|100 NEW YORKERS OF THE 1970S
By Max Millard
|[Back to Index]|
WESTSIDER CHARLES RANGE
Congressman of the 19th District
WESTSIDER JOE RAPOSO
Golden boy of American composers
WESTSIDER MASON REESE
Not just another kid
WESTSIDER MARTY REISMAN
America's best-loved ping-pong player
WESTSIDER RUGGIERO RICCI
World's most-recorded violinist
WESTSIDER BUDDY RICH
Monarch of the drums
WESTSIDER GERALDO RIVERA
Broadcaster, author and humanitarian
WESTSIDER NED ROREM
Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
WESTSIDER JULIUS RUDEL
Director of the New York City Opera
EASTSIDER DR. LEE SALK
America's foremost child psychologist
EASTSIDER FRANCESCO SCAVULLO
Photographer of the world's most beautiful women
WESTSIDER ROGER SESSIONS
Composer of the future
EASTSIDER DICK SHAWN
Veteran comic talks about Love at First Bite
EASTSIDER GEORGE SHEARING
Famed jazz pianist returns to New York
WESTSIDER REID SHELTON
The big-hearted billionaire of Annie
WESTSIDER BOBBY SHORT
Mr. New York to perform in Newport Jazz Festival
WESTSIDER BEVERLY SILLS
46 years a doorman on the West Side
WESTSIDER GREGG SMITH
Founder and conductor of the Gregg Smith Singers
EASTSIDER LIZ SMITH
Queen of gossip
EASTSIDERS TOM & DICK SMOTHERS
Stars of I Love My Wife on Broadway
WESTSIDER VICTOR TEMKIN
Publisher of Berkley and Jove Books
WESTSIDER JOHN TESH
Anchorman for WCBS Channel 2 News
WESTSIDER RICHARD THOMAS
John-Boy teams up with Henry Fonda in Roots II
EASTSIDER ANDY WARHOL
Pop artist and publisher of Interview magazine
EASTSIDER ARNOLD WEISSBERGER
Theatrical attorney for superstars
EASTSIDER TOM WICKER
Author and columnist for the New York Times
EASTSIDER TOM WOLFE
Avant-garde author talks about The Right Stuff
WESTSIDER PINCHAS ZUKERMAN
Violinist and conductor
|WESTSIDER CHARLES RANGEL||[Back to Top]|
The dividing line of New York's 19th Congressional District twists and loops through upper Manhattan like a traveler who has lost his way. From the corner of 62nd Street and Central Park West, the boundary turns sharply at Amsterdam Avenue and extends northward to 164th Street, then follows the East River shoreline south to Roosevelt Island, taking in all of Harlem and a large chunk of the East Side.
This is the area that U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel has represented ever since he was sent to Washington in 1971, after defeating the colorful and controversial Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in the Democratic primary. Today, as firmly in control of the seat as Powell was during his height of popularity, Congressman Rangel stands virtually unopposed in his quest for a fifth term.
"I have received the Democratic endorsement, the Republican endorsement, and the Liberal endorsement," says Rangel one Friday afternoon at the towering State Office Building on 125th Street. "I am assuming that the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party will be filing. They normally do. In the last election I got 96.4 percent of the vote."
Whereas the late Powell had wide appeal only among the city's blacks, Rangel gained the support of many Harlem residents plus a large majority of liberal whites on the upper West Side. It was they who provided him with a 150-vote margin of victory over Powell in 1970. In the present 95th Congress, Rangel has had the most liberal voting record of any congressman from New York state. And while he has continued to give a great deal of attention to Harlem's problems of health care, unemployment and drugs, Rangel has recently had more demands placed on his time as a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. The first black ever to serve on the committee, he is currently 11th in seniority and will be seventh in the next Congress.
In his New York office, where he generally spends two days per week, Rangel appears surprisingly fresh and relaxed at the end of a working day. As we settle into the interview, the elegantly dressed congressman with the graying moustache and the rasping voice proves himself very much the politician. He uses each question as a springboard to launch into his favorite topics -- for example, his access to President Carter.
Because of his various committee assignments and his strong support of most of Carter's policies, says Rangel, "I am forced to meet with the president more than probably many other members of Congress. I often stop by the White House on my way to the office." Rangel also likes to talk about Chip Carter, the president's son, who is involved in a project called City in Schools, designed to upgrade the neighborhoods outside certain schools. Chip has taken a special interest in Harlem, and one school in particular near Morningside Park. "I am confident that with Chip Carter's help, and with my help, Morningside Park will soon show some improvements. I hope that Columbia University will assist us too."
When asked about the unusual shape of the 19th Congressional District, Rangel says, "The reason for it is that as we find populations expanding, we don't find the size or the numbers of the members of Congress expanding. We used to have half a dozen members of Congress representing different parts of Manhattan. Now we're down to three -- me, Green, and Weiss. If you break it down, you can see that Adam Clayton Powell's district used to be just Harlem."
As a member of the House Select Committee on Narcotics and Drugs, says Rangel, "I have gone to Moscow, to try to encourage them to do more in the area of controlling opium. I have been to Thailand for the same reason. ... That's one area in which I have great disappointment in this administration. I find efforts of Nixon's to be greater than Carter's. The Office of Drug Abuse was disbanded by Carter."
Another field in which he finds Carter at fault is health care. "I support Kennedy's proposal," said the congressman. "There's no question that, for anti-inflation reasons, the president has put his national health program on the back burner. But to think that any program could be directly controlled by economic needs rather than by the medical needs of the people is something I cannot accept."
The ultraliberal Rangel, one of the most vociferous supporters of U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, still lives in the same building where he was born 48 years ago, whenever he's not in Washington. He dropped out of high school to enlist in the Army and spent four years compiling a distinguished service record, including a presidential citation and three battle stars. Once he returned to New York, Rangel completed high school, went to college, and entered law school on a full scholarship. He was admitted to the bar in 1960; in 1966 he was elected to the first of two terms in the New York State Assembly.
Married and with two children, Congressman Rangel believes that his future lies primarily in the Ways and Means Committee, which handles such giant concerns as taxes, trade, health insurance, social security and welfare. In order to maintain his popularity throughout the 19th Congressional District, he must continue to support those programs that benefit his constituents in both Harlem and the Upper West Side. How can this be done? "If we're going to use the tax system to make incentives for the business community to help the economy," he replies, "we need to bring the disadvantaged into the mainstream."
|WESTSIDER JOE RAPOSO||[Back to Top]|
Sing, sing a song Sing out loud, sing out strong Sing of good things, not bad Sing of happy, not sad Sing, sing a song Make it simple To last your whole life long Don't worry that it's not good enough For anyone else to hear Just sing, sing a song.
Joe Raposo wrote those words, along with their music, on a January morning in New York City, about 10 years ago. "It was," he recalls, "as succinctly and as economically and precisely as I could embody a philosophy of life in a song. `Sing' is my philosophy of life, period. ... I remember leaving the studio and walking up Sixth Avenue saying, `If that isn't a hit song, I know absolutely nothing about it.'"
The boyish, roly-poly, 40-year-old songwriter, whose incredibly crowded career has included the writing of five movie scores and more than 350 songs recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett and Tom Jones, was right about "Sing." When Karen Carpenter's single went platinum in 1974, that was only the beginning.
"It's one of the most recorded songs in the world," says Joe. "I think there are something like 180 versions of it, in just about every major language. ... Lawrence Welk recently did this hit parade of songs of the decade, and the number one song of the decade was `Sing.'"
We're riding in a limousine along Fifth Avenue. Joe has requested to be interviewed while he attends to some gift shopping. Because of a temporary leg injury, he has hired a limousine for the afternoon. As we go from store to store, Joe greets the merchants by name, then answers questions into a tape recorder while waiting for his merchandise.
Long noted for his musical versatility, Raposo grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, the only child of a classical musician father and a piano-playing mother. "I learned counterpoint at the age of 6 or so by wandering around the concert hall as my father rehearsed Mozart." His parents taught him piano, violin and bass viol. At Harvard University he began to write and direct his own musicals. Soon after moving to New York City in 1966, he had all the work he could handle as musical director, composer and lyricist for both television and the stage. He is the recipient of three Emmy Awards and an Oscar nomination. As a record producer, he has won four Grammy Awards.
"It's Not Easy Bein' Green," one of many songs he wrote for the Sesame Street TV show, has become the international anthem for the Girl Scouts of America. Another Raposo hit, "You Will Be My Music," brought Sinatra out of retirement several years ago. His Sesame Street Fever disco album has sold more than a million copies.
An album of all-Raposo music recorded by the Boston Pops in 1976 led to a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra for an orchestral and choral work. The result is a 12-to-14-minute oratorio titled From the Diary of Johann Sutter, about the man whose quiet farm became the epicenter of the California Gold Rush.
"It's the darndest story ever. Because it tells how a man who's a tremendous idealist came to this country from Switzerland to found a new utopian agrarian state, with cattle and fields of grain, and vineyards. ... When the Gold Rush started, Sutter's whole society was ruined. And it is an incredible parallel for our time, in that our pursuit of material goods tends to make us forget all the natural, beautiful things that surround us.
"Sheldon Harnick has done a wonderfully literate libretto. It premieres this spring in Boston. Sheldon and I have been talking about the possibility of expansion, but we have a musical to write first based on It's A Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra movie."
At the same time, Raposo is collaborating with Hal David on another musical and writing songs for a sequel to The Muppet Movie. But with all his success, Joe admits to having "a trunk of songs that are unrecorded, and many of them I feel are right up on a par with anything I've ever done. But they sit there and nobody grabs them. You have to wait. ... A lot of people think, `Oh, if I only had the talent to write a hit song.' But writing a great song isn't enough: you have to get the right recording at the right time."
Apart from being a creative artist and a practical businessman, Joe has an active family life. Married for the past four years to beautiful Pat Collins of ABC-TV's Good Morning America, he has custody of two sons from a previous marriage. The eldest, 16-year-old Joseph, is already making waves as a bass player, both electric and orchestral. Joe and Pat also have a 3-year-old daughter of their own.
An admirer of President Carter since 1975, Joe wrote the music for Carter's campaign song the following year, and has done so again for 1980.
In his infrequent spare time Joe loves "tinkering -- banging nails into things, and building stuff. I'm a pretty handy carpenter, a fair electrician." With a mischievous smile he adds: "As a matter of fact, sometimes I think I should go into that full-time, because the music business is chancy."
|WESTSIDER MASON REESE||[Back to Top]|
"Mason, I've got two very very important pieces of advice to give you," Milton Berle told the youngster when they first met. "Don't believe in Hollywood party promises; and practice, practice and rehearse."
Uncle Miltie's words have been a useful lesson for Mason Reese, the boy wonder of television. In 1973, at the age of 7, Mason skyrocketed to fame by winning a Clio Award for best male in a TV commercial. In the same year he co-hosted the Mike Douglas Show for a week and became a children's reporter for WNBC-TV. His picture appeared in Time, Newsweek, and on the cover of TV Guide. Mason's unique face and voice became known to millions.
Since that time, however, there have been a few disappointments mixed in with the triumphs. At 11, Mason is wiser and more philosophical about show business. Along with his parents, he has learned not to place faith in verbal agreements, as Berle cautioned.
The Reeses welcome me into their West End Avenue home. As I take a seat beside the "borgasmord kid" and look around me at the Chagall prints, Bill and Sonia, Mason's parents, pull up armchairs to listen in and help out.
But during the interview, Mason needs no more help with his answers than he did with his first audition at age 5, when he beat out 600 other children to become the spokesman for Ivory Snow. After that he endorsed such products as Ralston Purina, Thick and Frosty, and Underwood Meat Spread, winning a total of seven Clios to date. He's been co-host with Mike Douglas for three weeks and has appeared as a television guest with countless other celebrities.
One of my first questions is about children's rights. "I think children have enough rights as it is," he says. "They're with their families, they go to school, they have the pleasure of learning. ... and they realize that when they grow up they'll be able to have more and more fun, as long as they don't go on a mad rampage when they're kids."
Which type of people are most likely to grab him or pick him up? "It's always the middle-aged Italian ladies and the Jewish grandmothers," he says authoritatively. "Some people don't want to treat a kid like a human being. They want them like a puppy dog; instead of petting, it's pinching."
When it comes time to talk about Mason's not-so-successful ventures, Bill -- a producer of audiovisual shows and an expert in 3-D design work -- takes over. He tells about the Broadway show that was written and ready to go, with Mason as one of the leads, that folded up and disappeared without warning or explanation. He tells about the ABC pilot titled Mason, which cost $250,000 to make and was never televised; about the movie offers that were never followed through; about the Howard Cosell Show -- with Mason as co-host -- that was canceled shortly after it began.
In spite of these setbacks, Mason recently did some Munchkins commercials for Dunkin' Donuts and will go to California this summer to do some ads for Birdseye frozen french fries.
While the Reeses remain optimistic about the future, they try not to build up their hopes on a new project unless it is something solid. For show business is, after all, a business.
Mason has lived on the West Side for all of his 11 years. "I don't seem to understand why everyone thinks the East Side is classier," he says. "I think they're friendlier people on the West Side, because people on the East Side get snobby. Most of my friends are on the West Side."
His favorite eating places? "I love the Greek restaurants -- the Four Brothers (87th & Broadway) and the Argo (72nd & Columbus). Greeks are okay, aren't they mom? I like restaurants that are a little bit dumpy, without much decor."
When I run out of questions, I ask Mason if there are any other comments he wants to make. "I think you've asked what everyone else has asked," he replies honestly. And then with a smile: "Except that I've given you different answers.
