Stillman is the director of "Metropolitan," a bargain-basement study of the American upper class-or, as he has tagged them, the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie-opening today in Washington. It's about a Princeton freshman, Tom Townsend, who's stuck in New York over Christmas-in his mother's apartment, on the dreaded west side of Central Park. He's invited to a deb party, and by the end of season he's no longer renting tails because he's purchased them. He also moves from reading Lionel Trilling's criticism of Jane Austen to actually reading her books. His year, it appears, might be saved.
Finky? Several men come to mind at once. It's rather complicated. There's Pee-wee Herman and Anthony Perkins, then a splash of Claus von Bulow, played by Jeremy Irons, perhaps. A mole sits on John Whitney Stillman's 38-year-old cheek, and a cleft in his chin. He has black eyes, WASP nostrils and a fundamental quality of milkiness. It's easy, even while he sits there in his English penny loafers and rumpled glen plaid jacket, to imagine him in a powdered wig and lace cuffs. He's the kind of guy who stirs his coffee with that little stick for too long. He wipes dust off a table with a folded napkin. He once loved F. Scott Fitzgerald, but "you have to reject Fitzgerald eventually in terms of total vision," he says. For total vision, he looks to Jane Austen and his own manners.
Stillman has left the last button on his jacket sleeves unbuttoned. This is probably not because he wants to push up his sleeves, but more likely to prove that the buttonhole is an actual buttonhole. And this is very important. (Are you one of us or not?) His father's family came to Connecticut in the 1680s as "Puritan refugees," he says. He describes his mother's family in Philadelphia as having lost its money during the Depression and as "tangentially social."
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