When 74-year-old twins Marilise Flusser and Suzanne Matthau arrived at the historic Carlyle Hotel last Tuesday afternoon, they strode right past fashion designer Miuccia Prada and “Black Panther” star Letitia Wright, burst into the quiet Bemelmans Bar with their overflowing bags and rainbow-colored outfits, and proceeded to take up about five tables.
But they’re allowed. They’re practically Carlyle royalty.
Flusser and Matthau — née Huyot — are the hotel’s real-life Eloises. The sisters not only lived there for 18 years while their father was the manager and president of the place, but they’re actually memorialized in the bar’s whimsical murals, created by famed “Madeline” author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans.
“As far as we know, we’re the only people from the hotel he painted [in the mural],” said Matthau. “It is pretty incredible to see, now that we understand how important this place is.”
A new documentary, “Always at the Carlyle,” in theaters now, explores the Upper East Side hotel’s 87-year history. But none of the celebrity talking heads or gossipy anecdotes shine as brightly as the “Huyot brats,” as one of their disgruntled hallmates used to refer to them.
“When I come in here I feel very entitled because it’s my house,” said brunette sibling Flusser, a fashion stylist who has two daughters and two grandchildren and who lives on the Upper West Side.
Matthau, who has one son, nodded. “It’s like, ‘You think you’re so special? We grew up in this place!’ ” said the blond schoolteacher, who resides in Edgewater, NJ, with her husband. “We used to skate up and down the halls!”
The Huyot sisters were just a few months old when their father, Robert, a French hotel manager who had previously worked at the Waldorf Astoria, was offered an opportunity to take over the Carlyle in 1944.
“I’m not going to say it was a dump,” said Flusser of the art deco building, which opened in 1931. “But there were a lot of empty rooms.”
Initially conceived as a glamorous apartment-hotel, the Great Depression swiftly put an end to those plans — and the building lost some of its initial sheen. In fact, by the time Robert took over, the place was so deserted that he was able to lodge his whole family there: Not just his wife, Rita, and his little girls, but also aunts, uncles and even a grandmother. During their first couple of years in residence, during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Robert and Rita opened the hotel to Jewish ex-pats escaping Europe.
The place gained some luster with the opening of the Bemelmans Bar, in 1947, and Café Carlyle, in 1955. Suddenly, flashy out-of-town guests and well-heeled locals wanted to down cocktails and enjoy world-class piano-playing.
Which meant that life changed for the twins.
“We couldn’t scream and yell in the elevators; we had to be really quiet and polite and curtsy and all that,” recalled Flusser.
“We always had to have white gloves on,” added Matthau. “We couldn’t wear pants at all — my first pair of blue jeans was in college!”
Still, the pair found ways to have fun. They enlisted one of the maids to time them as they raced down the hotel’s 34 flights of stairs. They roller-skated on the lobby’s expensive marble floors. They would call room service to bring them cinnamon toast at random times in the afternoon, with particularly obsessive instructions on how the cinnamon sugar should be sprinkled. The sisters would also steal the maraschino cherries from the grapefruits that were meant for guests’ breakfasts.
“We got in so much trouble for that,” said Flusser. “[The staff] would say, ‘Girls! That means the bellboy has to go all the way downstairs to replace the cherries because now there’s a red stain [where the cherry should be] and we can’t give that to the clients!’ ”
Though their parents were tight-lipped about the celebrities who stayed at the hotel, the girls kept their ears open for gossip.
When Jawaharlal Nehru, then the prime minister of India, hosted a big dinner for all the heads of state in the early 1960s, the girls convinced one of the elevator operators to let them downstairs to get a good look at Fidel Castro, the charismatic revolutionary who had recently led a rebellion in Cuba. The twins donned their best taffeta dresses and white gloves so that they didn’t look like interlopers.
“I remember looking up at [Castro] and thinking, ‘He’s really dirty, and he’s in the Carlyle!’ ” recalled Flusser.
Then there was the time that President John F. Kennedy was staying at the hotel and used the Carlyle’s secret underground tunnel to evade the Secret Service and go party.
“Our mother made us kneel around the bed and say the rosary so that JFK would be found and not die while he lived in our hotel,” said Flusser.
Robert Huyot had known Ludwig Bemelmans for decades before hiring him to redo the hotel’s bar, in the hopes of attracting some classy clientele.
After getting into some trouble back home in Europe, the Austro-Hungarian-born Bemelmans arrived in New York City on the eve of World War I, landing a job as a server at the Ritz, where he worked his way up to banquet manager and taught himself how to paint by scribbling on the walls of the kitchen and the hotel’s empty suites.
But even after his doodles led to a successful children’s book, “Madeline,” published in 1939, he still kept up with his hotel-industry friends, who shared his zest for life and love of mischief.
“He was born in a hotel, he was brought up in a hotel and he loved living in hotels,” art historian Jane Bayard Curley told The Post. “When he did the Bemelmans Bar, he got 18 months free rent [at the Carlyle] in payment.”
Bemelmans moved into the Carlyle with his wife, Madeleine, and daughter, Barbara, around 1946 and began painting the mural: a fantasy version of Central Park, featuring anthropomorphic animals and children mucking it up. He worked at a very leisurely pace.
“My mother used to laugh and say, ‘He took a long time doing the bar because he wanted to stretch out the time he could stay here,’ ” said Flusser.
The artist also painted the sisters their own canvases of Madeline and her naughty conspirator Pepito, which hung above the girls’ beds. He gifted landscapes and drawings to their parents. And when he went to the Huyots’ upstate home for a party, he decorated their bar with a drawing of a giraffe sispping a drinnk.
“Our parents just loved him; he was very charming,” said Flusser.
But the best gift of all? He painted the twins into the final Bemelmans Bar mural, as two smiling babies in a pram pushed by a busty nanny.
“I think he just thought it would be funny, since he was a friend of Pop’s,” said Flusser.
Despite the child-friendly murals, the girls spent little time at the Bemelmans. “We were kind of oblivious to the bar, because that was for grown-ups,” said Matthau. “And that was boring. ”
Instead, the girls hung out in the Café Carlyle, eating ice cream and dreaming of one day moving to a “normal” apartment building. (They only left the hotel to go to college — Flusser to Boston College and Matthau to Harvard.)
But now the twins have a fondness for the place where they grew up, and they enjoy having a tipple at the Bemelmans once in a while.
“It’s kind of like our life and home,” said Flusser. “It really is a special place.”
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