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#Nonagenarian Is Unlikely TikTok Influencer

Tue, 08/22/2023 - 11:06
On Aug. 14, Dorothy Wiggins celebrated her 98th birthday in East Hampton with her sons, Noel, left, and Guy.
Michael Astor

Could becoming a TikTok sensation be the elixir of youth?

"The idea of TikTok, the idea of looking at something for a minute, appalls me," said Dorothy Wiggins, who at 98 has amassed a combined 65,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram. "So, I'm a reluctant TikTok-er," she laughed.

Still, there she is in the virtual playground of teenagers, enjoying something that few people do on social media: near universal love. 

"That's probably because I hate everything. But I used to be an actress, so I like to perform. I'm an extrovert. Not with people though. I dislike most people. I'm a terrible snob when it comes to people," the opinionated Ms. Wiggins admitted in her distinguished Mid-Atlantic accent that instantly transports you to the upper decks of the Titanic. Ms. Wiggins was seated in her East Hampton home, where she spends her summers. The rest of the year, she lives in a brownstone in Greenwich Village, still walking up and down three flights of stairs.

Her Instagram handle is @dorothylovesnewyork, which is rather ironic since she continuously bemoans the pitiful state of everything in the city: food, fashion, tattoos, the lack of romance, theater, credit card interest rates, vegans -- the list is long, the material riveting. In each bite-sized film, she is always perfectly coiffed ("That's because I'm always getting my hair done"), wearing her trademark orange lipstick (M'Orange by MAC), and delivering her withering put-downs with a wry smile and a mischievous glint in her eye. Like she said, she's a performer.

Her social media followers multiply by the thousands every few days, posting mostly messages of admiration, accompanied by a multitude of heart-shaped emojis. "She's entitled to like whatever at her age!" "You are as sharp as a tack, Dot!" "Love the orange lipstick!" "My daily dose of joy!"

There are the odd voices who say she's rude and that she gets away with it because of her age. Either way, none of it matters to Ms. Wiggins because, "I have no interest in social media. It's not my era. The whole thing is nonsensical; it's just meaningless. All done without any passion or meaning."

So, who is behind the nonagenarian influencer-in-the-making?

That would be Michael Astor, a family friend who was employed by Ms. Wiggins's son to document her life following the death of her husband of 62 years, Guy Wiggins. He died in October 2020, aged 100.

"After my husband died -- he was not only the love of my life, he was my life -- Noel," the younger of two sons, named after Noel Coward, "decided that his friend Michael should do a documentary of my life. He didn't suggest it because he thought anything would come of it but because he just wanted me to stay busy and didn't want me to be lonely."

Mr. Astor, who lives in New York, said he spends "a ridiculous amount of time," following his muse walking around the city, as she comments on life and scrutinizes her surroundings with a sharp eye and an even sharper tongue. He's working on a documentary titled, "Who Is Dorothy," a statement, he insisted, not a question. "But, we accumulated so much stuff that we decided to put short films on TikTok and a few photos in Instagram. That was two years ago and we called the series 'Dorothy Loves New York (and Summers in the Hamptons).' " Until a few months ago, he said, she only had about 300 Instagram followers. "The camera loves her, she's a character so, of course, she's gaining a following. It just took a while for people to find her."

He doesn't have a date yet for the documentary because, "The fact that's she's suddenly an influencer changes the story radically. There's more story ahead."

Mr. Astor travels to East Hampton regularly to spend time with his subject, his camera always rolling. Ms. Wiggins happens to be the oldest living, still-active member of the Sportime tennis club in Amagansett, where she can be found twice a week, in her tennis skirt and orange lipstick, hitting balls with a pro or with friends. A recent Instagram post of her serving a tennis ball was her most-watched offering, garnering a whopping seven million views. And, her second most-watched video, you ask? Oh, that would be this writer interviewing Ms. Wiggins in her home wondering what kind of wine she prefers, which got over three million views. 

There's plenty of hilarious East End material to digest, such as discovering that a five-pound striped bass at Stuart's Seafood Market would cost her $99, singing Depression-era songs, her search for a bottle of sriracha hot sauce. Then, there's a video shot on Aug. 14, when she turned 98, in which she opened presents, surrounded by friends and family. Looking radiant in a white, sleeveless top and flowing white pants, Ms. Wiggins removed a bottle of lotion from a bag, read the label and exclaimed, "Oh, I thought it said masturbating lotion! But, it's moisturizing lotion." Her cheeky smile revealed that her love for toying with an audience is far from extinguished.

What appears to lie behind the online clamoring is an opportunity to glimpse the sort of life that no longer exists: dancing like Fred and Ginger, dressing for dinner, cocktails at 6, reciting Shakespeare by heart. Her late husband descended from New York's art world blue blood pedigree. His father, Guy C. Wiggins, was a heralded American Impressionist who eclipsed the fame of his father, John Carleton Wiggins, who was also a landscape painter. Ms. Wiggins's husband entered the family trade at 55, after retiring from a long career with the foreign service, which took the couple on glamorous far-flung stints to Portugal, Italy, Geneva, Morocco, the South of France, and Anguilla. Upon returning to New York, her husband painted and she sold real estate but they were regulars at the National Arts Club and the Salmagundi Club -- America's oldest arts club, where there's a Wiggins Bar that exhibits the family's work and where members can order a Wiggins Manhattan cocktail. 

There is also the fact that she belongs to a generation entirely uncensored by today's politically correct police. Her married life was a string of wild, Bohemian parties that are documented in a coffee table book, titled "Wiggins in Love," which she put together to commemorate her remarkable life with the man she adored. It's a seemingly endless romp of naughtiness.

"This one, he went as the naughty pope and he had this huge penis under his robes that when you lifted the cloth, he had the penis rigged so that it would stand up."

"And this was at New Year's Eve costume party; here's someone painting my ass."

"For our 25th wedding anniversary, I performed onstage in a demure brown dress, which I ripped off at the end to reveal a skimpy leotard. And then I did a tap dance."

"I bought this beautiful opera coat. It was huge, gorgeous, velvet with big, silver fox sleeves. I wore it on my wedding night with no clothes on underneath."

And so on.  

She is indeed from a lost world of almost old royal privilege and as such, she despises much of our modern society. She pities the young, whom she thinks live without romance. She hates feminism -- though she staunchly supports equality in the workplace -- she bemoans the fact that women don't cook for their partners ("I cooked three meals a day for my darling husband because the food in New York is filthy."). Above all, she thinks that men asking for permission to touch a woman, "kills the romance. I just want a man to swoop me up in his arms and kiss me," she said.

But, that's not what she wants any longer, despite the almost-daily requests she receives on social media from admirers. "No, I loved only once in my life, and that's enough." That passionate love, she said, is one of the secrets to her longevity. Great sex, too, she admitted. And having friends who are 20 years younger. What else could explain that she was the offspring of two people who both died in their 50s of cancer?

With calculating eyes to the future, she admitted that she'd like to monetize her social media presence. "Why not? I drink a glass of Dewars Scotch every day, so that would be a good one. I also play tennis with a Yonex racket, though I don't know how many people my age are buying tennis rackets," she laughed, those orange lips forming the perfect sunny smile of an influencer.

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