|100 NEW YORKERS OF THE 1970S
By Max Millard
|[Back to Index]|
WESTSIDER DELORES HALL
Star of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God
WESTSIDER LIONEL HAMPTON
King of the Newport Jazz Festival
ESTSIDER DAVID HAWK
Executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A.
EASTSIDER WALTER HOVING
Chairman of Tiffany & Company
EASTSIDER JAY JACOBS
Restaurant critic for Gourmet magazine
WESTSIDER RAUL JULIA
Star of Dracula on Broadway
EASTSIDER BOB KANE
Creator of Batman and Robin
WESTSIDER LENORE KASDORF
Star of The Guiding Light
EASTSIDER BRIAN KEITH
Back on Broadway after 27 years
WESTSIDER HAROLD KENNEDY
Author of No Pickle, No Performance
WESTSIDER ANNA KISSELGOFF
Dance critic for the New York Times
WESTSIDER GEORGE LANG
Owner of the Cafe des Artistes
WESTSIDER RUTH LAREDO
Leading American pianist
EASTSIDER STAN LEE
Creator of Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk
EASTSIDER JOHN LEONARD
Book critic for the New York Times
WESTSIDER JOHN LINDSAY
WESTSIDER ALAN LOMAX
Sending songs into outer space
EASTSIDER PETER MAAS
Author of Serpico and Made in America
ESTSIDER LEONARD MALTIN
Film historian and critic
EASTSIDER JEAN MARSH
Creator and star of Upstairs, Downstairs
EASTSIDER JACKIE MASON
Co-starring with Steve Martin in The Jerk
WESTSIDER MALACHY McCOURT
Actor and social critic
WESTSIDER MEAT LOAF
Hottest rock act in town
WESTSIDER ANN MILLER
Co-star of Sugar Babies
WESTSIDER SHERRILL MILNES
WESTSIDER CARLOS MONTOYA
Master of the flamenco guitar
WESTSIDER MELBA MOORE
Broadway star releases ninth album
WESTSIDER MICHAEL MORIARTY
Star of Holocaust returns to Broadway in G.R. Point
WESTSIDER LeROY NEIMAN
America's greatest popular artist
WESTSIDER ARNOLD NEWMAN
Great portrait photographer
EASTSIDER EDWIN NEWMAN
Journalist and first-time novelist
EASTSIDER LARRY O'BRIEN
Commissioner of the National Basketball Association
WESTSIDER MAUREEN O'SULLIVAN
Great lady of the movie screen
WESTSIDER BETSY PALMER
Star of Same Time, Next Year
WESTSIDER JAN PEERCE
The man with the golden voice
EASTSIDER GEORGE PLIMPTON
Author, editor and adventurer
EASTSIDER OTTO PREMINGER
Rebel filmmaker returns with The Human Factor
|WESTSIDER DELORES HALL||[Back to Top]|
It's just after 10 on a Wednesday evening when Delores Hall steps out of the Lyceum Theatre's stage door onto 46th Street. At least 20 fans are waiting; they give a cheer as she emerges and rush toward her. Delores Hall smiles broadly as she autographs their programs, for these fans are hers. She has worked hard to become a Broadway star, and now in Your Arms Too Short to Box with God she is precisely that.
"No, I'm not really tired," says Ms. Hall a few minutes later over a snack at the All-State Cafe. "I'm still at a peak of energy from the show. That was my second performance today, but I could do another one if I had to."
Asking Delores about her earlier days brings a flood of memories and laughter. She's a happy, bouncy woman and seems as pleased to talk as any friendly neighbor. "When I was 3 I discovered I had vibrato," she recalls. "My mother taught me everything I know about singing. I can remember her hitting me in the stomach, showing me how to breathe. But whatever she did, she did it right. I was 4 when I first sang in public; they stood me on a table. I can remember some people throwing 50-cent pieces."
Born in Kansas City slightly more than 30 years ago, Delores grew up with music in her ears. Her father played the bass for Count Basie, and her mother was -- and still is -- a missionary in the Church of God in Christ, which produces gospel singers the way southern universities raise football players. Young Delores began singing regularly at the church services -- an activity she continued when her family moved to Los Angeles. When Delores entered college she formed her own gospel group, an act so popular that she soon left school to become a full-time musician. Later, Harry Belafonte invited the Delores Hall Singers to tour with him for six months.
"Harry is a beautiful man," Delores grins. "He came to the show a month or so ago, and afterwards he went backstage and somebody introduced us. He said, `Miss Hall, I've heard so much about you,' and then he screamed, and we jumped into each other's arms.
Delores has lived in New York since 1969. Five years ago she moved to the West Side. "People are so much warmer here," she says. Her remarkable singing has won her parts in half a dozen Broadway shows, but with Box, for the first time, she suddenly found herself the star of a hit production. Clive Barnes, in a highly positive review in the New York Times, declares: "Miss Hall has the audience in the palm of her voice." The all-black cast of this musical adaptation of the Book of Matthew has been packing the Lyceum since Christmas, and advance ticket sales go to October.
In spite of Ms. Hall's unbroken musical success, her life has not been without personal tragedy. Just before the Broadway premiere of Box last December 22, she suffered the heartbreaking loss of her only brother, a minister. "It was very hard to open the show," she recalls, "but I got through it with the help of God."
Delores lives on West 72nd Street with her husband of seven years, Michael Goodstone. Whenever she can, Delores joins Michael at temple in Westchester County: "I find it very uplifting spiritually, because I believe God is everywhere." Each Sunday the couple both attend the Church of God in Christ. "Some people call it the Holy Roller church," she explains. "After the service, we go downstairs for a piece of the best fried chicken."
Ms. Hall's face glows with pride when she speaks of Deardra, her 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage: "My daughter is a singer, too. She won the music award from her school." Deardra is hoping to enter New York's High School of Performing Arts this fall.
Plans for the future? Delores would like to try grand opera someday -- possibly the role of Aida. And a new record album is not far off. Several years ago she recorded her first album for RCA. Since she began drawing national attention in Box, some tempting offers have come in from recording companies, and her manager is in the process of negotiating a contract. The new album may be either gospel or middle of the road: "I'm praying very hard, so it depends on what the Lord says."
But for the moment, Delores Hall is well satisfied at filling the Lyceum Theatre seven times each week. "This show I love so much," she says, her eyes sparkling, "because it takes me home."
|WESTSIDER LIONEL HAMPTON||[Back to Top]|
The world's greatest celebration of jazz, the Newport Jazz Festival, will get off the ground on June 23 -- its 25th consecutive year. During the 12-day festival, in indoor and outdoor settings all over Manhattan and beyond, the most important names in jazz will stage nearly 30 major musical events.
More than half the concerts, appropriately enough, will take place on the West Side, in Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. And just as appropriately, this year's festival will be dedicated to a Westsider whose life has been an inspiration to millions of people, not only for the great music he has created, but for a heart as large as the Grand Canyon. To call him merely a giant of jazz could be an understatement, because they don't come any bigger than Lionel Hampton.
Ask a dozen people what the name Lionel Hampton means to them and you're likely to get a dozen answers -- all of them correct. In his 50 years as a professional musician, "Hamp" has used his remarkable gifts humbly, wisely, and unselfishly.
Music historians will always remember him as the man who introduced the vibraphone into jazz. This he accomplished in 1930, while playing with Louis Armstrong. Ever since, Hampton has been known as the world's foremost master of the instrument. He is also a leading drummer, pianist, singer, arranger, bandleader and composer. At 69, he continues to work nearly 50 weeks out of the year, taking his band to every corner of the U.S. and Europe. But whether he's making a live recording in a nightclub or performing his own symphonic works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lionel Hampton glows with a spiritual energy that extends far beyond his music.
It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon when I arrive at Hampton's neat, modern apartment overlooking Lincoln Center. I sit on the sofa talking with Chuck Jones, his public relations man, and a few minutes later Hampton emerges from the bedroom and plops down on the sofa beside me, wearing a dressing gown, slippers, and the famous smile that no one can imitate. After the introductions, I ask about his most recent concerts.
"I'm still trying to get myself together," he says almost apologetically in his rich Southern drawl. "We just got back from a six-week tour in Europe. We played all over Scandinavia, Germany, Southern France.
"When I was in Chicago this week, at the Playboy Cub, they gave me a new set of drums, with lights inside. I push a button and the whole drum lights up. I'm going to use them for Newport. This is the latest thing. It will blow their minds. We open on July first in Carnegie Hall and I'm bringing back a lot of veterans from my band."
He grew up in Chicago, but because of the gang fights in his neighborhood, Lionel's grandmother sent him to a Catholic school in Wisconsin. There a nun taught him to play the drums. The youngster learned fast; when he was 15, he made up his mind to head for the West Coast on his own, to pursue a jazz career. At the train station, he promised his grandmother that he would say his prayers and read the Bible every day.
Some 15 years later, Hampton was invited to join the Benny Goodman band in New York. His acceptance of the offer had great social significance, for it was the first time that blacks and whites played together in a major musical group.
From 1937 to 1971 he lived in central Harlem. Then, after moving to the West Side, Hampton decided that he wanted to help upgrade his old neighborhood, so, on the advice of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, he raised $1 million in seed money and filed an application with the Urban Development Corporation for some new housing. Today there are 355 families living in the Lionel Hampton Houses at 130th Street and 8th Avenue." I was just designated the land right next to it," he says proudly. "We're going to break ground next year. It will be 250 family units, dedicated to my late wife Gladys. The Gladys Hampton Building."
A friend of many important public figures, Hampton has never lost his affection for Richard Nixon: "When I was a kid in California, President Nixon was our congressman. Then he became our senator. He was a good man and a good politician. He helped the blacks a lot; he helped the Spanish. I campaigned for him when he ran for president. ... What happened with Watergate, I don't know. That's high politics. But I know I always had high esteem for him."
In a political campaign last year, Hampton threw his support behind Ernest Morial, a black man who was running for mayor of New Orleans. Before Hampton stepped in, Morial was sixth in the polls. "I sent my P.R. man Chuck Jones down there to put some life into his campaign. Chuck put a thousand placards all over town and went on all the radio stations, and I played at a Morial for Mayor music festival. He came in first in the primary and then he won the election."
My questions are finished. I get up and shake Lionel's hand, telling him that I've always loved his music. He dashes into his bedroom, bringing out four records for me to take home. He shakes my hand twice more.
On my way to the door, I ask him one last question: Does he still have time to read the Bible every day?
"Yes," he replies, grinning, "That's what I was doing when you came here and that's what I'm going to do after you leave."
|WESTSIDER DAVID HAWK||[Back to Top]|
During the final days of World War II, a captured resistance member sat alone in a black prison cell, tired, hungry, tortured, and convinced of approaching death. After weeks of torment, the prisoner was sure that there was no hope, that no one knew or cared. But in the middle of the night, the door of the cell opened, and the jailer, shouting abuse into the darkness, threw a loaf of bread onto the dirt floor. The prisoner, by this time ravenous, tore open the loaf.
Inside was a matchbox. Inside the matchbox were matches and a scrap of paper. The prisoner lit a match. On the paper was a single word: "Coraggio!" Courage. Take courage. Don't give up, don't give in. We are trying to help you. "Coraggio!"
The prisoner never did find out who wrote the one-word message, but the spark of hope it provided may well have saved his life. The story is told in Matchbox, the newspaper of Amnesty International U.S.A., one of the largest branches of the worldwide human rights organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1977.
David Hawk, executive director of Amnesty international U.S.A., sits behind his desk on a weekday morning talking about how the group originated and what it has done to earn the prize.
"It was started in Britain in 1961 by a lawyer named Peter Benenson," says Hawk, whose name belies the fact that he has been involved in civil rights for nearly half of his 34 years. "It started over a trial that was going on in Portugal." Benenson launched a one-year campaign to call attention to the Portuguese prisoners.
Soon the idea became so popular that a permanent organization was created. Chapters sprang up in other countries, and members began to work toward freeing "prisoners of conscience" on every continent. In the past 17 years, Amnesty International -- or "Amnesty" for short -- has aided in securing the release of nearly 13,000 individuals who were imprisoned not for crimes, but for personal beliefs that went against their governments' official policies.
"We're a nuisance factor," says Hawk. "We organize letter-writing and publicity campaigns on behalf of individual victims of human rights violations. It's the letters and the publicity that are Amnesty's tools for securing their release or bettering their conditions while they're in. At first it sounds strange to think that people sitting in living rooms in the United States can help someone in a fortress prison on an island in Indonesia, or in Siberia. ... You deluge certain people with so many letters that eventually it becomes an issue. Then the government asks, `Is holding this person worth the trouble?' And on occasion, the answer is no."
The secret of Amnesty's success is its huge number of volunteers -- 170,000 in 78 countries -- who work on the case of a particular prisoner for years if necessary. They send letters and telegrams not only to government officials, but also to the prisoner himself. At times they send packages, or give financial aid to his family, or arrange for legal aid.
A 100-member research team in London makes sure that every new case is thoroughly documented before assigning it to an "adoption group" of 12 to 20 people. This group generally receives the names of three prisoners from three different political systems, and meets once a month to work on the cases until a result is obtained.
The Riverside adoption group, dating back to 1966, was the first one established in the U.S. Today there are more than 100 in 32 states. All of these are monitored by David Hawk and his staff of 20 full-time workers at their Westside office. The $750,000 annual U.S. budget comes from members' contributions, foundations, and church agencies.
Hawk assumed the leadership of A.I.-U.S.A. in 1974. "In the early '60s I worked in the civil rights movement in the Deep South," he recalls. "From 1967 to 1972 I was one of the organizers of the Moratorium Against the War. Then I worked in the McGovern campaign."
At about the same time he graduated from Union Theological Seminary, and from there went to Oxford University in England, where he found out about Amnesty International. Returning to the U.S., he applied for the vacant post of executive director and was accepted. Ever since then he has been a resident of the West Side. David's wife Joan, a potter, is the editor of Matchbox.
Hawk's biggest concern these days is to focus attention on the human rights covenants that President Carter has signed and is planning to send to the U.S. Senate for ratification. The covenants are worded almost the same as the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in December, 1948. "Put into treaty form," explains Hawk, "the articles will carry more weight. It's very important for governments to agree among themselves that they shouldn't torture their citizens, and should give them fair trials, and should provide food and housing and education for their citizens. Amnesty wants all governments to ratify the treaty."
Anyone interest in volunteering some time to this worthy organization should write to: Amnesty International, 2112 Broadway, Room 309, New York, NY 10023.
|EASTSIDER WALTER HOVING||[Back to Top]|
When Walter Hoving took over as chairman of Tiffany and Company in 1955, he gave his designers one simple rule: "Design what you think is beautiful and don't worry about selling it." The rule applies as much to store's eye-catching Christmas display windows as to the three floors of jewelry, silver, china, and crystal at the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street. Hoving's unique combination of business wizardry and impeccable taste has paid off dramatically: since he joined the company, Tiffany's annual sales haver gone from $7 million to $73 million.
A tall, soft-spoken, former Brown University football star whose unlined forehead and vigorous appearance belie his 82 years, Hoving has a voice like Jimmy Stewart's and kindly yet authoritative manner. On his conservative gray suit is a tiny silver pin with the words "Try God." Leaning back in the comfortable desk chair at his vast, teakwood-paneled office at Tiffany's on a recent afternoon, he answers all questions thoroughly and unhesitatingly.
"We don't think in terms of price at all. Whatever we sell has got to be up to our standard in quality material, quality workmanship, and quality of design. ... You see, you've got to have a point of view in this thing. That's all we've got is a point of view, and we stick to it."
What he calls a "point of view" others would simply define as "taste." And Hoving is well qualified to have strong opinions in this area. At the age of 30, three years after joining R.H. Macy and Company, he was already a vice president and merchandising director. At that point, says Hoving, "I realized that design was going to be a coming thing, and I really didn't know much about it. So I matriculated at New York University in their arts department, and I took courses on period furniture, old silver, historic textiles, color and design. It took me three years, twice a week at night. ... Then, of course, I could learn by going into people's homes that were beautiful, in England and France, at museums -- wherever I was. You learn if you have a basis. And so I advise anybody who comes into this business to get knowledgeable about decorative arts."
After leaving Macy's, he climbed steadily, becoming vice president of Montgomery Ward, president of Lord & Taylor, and president of Bonwit Teller. Upon arriving at Tiffany's, one of the first things he did was to discontinue selling anything that didn't conform to his esthetic standards, regardless of profit.
The current 180-page catalogue lists almost 100 items under $25, along with such unabashed luxuries as a porcelain dessert service for six priced at $4,200 and an unpriced "seashell" necklace of 18-carat gold with diamonds set in platinum. Tiffany's carries no synthetic gems because, according to Hoving, "everything here is real," and no men's diamond rings because "we think they're vulgar." He adds: "I dropped antique silver. I saw no reason why Tiffany should carry it. You can get antiques anyplace. Our job is to make antiques for the future."
Since 1963, Tiffany has opened branch stores in five other cities. Several floors in the Fifth Avenue headquarters house artists, engravers, clockmakers and jewelry craftsmen. There is also a Tiffany factory in New Jersey.
The author of two best-selling books, Your Career in Business and Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers, Hoving is a deeply religious man who has long been actively involved in charitable work. He is a co-founder of the Salvation Army Association of New York, and gives his time to the United Negro College Fund, the United Service Organizations, and, most recently, a home for heroin-addicted girls in Garrison, New York, which has been named in his honor.
When a friend at St. Bartholomew's Church asked Hoving to make her a pin reading "Try God," he got the idea of selling the pin at Tiffany's and giving the proceeds to the Walter Hoving Home. So far, 600,000 have been sold.
Jane Pickens Hoving, his wife since 1977, is the founder and chairman of an organization known as Tune in New York, which matches volunteers to jobs best suited for their talents and interests. It is about to open a headquarters at 730 Fifth Avenue, across from Tiffany's.
His son Thomas Hoving served as commissioner of parks for New York City and for many years was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He recently wrote a book on Tutankhamen and has another book in the works.
An Eastsider for over 50 years, Walter Hoving walks more than three miles a day between his home and office. He frequently mixes with customers in the store, and one of his favorite anecdotes is about the time he spoke with a woman who was registering her daughter for wedding presents. "The woman said that she and her husband wanted everything to come from Tiffany's because they were sure if it was from Tiffany's it would be all right," relates Hoving. "I said, `What does your husband do?' She said, `He is a letter carrier.' Well, I felt better than if I had sold Mrs. Astorbilt a million-dollar diamond ring."
|EASTSIDER JAY JACOBS||[Back to Top]|
It is a familiar scene to New York restaurateurs: an out-of-town visitor arrives clutching a magazine, turns to an article, and orders the items that have been underlined. Whether the magazine is current or several years old, the chances are that it is Gourmet and that the article is a review by Jay Jacobs, Gourmet's New York restaurant critic since 1972.
Its monthly circulation of 600,000 makes Gourmet the most widely read food publication in the English-speaking world. But Jacobs, who is responsible for writing three lengthy reviews per issue, is quick to point out that, in spite of his knowledge of the business and his love of cooking, he would never consider opening a restaurant himself.
"I think everybody born in this century has fantasized about a restaurant, but I think it would be insane," he says in a voice as rich and mellow as vintage port. "One of the great tragedies of the restaurant business is that people who cook well at home often think that's all it takes. ... If you've got any interest in food and the least bit of talent, you can probably cook a better meal for four people than you'll ever get in any restaurant in the world -- if you want to invest that kind of labor and time, and concentration. But there's a huge gap between doing that and serving anywhere from 70 to 130 people at night, all wanting different dishes. It becomes a tremendous problem of strategy and logistics."