"Wait, there's one thing," he goes on. "I'd like my allowance raised to five dollars." Then, leaning back on the, sofa looking as content as a man celebrating his 100th birthday, he adds: "I've really had no gripes in life. Except that I'd like people to stop calling me a midget, and to stop pinching me."
Some people who have never met Mason Reese in person unfairly assume that he is a spoiled brat with pushy, exploitive parents. In fact, Bill and Sonia are warm, creative people who are fully aware of the great responsibility they have in bringing up their extraordinary son. Mason is not only brilliant, but a gentleman. He should be making movies, and with a bit of luck, he will be, soon. Having met him, I can only repeat -- not improve on -- the words of Tony Randall: "I tell you this with neither hesitation nor embarrassment. ... I'm a fan of his for life."
|WESTSIDER MARTY REISMAN||[Back to Top]|
Marty Reisman was ready for The Tonight Show. But was The Tonight Show ready for Marty Reisman?
In a recent TV appearance, his name was announced and he started across the stage toward the desk of guest host John Davidson. Then suddenly he seemed to get lost in the floodlights. For a few seconds the television audience didn't know what was happening. An anonymous cameraman raced out of the wings to guide Marty to his destination.
"My gosh, that's never happened before," laughed Davidson. But Marty's humorous stumbling may well have been part of his act because, as America's best-loved table tennis player, he very often does things that haven't been done before. On The Tonight Show he returned shots with his foot and behind his back, broke a cigarette with his slam shot (that has been clocked at 105 miles per hour), and soon had Davidson sprawled across the table trying to reach shots that came back of their own.
At 48, Reisman (rhymes with "policeman") is still the nation's highest-paid Ping-Pong player in exhibitions. The stunts that he has developed over the past 30 years make his games pure entertainment. But Marty is more than a player; he is a personality, a man with a thousand stories to tell, and an instant friend to the people who visit his table tennis center on 96th Street just west of Broadway.
"I feel I'm moving with the times," he remarks, late one evening at the center. "When from an athletic professional point of view some people would think about retirement, my career is on the point of fresh blossoming." He is referring to the fact that his autobiography, The Money Player, published in 1974, is now being converted into a movie script. And other things are happening. Several months ago his table tennis parlor was the scene of a unique recording session -- a piece of music titled Tournament Overture for Flute, Cello, Synthesizer, and Two Ping-Pong Players, composed especially for Reisman. The event was followed by a regular tournament. And this fall Marty has a long-range exhibition tour lined up.
"I started playing on the Lower East Side, about 1942," he says. "A year later, at the age of 13, I was the New York City Junior Champion. ... At 17, I represented the United States in the World Championship which was held in London, at Wembley Stadium. There were 10,000 people watching. I lost in the quarterfinals. ... The next year I made it to the semifinals and received a rating of number three in the world."
That year, 1949, was probably the peak of Marty's career from a purely athletic standpoint, although he was good enough to win the U.S. Championship in 1958 and 1960. What distinguishes him from other players, however, is the variety and richness of his experiences in the world of Ping-Pong. For three years he toured with the Harlem Globetrotters as their star attraction at halftime. He spent several years in the Far East as well, and was in Hanoi when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. Altogether he has played in 65 countries, and has picked up such titles as South American Champion, Canadian Champion, and British Champion.
He once taught the game to a chimpanzee; the chimp managed to return the ball up to four times in a row. "But the most astounding thing about him," recalls Marty, "was his short span of attention. When the ball was about an inch from his racket, he'd turn his head away and get smacked in the face."
As the title of his autobiography indicates, Marty has also been known to place a wager on occasion. "I've hustled when I've had to," he confesses. "But it hasn't been my way of life. I don't misrepresent myself. I play against the best players in the world, all over the world. Wherever I am, I create the drama, the action, the excitement, because of the large sums of money I bet." In one of his biggest hustles he flew to Omaha, Nebraska, under the guise of a baby crib salesman, to help a man who had been hustled himself. Reisman played for $1,000 a game and emerged from the contest 14 games ahead.
West 96th Street has long been a hotbed of table tennis activity. A Ping-Pong parlor opened there in 1934, and Marty took it over in 1958. Today, many of the world's great players stop by for a game when they visit New York. Dustin Hoffman, Walter Matthau, Bobby Fischer and Art Carney have played there also. Marty's regular customers range from 8-year-old boys to a man of 83 who plays twice a week. The center opens in the afternoon and doesn't close until 3:30 in the morning, seven days a week. "I live on the West Side and so do most of my friends," says Marty.
A man has been standing nearby during the interview; Marty introduces him as Bill, his former manager.
"Manager?" snorts the man with a gruff smile. "He can't be managed. Human beings can be managed, but Reisman is something different. If he says `I'll be there at 3 o'clock' he might show up at 4 -- the next day. But," he concedes, "if Marty didn't have those idiosyncracies, he wouldn't have those rare talents."
|WESTSIDER RUGGIERO RICCI||[Back to Top]|
It was Sunday, October 20, 1929. Four days later, on Black Thursday, Wall Street would be rocked by the biggest losses in its history and the nation would be plunged into its greatest crisis since the Civil War. But October 20 still belonged to the Roaring Twenties, and on that date the most highly publicized event to take place in Manhattan was a violin concert by a 9-year-old wunderkind named Ruggiero Ricci, who delivered a flawless performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and was lauded as a genius by the city's leading music critics. That concert made Ricci's career; in the 10 years that followed, the boy virtuoso earned an annual salary higher than that of the president of the United States.
The story might have ended there, but unlike most prodigies, who burn themselves out early, Ruggiero Ricci has continued to grow in stature as an artist. Since the 1940s he has been considered one of the greatest living violinists, and, with more than 500 recordings to his credit, he is the most-recorded soloist, instrumental or vocal, in the world today. Especially in demand abroad, he has made five trips to Australia and three to the Soviet Union, where he was obliged to play nine encores at his debut appearance. Twenty of his concerts in West Germany were sold out a year in advance, and more than a dozen of his South American tours have been sellouts as well.
"I travel most of the year, except maybe a month off in the summer," says Ricci, a short, good-humored man of 60 with large, sparkling eyes, jet-black brows, and a soft, slightly accented voice that sounds as if he were born in Europe. He sits curled up in a corner of the couch in his magnificent Westside apartment. "I dislike to travel. In the old days, there were a lot of airplane breakdowns, and we were always hung up in airports waiting for them to fix the plane. Today they have all these hijacking searches. You have to go through the machines; they have these enormous lines. And when you get to the hotel, there's a line a mile long."
He believes that Russian audiences are "the best public in the world. They don't applaud between the movements, like they do in New York. ... It's always interesting to visit a place for the first time. I don't want to go to Russia so much anymore. We found out it's boring. There's nothing to do. And it's not much fun. There's no tipping, so the hotel service is very bad. It takes an hour to get breakfast; you can sit there and be completely ignored by the waiter. To make a telephone call: it's easier to go to the moon."
Ricci's repertoire, which includes more than 60 concertos from the 17th to the 20th centuries, is the largest of any violinist's now before the public. This calls for a lot of practice. "When you're a kid," says Ricci, "you hate to practice. And when you're a grownup, practice is a pleasure. It lets you escape all the other junk. ... I don't have any trouble practicing in this building, because the old buildings have heavy walls. But if you want to practice in a hotel, that's hard. Sometimes you can use a mute. Or you turn on the television. Then they don't complain. If they hear a fiddle, they complain."
Ricci has two major concerts in New York this year. The first will take place at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, March 3, when Ricci will join such celebrities as Andres Segovia, Yehudi Menuhin, Jose Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Peter Ustinov for a historic musical program to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Symphonicum Europae, a foundation whose aim is to promote international understanding and cooperation by sponsoring performances in every country.
Ricci's other New York concert will mark another anniversary. It will be on October 20th -- 50 years to the day since he took the city by storm. "The early concerts I remember very well," says the maestro, who was born in San Francisco to a family of Italian immigrants. "For most prodigies, the problem is the parents. My father just wasn't every smart about how to handle me. Nowadays they don't have prodigies anymore because there isn't any profit in it. In the old days, a kid could get $2,500 to $3000 dollars a night. Everybody had their kid study."
None of his five children has turned out to be a prodigy, but three of them are already professionals in the performing arts. Ricci's slender, attractive wife, Julia, is an active participant in his career. Westsiders for many years, the Riccis enjoy such local restaurants as La Tablita, Alfredo's and the Cafe des Artistes.
Asked what he likes best about his career, Ricci says it is making recordings. "It's more leisurely. You don't have all the headaches. ... The newest development is direct-to-disc records. The music goes straight from the mike into the cutting head master, and there's no way to erase. If it's a 20-minute recording and you make a mistake on the 19th minute, you have to start over. I just finished recording the Paganini Caprices on direct-to-disc. It's coming out this month. The caprices are very rarely performed in public, because they're so difficult."
|WESTSIDER BUDDY RICH||[Back to Top]|
"Mediocrity has no place in my life," says fast-talking, hard-driving Buddy Rich, wrapped in a bathrobe at his luxurious Westside apartment. "Anybody who is expert at what they do, I admire, whether it's drumming, tennis, or whatever. If they do it at the top of their form, constantly, I become a fan."
Dragging deeply on his cigarette, the man whom critics and fellow jazz artists have frequently called the greatest drummer in the world -- perhaps of all time -- dismisses such labels with something approaching annoyance.
"I don't think anybody is the best of anything in the world. Babe Ruth's record was broken, Joe Louis was knocked out. ... I'd rather not be the world's greatest anything. I'd rather be what I am, which is a good drummer."
It is an unexpected statement to come from a bandleader and drummer known more for arrogance than modesty, but in an hour-long interview, Buddy's complex personality unfolds itself in all its richness, and he proves to be far more than a flamboyant, free-thinking musician who pulls no punches.
In Buddy's hands, a snare drum comes to life: it whispers, shouts, purrs, snarls, chuckles, gasps or roars, as the mood of the music strikes him. He began playing in 1921 at the age of 4, when his parents -- vaudeville actors from Brooklyn -- included him in their act and then made him the star. By the age of 7 he had toured the world as "Traps, the Drum Wonder." At 15, he was second only to Jackie Coogan as the highest-paid child performer in America. He began recording in 1937, joined bands headed by Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, and finally formed his own band in 1946. Over the next 20 years, as both a drummer/bandleader and as the highest-paid sideman in the business, he made hundreds of recordings with some of the biggest names in the history of jazz -- Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Harry James, Thelonius Monk.
Then in 1966 he formed his current band, the 15-man Buddy Rich Orchestra. In December he brought the band to the chic, newly remodeled Grand Finale on West 70th Street. Seated at his drums in the center of the orchestra, he effortlessly mixes snare, tom-tom, bass drum and cymbals in a whirling, benumbing mass of sound.
Back in his huge living room, which is decorated much like a summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, Buddy says that his nightclub gigs are rare. "We do about nine months on the road, which includes Europe and the Orient. All the cities of this country. Most of the tours I'm on are 90 percent concert halls and schools. ... The main reason is educational. It's good for the young people to discover all of a sudden that music isn't just a guitar and a drum and a bad out-of-tune singer. ... I think as young people become more sophisticated in their tastes, they begin to realize that jazz is just as high an art form as classical music."
One of his chief gripes about jazz in America, he explains in a voice as rough as sandpaper, is that "during the season you might see 15 or 20 award shows on television dedicated to country and western slop, but you'll never see a jazz presentation in its true form. When there's an extended piece of music, they usually cloud it up with dancing girls and trick lighting and anything that distracts from the music, instead of presenting the music as the attraction, the way they do in Europe."
Another sore spot is the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. "I'm heavily into sports cars; I used to race long ago. I find that the restrictions placed on us today are insane, contradictory, and hypocritical. ... I don't know anyone on the highway who actually does 55 miles an hour, and it's just another way of making money for the state or the local community, and I think it's no better than a *ing stickup!"
He doesn't keep any drums in the apartment, and never practices. "I want my days to be as a man, and I want my nights to be as a working man. In the day, I exercise, I do karate -- I have a black belt -- and totally disengage myself from the person I am at night." His apartment is shared by Buddy's wife Marie and their 25-year-old daughter Cathy, a singer.
"My wife is just as beautiful today as she was the day I married her," Buddy says proudly. "She used to be in pictures, but she gave it up when we married. Now she's a wife and a female and a woman, and she's not into ERA and she's not into `I got my thing man and you got your thing.' She's a woman, and wears dresses so that I know she's a woman. That's what I like."
He often performs free at prisons and hospitals, but refuses to give details. "I do these things for the good that it does for me," he asserts. "To have someone write about it takes the goodness away from it. I'd rather not have anybody know what I do as long as I know."
Buddy suffered a heart attack in 1959 and has had others since, but apart from giving up liquor, he has made few adjustments in his whirlwind lifestyle. "I really don't think of past illnesses," he declares. "I think I'm healthier and stronger today than I've ever been in my life. I smoke more now, and I run around more, and I do more exercise. I don't put too much reality into warnings about `don't do this and don't do that.' Do what you have to do, and do it. If you cut out -- it was time."
|WESTSIDER GERALDO RIVERA||[Back to Top]|
From hundreds of local television stations across the nation, many personalities have risen up through the ranks to become national figures on network, but few have risen to far or so fast as Geraldo Rivera.
In 1969, the year he graduated from Brooklyn Law School, Rivera decided to become a poor people's lawyer, and over the next 12 months he took part in 50 trials, most of them in criminal courts. Then his career took an abrupt turn: in June 1970 he was offered a job at WABC-TV's Eyewitness News, and Rivera quickly accepted. His aggressive, probing style, matchless reportorial skills, and charismatic presence gained him the Associated Press' first-place citation as top newsman of 1971 -- an award he received three more times in the next four years.
