Thanksgiving at Connie’s

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Most of the time, if you move to a new city far away from the one you grew up in, you end up making another kind of family: the family of beloved friends. I’ve now done this twice, both in New York and in Los Angeles. This family, not the one you were born into, is the one you choose—and it chooses you. When I first started spending time in Los Angeles, Dominick Dunne said, “Alex, you’ll only need ONE friend out there. Through that one, you’ll meet EVERYBODY.”

Early on—like, the second day I was there—Marguerite Littman, who was visiting from London, introduced me to Connie Wald. Connie was the ultimate Hollywood hostess—a former model, a mega-producer’s wife who served stylish home-cooked lunches and dinners for six or seven decades to the who’s who of Hollywood. In 1941, Connie and her husband, Jerry, had bought a three-year-old “Connecticut farm house” in the flats of Beverly Hills, the same house that the Walds lived in for 75 years. Although Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn—both the very closest cohorts to Connie—were before my time, I was a frequent guest and made my share of notable friends there: Olivia de Havilland, Gore Vidal, Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson, Julian Sands, Samuel Goldwyn, Roddy McDowell, the Jimmy Stewarts, and on and on.

Connie was a delicious friend: generous, loyal, caring, and beloved by generations. She and I bonded over food and recipes, and I was very lucky that she shared some of her guests’ and my favorites with me for my first book: Penne alla Vodka, Parmesan Gnocci, “Red” Chicken, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and homemade Chocolate Roll. Still, the most delicious thing I’ve almost ever tasted was her Chestnut Dressing at Thanksgiving. That recipe is coming soon in my second book, and trust me: it’s worth the wait.

Connie loved parties because she loved people. She was a hostess in the great sense of the word—she genuinely cared about the well-being of her guests. When she died in mid-November of 2012 at age 96, Connie—and her two sons, Andrew and Robbie—were planning on having a couple of dozen people or so for lunch on Thanksgiving day, about ten days later. Her last words to her sons? “Whatever you do, don’t cancel Thanksgiving.”

And they didn’t. That Thanksgiving, more than 30 of us gathered…Connie’s closest friends, the holiday regulars: Nancy Reagan, David Jones, Bob Bookman, Felisa Vanoff, Connie’s sons and their families, and friends of their families, and Sean Ferrer—her best friend Audrey Hepburn’s son, who came from Europe, just like always. We gave thanks for the blessings in our lives, for friendship and family, for delicious food and drink, for being together. It was business as usual—and thoughtful and poignant—but definitely not a somber gathering. Connie had given us all too much joy over the years for that. The group from Thanksgivings past felt privileged to gather again, if for the last time. The only person that was missing that year was Connie.

But, then again, she wasn’t.