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Jerome Robert "Jerry" Zipkin (December 18, 1914 – June 8, 1995) was an American socialite. He was known for his friendship with Nancy Reagan, with whom he attended many of her social events, and for his role as a "walker," or social escort, for women at high-society events.[1][2][3] He was a celebrated fixture on the international scene for 50 years, being referred to as a man about everywhere. He was a favorite escort of many fashionable society women, and he was a longtime friend, escort, and confidant of Nancy Reagan. One of his early good friends was the noted English author W. Somerset Maugham. Jerry's ability to respect confidence was reported as legendary.

Zipkin was born on December 18, 1914, in Manhattan to David Zipkin and Annette Goldstein. His father was a prominent New York real estate developer. Zipkin attended the Hun School of Princeton and then Princeton University, where he studied art and archaeology for two years. After leaving college he briefly moved to Florida, then returned to New York to assist his father in managing the family properties, which included the building Jerry lived in on Park Avenue.[1][4][5]

Zipkin became known as a "walker," a man who would escort fashionable women to social events when their husbands were busy or did not care to accompany them. The term first appeared in Women's Wear Daily to describe Zipkin. Many of the women of Zipkin's acquaintance relied on his advice on fashion and styling.[1] Also known as "the social moth," Zipkin became a trusted confidant who would give candid advice, often pointed or acerbic.[2] The title character of the 2007 movie The Walker was based on Zipkin's social life.[6] In the 1940s Zipkin spent time in California, and was introduced into Hollywood society, becoming acquainted with George Cukor, Paulette Goddard, Claudette Colbert, and W. Somerset Maugham.

Aline, Countess of Romanones, met Jerry Zipkin playing poker at Hattie Carnegie's with Elsa Maxwell in the late 1940s. Mica Ertegun met him in the late 1950s, playing canasta with Tatiana Liberman and Lydia Gregory, the great hostesses of Manhattan's White Russian set. Lynn Revson, the widow of Revlon founder Charles Revson, recalled Zipkin as a regular guest on their yacht, the Ultima II, in the late 1960s and early 1970s: "He was constantly playing backgammon, bridge, gin— he played every game!" "Cards were a very important part of his life," said his old friend Bill Blass. "He always won, I might add. Nobody could beat Jerry." It was Zipkin's expertise at bridge that carried him to the card table of his most important European— and only male— mentor, W. Somerset Maugham. From 1949 until Maugham's death in 1965 at age 91, he was a frequent houseguest at the sumptuous Villa Mauresque in Cap Ferrat in the South of France, where the rich, cynical, closeted homosexual writer entertained the kings, queens, and jacks of international society in the grand style that Zipkin came to assume as his own. He also amassed a vast collectio of Maugham manuscripts, first edition: letters, and memorabilia, which he eventually sold to the University of Texas.

In 1949 Zipkin stayed with W. Somerset Maugham on the French Riviera. Maugham may have used his friend as the model for the snobbish Elliott Templeton in The Razor's Edge.[2] In the mid 1960s Zipkin became acquainted with Nancy and Ronald Reagan, becoming a close friend to Nancy. They continued the friendship, which intensified, when Reagan ran for elected president. Zipkin accompanied the Reagans to campaign events and was with them on the night Reagan won election. Women's Wear Daily modified the "social moth" epithet to "social mouth," acknowledging Zipkin's reputation as a "nebulous, bitchy, very, very pretentious and affected" man. However, Zipkin was equally regarded for ferocious loyalty to his friends.[4]

