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Marion Preminger - Jo Copeland - Gabriella Giorgi

The marquis Giorgi and his wife Gabriella were collectors of some of my sculptures: “Bathers” and “Dancers”, lost wax castings of my figurative period 1950 – 1966. He was the president of Phillip Morris for Italy.

Shortly before leaving for Geneva in 1970, where I was having a solo exhibit with Madame Motte at the Gallery Motte, I met a person that told me about the terrible “Gabriella story”. She had been committed by her husband, to an institution in Geneva for “insane people”.

While I was in Geneva, I went to see her; I introduced myself as a relative, therefore I was allowed to her room. She was very happy to see me and appeared to be in perfect mental and physical health. The story was: while they were in Milan, her husband, who had several mistresses, one evening, before going to dinner, he announced that he was going by himself, not with her. Her reply was: “if what you are planning is to leave me in the hotel by myself, I will throw everything in this room down in the street”. That is exactly what happened and as result, he had her committed and transferred to a private clinic in Geneva, treating insane people.

He was planning to get rid of her on insanity grounds. She begged me to help her; she told me that he had taken all her belongings, the jewelery and the bank account. I recommended, that she should keep very quiet, and not give any reason to be kept there. We talked about my future trip and exhibit in New York, she told me that she had many friends in New York, she would write to them to tell them about me and my work.

I did not think that she would remember.

While leaving after a very affectionate visit, I promised to be in touch with all their friends, to have them sign a petition in her favor, and I would personally discuss this matter with her husband.

I left feeling very sad, about what this horrible husband, was trying to do. I did see him before going to New York, delivered the petition, signed by their friends and told him, that we all agreed that what he was doing was to say the least “criminal”.

Certainly, he did not want a scandal, also dangerous for his position with Philips Morris. He was surprised that I had seen her, that I knew the all story and promised to take care of her properly “as soon as she would be better”.

She had absolutely nothing, I added, she just needed to be released immediately. I later learned that because of the pressure of so many people, he decided to take her home and abandoned his wild plot.

While in New York, as a guest of my dear friends Maria Laura and her husband H.E. Ambassador Piero Vinci, (the Italian Permanent Representative at the United Nations), I was invited to join them, at a social event, to raise funds for the “Boys Town of Italy”.

They thought that it would be good for me, to meet people, before the opening of my exhibit. As we arrived, at this sumptuous place on Park Avenue, a woman walked towards me: “Welcome, you are Carla Lavatelli!” she said. Much to my surprise, I asked her, where we had met before. “No”, she replied, “A friend wrote to me from Geneva, she described you so well, that I could have recognized you immediately”.

It was to be the beginning of a most affectionate friendship. From that moment on, I was under her wing, she tried to help me, take care of me as though I was her daughter. She was highly respected. She had been honored by many distinguished awards including “La Legion d’Honeur”. She followed me at every of my exhibitions. She flew all the way to Palm Beach after hearing my sad voice on the telephone, she took the first flight out : “I didn’t know that you were so dependable”. When she arrived in Florida, she attracted photographers and journalists that wrote articles quoting that she had flown from New York to celebrate the opening of my exhibition.

Going back many years, when Marion left her husband, the movie producer Otto Preminger, she did not want anything from him.

She arrived in New York and stayed with Jo Copeland, a famous fashion designer. One evening, Jo took Marion with her, to a fund-raising for Albert Schweitzer’s Hospital in Lambaréné • Gabon. When they returned home, Marion told Jo: “I just had a meeting with God, I am going to follow him to Gabon”.

She did, and remained with Schweitzer for 25 years, until he convinced her, that she should return to civilization. He introduced her to Albert Mayer, a remarkable architect and philanthropist, born in a very wealthy family. he had built quite a lot around New York, and went frequently to help in Gabon.

Albert Schweitzer married them, and when they returned to New York, they went to live in a Park Avenue apartment, the whole floor of one of the buildings, that Albert Mayer had built.  

She became Consul General of Gabon, at the entrance of the Consulate, in a very precious glass box, she preserved Schweitzer’s shoes, showing their worn out soles.

Marion always invited my son Carlo, to stay with them in New York, during the 2 years that he had won a scholarship in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie • Mellon University. She always gave him a very loving, royal welcome. She was a most generous person, helping me to generate business and introduced me to whomever she felt would have an interest in my work: “I want you to meet my very honorable friend, the famous sculptor Carla Lavatelli”.

I saw the two Towers that were destroyed on September 11, while being built, they had changed the skyline of New York, I also continued to enjoy them from my studio at 140 Thompson.

I followed their construction from the apartment of Doctor Seymour Felder and his wife Pupé, they were among some of our first friends in New York. Doctor Felder was always very generous in taking care of my health problems, also when my brother Alberto committed suicide. They were collectors of my figurative work.  One particular sculpture that I remember they had purchased, was: “L’Orfanello” (The Orphan).

Albert Meyer had rented a space on the second floor, while the last floors of the Towers were still being built. During a reception for the inauguration of his space, in one of her explosions of enthusiasm, Marion obtained a special permit, to take me up to the last floor of one of the Towers, still under construction.  It was like walking around in the sky, a very dangerous unforgettable experience.

I was stunned by what she could do and get away with. She always wore a black dress, a very impressive set of decorations pinned on the left side. Later on, when the Towers were completed, the last floor was occupied by a bank (I do not remember the bank, it may have been Chase); the director purchased one of my lithographs “Swirling Seagulls ”. I remember being very happy to see my seagulls almost flying around in the sky.

Marion was born Hungarian, had many relatives in Hungary. One year, her sisters and relatives came to New York for a visit and stayed with her. She was very much exited and wanted to take them everywhere.  I did not have a chance to meet them because I had already left for Italy.  

Upon my return to New York, I was told that one late afternoon, before going to Radio City, they went home to rest for a while and dress up. When her sisters called her, for it was time to go, she was resting on the couch and looked like she had fallen asleep, instead she had silently gone away for her trip without return, the peaceful end. It was a terrible loss, I no longer had my wonderful friend.

Her husband Albert was in great pain, used to come for a visit very frequently at my first New York studio : 414 East 75th. He claimed that he felt better when being with me, surrounded by all the sculptures that he admired so much.

Shortly after, he commissioned “The City”, one of my stainless steel constructed structures to be installed in the New York New School, which he had built. He purchased a small version, and wrote to me an enthusiastic letter, when he installed it at the entrance of his home. Unfortunately the New School project remained unrealized, because of his premature death.

Going back to New York every year in the winter, became very painful. As the years went by, I inevitably lost another one of my dear friends. I was very spoiled by them, they always greeted my arrival with so much love, as a great event. They made me feel warm and protected. Alva Gimbel would always purchase one of my sculptures just before the opening of every exhibitions, proudly showing everyone what she had just bought to encourage them to follow in her path.