A Bizarre Manhattan Murder Brings to a Close the Tortured Life of Decorator Michael Greer
At the height of his career, Michael Greer had everything. He was rich, handsome and celebrated. A decorator of considerable fame, he volunteered to beautify the diplomatic reception room of the White House. Actresses Joan Fontaine, Mary Martin, Geraldine Page and Ethel Merman graced his list of clients. He supped with the Queen of Denmark and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He drank from Baccarat crystal and traveled in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. With his French cook-butler, he entertained the Vanderbilts, Revsons, Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson.
Late last month, the tall, silver-haired, 60-year-old Greer was found dead in his Park Avenue apartment. His body, clad only in a short, blue kimono, was sprawled across one of his prize possessions, an antique steel bed. His ankles had been bound with a silk scarf of his favorite color—red. He had been strangled, police said, with a cord of some kind. Several photographs of Greer with famous friends had been turned facedown. Otherwise, his apartment was not disturbed. The door had not been forced open.
The bizarre murder ended what friends call “a period of deterioration” in Greer’s life. “He was on the road to self-destruction,” says one close friend. “No one could help him.” Greer, a homosexual, frequented Manhattan’s gay bars and, according to a doorman in his building, “often entertained young men in his apartment.” The murderer, police believe, was a homosexual pickup.
Several years ago, Greer began drinking heavily. “He was charming when he was sober,” says a friend. “But he got into a lot of trouble when he was drinking. He would fall down. He would drop a glass or a plate at parties.” His business was suffering. “It began during the recession and stock market crash,” says another acquaintance. “Clients hadn’t paid him, and he didn’t want to sue.” He was an abusive drunk and alienated many old friends. “And,” says someone who spoke to Greer the day before his death, “they all deserted him when he wasn’t doing well.” A few still had fond memories. Says actress Hermione Gingold, “I’d known him a long time. He was very nice. He would offer me his car and chauffeur. But the last time I saw him he was rather under the weather.”
Greer was born in Monroe, Ga., where his parents ran a boarding-house, and he never lost his Southern drawl. He went to the University of South Carolina and did graduate work at North Carolina, hoping to become an architect. Eventually he switched to interior design at the Parsons School of Design in New York. In 1941 he was drafted into the Army and became a major in the Air Corps. He confided to one friend that he did not discover his sexual preference for men until his early 30s.
As a designer Greer was known for the attention he paid to details, like hinges, nails and screwheads. He loved 18th-and 19th-century antiques. The apartment in which he died contained valuable examples, including an 18th-century tapestry, crystal obelisks and a silver inkwell believed to have been made for Catherine the Great.
Greer’s body was cremated and a private service was held in Monroe. None of the stars who had filled his life were there. A friend spoke a sad epitaph: “Once, Michael was stunning—tall, slender and witty. He died blotched, fat and bloated. His clothes didn’t even fit him.”