The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman
Edited by Stephen Pascal
Alfred A. Knopf. 654 pages, $37.50
ALTHOUGH HE DIED IN 1994, Leo Lerman is still, thanks to the diligent efforts of editor Stephen Pascal, sharing his stories and comments about everyone who was anyone in New York for half a century—and still making us all envious of the frenetic, joyful, art-filled life he led. The title refers to a prized species of butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty, known among collectors as “the grand surprise,” which Lerman had loved since first seeing one quite by chance as a ten-year-old growing up in East Harlem and Queens. He was collecting insects and butterflies that summer, attracted to their beauty and glamour. Writing about this childhood episode while in his early forties, Lerman enhanced the memory as he described how the butterfly raised its wings “languorously,” in much the same way that he would later see Margo Fonteyn raise her arms. His description of its purple wings as the color of “marvelous ancient Chinese silk” captures the sensations of a ten-year-old but reflects Lerman’s experience as an adult gay man who was at home in the fashion publishing industry.