In 1975 he became the traveling co-host of Good Morning America on ABC network; in the 20 months that followed, his assignments took him to more than two dozen countries. Continuing his upward climb, he was next transferred to the ABC Evening News with Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner. Finally in 1978, he was named to his present position -- as special correspondent for 20/20, ABC's weekly hour-long news magazine show.
Over the past nine years, Rivera's special reports have earned him virtually all the major awards in broadcast journalism, including several Emmys. It was one of his earliest documentaries, however, that brought him the most recognition. Titled Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace, the 1972 expose focused on the conditions at Staten Island's Willowbrook institution for the mentally retarded. The broadcast resulted in an unprecedented response from viewers. So many offers of assistance poured in that Rivera was able to set up a national organization known as One to One, whose goal is to give ongoing, individualized attention to retarded persons. Since 1973, One to One has raised more than $2 million, and helped to build almost 60 group homes throughout the New York metropolitan area, each housing approximately 12 retarded persons of the same general age range.
On June 6 from 8 to 10:30 p.m., One to One will present a TV special that will combine top entertainment with personal accounts of retarded people, their parents, and the role of the media in helping to shape public awareness. The entertainers include Paul McCartney and Wings, Neil Sedaka, Debby Boone, Ed Asner, Angela Lansbury and the Captain & Tennille. Geraldo Rivera shares the emceeing chores with his ABC colleague John Johnson.
"The show will be both taped and live," says Rivera in an interview at his West 60th Street office. "We've designed the program so that it's not a classic telethon where every two seconds they say, `Please send us your money.'"
Among the more dramatic moments is a tape of the Seventh Annual Wall Street Charity Fund Boxing Match, which raised thousands of dollars for One to One. "For the first year, I'm not the main event," comments Rivera, who scored a technical knockout over his opponent in 1978. "My nose was broken last year, and they took out all the scar tissue. They decided that my nose had given enough for the cause."
He learned most of his boxing "just street fighting growing up." Born 35 years ago on the Lower East Side to a Puerto Rican father and a Jewish mother, he was christened Gerald Rivers and hispanicized his name while in college. There are no scars on his ruggedly handsome face. With his neatly styled hair, easy smile, and air of casual masculinity -- one of his favorite outfits is a denim jacket over a T-shirt -- Rivera could easily pass for a professional athlete turned matinee idol. Yet it is primarily his literary ability, combined with a sentimentality backed up by facts, that has made him a type of media folk hero. His documentaries have earned him 78 humanitarian awards.
In addition to his more than 3,000 news stories, Rivera has written four books, including one on Willowbrook. "I've been back there many times, and it still stinks -- literally and figuratively," says Rivera in his customary vibrant tone. "But it's now a much smaller place. Willowbrook started with 6,500 people, and now it's well under a thousand. It has become, in fact, one of the better institutions. But institutions are not the answer. There's no such thing as a good big institution."
With his commitments as chairman of One to One, his heavy travel schedule for 20/20, and his new daily commentary on ABC Radio, Rivera likes to spend free evenings at home with his wife Sheri at their apartment near Lincoln Center. A Westsider since 1975, he names the Ginger Man and the Cafe des Artistes as his favorite dining spots.
Asked about the biggest difference between his present career and his earlier career as a lawyer, Rivera says: "Now I have the power to cause positive change in a dramatic way. When you have an audience of tens of millions of people, it's a multiple in terms of influence and impact, and the effective delivery of information. As a broadcaster, I've found that one person can make a difference."
|WESTSIDER NED ROREM||[Back to Top]|
The world has always been fascinated by artists who excel in more than one field. There was Richard Wagner, for example, who wrote the words and the music to all his operas. Cole Porter and Bob Dylan are two others who have proven their mastery of both language and composition.
But while these three men combined their talents to produce great songs, Ned Rorem has employed his musical and literary gifts in a different way. By keeping the two separate, he has gained a huge reputation as a composer of serious music and also as a prose writer of formidable style. In 1976 he won the Pulitzer Prize for music. And last month Simon and Schuster published his eighth book, An Absolute Gift.
At 54, Rorem has become somewhat of a fixture on the New York artistic scene, who no longer sparks the controversy that he once did. But in Paris, where he spent nine years during his early career in the 1950s, Rorem was as well-known for his socializing as for his music. With his handsome, youthful good looks and boyish charm, his biting wit, and his wide knowledge of the arts, he became a close companion of many of the leading literary and musical figures of France.
His recollections of those years were carefully recorded in his first book, The Paris Diary, published in 1966 amid fanfare on both sides of the Atlantic. It was quickly followed by The New York Diary, which was more popular still. Since then, Rorem's books have appeared at fairly regular intervals, all of them either diaries or essays, or a combination of both.
In print, Rorem comes across as being somewhat disillusioned with life and art. In person, however, he is a warm, sincere host. With a tendency toward shyness that does not come through in his books. Rorem makes all of his remarks so matter-of-factly that nothing he says seems vicious or outrageous.
Leaning back on the sofa of his large Westside apartment, with one hand resting against his chin and the other stroking his pet cat Wallace, Rorem answers one of the first questions saying that yes, he is upset by the negative review that An Absolute Gift received in the New York Times.
"A bad review in the Times can kill a book," he explains. "It killed my last book. And I don't think it's fair that they gave my new book to the same reviewer. He made some of the same statements that he did last time, with almost the same wording. But just today I got a very good review from the Washington Post. And I hope there will be something in the New York Review of Books. That's even more important than the Times."
Rorem is considerably more versatile as a composer than as a writer. His output includes five operas, three symphonies, and "literally hundreds of vocal pieces for solo voice and ensembles of various sizes. And instrumental music of every description." He is considered by many to be the world's greatest living composer of art songs. Generally he sets other people's words to music. Asked for the definition of an art song, Rorem says, "I hate the term. I composed dozens of arts songs before ever hearing the word. It's a song sung by a trained singer in concert halls."
The piece that won him the Pulitzer, surprisingly, was not a song at all, but an orchestral work titled Air Music, which was commissioned for the U.S. Bicentennial by the late Thomas Schippers and the Cincinnati Symphony. This summer the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy will premiere a new, major composition of Rorem's, Sunday Morning.
"I feel very, very, very lucky that I'm able to support myself as a composer of serious music," he says. "My income is not so much from royalties as from commissions, prizes, fellowships, and official handouts, such as the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Fellowship, which I now am living on."
Born in Indiana and raised in Chicago, Rorem began composing music at the age of 10. He was never attracted to pop music, and today he likes it less than ever. "Inasmuch as pop music goes hand in hand with high volume, I bitterly resent it," he says. "When the Met Opera gives a concert in Central Park the same night that the Schaefer Beer Festival gives one of their concerts, they're crushed like the runt beneath the belly of a great fat sow."
When a desire for more space and lower rent drove Rorem from Greenwich Village to the West Side 10 years ago, he feared that he was moving to "a big, nonartistic, bourgeois ghetto." He soon changed his mind. In An Absolute Gift he makes the statement: "From 116th Street to 56th Street, the West Side contains more first-rate artists, both performers and creators, than any concentrated neighborhood since Paris in the 1920s."
One of Rorem's favorite Westside businesses is Patelson's Half Price Music Shop at 160 W. 56th Street, right across from the stage door of Carnegie Hall. "It's the best music shop in America," he testifies. "They have everything or they can get it for you."
All of Rorem's books carry a fair amount of philosophy. But the only principle that the artist claims to have stuck by during the entire course of his life is: "I've never sold out. I've never done what I didn't want to do. ... I've never been guided by other than my heart. And certainly not by money."
|WESTSIDER JULIUS RUDEL||[Back to Top]|
In 1943, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia made an announcement that the old Mecca Temple on West 55th Street would be converted into the City Center of Music and Drama. As a result, a new major company was born -- the New York City Opera.
A young Jewish immigrant, Julius Rudel, who had fled Austria with his family not long before, immediately went to City Center in search of a job. He was hired as a rehearsal pianist, and in the years to come his talents blossomed forth in many areas. Working quietly behind the scenes, he became the Opera's indispensable Mr. Everything, who not only knew every phase of show production, but could be called on to conduct the orchestra and even take the place of a missing cast member on stage. Rudel's versatile musicianship and his personal charm did much to knit the company together.
In 1956 the New York City Opera suffered a financially disastrous season that led to the resignation of the distinguished Erich Leinsdorf as director and chief conductor. That was perhaps the lowest point in the company's history. The board of directors pored over dozens of nominations for Leinsdorf's replacement before they decided on the one person who had the confidence of everybody -- Julius Rudel.
Twenty-two seasons later, he is still firmly in command, and the once-struggling City Opera has risen to world prominence. Although its $8 million annual budget is much smaller than that of the Metropolitan Opera and the major houses of Europe, Rudel has been able to get many singers who are unequaled anywhere, and has staged far more new works by living composers than has Lincoln Center's "other" opera house.
Apart from its musical significance, the City Opera has become a sort of living symbol for the arts in America, flourishing in the face of financial hardships, and somehow emerging more creative, more artistically exciting because of those hardships. Why else would people like Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes perform at City for a top fee of $1,000, or even for free, when they can get $10,000 for a night's work elsewhere?
"We build loyalties," explains Rudel in his delicate Germanic-British accent, the morning after conducting a benefit performance of The Merry Widow. "A lot of our singers go on to other companies, but they come back. They don't forget us. The New York City Opera has produced more great singers than probably any other company in the world."
It is early, even for this man who begins his work as soon as he get up and keeps going till late at night with his multiple roles as music director, chief conductor, administrator, impresario and goodwill ambassador. Clad in his colorful dressing gown, his thick silver hair shining, he seems an entirely different person from the magnetic orchestral leader whose presence on the podium generally guarantees a full house. At his expansive Central Park West apartment, he is low-key and to the point, and fiercely proud of the City Opera's achievements.
"We try to look at every opera we do with fresh eyes, as if it had never been done before. We try to reexamine everything about the opera. Sometimes the tradition attached to a work differs from what the composer and librettist intended. ... Tradition was defined by a famous conductor long ago as `the last bad performance.' For example, in Turandot there's a character who had been traditionally [portrayed] as blind. But it makes no sense in the story for him to be blind, so we don't play him that way. We're restoring the classics, not changing them."
He jumps up to answer the telephone just as his wife Rita enters the room. A slender, dark-haired woman, she is a doctor of neuropsychology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and a devoted opera fan. "I'm Mrs. Rudel in the morning," she explains, smiling. She met Julius when they were both at music school. Today, while keeping a close friendship with many of the City Opera's singers, she maintains her own identity to the extent that her medical colleagues sometimes tell her, "I saw you at the opera last night," without realizing that her husband was the conductor.
The Rudels have lived on the West Side ever since they were married 36 years ago. "My wife sometimes says we live within mugging distance of Lincoln Center," says Rudel, his eyes twinkling with impish amusement. "But really, we're confirmed Westsiders. I don't think I ever use any form of transportation from here to the theatre, and I don't eat out much, because my wife is a marvelous cook. Time being so of the essence, we prefer to stay at home."
The City Opera's spring season continues until April 30. Rudel recommends three shows in particular: The Saint of Bleecker Street, The Turn of the Screw, and The Marriage of Figaro, which he is conducting. "I envy all the Westsiders who have the opportunity to come to us," he concludes. "Our seats in the upper reaches of the State Theatre are the best theatrical bargains in the world."
|EASTSIDER DR. LEE SALK||[Back to Top]|
At one time, the name Salk was synonymous with one thing only -- the revolutionary polio vaccine discovered by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1953. In the 1970s, however, another national figure of the same name has emerged -- Dr. Lee Salk, Jonas' younger brother, who is probably the most highly respected and best-known child psychologist in America today.
The most successful of his five books, What Every Child Would Like His Parents to Know (1972), has been translated into 16 languages, while his most recent work, titled simply Dear Dr. Salk, was published in March by Harper & Row.
A soft-spoken, highly energetic man who bears a close physical resemblance to comedian Phil Silvers, Dr. Salk recently invited me to share his thoughts in an interview at his Upper East Side apartment.
"What I try to do as a psychologist," he said, sitting in a large, circular chair in his spacious library, "is to use all the media to present what I consider useful psychological information that has been distilled for the consumer -- to take the jargon out of it, and the ambiguity, so people can use it to deal effectively with their problems. While most people see me as a child psychologist, I'm really an adult psychologist who has focused on some of the most difficult issues that affect all people. ... In my initial years of practice, it became clear to me that most of the problems originated in childhood, and I felt that perhaps the front line of mental health is really in those early, critical years."
Since 1972, he has been writing a column titled "You and Your Family" for McCall's magazine, which has a readership of 16 million.
"I frequently deal with family concerns, including problems that have to do with older people," he explained. "I choose a different topic each month. Frequently the topic revolves around a number of letters that come in. The June issue, for example, has an unusually large column because we're dealing with sexuality. We get hundreds and hundreds of letters, so I can't answer them personally, but I do read them all. When I'm giving a speech across the country, I like to use airplane time to catch up on my mail."
As a television personality, he appears at least twice a week on NBC's News Center 4. His off-the-cuff manner is no deception: Salk does each of his broadcasts live, without a script, speaking spontaneously on a current issue.
His latest book, Dear Dr. Salk, answers questions ranging from the spacing of children to problems specific to teenagers. When asked how his approach compares to that of Ann Landers or Dear Abby, Salk replies: "I must say that they fall far short of what I'm trying to do. These people are not professional psychologists. They tend to sensationalize -- to appeal to the voyeuristic tendencies people have. I'm not saying they don't help people, but they don't always provide people with knowledge.