Affable, low-keyed, and very small of stature, Jacob displays a wry wit while telling how he began his career as a painter, cartoonist and illustrator before turning to full-time writing in 1956. For years he worked mainly for art publications, and he still writes a bimonthly column for theArtgallery magazine. His first book, a quickie titled RFK: His Life and Death, came out in 1968. He is also the author of A History of Gastronomy, New York a la Carte, and Winning the Restaurant Game (McGraw-Hill, 1980).
Winning the Restaurant Game is an extremely humorous and entertaining volume that is notable for its exotic vocabulary. However, the book's message is not to be taken lightly -- that restaurant dining is a complex game in which the best players can expect better service, better food, and the lasting affection of the owner. All the conventions of dining out, including who to tip and how much, are discussed in depth. Among the subchapters are "Humbling the Opposition," "The Uselessness of Menus," "Addressing Flunkies," and "Securing Advantageous Tables."
His next book, Winning the Kitchen Game, is due from McGraw-Hill next winter.
Jacobs dines out at least once a day while in the city. He visits restaurants several times before doing a review -- always anonymously, and generally accompanied by others. "My job," he says, "is to find worthwhile places that our readers will want to go to. The magazine's policy is not to do unfavorable reviews. If I think a place stinks, I don't go back and I don't review it. ... Most of our readers are knowledgeable about food, somewhat self-indulgent, affluent, and well-travelled. When they come into New York, they don't want to find some cut-rate taco house, and they don't want to know about the bad places. They're only in for a few days, and they want to hit the high spots.
"The daily press have a different readership and a different function. ... When they do a favorable review, it can damage a restaurant in that it generates a sudden spurt of interest that the restaurant can't handle."
The father of four boys, Jacobs is a very sociable person who enjoys throwing parties for 50 to 60. To prepare the food, he says, "I lock myself in the kitchen for three or four days."
His Gourmet reviews are so detailed that Jacobs gets letters from readers across the country who tell how they have recreated a night at the Four Seasons or 21 "by analyzing what I have written, and approximating the dishes." But what makes his job particularly gratifying is the restaurant people themselves.
"I'm very impressed by these restaurant guys. If you travel in Europe you see them when they're 13 years old, schlepping suitcases in some motel and dreaming of the day when they open their own restaurant. They usually come out of small towns or even villages, and don't have the benefit of birth or upbringing or schooling. And the next thing you know, it's 30 years later and they can converse very adequately with Henry Kissinger or Jackie Onassis or anyone else, and maintain a business and make it work."
|WESTSIDER RAUL JULIA||[Back to Top]|
"It's nice to be a vampire eight times a week," says Raul Julia, the star of Dracula at the Martin Beck Theatre. Last October he took over the role made famous by Frank Langella, and now Julia -- pronounced "Hoo-lia" by his Puerto Rican countrymen -- has developed a cult following of his own, in this classic remake of the 1927 Broadway hit.
Some critics have said that the sets and costumes by Edward Gorey are the centerpieces of the show, more so than any of the performers. But Raul Julia is rapidly becoming a local matinee idol, drawing fan mail by the bagful and constantly meeting crowds of autograph seekers outside the stage door.
In his portrayal of Count Dracula, Raul takes on many characteristics of a bat. He hangs over the mantlepiece at strange angles and whips his dark cloak through the air like a bat's wings. When entrapped by three desperate men holding protective crosses and religious relics in front of them, he changes into a bat and flies out the window at the stroke of dawn.
In the dressing room prior to a performance, without his makeup, he looks neither sinister nor magnetically attractive, but seems almost boyish. His wit is matched by his humility: Raul is aware that his name is not yet a household word. Not many people realize, for example, that his natural speaking voice has the same lilting Puerto Rican accent heard everywhere in the streets and subways of New York. When asked how he accounts for his flawless onstage pronunciation, Raul shrugs and says with a grin, "Well, that's acting."
Like Richard Chamberlain, who in 1970 played Hamlet with great success on the British stage, Julia is equally at home in British and American plays. He has starred in many of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival productions, and has received three Tony nominations for his dramatic and musical roles on Broadway.
He sips a glass of apricot juice while a makeup artist brushes his jet black hair straight back and starts to darken his eyes. Removing his shoes, Raul tells all sorts of little anecdotes about his life as the famous Count.
"I usually eat very little during the day. I go to sleep at about five, sometimes six. Maybe I'm getting a Dracula schedule," he says with a laugh. "Some people who see the show write and say they're going to keep their windows open at night.
"Dracula is a myth, although some people think there actually are vampires. Bram Stoker really created the character of Dracula, taking legends from different parts of the world, like the stories of sailors who had been stricken by bats, appearing on deck the next morning, all pale, without blood in them.
"I hear that Bela Lugosi was buried in a Dracula costume. I also hear that Boris Karloff came to the funeral home to visit him and looked down at the coffin and said, `You're not kidding are you sweetie?'"
Dracula the character is more than 500 years old; Julia the actor declines to give his age. "Actors should be ageless," he says. "You see, what age does, it limits you to a certain category." He doesn't mind telling his height, however. "Eight foot four," he quips. "No, six two."
He was, in fact, born 30-odd years ago in San Juan. In 1964, after graduating from the university there, he was performing in a local nightclub revue, and comedian Orson Bean happened to be in the audience. Bean urged him to come to New York, and introduced him to Wynn Handman of the American Place Theatre. Although he had not studied acting formally, Raul's natural ability and his versatility soon began to pay off. Within two years he was playing lead roles for Joseph Papp.
Married for the past three years to dancer/actress Merel Poloway, Raul devotes a great deal of his spare time to a charitable organization called the Hunger Project. "The purpose of the group is to support anything that will help bring an end to hunger by 1997. Our goal is to transform the atmosphere that exists now,. That says that hunger is inevitable. All the experts and scientists agree that we have the means right now to end the starvation on the planet."
A resident of the Upper West Side for the past 10 years, Raul has two major projects coming up -- the title role of Othello for Shakespeare-in-the-Park this summer and a movie called Isabel, which he will film in Puerto Rico this spring: "I wanted to be in it because it's a totally Puerto Rican venture, and I want to encourage the beginning of a quality movie industry."
Raul appears to be utterly at ease as he prepares to make his stage entrance in the middle of the first act of Dracula. I have time for one more question: "Is the acting life everything you hoped it would be?"
Raul wraps the cloak around himself and heads out of the dressing room. He looks back at me and smiles. "Yes," he replies. "Now it is."
|EASTSIDER BOB KANE||[Back to Top]|
At the 1939 World's Fair in New York, a time capsule was filled with memorabilia thought to be representative of 20th-century American culture, and scheduled to be opened by historians 5,000 years later. Among the objects chosen was a comic magazine that had appeared for the first time that year, the creation of an 18-year-old artist and writer named Bob Kane. Whoever chose the contents of the time capsule must have been prophetic, because today, 40 years later, few characters in American fantasy or fiction are so well known as Kane's pulp hero -- Batman.
"It was a big success from the very beginning," says the cartoonist, a tall, wiry, powerful-looking man of 58 whose tanned, leathery features bear a striking resemblance to those of Bruce Wayne, Batman's secret identity. "Superman started in 1938, and the same company, D.C. Comics, was looking for another superhero. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
"The first year, Batman was more evil, more sinister. My concept was for him to scare the hell out of the denizens of the underworld. And then the second year, I introduced Robin, because I realized he would appeal to the children's audience. That's when the strip really took hold."
The walls of his Eastside apartment are covered with vintage hand-drawn panels by America's most famous cartoonists, and Kane, with his casual attire, his broad New York accent, and his habit of twirling his glasses around while slumped far down in his easy chair, would not seem out of place as a character in Maggie and Jiggs. Yet he likes to consider himself a serious artist, and has, in fact, had some notable achievements in his "second career," which began in 1966 when he resigned from D.C. Comics, on the heels of the successful Batman TV series.
"I got tired of working over the drawing board after 30 years. I wanted to be an entrepreneur -- painter, screenplay writer, and producer." Since that time, he has built up a large body of work -- oil paintings, watercolors, pen and ink sketches and lithographs, most of them depicting characters from Batman. They have been purchased by leading universities, famous private collectors, and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
As a writer, Kane has created four animated cartoon series for television, has penned a screenplay for Paramount Pictures, The Silent Gun, has written an autobiography titled Batman and Me (due to be published next year), and has completed a screenplay for a full-length Batman movie. Recently, he has also emerged as an active participant in charitable causes, such as UNICEF, Cerebral Palsy and the American Cancer Society.
From March 16 to April 8, the Circle Gallery at 435 West Broadway in SoHo will exhibit a one-man show of about 40 Kane originals. Says Kane with his typical immodesty: "I'm probably the first cartoonist to make the transition to fine art. When you do hand-signed, limited editions of lithographs, you are definitely entering the world of Lautrec and Picasso and Chagall."
Kane has lived on the East Side for the past 15 years and has no plans to leave. Asked about his early years, he tells of growing up poor in the Bronx. "I used to draw on all the sidewalks, and black out the teeth of the girls on the subway posters. I used to copy all the comics as a kid, too. That was my school of learning. ... My greatest influence in creating Batman was a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci of a flying machine, which I saw when I was 13 years old. It showed a man on a sled with huge bat wings attached to it. To me, it looked like a bat man. And that same year, I saw a movie called The Mark of Zorro, with Douglas Fairbanks Senior. Zorro fought for the downtrodden and he had a cave in the mountainside, and wore a mask, which gave me the idea for Batman's dual identity and the Batmobile."
As might be expected, Kane takes much pride in his lifelong success. "Batman has influenced four decades of children," he declares. "It has influenced the language. ... It has influenced people's lives whereby it gives them a sense of hope that the good guy usually wins in the end. And mainly, the influence has been one of sheer entertainment. I feel that most people would like to be a Batman-type superhero, to take them out of their dull, mundane routine of everyday living. ... My greatest thrill comes from my 5-year-old grandson. Little did I know when I was 18 that one day I would see my grandson wearing a little Batman costume, driving around in a miniature Batmobile and yelling `Batman!'"
|WESTSIDER LENORE KASDORF||[Back to Top]|
For the pat few months at least, the hottest soap opera on television has been CBS' The Guiding Light, which reaches approximately 10 million viewers nationwide. The show has 22 regular characters, and right now the one who is getting the most attention is Rita Stapleton, a beautiful but deceitful nurse who recently brought up the ratings for the week when she was raped by her ex-lover on the night before her engagement to another man. It was all in a day's work for Westsider Lenore Kasdorf, who portrays the popular villainess.
"This is definitely a job, and you get the feeling of a schedule, of punching in and punching out, of rolling it off the presses. But you put in your creative element too," says Miss Kasdorf, taking a break between scenes at the studio. With her soft hazel eyes, pearly teeth, finely chiseled features, and billowing brown hair, she is nothing short of stunning -- an impression that is heightened by her throaty voice and by the red sweater that covers her ample figure.
Being the star of an hour-long "soap" means that Lenore often has to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. inside the mazelike studio, so that in winter, an entire week may go by when she doesn't see sunlight. Although she receives a tremendous number of fan letters, Lenore does not have time to answer most of them.
"I'm not a letter writer anyway," she explains. "There are times when someone is so sincere that you feel you really want to respond. I have had people send me a dollar check for postage. My heart goes out sometimes; I get guilty when I read my mail. This audience is very responsive. They love to comment about the show. I get a lot of identifying mail. Some people say, `You're like the sister I wish I had.' Sometimes there's strange mail. Sometimes there's lewd mail, which is removed before I can read it." She laughs vigorously. "That's fine with me, because then I can enjoy all my mail."
Asked about which part of the Upper West Side she lives in, Lenore declines to say. "I have some fans who would follow my footprints in the snow. You have to be careful. My husband and I tend to stay in the neighborhood a lot, and I'd hate to ruin our indiscreet little way of getting around. ... In New York people are used to seeing Al Pacino walking down the street, or Jackie O. shopping at the corner. But out of town -- at first they're not sure if it's you. A lot of people come up to me and say, `Do you ever watch The Guiding Light? You look so much like that girl.' I usually tell them who I am. I can't see any point in lying. Face it, that's part of the reason we're doing this. I'm sure there's a ham in every actor, whether they're shy about it or not."
Her husband, actor Phil Peters, recently won the part of Dr. Steven Farrell on As The World Turns, another CBS soap opera. Within a few weeks, however, there was a change of writers. "The new writers wanted to bring in their own characters," says Lenore, "so on the show, Phil just disappeared in the night. He never showed up for his wedding. All the other characters were saying, `Where could he be?'" She laughs at the recollection of what happened soon afterward when she and her husband were visiting Fredericksburg, Virginia: "A woman came up behind Phil while we were eating dinner, and said, `Shame on you! How could you run off on that pretty little thing?'"
Born 30 years ago on Long Island, the daughter of an Army officer, Lenore grew up in such diverse places as Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, Germany and Thailand. After graduating from the International School in Bangkok, she "got out of the Army" and returned to the U.S. to attend college in Indiana. There she began to do local TV commercials, and was so successful that she decided to try her luck in California. Quickly she became an established television actress, winning roles in many prime-time series, including Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, and Ironside. While performing for a small theatre company she met Phil Peters. Phil wanted to come to New York to work in the theatre, and, with some reservations, Lenore came with him. Although Phil does not have a regular acting assignment at present, Lenore points out that "actors are never out of work. They're just between jobs."
The Guiding Light, says Lenore, "was originally a religious program on the radio, where the moral of the story was an enlightening lesson for everybody." Since moving to television in 1952, the show has changed considerably in content, but, according to Lenore, it still contains many lessons that are relevant to modern living.
"You can tell from mail that you do help people, whether you mean to or not," says the actress with obvious satisfaction. "I've gotten letters saying, `Seeing Rita through that difficulty has enlightened me about my own situation.' She has not helped by example, because Rita doesn't always do things right. But she shows how much trouble you can get into by behaving the way she does, and in that way I think she helps people avoid the same mistakes."
|EASTSIDER BRIAN KEITH||[Back to Top]|
On January 1, 1980, the curtain will finally ring down on Da, Hugh Leonard's strikingly original and poignant drama about a man's fond memories of his working-class Irish father. Da won four Tony Awards in 1978, including Best Play. Since July 30, the title role has been ably filled by Brian Keith, an actor perhaps best known for playing "Uncle Bill" in the situation comedy Family Affair, one of television's most popular shows from 1966 to 1971. Recently he has been seen in the TV specials Centennial, The Chisholms and The Seekers. In his long, illustrious career, the 57-year-old actor has starred in four other TV series and appeared in more than 60 motion pictures.
During the late 1940s, when he worked primarily on Broadway, Keith rented an apartment on East 66th Street with a fireplace and kitchen for $70 a month. Leaving for Hollywood in 1952, he eventually married a Hawaiian actress, and nine years ago became a full-time resident of Hawaii.
"I hadn't been to New York for years and years and years, and when we came here for a vacation last winter, I saw a play every night for a couple of weeks," says Keith. "Da was the only one I thought I'd really like to do sometime." Not long afterward, Barnard Hughes, the Tony Award-winning star of Da, decided to tour with the show, and Keith was offered a five-month contract to replace him. Delighted with the chance to return to Broadway in such a compelling role after a 27-year absence, Keith quickly said yes. Bringing his wife and children to New York for an extended visit, he again chose the Upper East Side as a place to live.
A big, brawny 6-footer whose deep, gravelly voice and slothful mannerisms somehow bring to mind a friendly trained bear, Keith normally spends the time between his matinee and evening performances sleeping on an Army cot in his dressing room. On this particular day, he is sitting in the sparsely furnished room with his shirt off, smoking a cigarette and answering questions about his career. His initially gruff demeanor soon gives way to laughter, sentiment, hopefulness and cynicism in equal measure. A no-holds-barred conversationalist, he talks about the acting life with a rare frankness.
Taking over the role of Da with only about 20 hours of rehearsal, says Keith, was "just a matter of trouping it." He didn't find the task too difficult, partly because of his Irish background. Asked how far back his ancestry goes, Keith laughs and says, "How far back? If you go back far enough, you never stop. I'm Irish on both sides. On my father's side they came over in Revolutionary days. On my mother's side, five or six generations. It stays, though. The first time I went to Ireland, I felt the whole deja vu thing. I knew what I'd see around the next corner when I walked."
He was born in the backstage of a theatre in Bayonne, New Jersey. "I was there about a week. I'm always getting letter from people saying: `I'm from Bayonne too!' My parents were actors, so we went everywhere. ... I went to high school in Long Island. Very ... very nothing. And I didn't care a damn thing about acting."
From 1945 to 1955 he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a sergeant in the Pacific campaign. "When I got out of the service, I was just banging around, looking for a job. I didn't have an education or anything. A guy offered me a part in a play and I didn't know whether I'd ever get another one. But I did, so it's been very nice. Very lucky. It's unlike the usual struggle that people go through."
When the conversation lands on Meteor, his latest movie, Keith declines comment, choosing to speak instead of The Last of the Mountain Men, a feature film that was completed in July and is scheduled for a Easter release. "Charlton Heston and I co-star. It's about two trappers in the West in 1830, and what happens to them when the beaver period comes to a close. The two guys are like Sundance and Butch. But damn well written. It's one of the best scripts I ever read. Heston's kid wrote it. He worked for a couple of years up around Idaho and Montana as a river guide. There's not a wasted word in the script."
Many of his films and TV shows Keith has never seen. "If it's some piece of junk, I don't see why I should bother. It's bad enough you did it. But to live through it again!. ... You can't sit around and wait for something you think is worthy of you."
Brian and his wife Victoria have two children. Mimi, his daughter from a previous marriage, is a member of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company. Between acting assignments, says Keith with affection, he spends most of his time "raising the damn kids. It's a 24-hour job. We do a lot of outdoor stuff, because in Hawaii you can, all year round. We go on the beach and camp out and all that crap."
He finds that being based in Hawaii causes no problems with his career. "It doesn't make any difference where you live," Keith growls softly. "People live in London, in Spain, in Switzerland. You don't go around looking for jobs. You wait till your agent calls you and you get on a plane and go. You can be halfway around the world overnight, from anywhere. It beats Bayonne."
|WESTSIDER HAROLD KENNEDY||[Back to Top]|
In the early days of Harold Kennedy's theatrical career, he was involved in a play written by Sinclair Lewis, who may have been a great novelist but was no playwright. Kennedy was talking with Lewis one evening before the play opened when a young student approached the famous author and politely asked for an autograph. Lewis took the piece of paper the boy offered him and wrote on it: "Why don't you find a hobby that isn't a nuisance to other people?" He handed it back unsigned.
But the boy got even. The play opened a few nights later and was a total disaster. Lewis was sitting gloomily in the dressing room after the final curtain when a note was hand-delivered to him by an usher. He opened it and read, in his own handwriting: "Why don't you find a hobby that isn't a nuisance to other people?"
The story is one of dozens told in Harold Kennedy's book, No Pickle, No Performance, published this month by Doubleday. The book is a fascinating collection of true-life anecdotes stored up by Kennedy during his four decades in the theatre as a director, actor, and playwright on Broadway and across the country. The subtitle of his book is "An Irreverent Theatrical Excursion from Tallulah to Travolta," and he has written chapters about his experiences with both of these stars, in addition to Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Thornton Wilder, Gloria Swanson, Steve Allen, and others who are less well known today but were legends in their time.
Its book is dedicated to actress Renee Taylor, who refused to come on stage during a play's opening night until she got a pickle with her sandwich, as she had during the previews. The coffee shop that had provided those sandwiches was closed, and the curtain was held while a prop man got in his car and went searching for the holy pickle. It arrived seven minutes after the advertised curtain time, and the show went on.
