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January 8: Leo Lerman and Maria Callas

January 7, 2016

LeoLermanCondé Nast writer and editor Leo Lerman attended a performance of “La Traviata” at La Fenice opera house in Venice on this date in 1953 and “discovered” Maria Callas: “a monumental, Titian-haired, marmoreal figure, encased in her flounced but simple white gown, as she sits there casually, almost indolently, tossing white camellias toward the dancing guests,” he wrote. “From her... the most haunting voice I have ever heard. It is filled with lost joys, permeated with present despairs. Here is desperate frivolity, and here is unavoidable tragedy.... We went away, exhausted, into the dark Venetian winter night... We could not talk, for each of us knew that we had seen the greatest operatic performance in years... greatest is inadequate.” Lerman was an openly gay magazine professional (and life partner for half a century to Gray Foy, another illustrious taste-maker) who was “fascinated by the iconic celebrities of fashion, theater, opera and society, and essentially devoted his adult life to the New York social whirl,” writes Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. “His Rolodex was the envy of lesser mortals.” Some 10 percent of Lerman’s writings were published as The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, in 2007.

“He was an editor at Mademoiselle magazine for 26 years, and American Vogue for 11... His greatest legacy may prove to be his dozens of proteges.” —Stephen Pascal, The Independent