Oh, and She Was Beautiful
Arlene Dahl said farewell last week, and I bet most people don’ t know who Arlene Dahl was.
She was one of the most beautiful women who ever moved through the modern era - a fiery redhead with a sparkle and self-aware energy all her own.
She was so perfect in her surface appearance that that could have been enough, and was, for others whose names are long forgotten. But she had presence. Like the Empire State Building. Once you saw her, you didn’t forget. And it wasn’t just because of her beauty – it was because she was ten steps ahead and you knew it and she knew it and you knew she knew it. She worked her beauty to get leverage, to gain a voice, at a time when women were still not recognized as equal. (Equal to whom, you might ask? And the next three decades answer that question in the most embarrassing terms.)
So, while others stood in awe of her beauty, which was, truth be told, traffic stopping, she was building an empire. She was creating a brand, writing books, writing columns, developing businesses, making her ideas come true. And always with a smile. Always with grace. Always with an iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove capability that is unique to women of a certain era. She knew the game, studied the rules and acquiesced as necessary to continue her forward momentum. And she won.
I met her once, many years ago, in an only-New-York-minute. It was at a small, swanky take-out spot on Sutton Place. I was a twenty-something trying to create a being, killing a couple of minutes before I was supposed to meet up with a very special friend – segue, totally different story...but I digress – I was having a Diet Coke when Ms. Dahl walked into the establishment, clearly a regular. She was with a young child. She wore a kind of a caftan and seemed to float and she was perfectly made up for a photo shoot or event of some kind, but her hair was kind of pixie-like – short, cute, simple. The wig had not been placed.
She held a change purse, ordered the kid an ice cream, sat with him as he ate, all the while engaged in very animated conversation. Son? Grandson? Friend of? Who knows. But she was delightful and lovely and her funky, simple hair made her somehow more accessible in a way that the full-on glamour armor would have changed.
She came up behind me as I was paying for my soda. I said something along the lines of, “That ice cream looked delicious.” And she said to me, something along the lines of, “We’re kind of in a hurry and he’s an angel. I only have a little more time to get ready.”
“Ready for what?” I asked.
“It’s The Night of a Thousand Stars this evening at Radio City, and they’ve dusted me off to find my place among the heavens.”
“Well, we’re all the better for it,” I said, or something gushy along those lines.
And she replied, as she touched her short, pixie hair, “Thank you. I promise it does get better, but it takes time.” And then she smiled. A smile that could melt icebergs, a smile that could keep you warm through winter, a smile that made you wonder, “What is she remembering that I have yet to live?”
“Thank you,” she said sweetly and seemingly out of nowhere.
“For what?” I asked.
“Just Thank you,” she said and then smiled that wonderful smile.
Arlene Dahl was lovely and a brilliant business person, a refreshing wit, a style icon, a disruptor, a mom, and a very, very beautiful woman.
May she rest in all her glory.
Too much rouge is a sign of despair.