Unknown to Taylor, the stage crew was so enraged by her antics that they performed "a little ceremony" with the pickle before giving it to her. Gloria Swanson later said: "Poor Miss Taylor. Can't you see her shopping around to every delicatessen in New York complaining that she can never find a pickle to match the caliber of the one she had in New Jersey."
I meet the author on a recent evening at Backstage on West 45th Street. "The thing about this book," he says, "is that whether people know the actors or not, they find the stories amusing. You know, I never thought of writing these stories down. I used to tell them to other members of the company over drinks after the show, and everyone loved them. But I'm an actor, and I thought what made them funny was the way I told them. I didn't know how they'd look in print. A good friend of mine finally convinced me to write about a hundred pages, and I said, "If anyone wants it, I'll write the whole thing." The first publisher I sent it to -- Doubleday -- accepted it."
Those who have seen portions of the Ginger Rogers chapter in a recent issue of New York magazine might think the book is malicious, but this is not the case. Says Kennedy: "It just tells what happened, and some people come out better than others."
The chapter begins: "It seems that Ginger Rogers never smiles. It may be that someone has told her it would crack her face. It may be more likely that she's a lady devoid of one smidgin of one inch of a sense of humor." The author describes her as "colder than anyone else I had met. Totally unlike her screen self -- which only goes to prove what a good actress she is."
He reveals Rogers at her worst when she attempts to make an actor out of her no-talent fifth husband, G. William Marshall, at the expense of Kennedy and everyone else in the cast. The couple were still on their honeymoon, and Rogers demanded that Bill be given the role of her leading man in Bell, Book and Candle. The results were disastrous. Detroit's leading critic wrote after the opening: "The program lists Mr. Marshall as having been acquainted with many phases of show business. Last night he showed not even a nodding acquaintance with any of them."
Kennedy writes at the chapter's end: "Hopefully Ginger will find another husband. As it turned out, the last one apparently worked out worse for her than it did for me." Rogers is apparently considering a lawsuit against the author.
Still very active in the theatre at 64, Kennedy is undertaking three productions this summer -- Barefoot In the Park with Maureen O'Sullivan and Donny Most, The Marriage-Go-Round with Kitty Carlisle, and Bell, Book and Candle with Lana Turner. He is directing all three and acting in two of them.
Two years ago he directed John Travolta for a summer stock company that opened to hordes of screaming teenagers in Skowhegan, Maine. Whenever Travolta made in entrance or an exit, Kennedy tells in the chapter titled "John Who?", he caused such a commotion that the play virtually came to a halt. "John is a darling. He's such a lovely boy," says the author. "He'd kiss me full on the lips when we met and parted. And I say that with no sense of implication. In the theatre, we've always been relaxed about an expression of affection. ... I thought in Saturday Night Fever he was a star in the old tradition -- in the tradition of Tyrone Power. ... I couldn't call John intelligent, but he'll own the movie industry in two years. And he has things in his contract that no other stars have had, like approval of the final cut of the movie."
A native of Holyoke, Massachusetts, Kennedy worked his way through Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Drama "and came out with a profit." In 1937 he moved to New York; he has lived on the West Side ever since. Among his close friends are some of the merchants and artisans in his area. "They care about theatre and they know we have special problems," he says. "There's Mal the Tailor on West 72nd Street, for example. If I'm doing a play and need something right away, he'll drop everything and take care of me."
No Pickle, No Performance has already received many favorable reviews and has been partially reprinted in the New York Post. Kennedy is planning to hit the talk shows soon with some of his leading ladies. What seems to be uppermost in his mind at the moment, however, is whether Ginger Rogers will sue for libel.
"I kind of wish she would, just to get some publicity for the book," he muses. "Of course, she's a fool if she does, because she'd never win, and the people who haven't heard of the book will rush out and get it. ... But I can say one thing: if there's a package from Ginger waiting for me in my dressing room, I'm going to have it dumped in water."
|WESTSIDER ANNA KISSELGOFF||[Back to Top]|
It was 3 p.m., and as usual, Anna Kisselgoff was sitting before the computer-typewriter at the New York Times' newsroom, putting the finishing touches on her latest dance review. She had spent the morning doing research, and had arrived at the Times building around noon to begin writing the article directly on the computer terminal, using her notes taken the night before at a dance performance. At 8 o'clock that evening, she would be attending yet another performance, but for the moment at least, Miss Kisselgoff had a little time to herself, and when we sat down to talk in her three-walled cubicle office facing the relatively quiet newsroom, she seemed noticeably relaxed and cheerful, notwithstanding the pile of opened and unopened mail piled high on her desk.
"We get no help: that's the problem," she said, in a clear, even voice with a tone that recalled Mary Tyler Moore. "We have one secretary for nine people in the arts and architecture department. She's terribly overworked," Anne went on, sweeping her hands like an orchestra conductor toward the stack of mail. "You're looking at what's left after I've thrown away half of it. I make up the review schedule for the week based on these releases."
Petite, attractive, and looking somewhat younger than her 41 years, the effervescent Miss Kisselgoff soon got to the root of her problem.
"This time of year, everybody wants to be reviewed. The tragedy is that dancers do wait until the spring, and then they give their one-shot concert that they have been preparing all year, and it's on the same night that 17 other dancers are giving theirs. I think it's suicidal. ... We have three dance critics at the Times -- Jack Anderson and Jennifer Dunning besides myself -- and in the spring, all three of us are working every day, and we still can't keep up."
Anna herself attends up to nine performances a week during the busy season. Besides her regular pieces in the daily Times, she is responsible for a long, comprehensive article in the Sunday edition. "There has been a tremendous increase in dance activity in the past 10 years," she explained. "In 1969, the year after I joined the paper, I was asked to do a rundown of dance events, and I found there was not a single week in the year that was free from dance. That was the first time it happened.
"I think the decade of the 1960s had something to do with it. That was when choreographers like Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, who used pure movement, became most popular. The audience that came to see them was a new audience that was already comfortable with abstraction. They didn't require story ballets. One of the problems with dance in the past was the people thought they wouldn't be able to understand it. But if you like plotless ballet, you don't have to understand any more than what you see. I think Marshall McLuhan was right: this is the age of television. This generation is used to watching images without getting bored."
She has no favorite dancers, but her favorite choreographers come down to two -- George Balanchine and Martha Graham. "You don't have any young choreographers now who are really the stature of the old ones. I can't give a reason why, except that it happened historically that the 1930s turned out to be the most creative period in dance -- not just in the United States, but in most parts of the world. That's when the modern dance pioneers became active. People like Martha Graham are revolutionaries, and you just don't get them in every generation. ... This applies to the other arts as well. Who are the great opera composers of today? And frankly, are there any Tolstoys?"
Born in Paris, Anna arrived on the Upper West Side at the age of one. She attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and later spent four years in Paris as a general reporter for several English-language newspapers, but otherwise she has been a lifelong Westsider. Dance has always been one of her prime interests: she studied ballet for 10 years while a child, and remained an avid fan long after realizing she would not become a professional dancer.
In the mid-1960s, Anna wrote an article on a major dance festival for the international edition of the New York Times in Paris. This led to similar assignments. In October 1968, shortly after she returned to Manhattan, the Times hired her to assist chief dance critic Clive Barnes. She quickly found herself writing many first-string reviews, and when Barnes resigned almost two years ago, Kisselgoff was named to replace him.
One of the disadvantages of her job, Anna pointed out, is that she is frequently approached by strangers at intermission. "I feel that everybody who agrees or disagrees with me can do so by mail. I don't want to have long discussions with people I don't know, because I think it's an invasion of my privacy as a person."
The advantages, however, far outweigh the inconveniences. "I can even enjoy bad dance," she quickly added. "That's why I'm very happy doing this job. The day that I'll no longer be interested in watching a dance performance, I think I should quit and go on to something else."
|WESTSIDERGEORGELANG||[Back to Top]|
George Lang, artist and perfectionist, could have become a success in any of a hundred professions. In 1946, when he arrived in the U.S. from his native Hungary, he got a job as violinist with the Dallas Symphony. But Lang soon discovered that the orchestra pit was too confining for a man of his vision. He might have turned to composition or conducting; instead he decided to switch to a different field entirely -- cooking. Today, at 54, he is the George Balanchine of the food world -- a "culinary choreographer" with an international reputation for knowing virtually everything relevant that is to be known about food preparation and restaurants.
Lang's imagination, Gourmet magazine once wrote, "is as fertile as the Indus Valley." This imagination, combined with his keen intelligence, his concern for details, his natural versatility, and his seemingly endless capacity for work, have enabled him to rewrite the definition of the term "restaurant consultant."
As head of the George Lang Corporation, a loosely structured group of associates that he founded in 1971, he commands $2,500 a day plus expenses for jetting around the world, giving advice on restaurant and kitchen design, menu planning, and every other aspect of a restaurant from the lighting to the color of the napkins.
His large-scale projects in the past few years include food consulting and design for Marriot Motor Hotels, Holiday Inn, the Cunard Lines, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. He was the chief planner for The Market, a three-level, 20-shop marketplace in the East Side's Citicorp Center. In 1975, when he took over the West Side's famous Cafe des Artistes, the business quadrupled within weeks.
A prolific author as well, Lang has written several books and hundreds of articles for leading publications, including the Encyclopedia Britannica. His column, "Table for One," is a regular feature of Travel & Leisure magazine. He has bottled burgundy under his own label, arranged parties for the rich and famous, and served as consultant for Time-Life's series on international cookery.
His office has a miniature garden in the middle; the wall are lined with 5,000 catalogued cookbooks. He comes sailing into the room and takes a seat at his semicircular desk, which all but engulfs him. Short in stature, bald as a gourd, he moves with a darting energy that sees him through 20-hour workdays with as many as 30 food tastings. His softly accented speech is the only thing about him that is slow, because Lang chooses his words carefully, aiming for the same perfection in English as in everything else. Although modesty is not one of his characteristics, he gives full credit to his staff for being equal partners in his corporation's success. There is a feeling of camaraderie in the air, as if all are members of a single family.
The Cafe des Artistes, he admits, was a moderately successful French restaurant for 60 years before he took it over. "But it needed spiritual changes as well as physical changes. And -- let me underline this and triple-space it -- excellent food. You cannot chew scenery. We maintain a certain kind of formal informality, which simply means that anyone can come, dressed any way they want, as long as their behavior will justify their white tie or dungarees. I could raise the prices by 50 to 100 percent overnight, and I wouldn't lose a single customer. But feel an obligation to New York City and the restaurant industry to maintain what I call reasonable prices."
His corporation also owns the Hungaria Restaurant at Citicorp, which has a gypsy orchestra from Budapest, and Small Pleasures, a pastry shop in the same building. However, Lang stresses that "98 percent of our business comes from consulting. I always think in terms of problems and solutions, because every restaurant must be designed to suit the needs of a particular market. At Alexander's, for example, we came up with a restaurant where you could have a reasonably pleasant luncheon for two to four dollars."
Still an ardent music lover, George Lang plays the violin whenever time permits. He recently acquired a Stradivarius and says with a laugh, "I'm threatening to get back completely to shape and play a concert."
Lang enjoys the European atmosphere of the West Side, where he has lived for the past 30 years. Among his favorite Westside restaurants: the Moon Palace on Broadway, Sakura Chaya on Columbus, and Le Poulailler on 65th Street.
His latest endeavor is a 4-to-6-minute TV spot titled Lang at Large, which is broadcast twice a month on the CBS network show Sunday Morning. "It's part of my new career," he announces joyfully.
Asked about which aspect of his work gives him the most satisfaction, Lang ponders for a moment and concludes: "It would be easiest for me to say that my biggest thrill is to see an idea of mine become a three-dimensional reality, especially if it may be a $50 million project. But actually, an even bigger thrill for me is to go to an obscure place in the world, and see a bit of improvement in people's lives through the effort of someone who was my former disciple."
|WESTSIDER RUTH LAREDO||[Back to Top]|
She has frequently been called America's greatest female pianist -- a title which, as recently as the 1960s, almost any woman would have coveted. But when the year is 1978 and the musician is Ruth Laredo, this "compliment" brings a different response.
"I have mixed feelings about it," says Miss Laredo, sitting back on the couch of her West Side living room. "I would really rather be known as an American pianist. Being female doesn't preclude playing some of the most powerful sounds on the piano."
Her words are backed by accomplishments. In October, Ruth came to the end of a four-year project to record the complete works for solo piano by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the late Russian-born composer who emigrated to the U.S. after the Revolution of 1917. Almost all of his piano works were composed before 1910, and they rank among the most technically difficult pieces ever written for the instrument. Laredo is the first person in history to record the piano solos in their entirety. Columbia Records will release the final three discs of the seven-album set in early 1979.
Slender, graceful, and radiantly attractive, Laredo is still adjusting to her recently acquired status as a major international artist. For 14 years she was married to the acclaimed Bolivian-born violinist, Jaime Laredo, and during most of that time she was known primarily as his accompanist. Shortly after their marriage broke up in 1974, her career began to soar. That year the first of her Rachmaninoff recordings was made, and it won rave reviews. Her Lincoln Center debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in December 1974 caused such a sensation that she was quickly signed up to perform with the Boston, Philadelphia, National Symphony, Cleveland, and Detroit orchestras. "After 15 years," recalls Ruth, "I was an overnight success."
Now, at 41 -- but looking considerably younger -- she can look back on four years of unbroken triumph. Following a recital at Alice Tully Hall in 1976, the New York Times reported that she "operated within a relatively narrow range -- from first-rate to superb." Her talents have been constantly in demand ever since across the U.S. and Canada. During the 1976-77 season she had over 40 concerts, including tours of Europe and Japan. This season she will perform in Japan and Hong Kong.
Although her repertoire includes piano works spanning the last 250 years, Ruth has concentrated largely on Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, a Russian composer of the same era. She has recorded five albums of Scriabin's piano solos. "It's such strange music if you haven't heard it before," she says. "I gave some concerts of Scriabin at Hunter College, and talked about each piece before playing it. I was kind of a crusader at the time for his music. It was very rewarding for me. I think people are much more familiar with Scriabin today than they were 10 years ago.
"One thing I love to do is to talk to the audience after a concert. There's a certain feeling of distance sometimes between the audience and classical musicians, which need not happen."
On most days, Ruth practices at one of her twin grand pianos from about 10:30 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon, when her 9-year-old daughter Jennifer gets home from school. The walls of the Laredos' living room are covered with neatly framed fingerpaintings that Jennifer created. "She's intellectually brilliant and lots of fun. I take her to concerts with me when it's possible. When I gave a talk on Rachmaninoff to the cadets at West Point, they all called her `ma'am.'"
A native of Detroit, Ruth began studying piano at the age of 2, performed with the Detroit Symphony at 11, and entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at 16. There she met her future husband. During their years together, Ruth longed for a solo career, but it somehow eluded her. "I played with Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony in the 1960s," she says. "There was a major concert I did at Carnegie Hall then, but nobody heard about it. I think that women are being accepted on their own merits today. They weren't given a chance until recently."
Ruth keeps fit by riding her bicycle almost every day. She is a fan of the New York Yankees -- "I saw all the World Series games" -- and likes to do photography when she has the time. A Westsider ever since she moved to New York in 1960, Ruth lists Fiorello's (on Broadway across from Lincoln Center) as her favorite restaurant. When she needs music supplies of any kind, she goes to Patelson's (56th Street and 7th Avenue). Says Ruth: "It's a gathering place for musicians. The people who sell music there are very friendly and very knowledgeable. ... They sell records there. They sell my records."
Asked whether men might have an inborn advantage at the piano, Ruth denies the suggestion vigorously. "Of course not," she replies. "I can't imagine why a man should play the piano better than a woman. At West Point, the women do everything the same as the male cadets except boxing and wrestling. Women might have smaller fingers on the average, but as far as strength, speed, and dexterity are concerned, it's impossible to listen to a recording and guess whether it was played by a man or a woman."
|EASTSIDER STAN LEE||[Back to Top]|
With the current rage over Superman due to last year's hit movie, many people will purchase a copy of the comic for the first time in years, and may be disappointed to see how much it has changed. Once the largest-selling comic book hero on the market, Superman was knocked out of first place long ago by Spiderman, the creation of a 56-year-old native New Yorker named Stan Lee. Besides selling about one million Marvel comics each month, Spiderman appears as a daily strip in some 500 newspapers around the world.
But even without this giant success, Stan Lee would be rich and famous. His fertile mind has also given birth to the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Doctor Strange, and a host of other modern-day mythological figures. As publisher of Marvel Comics, he rules over an empire that branches out into dozens of areas -- prime-time television drama, animated cartoons, hardbound and paperback collections of comic reprints, novels about Marvel characters, toys, games, posters, clothing and much more. Most of these spin-off products are the work of other companies that have bought the rights, but Stan Lee remains the creative force behind the whole operation, as I discover during a meeting with Lee at the Marvel headquarters on Madison Avenue.
"I think the title of publisher is just given to me so I can have more prestige when I'm dealing with people," says Lee in his clipped, precise voice, as he stretches his feet onto the coffee table of his brightly decorated office. "I'm a salaried employee of Marvel -- your average humble little guy trying to stay afloat in the stormy sea of culture. The company owns the properties, of course, but I have no complaints. I don't think I could have as much anywhere else. ... My main interest is to see that the company itself does well and makes as much money as possible."
He is an intense, energetic man of wiry build who dresses in a casual yet elegant manner. As he shifts the position of his arms and legs on the couch, there is something unmistakably spiderlike in the movements. For all his politeness, he cannot mask the impression that his mind is racing far ahead of his rapidly spoken words.
"My involvement with this company goes back to about 1939," says Lee. "I was always the editor, the art director, the head writer, and the creative director [from the age of 17]. In the early 1960s I was thinking of quitting. I thought I wasn't really getting anywhere. My wife said, `Why not give it one last fling and do the kind of stories you want to do?' So I started bringing out the offbeat heroes. I never dreamt that they would catch on the way they did."
He emphasizes that he did not create the characters alone, but co-created them with the help of an artist. Nevertheless, it was Lee who revolutionized the comic book industry by introducing the concept of what has been termed the "hung-up hero" -- the superhero whose powers do not preclude him from having the same emotional troubles as the average mortal. This is what makes Lee's characters so believable and so irresistibly entertaining on television. It explains why CBS' The Incredible Hulk is a hit, and why the same network has filmed eight episodes of The Amazing Spiderman. On January 19 from 8 to 10 p.m., CBS will broadcast the pilot for a new Marvel-based series, Captain America.
"Dr. Strange may come back again," says Lee. "It was made into a two-hour television movie." His old Spiderman cartoons, too, are still in syndication.
He claims to work "about 28 hours a day," and a look at his dizzying list of activities supports this claim. Besides running the Marvel headquarters, Lee makes frequent trips to the West Coast to develop shows for ABC and CBS, writes some cartoons for NBC, acts as consultant to the Spiderman and Hulk programs, writes an introduction to each of the dozens of Marvel books published each year, writes occasional books and screenplays of his own, gives lectures all over the country, and -- what to some would be a full-time job in itself -- writes the plot and dialogue not only for the Spiderman newspaper strip, but also, since November, for a Hulk newspaper strip that already appears in more than 200 daily papers worldwide.
Few people know Manhattan as well as Stan Lee. Born the son of a dress cutter in Washington Heights, he has made the Upper East Side his home for the past 15 years. "I'm a big walker," he explains. "I'm a fast walker: I can easily average a block a minute. So if I want to walk to Greenwich Village, I give myself an hour -- 60 blocks. I wouldn't know what time to leave if I took a cab."