"A good deal of what I say is not direct advice. In answering a question, I try to provide knowledge about the problem, which the person can use, to answer his or her own question. I really feel I shouldn't give people a series of do's and don'ts"
His knowledge is based on a 25-year career as a professional clinical psychologist. Following his graduation from the doctoral program at the University of Michigan, Salk spent three years teaching at McGill University in Montreal, then returned to Manhattan, where he grew up. He still maintains a private practice, and is on the staff at Cornell University Medical School, the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic and the Lenox Hill Hospital.
Dr. Salk won the custody of his two children, Pia and Eric, in 1975 after a precedent-setting divorce trial in which it was ruled that he was "the parent that can best nurture their complex needs and social development."
A problem of many parents, he said, is not that they spend too little time with their children, but that "it's basically useless time, because they're not actively involved with the child." Salk himself makes a point of having breakfast and dinner with Pia and Eric virtually every day, and includes them in his social life whenever possible. "Their friends are frequently my dinner guests." Each summer he spends three months with them at an island retreat in Maine, while commuting to New York for his professional commitments. Dr. Salk enjoys cooking, and also likes to go to restaurants.
Dr. Salk's newest project is a 13-part series for public television, to be aired starting September 29. He will appear each week with three children to discuss such topics as love and attachment, divorce, and "making a family work." The programs, he said, "are geared to family viewing time, so children and their parents can watch together."
|EASTSIDER FRANCESCO SCAVULLO||[Back to Top]|
As Richard Stolley, the managing editor of People magazine, is fond of saying, every publication on the newsstand is actually two publications. One is the inner contents, and the other -- far more important in terms of sales -- is the front cover. A stunning cover can make the difference of tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for a national magazine, and that's why Cosmopolitan has engaged the talents of photographer Francesco Scavullo for virtually every one of its covers for the last 11 years.
He has done album covers and posters for Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Judy Collins and many others. Among the publications that rely on his most often for covers are Vogue, Playboy, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, People and the magazine that started it all -- Seventeen -- which ran its first Scavullo cover in 1948, when he was still a teenager himself.
He never had any formal training in photography, but got plenty of practice during his Manhattan boyhood when he began taking pictures of his sisters and their girlfriends. Francesco delighted in applying makeup to their faces, running his hands through their hair, and dressing them in sexy gowns. He quickly made two discoveries -- first, that there's no such thing as an ugly woman, and second, that the photographer and his subject must be personally compatible. Although he charges approximately $3,000 for unsolicited private portraits, Scavullo won't photograph anyone with whom he has bad rapport -- and that includes all people who don't take care of themselves physically or abuse themselves with drugs.
A small, lithe man of 50 who walks with the gracefulness of a dancer and looks considerably younger than his years, Scavullo recently agreed to an interview at the town house on East 63rd Street that serves as both his studio and his home. Dressed in blue jeans, an open-neck white shirt, and Western boots, the chatty, unpretentious photographer sat back on the couch with his arms behind his head and a mischievous smile planted on his face. Asked about the large pills he popped into his mouth from time to time, Scavullo explained that they were vitamins and organic supplements.
"I'm very health-conscious," he said in a gravelly voice with a broad New York accent. "I don't eat meat, and I very seldom have even chicken or fish. I don't drink tea, or coffee, or alcohol -- except for a little wine. ... A lot of people stop smoking when they start working for me, because I hate it -- all this pollution in the air of New York already. I think smoking is great if you live out in the West, and you sit on top of a mountain like in the Marlboro commercials."
As we were talking in his spacious living room, decorated with Scavullo's own paintings, a member of his staff came from the studio below and said, in reference to a woman who was being made up for a shooting session, "She's still not ready, Francesco." Scavullo sighed.
"A seating with a man takes 20 minutes," he remarked, "and with a woman it takes the whole afternoon. Makeup," he added, "is used more intensely in photography than it is in the street. I think women look best without any type of makeup in the daytime. Sunlight has a very bad effect on it. Some of the ladies going by on the street look like they're holding a mask a fraction of an inch away from their face."
He has never developed the habit of stopping beautiful women on the sidewalk, but, said a grinning Scavullo, "if I see someone wildly attractive walking by, I get excited. I might turn around and whistle or something."
Number one on his list of the world's most beautiful women is 14-year-old Brooke Shields, who also lives on the Upper East Side. She is one of the 59 models, actresses, and other celebrities featured in his first book, Scavullo On Beauty (1976), which came out in paperback last month from Vintage Press. The volume is filled with life-size shots of women's faces, many of them showing the difference before and after the Scavullo treatment. It is accompanied by frank interviews dealing with clothing, diet, exercise, makeup, and related subjects. Scavullo On Men, his second book, was published in 1977. And he has two more in the works -- a picture book on baseball, with text by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times, and a retrospective volume covering his photographs from 1949 to 1980. Both will be out next year.
A resident of the Upper East Side since 1950, he likes to dance until dawn at Studio 54 "whenever I don't have to get up too early the next day." Asked about his favorite local restaurants, he said he rarely goes to any, but that his entire staff orders lunch almost every day from Greener Pastures, a natural foods restaurant on East 60th Street.
Beauty, he believes, "is an advantage to everything -- man, woman, child, flower, state. I mean, everything. Beauty is the most fabulous thing in the world. I hate ugliness." His advice to amateur photographers: "Get a Polaroid. It is a very flattering camera to use, because it washes everything out." He couldn't resist adding: "If you can't be photographed by Scavullo, have your picture taken with a Polaroid."
|WESTSIDER ROGER SESSIONS||[Back to Top]|
The story of Western music, from the baroque era to the present day, has been written largely by men whose contributions to their art were underappreciated during their own lifetimes. Serious music has a tendency to be ahead of its time, and must wait for the public taste to catch up before it can be accepted.
Such is the case with Roger Sessions. For at least 50 years he has been considered by the American academic establishment to be one of the most gifted and original composers of his generation. But his work has started to gain wide recognition with the general public only since the early 1960s. Today, at 82, he is comfortable in his role as the elder statesman of American concert music. Although relatively few of his works have been recorded -- they place extraordinary demands on both performer and listener -- Sessions continues to write music with practically unabated energy. His most significant official honor came in 1974, when the Pulitzer Prize Committee issued a special citation naming him "one of the most musical composers of the century."
Since his early 20s, Session has led a dual career as a composer and a teacher of music theory. A former professor at both the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University, he has published several books on his musical ideas, and now teaches two days a week at the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center. When I heard that his piano sonatas were going to be performed soon on West 57th Street, I called him to request an interview, and he promptly concurred. We met for lunch at La Crepe on Broadway, and over the meal Sessions revealed himself to be a man of wit, humility, and charm.
Speaking of his piano sonatas, which will be performed at Carnegie Recital Hall in February, March and April, Sessions commented in his slow, precise manner of speech that "the first one was composed in 1930, the second one was composed in '46, and the third one was composed in '65. One sonata will be performed on each program. ... I have heard the young lady play one of them. She's going to come and play for me today. I'm helping her to prepare them. Because they're difficult and they take a lot of practice. Her name is Miss Rebecca la Becque. I just laid eyes on her for the first time last week."
Nearly half of his works have been composed in the last 20 years; some are quite melodic; others are so atonal and eery that to some people they suggest the rhythm of the universe itself, or music from the stars. One remarkable aspect of his compositions is that no two are even vaguely alike; another is that they come in so many different instrumental combinations. Besides his piano works, he has composed for violin, organ, cello, chorus and solo voice. In addition, there are his string quartets, his rhapsodies, his nine symphonies, and Montezuma, one of the most distinguished operas ever written by an American.
Why write in so many forms? "You might say I'm paid to," he explained, ordering a second espresso and lighting his pipe. "Generally when I write a big work, it's for a specific purpose." His eighth symphony, for example, was written for the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the orchestra's 125th anniversary.
When I asked Sessions whether he was concerned that most of his works are not available on albums, he said calmly, "I never have tried to get my works recorded or performed. I decided years ago that people would have to come to me; I wasn't coming to them. Things move a little more slowly that way, but one knows that everything one gets is perfectly genuine. ... When I wrote my first symphony, Otto Klemperer said he wouldn't dare to conduct it. So I conducted it myself. It would be easy nowadays. Even the Princeton student orchestra played it a few years ago and didn't do too badly. Orchestra players get used to the idiom and people get used to listening. ... The only thing is," he added with a chuckle, "I keep getting ahead in that respect."
He was born in Brooklyn in 1896 and moved to Massachusetts at age 3, but Sessions noted that "I do have some memories of the inside of the house." He wrote his first opera at 13 and graduated from Harvard at 18. From 1925 until 1933 he lived in Italy and Germany, supported by scholarships. Shortly after Hitler came to power, he returned to the U.S., and not long afterward joined the faculty at Princeton, where he remained until 1946. Then he taught at the University of California at Berkeley for eight years before returning to Princeton, where he remained until his mandatory retirement in 1965. Since that time he has taught at Juilliard. He and his wife Elizabeth have been married for 42 years; they have two children and two grandchildren. Said the composer: "I learned that I had a grandson just a few hours after I'd gotten the citation from the Pulitzer Prize Committee, and the grandson was much more exciting -- with all due respect."
A resident of Princeton, New Jersey except for the one night each week that he spends on the West Side, Sessions is now eagerly awaiting the performance of his ninth symphony. It was completed in October and will be premiered in Syracuse shortly.
In his Princeton study he is kept constantly busy composing new works, writing letters and correcting proofs. "I don't have any hobbies," he remarked at the end of the interview. "I like good books, but I don't get much time to read them. If I go a few days without composing, I start to feel a little bit depressed."
|EASTSIDER DICK SHAWN||[Back to Top]|
Dick Shawn's name keeps cropping up these days. The last time he made a big splash in New York was two years ago, when his one-man show, Dick Shawn is the Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World, played at the Promenade Theatre for 14 weeks. But last fall, he gained millions of new fans with his sparkling appearances on the ill-fated network variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore, which folded after the third week. A commonly heard criticism of the show was: less Mary and more Shawn.
In George Hamilton's recently released film, Love at First Bite, Shawn plays the role of Lieutenant Ferguson, who teams up with a psychiatrist in order to make war on Dracula. Also he recently played the lead in the new Russell Baker/Cy Coleman musical, Home Again. But these are only a few of the highlights of Shawn's career, as I discover in an interview with the 51-year-old comedian at his plush Upper East Side apartment.
The word "comedian," he quickly points out, is not quite accurate. "I think of myself as a comedy character," he explains, relaxing on his couch with a plate of croissants and bacon that his pretty assistant has just brought him. "In Home Again, I played seven characters. ... They ran out of money; it just closed out of town. It needs another four or five weeks of work. They plan to bring it back around September."
With his middle-age paunch and full head of tousled grey hair that resembles a bird's nest, Shawn has a definite comedic look about him, but he seldom smiles and never laughs during our long conversation. Still, his answers are both entertaining and revealing.
On Mary Tyler Moore's variety show: "That was a total mistake. They didn't know what they were doing there. I thought she was going to get the best writers and the best producers. But it was totally inadequate. I knew from the very first day that it wasn't going to work. ... The whole concept was wrong. Variety isn't Mary's forte. You have to get yourself rolling around on the ground a little bit. She's such a nice, sweet girl that she doesn't come off as a clown."
The basis of all humor, believes Shawn, "is hostility. But it has to be sweet hostility. ... I think people become comedians because they poke fun at pretentiousness. They usually come from meager backgrounds, and then they can look up and see the pomposity and the hypocrisy of many human beings. That's why there are no rich comics. A great many of them are Jewish or black -- because as a kid they were told they were part of a minority group. They learned to have a sense of humor about themselves: they had to, in order to survive. Humor is their way of getting even with mankind."
Shawn's own background lends credence to his theory. Born Richard Schulefand in the steel town of Lackawanna, New York, he grew up in a family that was hard-hit by the Depression. While serving with the Army following World War II, he ended up in an entertainment troupe. "I was delighted," he recalls, "and when I got out, I decided to pursue it." In the early 1950s, he secured his first professional engagement as a stand-up comic in Bayonne, New Jersey, and was paid $25 a night. Since then, he has never been out of work, and has constantly used only his own material for his solo act -- songs as well as sketches.
"I don't really do jokes," he explains. "I do situation characters. Although the thrust of my humor is serious, I have always taken chances. In my club act, for example, I always ended up pretending to die on stage, rather than taking bows. Two guys would come with a stretcher and carry me out."
Among his more memorable performances over the years: the successor to Zero Mostel in Broadway's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the freakishly funny beach bum in the Stanley Kramer film It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and a cavorting Adolph Hitler in Mel Brooks' zany 1968 movie, The Producers.
Still, no project has gained him as much personal satisfaction as The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World. After the New York run, the show played to enthusiastic audiences in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and earned Shawn awards for both Best Performer and Best Playwright of the Year.
An Eastsider for the past seven years, he names Elaine's as his favorite local restaurant because "the food is good, and there's a simplicity about the place the attracts me."
Shawn describes himself as "disciplined, but not as disciplined as I should be. Because my work is loose, I'm always adding or changing. Nothing ever stays the same. But comedy is a very rewarding profession. It's nice to know that something that pops into your head can cause a reaction from total strangers who are paying you money to be entertained. I think that's the ultimate."
|EASTSIDER GEORGE SHEARING||[Back to Top]|
The scene was a Boston nightclub in the early 1950s. George Shearing and his quintet were scheduled to play the second set of the evening; the opening act was a piano/bass/drums trio. But as soon as the first group's pianist hit the keys, a groan went up from the audience. It was a bad box, as they said in those days. The management's promise of a tuning had not been kept.
