RIP EDITTA SHERMAN: THE DUCHESS OF CARNEGIE HALL

It’s hard to sum up 100 years of a person’s amazing life, but to reiterate a cliché, she was a force of nature. Editta Sherman was born in 1912 in Philadelphia, the oldest of eight children. Her father operated a photography studio in New Jersey where she learned the art at a young age. Editta married Harold Sherman in 1935, a sound engineer and inventor, as well as her business partner. He died at the age of 50 years old, after suffering blindness and diabetes, leaving Editta with five young children to bring up as a single mother. She and her husband were instrumental in raising charity funds for the American Theatre Wing during World War II by volunteering to take portraits of Hollywood stars to aid in the American war effort.

Sherman was a muse of Andy Warhol who filmed her with filmmaker Paul Morrissey in the 1970s. She also appeared in the Abel Ferrara film Ms. 45 in 1981. She was a model as well as photographer and was photographed by Francesco Scavullo to symbolize aging gracefully at age 60 years old in his book 70s “On Beauty”. A decade-long collaboration with her long-time friend and neighbor, Bill Cunningham, the celebrated New York Timesphotographer, that resulted in the Fashion Institute of Technology/Penguin Books 1978 publication of their book Facades, visually detailing 200 years of fashion and New York City architecture. (I own an out-of-print copy!)

Sherman lived in Carnegie Hall until July 2010, and after 61 years in Suite 1208, Ms. Sherman moved in 2010 into an apartment on West 59th Street, displaced, along with the other tenants, by a renovation plan to build new studios and offices at the location. All former residents have now relocated, and The Carnegie Hall Corporation plans to demolish the commercial and residential studios — which in their 1950s Bohemian heyday numbered as many as 170 — to create educational and rehearsal space for the hall. The $200 million project is to be completed in 2014. My old pal Josef Astor made an amazing documentary, Lost Bohemia, which featured the Duchess. Sherman was the grandmother and great-grandmother to 25 children, and was known for her homemade soups which she made from scratch (and left at her Carnegie Hall neighbors’ doors for years). “Yes, she was the duchess of Carnegie Hall, but she also made a great lentil soup,” said Josef Astor in Sherman’s NY Times bit, adding that she cooked her famous soups on a stove in her photography darkroom. She turned 101 this July.

At her memorial, next to her coffin was a prototype for a large book of her portraits, which her friends and family plan on publishing in coming months. The images varied from Carl Sandburg to a local homeless man. In a eulogy, Ms. Sherman’s son, Kenneth Sherman, 77, a Lutheran pastor, said his mother loved “life in all its forms.” Afterward, he told of how he took her to a Christmas party last year at the White House, hoping to introduce her to the president, but she wound up introducing him. “She got in the room, and immediately said, ‘I’m going to meet him,’ and at 100 years old, she made a beeline straight through the crowd toward the president,” Mr. Sherman recalled. “No one was going to stop her.”

And now, clichés be damned, she REALLY can’t be stopped. (Photo: Josef Astor, via NY Times)

Josef Astor's portrait of Editta that was used for his documentary about Carnegie Hall, Lost Bohemia