In April, an Upper East side mother of four entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering spring ball with a younger man as wholesomely handsome as he was unsettlingly familiar. Tall, scrubbed, smiling brilliantly, with his well-cut dinner jacket making an elegant amuse-bouche out of the underlying musculature, this ephebus might have caused the female brows to collectively furrow if it weren’t for all the botulinum toxin contained therein.
But then he said hello. Of course! It was Nick—an extremely popular and (phew) openly gay spinning instructor at the East 83rd Street SoulCycle who’d recently moved to New York from West Hollywood. Nick’s clients were more accustomed to seeing him in his signature workout garb: sporty shorts and a T-shirt with deep cutout armholes stretching to his waist that he often removes mid-class to the screeching approbation of a roomful of rail-thin sweat-soaked spinners. Lately Nick has squired this highly aerobicized mom to a number of charity parties around town—her husband prefers to keep out of the circuit, though he’s happy to write the checks—and is a frequent guest at her homes on weekends.
To all appearances “the walker”—a term W’s founder, John B. Fairchild, first used in the pages of Women’s Wear Daily in the seventies to describe those spiffy, quick-witted, usually gay men ever ready to accompany a socialite on her daily rounds—is alive and well.
Or is he? Just as paleontologists believe that a sudden change in the earth’s climate altered the dinosaurs’ food supply and pushed them to extinction, some social observers wonder whether cultural shifts in the decades since Truman Capote walked Babe Paley have eaten into the walker’s steady diet of rich women needy for nonsexual male attention. Indeed, there are those who believe that the mauve damask curtain fell on the age of walking 10 years ago, when Johnny Galliher died in his sleep in a two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s East 63rd Street.
Galliher, whom Count Lanfranco Rasponi, in his 1966 book The International Nomads, called “a favorite extra man…whose Irish dimples some hostesses find irresistible,” was born in Washington, D.C., in 1914. Little is known about his background; he had the walker’s talent for self-invention and often claimed to be descended from Pocahontas. As a teenager, Galliher was taken under the plush wing of Washington, D.C., heiress and socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. (Galliher was often tasked with holding it in the pocket of his suit jacket when McLean lent the stone to her daughter, his frequent date, who never cared to wear it in public.) With his etched features, dark hair, impeccable manners, and easy social style modeled on that of Noël Coward and Cole Porter, both friends and mentors of his, Galliher managed to magnetize the world’s most glamorous folk, from Elsie de Wolfe to Mica Ertegun, Mona Bismarck to Pat Buckley. Apart from his winnings from a regular game of gin rummy, he had no clear source of income—but he wasn’t a mooch. His aim, say those who knew him, was quite simply to have a nice time. Like all walkers of the old school, Galliher pursued his romantic interests outside society. His ladies knew that he dated men, but they never asked questions.