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By Amy Phillips Penn

The New York Times, November 12th, 1984
Eugenia Sheppard, one of the most influential fashion writers of the 1950’s and 60’S, died of cancer yesterday… In her heyday, Miss Sheppard’s power was such that no designer dared start a fashion show until she arrived to take the front-row seat reserved for her. And she was always late.” — Anne Marie Schiro.

St. Thomas Church majestically opened its doors in honor of New York’s revered society columnist, Eugenia Sheppard: a funeral for a legend.

The beautiful people arrived, their designer clothes blended in the blackest of black fabrics, with a tasteful cachet of Harry Winston’s, Buccelati and family heirlooms.

Even the paparazzi were somewhat subdued.

I am standing outside to meet my editor, Sue. She and I have been a daily phone team, but have never met.

I never worked out of the New York Post, only at a cluttered white desk of Eugenia’s, with a manual typewriter with loose antique keys.

A woman in a camel’s hair coat approaches me, tentatively, yet confidently.

“Amy?” She asks in her Alpha mare English accent.

We hug.

Sue is my “Watchdog on the Wall.”

She triple checks Eugenia’s copy (mine, for the moment) and is my invisible grizzly bear; clawing at foul play and predators prowling to pounce on my wobbly hold on the column, tasting it tumble: Humpty Dumpty with a pedigree and a numeral.

The good news is that I don’t have to report on the funeral for the New York Post.

My assignment is helping the reporters identify the powers that be.

Eugenia and I had our turf meshed in perfection.  She covered the older crowd, I wrote about my younger peers.

Eugenia attended theater openings as a Tony voter, formal parties at Doubles and a clone of Charity Benefits. Meanwhile, I hit the movie premieres, Studio 54 and the Hamptons.

I was in no position to identify each and every V.I.P. who came to mourn, see or be seen.

My friend Edward stands by my side. He was born for this. Edward once lived with a successful designer, who liked her men young. He is on his own now, a social encyclopedia, with volumes of info on who’s who and who’s not. As the church is drenched with visitors, I stand by Edward, Sue and the two Post reporters who are assigned to the story.

Edward pretends to be using his handkerchief for its traditional purpose; meanwhile he is mumbling the names of people as they walk in.

“Nan Kempner, Paloma Picasso, Arlene Dahl, Aileen Mehle,” I announce to my cohorts. That’s Aileen Mehle, a.k.a. Suzy from the Daily News.

I can count at least a dozen people who are on the short list for wanting my column.

Every major fashion designer is here, along with café society, Tony and Academy award winners, and the just plain wealthy, or not so plain.

The eulogies begin, and I am still identifying guests for the paper.

The tasteful tears from guests dare not mess with their mascara. The mourners are swathed in Adolfo, Oscar, and Chanel and hold quilted handbags with quiet chains.

I remember when the New York Times called the office to gather information about Eugenia for her obituary. I was new to Eugenia’s world, and was mortified at the idea of passing the message along. She took it in fashionable nonchalance; it was all part of the job of being famous.

As the service is nearing an end, two women walk down the aisle, on their way out. One has sunglasses and a scarf on; the other does not stand out.

Heads turn, as if on cue.

“Gossip is news running after itself in a red satin dress,” Liz Smith.

Fame needs no red satin introduction.

“It’s Garbo!” someone whispers, and the words echo in the church.

“Garbo, Garbo, Garbo.”

The “I want to be alone Garbo?”

Greta Garbo? Was it really?

Eugenia would have loved it.

The perfect mystery for a society/gossip columnist’s funeral.

The dish and whispers dangled for days.


To be continued…

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