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HIS MILIEU: THOMAS P. FARLEY

Known as “Mister Man­ners” on The Today Show, Thomas P. Farley has become the nation’s philosopher on etiquette and good behavior—elements of life that should never go out of style. Through his company What Manners Most, he speaks often to corporations around the world.

 

If you could teach people three immediate lessons on etiquette, which ones would they be?

Observe the Golden Rule. Remember that etiquette is about making others feel more comfortable, not less. Go the extra mile, and you'll be remembered for the right reasons.

 

A destination in New York you never tire of visiting?

The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in Queens, centerpiece of the 1964–65 World’s Fair, and a fitting emblem of that extravaganza's mantra, “Peace Though Understanding."

 

Who do you cite as the person most responsible for teaching you good manners?

My Great Aunt Muriel. Neglecting to send her a thank-you note was not a mistake you made twice.

 

What led you to become Mister Manners? 

There’s a need in our culture for ongoing conversations about everyday etiquette and common consideration. Most people want to do the right thing; sometimes, they just need a bit of guidance on what the right thing is.

 

A movie that leaves you in awe every time you watch it?

The Artist. It puts such a smile on my face—and proves that a great story can be told with no dialogue.

 

A favorite street you like to wander in a city?

The Embarcadero, in San Francisco. I’m a water person and I’m energized by the broad vistas of the Bay Bridge, the criss-crossing ferries, and the imposing Beaux Arts Ferry Building.

 

Favorite housewarming gift to give? 

A personal care gift, such as beautiful soaps from the Israeli bath-product company Sabon.  

 

Favorite hostess/host gift to give?

A favorite wine or spirit—whether mine or theirs.
 

A room you’ve never forgotten—for its décor or its mood?

I am enchanted by the soaring library lounge at the Hotel Emma, in San Antonio.

 

The one item of clothing that makes a man fashionable?

Confidence. You’ll win no style points unless you wear what you can wear assuredly.

 

The one object you most cherish?

A vintage Underwood No. 6 typewriter. 

 

An old book on etiquette that continues to inspire you?

Esquire magazine’s Handbook for Hosts (1949) provides a delightful and insightful window into what was then expert entertaining advice for the urbane male. Parts of it still hold true for party-givers of any gender today.

 

A newer one?

Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway's Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, a guide to cultural norms and expectations in more than sixty countries.

 

A character from a novel you wish could come to life?

"Skeeter” Phelan, of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. As a crusader for racial understanding in 1960s Mississippi, she sacrifices the comfort of her privileged upbringing to cast light on injustice.

 

Name three people you most admire, living or not, who exemplify good manners.

Audrey Hepburn, for her exquisite poise, paired with a passionate commitment to philanthropy; movie director David Brown, the consummate New York gentleman; First Lady Michelle Obama, particularly for her exhortation: “When they go low, we go high”.

 

You walk into an art museum. What kind of art do you visit first?

Paintings from the first half of the twentieth century, from the colorful nightclub scenes of Archibald John Motley, Jr., to the classic Americana of Grant Wood and Edward Hopper.

 

What talent would you most like to have that you don’t already possess?

To play the saxophone.

 

The one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I had pin-straight hair until I was about 13.

 

A secretive destination that always inspires you?

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

 

Is there a motto you often say to yourself?

"What if?"

 

The secret to your great on-air and in-person positive attitude?

On-camera and off, it’s all about being myself. The moment you put on an act is the moment you lose your audience—whether an audience of one or an audience of many.

 

What does the word “Milieu” mean to you?

It is a cherished place, not just in time and space, but in mindset, too. 

 

INTERVIEW BY: DAVID MASELLO