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Next to Quentin Crisp, one of my favorite New Yorkers was an uptown girl whom I belatedly learned passed on. I was visitng the NYTimes obit section for the first time in many months and discovered Daphne Helman, had passed away this summer very close to if not on Warhol's birthday.) She was listed as a name on the bottom of the page but the link wasn't working. Later that day I was on the Motherboards in the Versailles section and was reminded of the RIP VIP which I've also avoided far too long so I finally visited and learned of Holly Solomon's death. Another great loss. I was curious if a mention of Ms. Daphne appeared here and since it had not I'd like to contribute the Times synopsis with the small footnote that they failed to account for the fact that age 80 she took up Rollerblading in Central Park which is where we happened upon each other, her in lots of colorful protective gear and me in one of my April Fool's numbers.

Daphne Hellman, Harpist With Eclectic Taste, Dies at 86

Daphne Bayne Hellman, the jazz harpist who performed around the world and for three decades at the Village Gate but who had a special affection for playing on subway platforms, died on Sunday at a nursing home in Manhattan. She was 86.

Ms. Hellman, who had played on the streets of Paris at a music fair as recently as June, was recuperating from injuries suffered in a fall last month near her town house on East 61st Street, her family said.

In a wildly peripatetic musical career that began in the 1940's at Town Hall -- where Time magazine called her ''as curvesome as a treble clef'' -- her professional choices were generally as eccentric as those she made in the rest of her life.

She saw nothing particularly unusual, she said, about plucking her harp on the street in front of the Hotel Pierre, where she came out to society in 1933, at a supper dance in the roof garden.

She did not seem to care what people thought when, after years of playing well-to-do places for well-to-do crowds, she also took the stage at clubs like CBGB, on the Bowery, accompanied by the kitchen-drawer percussion of a man called Mr. Spoons, otherwise known as Joseph Jones Jr., whom Ms. Hellman put up in her town house after his third wife left him.

She played the Beatles or Roger Miller or bluegrass warhorses like ''Foggy Mountain Breakdown'' with as much appreciation as she played Bach and Debussy, Gershwin and Kern.

Although she was an heiress with substantial means -- ''My mother had mucho money,'' she said in one interview -- she liked to count the money she earned when she began playing in the subway in the 1980's, sometimes carrying coins to a delicatessen near her house to trade them for bills.

''She was just the antisnob, that's what she was,'' said Art D'Lugoff, who owned the Village Gate, where Ms. Hellman and her trio, Hellman's Angels, played every Tuesday for 30 years when she was in town. It was one of the longest nightclub runs in the city's history.

''She had money and she knew a lot of people and she got along with everybody,'' said Mr. D'Lugoff, whose club closed in 1994. ''She opened up a new world for me, and I opened up a world for her.''

Ms. Hellman was sometimes compared to Katharine Hepburn, not only because of her high cheekbones and patrician good looks, but also because she lived a life of elegant rebellion, even before she first touched a harp at the age of 12.

Born Daphne Van Beuren Bayne, the granddaughter of the founder of the Seaboard National Bank, she recalled in a 1990 profile in The New Yorker that as a child she liked to keep bats and armadillos as pets. ''They are much maligned and misunderstood,'' she said of bats.

As a young woman, she first tried acting, training in New York and London and landing a walk-on part in a Broadway production of ''Hamlet.'' She also modeled for Man Ray and Harper's Bazaar. But after her marriage to her first husband, Harry Bull, the editor of Town & Country magazine, and the birth of their son, Sandy, she began to take the harp more seriously.

Over the strong objections of her father, she had her jazz debut at a cabaret called Le Ruban Bleu, at 56th Street and Fifth Avenue. Over the next few years, she played at a string of clubs that sound like a roll call from another musical era: the Hotel New Yorker, with Ving Merlin and his All-Girl Band; Upstairs at the Downstairs, with Blossom Dearie and Imogene Coca; Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe; the Versailles; Le Perroquet.

Once, at Le Ruban Bleu, according to the New Yorker profile, a young Billie Holiday, quite drunk, angrily refused to share the club's only dressing room with Ms. Hellman, who played there twice a year.

But most of Ms. Hellman's relationships with famous people were much more congenial and enduring. Her cluttered East Side town house, usually full of boarders, birds, dogs and litters of gerbils, served as the base for a kind of floating salon. And she was its musical Zelig, whose close friends included, besides Mr. Spoons, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the artist Saul Steinberg and the writer Norman Mailer.

In the 1940's, she had briefly supplied a beautiful face and high-society name to gossip columns when her marriage to Mr. Bull fell apart and she had an affair with Geoffrey T. Hellman, a writer for The New Yorker. She married him in Reno in 1941, hours after her divorce from Mr. Bull. (Her son, Sandy Bull, a noted guitarist, died last year; she is survived by a daughter, Daisy Paradis, and a son, Digger St. John.)

Mr. Hellman left her for another woman, and in 1961, she married Hsio-Wen Shih, a Chinese-American architect and writer, who left their home one day in 1965 and disappeared, breaking her heart, friends said.

''It was like he went out for a pack of cigarettes and just didn't come back,'' said Lyn Christie, the bassist in Ms. Hellman's trio, who played with her for decades, everywhere from the subway to Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Bombay and Hong Kong.

''It felt sort of like the trips we made to China were an attempt to try to find out about him,'' Mr. Christie said. ''But we never did come across him.''

Ms. Hellman's daughter, Daisy Paradis, said that her mother, who sometimes smoked a pack of Salems a day, had slowed down only slightly over the last few years. She had not played the subway for quite a while, mostly because it had become harder to find someone to help her lug her 85-pound harp down to the platform. But she played in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka this year and was appearing at the Firebird Cafe in Midtown at the time of her fall.

''She was an incredibly intrepid woman,'' said Mr. Christie, who recalled that in Hong Kong she tried to ride on horseback into Communist China. ''She loved to do whatever she knew you weren't supposed to do.''


[This message was edited by dreambot on 10-19-02 at 11:46 AM.]
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