New York City. 1981.
A beautiful autumn evening in Central Park—the four of us paused to take photos after a grand dinner at Tavern on the Green.
Don Havens and I lived in the Alden on Central Park West. Shirley flew in from Los Angeles for a short visit with us—one of our clients, Walter Hess, owner of Rose Hill Flower Company on Third Avenue, invited the three of us for dinner. We all tried to dress like swells, but only Shirley actually nailed it.
She looked extraordinary—glamorous—in her tailored white coat over a black-on-black outfit. It made her luxurious red hair look so radiant that the Tavern on the Green’s captain and waiters took notice. They gave her all kinds of attention. Someone sent her a drink. And over dinner, Walter asked her to accompany him to an opera at the Met. They made their date, and then Shirley asked where some Upper West Side “straight bars” were.
Around midnight, after some final photos, Shirley went out on the town on her own, and Don and I went home, as did Walter.
Around 3 AM our phone rang. I answered.
Shirley, “I didn’t want you to worry. I’m having a great time.”
“Where are you?”
Shirley, “I’m on the top floor of the Gulf+Western building. They own Paramount, you know.”
Shirley, “A couple of guys wanted to show me the view from Columbus Circle.”
Me, “The view?”
Shirley, “I’ll see you in the morning. Oh, did I mention that they have a limousine? I’ll be back in a few hours. Bye.”
True to her word, she strolled in around 5:30 a.m. For the next few days, she looked a bit smug. Happy, joyful, actually, but smug.
Our best girl—the red-haired gal from Waco, Texas—the gal that we’d always thought of as a bit of an innocent, a bit unworldly—was absolutely and entirely in her element in Manhattan. Don and I never, ever underestimated Shirley Ray again.
The year is now 2020.
Don died of AIDS in 1992. We were together until the very end.
Shirley still lives in Los Angeles; I live in Baltimore. We remain dear friends. Whenever we speak, without fail, at some point in the conversation—with all of the amazing things that she must have experienced that long night and early morning in New York—she simply and fondly says, “I’ll never forget our dinner at Tavern on the Green.”