Asked about new projects in the works, Lee mentions that Marvel is planning to produce some motion pictures that will be filmed in Japan. "And I have a contract to write my autobiography," he adds. "I was surprised and delighted that they gave me five years to do it. So I presume I'll wait four years; maybe in that period, something interesting will happen to me."
|EASTSIDER JOHN LEONARD||[Back to Top]|
"It's as if the job I have were designed for me," says bearded, bespectacled John Leonard, lighting his fifth cigarette of the early afternoon as he sits relaxed at his Eastside brownstone, talking about the pleasures and perils of being one of the New York Times' three daily book critics. Like his colleagues Christopher Lehmann-Haupt and Anatole Broyard, Leonard writes two book reviews for the Times each week, and is syndicated nationally. An avid reader since childhood, he now gets to read anything and everything he desires.
That's the advantage. The disadvantage, explains Leonard, is that "there are 50 thousand books published every year in this country. You can never even pretend to be comprehensive. You can't even pretend to be adequate in your coverage, whereas the Times will review almost any play that opens, on or Off Broadway, and almost every concert and movie. We'll review maybe 400 books a year in the daily paper."
A smallish, balding man of 41 who dresses purely for comfort and has a calm, refined speaking manner, Leonard looks precisely like the bookworm he is. "I'll get here, in this house, probably 5,000 or 6,000 books a year, mailed to me, or brought by messenger. The luxury of this job is that there's so much to choose from that any mood or interest or compulsion or desire to educate oneself or amuse oneself can be matched by some book that has come in."
New books by well-known authors, he says, are the first priority because "they've earned reviews, for service to the literary culture over the years." He and his two fellow critics "divide up the plums and divide up the dogs. Since I did Kissinger's memoirs, the next huge, endless book that has to be reviewed, whether anybody wants to review it or not, will not be reviewed by me."
Somewhere between 100 and 140 serious first novels are published in the U.S. each year, according to Leonard. "This is not pulp paperback westerns. It doesn't even count science fiction or gothic or all that. I think a special effort is made by all of us in the reviewing racket to review first novels."
He reads many authors' first books on the recommendation of trusted agents and publishers. "Over the years you decide who isn't lying to you. ... Christopher Lehmann-Haupt was telling someone about that the other day. He said, `Sure, you can call me as often as you want. But I'll say that you begin with a hundred dollars in you bank account, and if it turns out that you are begging me to review a book that has no other redeeming virtues but the fact that you have invested 50 or 80 thousand dollars' worth of advertising in it and you've got too many copies out in the bookstores that aren't moving, that bank account goes down. When you give me a real surprise and a pleasure which is what makes this job worthwhile, the bank account goes up. But if the bank account goes down to zero, it's closed.'
"And that's right. There are people in this town who I won't take a telephone call from. But that's the exception."
Apart from reading, writing and travel, Leonard has few interests. "By May, I can even look healthy, because I just sit out in the garden, getting paid to read," he says with a grin. He and his wife Sue, a schoolteacher, have three children from previous marriages. His son Andrew will be starting college in the fall.
A book reviewer since 1967, including a five-year stint as editor of the Sunday Times Book Review, Leonard also write a warmly personal, frequently humorous column in the Wednesday Times titled "Private Lives." A collection of 69 of the columns appeared in book form last year under the title Private Lives in the Imperial City (Knopf, $8.95). In addition, he has published four novels and hundreds of free-lance articles for magazines ranging from Playboy to the New Republic. For years he wrote TV reviews for Life magazine under the pseudonym "Cyclops." Recalls Leonard: "It was a good way to turn your brain to Spam."
Born in Washington, D.C., he grew up reading the Congressional Record instead of comics, and initially planned a career in law. Booted out of Harvard for neglecting his studies in favor of the campus newspaper, he sharpened his journalistic skills under William F. Buckley Jr. at the National Review before completing college at the University of California's Berkeley campus. Following graduation, he became the program director of a radio station, wrote his first two novels, and worked in an anti-poverty program in Boston. Then he was invited to join the Times. "I did my Westside and Village stuff when I was first here and broke," comments Leonard. He has owned his four-story Eastside house since 1971.
Among the most memorable books that Leonard has helped to "discover" are Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum. "To be able to sit down one night, as I did, and to realize you're in the presence of an extraordinary talent, with no advance publicity, to be able to have a hole to fill in the paper two days later, to sit down and pull out all your adjectives and get people to buy the book: this is what you live for," he sighs happily. "You only need two or three of those to last a lifetime."
|WESTSIDER JOHN LINDSAY||[Back to Top]|
It was said of John Kennedy that he was too young and too active a man to retire immediately after the presidency. Had he lived to serve two full terms, he would have been 51 upon leaving office. How he might have spent the remainder of his career is difficult to guess, but it's likely that he would have ended up doing work very similar to what John Lindsay does today.
A comparison between the two men is hard to escape. Both were war heroes. Both rose to power aided by their personal magnetism -- Kennedy to the nation's highest office at 43, Lindsay to the nation's second toughest job at 44. Both gave eloquent speeches, aimed for high ideals, and made controversial decisions that brought plenty of criticism from within their own ranks.
Lindsay, now an international lawyer, has changed little in appearance since he stepped down in 1974 after eight years in City Hall. The brown hair has turned mostly grey, and the lines in the face are slightly more pronounced, but when he's behind the desk of his Rockefeller Plaza office, his lean, immaculately dressed, 6-foot-3-inch frame resting comfortably in a huge leather swivel chair, he still looks like a man who is very much in charge.
He is a partner in the corporate law firm of Webster and Sheffield, which he first joined in 1948. "This is a firm of about 75 lawyers," he says in a soft, lyrical voice. "We're general practice. ... I'm back into corporate law, and there's a fair amount of international work which takes me abroad quite a bit -- largely representing American businesses overseas. A lot of my work is done in French. I'm handling a complicated matter involving imports to this country, and a complex arrangement involving offshore oil exploration and drilling. Real estate transactions. The purchase of oil. A matter in Australia. Municipal counseling for a city in Colorado ... "
The international situation is beneficial to New York these days, says Lindsay, because "parts of the Western free world have a bad case of the jitters. Europeans particularly, and also many people in the Middle East, feel that this is a more stable place to invest their capital."
Leaning back, with his feet propped up on another chair, he elaborates on foreign affairs: "I think Carter's plane deal in the Middle East escalated tensions rather than reduced them. It's not a foreign policy to sell arms in the Middle East. I think Americans have an obligation to spell out what our foreign policy is."
Except for a few public speaking engagements, Lindsay has devoted nearly all his attention this year to the practice of law. "I used to spend a little time with Good Morning America on ABC, but I dropped it in January because of the pressures of this office," he says. "Recently I did a pilot for public television. It's a small documentary that shows cataclysmic events in world history -- mostly from World War II -- and at the same time, shows what was going on in America. ... It might be turned into a series of documentaries."
Because he served four terms as congressman for Manhattan's Silk Stocking district, Lindsay is generally associated with the East Side, but actually he was born on the West Side's Riverside Drive in 1921. One month after graduating from Yale in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and served for the next three years, taking part in the Sicily landing and the invasion of the Philippines on his way to earning five battle stars.
Two years after leaving the service, he received his law degree, and seven years after that, in 1955, his abilities impressed U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell so much that he made Lindsay his executive assistant. In 1958, Lindsay ran for Congress and won, quickly establishing himself as a tireless worker for the rights of refugees. Lindsay was an early supporter of the Peace Corps and a prominent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Soon after leaving Gracie Mansion, John and his wife Mary and their children settled down on the West Side near Central Park. "I feel very strongly that the park is for people, and not for special interest groups," he says. "We introduced bicycling on weekends, and when I retired from government we had a major plan to restore all of Central Park."
The reason he first got involved in politics, says Lindsay, was because "out in the Pacific on lonely nights, after hearing the news of the death of good friends, I made a determination that one day I was going to try to do something. I was determined that we weren't going to have war again."
In regard to his years as mayor, Lindsay makes the simple statement that "I did my best of a very tough job and I have no regrets about it. I look ahead to the future."
But what will the future bring? Would he consider running for office again?
"That's a tough question, Max," he replies. "I know there's a lot of talk with some of my friends about the Senate in 1980. I don't take that lightly. ... Right now I'm not making any plans to run. ... But you just don't know, because life does funny things, and I also think there's a big vacuum out there now -- second-rate politics everywhere.
|WESTSIDER ALAN LOMAX||[Back to Top]|
On August 20, when the Voyager 2 spacecraft blasted off for a trip beyond the solar system, it carried on its side a unique record player and a single phonograph record. Included on that record are 27 musical selections that the New York Times has called "Earth's Greatest Hits." If, someday, extraterrestrial creatures play the record and enjoy it, they will be most indebted to the man who chose 13 of the songs -- Westsider Alan Lomax.
That Alan's advice should be so highly respected by a committee that spent eight weeks choosing the other 14 songs is a testimonial to his musical reputation. Ever since he became head of the Folk Music Archives of the Library of Congress at age 20, Alan has devoted his life to the preservation and study of international folk music. Following the footsteps of his late father, musicologist John Lomax, Alan has taken his recording equipment to six continents in search of the rapidly disappearing musical treasures of the world.
I finally caught up with Alan and met him for an interview on a Friday evening at his office/apartment on West 98th Street. One room, I observed, was lined wall to wall with tapes and record albums. Another was filled with music books, a third with computer readouts, and a fourth with movie films.
Alan's foremost interest right now is cantometrics -- the science of song as a measure of culture. Recently he published a book titled Cantometrics: A Method in Musical Anthropology. Accompanying the volume are seven cassette tapes. The songs are arranged in an order that will teach the student to interpret their general meaning without knowing the language.
"When you learn the system, you can understand any music," said Alan. "We analyzed 4000 songs from 400 societies around the world. Out of that study has come a map of world music." He then showed me a musical chart of Europe, the Far East, and Indian North America. Thirty-seven aspects of the music, including rhythm, volume and repetition, had been analyzed by a computer to make a graph.
"Each aspect of the music," said Alan, "stands for a different social style. It's like the guy who says, `I don't know anything about music, but I know what I like.' It means that kind of music stands for his background and what he believes in."
Alan played a tape for me containing a Spanish folk song, an Irish jig and a song from Nepal, explaining some of the elements as the music was playing. "By the time you've heard two or three tapes," he said, "you get used to the world standards of music. In primitive societies, he added, "everybody knows the same things about everything, so being specific is a bore, and repetition is what they like. You don't impose your boring accuracy on everyone. By the same token, primitive people find it much easier to sing together than, for example, New Yorkers of different backgrounds. In the latter case," said Alan, "everybody starts singing at a different tempo, like six cats in a bag. But if you take people who live together and work together, it's like clouds rolling out of the sea."
Alan was not impressed with the 1976 movie Bound for Glory, about the life of American folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie during the Great Depression. The movie ends with Woody leaving Hollywood for New York to perform in a coast-to-coast radio show. The man who hosted that show was Alan Lomax.
"We collaborated on a number of things," recalled Alan. "It was an enormous pleasure. He was the funniest man that ever talked. And he was so quick. That's what was wrong with the movie. Talking with Woody was like playing a game of jai alai. He was a deeply passionate person, and tremendously gifted. He got up in the morning and wrote 25 pages before breakfast just to warm up."
Though Alan can sing and play the guitar, he does not regard himself as a performer but rather as a "funnel" for other musicians. During the 1940s he helped launch the careers of people like Burl Ives and Pete Seeger by providing them with songs and putting them on the radio. "We set out to revive the American folk music in 1938, and by God we did it," said Alan. "By 1950 it was a national movement."
Alan spent the next 10 years of his life in Europe, where he produced a definitive 14-album collection of international folk music. Then he moved back to the U.S. and settled on the Upper West Side, where he has lived for the past 15 years. His residential apartment is located two blocks from his office.
Besides his research in cantometrics, done in cooperation with Columbia University, Alan is now preparing for publication a study on international dance movement and its relations to society. Energetic, jovial, and looking considerably younger than his years, Alan has no doubts about the lasting value of his work.
"I make my living as a very hard-working scientist," he said. "By using scientific methods, I can absolutely refute the ideas of those who say that Oklahoma doesn't matter, or that the Pygmies might as well be exterminated. Each of these people, we have found, has something for the human future, for the human destiny."
* * *
The Mighty Lomax
from The Westsider, fall 1977
It's oldies night on the radio. The DJ has promised to play nothing but the greatest hits of the '50s and '60s, and sure enough, here they are -- "Irene Goodnight" sung by the Weavers; "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio; "Abilene" by George Hamilton IV; "Midnight Special" by Johnny Rivers; and "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals.
All of these songs reached number one on the charts. And they have something else in common: all are genuine American folk songs of unknown authorship that might have been lost forever if they had not been discovered and preserved by John and Alan Lomax, the famous father-son folklorist team.
The folk music explosion in America that peaked in the early 1960s and continues today owes more of a debt to the Lomaxes than to any performer or songwriter. John Lomax died in 1948 at the age of 80. His son Alan, 62, has been a resident of New York's Upper West Side for the past 15 years. Working seven days a week at his 98th Street office and his 100th Street apartment, Alan has carried on his father's work with remarkable talent and energy. He has gone far beyond the simple collecting of folk songs, and maintains a dizzying schedule of activities -- writing books, catching planes for Europe or Africa, making movies, producing record albums and tapes, and heading a musical research project for the Anthropology Department of Columbia University.
Fathers and Sons
The elder Lomax was primarily a songhunter. His first collection, Cowboy Songs, was published in 1910. It contained such gems as "John Henry," "Shenandoah" and "Home on the Range," which he heard for the first time in the back of a saloon in the Negro red light district of San Antonio.
Alan was born in Texas in 1915. When he was 13 years old his father gave him an old-fashioned cylinder recording machine, and the boy was hooked. He became a full-time song scholar at 18. In that same year his father was put in charge of the newly created Archives of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in Washington. When Alan was 20 he took over as archives director. The father-son team eventually provided more than half of the 20,000 songs in the collection.
The Lomaxes wrote many books together; they introduced American folk music into the nation's public schools, and through their radio programs in the U.S. and Europe, made celebrities out of such performers as Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie.
Whereas John Lomax was interested in the music for its own sake, Alan began some time ago to look for the deeper meaning, or social significance, of folk songs. In his many trips around the world he built up a collection of recordings from every continent and virtually every major culture. Along with a co-worker he developed his findings into the new branch of anthropology known as cantometrics.
When the Voyager 2 spacecraft left Earth last August for a journey beyond the solar system, it carried on its side a unique record player with a specially made disk for alien beings to hear and enjoy. The disk contained 27 musical selections, which have been named "Earth's Greatest Hits"; 13 of them were chosen by Alan Lomax.
The following interview was conducted in various rooms of Alan's office on a Friday evening in August, 1977. One room was filled with recording equipment, tapes and records; another with music books; a third with computer readouts; and a fourth with movie films. Lomax spoke rapidly and found it difficult to sit still. He is not a neat housekeeper, a sharp dresser or a master of the social graces. He is, however, a tireless worker who gives the impression of being totally absorbed in his work. A large, robust man, he will no doubt continue to be a major figure in the field of international folk music for years to come.
Question: What exactly is cantometrics?
Answer: It means, literally, singing as a measure of culture. With it, a song performance may be analyzed and related to a culture pattern. Each aspect of music stands for a different social style. By using cantometrics you get the story of mankind in musical terms. ... It's like the guy who says, "I don't know anything about music but I know what I like." It means that kind of music stands for his background and what he believes in.
Q: How did you develop this new science?
A: I started this project in 1961. ... We analyzed 4,000 songs on a computer. Out of that has come a map of world culture. There are 10 big groups or styles of music. Stone Age people have style 1. ... We found there's a similarity of Patagonian music and Siberian, even though these people live near the opposite poles. ... Along with studying song, we have also studied dance and conversation in the same way, from film. I probably have the biggest collection of dance film in the world -- 200,000 feet. Maybe the New York Public Library has more, but that's specialized in fine art.
Q: What's the purpose of cantometrics? How can someone learn it?
A: I recently published a set of seven cassette tapes of folk songs from all 10 cultural levels around the world. In the booklet that comes with it, the songs are broken down and analyzed so that the student can learn the cantometrics system on his own. When you learn the system, you can understand any music, even if you don't know the language it's being sung in. By the time you've heard two or three tapes, you get used to the world standard of music. Cantometrics measures things like repetition, ornamentation, rhythm, melody, orchestral arrangement. ... It analyzes music in relation to social structure -- political organization, community solidarity, severity of sexual sanctions. Cantometrics makes the world's music into a geography.
Q: How does American music differ from that of the world in general?
A: In our culture, for example, we didn't have much repetition until rock and roll came around. And that represents another influence. ... As you know, we of European background don't sing very well together. Everybody starts singing at a different tempo, like seven cats in a bag. But if you take people who live and work together, it's like clouds rolling out of the sea. ... It turns out that the people with the most repetition in their songs have the most primitive cultures -- at least, in relation to their economic development. Everybody knows the same thing about everything. So being specific is boring, and repetition is what they like. You don't impose your boring accuracy on everyone.
Q: What do you consider the real beginning of the folk music movement in America?
A: It all began in Texas in 1885 when my father heard "Whoopee Ti Yi Yo" on the Chisholm Trail. He was a country boy. He grew up in Texas, and the cowboys drifted past. He wrote the songs down just for the hell of it. Then he got a grant from Harvard and found out how important it was. He was the first person in the country to use a recording device, in 1902.
Q: Did you know Woody Guthrie very well?
A: Know him? I made him famous. I had a coast-to-coast radio program when Woody first came to New York. I introduced him when he first sang on radio. He stayed at my house. ... They offered him a huge contract, but he just walked off and went to Oklahoma. He was a deeply passionate person, and tremendously gifted. First of all he was the funniest man that ever talked. And Woody was so quick: talking to him was like playing jai alai. He got up in the morning and wrote 25 pages before breakfast just to warm up. And there was always a slightly strange thing about Woody -- an itchy feeling that he had. It might have been the beginning of the disease which later killed him.
Q: What's your connection with Pete Seeger?
A: Peter Seeger is my protégé. I gave him his banjo. The banjo was a dead issue, and he came to me and asked what he should do with his life. He was a Harvard hippie. ... We got to be colleagues. We worked on the whole revival of the American folk music. I taught him most of his early songs.
Q: Were you ever a performer yourself?
A: Yes, I've made a few records. But I was always more of a funnel. I regarded myself as a dredge, dredging up the rich subsoil of American folk and putting it back on the developing music scene. We set out to revive the American folk music in 1938, and by God we did it. By 1950 it was a national movement.
Q: What are some other things you've done?
A: I did the first oral history -- the Leadbelly book and the book on Jelly Roll Morton. The Leadbelly movie (1976) was taken from that oral history. For Jelly Roll Morton, I transcribed the tape and made it into a piece of literature. The story has been bought for a movie by the same people who made the Woody Guthrie movie, Bound for Glory.
Q: Have you done a lot of research outside the United States?
A: Yes, I spent 1950 to 1960 in Europe assembling all the best material that had been collected into 14 albums, geographically arranged. Then I started thinking about what I heard on albums -- not what musicians or literary people heard, but what I heard. Then I met some people at the National Institute of Mental Health who were interested in the norms of healthy behavior. I indicated to them that I was getting at the behavior styles of the people of the world. They gave me some dough and I got a staff together.
Q: How was the American folk music scene then?
A: I was very shocked when I came back to the United States in 1960. The musical scene at Washington Square made me sick. They said, "Alan, those people you talked to are all dead." I kind of withdrew from the whole business. ... Later I set up a concert in Carnegie Hall and brought in the first bluegrass group and the first gospel group to perform in New York. People stormed the stage. There were fistfights and everything. Well, that was the whole end of people saying New York was the center of the folk scene.
