At these parties one was as likely to encounter Warren Beatty as the Russian dissident poet Andrei Voznesensky. Among the guests were Tennessee Williams in boozy conversation with Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg in knotty confabulation with John Cage, and Norman Mailer putting on a performance of knuckle-dragging machismo for the apparent benefit of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Ms. Stein’s ability to move through worlds was also apparent in her choice of lovers and husbands. She was involved with William Faulkner as a young woman and interviewed him for The Paris Review. Later she married the lawyer and diplomat William vanden Heuvel, who worked closely with Robert F. Kennedy. She had a relationship with the civil rights leader Roger Wilkins, who wrote in his memoir, of Manhattan social life with Ms. Stein: “I loved it, but it tore me apart.” Her second husband was the Swedish neurobiologist Torsten Wiesel, who won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
“I am embarrassed when I think how easily I took for granted my meetings with remarkable people,” Kennedy Fraser wrote in Vogue of Ms. Stein’s parties.
The guest lists included the writers Renata Adler, Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Kenzaburo Oe and Terry Southern; the artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg; the civil rights activist Ivanhoe Donaldson; the Nobel laureates James Watson and Francis Crick; the editor Clay Felker; the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham; the curator Henry Geldzahler; as well as Andy Warhol and his ragtag band of Factory freaks.
In the days following her death, relatives and longtime friends shared reminiscences of their friend and her gatherings.
I’ve been going to Jean’s parties since the ’60s, first in Los Angeles and then in New York. The first time I ever met Jean, her mother invited John [Gregory Dunne] and me to a party at Misty Mountain. You didn’t say no to Misty Mountain. Jules Stein would have been sitting at one end of the living room in a double-seat settee, and people paid court to him. You did pay court to Jules Stein. I can’t remember anymore what anyone said, but I remember that everyone, no matter who, was interacting. If you were there at a Jean party, you had to interact. That was a given.
Actor, director, producer
I met Jean through Jules. I got invited to dinner. We’re talking 1959. It’s not as if I was a part of that group, let’s put it that way. But I liked Jules Stein, and it was actually Jules who first introduced me to Ronald Reagan. Jules was a very conservative Republican, and Jean was the opposite. And she was politically very articulate, always with a sense of humor about it.
Jean Stein was a very unusual rich girl. I always got the impression she did not want to live in the world into which she was born. Her associations came from the desire to know people who did not have much in common with her. Someone said, “She’s been running around with William Faulkner.” And I said “Jesus!” And then she was friends with Edward Said, and I said, “Jesus!” These were men who were not in the mold of a Hollywood princess.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of The Nation; Ms. Stein’s elder daughter
She loved quirky people and misfits. She was not your typical mom waking up to make eggs. We just got used to the fact there would be these characters around. You would do your homework and there would be Henry Geldzahler or Andy Warhol in the living room.
Cartoonist, screenwriter, playwright
She didn’t start out as a journalist. She started out as the daughter of Jules Stein. She traded off the world [she] rejected — but took full advantage of the connections it offered..
Ms. vanden Heuvel
She lived among people with lots of ego and lots of drink and lots of drugs, but she did not partake. Dennis Hopper would show up at her father’s with a troupe and they were drugged up to the nth degree, but she wasn’t. So she was in control and she was relentless about getting the things she wanted. There was a vulnerable gentle presence, but she was relentless.
Jean never underestimated her parents or that crowd. She knew they understood how to get power. She knew they could be ruthless. She knew they knew how to be winners. In that way, she reminded me of Joan Didion. And I saw the two of them together quite often.
Ms. vanden Heuvel
There was a curiosity, a wanting to get outside of Misty Mountain, of not wanting to be confined. She was a rebel with a cause. She was interested in the whistle-blowers and the troublemakers. She loved her father dearly, but her father thought she was a communist because she wrote about hot pants and went to Disneyland.
Executive editor, Grove Atlantic
The reason I got to know Jean was that I was dating Bill vanden Heuvel. They were divorced but remained very friendly. And I lived in the attic of the Dakota, and she lived next door with her daughters, Wendy and Katrina. It was one of those West Side apartments with a lot of public space and then the bedrooms were squished into the back. And Jean would give a lot of parties and the girls would hunker back there or come mingle with the guests. She had these parties with Black Panthers and movie stars and all sorts of people. I didn’t go to those. Bill and I would go over and have a drink and then go out to dinner. At the time she was going out with Roger Wilkins. She and Roger were considered a little bit radical in those days, this mixed couple. I can see why she was so taken with him. He was charming and great.
Novelist, journalist, critic
I can’t think of anybody before Jean that was having those high-low parties. At her parties you encountered worlds that did not normally overlap. Those parties, that period, the Andy Warhol to Jackie Kennedy to Norman Mailer constellation, isn’t going to happen again. Not that I think there is anything particularly terrible about that.
