Society maven's double life

Read the charming story of Alan Z. Feuer, who had a secret double life that was wonderful rather than merely sordid. [NYT]


  1. Apparently New York society balls still exist (or at least did within recent decades?) I only associate them with Edith Warton novels and the films of Whit Stillman.

    1. Charity balls still go on in most big cities, especially the yearly fundraisers for symphony, ballet, opera, heart association, and museums. But I bet you’re right that these smaller and more obscure New York ones are of a completely different character, something right out of the Age of Innocence.

  2. I found this story very depressing. What a poseur. Not that I care about the sanctity or whatever of snobby upper crust NYC society, I just think it’s sad to spend an entire life lying about who you are. I certainly wouldn’t want to have any kind of friendship/business dealings/other relationship with someone who is that much of a liar.

    1. Then extract yourself from the human race.
      Humans lie.
      No one tells the unvarnished truth about themselves, not even to the therapist.

      While he might have fibbed his way into the circles he moved in, he earned his position.  He knew what he was doing, he taught others how to fit in to this odd society, and he from all reports was a delight.  He didn’t steal, he didn’t rape, he didn’t pillage.  He found his way into the “ball scene” and found a home.

      How boring your life must be… constantly fact checking every detail anyone ever tells you to make sure they are not evil liars… or were you lying to yourself about that?

      1. Hmm.  My life is far from boring.  And sure, all humans lie about some things … but anyone who lies about their whole life is someone I don’t want to have any dealings with.

        Do you think it was okay for the Bush administration to lie about the evidence for invading Iraq?  Do you think it’s okay for someone to falsify professional qualifications?  Do you think it’s okay for companies to lie about what chemicals/additives are in food products?  To me, that people think this story is touching says a lot about why we’re in the shape we’re in.

        1. So presumably you feel the same way about closeted people? Certainly undercover journalists, the French Resistance fighters, et al. What about undocumented immigrants, or trans people who don’t advertise their transition, or people sick or destined to be sick (cancer, Huntington’s, etc.) who don’t share that information with you?

          It’s difficult – or merely unpleasant – for me to understand what, in your original comment, you think you meant by the word ‘sad,’ when in the very next breath you shift victimhood from the person whose sad (often torturous) situation it is, to the people who in your view were apparently injured by having a normal, valuable interaction with a prole under ‘false pretenses.’ This is especially in light of your apparent belief that large power-wielding organizations willfully harming people for profit is the primary naively equivalent comparison to be made here.

          If anything I’d say a very fortunate life, whether boring or not.

        2. The New York ball scene is now the same as being the leader of the “free world”?

          One man worked his way into the ball scene. 
          His actions hurt NO ONE, infact they helped.

          To put a story about the life of someone who enriched the lives of those he encountered on the same shelf as an exec lying about how if he knew the meat was tainted or poisoned says alot about your view of the world.

          The world is not black or white, and one should consider what the outcome was.  The outcome here was someone who worked his way into being a fixture of the New York ball scene, passed away and we learned he fictionalized portions of his life story to fit in.  While he was alive he kept the ball traditions alive and helped with different charitable events.  He lived in a modest home, wasn’t raping children, and not stealing anything other than some attention at a ball.  If that is a horrible lie, then we are all doomed.

          I lie on a daily basis, mostly by omission.  It does not make the things I do worth less or nefarious.  It does not make the help I give to others tainted in someway.  I work against liars who seek to profit by making allegations they can’t prove to terrify people into paying them money.  I talk people off the ledge literally, and help them see it isn’t the end of the world and it a scam powered by their own fear.  But your rules say because I lie about myself I’m evil and destroying the world. 
          You must work for Google+.

      2. What did you think of the Three Cups of Tea & Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs scandals? Was it okay to “earn” fame/attention through fibbing in those contexts?

        1. While I am not immediately familiar with those stories, unless they are about an older gentleman working his way into the New York ball scene they don’t seem relevant to the current topic.
          This is 1 story, about 1 person. 
          It is not a metaphor for lying or the pretentious world of the New York ball scene.
          It is a story about one man, one odd little closed society, and a chance meeting with a doppelganger that lead to a deeper story about his life and times.
          I am sorry for the world to have lost this character.
          I am sorry we might never know the whole story of why he made the choices he made.
          My only wish would be to know the best stories about him from the people who’s circles he moved in.

          He enriched a corner of the world, and his passing makes it a little less vibrant.

    2. Your loss, mate.

      What’s interesting is that it seems like he didn’t exactly lie about his life; he exaggerated a bit, but mostly he would tell the kernel of the truth — “My grandfather came from Austria,” “Mother lived too long” — and simply leave out the unpleasant bits. It was his audience who used their imaginations to fill in those gaps.

      There was a fair amount of deception around Alan Z. Feuer, but he himself was doing very little of it.

    3. You may be over personalizing your reaction a bit. It’s a deeply sore spot for a lot of people, especially if one’s parents were born in the 30’s, as this man was.

      A lot of people from that generation never seemed to find the sweet spot between social assimilation and self actualization, so always felt like they were impostors in life, and caused a lot of pain in their kids by acting out that insecurity.

      No one at those balls is any less a poseur than he was, merely by virtue of inheriting the costume and role.

      1. Well, the fact that the world he broke into was a douchey/pretentious one only makes it seem more pitiful to me.  But to each his (/her) own.

      2. “A lot of people from that generation never seemed to find the sweet spot between social assimilation and self actualization, so always felt like they were impostors in life, and caused a lot of pain in their kids by acting out that insecurity.”

        This is the first I’ve heard of this, and I find it interesting and would like to learn more. Do you have some resource links you could share?

    4. I, on the other hand, am now concocting a back story so that I can meet one of the unmarried-without-issue Obolensky-Neledinsky-Meletzky princes.

      1. And suddenly my mental picture of you now looks way more like Anna Nicole.  :)

  3. Hard to argue with a man who literally made his life the way he wanted it.  It wasn’t exactly the truth that we all would say is reality. But then we all have little lies we tell ourselves and others, his just allowed him to do things at a slightly grander scale. And as the article mentions, his background didn’t actually grant him real standing, his character he earned himself got him where he wanted to go.

  4. Man alive that is delightful! I was expecting to find that he was also the mysterious annual visitor to Poe’s grave.

    It’s sad that such reinventions of one’s self are becoming impossible in the age of deep information tracks.

    My own name-twin I’ve never met, but he does nicely bury my internet trail. He is a lifelong baseball player and coach, so google pours back pages and pages of baseball statistics.

  5. I had a chance to speak with my doppley-ganger namesake a couple of years ago…..dude is living the LIFE!!  Beach house in Malibu, big time movie producer in Hollywood, and we are the same age. Suffice to say, was hard to return to the cubicle after that phone call.

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