"If Michelangelo had been a heterosexual, the Sistine Chapel would have been painted basic white and with a roller," says Rita Mae Brown.
Ms. Brown is still making perspicacious comments on art, like the above, and still riding to the hounds in the Virginia countryside she loves.
I spent a large part of the Columbus Day holiday with my old Texas pal, Joe Armstrong, a master of media in the past. He quit publishing to become a fully functioning philanthropist serving children alongside Paul Newman's charities.
Joe and I were guests of HBO's most beautiful legend and icon, the talented HBO documentary maker, Sheila Nevins and her husband of 40 years, former Wall Streeter Sidney Koch.
They own a sprawling mansion in a posh, but still bucolic area of northwest Connecticut, bordered by Litchfield and Washington. (Their mostly invisible, but important neighbors include Joan Rivers, Oscar and Annette de la Renta, the Kissingers, Travel-and-Leisure's editor Nancy Novogrod and husband John, award-winning actress Christine Baranski, AIDS fighter Larry Kramer, literary agent Helen Brann, former Tavern on the Green owner Faith Stewart-Gordon, TV's Doug Cramer and playwright Hugh Bush, philanthropist Anne Bass, Graydon and Anna Carter of Vanity Fair -- and like that!) Oh, yes, Helen will sign her book "Silent Night -- A Spenser Holiday Mystery" on Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn.
The Sheila-Sid showplace has been outfitted with everything! Magnificent paintings, which Sheila says mostly benefit local artists, antiques and fabulous fakes, oddities, lamps, geegaws, fabrics, hundreds of fully framed turn-of-the-century females whom Sheila insists were her ancestors, fabulous antique books, which Sheila says sardonically she buys "by weight." In my bedroom alone stood two statues carved out of wood from Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic" painting.
SHEILA AND SID claim they want to sell this magnificent property with its extra building for caretakers, its flowing waterfall that can be turned on and off for the heated pool, expansive lawns, a view of a lake through the trees, concrete horse troughs and even two kitchens -- one a full wok workplace -- though neither of the owners cook.
When they took us to lunch at the Litchfield West Street Grill, I began to feel I'd been there before. The owners, Charles Kafferman and James O'Shea, made us feel at home, and we ran into local radio hotshot William O'Shaunnessy, who one usually sees only in Le Cirque. I also saw former Timesman James Greenfield and his wife, Ena, eating out on the sidewalk in balmy weather. (Jimmy reminded me that he hadn't known me when I was only a knee-high trainee for Mike Wallace at CBS Radio, "but only later when you became a big deal!" Oh, yeah!)
Here we had a delicious lunch and had our photo snapped by San Francisco's famous lensman Fred Lyon, who is off to Paris to widen his horizon.
Then when we hit a local somewhat old-fashioned little movie theater named the Bantam, across the street from a barbecue place, I remembered many visits when my handsome ad-man Peter Rogers lived in these parts, before he escaped to New Orleans.
Sheila's husband, Sid, owns the Bantam Theater and maintains it as a hobby, gleaning local advertising to keep it open. (Otherwise, I guess people in this part of chic Connecticut would have to go all the way to Hartford to see a film in an actual movie house.)
Here, we were treated to a preview of Sheila's upcoming HBO documentary dedicated to the memory of Texas Governor Ann Richards, due next spring. (As Joe and I both appear in this documentary, we preened, chiefly because we were hanging around with the likes of Bill Clinton, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Diane Sawyer.
The next night, after we came down to earth, we ate popcorn just like old times while we watched James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the delightful and touching romance "Enough Said." (DON'T DARE MISS THIS FILM! IT IS GREAT.)
I refrained from visiting the Bantam's neighboring cafe, where a rave for the barbecue and Mexican food is hung on the wall under my byline.
Sheila and Sid insist they want to sell their masterpiece real estate and its vast collections for a simpler life. But conversation, argument, political niceties and gossip make the walls reverberate with history. The ghosts of the late Geraldine Stutz, Bill Blass, and, the still-very-much-alive Mike Nichols, who all used to live in this part of chic Connecticut, continue to reverberate. (Sheila's pool house is not decorated in modern bath towel style, but more like an ante room of Catherine the Great at the Hermitage!)
I think if someone came to buy this magnificent showplace, they might be turned down when push came to shove. The owners admit they are both "iffy" and crazy about the place. But if you have $10 million -- or even a bit less -- you might give it a try.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Sheila Nevins, Sid Koch and their Connecticut masterpiece
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