By the time she moved into her current apartment, word had spread, and by the mid ‘70s, Mason’s parties took on another dimension when she entered the political arena. Ted Sorenson’s wife, Gillian, worked for Mason, and in 1975 asked if they could hold an intimate fundraising party for the governor of Georgia. Jimmy Carter was seated next to Mason, and it was a symbiotic match made in heaven: she brought her considerable influence to his campaign, and he leant additional gravitas to her sphere. “He asked me to help him, and I didn’t really know what that meant,” she smiles. She figured it out quickly. Her tactics involved using the reverse directory and sending letters to residents of every building she had sold in—a helpful demographic to be sure. “Even a lot of them who called back and said they were Republicans sent a check; I was a well known persona,” she explains. She wound up raising more money for the future president than any other single citizen, a feat that she considers one of her biggest triumphs. The next year, she threw a $500-per-head fundraising dinner for Jay Rockefeller. “His parents were friends but when I asked his mother if they would like to come and pay, she said ‘I have to speak to Mr. Rockefeller.’ They wound up getting their friend Louis Marx to spend $5,000, which covered them and some of my media pals like Tom Brokaw.” Later, a single dinner she held for Bill Clinton raised $1.5 million. Carter and the Clintons became guests at her personal dinners, along with the likes of Alexander Haig, Peter Jennings, Mike Wallace, Diane Sawyer, and clients such as Steve Ross and Alfred Taubman—all fodder for society columns.
“An invitation to one of Alice’s dinners was one of the hottest tickets in town,” recalls Renée Morrison, a socialite of that time. “I was young and it was an honor to be invited. I remember the art on her walls was as colorful as her guests. There was quite a potpourri of diplomats, CEOs and socialites. It was like a think tank. The conversation was incredible to say the least. One night I spoke with Ken Auletta, another evening I sat next to Carl Bernstein.”
According to the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo, who broke the story about Macklowe’s purchase of her 72nd Street building, the parties were ideal business tools for the climate of those times. “Alice Mason was queen of residential real estate and her famous dinners provided a perfect stage for what was essentially a drawing room way of doing business,” he notes. “In the ‘80s, when she was at the height of her influence, the rich clustered in enclaves on Fifth Avenue, East 72nd Street, and exclusive buildings like River House. Prime apartments and townhouses were traded among the elite with mostly old money. Today, the city is awash in new and international money and condos have changed everything. The wealthiest people now want to live in places that were unimaginable 25 years ago, from Tribeca to Harlem. What was once a secretive business is now a spectator sport.”
For Mason, the parties certainly helped business (she admits to inviting the occasional board president), but they were also what made her heart beat fast. She sat eight people to each 42’ round table, for maximum intimacy. “My parties were my romance,” she sighs. “It was intoxicating to walk into a room like that. Famous people all want to meet other famous people, but they don’t want to go to a party with a lot of schleppers, so I had to be ruthless.”
As for traditional romance, she was married three times—first to a third cousin at age 19, next to her French teacher, and finally to a Dutch diplomat. They were all short-lived, but the second produced her daughter Dominique, who worked in her office until its close in 2008. Though she no longer holds her dinners, she has kept her friendships and remains fiercely loyal. At the mention of Mia Farrow’s difficult end with her client Woody Allen, Mason bristles. “Maybe they weren’t even really together those last few years,” she scoffs. “He didn’t seduce Soon-Yi; she invited him to a ballgame. Besides, he wasn’t her father, André Previn was. Woody lived in a two bedroom on the east side and wasn’t interested in her children. Mia lived in a huge place on Central Park West with so many children—it was like a zoo! She wanted to be his muse and in his films and she got that. Woody is much happier now.”
And Mason is happy too. “Nothing is more overrated than companionship,” she insists. “In the end everyone always wanted to get married, so I figured, why go out with them in the first place? I like to go to bed at 8 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. to watch Morning Joe. If I had a husband he wouldn’t like that. I’m never lonely; I love my own company. I’ve met everyone and I’ve known two presidents well. Who else do I need to meet?”