The trio retired in defeat 15 minutes later, and the audience called for Shearing. When the blind pianist was led on stage, he announced, to everyone's astonishment, that he would open with a solo. But when he sat down at the instruments, a small miracle took place. The notes rang out with the clarity of crystal; Shearing's acute ear had told him which keys to avoid, and the precise amount of pressure to apply to the others so that the poor tuning would be camouflaged. Those who were present to witness Shearing's uncanny musicianship may never forget the experience. But attending any of his performances is hardly less forgettable.
He's now playing each Tuesday through Saturday evening at the Cafe Carlyle, 76th Street and Madison Avenue, and will remain there until March 3rd. His famous quintet is no more -- the group was disbanded in 1978 after 29 years -- but Shearing, accompanied only by bass player Brian Torff, proves himself a master showman as he performs his unique brand of jazz, tells funny stories between numbers, and sings in his lilting, playful manner.
"I'm on the road about 10 months a year," he told the Carlyle crowd the previous night, when I went there to catch his show. "And one thing I cannot tolerate is the mediocrity of hotels and motels in this country. Once, on my second morning in a hotel, I called up the room service and said, `Could you please bring me some breakfast? I'd like two eggs, one of them poached and the other scrambled; two pieces of toast, one barely warm and the other burned almost to a crisp; and a pot of half coffee and half tea.' The person on the other end said, `I'm sorry sir, I don't think we can fill that order.' I said, `Why not? That's what you brought me yesterday.'"
The next afternoon I paid Shearing a visit at his new Eastside apartment, where he recently moved from San Francisco. An extremely amiable, witty, and knowledgeable man who speaks with a soft British accent, he guided me around the large, tastefully furnished apartment with great ease, showing me his braille-marked tape collection, his audio calculator and his braille library. He described everything, from the drapes to the furniture, as if he had perfect vision. Blind since birth, he is an expert bridge player and a fine cook.
"I've just started to take cooking lessons," said Shearing, stretched out n the sofa with a smile hovering constantly on his face. "My wife and I are taking the same course. It's at the Jewish Guild for the Blind. Naturally it's better for me to take lessons from someone who knows the idiosyncracies of cooking without looking. ... I'm very interested in taste. If I were to cook some peas, for example, I would be inclined to line the saucepan with lettuce and add a little sugar and mint."
Born 59 years ago in London, the ninth child of a coalman, he began plucking out radio tunes on the piano at the age of 6, and by his early 20s was considered one of England's finest jazz pianists. He moved to the U.S. in 1947, and two years later became an overnight sensation when his newly formed quintet recorded "September in the Rain," which sold 900,000 copies. To date, Shearing has recorded more than 50 albums. When he finally broke up his quintet, it was to allow himself more musical freedom. His playing is a combination of jazz, classical and pop that calls for much improvisation.
His most famous original composition, "Lullaby of Birdland," came to him "when I was sitting in my dining room in New Jersey, eating a steak. It took me only 10 minutes to write it. I went back to that butcher several times afterwards, but I never got the same steak."
A popular television personality, Shearing has appeared on all the major TV talk shows. In the past 15 years or so, he has also become a frequent performer with symphony orchestras, usually playing a piano concerto in the first half of the program and a jazz piece in the second half. Lionized in England, he returned to London last December and played a sellout concert at the 6500-seat Royal Albert Hall.
New York is where his American career began, and he decided to move back after spending 16 years on the West Coast, primarily because New York is far more centrally located for his extensive travelling. He chose the Upper East Side because "it would be difficult to realize we're in the heart of Manhattan, it's so quiet here." No sooner did he speak the words than, as if on cue, a baby in a downstairs apartment began to cry loudly. "Does somebody have a plastic bag?" he deadpanned.
One of Shearing's main interests -- besides music, bridge and cooking -- is business law. He once took a course on the subject "because I wanted to know what the other guy's rights are. If I know what his rights are, I know what mine are." Speaking of his many disappointments in hotels and motels, he said, "Misrepresentation and false advertising can be beaten at any time anyone wants to fight it. I have never lost a battle on this score yet."
He might have added, had modesty not prevented it, that he has also lost no battles in the game of life.
|WESTSIDER REID SHELTON||[Back to Top]|
Annie, the touching musical about seven little orphan girls in New York City at Christmastime during the Great Depression, has been the Broadway show against which all others must be compared ever since it opened in April, 1977.
That year it won seven Tony Awards. Later the movie rights were sold for a record $9.5 million. There are now companies performing the musical in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, England, South Africa, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia. The album has gone gold. Still a sellout virtually every night at the Alvin Theatre, its tickets are the hardest to obtain of any show in town.
Two of the three leading characters -- those of Annie and the cruel, gin-sodden orphanage director Miss Hannigan -- have been twice replaced by new performers. But Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, the bald-headed billionaire with a heart as big as his bank account, has been played since the beginning by Reid Shelton, a Westside actor long known for his portrayal of powerful figures on stage -- cardinals and kings, statesmen and presidents.
On December 23rd, just a few days short of its 1,200th performance, Reid will finally leave the New York company to star in Annie on the West Coast. He has no plans, at this point, of giving up the role that earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor.
"I've had two three-week vacations and I've missed four performances in almost three years," says Reid in his dressing room on a recent afternoon. Easing his tall, bulky frame onto a sofa, he immediately reveals a personality that is warm, good-humored and eager to please. His broad, all-American features give distinction to his gleaming, newly shaved head. Reid shaves twice a day with an electric razor.
"My understudy plays Roosevelt in the show, and of course for the four performances that he's had to go on for me, he didn't shave his head," laughs the 55-year-old actor. "I've gotten the most angry letters from people saying, `Well my God, can't you at least have the understudy shave his head? How dare you do that to us!'"
Asked about his qualifications for playing a billionaire, Reid says, "I don't know whether it's my look, personality, or what, but people have always thought that I've come from money. Actually, my family during the Depression was very poor."
Born and raised in Salem, Oregon, he began studying voice while a high school freshman, doing chores in exchange for lessons. After graduation, he was drafted into the First Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army, fought in the Pacific, then received his master's degree in voice under the G.I. Bill. Arriving in New York City in 1951, he got a job singing at Radio City Music Hall. From there he went on to many Broadway musicals, TV shows, films and recordings. His generous income from Annie enabled him, last year, to purchase the Westside apartment building in the Theater District where he's been living since 1956. "It's a rent-controlled building with 20 apartment units. This last year I lost four thousand dollars on it because of oil and everything, but I have never regretted buying it."
Some behind-the-scene stories are as interesting as the show itself. Yul Brynner, for example, has refused to be photographed with Shelton: "Maybe he's afraid if the strobes hit our glistening heads simultaneously there will be no picture." Sandy, the dog, was discovered in an animal shelter just one day before he was due to be put to sleep. "It's that bored, I-don't-care quality that that dog has," says Reid, "that's so endearing to the audience. He lives with his trainer and owner, Bill Berloni, a marvelous young chap who found a whole new career for himself through the dog." And when the subject of orphanages comes up, Reid tells of a place called the Jennie Clarkson Home in Valhalla, New York, which he visited not long ago.
"It's not exactly an orphanage, but a temporary home for girls whose families can't provide for them. They have about 40 girls who stay in cottages with cottage parents, and they go to school there. The agency works with the family by trying to find the father a job or whatever, so the girls can finally return home. ... I was so impressed with the work they're doing. I'm trying to raise money for it."
He recalls visiting the White House to do a shortened version of Annie for the Carters. "We got back at 3 in the morning, totally exhausted, but the whole day was made worthwhile when Mrs. Carter sought me out and said, `You know, I must tell you how much I appreciate your taking your day off to come down here and do this for us. It must be a real chore, and I do appreciate it.' It was just a wonderful, wonderful personal thing that she didn't have to do. It's something I will always treasure."
On another occasion, says Reid, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood came backstage after a show. "Bobby just kept crying, and Natalie finally said, `For God's sake, Bob, stop it.' But he couldn't. Even now, I'm terribly thrilled when people come back and say, `You made me cry.' I'm proud of that. If I can touch some response in people, and maybe open up something that they didn't even know they felt, that's a tremendous plus in being an actor."
|WESTSIDER BOBBY SHORT||[Back to Top]|
To some, he is New York City personified -- Bobby Short, the eternally youthful singer and pianist who has been packing in audiences at the Cafe Carlyle five nights a week for the past 11 years. Regarded as the foremost living interpreter of Cole Porter, Short has recorded eight albums, published his autobiography, lectured on American music at Harvard and performed at the White House. His many television commercials have gained him national recognition in the last year or so, but he is proudest of the one he did for the "I Love A Clean New York" campaign, showing him sweeping the sidewalk with his customary savoir-faire.
Six months out of the year, he holds court at the Carlyle, a supper club at Lexington Avenue and 76th Street, where eager fans plunk down $10 for each one-hour set. Backed up by a bass player and a percussionist, the smooth, sophisticated Short sits behind the keyboard in a tuxedo, performing popular songs from the early 20th century to the present day. Every word and every note comes out a finely polished jewel, leaving the audience with the impression that they have never heard the song before.
Four months out of the year, Short takes to the road, giving concerts from Los Angeles to Paris, often as soloist with major orchestras. The hottest and coldest months of the year -- January and August -- he sets aside for vacation, sometimes taking a house in the south of France, since he is well versed in the French language and is constantly seeking to expand his knowledge of gourmet cooking.
While in New York, he occupies a luxurious nine-room Westside apartment with 18-foot ceilings that formerly belonged to Leonard Bernstein. Here, in a vast living room with a complete wall of mirror, a fireplace and a virtual forest of green plants, I thank Short for the glass of wine that he offers me from a crystal decanter, and I begin our interview by asking about the show he's co-producing for the Newport Jazz Festival. Titled A Salute to Black Broadway, 1900-1945, it will take place in Avery Fisher Hall at 8 p.m. on June 24, and is one of the highlights of the 26th annual jazz festival, which runs from June 22 to July 1.
"It's the chance to try my wings at something new," says the jovial musician, in a somewhat gravelly, high-pitched voice marked by flawless diction. "Also, it's a chance to inform. I suppose I'm a frustrated professor of sorts. This show is a way of stating that, in fact, there were blacks involved in productions on Broadway as far back as 1900 -- perhaps even further back. Many were performers who wrote their own material. Others were composers and lyricists whose writing was not confined to black performers. Some of them wrote for the Ziegfeld Follies."
As co-producer with Robert Kimball, Short has been "researching material to find out what's good, what's bad, what's important, and also who's around today that was in those shows." Among the performers to be featured: famed jazz singer Mabel Mercer, a longtime friend of Short's; Adelaide Hall and Edith Wilson, two of black Broadway's original stars; Nell Carter, the Tony Award-winning star of Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin'; Eubie Blake, still an active pianist in his 90s, whose currently running Eubie! is the fourth Broadway show he has written; special guest artist Diahann Carroll; and the Dick Hyman Orchestra. Of course Bobby Short will be on stage too; he'll do at least five songs out of his repertoire of 1,000-plus.
Slender, debonair, and looking more like 40 than his actual 54 years, Short has been playing and singing in public ever since he made his debut at the age of 9 while growing up in Danville, Illinois. From the age of 12 to 14 he was a child star on the vaudeville and nightclub circuit. Then he returned to Danville, completed high school at 17, and began his second career. Producer/songwriter Anna Sosenko got him a job at the Blue Angel in Manhattan; after that he worked in California and France before settling permanently in New York in 1956.
A perennial name on the best-dressed list, Short says that "today I've got a tailor in New York, a tailor in London, and I buy a lot of things in between. But I've grown more sensible over the years. I no longer buy all I can get my hands on."
His secret for staying young? "Be sensible. If you use the most intimate parts of your body to make a living -- like your throat -- you can't abuse it. You can't drink too much, and you simply cannot smoke." Extremely knowledgeable about restaurants, he lists the Russian Tea Room and Pearl's Chinese Restaurant as his favorites.
His "Charlie" commercial for a cologne by Revlon has made Short one of the most recognized figures on the streets of New York, yet he doesn't mind being approached by strangers. "It's part of what I do for a living," he muses with a smile. "It never stops. You have to learn to live with it or get out of show business. Fortunately, I'm a very social person and I like people. I understand the need to say hello to someone on the street -- so I can't knock somebody for speaking to me."
|WESTSIDER BEVERLY SILLS||[Back to Top]|
Probably no opera singer since Caruso has made so great an impact on the American public as Beverly Sills. Even today, the mention of her name can automatically sell out a concert hall anywhere in the U.S. She has become bigger than her art, for while a few younger singers can reach the notes more easily, Sills generates a certain intense excitement into all her roles that makes every show she appears in not just an opera, but an event.
Her star vehicle this fall is an early 19th-century opera, Il Turco In Italia (The Turk in Italy), written by Gioacchino Rossini prior to his masterpiece, The Barber of Seville.
Il Turco, presented by the New York City Opera for eight performances in September through November, is a subtle comedy about a flirtatious, Sophia Loren-type character (Sills) with a jealous husband. The audience will miss none of the Italian humor because this production of Il Turco is in English.
"I love to do English translations," said Miss Sills last week in a telephone interview. "I believe the whole art of opera is based on communication. I don't see how people can appreciate a comedy in a language that four-fifths of the audience doesn't understand. There's only snobbery about foreign languages in this country -- not in Europe. In America, an opera is like a museum piece. But I think the great classics like Boheme and Traviata don't need to be translated because everyone knows what they're about."
She performs regularly with the New York City Opera even though the State Theatre-based company is able to pay only a tiny fraction of what singers receive at other great opera houses around the world. "I made my career with them," she explained. "I sing there because of loyalty, and because I love to." She has already made plans to retire from singing in 1980 and to become codirector of the New York City Opera with Julius Rudel, the present director.
