THE WALK-THROUGH MIRROR A section of the wall swivels open between the library and the living room.
THE LIVING ROOM Gail called the pair of goddess-head seats her “fertility chairs,” Starr says. “If someone was having a fertility issue, she would make them sit in them.”THE KITCHEN The western-themed kitchen was inspired in part by the set of Agnes de Mille’s ballet Rodeo. Jim Digregorio, who installed much of the kitchen, says Gail came to him and announced, “I want this kitchen to look like a small town in Texas.” He recalls that some of the wood he used came from the Ralph Lauren store on 72nd and Madison. “It was part of a window display. She was passing by as they were disposing of it, and she said she would take it.”
ON A WELL-MANNERED block of the Upper East Side, lined with the sort of nondescriptly elegant limestone buildings that seem to value discretion above all else, there was, invisible to passersby, a fabulous secret. Nothing untoward, just unexpected. It was Gail Ann Lowe Maidman’s wonderland, a 14-room, exuberantly theatrical duplex that she obsessively worked and reworked over the years into something astonishing—unlike any other apartment I’ve ever visited—so personal, and peculiar, that I couldn’t get it out of my head once I’d seen it. I wanted to know who Gail was and what drove her to do this.
“My mother always wanted to be an actress,” her daughter, Starr Kempin, told me, sitting in the gothic library of the apartment, which she inherited after her mother’s death in 2016 but only recently took possession of. “She went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but my grandfather didn’t approve, so he made her work in his office.” Later in life, though, in this apartment, Gail was the star.
Gail was born to a prosperous and striving New York family. Her father, Edwin S. Lowe, had immigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1928. The eldest son of a Hasidic rabbi, he was a traveling salesman during the Depression. It was on one of his stops, at a small-town carnival in Georgia, that the seed of his fortune was planted when he noticed a crowd gathered around a game of Beano, in which the caller shouted out numbers and players filled in their cards. Intrigued by the players’ fervor, Lowe tried out the game at home; in the thrill of winning, a woman in the group yelled “Bingo!” instead of “Beano.” He got the idea to market the game commercially and asked a mathematician from Columbia University to come up with 6,000 new Bingo cards, all with nonrepeating number combinations. (According to the book A Toy Is Born, by Marvin Kaye, the mathematician then lost his mind.)
But Bingo wasn’t Lowe’s only jackpot. As family lore has it, he was invited on a yacht by a couple who entertained their guests with what they called the Yacht Game, which used handmade score cards. The wife came to Lowe’s office and asked him to make 1,000 game cards to give to friends; in return, she agreed to Lowe’s request for the rights to market the game commercially. He changed the name to Yahtzee and—bingo!—the rest is history. Lowe sold his company to Milton Bradley in 1973 for $26 million (about $160 million today) and went into real estate. And although he also dabbled in the theater, producing A Talent for Murder with Claudette Colbert on Broadway in 1981, he was not very supportive of his daughter’s stage dreams.
According to her daughter, Gail used to make prank calls in a Yiddish accent to her father’s office manager, pretending to be a disgruntled customer who had purchased a faulty Mahjongg set. “My mom just tortured this man,” says Starr. Eventually, her fake customer was passed on to her father to placate, and, according to her daughter, she would pry into his romantic life. But her father and the fake-voice character became friends. Finally, after seven years, she revealed that she was the annoying lady.
As we talk, Starr points out the portrait of her paternal great-grandfather over the fireplace. He is dressed like an Edwardian gentleman, complete with top hat, but as in so many family histories, liberties had been taken. “He was actually a Hasidic rabbi,” Starr explains. “I always say my grandfather secularized him. He wore a shtreimel and had a white beard, but my grandfather, who became a very secular Jew, had his portrait painted like that.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Life After Nirvana
Dave Grohl is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for a second time. He’s got a lot to reflect on.
30 Minutes With… Lina Khan
The FTC’s very young new boss thinks corporations are abusing their power. To fight them, she’s consolidating some clout of her own.
IT'S HIS TOWN NOW
As he coasts to general-election victory, the post-technocrat, post-progressive Eric Adams mayoralty has already begun.
Matt Berry Has a Type
The actor is known for playing ridiculous characters with a straight face—the stupider the better.
The Money Game: Michelle Celarier
The Crypto Concerned Why the ‘Big Short’ guys think bitcoin is a bubble.
Katie Couric Is Not for Everyone
Many years after her long career as America’s beloved morning-news anchor, she has decided to write a wild, unflinching memoir focused on the messy parts. Why?
The One-Bed room Museum
Thomas Lollar—ceramicist, teacher, and, most of all, collector— can always find space for something else in his home.
The Real Star of Dune
Rebecca Ferguson plays the intimidating Lady Jessica in the sci-fi epic. She’s much friendlier in person.
The Soft Sell
The healthcare brand Hims wants to leverage young men’s anxiety over erections and hair loss into a multibillion-dollar empire. It’s been harder than expected.
Tomorrow: Bridget Read
Weathering the Weather Mental-health professionals are trying to figure out how to talk about the climate.
WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL MEDIA, BEAUTY IS A MAINSTAY, AND WITHIN that space there’s one person who dominates: Patrick Starrr. “Social media has allowed consumers to find people that look like them to trust a point of view that you may not get from a store employee,” he says. That connection with his YouTube audience inspired Starrr to launch One/Size Beauty.
''Journey Into Thyself''
A key part of my process involves inquiry and reflection.
Time for yet another offensive coordinator
The Dolphins will have a new offensive coordinator again in 2021.
NILS LOFGREN RELEASES A 16-TRACK COLLECTION, WEATHERED , WHICH WAS RECORDED ON THE ROAD IN 2019.
Gailey gearing up for second run
It’s been almost 20 years since Chan Gailey had his first stint as Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, but some things haven’t changed very much.
Reflection and Connection
SANTA FE, NM Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe’s Railyard Arts District holds its Annual Celebration of Native American Art during Native Art Week with a stellar group of artists including Dan Friday, Starr Hardridge, Chris Pappan, Maria Samora, Jody Naranjo, Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Hyrum Joe, Thomas Breeze Marcus, Avis Charley and Shonto Begay. A variety of media like glass sculpture, painting, ceramics and jewelry will be on display for collectors to explore.
Coaching moves early in offseason
The Dolphins will have two new coordinators in 2020.
Love & Care
When I was laid off, I assumed I’d find another job. Little did I know what that job would be
A Hand To Hold
CLOSE TO THE HEART A necklace featuring her mother's thumbprint lends Lacouture constant support.
What's It's Like to Grow Up On Daytime
Stars share their experiences of growing up on TV