A letter of introduction from a New York canasta chum, Sophie Gimbel, the designer wife of the chairman of Sak Fifth Avenue and owner of Gimbel's, brought Zipkin to his original Los Angeles patroness, Anita May, the fanatically chic wife of the chairman of the May Department Store Co. It was at May's Beverly Hills dinner partk in the early 1950s that he came to know the future First Lady Nancy Reaga and many of the fashionable women who would make up her California court, including Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale, Mrs. Armand Deutsch, and Mrs Ray Stark. He didn't play cards with Nancy Reagan, but they spent countless hours on the telephone shuffling the society deck. His most obvious influence was on her clothes and her guest lists. Like Talleyrand, who took his niece to the Congress of Vienna to give nightly parties, Zipkin understood that an engraved invitation is worth a thousand policy papers, and that seating can be an effective diplomatic tool. His old-fashioned fixation on the importance of appearances assumed new relevance in the image-conscious age of television politics. "Jerry had an eye," Nancy Reagan told 10 days after his death. "And whenever Jerry said something, he was right. He was very instinctive about people. He was a great teacher. You could learn a lot from Jerry—about art, about books, about history— if you left yourself open to it. He enjoyed it— to teach you. Friendship was the basis of it all. Ronnie was very fond of Jerry, too. And Jerry was a big defender. God help anybody who said anything against Ronnie to Jerry. God help them. And he never forgot. I'd forget, but he wouldn't." Among his friends, his loyalty was legendary, as was, said Park Avenue hostess Nan Kempner, his discretion. "I'd call him and say, 'Have you heard?' And he'd say, 'Where did you hear it? I've known it for two months and kept it secret.' He could keep secrets better than anyone. You could trust Jerry with your soul." Not everyone remembers him with such unalloyed fondness. "I mourn the Jerry I knew," sais Denise Hale, a friend of 35 years. "Not what he became. In the 1980s he became like the chief eunuch of the last empress of China."

Jerome Robert Zipkin, the son of Annette Goldstein and David Zipkin, a successful real-estate operator, was born on December 14, 1914, in New York City, and lived for most of his life in a 14-room apartment at 1175 Park Avenue, which his father built. He attended the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, and spent summers with his parents and younger sister, Eleanor, at Elberon-by-the-Sea, a Jersey Shore resort frequented by well-to-do Jewish families. In 1932 he entered Princeton University, where he majored in art and archaeology and was a member of the fencing and tennis teams and the debating society. He left Princeton in his junior year, with the stated intent of traveling in Europe. The real reason, according to a friend, was a nervous breakdown. He completed his education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he joined the French, German, and Interracial Clubs. Mickey Ziffren, wife of the prominent Los Angeles lawyer Paul Ziffren, met Zipkin at Rollins. "The dilated nostrils were already there," she said. "We both fell in love with the same Italian exchange student— a count to boot— and I got him. Jerry wasn't visibly anything. He always kept a veil around his private life." She also remembered a Christmas dinner at the Zipkin apartment: "The furniture was velvet and dark. His father was a sweet old boy. His mother was taking a course in Flemish art. They had art around the house." But Jerry really understood modern art early on. The first Matisse drawing I had he gave me as a wedding present in 1938."

Steven Kaufman, a Seventh Avenue fashion executive, met Zipkin that same year and became a fast friend of the family. "Mrs. Zip was a c-a-m-p," he said. "Jerry was madly insane for her and she for him. After Daddy died, in 1944, he bought her a lot of clothes. Balenciaga was his favorite. They'd goto Europe together and stay at the Plaza Athenee in Paris, Claridge's in London, the Ritz in Madrid. They were both ardent Republicans, to the point of nausea." Zipkin and his mother shared the Park Avenue apartment until her death in 1974. Starting in the early 1940s, they also rented a house in Beverly Hills for part of each year. One of his first New York social sponsor was Ruby Schinasi, the wife of a Turkii tobacco tycoon who entertained lavishly at her Riverside Drive mansion, and introduced him to the Hollywood movie star he would remain close to for the rest of his life, Claudette Colbert; he was also devoted to Joan Bennett more than ever after the 1952 scandal of her husband, Walter Wanger, shooting her lover, Jennings Lang.