Right now she is busy studying three other roles. On December 7 she will headline the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, which will run until January 20. In March she will star in a world premiere for the New York City Opera, Miss Haversham's Fire, based on the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. In June she will go to San Diego to perform in yet another world-premiere opera, Juana La Loca by Gian Carlo Menotti.
Last season, Beverly hosted a popular television program called Lifestyles. This year, she said, "I'm doing something much bigger, as a result of that show's success. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what it is, because CBS will be making an announcement in mid-October."
Miss Sills said she has no plans for another book. Her first, the self-portrait Bubbles, has sold 130,000 copies in hardcover and many times that figure in paperback since it came out a year ago. "Bubbles" was her childhood nickname. She was born Belle Silverman in Brooklyn a few months before the stock market crash of 1929. At 3 she did her first radio broadcast; at 7 she was the star of a regular weekly radio show. In her early teens she joined a touring musical company and spent the next 10 years on the road. Then she was accepted by the New York City Opera.
In her first few seasons with the fledgling company, she showed few signs of the fame that was to come. Meanwhile, she and her husband, newspaper publisher Peter Greenough, had become the happy parents of two, a girl named Meredith (Muffy) and a boy, Peter Junior.
Then the heartbreak struck. When Muffy was 2, it was discovered that she suffered from a serious hearing impairment. A few months later, the couple learned that their son was severely mentally retarded.
For the next year and a half, Beverly abandoned her singing career and spent all her time at home. When she returned to the New York City Opera, people noticed a distinct change. Somehow she seemed to have acquired a new dramatic power. In such roles as Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar she dazzled both critics and public, and has done so ever since. In 1969, when she made her debut at La Scala in Milan -- Europe's foremost opera house -- the Italian press labeled her "La Fenomena."
Because of a long-standing disagreement with Rudolph Bing, the managing director of the Metropolitan Opera, it was not until 1975, after Bing's retirement, that she made her debut at the Met. The occasion caused the largest advance ticket sale in the company's history.
For the pat eight years, Sills and her family have lived on Central Park West. "I just feel that we get all the sunshine here," she said. Muffy has just started her freshman year at college in upstate New York and plans to become a veterinarian. Beverly's husband Peter divides his time among various business projects and the National Foundation for the March of Dimes.
Her advice for young singers trying to break into opera? "Keep auditioning," Beverly replied emphatically, "no matter how many times you're turned down. I tried out for the New York City Opera nine times before they took me. And auditions themselves are valuable: they give you the experience of a performance."
|GEORGE SINGER||[Back to Top]|
It's a wet, stormy night on the West Side; rain is pelting down without mercy, and the wind is whipping along the edge of the park like a tornado in a canyon. A taxi pulls up in front of the Century Building at 25 Central Park West, and at the same moment a man in uniform emerges from the building holding an umbrella to escort the woman passenger to safety. Anyone watching the scene would hardly guess that the doorman is 75 years old. But his age is not the only remarkable thing about George Singer.
During his 46 years at the Century -- longer than any other employee or tenant -- George has seen the entire history of the city reflected in the people who have come and gone through the entrance. He has gotten to know world-famous celebrities who have lived in the building, and has met countless others who came to visit -- from prizefighters to presidents. He has watched the enormous changes of fashion, custom and law. And from the start of the Great Depression to the beginning of the Koch administration, George has remained the same calm, good-natured observer, seeing all but criticizing no one.
"I've been here since this was a hole in the ground," he says matter-of-factly, puffing on a cigar in the outer lobby of the building, keeping one eye on the door. "It all started in 1930, when they tore down the old Century Theatre to put up a luxury apartment building. I got a job as a plumber's helper, lugging big pipes across the ground. After it was finished in 1931, I went to the superintendent and told him I helped build the Century and asked for a job. I simply had to get work, because it was during the Depression and I had my wife and two kids. ... I started as an elevator man and I worked up to the front door within a year."
In 1929 George had been earning $125 a week in a hat factory; in 1931 his wages were $75 a month for a 72-hour work week. "Our suits had to be pressed, our hair combed, shoes shined. We had to wear a white bow tie, white gloves. ... If you looked cross-eyed at a tenant and he reported you to the office you were fired in those days."
During the 1930s, only about one-fourth of the apartments were rented. Among the residents was a Mrs. Gershwin; her sons George, Ira and Arthur made frequent visits. By the early 1940s the Century Building had become one of the most exclusive addresses in New York. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, Ethel Merman, Nannette Fabray, Mike Todd and theatre magnate Lee Schubert moved in during those years, along with many celebrities whose names are less familiar today -- singer Belle Baker, sports announcers Ted Husing and Graham McNamee, and world champion welterweight boxer Barney Ross.
George recalls "sparring around" with Dempsey in the lobby at night. "He had a great sense of humor. When he came in late and found the elevator boy asleep he'd give him a hot foot." Ethel Merman, he remembers, "had three or four husbands. In between her husbands she used to go out with different men. She used to smooch with them in the lobby.
"In those days we took in Louis Lepke, with his wife and family," says George with a smile. "He always had three or four bodyguards with him. When he was here, he behaved himself." At other times, of course, Lepke was not so well behaved. He headed a group known as "Murder Incorporated," popularized the term "hit man," and was sent to the electric chair for his crimes.
More recent tenants include Robert Goulet, singer/Playboy playmate Joey Heatherton, and Ted Sorenson, a former presidential advisor who in the past year has been visited at the Century by both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Did George get a chance to shake the president's hand? "Yes. What's the big deal?"
George Singer and Estelle, his wife of 53 years, live in Trump Village near Coney Island. They have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. George could easily afford to retire -- in fact, he is sometimes jokingly referred to as "the richest man in the building" -- but he chooses to keep working. "Why not work till 75 or 80 if you're able?" he says. "I think it's good for a person. Mr. Chanin, who owns this building: he's in his 80s and he goes to work most every day."
George continues to do the night shift as he always has -- "I'd rather work nights. There's more money at nights. And you don't have the bosses around. ... At night people are more in a free spirit."
How does George explain his continued success and good health? Does he have a secret he would like to pass on? "I smoke two cigars a day," he answers immediately, with a gleam in his eye. "That keeps the cold germs away. I never catch cold. It's the best medicine in the world."
Is George looking forward to Christmas? Aren't all doormen!
|WESTSIDER GREGG SMITH||[Back to Top]|
What might you guess about a man who has composed 60 major choral works, toured the world with his singing group, and recorded 50 albums including three Grammy Award winners?
If you didn't know anything else about this man, you would probably guess, first, that he is rich. Then you might imagine that his door is constantly bombarded by recording agents trying to enlist his talents. And third, you would probably think that his name is a household word.
But Westsider Gregg Smith has all of the qualifications listed and none of the imagined results. This is because his music happens to be classical -- a field in which, he says, "a record that sells 10,000 copies is considered a good hit." Conducting his choral group, the Gregg Smith Singers, who usually have anywhere from 16 to 32 voices, he performs works spanning the last four centuries of the Western classical tradition. Gregg writes most of the arrangements himself. Last year his sheet music sales reached 60,000 copies.
The Gregg Smith Singers specialize in pieces that have been infrequently performed or recorded. But a more lengthy description of their music can only tell what it is, not how it sounds. Music speaks for itself better than any words can describe.
"None of the American composers of today are making a living," says Gregg, shaking his head. We're sitting in his spacious but unluxurious apartment near Lincoln Center. "It's a terrible struggle. When people talk about ghetto areas, let me tell you, no one is more in a ghetto than the American classical composer. We have more great composers in this country right now than any other country in the word, and the United States supports its composers less than any other country. ... They want so desperately to perform their music. A composer does a piece and gets a performance in New York, and that may be the last performance it ever gets."
He leads me to a room lined with shelves, boxes and cabinets filled with sheet music, some of it in manuscript. This is where Gregg chooses each new selection for his group. He shrugs at the enormity of the task.
"There are at least 400 new American compositions here, waiting to be looked at. Probably at least 100 of them are of the highest quality. ... When we record this type of material, we don't expect to make a profit, even with the royalties over the years. Classical records are made because the music needs to be heard. It's a second form of publication. We do it as a means of getting this music out."
The same economic rule holds true when the Singers do a concert. Because of the large size of the group and the vast amount of rehearsal time needed to perfect new works or new arrangements, the box office receipts don't come close to meeting the expenses. The grants they receive from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Arts are not always sufficient. "Like every one of the arts, it's a constant deficit operation. At this point, we're not nearly as strong in fund-raising as in the other aspects."
In spite of the financial pressures, Gregg does manage to provide his Singers with about 25 weeks of full-time work per year. His group has gone on a national tour for 15 consecutive years so far. The Singers have performed in every state except Alaska. They have made four tours of Europe and one of the Far East. Their typical New York season included four concerts at Alice Tully Hall and a contemporary music festival in one of the local churches. This year the three-day festival will be held in St. Peter's Church located in the Citicorp Center starting on April 20.
A native of Chicago, Gregg attended college in Los Angeles and founded the Gregg Smith Singers there in 1955. His talent as a conductor and arranger soon came to the attention of the late Igor Stravinsky, the Russian-born composer who was then living in California. The pair eventually recorded more than a dozen albums together. When Stravinsky died in 1971, Gregg was invited to Venice, Italy, to prepare the chorus and orchestra for the rites in honor of the late maestro.
In all his travels, Gregg and his wife Rosalind have found no place where they would feel so much at home as the West Side. "It's a great, wonderful community for the classical musician," he says. "It's one of the most vibrant, alive, sometimes terrifying but always exciting, places to live."
Perhaps Gregg's rarest quality is his unselfishness toward other American composers. His biggest concern seems to be: how will be manage to get all their works recorded?
"I have enough important recordings to do," he says in a voice hovering between joy and frustration, "to keep me busy for five years. That would mean literally hundreds of thousands of dollars." The money may come or it may not. But the worth of Gregg Smith, gentleman artist, is beyond price.
|EASTSIDER LIZ SMITH||[Back to Top]|
Like most of the kids she grew up with in Fort Worth, Texas during the Great Depression, Liz Smith was star-struck by the movies. "They told me there was a whole world out there where people were glamorous, where men and women drank wine with dinner and wore white tie and tails and drove cars with the tops down and danced on glass floors," she recalls, smiling dreamily. Her soft, languid accent, dripping with Southern charm, echoes through the coffee shop at the NBC building in midtown. Despite her cordiality, she somehow gives the impression of being in a great hurry. And for good reason: Smith is probably the hardest-working -- and certainly the most successful -- gossip writer on the East Coast.
Unlike Rona Barrett, the queen of Hollywood gossip, Liz Smith does not have a large staff, but relies on a single full-time assistant and part-time "leg man" in California. Nevertheless, she manages to turn out, each week, six columns for the New York Daily News (syndicated nationally to more than 60 newspapers), five radio spots for NBC, and two television spots for WNBC's Newscenter 4.
"The minute I get up, I go to work. I get up at about nine, and go right to work," says Liz. "I look at the paper right quick, and go right to the typewriter, and work till I finish the column at one. I work in my apartment because I would never have time to get up and dress and go to another place. I would never get to meet my deadline. ... I work all the time. I work a lot on the weekends because that's the only time I can even vaguely make a stab at catching up. ... I just about kill myself to get everything done. I don't know if it's worth it."
For all her complaints, Liz believes that gossip-writing is well suited for her personality. "I can't help it. I'm just one of those people who likes to repeat a tale," she explains. "I'd be reading every newspaper in America that I could get my hands on and every book and magazine anyway, even if I weren't doing this job."
When she was hired by the Daily News in February, 1976 to start her column, Liz was no stranger to the New York celebrity scene; she had already been in the city for 26 years, working mainly as a free-lance writer. "I made a lot of money free-lancing. Even 15 years ago, I never made less than $25,000 a year." Besides writing for virtually every mass-market publication in America, she spent five years ghostwriting the Cholly Knickerbocker society column in the old Journal American. Her many contacts among the famous, and the resurgence of interest in gossip, also helped persuade Daily News editor Mike O'Neill that the paper could use a gossip column in which the personality of the writer came through.
Within weeks of her debut, Liz broke some of the sensational details of Woodward and Bernstein's The Final Days, which was about to be excerpted in Newsweek. She added the TV and radio broadcasts to her schedule in 1978, and avoids duplicating items whenever possible.
Her best sources, says Liz, are other journalists. "Because they know what stories are. I know a lot of very serious and important writers who have a lot of news and gossip and rumors and stuff that they don't have any place to put, so they're apt to give it to me. They have impulses to disseminate news; I think real reporters do feel that way."
Liz says that, generally speaking, she prefers writers to all other people. Asked to name some favorites, she bubblingly replies: "Norman Mailer. I just think Norman is a genius. Oh God, I love so many writers. My favorite novel recently was Peter Maas' book, Made in America. ... There's Tommy Thompson, who just wrote Serpentine. Nora Ephrom, Carl Bernstein are friends of mine. Norman Mailer is a friend of mine. Oh, I could go on forever."
An author in her own right, Liz wrote The Mother Book two years ago; it sold approximately 65,000 copies in hardcover and 200,000 in paperback. "It kind of wrote itself," she says modestly of the acclaimed collection of anecdotes about mothers. Someday she would like to try fiction; at present she is working on a book that she describes as "a history and philosophy of gossip and what it is and what it's all about."
An Eastsider for half her life, Liz says her neighborhood "has the lowest crime rate of any police district in New York." Most of the restaurants he frequents are on the Upper East Side. They include Le Plaisir, Gian Marino, Szechuan East and Elaine's.
For years she saw her therapist at least once a week; now she pays him just occasional visits. "It helped me enormously in writing. I quit having writer's block. I quit putting things off. I quit making myself miserable. I accepted my success, which was hard, because a lot of writers: they don't want to succeed. They don't think they deserve it. It's like people who don't want to be happy.