Q: What do you think of Bob Dylan?
A: Dylan came along in the footsteps of Ramblin' Jack Elliott. He lived with Woody for a while, and picked him as his model. He absorbed the whole southwestern style from Woody. And the country for the first time fell for a national American vocal style. Then Dylan left the scene and went middle class after three years. He turned his back on folk music, turned his back on people. I think he did a big disservice to the country when he did that. ... The whole thing has been to make urban mobile people have a folk music of their own. It's not a bad idea. Terribly boring though.
Q: Do all your projects lead to one goal?
A: I make my living as a very hardworking scientist. I do that because it was important finally to take this huge world that was coming out of loudspeakers, and get down to the meat of it so that it can be used for the betterment of our future ... so that we can keep all the treasures of the past and use them. That's what I'm doing. I'm doing it in a scientific way so that I can absolutely refute the idea of those who say that Oklahoma doesn't matter, or that the Pygmies might as well be exterminated. Each of these people, we have found, has something for the human future, and for the human destiny.
|EASTSIDER PETER MAAS||[Back to Top]|
On the surface, his life could hardly be calmer. Peter Maas gets up every morning to have breakfast with his 12-year-old son, then heads for his midtown office, where he spends about five hours at the typewriter. He rarely goes out in the evening, and his idea of fun is a weekend of fishing, a set of tennis or a game of backgammon. "I don't have to live in New York," he says. "When I'm working on a book, I might as well be living in the wilds of Maine."
But in his mind, Peter Maas leads the life of James Bond and Al Capone rolled into one. "I know an awful lot of people on both sides of the law," says the author of two nonfiction block-busters about crime, The Valachi Papers and Serpico. The Valachi Papers, the real-life saga of three generations of a Mafia chieftain's family, was published in 1969 following two years of court battles and rejections from 26 publishers who felt that books on the Mafia had no commercial potential. It sold three million copies in 14 languages and paved the way for an entire industry of Mafia books and movies.
Serpico (1973) revealed the rampant corruption in the New York City Police Department through the eyes of officer Frank Serpico. Then came King of the Gypsies (1975), Maas' third expose of the underbelly of American society which, like the others, was made into a successful movie.
Now the 50-year-old author has written his first novel, Made in America. Published in September by Viking, it is a raw, violent, grimly humorous story of an ex-football star for the New York Giants who gets mixed up with organized crime while borrowing money for a shady investment scheme. King Kong Karpstein, the terrifying loan shark who dominates the book, is based on several people whom Maas had known personally, and the novel's head Mafia character has much in common with Frank Costello, the "prime minister of the underworld," who granted Maas 11 interviews shortly before his death in 1975. The scenes of Made In America -- porn parlors, criminal hideaways, the FBI offices -- are all described with the same intense realism as the characters. The movie rights have been sold for $450,000.
"The reason I wrote it," explains Maas, sitting restlessly at his 11-room Eastside apartment on a recent afternoon, "was that I didn't want to wake up 10 years from now wondering what would have happened if I had written a novel. ... I also think a writer has to challenge himself constantly. I don't think he should play a pat hand."
As he talks on in his breezy New York accent, fidgeting with a gold matchbox on the antique table beside him, Maas seems barely able to restrain himself from getting up and pacing the room. Quite striking in appearance, he is a tall, stocky man with a Brillo-pad thatch of silvery hair and eyebrows like cotton batting. A native Manhattanite, he was one of the country's top investigative reporters for many years before writing his first book, The Rescuer, in 1967.
The reason for the title Made in America, says Maas is that "the events in the novel could only happen in America. ... One of the themes is that nobody in the book, including the football player and the federal prosecutor, thinks that he's doing anything wrong. So that's a very profound kind of corruption."
Like his previous books, Made in America took two years to write. "The biggest difference that I found," he points out, "was that in nonfiction, all the discoveries and surprises are in the research, and in fiction, they're all in the writing. When I write nonfiction, about two-thirds of the time is spent in research. I didn't do any research for this. It was much harder. And it was the only time I had to rewrite the whole book."
Although Maas claims that his own life has never been in imminent danger, he was touched by deep personal tragedy in 1975 when his wife, a highly talented writer/producer named Audrey Gellen, was killed in an automobile accident. Their only child, John Michael, is a skilled pianist.
Puffing on an imported little cigar, Maas speaks with pride of some of his most important stories in the past. An article he wrote in 1960 led to the release of Edgar Labat, a black convict in Louisiana who had been on death row for 11 years. An article about columnist Igor Cassini in 1963 resulted in Cassini's arrest and conviction as a secret agent for Dominican strongman Trujillo. The biggest story Maas never wrote was a book about the shah of Iran; several years ago he turned down an offer of $1 million for the project in order to concentrate on his novel.
"I've always had trouble writing about women," he confesses when asked about future books. "So the main character of my next work will be a woman. It was going to be another novel, but now I've run across what I think is a fantastic nonfiction project, which I'm mostly interested in because the subject matter is a woman. So I think I'll do that first and the novel afterward. At least I know what my next two will be, and that's comforting."
|WESTSIDER LEONARD MALTIN||[Back to Top]|
Most people who opt for a writing career do not expect to accomplish much before the age of 30. But Leonard Maltin, a 27-year-old Westsider, breaks all the rules. His book The Great Movie Comedians: From Charlie Chaplin to Woody Allen, published in June by Crown Press, is the 30th volume to bear his name on the jacket. One of America's foremost film historians, he has written nine books and edited 21 others, while contributing articles to such publications as TV Guide, Esquire and the New York Times.
The Great Movie Comedians is one of his most ambitious projects to date. In 240 pages of text and more than 200 photographs, the author analyzes the careers of 22 comic stars from the days of silent film to the 1970s. Sales have been brisk so far. The book is already in its second printing and has been picked up by the Nostalgia Book Club.
Leonard was born on the West Side, moved to New Jersey at the age of 4, and became hooked on old movies by the time he was 8. At 13, he began to write for a magazine called Film Fan Monthly. Two years later, he took over as editor and publisher -- a job he continued for nine years. His work with the magazine led to his first book contract in 1968 -- a thick paperback titled TV Movies with summaries of thousands of films. The third edition is coming out this fall.
In 1975, when Leonard got married, he and his wife Alice moved to the West Side. She, too, is a film buff; their favorite Westside movie theatre is the Regency (Broadway at 67th).
Leonard's literary career has never been in better shape than now. Two of his other books will appear in new editions this fall. And the 10th book that he has authored, a comprehensive history of American animated cartoons treated Of Mice and Magic, will be published next year by Signet.
|EASTSIDER JEAN MARSH||[Back to Top]|
Upstairs, Downstairs, the saga of a wealthy London family and its staff of servants in the early years of the 20th century, is one of the most popular television series ever filmed. The first episode of the British-made series was released in England in 1971, and since that time more than one billion people in 40 countries have watched the exploits of the Bellamy family. Introduced to American public television in 1974, Upstairs, Downstairs won seven Emmy Awards, including one for Best Series each year it was shown.
If any single performer could be said to stand out over all the others, that would be Jean marsh, who received an Emmy for Best Actress for her portrayal of Rose, the head parlormaid. But what most of Marsh's American fans fail to realize is that, with her, without would be no Upstairs, Downstairs: she co-created the show with another British actress. A New Yorker on and off for the past two decades, Jean Marsh now lives in an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It is here that I meet her to talk about Upstairs, Downstairs, which returned to American television in January with 39 hour-long segments, eight of which have never been seen before on this side of the Atlantic.
"Sometimes it drives me crazy that nobody ever speaks to me about anything else," says Jean, a slender, pretty, soft-spoken woman who has the knack of putting visitors immediately at their ease with her charm and lack of pretension. "I start to drivel after a while, because I tell how I devised Upstairs, Downstairs and how the cast was chosen." There is no irritation in her voice, only humor. With her lively eyes and childlike appearance, she is reminiscent of Peter Pan.
Upstairs, Downstairs, says Jean, "didn't spring new-minted. My friend Eileen Atkins and I had been talking about trying to devise a television series. We thought we should write something we knew about -- about our pasts. And it became servants more than anything else, because her father had been a butler. She was showing me pictures of her family one day; she had photographs of servants going to a pub in a horse-drawn bus. So the first thing we wrote about was servants going on an outing. And later we decided it wouldn't be nearly as interesting unless we included the people upstairs."
Jean herself was born in a poor section of London, the daughter of a laborer and a barmaid. From her earliest years she aimed for a show business career as the surest route out of her social class. She began as a dancer -- "I could teach classical ballet or tap if I wanted now" -- and danced in stage productions and films from the age of 7 until she gave it up at 20. As an actress, she became an instant success at 15 when she played the role of a cat opposite one of England's leading comic actors. "The play opened, and I stole the review," recalls Jean with a grin. "It was a regional theatre, and they asked me to stay in their company. It was a peak of happiness in my life. There was no time to think of money or boys or clothes or anything -- just work."
Her Broadway debut took place more than two decades ago, and over the years she has dazzled British and American audiences in an endless number of plays and movies. Classical theatre is her specialty; Jean recently completed a tour of American regional theatres with plays by Shakespeare, Shaw and Oscar Wilde.
"Regional theatres are usually more professional than Broadway. I couldn't do Twelfth Night on Broadway, but I can do it on the road and make money," she says of her favorite Shakespearean play. "At one performance, I was playing in britches and split them, and I managed to make up a rhymed couplet. Somebody came backstage and said, `How can you split your britches at exactly the same time every night?'"
Her current project is a film titled The Changeling with George C. Scott. "I leave for Canada next week to do the exteriors. I'm going to get crushed to death in the snow. I play George's wife. My role is over very quickly, but then I appear in flashback soon afterward. It's a ghost/murder mystery. My death makes him susceptible to phenomena." Asked about Scott, she says, "I've known him for about 20 years. I think he's a dear. His image seems to be spiky and alarming. People say, `How can you get along with him?' But I think he's like a teddy bear. He's adorable. Rather shy, too."
Married and divorced at an early age, Jean now lives alone and likes it. She acquired her Eastside apartment a year ago but has been unable to spend more than six weeks in it so far, due to her extensive travel. "I go out and get the bread and newspaper in my pajamas," she says.
Jean explains her amazingly youthful appearance by saying, "I'm very young in my head. I'm quite daft; I'm sillier than most people I know. I believe in God, and I believe you should lead a good life. ... One thing I'm one hundred percent for is ecology. I'm so anxious that we don't bequeath the next generation with an ugly world. I'd like them to go on the walks I have had, and breathe the air I have breathed."
|EASTSIDER JACKIE MASON||[Back to Top]|
Jackie Mason admits that the most famous thing he ever did was to be caught with one of his fingers pointing upwards on the Ed Sullivan Show. "The most famous and the least helpful," he says of the 1964 incident. "At that time there was a great wave of excitement about my type of character, because I was new and fresh and different. In those days, every comedian talked like an American; nobody talked like a Jew or a Puerto Rican or an Italian. ... There was a lot of heat to give me my own series, but all the offers were canceled after that incident."
Asked whether he actually did make an obscene gesture, the short, stocky comedian with the broad New York Jewish accent shakes his curly head. "The truth is that I didn't -- because I wouldn't be ashamed to tell you if I did. There's nothing wrong with it today. But the truth is that I was making with my fingers -- I have a very visual act, you know -- and Sullivan got panicky because President Johnson had just cut into the program, and when the camera came back on me, it looked like I was giving him some kind of message. The next day, I became headlines all over the world. ... I maintained enough success and enough imagery to be able to do all the other shows as a guest, but the sponsors were afraid to be associated with me as the star."
Jackie is telling me this in his dressing room at Dangerfield's (1118 First Avenue), where he's performing six nights a week until December 17. The affable Mason is quick to defend his caustic brand of ethnic humor. "I don't see how it can be harmful. If people do feel any prejudice, it provides an outlet for them to be able to laugh at it. The people who decry ethnic humor are afraid of their own prejudice. You remind them of the ridiculous nature of prejudice. ... Most of the things I say are universal: they're about marriage, about minorities, about social problems -- the issues of the day."
He also pokes fun at doctors, weathermen and every profession in between. Then there are his highly exaggerated impressions of Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Ed Sullivan ("He always asked me to do an impression of him on his show. He found out from me how to do him."). Another of his ploys is to razz the audience members. "In 21 years," he said, "I only had one incident where a guy got mad and wanted to punch me in the mouth. Thank God I move very fast. He wanted to kill me. Obviously he didn't catch me. That's why I'm still here for the interview."
Born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, he was raised in New York's Lower East Side from the age of 5. Following in the footsteps of three older brothers, he studied to become a rabbi to please his father. "I knew it wasn't for me. I have all license to be a rabbi, but I'm not a rabbi." A bachelor and Eastside resident, he loves New York because "this is a melting pot that doesn't really melt. There's a pot, but it's full of unmelted people."
Dangerfield's, he says, is the only club in New York where major comedians still perform. "Seven, eight, nine years ago, there was about 12 clubs that played comedians. There was the Copacabana, the Waldorf-Astoria, the Latin Quarter, the Plaza: all those rooms were wiped out." Consequently, Jackie does a lot of performing in such clubs as the Riviera in Las Vegas and the Fontainebleau in Miami. Nowadays, however, he's more interested in making movies. His first one, directed by John Avelson of Rocky fame, was "a big success without anybody seeing it." His second film, The Jerk, is now being heavily promoted for its December 14 opening. Also starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters and Catlin Adams, it is about a poor black sharecropper's adopted son (Martin) who leaves home and begins wandering on the road until he ends up at the gas station of Harry Hartounian, played by Mason.
"He's an uneducated kid who doesn't know anything," explains Jackie. "He doesn't know how to handle himself, how to talk, how to act. I give him a part-time job at my place, and I give him a room. He doesn't know what a job is, and he doesn't understand that you get paid. He never saw money. He thinks you're supposed to eat it. He's a crazy lost kid and I play the father figure."
On December 20, Jackie will appear on the Merv Griffin Show with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, the movie's director.
Jackie loves being a comedian because "I'm my own boss and I do what I like ... When young comics say it's a hard business to enter, it's because they have no talent. If a young comic has talent, he's more likely to make a big living than in any business you can think of, with comparatively less effort, and more opportunity, and greater longevity. I never saw a good comedian in this business who hasn't made a comfortable living at it."
|WEST SIDER MALACHY McCOURT||[Back to Top]|
"I never take anything seriously -- least of all myself," says Malachy McCourt, one of the wittiest, most outrageous Irish personalities in New York. "I find my life is cyclical, and so I move every five or six years from one interest to another. Now that I'm doing acting sort of full-time, I thoroughly enjoy the uncertainty of it. But I do appear almost also every Wednesday at the unemployment office at 90th Street. I do a matinee from 2:15 to 2:45."
He concludes the remarks with his customary gust of laughter. As opinionated as he is entertaining, Malachy McCourt is one of those larger-than-life characters who has mastered the art of conversation to such a degree that no matter what people think of him, they cannot help being magnetically attracted by his words.
In 1968 he had his own talk show in WOR-TV that was canceled because of the controversy it raised. From 1970 to 1976 he had a weekend show on WMCA radio, and lost that as well -- for publicly condemning the station's treatment of an employee whose job was abolished. "They called him in on a Friday at five minutes to five, and told him to clear his desk. He had been there for 28 years."
The airwaves' loss has been the theatre's gain, because in the past three years, Malachy has developed an ever-increasing reputation as a character actor. Well-known for his roles in Irish plays -- especially those by John Millington Synge -- he has also been seen recently in movies and television. His films include Two for the Seesaw and The Brink's Job, while on television, he appeared in last season's The Dain Curse with James Coburn and in Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again.
His current vehicle is The Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O'Casey, the great Irish playwright. In the role of Seamus Shields, whom Malachy describes as "a snivelling, sycophantic swine of a braggart," he is co-starring with Stephen Lang at the Off-Off Broadway Symphony Space for the Performing Arts, 95th Street and Broadway.
The action takes place in Dublin in 1920. "It was during the time of what they euphemistically call `the Troubles,'" explains Malachy in his broad, breezy irish accent. We're sitting in his Westside living room. The walls are so loaded down with books that they seem ready to collapse. "The English brought in a bunch of gangsters from their prisons, called the Black and Tans. They were paid an extraordinary amount of money to go over and pacify the country. They could do anything they pleased. You could be tortured, raped and robbed."
Born in Limerick in 1931, Malachy quit school at the age of 12. "It was an equal struggle. They couldn't teach me and I couldn't learn." He joined the Irish Army at 14, was kicked out at 15, then went to England, where he worked as a laborer prior to emigrating to the U.S. at the age of 20. His conversational brilliance soon made him famous as a saloon keeper. At one time he ran a Malachy's and a Malachy's II on the Upper East Side. "I gave it up," he quips, "for the sake of the wife and the kidneys." Now the only bartending he does is on the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope, where he is a regular. "I much prefer that. It's a fake bar, and everybody else cleans it up."
He has few happy memories of his native country. "There should not be a united Ireland," he asserts. "In the South, the government is subject to enormous pressures by the church all the time, in the areas of birth control, contraception, abortion. People should have the rights to their own bodies and their own lives. ... Consequently, those of us who escape get very savage about it. Very savage.
"Someone I was talking to the other day said, `I can't understand how you can be an atheist and have of fear of death.' I said, `I have no fear of death because I grew up with it.' It was all around. I woke up one morning when I was 5 and a half to find my brother dead beside me. Another brother had died six months before. My sister died in her crib. So therefore, what can you fear, when you know it so well? I'm alive today. I'll probably get up tomorrow. There's great comfort in the fact that we're all going to die eventually."
Asked about Daniel P. Moynihan, whom he somewhat resembles physically, Malachy describes the senator as "the Nureyev of politics. He can leap from conservative crag to liberal crag with gay abandon. A man who could serve Kennedy and compare Nixon to Disraeli must be either insane or insanely clever. I look at him and I cannot believe that this twinkly-eyed, overweight leprechaun can be so cunning."
Malachy's wife Diana -- "she's the only Smith graduate I know that became a carpenter" -- does custom carpentry work out of a shop called Space Constructs on 85th Street. Westsiders for two decades, the McCourts have two children, Conor and Cormic. One of their favorite local restaurants is Los Panchos at 71st and Columbus; it is owned by Malachy's brother Alfie.
Although Malachy has no desire to return to Ireland to live, he recommends it for tourists because "it's the last outpost of civilized conversation. The Irish have an attitude that when God made time, he made plenty of it. So for God's sake, don't be rushing around. Stand there and talk to me."
|WEST SIDER MEAT LOAF||[Back to Top]|
For several years, up until last fall, Meat loaf lived in peaceful obscurity in an apartment at 25 West 74th Street. Few people outside of his own circle knew that the name applied to a gargantuan 29-year-old singer from Texas and the rock band he headed.
A couple of months ago, Meat returned to his old neighborhood after a long absence. This time he caused a mob scene in the local supermarket, and, on escaping to his apartment, found people climbing on the window ledges trying to catch a glimpse of him. The reason? His group's first album, Bat Out Of Hell, which has sold three million copies since its release a year ago.
"I don't like to be rude to fans," says the calm, gentlemanly Meat Loaf (his legal name) during an interview at his new apartment in another part of the West Side. "I'd lie down on the floor for hours so they couldn't see me. ... People magazine printed my real name and told more or less where I lived: that's why I had to move."
Bare feet perched on the coffee table, he spreads his 275-pound, 6-foot frame evenly on the living room sofa. Although Meat's onstage image makes him out to be one of rock's meanest and toughest characters, in person he is totally devoid of arrogance, and in fact seems almost shy. Sam Ellis, Meat Loaf's glib road manager who arranged the group's recent trips to England, Germany, Canada and Australia, helps the interview along by adding his comments whenever Meat begins to reach for words.