In his later years, Zipkin would tell friends that he spent the war "gathering information for the O.S.S. at the Stork Club." An official of the Veteran of the Office of Strategic Services said that there is no record of him as member of this precursor to the C.I.A. Zipkin would also proudly announce "I've never worked a day in my life." But he was listed as president of the family real-estate company as early as 1941, and Bill Blass remembered that the 1950s "Jerry went to his office every day. He ran the business until he realized it was interfering with his social life, so he sold it. And from then on he specialized in friendship. It became his profession." "Jerry was among the last people who luxuriated in the life aristocrats used to lead, of reading, traveling, and socializing," said Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records. "He had this interest in all forms of society, not just grand society. He had contempt only for uninteresting people, and he had a witty way of showing it. He also had the greatest collection of the greatest artists' smallest works."

The Henry Higgins of the Reagan administration could quickly turn into its Addison De Witt, the acid-tongued critic in the film All About Eve. Bob Colacello was once standing next to Zipkin at a cocktail party when a lady who suspected that he had blackballed her from the White House guest list asked him, "Why don't you like me, Jerry?" Without a moment's hesitation, he snapped, "Have you got a pad and a pencil and an hour and a half for me to list the reasons?" "His goodness and sweetness were entirely subjective and personal," said Jennifer Phillips, wife of the retired director of the Phillips Collection in Washington. "If he decided, for one reason or another, that you were one of his people, he was incredibly kind and supportive. And if he thought you were going in the wrong direction, he could be very 'instructive,' shall we say." Phillips was one of the influential Georgetown hostesses Zipkin brought closer to Nancy Reagan. Another was Oatsie Charles. Interestingly, both were Democrats and very friendly with Katharine Graham, the all-powerful publisher of The Washington Post. In general, he pushed the worldly and sophisticated onto White House dinner lists: Diana Vreeland, David Hockney. Valentino, the Safras, the Zilkhas, the Erteguns, the Count and Countess de Ravenel, the Viscountess de Ribes, the Duchess de Cadaval. ("His buddies,'" as one former East Wing staffer put it.) He was such a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe's classical portraits that he took the risk of arranging for Reagan's kitchen cabinet to sit for the controversial photographer.

Some said his influence extended to ambassadorial appointments, and cite Ronald Lauder, the son of his good friend Estee Lauder, who became ambassador to Austria, and his successor in Vienna, Henry Grunwald, whose wife, Louise, is the daughter of one of Zipkin's oldest canasta cronies, the late Manhattan real-estate heiress Ruth Tankoos. (Louise Grunwald claims that Zipkin didn't know about the appointment until she told him.) He was undoubtedly involved in the fall from grace of Thomas Enders, the ambassador to Spain. Enders had been thought a likely candidate for ambassador to West Germany, but that post went to Richard Burt, the husband of a Zipkin favorite, Gahl Hodges, one of Nancy Reagan's social secretaries. As Zipkin's social power grew, so did his list of enemies. First and foremost was John Fairchild, the publisher of W, who gave Zipkin the two epithets he could never shake, "the Walker" and "the Social Moth." Like Zipkin a list-maker at heart, Fairchild had his art department airbrush Zipkin's face out of photographs of him arriving at White House dinners. Then there were Truman Capote, whom Zipkin never forgave for telling tales about mutual friends in Answered Prayers, and Dominick Dunne, who portrayed him as the poisonous Ezzie Fenwick in People Like Us— another characterization that made its way into Zipkin's obituaries. "I think he should have been called 'the Social Mouth,' " said Kenneth Jay Lane, referring to Zipkin's great talent as a raconteur, which relied on an almost Proustian deluge of detail. As Lynn Wyatt said, "When he told you about a party, he would start with the gravel in the driveway. Listening to him, I would feel that I was there more than if I had actually been there."