"Well, I mean you can be happy, you know, if you let yourself, and if you do your work. The most important thing in the world, I think, is to do your work. If you do your work, you'll be happy: I'm almost positive about it."
|EASTSIDERS TOM & DICK SMOTHERS||[Back to Top]|
As the Smothers Brothers, they were perhaps the funniest, most original American music and comedy team to come out of the 1960s. Their 10 albums sold in the millions, and for three seasons they had the most controversial show on television, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. When CBS abruptly canceled their contract in 1969 for seemingly political reasons, they became a cause celebre by suing the network and winning a million dollars in damages. After 18 years of performing together as a team, they retired their act in December, 1976, saying that their brand of satire had been "stated," and that repetition would bore them. The brothers parted on friendly terms, each determined to make his mark separately as an entertainer.
This past Labor Day, they were reunited as a comedy team -- not on television or in a nightclub, but on the stage of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on West 47th Street, where they instantly breathed new life into the long-running musical I Love My Wife. Cast in the roles of two would-be wife swappers from Trenton, New Jersey, they insisted on being billed not as the Smothers Brothers, but as Dick and Tom Smothers. However, anyone who laments the demise of the Smothers Brothers act should catch the show before the six-month contract runs out on March 4. Dick Smothers, as Wally, a smooth-talking pseudo-sophisticate, and Tom Smothers, as his naive, bumbling friend Alvin, a moving man, wear their roles as if they had been written for no one else.
"I like theatre and I'm going to do more of it," said Tom, 42, during a recent dressing room interview after a matinee performance. His brother Dick, 40, had other plans. "As soon as this show is over, I have to go back to California and do some bottling for my winery. And I want to do more auto racing. I race for American Motors. As far as making a career in acting on Broadway: no. I think I could work at it and become a fairly decent actor, but while I'm making wine, I want to play in cabaret theatre and dinner theatre. It's fun, and it keeps you sharp. Broadway isn't a place you should learn. What we're doing is apprenticing on Broadway.
"But that's how we got our television show," protested Tom. "We'd never done a television show before."
In spite of the box office success of their Broadway debut, Dick cannot help feeling disappointed that, as always, he is cast as the straight man. His character Wally is a foil to the lovable, slow-witted Alvin. "There's not a whole lot to do with Wally," said Dick, pouring me a glass of his Smothers white Riesling wine. "The fact is, everyone is pretty locked in except for Alvin. We're all dancing around him."
Tom's only complaint about the show is that it has put a strain on his health, and especially on his throat. "This is the first time I've been close to the edge of anxiety healthwise," he confided, sipping hot tea with lemon. "As soon as I arrived n New York I got tonsillitis. Now I have insomnia. Antibiotics really drain your body. I've lost 15 pounds so far. It's a very demanding part physically."
Both brothers seemed very serious offstage, although Tom went through his full range of marvelous mug expressions as he answered the questions and posed for photos. Asked about how his current salary compares to what he has earned previously, he replied: "Broadway you do for love of the craft. The money is nothing to what you can make in film. You do it because not many actors can do theatre." Dick commented: "Some of the big stars in Las Vegas get 20 to 30 times what we're making. It's the prestige and the experience."
Tom and Dick were born on Governor's Island in New York Harbor. Their father, an Army major, died in the Philippines near the end of World War II. Their mother then took them to the West Coast, and when Tom was 12, she gave him a guitar. "I wanted to be a bandleader first, then a comedian," he recalled. "At San Jose State, I was in a trio, and we needed a tenor. So I got Dickie to come to school." While still in college, they played their first professional engagement as the Smothers Brothers at San Francisco's Purple Onion nightclub and got four encores. Before long, Jack Paar invited them on The Tonight Show, and their career was assured.
One thing that is particularly touching about Tom and Dick Smothers is the great affection they have for each other. They live in separate Upper East Side apartments about a mile apart, but Dick drives Tom to the theatre each day, and they frequently socialize together.
Tom's mind is currently on a 19th-century farce, Nothing but the Truth, which he plans to start rehearsing this fall and hopes to eventually bring to Broadway. Dick, meanwhile, is thinking more about the jeep he recently won in a celebrity auto race. "I'm going to drive it home to Santa Cruz," he commented, with obvious satisfaction. "It has four-wheel drive, bush guards, a roll bar, and heavy off-road tires. It's perfect for Manhattan."
|WESTSIDER VICTOR TEMKIN||[Back to Top]|
Victor Temkin, who looks like a character out of Dickens and comes across with the gruff friendliness of television's Ed Asner, is sitting in his midtown office on Friday afternoon trying to deal with three things at once. The telephone is jangling, visitors are dropping by unannounced, and I'm throwing him questions about the publishing business.
What complicates matters is that Mr. Temkin is in the process of moving his offices to another floor; has ad and his staff of 80 are packing everything into cardboard boxes, and now it's impossible to find anything. But the short, pink-faced man with gold-framed spectacles takes it all in stride. He lights a Lucky Strike, props one hand against his chin, and explains how he got to be the head of Berkley Books, which has long been the paperback division of G.P. Putnam.
"I came to New York in 1960 as a lawyer. I became assistant U.S. attorney in '61. I stayed there till '64," he relates in short bursts of speech. "Then I went into private practice until September of 1967, when I got into the book business. I became house counsel at Bantam Books, and worked my way up, and later became a vice president. I came here in July of 1977 as president and chief executive officer.
"Since that time, we purchased Jove Books from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. It's another paperback house. ... Berkley does largely reprints of hardcovers, but Jove does exclusively paperback originals. Together, the two companies put out about 300 or 325 books a year. Of these, 120 are from Jove."
Berkley Books, he admits, is one of the smaller paperback houses, perhaps sixth or seventh. But the company manages to get its share of best-sellers. At New Year's two were in the nation's top 10 -- Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford and Nurse by Peggy Anderson. Mommie Dearest, says Temkin, "is the first time we've had a story of child abuse at that level off society, which I think is a great thing for the people to read. It isn't only poor kids that get beat up, it's the rich kids too -- just as badly."
In terms of sales and profits, he says, "There's no such thing as an average book. It depends on what you pay for the advance and what the cost of manufacturing the book is. ... I can have books sell 50,000 copies and make a profit, or I can have books sell a million copies and lose money. ... It's not hard to spend a million dollars on a book. That's easy to do. The hard thing is to find a book like Nurse, where you didn't pay the million for it and you can sell a million and a half. We jumped in and bought it early on, before it was a hardcover best-seller."
Berkley's hottest author at present is John Jakes, whose seven-volume Kent family saga has sold 30 million copies. Jakes' new book, The Americans, is scheduled to be out in February 1980. "The first printing is over three million copies," says Temkin. "We expect it to be a number one best-seller.. ... What a great success story. John has been around for many many years and he's written a lot of books but he's never had the commercial success until that came along. You can never tell in this business. That's why we're in it: You don't know what tomorrow's going to be."
Temkin, who anticipates losing money on seven out of 10 books he publishes, does frequently travels around the country on business, and makes it a point to observe what people are reading on buses and in bookstores. "I think kids today are coming back to books. Because it's the best form of entertainment there is for the money," he says. "I read a lot. I try to read two, three books a week. I have a rule that I don't read books by authors who are friends of mine that I am publishing, because I know it will be nothing but trouble. ... I can't tell them I don't like a book, and if I tell them I do like it, they may not believe me. But I like writers. I enjoy being around them."
A native of Milwaukee, Temkin lives on the West Side with his wife Susan and their 8-year-old twins, Andrew and Peter. Susan has a busy career as a caterer who runs her own cooking school for kids.
In December, 1977, Berkley brought out a book about the Jonestown tragedy, The Guyana Massacre by Charles Krause, which was written, published and distributed in a single week. "It's instant journalism," Temkin explains. "We're going to do a book late in 1980 about the 1980 election, to tell how and why it happened."
He laughs when asked whether his skills as a lawyer have been helpful in his publishing career. "No, I think I've forgotten most of what I know about being a lawyer. It's not the same."
|WESTSIDER JOHN TESH||[Back to Top]|
"I've had a lot of luck in my career," says John Tesh of WCBS Channel 2 News."I enjoy working hard and I know exactly what I want. Who knows, 10 years from now I may not be that way. A lot of my friends are afraid I've gone too far too fast."
During the first 18 years of his life, when he lived in Garden City, Long Island, John was a top student, a star athlete, and a fine musician. After graduating from high school he left for North Carolina to attend the state university on a soccer scholarship. His goal -- to become a doctor. But when John returned to the New York area in 1976 at the age of 24, it was not as a professional athlete or a physician, but as a television news reporter. Today, at 27, he is one of the most highly respected young broadcasters in New York. Throughout the week he appears regularly on Channel 2's 6 o'clock news as an on-the-scene reporter, and each Saturday and Sunday he co-anchors both the 6 o'clock and the 11 o'clock evening news. According to Tesh, his 6 o'clock weekend show is watched by more people than any other local news program in New York.
As if this job were not enough, last September John opened his own sporting goods store, Sports Stripes, located on Columbus Avenue at 75th Street, a few blocks from his apartment. The compact, brightly decorated store specializes in running equipment and is the only place in New York City where running shoes can be resoled on the premises.
When I stop by Sports Stripes one afternoon to talk with John over lunch, the first thing I notice is his sheer size. At 6 foot and 190 pounds, he makes a commanding presence. There is command in his voice as well; it is as deep and rich as a Russian bass-baritone's. He seems extraordinarily calm, and when I comment on this, he says that "there's not as much pressure in New York as there was then I worked in North Carolina. Here you're able to concentrate solely on your reporting. There you were concerned with logistical problems -- shooting the film, developing it, editing it, selecting slides, producing the broadcast, and then anchoring it. ... But I'm not as calm as I might appear. I think people at Sports Stripes and CBS think of me as frenetic."
His entry into broadcasting was totally unplanned. Halfway through college, he got a part-time job as a copy boy at a local radio station. One day the station's two newsmen called in sick, and John was asked to fill in. Instantly bitten by the broadcast journalism "bug," he decided to trade in his premed courses for television/radio production and political science.
"When I finished college," says John in his low-keyed manner, "I had the choice of going to medical school or continuing in broadcasting, so I felt l could go either way. I decided to stay in broadcasting for a while." After working at television stations in North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, he was offered a job at WCBS.
"I would say that most correspondents try to get to New York, because the production is a lot better here. ... I wouldn't like the anchor job without the field work," he adds thoughtfully. "I have been told that my forte is breaking news. Last year I won an Emmy for that. The same year I won an Emmy for outstanding reporting.
"Unedited, live television is what it's coming to. It's interesting, because it's come full circle. At one time, everything was live. Then for some reason it went so heavily into tape, and now it's back into live journalism. As the public becomes better informed, so changes the news.
"When Fred Cowan was holed up in a warehouse in New Rochelle, and he had killed at least one police officer and was holding several hostages, I was in a house across the street from there. We were reporting as it was happening. There were shots fired; I didn't realize until afterwards how intense it was."
Asked about which skills are required for live journalism, John says: "I think it's being able to explain quickly and concisely the situation at hand without becoming too involved in the situation. Becoming the eyes and ears of the viewer. Being able to ad-lib is actually what it is. [Walter] Cronkite is one of the great all-time ad-libbers."
A bachelor who lives alone, John still finds time for sports and music: "I get enough excitement out of the store and work so that when it's time to go home I like to be quiet. I have an electric piano, which I play with headsets. ... I've run two marathons here in New York. I'm too big to be a good marathon runner, but I do train hard. My ambition is to find some race to win."
John says he likes the West Side to much that "my friends have to drag me to the East Side. I do all my shopping on the West Side because I figure, why shouldn't I help out my friends who live here by shopping at their stores?" When John decided to open his own store, he called up his boyhood friend Paul Abbott to run it. The pair were classmates from grammar school through high school.
John says he hopes to eventually open his own seafood restaurant -- "on the West Side, of course. This is where I plan to live for the rest of my life."
|WESTSIDER RICHARD THOMAS||[Back to Top]|
Seven years ago, on Christmas Day 1972, CBS aired a holiday program titled The Homecoming about a family living in Appalachia during the Great Depression. All who were involved in the project went their separate ways after the filming, including a young actor from the Upper West Side named Richard Thomas. But it drew such a favorable response that CBS decided to turn it into a series. The rest is history: The Waltons became a hit and made Thomas a television superstar.
For five years he charmed his way into American homes as the beloved John Boy. Then in 1976 he decided to leave The Waltons in order to concentrate on his marriage, write poetry, do stage acting, perform ballet and make movies. On February 18, in what is certain to be his most closely watched performance to date, Richard will star in the first segment of ABCs Roots II, playing the son of a wealthy railroad lawyer (Henry Fonda) who marries a black schoolteacher. He will appear, to a lesser extent, on the two following evenings as well, before leaving the scene as a 54-year-old man.
In an interview at the New York School of Ballet at Broadway and 83rd Street -- which is owned by his parents, Richard Thomas III and Barbara Fallis -- he talks enthusiastically about his role in Roots II. "My character is an actual historical figure," says Richard. "He had just come back from college and didn't know what he wanted out of life. ... Obviously in 1892 or 3, his marriage was considered a disaster. His wife Carrie was Alex Haley's first teacher. Her school is still in Tennessee today."
Sporting a newly grown moustache, casually dressed, and still boyish-looking at 27, Richard carries an air of tremendous confidence about him. Yet his voice changes to one of awed respect when he speaks of Henry Fonda: "The thing about working with someone like Fonda is that his presence is so strongly felt that you get caught up in watching him. It's really uncanny. I had to pinch myself to get back into the scene. And Olivia de Havilland, who plays my mother -- she's extraordinary, too. We got along great."
