Swifty’s — heir to the Mortimer’s beau monde society Truman Capote immortalized — has so many regulars, that owners Stephen Attoe and Robert Caravaggi try to think of ways to amuse them. Change Swifty’s classic food? Never, that’s why they’re there. So, Pat Attoe, Stephen’s art dealer wife, began changing the art. The cocktail parties that herald each “show,” bring in the “swells,” who nibble on Stephen’s famed crab cakes and fried zucchini and recall their days together at Prep Schools and Ivy League colleges.
Right now, Harry Benson’s iconic photographs of the Beatles explosive emergence envelop the back room. We spotted Deborah Norville, Richard Johnson, and Ann Dexter-Jones among the soiree over which Harry and Gigi Benson presided.
“I have known of Harry Benson since I was old enough to see that iconic photo of the Beatles coming down the stairs,” Norville told us. “And I had the privilege of being photographed by Harry when I was the anchor of the ‘Today’ show and had my first child. ‘People’ magazine called and said we would like to do a story and send Harry Benson over.” At that time, the newly installed Norville was being vilified as the younger woman who pushed Jane Pauley off the anchor desk. “My bosses had put a gag order on me because there had been all the political silliness going on over there,” she recalled. But she wasn’t about to turn down a photo session with Benson. “Harry came and did a beautiful photo essay of me, my husband, and our new son. The story was called ‘Today’s Latest Coo,’ sort of playing on all the hoopla that had been going on. Harry is an amazingly gifted photographer, but he works slow. He was there all day, I had a new baby. I had to nurse him. He took a photograph. You’re actually showing more skin than I was showing in that photograph,” she told us, “but you would have thought I had been photographed in the all together with a staple in my navel. The hew and cry: ‘Deborah Norville nursing in public!’ It was the talk of the nation, even on talk radio. It was just the scandalous idea of a woman breast feeding her child. It was ridiculous.
“Harry was ecstatic. This was a photograph that was getting noticed. This was a photograph that was getting talked about. And every photograph in this room where we’re standing was one of those photographs. It turned out that it wasn’t just a photo essay he was doing. It turned out to be a happening that he created People were talking and as a photographer, as an artist that’s what you want.”