Former managing editor, Grand Street
Michael Heizer, my ex-husband, the sculptor, and I met Jean and her husband, Torsten Weisel, at Earl McGrath’s living room and became friendly, and Torsten had this idea that I should work with Jean on Grand Street, which she had just taken over from Ben Sonnenberg. Right from the beginning she was giving a dinner party or larger parties for the magazine at 135 Central Park West. There was a large foyer and a room to the right of it that was the Grand Street office, and to the left, a library where she would greet people. Draping the library with fabric was an idea she got from Billy Baldwin — she was always honest about his influence on the room. I remember that there was a Giacometti portrait, a Joseph Cornell on the mantel, butterfly mirrors from Truman Capote’s estate, and all the lamps had pink light bulbs. The place was always in a slight shambles, partly because Jean was always planning to move out.
Jean would often have a seated dinner beforehand, for the A-list people, the big movie stars and the Kennedys, and then ask the hordes in after. It was more common to do that then in New York. That was a thing. You’re invited for dinner or after dinner. People have dropped that now.
This was a time when, if someone still wore heels, we would wear them. I was still getting dressed to go to a Jean party. I had heels on. But there were also people in jeans and turtlenecks. We hadn’t as a society quite made the transition yet to Upper Slob.
I grew up in the Bronx, and that whole scene in Manhattan was what the upper class was all about. My aunt worked as a maid on that block. It was writers and composers and artists, and this was what was supposed to be happening in New York. It wasn’t a freak show. She didn’t seem like the reigning queen of anything. I, oddly enough, thought of her as a very normal person.
She was the ringmaster. She didn’t seem to be doing anything and she was doing everything. She spoke in a whisper. It was kind of a Marilyn or Jackie style. So her demeanor was quiet, but she was noticeable in a room. She was the centerpiece without commanding attention.
Publisher emeritus of The Nation
She knew everybody, she was very beautiful, very sexy and appealing and cheery and seemed to be a flibbertigibbet, but wasn’t.
I remember that people drank a lot — a lot. Norman Mailer, in particular.
Jean was very seductive. It wasn’t sexy — you never thought she was trying to get you into bed, but it made it very easy to talk to her.
Ms. vanden Heuvel
We had one party where you had the Rolling Stones in the bathroom doing whatever. She just let it move.
Lally Weymouth also had the great parties. It was at one of Lally’s parties that I saw Norman punch Gore Vidal. Nothing like that went on at Jean’s.
Ms. vanden Heuvel
There were fistfights. It wasn’t just Norman and Gore Vidal.
I was at one party where Bob Scheer got into a shouting argument with Ivanhoe Donaldson, and Ivan punched him in the nose, and Bob was bleeding and kept on talking. It was the ’60s. People fought. They shouted. You should have been there.
There were intense political arguments, cultural arguments. I got into a fistfight with Ivanhoe Donaldson at her apartment. And I can’t remember now quite what the argument was. Ivanhoe Donaldson had been involved in the civil rights movement, and there was something about a phone call to Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, and the next thing I knew there was a fistfight. Things like that did happen. My bloodstains were on her carpet for some years after.
Theater critic, The New Yorker
When I met Jean, I didn’t know about her history of parties. But then she subsequently had me over to one of her things for Kenzaburo Oe or William Vollmann, and what was clear to me was that she orchestrated things to introduce you to the world that she thought you might be happy in.
Creative director, Hayward Luxury; daughter of Dennis Hopper and Brooke Hayward
Even when I was 14 and in boarding school, she would have me down from Connecticut, and it was like being a kid in a celebrity candy shop. You’d meet people you so admired, like Saul Steinberg, who was everything to me. At one party, he took me aside and said, “Oh, can I show you my favorite thing?” It was a plain woolen tie and inside the lining was a painting of a sexy lady.
She did what she did without pretense. I did not come from a world like hers at all, but she did not make me feel that I was coming from anything different from her. Once, she was going to Los Angeles and she said, “I want to give you a party.” I had made a thousand bucks and I was blowing it for the weekend. Jean said, “Who do you want to meet?” I said Jennifer Jones. And she said, “O.K., Jennifer Jones.” I was 31 years old. That’s what she did for you. She had a party, and there was Anjelica Huston and George Stevens Jr., and you didn’t feel like the scene had been written by Budd Schulberg. She made it so you did not feel like you were stepping up, but that you had found your people.
She seemed to be doing what a thinker or a journalist or a public intellectual is supposed to be doing, which is figuring stuff out. And at the end of the day, the sad thing about the way she died is that I don’t think she believed very much she could do much about anything. She lost a real sense of mission. I don’t want to reduce psychological complexity to that, but that was the feeling I had.
She really was a teenager in spirit. She never became jaded and never forgot the feeling of what it is like to feel like to be new in a place. Her great inheritance from her father, besides the wealth, was that she could see potential and make it into an actuality. She also had a gift for intimacy in society. In other words, she was able to make social life have a core of intimacy that is generally doesn’t have. A person that can warm up society. That’s a great power.