All the songs on Bat Out Of Hell -- raucous, earthy, and intense -- were written by fellow Westsider Jim Steinman, who plays keyboard with the group. After he and Meat Loaf met in 1973, they performed together frequently, but their music met with limited success.
"People were afraid of it," says Meat. "The songs were long. The voices were loud. People in rock said it was too theatre. People in theatre said it was too rock and roll." When Meat and Jim were finally offered a contract to do an album, Steinman went to work on some new material, and wrote nearly the entire contents of Bat Out Of Hell in four months, including the gold singles Two Out of Three Ain't Bad and Paradise by the Dashboard Light -- a duet celebrating teen sexuality that has been choreographed into an 8-minute show stopper by Meat and lead female vocalist Karla DeVito. "Jim doesn't just write the songs and hand them to me. I do most of the vocal arrangements. It's really a team. It's like Sonny and Cher," says the gargantuan singer.
Brought up in Dallas under the name Marvin Lee Aday, he tipped the scales at 185 while in the fifth grade. "I was an only child and my parents always wanted two kids," he jokes. "So they set two places at the dinner table, and I ate both meals. ... I was always on the baseball team, because if they needed a base runner, they'd say, `Go in there and get hit by the ball.' I'd back up just enough so that I wouldn't get hurt."
He joined the high school choir in order to avoid study hall, and from then on, singing became his main passion. After completing high school at 15, he travelled around with a number of bands. By the time he settled down in New York, live rock music was no longer in so much demand as before. "That's one reason I went into theatre," he remarks. "Another reason was because someone hired me and I didn't have a job." As an singer and actor, Meat performed in some 10 Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, including Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which he also appeared in the 1975 film.
When Bat Out Of Hell was first released, it did not catch on immediately. But soon a couple of influential radio stations in New York City fell in love with it. Then Cleveland and Boston began to give it a lot of air time. From there, its reputation gathered momentum across the country. As a result of the slow start, Bat Out Of Hell was still climbing on the national charts nearly a year after it came out. In Australia, it was the number one album for 10 straight weeks.
This past summer the Meat Loaf band did four sellout concerts in the New York area in the space of a month. Now the band is taking it easy for a little while before returning to the studio for their second album. They plan to launch another world tour after the album is completed in March.
Meat shares his apartment with 23-year-old Candy Darling, a slender, pretty dancer/singer who will be performing in an upcoming Broadway musical, Whoopee! What does Meat Loaf like about the West Side? "I have absolutely no idea," he replies matter-of-factly. "I can't stand it anywhere else." Among his preferred Westside hangouts: O'Neal's, Gleason's, La Cantina, and Anita's Chili Parlor, all on Columbus Avenue between 71st and 73rd streets.
In spite of his meteoric rise to fame, Meat Loaf sees his overall career in a different light then his fans. "For me," he says thoughtfully, "rock and roll is not an end. I'd like to make movies someday. I want to direct. I want to produce. It's great to sell records, but this is not what I always want to do. It's just another step on the mountain."
|WESTSIDER ANN MILLER||[Back to Top]|
Sugar Babies, the rollicking burlesque musical that rolled into Broadway last fall, was one of the most-awaited shows of the year because it signalled Mickey Rooney's return to Broadway after umpteen years. Less attention was initially given to Mickey's co-star, dazzling Ann Miller, who last appeared on Broadway in 1970 as a star of Mame. Ann, it turns out, is not only a wonderful singer and comedienne, but, in her mid-50s, is still one of the best tap dancers in America. Her fancy footwork has become a prime attraction of this box-office smash.
"I was also in George White's Scandals for a year when I was 15," recalls Ann in her dressing room after a performance. "This is my third show only." For most of her career, she has lived in Beverly Hills, California. The veteran of dozens of movies, including On The Town with Frank Sinatra, Miss Miller is a larger-than-life entertainer who believes that her career comes first and foremost, ahead of personal happiness and family. Married and divorced three times, she has no children, but is an ardent animal lover.
"I have two beautiful dogs, Cinderella and Jasmine," she says in a light Southern accent. "They look exactly alike, only one is Hungarian and the other is French. My secretary walks them. ... I'm very much interested in the protection of animals. I think people treat animals very cruelly, and to me, when you adopt a dog, it's like adopting a child. My little Cinderella: she was thrown out of a car by somebody wanting to get rid of her. I found her in Cincinnati in a blizzard. She almost died and I saved her life."
By looking beyond the heavy rouge, bright red lipstick, large rhinestone earrings and fluttering false eyelashes that are part of her act, one can see that Ann appears considerably younger then her years. Sugar Babies, she points out, is not burlesque in the normal sense. "Burlesque got sleazy in the 1940s with bumps and grinds and tassel-twirlers, but that's not what we're selling. We sell, in a sense, glorified, old-fashioned, 1920s-style vaudeville, with good production numbers. And that's what burlesque was originally. ... A college professor got this together. The jokes are authentic. ... Our show is for everybody. It's not dirty at all -- not by today's standards."
There is a crowd of people waiting to see Ann after nearly every show. Rooney escapes the fans by dashing out the stage door within minutes of the final curtain. "He lives way out in New Jersey," explains Ann, who rents a hotel suite on the Upper West Side. "Mickey is married and he has 10 children. He loves them all very much. ... Mickey and I went to school together. He's a very nice person and he's a great pro. He may be a small man, but he's a giant in his own way."
Miss Miller, who likes to dine at the 21 Club, Sardi's and the Conservatory, believes that Sugar Babies is a hit "because it's timely. People are desperate to laugh. They're tired of hearing about war and the food crunch and the oil crunch. They want to be entertained."
She has written her autobiography, Miller's High Life, which is available "only in rate bookstores and in every library in the country. It isn't out in paperback yet, but there's some talk of it." Asked about a projected second volume, Miller on Tap, she says: "It will be my life; it will carry on from where the other one left off."
She has no secret for looking so young, except that she is a nonsmoker, drinks nothing stronger than wine, watches her diet, and avoids anything strenuous in the daytime, to save her energy for the show.
With her jet-black hair, pearl-white teeth, and exaggerated makeup, Ann looks more than a little exotic. This may help to explain her belief in reincarnation. "I really do have memories of Egypt. They're not in a form that I can describe. You sometimes just know things. You're born with knowing. I have been to Egypt three times, and I'm planning to go back again and again, I want to go mainly to Luxor. I'm very entranced with it. I like all the antiquities of Egypt. The present-day Egypt I have no interest in to speak of."
Ann says she doesn't like the name of her current show. "People think it's candy, because there is Sugar Babies candy," she explains, "but in the old days, babies meant beautiful show girls. The girls had sugar daddies, so they were called sugar babies."
A Texas native who began dancing professionally in New York at the age of 11, Ann says yes, she feels good about her career, but that "it's been a long struggle. The sad part is, I have wanted so much to be happy, but I have never found happiness."
Her father, who was a lawyer, left her mother when Ann was 10. Since Mrs. Miller was almost totally deaf, Ann supported them by tap dancing at Rotary Club luncheons. She retains a fear of poverty to this day. "I save all my clothes because some day I might be poor again," she says. "I have a room with nothing in it but racks of clothes. I cover them nicely, and once a year I air them out, in case they come back in style."
|WESTSIDER SHERRILL MILNES||[Back to Top]|
"In a career of my size," says baritone Sherrill Milnes, "there is no off-season. I try to hold myself to 60 performances a year -- not including recordings or dress rehearsals or private studies. ... In fact, I think I'm the most-recorded American opera singer ever, in any voice category."
We're talking in his spacious Westside apartment facing the Hudson River. I cannot help observing that Milnes, a handsome man who stands 6 foot 2 and weighs 220 pounds, with his dark hair combed straight back and wearing a blue flowered shirt, looks very much like a country and western singer. It is his chest that gives him away -- a massive, powerful chest that hints at the huge voice it supports. To deliver notes that are clearly audible throughout the largest opera houses in the world, over the sound of a full orchestra, and without amplification, is one of the most physically demanding tasks in all the performing arts. And one of the best-paying. Only a handful of singers take home, like Milnes, approximately $7,000 for each night's work.
At 44, he is in the peak of his career, and has been since he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in December, 1965. He has sung in virtually all of the world's leading opera houses, including the Paris Opera, the Hamburg State Opera, and La Scala in Milan. Asked what more he can accomplish, Milnes replies that "one hopes to become a better artist all the time. But you can only go so fast. If you make family a priority position -- which is certainly true in this case -- there are only so many hours in the day. I could be more famous, were I on television more. But it takes time. ... I don't want to sound like: he's satisfied with his career, where he is, and he doesn't want to do any more. But I have to realize that my career can no longer continue at the same rate of ascendancy."
His current show with the Met, Verdi's Don Carlo, will continue until mid-March. "This is the first time New York has heard the five-act original version," notes Milnes. "We'll be doing it in Italian. People said, `Why don't you do Don Carlo like the real original, in French?' The problem is, five years later, where do you find people who know it in French? There's a practical set of problems when, worldwide, everybody know it in Italian. I don't know if it would have been worth it for one season." Long-range planning is an important aspect of any opera singer's life. Milnes already has his schedule set up until 1984.
The main reason why Italy has declined in importance as a center for opera, says Milnes, is that the country's economic problems make it impossible for the companies to book singers years in advance. "I think America is now producing more singers than Italy, and Spain is very high on the list of producing singers."
It is to Italy that Milnes owes much of his success. "We have that phrase `Verdi baritone' -- sometimes more generically, `Italian baritone.' There's no question that Verdi treated the baritone as a special voice category, differently really than composers before him. He did a lot of title roles for the baritone voice, and really split the bass and baritone roles very much."
Widely known as an unselfish performer who gives his time freely to others, Milnes is chairman of the board of Affiliated Artists, a non-profit organization that arranges concerts across America for young, up-and-coming singers.
Born on an Illinois farm, he studied piano and violin from early childhood. In high school, he won the state music contest in five separate categories, including vocal soloist. Deciding that his voice was the instrument that showed most promise, he began his professional career as a member of a chorus attached to the Chicago Symphony. In 1960 he turned to opera. Boris Goldovsky, the opera maestro, signed him immediately, taught his willing pupil the fine points of acting in opera, and took him on five cross-country tours. Since 1962, Milnes has had practically no time for anything but singing.
A dedicated family man, he is married to soprano Nancy Stokes. The couple has a 6-year-old son, Shawn, and Milnes has two other children from a previous marriage. He has been a Westsider for almost 10 years.
Not at all snobbish about his own musical gifts, Milnes believes that singing is excellent recreation for anyone, regardless of voice quality. "I encourage people to sing in the shower. It's a great emotional outlet. Even if you're lousy, it makes you sound fantastic. When I'm on the stage, I always have that feeling that I'm never going to sound as good as I do in the shower. You can't get the same ring when you're singing to 5,000 people."
|WESTSIDER CARLOS MONTOYA||[Back to Top]|
Carlos Montoya speaks two languages. The first is music; the other is Spanish. At 74, he is the world's most famous master of flamenco -- the ancient folk music of the Spanish gypsies, which Montoya performs with dazzling speed and dexterity. On October 29 he will give a major concert at Avery Fisher Hall.
With more than 30 albums to his credit, Montoya is the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. He is thoroughly committed to his instrument. It is not merely his living, but his life. He is a pure gypsy -- "on all four sides," as the Spanish say. Maybe that explains why he likes to tour from January to May and from October to December every year, almost nonstop, across the U.S. and Canada, to South America, Europe and the Far East. He has been a Westsider since the 1940s and has rented the same Westside apartment since 1957. Yet when people ask Montoya where he lives, he is likely to reply, "On airplanes."
An American citizen for more than 30 years, he is perhaps the first persons ever to acquire citizenship after answering "no" to the question, "Do you like the American form of government?" Because of his poor English, he had misunderstood the query. He corrected himself, and that night played for President Harry Truman.
Montoya's wife, Sally, is his steady helpmate. Since their marriage in 1940, she has been his manager, interpreter and best friend. He still speaks little English, so interviews with him are often ponderous three-way affairs. When I arrived at the Montoyas' residence late one morning, he was very polite, but eager to get the interview over with. "Vamos," he said. His demeanor changed when he discovered that I was able to understand his crisp, precise Spanish when spoken slowly. We quickly dispensed with the interpreter.
Does he consider flamenco to be the highest art attainable on the guitar? Sitting upright in an overstuffed chair, he smiled benignly and said, "Not all the flamenco guitarists are artists. There are many guitarists, but in the world there are only two or three artists on the flamenco guitar. ... Most musicians are technicians. I think that to play flamenco as it should be played, you have to be an artist. The music is either very bad or very good. People who hear the performance may applaud both the technician and the artist. But afterward, if the performer was not an artist, they forget what they have heard."
The smile remained on his face, and he began to use his hands with much expression as he continued. "I carry the music inside me. I want to touch inside the heart of the public. That's what I always aim for. My music is sincere. It is very human. I believe it should be listened to closely. That is why I play concerts."
He was, in fact, the first prominent flamenco guitarist to go solo. Until Montoya started giving one-man concerts in 1948, flamenco was strictly a music to accompany singers or dancers, who added to the rhythm with castanets, snapping fingers and feverishly clicking heels. When faced with Montoya's guitar alone, the audiences did not catch on immediately. But as soon as they learned to appreciate the full range of his artistry, his career was assured.
Many of the sound effects produced by a whole flamenco group can be duplicated by Montoya alone. His left hand can play a melody and tap out a rhythm independent of what the right hand is going. To add to the excitement, Montoya never plays a piece the same way twice. One reason is that improvisation is the essence of flamenco. Another is that he has never learned to read music.
"Flamenco guitar is more popular than ever right now," said Montoya. "Young people like it; I perform at a lot of colleges. I also perform with many symphony orchestras to play my Flamenco Suite.
That composition, which Montoya co-wrote and premiered in 1996, is the first flamenco piece ever to be written for a full orchestra. The guitar sections, appropriately, allow for some improvising. Other works by Montoya, mainly his arrangements of age-old gypsy themes, have been transcribed and published for the benefit of fellow guitarists. However, as Montoya pointed out, "the style you can write. But all the notes -- it is impossible. So, my written works are simplified."
Born in Madrid, he took his first guitar lesson at the age of 8, and by his early teens was performing regularly in cafes. He toured extensively until World War II broke out, when he more or less "settled" in New York. In truth, he has never been content to settle anywhere. He spends several months each year in Spain. And when he's on tour, said his wife, "he gets restless staying around the hotel, and likes to visit all the sights in the area."
Sally Montoya, a slender, graceful native New Yorker who met Carlos while her father was working for the Foreign Service, was once a Spanish-style dancer herself, but gave it up because "I obviously didn't dance as well as Carlos plays. I'm a casualty of his success." The couple has two sons.
Except for travel, Carlos Montoya has few interests outside his work. "Music and family -- that's all," he said quietly. "To be an artist, you must be a slave to the instrument and to the public. To play the guitar is a serious thing -- not a game. To me, it is a complete life."
|WESTSIDER MELBA MOORE||[Back to Top]|
When Melba Moore recently dropped out of her co-starring role in the Broadway hit musical Timbuktu, there was a lot of speculation as to the reason why. Some observers suggested that Eartha Kitt, the biggest box-office draw, did not like to share the billing with a performer of Melba's caliber.
Melba herself has a simpler explanation: seven months of one show is enough, and she had too many other things to do -- promoting her new album, preparing for another Broadway musical, doing her first lead role in a movie, going on a concert tour, making guest appearances on television, and taking care of her 16-month-old daughter Charli.
"Honey, I could join the Olympics with all I do," says Melba one afternoon at the comfortable midtown office that is used as the nerve center for her multiple activities. She is dressed in a striped hat, a white shirt and a bright red necktie. Easing her slender form onto the couch, she looks smaller, younger, and more beautiful in person than her photographs indicate. I remark on her flashy necktie, and Melba, using her hands expressively while she speaks, tells with amusement how she saw it on the collar of a salesman at Fiorucci's and said to him, "I want that tie."
Melba's first professional stage role was in Hair; from 1968 to 1970 she rose up through the chorus to win the female lead. "I have no hard-luck stories," she says, in her clear, nearly accentless voice. "From Hair, I went right into Purlie." That was the role that earned her the 1970 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress and the New York Drama Critics' and Drama Desk Awards.
Melba was born 32 years ago on West 108th Street. Both her parents were entertainers, and Melba began singing at the age of 4. At college she majored in music, and upon graduation, taking the advice of her parents to "get some security," she taught school for a year. But soon a burning desire to get into show business took hold of her, and she quit teaching. "Ever since that day," she recalls, "even before I got my first singing job, the whole world looked better to me."
It was while working as a studio singer that she was given an audition for Hair, and since then her story has been a virtually unbroken success. Melba has starred in numerous television shows, including her own summer series for CBS and an ABC special on the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Better known for her singing than her acting, Melba has recorded nine albums and has received a Grammy nomination. Her most remarkable vocal feat, however, was probably her one-woman concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in December 1976, which won her rave notices from every music critic in town. In the concert, she performed everything from ballads to rock to opera.
"Singing opera actually rests my voice," says Melba. "It's like doing vocal exercises." Equally at home in a nightclub or a concert hall, she has demonstrated her four-octave range with many of America's leading orchestras.
Her new album, released late in September by Epic Records and titled simply Melba Moore, contains both disco songs and straight ballads. One of the cuts, "You Stepped Into My Life," is out as a single. Another cut is "The Greatest," from a film about Muhammad Ali. "No, I didn't sing it in the movie, but I am an Ali fan. I'm a fight fan. I turn on the cable and watch everyone -- flyweights, everybody. People I've never hard of."
Her new movie, Purlie, in which Melba will recreate her Broadway smash success, is scheduled to begin filming this November in the countryside of Georgia. Melba plays the orphan Lutibelle Gussiemae Jenkins. After the movie, she will devote most of her time to a new musical, Harlem Renaissance, which is planned to reach Broadway next spring.
The day after she quit Timbuktu, Melba headed for Acapulco to be one of the judges in the Miss Universe Pageant. "They said there were going to be 600 million people watching, so I made sure my nose was powdered. ... They worked us from sunup to sunup, but I did manage to get a little suntan," she says teasingly, showing me a patch of light brown skin directly under her top shirt button.
Married for the past five years to restaurateur Charles Huggins, Melba is overjoyed to have a child at last -- "we have been waiting for her" -- and spends as much time as she can with her daughter. A Westsider off and on for most of her life, Melba is fond of shopping at Vim and Vigor Health Foods (57th Street near the Carnegie Recital Hall), then going next door to the Merit Farm Store, where she buys her favorite junk food.
Of all her accomplishments in the last 10 years, Melba is perhaps proudest of her involvement with an international television series for children, Big Blue Marble, which is currently being shown in 78 countries.
"I'm very much into international things," says Melba, "I have appeared in some of the segments, but basically my role is to let people know about it. ... In some way, we hope that the program can help promote peace and understanding to these children -- while they're still at a vulnerable age."
|WESTSIDER MICHAEL MORIARTY||[Back to Top]|
When Michael Moriarty rose to national stardom last year with his chilling portrayal of SS Officer Dorf in the NBC miniseries Holocaust, his performance was witnessed by some 120 million Americans. His current vehicle, G.R. Point at the Playhouse Theatre on West 48th Street plays to a maximum audience of 500. Yet, in the lead role of Micah Bradstreet, a wet-behind-the-ears soldier from rural Maine, Moriarty delivers what Clive Barnes of the New York Post has said is "the best performance, so far, of his career."
