April 21, 1907 – Arnold Weissberger:
”I’ve enjoyed that rarest good fortune – complete happiness in both my work and my personal life.”
One of my favorite haunts in the 1980s and 1990s was Magus Books in Seattle’s University District. I dropped a lot of money there through those two decades, including my copy of a six-pound coffee table book Famous Faces (1973) with 1500 photographs taken by someone named L. Arnold Weissberger, whom I had never heard of before. This was before that Internet thing and I never gave him another thought although I received much joy from his book of photographs, a real who’s who of 20th century celebrities, along with anecdotes by gay and gay-adjacent figures such as Noël Coward, Igor Stravinsky, John Gielgud, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Rebecca West, Anita Loos, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Alice B. Toklas, W.H. Auden, Peter O’Toole, the Redgraves, Beatrice Lillie, Judy Holliday and many, many more. Famous Friends was recently rediscovered by my husband’s and my quarantine guest at our house among my many stacks of books.
This time I was able to discover that Weissberger, it seems, had no formal training as a photographer, and never used a flash when taking pictures of his famous friends. He was an entertainment lawyer and his longtime partner was theatrical talent agent Milton Goldman (1915-1989). Together they were popular hosts noted for throwing parties for A-listers. Weissberger was their lawyer, and Goldman found them work.
Goldman was a vice president at International Creative Management (I.C.M.) and head of its theatre department. His clients included: First Lady of the American stage, Helen Hayes, plus Ruth Gordon, Arlene Dahl, Maureen Stapleton, Mary Martin, Christopher Plummer, Lillian Gish, Hildegarde, along with Brits: Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Albert Finney, and Peggy Ashcroft. Goldman was also president of Martha Graham’s Center for Contemporary Dance, chairman of the board of Friends of the Theater and the Music Collection of the Museum of the City of New York; and chairman of the New Dramatists Inc.
He was a confidant, rabbi, psychiatrist, and close friend to many of the top stars he represented. He went to the theatre five times a week, always looking for possible new clients. On weekends he was busy reading and casting new plays.
In a wry coincidence, Weissberger’s initials spelled LAW. As Weissberger and Frosch, he was half the partnership with Aaron Frosch, who was executor of Marilyn Monroes’s estate. Weissberger represented artists and personalities such as Betty Comden and Adolf Green, Lauren Bacall, Hermione Gingold, Otto Preminger, Martha Graham, David O. Selznick, Placido Domingo, Truman Capote, George Balanchine, Carol Channing and Garson Kanin. It was Weissberger who negotiated Welles’s original ”final cut” contract at RKO.
Weissberger was also an avid art collector. He was almost never seen without a white carnation, matching his white moustache, in the buttonhole of his suit lapel, and he was seldom seen with his jacket off. Brooklyn-born, he spoke with an upper-class Bostonian accent, picked up during his seven years at Harvard University.
The two men entertained at their apartment on East 55th Street, between First Avenue and Sutton Place. They later moved to 45 Sutton Place South where their parties took on a two-tier style, with separate A-list and B-list events. They also entertained at their weekend beach house near Seacliff, Long Island. During the week they had almost daily business lunches at the Four Seasons restaurant.
Here is an Andy Warhol anecdote from his diaries about a Weissberger-Goldman party in the 1970s:
”I picked up Bob Colacello and took a cab to 45 Sutton Place South to attend a book party for Anita Loos given by Weissberger. I had forgotten my tape recorder and camera, and there were lots of celebs. Arnold Weissberger and Milton Goldman have the longest-running gay marriage in New York. Arnold is 70-something, the biggest old-time showbiz lawyer and an amateur photographer. He takes pictures of everyone who comes to his house. He had a book out last year called Famous Faces, placed on the dining table at the party, and he was making the famous faces sign it next to their pictures. Goldman is 60-something and a big agent at IFA. Bob noticed that he was the only person under 30 there – barely – and I said that Arnold must be afraid to have young kids around because he might lose Milton. All the butlers and bartenders were over 60; they brought one drink at a time, and the tray shook.”
Weissberger never went anywhere without his twin Leicas, always loaded, one for outdoor, the other with indoor film. Unabashedly amateur, he hated to be bothered with filters or light meters. He had a good eye and they are world-class portraits. By the mid-1970s, he had shot 60,000 pictures.
During the summers Weissberger and Goldman sailed to England on the Queen Elizabeth II and always had the same suite at London’s Savoy Hotel, usually for a month. The living room there overlooked the Thames and was equipped with a grand piano. Their penchant for hosting the best parties never wavered.
Together the two men, equal bons vivants, formed a showbiz power couple that presided over the theatre scene for decades. Their cocktail parties were legendary and their apartment became the party place for theatre personalities from three continents.
Weissberger brought an enthusiasm to his profession that made him a star in his own right. There was a gala evening in May 1977 that brought Ethel Merman and Mary Martin together for a concert at the Broadway Theater, an event that everyone said could never happen, was credited to Weissberger’s energy and influence.
Weissberger died in 1981 at 74 years old, only three days after returning from a vacation in Acapulco with Goldman. Goldman and Weissberger were in a relationship that lasted 30 years. Goldman, of course, was not mentioned in Weissberger’s New York Times obituary. However, when Goldman died in 1989, the NYT obituary stated:
”…as a young man he worked 10 years in the family’s gas station and then met the theatrical lawyer Arnold Weissberger, and began a friendship that lasted 30 years, until Weissberger’s death.”
Goldman had told this story to all his close friends for years: Weissberger had pulled into his father’s gas station decades before, Goldman pumped the gas and they had lived happily ever after.
Today the Williamstown Theatre Festival administers an annual L. Arnold Weissberger Award that recognizes excellence in playwriting. The recipient receives a $10,000 grant, and the winning script receives a reading produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, of Williams College in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts), as well as publication by Samuel French, Inc.