New York City
Patti Smith and Henry Buhl share a laugh.
- "Could our impish Henry Buhl
really be turning 80?" the well-heeled at the A.C.E. Black and White Ball wondered. He was wondering himself. When they first approached their founder to turn his birthday celebration into their charity ball, he fretted how to admit his age, "I thought about all the lies I had told my girlfriends," he announced. "I don't even remember how old I am myself!
Yes, Henry still has the way. In his Southampton estate, where he hosts the A.C.E. Sunflowers benefit, houseguests have included Jane Fonda
, Marissa Berenson
, Lauren Hutton
and Betsey McCaughey
. His SoHo soirees remain an amalgam of uptown social and downtown chic.
So, this was no staid party. Rock Legend Patti Smith
performed. Robin Cofer
and Dominic D'Alleva
, Veronica Mainetti
, Tiffany Dubin
, Suzanne Murphy
, Kipton Cronkite
, Laurence Leeds, Jr.
, Marjorie Gordon
, Marianna Kaufman
, and Paola Bacchini Rosenshein
hosted. Felicia Taylor
emceed. Alex Donner
rocked the room well past 12 midnight. The women included the Countess LuAnn de Lesseps
, Sonja Morgan
, Nicole Miller
, Jennifer Joyce
, Sandra McConnell
, and Dr Ruth Westheimer
Henry's charm was evident in his response to attorney Ray Merritt's
praise, "Ray has bailed me out of jail, shielded me from the SEC and other organizations and if he gave an unbiased account, we'd be here all night."
Countess LuAnn de Lesseps and Jacques Azoulay.
Buhl said his relationship with A.C.E., The Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless, which began in 1992, had lasted longer than his first marriage, Buick Roadmaster, careers as a wedding photographer and mutual fund manager.
A.C.E. will get close to $800,000 from the night, thanks in part to such auction items as Jon Bon Jovi's
signed guitar, a Helmut Newton
limited edition Swatch watch, and lunch for 10 on a yacht in the Hamptons.
Why does everyone want to help? "We take homeless men and women living in shelters all over New York City
with the objective of getting them a full time job and permanent housing, through a four to six month training program," Buhl revealed. "And we are more than 99 percent privately funded." Buhl's program also provides a strong support system that attracts 80 percent to an aftercare program.
"I didn't start out trying to do all this," Buh told us. "I was a wedding photographer, with a studio of eight to 12 photographers on Greene Street in SoHo. When we went out to lunch, we'd see someone sweeping the street, and when we came back, he'd be sleeping in the doorway. One day, he asked me for $20. 'You have a job,' I told him. 'I was fired,' he replied. Why? 'For sleeping on the job.'"
Buhl sought out the employer, SoHo real estate entrepreneur Tony Goldman
. Goldman had galvanized 12 stores on a SoHo block to pay a street cleaner. Now, Goldman was on his way to open four buildings in the South Beach Deco District. Buhl stepped in and never stopped. A.C.E. became the employer that hired men with jail records, and gave them the good recommendations they needed to get mainstreamed. Today, TriBeCa, Nolita, NoHo, the Bowery and the West Village are among NYC's cleanest neighborhoods thanks to the Association. In the past five years, despite the troubled economy, A.C.E. has helped 270 people transition to jobs; 73 percent have remained employed for two years.
Buhl and guests enjoy a "Fan Dance."
In New York, Buhl houses an art collection of 1,100 photographs and 110 sculptures of hands, which started in 1993 with an Alfred Steiglitz
photo of Georgia O'Keefe's
hand. The collection was shown at the Guggenheim in 2004, has toured four European countries, and now is in Asia - an appropriate legacy for the man who believes in giving a hand, not a hand out.