few more times. “I’ve been in there over the years, but unlike most people, I don’t keep a record,” he said.

Gloria Marth was 26 in February 1989 and on her first trip to New York when she attended the benefactor’s preview for the art show at the Seventh Regiment Armory. She was working as a nanny and assistant for Gretchen and John Berggruen of the Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Ms. Marth was standing next to her uncle, the artist Dan Schmidt, and holding the Berggruens’ young son, then about 6 months old, when Mr. Cunningham took her photo. He published it in the Evening Hours column and wrote, “The guests admired the art, some bought pieces and no one is quite sure what Alexander Berggruen” who was “certainly the youngest to attend, thought of it all.”

Alexander Berggruen (coincidentally a nephew of Nicolas Berggruen) is now 27 and works in the postwar and contemporary art department at Christie’s. He remains close to Ms. Marth, an interior designer in San Francisco.

“I am the very proud godfather of her son, William Alexander Marth, who is 2,” Mr. Berggruen said. “Life is amazing, it really does come full circle.”

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