A year before he died, when he knew he had terminal lung cancer, he began choosing things in his apartment to leave to his friends. Each present was beautifully wrapped, and people started receiving them two weeks before his death: a Faberge pillbox to Joan Rivers; Verdura cuff links to Robert Higdon, the finance director of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation; an onyx-and-diamond table clock to Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera. Four days before he died, Nancy Reagan paid a two-hour visit. "I told him. 'Gee, Jerry, I had a terrible time getting up here. I didn't know what to put on. Was it too short? Were the sleeves too long?' He got a kick out of it, I think." "I feel very strongly that he stayed alive until he saw her," said Bill Blass. "It was all very planned, his departure." Zipkin had met with the rabbi of Temple Emanu-EI to arrange his funeral a year in advance, and reportedly laid down the law: "No eulogies, no prayers, no Hebrew." And that's the way it was. "the perfectly restrained Episcopalian service in a synagogue," according to one mourner. "No mixed flowers" was one of his strictest style rules, and all the flowers were white— lilies, baby's breath, peonies, and, on the highly polished cherry-wood coffin, roses of Sharon. It was all over in 20 minutes, and then his friends filed out: former senator Abraham Ribicoff and his wife, Casey, Henry and Louise Grunwald, Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, columnists Aileen Mehle and Liz Smith, Steven Kaufman, Lily Safra, Ahmet Ertegun, Chessy Rayner, Carroll Petrie, Mark and Duane Hampton, Blaine and Robert Trump, Sam and Judy Peabody, Oscar and Annette de la Renta, Maria Goulandris, Anne Bass, Pat Buckley, and Princess Firyal of Jordan. Afterward, there was coffee at Le Cirque.

On December 1994, Zipkin told friends he was on a "reprieve" from his chemotherapy. He had just come back from Bill Blass's house in Connecticut, where he spent every Christmas. "It was perfect— not a poinsettia in sight," he said in his familiar sharp nasal bark.

Zipkin inherited his art-filled apartment on Park Avenue from his parents. His mother continued to live there until her death in the 1970s. Within those red-lacquered walls and on those zebra rugs lived a man with a thirst for the high life: Zipkin was an inveterate collector whose tastes ranged from furniture (Louis to Lucite) to Meissen figurines and precious boxes of every description. "He had a wonderful eye," said Kenneth Jay Lane, the costume jeweler, "and his apartment was like the cave of Ali Baba." In the last weeks before his death from lung cancer, Zipkin sent gifts to many of his friends and evidently planned the dispersal of his finer chattels with exacting care. Louise Grunwald, who was at his side when he died, said: "Jerry was a control freak. He sold a lot during his last year and made about 70 bequests to friends, many of which he gave before he died. He had his death planned in minute detail, and even had a photograph of each gift stuck onto an index card with the name of the friend who was to receive it. He wasn't leaving anything to chance." Nancy Reagan said: "That was typical of Jerry. He was an extremely thoughtful man, and he did take a good deal of care and thought to see that his friends were remembered." Another close friend, Boaz Mazor, who works with couture clients for Oscar de la Renta, commented: "The richer you were, the bigger the gift. That's how he valued life. The richest ladies got Faberge boxes, and several men received cuff links from his enormous collection." Zipkin owned over 2,000 pairs, surely qualifying him as the Imelda Marcos of cuff links. Renowned for his acerbic wit and rudeness to waiters and cabdrivers, Zipkin was fondly remembered by his friends for his generosity, thoughtfulness and unswerving loyalty. "If you were on his good list it was one of the best places to be," said Robert Woolley, a close friend."And if you were not, it was no fun at all." Woolley, the Sotheby's auctioneer, added that he had advised Zipkin to make bequests before his death. "I told him he might as well get the pleasure of receiving a little gratitude." After Zipkin's death, 198 lots from his estate were auctioned at a two-day Sotheby's Arcade sale. Those items represent no more than a fraction of the myriad objects that cluttered the Zipkin family's apartment, which he shared with his mother until her death in 1976. Perhaps the most fitting emblem for the king of the walkers was Lot 241, a mahogany walking stick with an 18-karat gold handle in the form of a coiled serpent. "My instructions were to sell everything and transfer the funds to a charitable trust in his name," said Howard Daitch, of the New York law firm of Tenzer Greenblatt. Daitch, who was Mr. Zipkin's lawyer for over 30 years, added that the estate was valued at over $2 million. He and the other executor, Robert Becker, Zipkin's accountant, administered the trust, set up to make grants to encourage young people in the arts.

Jerry Zipkin died on June 8, 1995, of lung cancer. He was attended at his death by Nancy Reagan and longtime friend Stevie Kaufmann.[1][2]


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