Connie Wald, an elegant matriarch of old Hollywood known for the low-key dinner parties she held for friends like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, died of natural causes Nov. 10 at her Beverly Hills home. She was 96.
Her death was confirmed by her son, Andrew.
The widow of Jerry Wald, who produced Oscar-winning films including “Mildred Pierce” and “Key Largo,” Connie Wald was a celebrated hostess, who gathered A-list stars around her dinner table for home-cooked dishes such as roast chicken and bread pudding.
“She was so unpretentious,” producer William Frye, a longtime friend, said Thursday, “but she still had a wonderful style about herself.”
She had a knack for setting people at ease — Frye said Wald was the only one of his friends who charmed the reclusive Greta Garbo. But Wald had certain rules for her parties. If her invitation was for 7:30 p.m., dinner was served promptly at 8. She disdained fussy appetizers that ruined the appetite, preferring something simple, like roasted almonds. She frowned on guests who overstayed their welcome. “Always leave a party at the peak” was her frequent exhortation to her sons.
She established her style in the 1940s when Hollywood was “a sleepy little town” where stars worked six days a week and could go out only on Saturday nights, she told the New York Times in February. Wald loved to cook and opened her house to famous and accomplished friends like Rosalind Russell and Gene Kelly, who were neighbors. Literary figures including Gore Vidal, John Dunne and Joan Didion were also part of her circle.
“When I think about going to dinner at Connie’s … I feel a great sense that the world is about to be corrected,” Didion told Vogue magazine in 2007. “There will be warmth; there will be the most comforting possible food and the most comforting possible company. I don’t think I ever met anyone with a more developed gift for drawing people together and making them happy.”
Wald was born Constance Emily Polan on Aug. 13, 1916, in Parkersburg, W.Va. At 18 she moved to New York to live with her publicist brother Barron and began modeling for designer Claire McCardell.
In the late 1930s Wald followed her parents and brother to Los Angeles. There she met Jerry Wald and married him in 1941.
They soon moved into the Pennsylvania Dutch-style farmhouse in Beverly Hills that became the venue for many fabled gatherings, such as the time composer-comedian Oscar Levant arrived for a movie in the Walds’ screening room and joked, “Who have you got in there, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable?”
In fact, Crawford was there, and she had brought Gable.
“That’s the way the town was,” Wald said in the New York Times interview. “People knew each other. They all worked for the studios.”
Her husband died in 1962. She is survived by their sons, Andrew and Robert, and two granddaughters.
Andrew Wald said her last wishes were “no service, no flowers” and a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, which they cooked themselves and served in her home.