Social media star turns 98

On a recent evening in Manhattan’s West Village, Dorothy Wiggins, a petite 98-year-old woman in a dark coat and pink scarf, left her home to check out Little Ruby Café, a chic new restaurant in her neighborhood. Inside, I approached the hostess.

“I remember this place when it was somewhere else, the Riviera,” Ms. Wiggins said. It was pretty corny besides that. You I was truly amazed by the space.

“It’s an Australian restaurant,” said the hostess.

“Australian?” replied Mrs. Wiggins.

While processing this information, I asked the hostess if she had a reservation.

“I live in the neighborhood, and my husband painted this place once,” Mrs. Wiggins said. “I was just curious.”

She took her leave and returned to her brownstone. She wasn’t alone. She was followed by Michael Astor, a freelance journalist who was secretly filming her with a pocket-sized gimbal camera.

The scene he just recorded will soon be posted on the TikTok and Instagram accounts he runs, both called @dorothylovesnewyork, making Ms. Wiggins a social media celebrity.

Tens of thousands of people follow the accounts, which chronicle the late 1990s of Ms. Wiggins navigating life in New York and the Hamptons equipped with a wooden walking cane, vintage hats and a dry sense of humor.

In one video, she becomes frustrated when a server at a downtown jazz club can’t get her drink order quite right (shot of Dewar in a highball filled with ice, with a water back). In another letter, she complained about “horrible Montauk oysters” to the operator of a seafood shack in East Hampton. The most popular clip, with more than nine million views on Instagram, shows her hitting a serve on a tennis court in Amagansett.

“Chrissy Everett commented on my transmission,” Ms. Wiggins said in the living room of her brownstone, where she and Mr. Astor, 59, sat next to a roaring fire. “She said it looked like her service.”

Part of the charm of the accounts is that they don’t care about social media.

“It’s funny that I became famous, because I despise everything,” she said. “I hate walking down the streets and seeing people holding their phones like they’re holding their hearts.”

“TikTok seems stupid to me,” she continued. “You need more than just something temporary. I watched ‘Casablanca’ the other night. Now that’s the perfect length.” For a movie. I think it’s bad for concentration and that it will make people more stupid. My husband could read E.S.’s poetry. a. Haussmann by heart.

Jay Wiggins, a painter and former State Department diplomat, died three years ago at the age of 100. Ms. Wiggins, who grew up in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, met him when she was in her early 30s, and they were married for 61 years. Years.

“When my husband died, I was absolutely devastated,” Ms. Wiggins said. “My whole life has been him.” She added, referring to her social media accounts: “My son started this because he thought it would distract my mind from sadness.”

Mr. Astor, A A family friend and former Associated Press reporter, he was commissioned by one of the couple’s sons in 2019 to make a short documentary about his elderly parents. After the film was completed, and Mr. Wiggins died, Mr. Astor continued filming. A year ago, he started posting clips on social media. The account received its first spot over the summer in The East Hampton Star.

“We never expected Dorothy to become Instagram famous,” Mr Astor said. “What people see on TikTok and Instagram are collages that I will eventually make into a proper movie.”

Mr. Astor documents Mrs. Wiggins several times a week and edits the footage in the library office on the second floor of the townhouse. Keeps her informed of the most viewed clips and commenters’ reactions. (Ms. Wiggins has an iPhone but does not use TikTok or Instagram.)

“We are always at odds,” Mr. Astor said. “Everything after the 1960s was disappointing to her. I think TikTok is a way that has allowed me to draw people into something deeper in her life.

“It’s also about someone dealing with getting older,” he added. “Especially the older woman – someone who often disappears in our society.”

Mrs. Wiggins rose from her chair and brought out a self-published book called “Wiggins in Love,” which was filled with photos of her and her husband, along with scanned copies of Christmas and Valentine’s Day letters he had written to her over the years. . While flipping through the pages, she came across a sketch of his that depicted them sitting on the couch with drinks.

“The evening cocktail hour was sacred,” Ms. Wiggins said. “No matter what, we never missed our cocktail hour.”

On Friday evening, Mr. Astor was photographing Mrs. Wiggins as she entered the Salmagundi Club in Greenwich Village, where she and her husband were regular visitors. She walked down the creaking stairs to Wiggins’ pub, named after her husband’s family; His father was the cityscape painter Guy Carleton Wiggins and his grandfather was the landscape painter John Carleton Wiggins. One wall is decorated with paint-splattered paintings and photographs of Wiggins’ men.

“The usual, Mrs. Wiggins?” asked the waiter.

She sat with her Dewar House while Mr. Astor scrolled through his phone, checking the comments on their latest post. He relayed a roll call of updates: Comedian Ellen Cleghorn had just followed, and someone wanted to ship her some oysters from Maine. He also stated that they needed to start planning an event where a few of her fans could join her for a drink at Wiggins’ bar.

“Dorothy and alcohol work really well,” Mr. Astor said. “Her followers love the idea of ​​someone being 98 years old and still drinking.”

But Ms Wiggins seemed more interested in looking at a hanging picture of oysters drawn by her husband than in discussing social media interactions.

“Like I said, I ignore fame,” she said. “I love my fans, but I don’t care much about it, and I think the whole thing is kind of ridiculous.”

Then it became reflective.

“Well, there was one comment I was moved by,” Ms. Wiggins said. “One person commented that once they felt like life was over for them. They were depressed. But after watching my videos, they were inspired to keep going.

“Now I can understand,” she continued. “If I can show someone that they shouldn’t give up on life, then I care.”

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