G.R. Point is a play about the Vietnam War and its effects on those who are forced to partake in it. Set on a strikingly designed stage built to resemble a devastated hillside, the play demonstrates how each of the eight characters manages to cope with his predicament in his own way. Its message is summed up in the final words of the drama, spoken to Micah as he departs for the U.S.: he is told to "count the living, not the dead."
"One of the main reasons I wanted to do this play is that it affirms life," says Moriarty, in a dressing room interview just before a performance. "It doesn't take any specific political stance, but it doesn't avoid any of the horrors of war. Its only stance is: in the end, what overcomes the situation is love. And love sometimes shows itself in the strangest, most bizarre ways."
He is tall and solidly built, looking somewhat younger than his 38 years, and though his demeanor has an edge of shyness to it, Moriarty's penetrating eyes reveal that much is going on beneath the surface. Asked about his personal views on Vietnam, the actor replies, "I'm not an intellectual, so I have no specific feelings about it." But his conversation soon reveals him to be a deep thinker and a wit besides, whose remarks are tempered as much by humility as by professional instinct.
"Whatever I could say about the war has been better stated by David Berry, the playwright. I'm able to show my emotional response to the war through Micah Bradstreet. ... I'm not trying to influence anyone in any way in particular. I do think the play tells the truth about Vietnam. So the more information people have, the better decisions they can make."
Moriarty's decision to become a dramatic actor can be traced to his undergraduate days at Dartmouth College, when he was overwhelmed by Paul Scofield's performance in Love's Labor Lost. Following graduation, he won a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In 1974, after years of perfecting his craft in theatres across America, he picked up the first of his two Tony Awards for his performances in Find Your Way Home. Equally skilled at television acting, he is the recipient of two Emmys, including one for Holocaust.
A Detroit native of Scandinavian and Irish ancestry, Moriarty attends Catholic mass regularly, and finds much inspiration in the Bible, both spiritual and literary. His chief hobby is music: he is a polished singer/pianist/songwriter who frequently performs in the city's leading nightclubs between acting assignments. Asked whether he would consider teaming up with octogenarian blues singer Alberta Hunter at the Cookery in Greenwich Village, he replies with a laugh, "That's very heavy company. I'll cook and she'll sing." He usually practices in the morning. "I'll ramble over the piano and play some easy music. It's purely according to my libido. You might call it ad libido. Hey, not bad! How's that for an album title?"
Another of his talents is writing plays. Although hesitant to discuss this up-and-coming aspect of his career, Moriarty finally admits that one of his plays was recently read dramatically at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, under the direction of Ben Levit. "It was none of my doing. I sat back, and it all happened before my very eyes. I was astonished, and pleased, and proud, and in no great hurry to see it produced except by this director -- if he wants to."
Long a devotee of Shakespeare, Moriarty founded his own non-profit Shakespearean company, Potter's Field, in 1977. He and his group perform free each Sunday in Central Park near the statue of Sir Walter Scott, weather permitting.
In response to a question about the West Side, where he has lived for the past five years, Moriarty says that "you can walk one block and encounter everything the world should either be proud of or ashamed of." His favorite local restaurants include Coq du Vin on 8th Avenue and O'Neal's Balloon at 6th Avenue and 57th Street. "Pat O'Neal and I crack jokes about my career as a waiter. I worked at O'Neal's off and on for about four years. I was terrible! They kept me on out of sheer compassion. I guess I became an endearing lunkhead."
Other goals? "None that I'd care to mention," says Moriarty, smiling softly. "All the other ones are neurotic, and I don't want to expose them. I've done it too often. In my neuroses, I think, `Gee, I'd like to do that or this.' But in my higher self, I have no unfulfilled needs."
|WESTSIDER LeROY NEIMAN||[Back to Top]|
Like Norman Rockwell before him, LeRoy Neiman has the distinction of being one of the very few American artists whose work is familiar to practically everybody in the country -- rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural, educated and illiterate.
This is as far as their similarity goes, however. Rockwell, who died in November, 1978 at the age of 84, was known for his meticulously detailed, placid portraits of American family life, while Neiman has built his reputation on action-filled scenes composed of bold splashes of color. Rockwell's career started and ended at the Saturday Evening Post; Neiman's began at Playboy and has reached its zenith in an entirely new medium -- television. His televised mural of the 1976 Olympic Games was seen by an estimated 170 million people.
One of the most commercially successful artists in the world, LeRoy Neiman has spent the last 18 years living and working in a huge apartment/studio just off Central Park West. His original paintings command up to $50,000 each, but the larger portion of his work comes out in the form of limited-edition serigraphs (silkscreen prints). A single piece of silkscreen art generally yields some 300 prints, each of which sells for about $1,500.
Neiman's eye-catching style is admired everywhere. His posters and calendars are best-sellers in Japan; several of his painting are on permanent display at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. He was the official United States artist-in-residence for the last two Olympics and will be for the 1980 Games as well. Although best known for his sports pictures, Neiman is also a renowned portraitist who specializes in famous faces. He is attracted by drama and excitement of any kind, whether found in a tavern inhabited by the Beautiful People, in a heavyweight fight, in a world chess championship, or, as television viewers witnessed last January, in a Super Bowl. Neiman sat on the sidelines of that contest drawing pictures of the game in progress, using a computer-controlled electronic pen and palette. The pictures were then flashed onto the television screen.
"It's painting with light," explains Neiman one morning in his studio, taking a break from the half-dozen oils and acrylics he is working on. "It gives you the same sense of creation as any other art medium. You're building and creating an image of your own that wasn't there when you started. The only limitation you ever have in doing a work of art is yourself."
Starting this month, Neiman's work has become a regular feature of CBS Sports Spectacular. At the beginning and end of each program, Neiman's paintings are interspersed with photographs of athletes to form a moving collage of colors and shapes. The artist has been contracted to make six or seven personal appearances on the program over the next year, in which he will demonstrate the art of drawing sports in action.
Neiman is a suave, sophisticated man who loves his work and loves to talk about it. Dressed in a fancy denim-style suit, with a long, thin cigar protruding from under his handlebar moustache, he expounds on a score of subjects as if he had all the time in the world. In the adjacent room, the telephone rings almost unceasingly. It is answered by his assistant, who calls out the message to him. More likely than not, it is a request for Neiman's artistic services.
"I sketch all the time," he says. "A sketch is not necessarily a study to me. It's a record -- something to consult with. I sketch an awful lot in public. Because when I go someplace and I get bored, I sketch. Everybody forgives me for it. They think I have an uncontrollable desire to draw."
His style, says Neiman, "came out of nowhere. It happened very suddenly, about 1954, just before I started with Playboy." That magazine recently honored him with an award for being one of the five most important contributors in its 25-year history.
During his childhood in Minnesota, recalls Neiman, "I was always drawing pictures and getting special treatment at school -- showing off, copping out of other things. ... I lived a couple of years in England and France." since moving to New York, he has been a constant Westsider. Central Park, says Neiman, "is the West Side's front yard, but the East Side's back yard."
Neiman's latest one-man show is an exhibit of approximately 50 serigraphs, etching, and drawings at Hammer Graphics on East 57th Street. Part of the proceeds from sales will go to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"I turn most things down, because they're not stimulating and inspiring," says Neiman matter-of-factly. "Money isn't enough stimulus to do something I don't like. ... I work very hard. I fool around a lot too, but I don't go on vacations. I don't have hobbies. I put my vices within my craft."
|WESTSIDER ARNOLD NEWMAN||[Back to Top]|
When the Sunday Times of London decided to hire someone to photograph 50 leading British citizens for a show at England's National Portrait Gallery, the venerable newspaper caused something of an uproar by choosing an American for the job -- Arnold Newman, one of the world's most important portrait photographers for the past 30 years.
The 50 portraits, whose subjects include Sir Lawrence Oliver, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness, Henry Moore, Lord Mountbatten and Harold Pinter, were exhibited last month at the Light Gallery on Fifth Avenue, and have just opened in London. Meanwhile, the book version of the prints, with extensive commentary, has been published this month as The Great British (New York Graphic Society, Boston, $14.95). The photographs, like those found in Newman's three previous books and in his hundreds of assignments for Life, Look, Newsweek and other publications, are far more than mere portraits. Rather, they are profound artistic statements, in which the background of the picture often symbolizes the person's achievement.
"I don't use props: I use reality," explains Newman, taking a break at the West 57th Street studio he has occupied since 1948. On the wall are pictures -- he prefers that word to "photographs" -- of Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Eugene O'Neill and four American presidents; Newman has photographed every president since Truman.
Big, burly, mellow-voiced and casually dressed, Arnold Newman at 61 looks like an aging beatnik. His quick wit and ready laugh mask a perfectionism that has characterized his work ever since he turned to photography in 1938. His ability "to make the camera see what I saw" showed itself almost at once. In 1941 he held his first exhibition and sold his first print to the Museum of Modern Art.
"I could have made, over the years, a hell of a lot more money than I have, simply by doing more commercial work and cashing in on my reputation. But that doesn't interest me," he reflects, puffing on his ever-present cigar. "I mean, money interests me, but I'd just see my life being wasted."
Specializing in portraits of artists, he studies the work of each subject intensely beforehand so that the essence of the artist will be distilled into the photograph, by subconscious as well as conscious effort. On the side, he does enough commercial work to support his own artistic efforts. But over the years, the two have somehow merged: "I'm forever being commissioned for things I'd give my eye teeth to do, and paid very well for it. Recently I went out to do a photograph strictly on my own of somebody I admired, and I hate the picture. Yet the day before I did a picture for money which I think is one of my best pictures in the last three years."
In 1953, he went to Washington to photograph 15 U.S. senators for Holiday magazine, including John F. Kennedy -- then a political unknown who was sometimes labeled the Playboy senator. "Years later," recalls Newman, "I was photographing President Kennedy on the White House lawn. He turned to me and said, `Arnold, whatever happened to that first picture you took of me?'
"I said, `Well, Mr. President, we did 15 senators, and they found out they had one too many for the layout, so they dropped the one least likely to succeed.'
"And you have to understand: we were surrounded by secret servicemen, and Pierre Salinger, his press secretary, was there. Well I thought I'd get a big yack, because Kennedy had a marvelous sense of humor. But instead, his face went rigid. And I -- I absolutely turned ice cold. The Secret Service men turned around and gave me a `How stupid can you be?' look.
"A bit later I managed to get into Pierre's office and started stammering and apologizing. Suddenly Pierre started breaking out in laughter. I said, `What the hell's so funny?' He said, `He was pulling your leg! He's been walking all around the White House for the last 30 minutes, telling that story on himself.'"
After the assassination, Newman was called to the White House again to photograph the official portrait of Lyndon Johnson. "He could give an angel an ulcer. ... I didn't get paid for the picture, not even my expenses. It cost me a fortune."
Arnold and his wife Augusta have been married for 31 years; she runs the studio and works closely with him. Their two sons, Eric and David, are professionals in neurology and architecture, respectively. The Newmans' favorite neighborhood restaurants include Rikyu and Genghiz Khan's Bicycle on Columbus Avenue, and the Cafe des Artistes on their own block.
Asked whether he eventually plans to pursue other areas of photography besides portraits, Newman shakes his head. "The whole history of painting was changed by a man who used the same materials as everybody else did -- the same brushes, paints, canvas, and subject matter," he explains. "So why do we say that Cezanne revolutionized painting? It's his ideas. I deal with ideas too."
|EASTSIDER EDWIN NEWMAN||[Back to Top]|
"When you achieve a certain prominence on television," says NBC's Edwin Newman, "publishers come to you and ask you to write books. Then you go round in circles for a while, and finally say, `Gee, I'd like to write a book, but I don't have the time.'"
Six years ago, the award-winning broadcast journalist decided to find out if he was bluffing himself. He spent seven months of his spare time writing a book called Strictly Speaking: Will America be the Death of English? Published in 1974 when Newman was 55 years old, it became the nation's number one best-seller for non-fiction. His follow-up book, A Civil Tongue (1976), was another best-seller.
Now Edwin newman has written his first novel, Sunday Punch (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95). Published in June, it has already gone through two printings in hardcover, totaling 60,000 copies. The Atlantic has described the book as "a Wodehousian excursion that is lighter than air and twice as much fun as laughing gas."
In a leisurely interview at his Rockefeller Plaza office, the author comes across very much as he does on television. His leathery features expand easily into a smile as he delivers, in his slow, concise, foghorn voice, comments that are as thought-provoking as they are witty.
Sunday Punch, he says, "is the story of an extremely thin, tall, British prizefighter named Aubrey Philpott-Grimes who comes to the U.S. to fight because he can make more money here than in Britain. The more money he makes, the higher taxes he can pay, and Aubrey is a great believer in paying taxes. He is tremendously interested in economics, so that if he is brought to the microphone after a fight, he'll probably start talking about structural unemployment and floating exchange rates, rather than talking about fighting. ... The book allows me to comment on the United States from the view of an outsider."
His fascination with the cultural and linguistic differences of the U.S. and England dates back to the late 1940s, when Newman left his job with the Washington-based International News Service and moved to London. There, he found work as a "stringer" for the NBC network, and when he was invited to join the full-time staff in 1952, he remained at the British capital for five more years. In 1961, after serving as NBC bureau chief in both Paris and Rome, he returned to his native Manhattan and settled into his present Eastside apartment with his English wife, Rigel. The Newmans' daughter Nancy was educated entirely in England.
A harsh critic of the state of the language in America today, Newman is the head of the Usage Panel for the American Heritage Dictionary. He is always being sent examples of poor English. "Do you want to know what accountability is?" he says, his eyes crinkling with amusement as he takes a letter from his desk. "This is from a teachers' committee in Kalamazoo, Michigan. `Accountability is a concept that, when operationalized, finds the interrelatedness and parameters of responsibility shaped by individuals within the system.'
"It seems to me there are two movements going on that affect language in the United States, and it's curious that they would be going on at the same time, because in a way they conflict with each other. One is the increasing use of jargon and pomposity, which can partly traced to the size of the government. As the government grows, this kind of language grows. ... The more technical they make the language sound, the more money they're likely to earn.
"Then you have the influence of the social sciences, where exactly the same thing goes on. People attempt to take familiar ideas, small ideas, and in some cases no ideas, and make them sound large by wrapping them up in grandiose language.
"The other movement that is going on is based on the notion that correct, specific, concrete language doesn't matter very much. What matters is that your heart be in the right place. ... This idea was thoroughly welcome to many people in education. For one thing, it means that you have less written work to correct. And also, of course, if you don't have to teach correct English, you don't have to know it."
During his 28 years as an NBC news correspondent, Edwin Newman has excelled in so many areas that he has become known as the network's "Renaissance man." One of the most quick-thinking ad-libbers on the air, he is frequently called upon to do live "instant specials" of breaking news. He moderated the first Ford-Carter debate in 1976, has hosted the Today Show numerous times, has covered six national political conventions and reported from 35 foreign countries. Each Monday through Friday, he is heard on both radio and television across the U.S. in a series of news briefs.
His biggest project at the moment is a two-hour, prime-time documentary on U.S. foreign policy, which is scheduled to be aired early in September.
"I think in some way," concludes Newman, "I fell into the right profession. Somebody said -- I think it was H.L. Mencken -- that you go into the news business because it gives you a front-row seat. And he might have added that not only does it give you a front row seat, but you get the seat free."
|EASTSIDER LARRY O'BRIEN||[Back to Top]|
Fame rests lightly on the shoulders of Larry O'Brien, who was raised on politics in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and never sought elective office for himself, yet became one of the Democratic Party's most influential spokesmen for nearly two decades.
As a campaign manager, he propelled John F. Kennedy into the Senate and then into the White House. He served as postmaster general under President Johnson from 1965 to 1968, and was twice named chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a post traditionally given to the party's foremost political strategist. His name loomed large in the Watergate hearings, for it was O'Brien whose office was broken into by the original Watergate burglars.
He was in the news again in 1974, when, having retired from politics, he published his autobiography, No Final Victories. Expecting to be out of the public eye after that, O'Brien was astonished to be offered the job of commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Now midway through his fifth season, he has not only resolved the major disputes that threatened the future of professional basketball, but has brought a new vitality to the sport.
The NBA's headquarters, a plush suite of office high above Fifth Avenue, is silent and practically empty on the afternoon of my appointment with the commissioner. A gregarious host, he talks about basketball and politics for nearly two hours in his effusive manner, while chain-smoking low-tar cigarettes. He is a hearty, husky man with a basso voice that rarely alters in pitch, and is as casual as a bartender.
Brought up in the town where basketball was invented, the son of Irish immigrants, he worked his way through law school by tending bar in his father's cafe in the daytime and taking classes at night. One of the most trusted of politicians, known for his uncommon organizational abilities and his gift for compromise, O'Brien is a fascinatingly long-winded conversationalist who speaks with many digressions.
"The sports commissioner is somewhat unique. First of all, you are paid by the owners, and you are expected to be as responsive as you can to the fans -- to do everything possible to ensure that the game is presented in the best conceivable way to the fans, and the most exciting and interesting manner, because after all, this is business."
During the Kennedy and Johnson White House years, he served as presidential liaison to Congress and helped win passage of the Peace Corps, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As commissioner, his authority is all-powerful. "It goes to supervision of every aspect of the game, on and off the court," he explains. "It goes to determining even what time games are played and who plays them."
Attendance in the NBA has risen considerably this year; O'Brien cheerfully attributes it to the resurgence of the Boston Celtics and the improvement of the New York Knicks.
Recently Dallas was granted a franchise to create a new NBA team, the 23rd in the U.S. "If there were further expansion beyond 24 teams," O'Brien predicts, "I think it would take on an international flavor. ... There are a number of countries in Europe that are playing quality basketball at the professional level. I envision that by the mid-80s, you would find countries in Europe that could be competitive with us. Probably the first step would be only exhibitions, but I can see it reaching a point where you could give serious thought to establishing another conference perhaps."
Larry and his wife Elva have been married since 1944; their son Laurence III is a Washington-based lawyer. An Eastside resident during most of the last seven years, O'Brien recalls the Watergate break-in with grim humor. "We didn't have anything in the office anyway. We were practically bankrupt. I thought, maybe there's a typewriter missing. ... I was a disbeliever. It took a long time for it to penetrate that this was real. ... My best recollection of that period is that I was very depressed, in the sense of what effects it was having on our system of government.
"When I was on my book promotion tour, people would ask, `How does it feel to be a politician?' as if it was a dirty word. I have always been proud of being a politician, and I've never felt otherwise. But I found that all of us involved in politics were painted with the same brush."
His mood brightens when the subject returns to basketball. Speaking of the recent backboard-shattering antics of "Chocolate Thunder" Darryl Dawkins, O'Brien reports that the star "said that he certainly could adjust his dunk shot to prevent further incidents."
The most difficult aspect of his job so far, says O'Brien, has been to enforce the compensation agreement that players and owners signed four years ago. "Compensation means that when a player has terminated his contractual obligations to a club, the new club that acquires him must make compensation to the other team, and work that out between them. And then if the two teams fail to reach an agreement, the case comes to me and I determine what compensation is appropriate. In making the losing club whole, I can assign draft choices, players, money, or any combination thereof. It's extremely difficult -- weighing players against players, and deciding how much money is valid compensation. There's no sure way of doing it, unless you were Solomon or you had a crystal ball as to how it would turn out."
|WESTSIDER MAUREEN O'SULLIVAN||[Back to Top]|
As recently as 10 years ago, most of the motion pictures filmed in this country had a single run at the theatres, and then were seldom seen or heard from again.
