hair by Lisa Kiss
Cindy Adams points to one of about 500 New York Post covers enshrined on the walls and ceiling of her dazzling home office in her Park Avenue apartment. The yellowing paper sports a picture of Hillary Clinton and Adams herself back in December 1997. The two had just been thrown out of the then 132-year-old University Club and are having a good laugh about it. “Some old coot kicked the First Lady out,” Adams says, her eyes dancing as she recounts the story. “I called it ‘Geezergate.’” Their crime? Chitchatting and opening Christmas presents a little too loudly for the stodgy club. For the record, Clinton stayed calm and collected throughout the absurd ordeal, while Adams struggled to hold her ever polite but often stinging, zinging tongue.
It is impossible for the iconic gossip columnist, who is celebrating her 35th year with the Post, to pinpoint her favorite scoop. Adams has covered her former neighbor Jackie O, Iran’s former empress Farah Pahlavi, and the opening of Studio 54. On the same wall with Clinton are Imelda Marcos, a dear friend whom Adams accompanied every day during her New York trial, deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and disgraced New York pol Donald Manes. Sprinkled around the room are no fewer than a dozen Trump scoops over the years—“Ivana: I Want the Plaza!” reads just one from the trove. Adams first met Trump with his then mentor Roy Cohn, another larger-than-life New York figure. It would take a week to read these walls, at the end of which you’d have a crash course in New York social history.
The rest of her nine-room penthouse apartment, the former home of Doris Duke, is no less fabulous. Every room is deep red, a kind of rich China red, with dark wood antiques, a Ming horse sculpture, a wraparound balcony and tufted ceilings. It’s a feast of textures, the complete opposite of the sparse, beiged-out aesthetic so in vogue these days. So in love with this shade of red is Adams that there is even a paint color named Cindy Red. A can of it sits on her desk with her unmistakable silhouette. Portraits of Cindy by famous artists adorn some walls, and in the bathroom above the toilet, Cindy dolls are perched, sporting her signature bun. Doris Duke’s bathtub sits in Adams’ office, providing a home for more memorabilia. It would have gone on the balcony to hold planters, but was judged too heavy and in danger of crashing through the terraces.
Why so much red? “I look good against it,” Adams says. Simple as that.
And she does. At 86, Adams is still going strong and still on deadline for the Post. Petite and looking fabulous in a brightly colored three-tiered sweater this day, she still churns out her column, but another passion consumes her as well. On December 11, she will throw her eighth annual Blessing of the Animals event at Christ Church on Park Avenue. This Christmas season tradition hosts 800 New York “pet parents” and a veritable menagerie of species. “Cats, dogs, parrots, gerbils, turtles, fish—some idiot brought an iguana once,” Adams lists. “Farm animals, goats, chickens, pigs,” all chorusing in a cacophony of barking, growling, meowing, snorting and screeching. “It’s a madhouse,” Adams says, clearly delighting in the free event, to which all are invited (though space is limited.) Though her beloved Yorkie, Jazzy, recently died, she still dotes on three-and-a-half pound Juicy, who looks glamorous in her red bow and bejeweled collar on this day. Adams’ love of animals is simple and universal. “There’s nobody to take care of animals but us,” she says. “They can’t cry out for help, after all.”
Jazzy and Juicy entered Adams’ life when her husband, comedian and humorist Joey Adams, died in 1999, after a long illness that prompted the move to the Duke apartment. Both born and bred New Yorkers, Cindy met Joey while working as a photographer’s model. Possessed of a quicksilver wit, she could always write and began writing jokes for him. Joey was a member of the American Guild for Variety Artists, and their social life involved dining out with the likes of Sinatra and “all the most famous people of the day,” she says, natural fodder for her budding career. With access and a way with words, her first newspaper gig was a column for the East Side weekly Our Town, where she was paid $5 a week until the New York Post took notice and scooped her up for daily work. The rest is history, 35 years chockablock full of it.
Other successes accompanied her newspapering career—she had television stints along the way with the defunct A Current Affair and Live at Five, and wrote biographies of Jolie Gabor, mother of Eva and Zsa Zsa, and Indonesia’s President Sukarno. Still, Adams can imagine having pursued another path. A keen observer of humans and their rituals, she says she might have been, say, “an archaeologist, or a lawyer.”
Name a prominent politician or celebrity or New Yorker, and chances are Adams has met or consorted with them—and may even have had her pictured taken with them too. In her foyer, a console features photos of her with Lyndon Johnson, George Bush, Sr., Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch. Asked how she has squared the demands of journalism with social relationships with people in high places, she says, “It’s always a balance—90 percent truth and 10 percent pretty.” There are stories she would not write. “I don’t harm. I do not out people or talk about secret affairs of married people,” she says. “And a sense of humor always helps.”
Her sense of decorum is, she laments, becoming a relic of a bygone day. The gossip business has changed along with everything else. “People were more gracious and mannerlywhen I started,” she says. “There’s no more politesse or refinement, even in the clothes people wear. People are walking around in their bras on 57th Street.”
Still, this living legend remains just as hip and in the know as the “kids” she writes her column for, with recent items on Girls star Adam Driver heading to Broadway; 13th, filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s new, heartbreaking documentary on mass incarceration in the United States; and Sarah Jessica Parker being “Ready for Divorce” (i.e., the name of her new HBO show.)
You might say that like her column’s famous tagline, Cindy Adams herself is truly “Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.”