Whoever sat Gayfryd Steinberg next to Michael Shnayerson at a dinner party had a strange sense of humor. He was a writer, a 28-year veteran of Vanity Fair. She was one of the magazine’s best subjects: a famous, gorgeous socialite who, along with her husband, the swashbuckling corporate raider Saul Steinberg, bedazzled New York throughout the ’80s. Vanity Fair had chronicled the entire arc, from Gayfryd’s humble Canadian beginnings to the surreptitious rearranging of place cards that seated her next to Steinberg, one of the city’s first billionaires, to the gaudy, over-the-top parties that cemented their status as “the king and queen of nouvelle society.” And when the party inevitably came to an end, the magazine didn’t hold back, publishing an article titled “Vanished Opulence” that reveled in the humbling of the couple once likened to modern-day Medicis: the auction they were forced to hold of every gilded objet, the stroke that left Saul severely impaired. Shnayerson had himself written about the sale of their 34-room triplex at 740 Park Avenue to Stephen Schwarzman.
So it could have been awkward.
But once again, the seating arrangements proved auspicious. This past August, Shnayerson and Steinberg were married following a courtship that began several months after Saul’s death, in December 2012. “When Saul died unexpectedly—he could’ve lived many more years—I hadn’t contemplated anything,” says Gayfryd, who had remained her husband’s caregiver for 20 years. “But when something like this falls into your lap,” she says, looking shyly at Shnayerson, “it’s a gift.”
Gayfryd was still grieving when she received an email from Shnayerson asking her to lunch, but she was charmed by him, and while traveling separately over the summer, the two began a correspondence that turned into “almost an epistolary romance,” says Shnayerson. That fall, he invited her to the upstate cottage, where he was holed up writing a new book. “I knew that Gayfryd had lived in one of New York’s great apartments, so I had a few qualms,” he says. “But she was down in the mud basement, within a few days, doing the laundry.” By the end of the trip, they knew they’d marry. “When I’m in love with someone,” she says, “I’m all in.”
To be sensitive to Steinberg’s children, they decided they would wait at least a year, during which Shnayerson would convert to Judaism, like Gayfryd had done when she married Saul. The wedding would be “fun and authentic,” at a synagogue in Sag Harbor, followed by a reception at the simple house they own. “Teeny-weeny,” she says. “Of course, that didn’t happen.” Even after they’d narrowed the guest list to 150, the wedding had to be moved to a tent, which teemed with flora arranged by David Monn, the designer of some of Gayfryd’s most extravagant fêtes. The bride walked the aisle in a light-blue Oscar de la Renta dress made to match the color of Shnayerson’s eyes. And as the couple left, a gospel choir materialized singing “All You Need Is Love,” a nod to Shnayerson’s favorite movie, Love, Actually. “Even the rabbis thought it was pretty good,” Gayfryd says, smiling proudly. “When I want to do it, I can still do it.”