Television has changed that. Now, with longer broadcasting hours and the abundance of new channels, vintage movies are enjoying a second life, often with a bigger audience than the first time. Maybe that's why the name Maureen O'Sullivan is practically a household word even today. Between 1930 and 1965 she made dozens of films, ranging from Marx Brothers comedy (A Day At The Races) to classics of English literature (David Copperfield, Pride and Prejudice) to Tarzan films, in which she played Jane.
But unlike so many of her contemporaries, Maureen is neither dead nor retired. She maintains a busy schedule of acting, writing, traveling, and enjoying her status as a mother of five and a grandmother of many.
Maureen shows me around her large, beautiful apartment facing Central Park, right across the hallway from Basil Rathbone's last home. "I keep this part for the children," she says, indicating a section of several rooms. There are photos of her children everywhere, including a good number of her actress daughters Mia and Tisa Farrow. Mia lives in England and Tisa is in California, but they still get together frequently.
"I'm doing an autobiography now. It's about halfway done. My agent has the manuscript. But I'm not writing any more until I see if there's any interest in it. ... I started it two years ago, then put it away. I wasn't even interested in it myself. Then a friend of mine, John Springer, had me to lunch. He said, `You ought to do an autobiography.' I said I had already started one. ... So I went back and worked on it some more, and condensed it into 10 pages. I had to do it myself -- every word, syllable, comma."
She recently spent five weeks in upstate New York playing one of the leads in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. The critics had nothing but praise for her portrayal of the ambitious mother, and one described Maureen's acting as "genius."
The stage is not the only place where Maureen employs her dramatic talents. Shortly after completing the Williams play, she went to Albany, New York to do a reading from The Wayward Bus for the state legislature. "They're trying to get a new bill through Congress to get money for a program for more halfway houses for women alcoholics," she explains. "I believe in that kind of thing."
One of the last plays she did in New York City was No Sex Please -- We're British. It was a hit in London, and the preview performances were doing well enough in New York to call for an official Broadway opening. "Then [drama critic] Clive Barnes came to the producer and said, `If you have an opening you'll have a disaster, because the critics won't like it.' And he was right. As soon as the reviews came out, the theatre emptied. In the previews, the audiences loved it. The critics made a big thing out of opening night. In London, I don't think the public pays that much attention to the critics. The average person there doesn't read the reviews."
Perhaps it's the singing lessons she has never stopped taking that account for her pure lyrical speaking voice, which is still as sweet as it was when she made her first film, Song of My Heart, nearly 50 years ago. Though Maureen's soft British accent gives no hint of it, she was brought up in Dublin, Ireland. While working as a young actress in England she was discovered by an American producer and brought to the U.S. to do her first movie with famed tenor John McCormack. After that her career blossomed.
Any comment on the Tarzan films for which she became famous? "I made five. They have been remembered. I'm glad to be remembered for something. Let's leave it at that."
These days, while Maureen is waiting to hear about her autobiography, she is working on some short stories. Two have appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal. "I have no special goals," she says. "One thing leads to another. Supposing my theatrical career came to an end, I'd like to open an antique shop in Vermont, and write, and paint -- I always have -- and sew. If you can do one art, you can do them all. It's different ways of saying the same thing.
"I'm a special type of grandmother. At the theatre, I like to take the children backstage. And in New York, I take them in a horse and buggy around the park, or for tea at the Plaza. In that way, I can bring color into their lives."
Maureen has been a Westsider for the past 15 years. "I'm very fond of Mal the Tailor, on 72nd near Columbus. And Mr. Walsh the florist. O'Neal's Balloon. The Pioneer Market. They're all on 72nd Street. That's my beat."
She walks toward the window. "I love this view. The park is different every time of the year. Now it's all covered with snow. Pretty soon the buds will be all over the trees." She smiles contentedly. "I really think that if I had to leave the West Side I'd leave New York. Because to me, this is New York."
|WESTSIDER BETSY PALMER||[Back to Top]|
"Oh, do you take shorthand?" said Betsy Palmer as we sat down in her dressing room to chat between shows. "I could always read and write shorthand. I worked for the B & O Railroad as a stenographer before I went away to school and learned acting. I guess if I had to, I could brush up and go back to it."
It's most unlikely that she'll ever have to. Even if her Tony Award-winning play, Same Time, Next Year, should happen to close, Betsy would find herself swamped with offers for choice acting roles. But her hit show about the lighter side of adultery won't be closing for a long time yet. It is currently being made into a film starring Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda.
"A lot of people think of me as a personality rather than an actress, and when they come to see me they expect to see that personality," says Palmer, who has one of the more recognizable names and faces on Broadway. "Mostly people know me from panel shows. It's been a double-edged sword for me. When they see me doing something that's really dramatic, they say, `My God, she can act!'"
She has made countless appearances on What's My Line?, Girl Talk and The Today Show, but to most television viewers she is best remembered as the bright, beautiful, All-American girl who for 11 years was a panelist on I've Got a Secret.
During her years of TV stardom Betsy was doing plenty of serious acting -- everything from Shakespeare to Peter Pan to Ibsen. She has made five Hollywood films and performed the lead in numerous Broadway shows, including South Pacific, Cactus Flower and Tennessee Williams' Eccentricities of a Nightingale. Few of her roles, however, have been as demanding as Doris in Same Time, Next Year.
To begin with, she and her co-star, Monte Markham, are the only characters in the play. Second, the play's action takes place over a period of 25 years, in which Doris goes through momentous changes. In doing this transformation smoothly, Betsy creates a character so believable and lovable that the audience forgives her for cheating on her husband, which she does one weekend a year in order to meet her lover George.
"Doing the play takes all my energy.I'm a single woman now, and have been for three years. But if I were involved with somebody now, it would take up a lot of my energies. So it doesn't bother me; when the time comes for me to be involved, I will be. Right now, I'm really quite satisfied to come here six days a week and have a fantasy life. It has all the good things in it and none of the bad things. ... It gives you such a rainbow of colors to express yourself within, that I find it terribly rewarding and gratifying. I am never bored with the show."
George, like Doris, is married and has three children, and he too goes through drastic changes of attitude during the time period from 1951 to 1976. But while George wins the audience's respect and sympathy, Doris steals their hearts.
"I get out there and I feel such love. All of a sudden they begin to adore her. They're watching her spread her wings and finally fly. ... The adultery is done with such taste. You see two people who really love their respective mates, and their children."
In her cozy backstage room at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, which is decorated with Christmas lights, Betsy demonstrates an overbubbling friendliness and an extremely fluent style of speech. An interview with her is both a pleasure and a challenge, for she talks about each subject with an enthusiasm that makes it hard for anyone to interrupt and go on to the next question.
Her memories of those panel shows? "You know, we used to do Secret right in this theatre. We must have done it here five, six, seven years easily. There are a lot of guys here now, on the backstage crew, who were here with Secret. It's nice to be working with them again. ... But I'm not interested in the past. The past is an illusion, as is the future."
Betsy has been an off-and-on Westside resident ever since she first came to New York in 1951. When doing Same Time, Next Year she is subletting a friend's apartment on Riverside Drive. Her 16-year-old daughter frequently comes down from Connecticut to spend time with her on the West Side.
"I've lived on the East Side but my preference is the West Side. Let's face it, Broadway's on the West Side. Where Broadway is is where my heart is." Flowers by Edith (69th and B'way) is one of Betsy's best-loved Westside establishments. "I've become very good friends with her. I've gone to her house to parties."
In response to an obvious question, Betsy scolds gently: "Never ask an actress what she's going to do next. Opera stars say, `You know, I've got this opera lined up, then this one, then this,' but an actress doesn't usually know. ... I just hope that the next play I'm able to do will have a lot of humanity in it, like this one. It's not enough to get a bunch of laughs. You've got to be touched inside."
|WESTSIDER JAN PEERCE||[Back to Top]|
In December 1979, in a benefit concert at the Alvin Theatre, about a dozen Broadway stars of the past and present strode to the microphone to sing some of the songs they made famous. John Raitt, Alan Jones, Jack Gilford, Michael Moriarty, Delores Wilson and others received waves of enthusiastic applause from the packed house. But when a short, stocky, barrel-chested man with thick eyeglasses and a nose like Jimmy Durante's shuffled to center stage, the audience didn't merely cheer: it erupted. And when 75-year-old Jan Peerce finished his two arias, he was prevailed upon to give the only encore of the evening. Appropriately enough, his choice was "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, the show in which he made his Broadway debut at the age of 67.
Although Peerce has been one of America's most beloved singers for almost half a century, it was not for sentimental reasons alone that he was treated with such acclaim that evening. He still has one of the clearest, strongest, sweetest tenor voices in the business, and his repertoire is enormous. Besides arias and showtunes, he performs ballads, German lieder, French contemporary songs, cantorial and oratory music with equal facility. In order to keep his voice in top form, he now limits his concerts to about 50 a year, but last summer, on a tour of Australia, he did 17 concerts in 21 days.
"I vocalize every day of my life, I keep observing the laws of decent living, and I face every booking as it was my first," he says in a recent telephone interview, contacted at his Westside apartment. "I believe in the adage that the show must go on, but you must not go out at the expense of your health, or impair the quality of your voice by singing against nature."
This fall will find him doing a one-man show at Carnegie Hall. In addition to his regular schedule of cross-country concerts, he makes cruises of the Caribbean several times each year aboard the SS Rotterdam.
His parents were Orthodox Jews who had immigrated from Russia, and they were able to afford violin lessons for him by taking in lodgers at the Lower East Side apartment where he grew up. Born under the name Jacob Pincus Perelmuth, he began his career working primarily as a violinist and bandleader in the Catskills. In 1929 he married his childhood sweetheart, Alice Kalmanowitz, and three years later was discovered by the great showman Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, who hired him as a featured singer at the new Radio City Music Hall.
"People on Broadway said I belonged in opera," recalls Peerce, "and opera people said I belonged on Broadway. But when Roxy gave me my break, things began to happen. And then came Toscanini. He hired me to sing with his NBC Symphony of the Air. And when he accepted me, that sort of clinched things. People said, "If he's good enough for Toscanini, this guy must be good.'"
For 15 years, Arturo Toscanini preferred Peerce to all other tenors in the world. Meanwhile, in 1941, Peerce had joined the Metropolitan Opera. There he sang the major tenor roles up until 1968, when, after losing the sight in one eye, he retired from the Met and began to concentrate on recitals. In 1976 he published his memoirs, The Bluebird of Happiness, named after his recording that has sold 1.5 million copies. Peerce has made dozens of other recordings, including many complete operas.
A deeply religious man, long noted for his humanitarian efforts, Peerce is particularly supportive of Bonds for Israel. "My wife Alice is the only woman on the board of governors. She's the chairperson," he says proudly. "It's to help Israel build and keep building, and develop to the point where she belongs. She's growing beautifully, and she will grow even more."
The Peerces, who have two daughters and a son, maintain a house in New Rochelle as well as the Westside apartment that they have had for the past 15 years. Although Jan Peerce stopped playing the violin long ago, he is still a dues-paying member of the local violinists' union. "One day I asked them if they could give me an honorary membership," he chuckles, revealing his famous offbeat humor. "They said they were very sorry, they couldn't do it. I said why not, and they said, `All our honorary members are dead.'"
Another time, when he was the guest of honor at a dinner party, the hostess, seated next to him, chatted with such energy that Peerce had trouble getting in a single word. He got his chance when the waiter brought around a tray of assorted salad dressings. The gabby woman asked, "Mr. Peerce, how do you usually eat your salad?"
"In complete silence, madame," he replied.
Of the dozens of conductors he has worked with, Peerce is quick to name Toscanini his favorite. "First of all, he was a great man, and second of all, he was a genius musically. He had no tricks, except that he had a certain vision about the music. He made everybody sing or play as the composer meant it to be. And that was the secret of his success. He was an inspiration to anybody who worked with him or under him."
|EASTSIDER GEORGE PLIMPTON||[Back to Top]|
It was an unusual statement to come from a man who has made a career out of fearing nothing. "I'm scared to death every time I sit down at a typewriter," confessed George Plimpton, who, in his 20 years as America's foremost "participatory journalist," has played football with the Detroit Lions, fought the light heavyweight champion of the world, pitched to major league baseball players, raced cars internationally, and performed with the New York Philharmonic as a percussionist.
"Sometimes you can do it, and sometimes it's not there," continued Plimpton, leaning back in the desk chair at his Eastside apartment. "It's very hard to work alone. There's the television set, and all these books, and your son and daughter in the next room. Sometimes I have to get away. So I go to bars and I sit in a corner and write. You're trapped in there. There's nothing else to do but write."
As we sat talking, the telephone rang frequently, and Plimpton, apologizing for the interruption, spoke to the callers with widely varying degrees of enthusiasm, but was consistently polite, urbane and witty. I noticed a hint of an English accent in his voice -- the result of his early education at St. Bernard's School on the Upper East Side, followed much later by four years of study in England. It is easy to imagine him stepping into a boxing ring like an English gentleman, calmly lacing on his gloves for a friendly bout.
Which is precisely what he did in 1959 when, for the purpose of one of his countless stories for Sports Illustrated, he took on Archie Moore, then king of the light heavyweight division, for a three-round exhibition match in New York. Since that time, Plimpton has never lost his interest in boxing. A close friend of Muhammad Ali's who has followed the champion around the world, he made Ali the chief character of his book Shadow Box, which came out in paperback this month from Berkley. As with most of Plimpton's works, the story is told with an abundance of humor.
Currently at work on three new books, Plimpton emphasized that he writes on many subjects outside of sports. A lifelong friend of the Kennedy family, he has co-authored an oral history volume titled American Journey: The Times of Robert F. Kennedy. He is an associate editor of Harper's magazine and a regular contributor to the International Food & Wine Review. His first love, in fact, seems to be not sports at all, but the Paris Review, a magazine for up-and-coming serious writers that he has edited since its creation in 1953. One of the most important literary magazines in the English-speaking world, the Paris Review is published four times a year as a 175-page journal devoted almost exclusively to fiction and poetry.
His hair is mostly silver now, and there are creases starting to appear on his ruggedly handsome face, but Plimpton, at 52, is still the same larger-than-life, charismatic figure he has been since he came to national attention in 1961 with the publication of Out of My League, a book about his foray into major league baseball. Paper Lion (1966), which told of his brief career as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions, cemented his reputation as the nation's most realistic sportswriter. His other books include The Bogey Man, One More July, and Mad Ducks and Bears. As a lecturer, he is in demand all over the country. He and his wife Freddy have been married for 11 years.
Born in New York City, he grew up around 98th Street and 5th Avenue, attended Harvard University (where he edited the Harvard Lampoon), and spent three years in the Army before heading for England to study at King's College, Cambridge. During an Easter vacation there, he joined some friends in Paris to discuss the launching of the literary magazine he has guided ever since.
In 1979, said Plimpton with a grin, "I'm supposed to manage the New York Yankees for a day, and go through the whole procedure of being fired by George Steinbrenner. I hope it's followed by a beer commercial with Billy Martin."
Asked about his attachment to the East Side, Plimpton stressed his fondness for the city as a whole. "In the last couple of years, there's been an enormous rebirth of excitement about living in the city. ... I think Mayor [Ed] Koch has a lot to do with pulling it up. He seems to fit everywhere. If I saw him twirling up a pancake dough in a pizza shop on Broadway, or driving a 5th Avenue bus, or carrying a briefcase into 20 Exchange Place, I wouldn't be surprised. He's a quintessential New Yorker."
When my visit with Plimpton was about to end, I couldn't resist testing him with my favorite sports question: "Who was the only man to play for the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Patriots and the Boston Bruins?" He couldn't guess. The answer, I told him, was a guy named John Kiley, who played the national anthem on the organ.
But Plimpton got the last word in.
"Who was the only man to play for the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics?" he asked. I said I didn't know. He smiled and replied: "George Plimpton."
|EASTSIDER OTTO PREMINGER||[Back to Top]|
On the cover of his 1977 autobiography Preminger, he is described as "Hollywood's most tempestuous director" and "the screen's stormiest rebel." But today, at 73, the years appear to have caught up with Otto Preminger, the Austrian-born director and actor who came to the U.S. in 1935 and met success after success, both in movies and on Broadway.
He became the first producer/director to make major motion pictures independently of the giant studios, and with such films as Forever Amber, The Moon is Blue and The Man with the Golden Arm, won precedent-settling battles with censorship boards that established new artistic freedom for filmmakers.
Between 1959 and 1963 he produced and directed, in succession, Porgy and Bess, Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, Advice and Consent, and The Cardinal. After that his career took a dip, and since 1971 he has released but a single movie, Rosebud (1975), which marked the screenwriting debut of his son Erik Lee Preminger and the acting debut of a New Yorker named John Lindsay, the city's former mayor.
In February, Preminger's 33rd film, The Human Factor, is scheduled to open in New York and across the country. Based on a best-selling novel by Graham Greene, The Human Factor is the suspenseful story of a black South African woman (played by fashion model Iman) who marries a white secret agent (Nicol Williamson). Filmed mainly in the English countryside, the movie deals with the agent's allegiance to the man who helps his wife to escape from South Africa. Persuaded to become a double agent, he ends up in Moscow, separated from the one person he loves. The novel's title underlines the fact that bureaucracy can never be all-powerful: there is always the human factor.
Preminger, seated at his huge palette-shaped desk of white marble in the lavishly furnished projection room on the uppermost floor of his Eastside town house, admits that he sank over $2 million of his own money into the picture when his signed backers failed to come through. "Everybody in Europe lies about money," says Preminger in his deep, German-accented voice. "I originally wanted to sue them, but suing doesn't make sense unless you are sure they have money. So I inquired from my Swiss lawyer, and they didn't have money in Switzerland. You see, in Switzerland, the advantage of the Swiss law is that is you sue somebody, all his assets are frozen immediately. ... Luckily enough, I had two houses that I wanted to sell in the south of France. ... At least I own the whole film. The question is now only: Will the picture be a big success as I hope, or not? That is always the main thing."
The nattily dressed Preminger, a tall, large man whose distinguished features and totally bald head give the opposite impression of his slow movement and somewhat frail appearance, revealed that the film's African scenes had to be shot in Kenya rather than South Africa "because they said they must see what I am shooting, and if they don't like it, they will confiscate it. They said, `People in bed you can't shoot.' Then I went to Kenya, where there is a black government, and they didn't even ask for the script. They said I could have anything I want."
Asked whether any memorable events took place during the filming, Preminger snaps, "Even if there were, I don't remember. After I have made a picture and I have seen it maybe two, three times with an audience, I deliberately detach myself, because I don't want it to influence my next picture. As a matter of fact, a few months ago, my wife was dressing to go out, and I turned on the television and saw one of my old pictures. I recognized it, but we had to leave before it was finished. I still don't know how it ends."
As for Preminger's love life, he writes in his autobiography: "I have a reputation with women which is not entirely deserved, though it is true that I had my share of them, some of them stars."
In 1944 he had a three-week love affair with Gypsy Rose Lee that resulted in the birth of his son Erik Lee Preminger. The boy didn't find out the identity of his real father until the age of 18. They were reunited four years later, and liked each other immediately. Preminger legally adopted Erik, who is currently in Los Angeles writing a biography of his late mother.
Preminger and his third wife, a former costume designer named Hope Bryce, to whom he has been married since 1959, are the parents of 19-year-old twins, Victoria and Mark. An Upper Eastsider for two decades, Preminger includes among his favorite restaurants Caravelle, Le Cirque and 21, where agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar once broke a glass over his head that took 51 stitches to close.
An unabashed admirer of luxury, Preminger remains unruffled when questioned about how his fancy Eastside pad is in line with the philosophy stated in his autobiography that "my real reward is my work itself. Success matters only because without it, one cannot continue to work."
"I could live without it," he says with a shrug. "I like to give my family luxuries, but I could easily live in one furnished room and be also happy."
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