The conversation was always good
in the Whitney salon.
We invite you to
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of William Whitney
An Excellent Life
To the friends, admirers, and all the
extended family of William W. Whitney:
I heartily join with you in the celebration of William's excellent life. How I will miss his gracious manner and generous thoughtfulness to The Wolfsonian here in Miami. Indeed a debonair gentleman of once-upon-a-time!
He is greatly missed but his spirit, intelligence and brightness shine on with all of us who remember him so fondly.
-- Micky Wolfson, Miami Beach
Once in a Lifetime
I was introduced to William Whitney in August of 2002. A mutual friend arranged a meeting at his house before the dinner hour. I was immediately impressed with his wit and intellect.
We had a lively conversation that covered everything from the modernist movement in art and culture, to vehicular head on collisions due to poor highway conditions.
After leaving his home that evening, I felt lighter and simply more understood because this incredible man took the time to peer beyond the polite and superficial.
We corresponded frequently and he gifted me a copy of his poems written during his WW II service in the south Pacific, entitled This the Tropic Sea.
After he passed my partner and I read those poems and pondered the real meaning behind those beautifully expressed feelings. That was our tribute to William, a man who was truly one in a million. I do miss him and I suspect I always will. There is little comfort in knowing that the likes of Mr. Whitney only come around once in a lifetime to illuminate the mundane. However, for those of us who had the good fortune of meeting William, we should all take solace in knowing that no one else will ever see us and accept us the way he did.
Tom Greenwood, Key West
How to Treat a Lady
One of my most glamorous dates ever was with my gay, octogenarian friend, William Whitney. He sure knew how to treat a lady.
We went to a waterfront restaurant near the Ferry Building. He was a regular; he asked the valet parking attendant about his family and greeted the hostess fondly. We were seated at a prime table on the outdoor terrace. The view was perfect, the warm September day exquisite, my companion attentive. Over cocktails and seafood, he began telling me some of his reminiscences of Hollywood in the late 1930s and 40s.
I was overwhelmed with the deliciousness of the moment. Here I was, watching the sunlight sparkle on San Francisco Bay, sitting with a charming man who had crossed paths with Josef von Sternberg, Joan Fontaine, Billy Haines, Marlene Dietrich. His stories were funny, self-deprecating, full of rich cultural awareness.
It was vintage William.
-- Alice Jurow, Berkeley
The Band Was Still Playing
The early April afternoon was crisp and clear. William greeted
me cordially at the door downstairs, showed me upstairs, and held forth in
his beautifully furnished living room as slanting sunlight filtered across
the front of his house.
This was Spring 1987, exactly the time the exhibition of his late cousin's
work, Mac Harshberger: Art Deco
Americain, was running at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San
Francisco. I was the new editor of the Art Deco Society's magazine, The Sophisticate. My first assignment was to interview William about Mac
Harshberger's artistic life in Paris and New York. It was a magical
experience I shall always recall fondly and the beginning of a wonderful
Clearly this first interview wasn't just about Mac Harshberger, his
sister Kay, and his partner Holland Robinson, it was also about the
heir to their artistic estate who had just donated their work and
inspired and orchestrated the exhibit at the city's foremost art museum.
One of my fondest memories is the special formal
reception held for that exhibit at the Legion of Honor with dancing to the
Royal Society Six in the forecourt of the museum.
William was a raconteur of the best old style: he was literate,
witty, charming and sophisticated but always kind and good-natured. He was
also a great cook who loved to hold small dinner parties preceded by good
cocktails and conversation. Many such evenings were spent in his garden
room at the back of his house at a round table for two to four alongside his
Pullman kitchen. What a rare treat to dine there and talk about books,
music, people, and art. For me, William became a mentor and very special
When William asked me to help him produce a musical featuring
Holland Robinson's art songs in 1989, I was delighted to serve as his
assistant. The songs were a perfect combination of jazz, French-inspired
impressionism, and delightful melody with clever and often witty lyrics
redolent with innuendo. He hired The Jesters vocal trio to sing and dance
that music, which was impeccably played by another of his young friends,
pianist Frederick Hodges. William wrote the script, designed the very
moderne sets himself, and had them built under his watchful supervision.
His revue opened at the Florence Gould Theatre at the Legion of Honor and
even played for two weeks at the Plush Room at the Hotel York. What a
stunning little show!
At the end of the run, William presented me with a beautiful silver,
almost cubistic, note card that Mac had done for his sister Kay Harshberger
in 1935. It remains one of my most prized possessions and always invokes
happy memories of a dear friend. Changes in my
life took me away from William's milieu into a less artistic
world filled with new challenges. Knowing him as I have, he took all such
shifts in stride, kept his favorite old friends, and made increasing numbers
of new and younger ones. William always kept things going and inspired the
best in everyone.
That he lived an active and vibrant existence pursuing friendship
and art right up until his final weeks is a tribute to a life lived with
abiding and unaffected grace. No one could have deserved more the great
gift of leaving a very wonderful party before it ended, while the band was
still playing a lilting Thirties ballad and the dialogue was still
effervescent with wit and wisdom. Good night, good gentleman. You made a
significant difference in my life. I'll always be indebted
to you for giving me cherished memories of many joyous afternoons and
evenings in your fine company.
-- Jeffrey Tucker, Seattle
Tea and Biscotti
William was and still is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I'll miss our conversations, his keen and witty perspective, his eagerness to know and learn more. William was a real gentle man in the truest sense of the word.
There were almost 40 years between us, but he always blurred the lines of distintion with age. I was able to relate to his world, as he could relate to mine. What a wonderful gift he was in my life. William influenced and inspired me.
He always enjoyed it when I made him his favorite biscotti, flavored with anise and toasted pine nuts. He would savor these for weeks with his tea.
I'll truly miss his perspective and charm and youthfulness and eagerness and spontaniety and warmth and wit and encouragement -- and above all his frienship and the words of wisdom he always offered me, as we sat and drank our tea and ate the biscotti.
I shall never forget you, William.
-- Vince Furfaro, San Francisco
Grace of Mind and Movement
I met William and Frank at Mary Lancer's home in Waikiki Beach in 1983. William was truly a rare and big personality in all our lives. He had grace of mind and movement.
Mary Lancer was the grand dame of Honolulu for her friends who gathered in her beach condo each late afternoon for cocktails. Mary was very popular and many people, including William and Frank, were drawn to Hawaii because of the Lancer hospitality. We all became joyful friends.
During one of William and Frank's sojourns to the islands, we took a short excursion over to Kauai, rented a car, shared a room and off we went. We truly had fun and always planned to do Venice, Italy, one day. We never made that trip, but when I am in Venice, I always think how much fun we would have had roaming the canals.
I lift my glass to you, William.
-- Rosanna Hardin Hall
A True Gentleman
Thank you, William, for being a friend, a good listener, a concerned
human being, a cat lover, a great story teller -- and thank you most of
all for being a true gentleman.
-- Jim Grise, San Francisco
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