The unexpected star of Neiman-Marcus

ADA LOUISE HUXTABLE, the formidable former architecture critic of The New York Times, once wrote that Neiman-Mar-cus is the Dallas style. There’s a lot of competition for that accolade these days, but 10, 20 and 30 years ago, Neiman-Marcus was without question the dominant force that brought civilization to this prairie town on the backwater blacklands of Texas. (For how N-M got started, see page 165.)

It was more than fashion. Neiman-Marcus gave Dallas a world view. Without “The Store,” as the Marcus family and store personnel always called N-M, it would have taken two generations longer for Dallasites to learn about Piatigorsky, Pavlova and Picasso. The latter subject was especially touchy during the Fifties, when the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts removed the works of Picasso from its walls because the artist was said to be a Communist. Stanley Marcus was central to the effort to get this ban removed.

But he wasn’t the only member of his family involved in the city then. There was his brother, Eddie, and Eddie’s shy wife from New York, Betty-elegant, intelligent, but hardly likely, it seemed, to join Stanley, a marketing genius and consummate connoisseur, in the winner’s circle.

To remember the Betty B. Marcus of those early days, you had only to go to the Beaux Arts Ball a year ago at the old Dallas Museum of Fine Arts at Fair Park. Giant photographs-black-and-white blowups of white suits, straw boaters, ankle-strap shoes and hats with veils-chronicled more than 50 years of museum history. Behind those faces, shown beaming at exhibition openings, ground breakings, press conferences for acquisitions and other elaborate rituals of emerging society, lay all the cobwebs of the unresolved conflicts that accompanied these patrons of the arts along their fractious way.

Few groups fall out with each other with as much passion as the arts people-unless it’s the medical or religious communities. (All three are dealing with ultimate value, which lends itself to neither compromise nor consensus.) In time, nobody in Dallas fought harder or more effectively for what she believed in than did Betty Marcus. But you would never have guessed it to see those early pictures of her at the museum.

She was a young woman pervaded by quiet caution, surrounded by beautiful sisters-in-law, handsome furs and jewelry and the entitlements of fashion that can become as heavy as the mantle of a monarch-and, it’s easy to imagine, a family business that could be incessant in its demands on her time, energy and emotions. Yet she endured, looking terrific, showing up at all the right places with all the right people and, to all appearances, enjoying herself.

But if you looked closely at those huge photographs on the walls of the old museum, you could see through the years a subtle transformation: Shy Betty Marcus was evolving into a woman to be reckoned with. Although she remained shy, she learned to compensate for it with a combination of courage and tenacit

People who worked with Betty discovered that she had a good eye (which must be innate to get anywhere in the art world) and great determination. It wasn’t too many years before she and Eddie helped found a museum of contemporary art, designed to make sure that the Picasso fiasco could never repeat itself. In time, their museum merged with the larger museum at Fair Park, although ownership of the art was retained in a special foundation to keep it out of harm’s way if the Philistines should strike again. They did, regularly. But Betty was always ready for them. Nobody helped muster the troops against know-nothingism more faithfully than Betty Marcu

She was president of the museum when it lured Harry Parker away from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to be its director, and that was no small accomplishment. Without Parker we might never have had the new art museum or the Arts District.

In time Betty moved on from the museum to the most important job of her long civic career: president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board. She waded Into the problems of Fair Park, and her persistence paid off. Now we’re working toward a preservation/recreation plan that will honor the art deco buildings of the Thirties, pump up the vital signs of the park and extend its life into the next century.

Betty Marcus has become so well-respected that Mayor Starke T^lor announced recently that the plaza outside the new Arts District concert hall downtown will be named Betty B. Marcus Park-an unprecedented honor for City Hall to restore on a woman.

When Betty became ill earlier this year, everything changed and nothing changed. There were still quotes from her in the newspapers on various issues, including why she opposed a ban on the sale of beer at the Cotton Bowl. Notes to her were answered warmly, almost by return mail. Her primary qualities were the same as always- courage and tenacity. There are worse things to try for.

Betty B. Marcus Park will be for me and for countless others a special place. I mean that in the way that Bob Wilson writes about on the last page of this issue. As usual, Bob has brought to his column a rare gift for articulating our longings with insight but without sentimentality. Our readers tell us that his column is consistently among the best features in D. Turn to the back of the book and see for yoursel

This month D is inaugurating a whole new system of rating and reviewing restau rants. We believe our readers will find the rankings clear and, we hope, as correct as possible in so subjective a judgment. They will be updated every six months. In addi tion, we are listing restaurants by neighbor hood, instead of by type of food as before. Dallasites are developing a strong sense of neighborhood identification, and each sec tion of the city has restaurants that seem in evitably to take on the character of their own neighborhoods. Hence we’re reorganizing our dining pages around the increasingly various faces of Dallas.


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