Earlier this year, Richard Performed in the Los Angeles production of Streamers, and also made a TV movie for CBS, Getting Married, which was broadcast last summer. In the late fall, during one of his frequent trips to the West Side, he donned ballet tights to play the character role of Hilarion in the U.S. Terpsichore Company's production of Giselle, starring his 19-year-old sister Bronwyn Thomas, one of the most highly acclaimed young ballerinas in the city.
Richard's parents are both former principal dancers for the New York City Ballet. They were on tour in Cuba when he was born, and the first language he learned was Spanish. He began acting at the age of 7. Growing up on West 96th Street, he attended McBurney High School and Columbia University.
Although he moved to Los Angeles in 1971, Richard still considers himself a Westsider. "I just know it like the back of my hand," he says. "I'm not sure I could live without LA anymore, but whenever I'm here, I feel completely at home. There's a kind of underground chic on the Upper West Side that I kind of respond to. I'm very comfortable around Spanish-speaking people. I speak Spanish, and my wife is part Mexican. I like the Latin flavor."
He and his wife Alma have been married since 1975; they have a 2-year-old son, also named Richard Thomas. "He talks a blue streak," comments the proud father. "Sometimes he gets very blue. You have to watch what you say around him."
In 1994 the young actor published his first book of poetry. Titled simply Poems by Richard Thomas, it won the California Robert Frost Award the following year. His second volume of poetry, In The Moment, is scheduled for publication by Avon early in 1979.
Another of his prime interests is music. "I'm a big operagoer," he says. "I'm really partial to Verdi and Wagner, if you have to get it down to two." He also plays the dulcimer. "When I go to Kentucky this week, I'm going to call on a man who's one of the great dulcimer makers in the United States."
The three-stringed mountain instrument, an important component in the folk music of Appalachia, caught Richard's fancy long ago, during a visit to his grandfather's Kentucky farm, where he spent many summers as a boy. Both of his grandparents on his father's side are still living. Like an episode from The Waltons, the family often gathers at the farm on Thanksgiving Day.
The original Roots was seen by more people than any other program in the history of television, but Richard does not dwell on his important role in Roots II. He prefers to talk about the fulfillment he has found in marriage.
"I can't imagine not being married at this point," he says, the thick gold band gleaming on his finger. "If my marriage weren't happy, I couldn't make the right kind of career decisions. One supports the other. They're part of the same package." Does he expect to have more children? Richard smiles broadly and replies: "That's really my wife's department."
|EASTSIDER ANDY WARHOL||[Back to Top]|
He is the great enigma of American art. Some of his most famous paintings are exercises in monotony. His movies often put the viewer to sleep. As a conversationalist, he can be low-keyed to the point of dullness: speaking softly in a slow-paced, emotionless voice, he relies heavily on short sentences, long pauses, and an abundance of "ums" and "uhs." However, he has one asset that overshadows everything negative that might be said or written about him: his name happens to be Andy Warhol.
The only time I met Warhol in person was at a book publication party several months ago. He came by himself, spoke to hardly anyone, and spent most of his brief visit flitting quietly about the room, avoiding people's eyes and taking snapshots of the more celebrated guests. With his pale complexion, narrow frame, and hair like bleached straw, he looked not unlike a scarecrow. Everywhere he went, heads turned to catch a glimpse. That has been the story of Warhol's life ever since he rose to international prominence in the 1960s.
Although he did not feel like talking when I met him, Andy -- never publicity-shy -- agreed to a telephone interview at a later date. Reached at the offices of his Interview magazine off Union Square, he answered all my questions briefly, and in a voice so low that he could barely be heard.
Interview, the monthly tabloid-shaped magazine that he publishes, is Warhol's most visible creative project at the moment. "It's been going for about seven or eight years," he said. "I started it for Brigid Berlin. Her father ran the Hearst Corporation. She didn't want to work on it." The person on the cover of each issue is identified only on the inside, and many of the faces are difficult to recognize. Some are genuine celebrities, such as Truman Capote, who has a regular column. Others are young unknowns who have caught Warhol's fancy. The ultramodern layout includes many full-page ads for some of the most expensive shops in Manhattan. The interviews, interspersed with many photos, lean heavily on show business personalities, models, artists, writers and fashion people. In most cases, the "interviews" are actually group discussions -- often with Andy himself taking part -- that are printed verbatim. Even the most mundane comments are not cut.
The reason? "I used to carry a tape recorder with me all the time, so this was a way to use it," said Warhol. But in truth, the literal transcriptions are another example of the naturalism that characterizes much of his work. When he turned his attention from painting and drawing to filmmaking in 1963, he became notorious for such movies as Sleep, which showed a man sleeping for six hours, and Empire, which he made by aiming his camera at the Empire State Building and keeping the film running for eight straight hours.
According to Warhol, many people have turned down his request for interviews. "It's hard to get Robert Redford. ... We choose people who like to talk a lot." The type of reader he seeks to attract is "the rich audience. People who go to places like Christie's and Fiorucci's. ... It's fun to go to those places and get invited to parties. I love fashion parties. Shoe parties are even better."
His affection for shoes dates back to 1949, when, in his first year in New York, he got a job in the art department of a shoe store. His designs and magazine illustrations caught on so fast that within a year, he was able to purchase the town house on the Upper East Side, where he still lives with his mother. "But mostly I live with my two dachshunds. They've taken over."
Certain facts abut Andy Warhol's early life remain a mystery because he has always objected to questions that he considers irrelevant to an understanding of him as an artist. It is known that he was born somewhere in Pennsylvania, sometime between 1927 and 1931, to a family of immigrants from Czechoslovakia named Warhola.
By his mid-20s, Warhol was one of the most sought-after commercial artists in the field. His silk-screen prints of Campbell's soup cans made him famous with the general public, and by the mid-1960s he was clearly the most highly celebrated "plastic artist" -- a title he relishes -- in the English-speaking world.
In recent years, his creative output has been reduced somewhat, as the result of the severe wounds he sustained in June, 1968, when a deranged woman shot him in his office. Nevertheless, he continues to mount gallery exhibitions, write books and paint portraits. The Whitney Museum (75th St. at Madison Ave.) will have a show of his portraits in December.
Asked about the East Side, Warhol said that one of his favorite activities is to go window shopping. "When you live on the East Side, you don't have to go far. Because usually everything happens here." When he goes to the West Side, it's often to visit Studio 54. "I only go there to see my friend Steve Rubell. Afterwards, we usually go to Cowboys and Cowgirls."
About the only medium that Warhol has not worked in is television. "Oh, I always wanted to, yeah," was his parting comment. "It just never happens. The stations think we're not Middle America."
|EASTSIDER ARNOLD WEISSBERGER||[Back to Top]|
What do Leonard Bernstein, Helen Hayes, Otto Preminger, Carol Channing, Truman Capote and George Balanchine have in common?
All are giants in the performing arts. And all are -- or have been -- clients of Arnold Weissberger, one of the world's foremost theatrical attorneys. Now in his 50th year of practice, the Brooklyn-born, Westside-raised Weissberger has been representing stars ever since a chance encounter brought Orson Welles to his office in 1936.
"Most of my clients are involved in making contracts that have to do with plays or films or television," says Weissberger on a recent afternoon. The scene is his small, richly furnished law firm in the East 50s. Dressed in a dark suit, with a white carnation in his buttonhole to match his white mustache, Weissberger looks very much like the stereotype of a business tycoon. "Part of my job," he continues, "is to be familiar with the rules of guilds and unions. And I have to know about the treaties between countries that affect the payment of taxes."
Smiling benevolently, his hands folded in front of him, the gentlemanly lawyer quickly proves himself a gifted storyteller. In his upper-class Boston accent, acquired during seven years at Harvard, he delights in telling anecdotes about his favorite performers. Not shy about dropping names, Weissberger drops only the biggest, such as Sir Laurence Olivier -- a client who had invited him to lunch the previous day -- and Martha Graham.
His work is so crowded that whenever he has to read anything that is longer than three pages, he puts it in his weekend bag. Yet Weissberger devotes an hour or two every day to one of several philanthropic organizations. At the top of his list is the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, of which he is co-chairman. "I consider her one of the three great seminal figures in the arts in the 20th century, and I prize her friendship enormously." The other two outstanding artistic figures of the century, he says, are "Stravinsky, who it was also my privilege to represent, and Picasso, who I did not represent."
He serves as chairman of the New Dramatists, a group that nurtures young playwrights; he is a board member of Fountain House, a halfway house for ex-mental patients; and he is chairman of the Theatre and Music Collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
On Monday through Thursday, Weissberger lives in a luxurious Eastside apartment that he shares with his longtime friend, theatrical agent Milton Goldman. Each Friday after work, Weissberger departs for Seacliff, Long Island, where he owns a house overlooking the ocean. Goldman and Weissberger, whose careers have run a parallel course during the 35 years of their acquaintance, travel widely each summer, generally spending a month in London, where both have many clients.
"Our interests are very similar, except that I am an opera buff, and Milton is not. He's a realist. I started going to opera when I was 10 years old, so I don't mind if a 300-pound soprano dies of consumption in Traviata, as long as she sings beautifully."
An avid art collector, Weissberger buys only what he has room to display on the walls of his home and office. For the past 30 years his chief hobby has been photography. He has published two volumes of his work -- Close Up (1967) and Famous Faces (1971). Although he has never taken a photography course, and never uses flash, he captures the essence of his subjects through his rapport with them. "I have discussed the possibility of doing a photo book of children I've taken around the world," he notes. "And now, of course, I have enough photos for a second volume of famous faces."
His vigorous appearance to the contrary, Weissberger claims to get little exercise. "I have one of those stationary bicycles at home, but I've never gotten round to using it. And I've got to do so before I next see my doctor, or I won't be able to face him. ... It's interesting how doctorial advice changes. I remember several years ago, it was not considered a good idea for people who were no longer young to climb stairs, and now my doctor says that climbing stairs is the best thing I can do for my constitution."
So closely connected are the various aspects of his life that Weissberger is able to say: "There's no demarcation between my workday and my play day. People ask me when I'm going to retire, and I say there's no need for me to retire, because I enjoy my work so much. I become part of people's lives. I become privy to their problems. It is, in many ways, an extension, an enhancement of my own life to be able to participate in the lives of my clients. I remember a few months ago, when Lilli Palmer was sitting right there, and I said, `Lilli, what a lucky person I am. I'm having to do a tax return and I'm doing it for Lilli Palmer.' Because there sat this beautiful, charming, intelligent, lovely lady, and I was representing her professionally. For me, I can't think of any profession that could possibly be more rewarding."
|EASTSIDER TOM WICKER||[Back to Top]|
Something unusual was happening up ahead: that much he was sure of, although no sound of gunshots reached Tom Wicker's ears as he rode in a press bus in the presidential motorcade through the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963. Gazing out the window, he observed crowds of people running about in confusion. Shortly afterward, outside Parkland Hospital, the full extent of the tragedy was announced to the world, and Tom Wicker, the only reporter from the New York Times who was present that day, rushed off to write the biggest story of his career.
Working feverishly through the afternoon, he came up with a 106-paragraph account of the day's events that dominated the Times' front page the following morning. In decades to come, students and historians will turn to Wicker's story on microfilm with perhaps a sense of wonder that it omits no facts of major importance, and contains virtually no errors.
Tom Wicker was writing for history that day, and largely as a result of his masterful performance, he was elevated the following year to the position of the Times bureau chief in Washington. In 1968, he was appointed associate editor of the newspaper, and in 1971, he returned to New York in order to concentrate on his column, "In the Nation." For the past 13 years, the column has appeared three times weekly in the op-ed page of the Times.
A tall, ruddy-complexioned, powerful-looking Southerner of 52 with a country-boy manner and a Carolina accent as thick as molasses, Wicker has managed to combine his lifelong career in journalism with an independent career as a book author. The most successful of his seven novels, Facing the Lions, was on the New York Times best-seller list for 18 weeks in 1973, while his most recent nonfiction work, On Press: A Top Reporter's Life in, and Reflections on, American Journalism, was published last year by Viking and will soon be released as a paperback by Berkley.
In an interview at his office in the Times building, the affable, articulate Wicker responds to an opening question about whether journalists are less accurate today than in the past by saying, "No, I don't think they ever were very accurate. It's hard to get pinpoint accuracy under pressure. I think that's an inherent weakness of daily journalism. But you have to consider that there are something like eight million words a day coming in here. It's very tough to double-check all of that by deadline. I think of journalism as being kind of like an early alert system."
In his column, Wicker has never been told what to write, never had an article killed or edited, and never been urged to conform to the Times editorial policy.
Some of his pieces look best in retrospect -- for example, the three columns he wrote in September and October 1977 about the dangers of storing nuclear waste. The sympathy with which he treated the prison death of convict George Jackson in a 1971 column caught the attention of inmates everywhere, and during the uprising at New York's Attica prison later that year, he was called in as a mediator and official observer. His book about the uprising, A Time To Die, (1975), won him two major literary awards and was made a Book of the Month Club selection.
An engaging public speaker who travels widely, he spent two months in Africa last year. At present, he is preparing a long article on Richard Nixon that will appear in the Sunday Times magazine this August to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the ex-president's resignation.
Asked for his opinion on the seeming resurgence of Nixon as a public figure, Wicker smiles and says, "I'm sure Al Capone could have drawn a crowd the day he got out of prison. I don't think Nixon has been revived. He never was dead in that sense. He left the White House under a cloud, yet he retained, I am sure, millions of people who supported him. ... I myself have always discounted these reports that some future Republican president might appoint him a sort of roving ambassador. As far as his giving speeches at big colleges is concerned, I think that's all right. He may have made mistakes, but I myself would find it very interesting to read an article by Richard Nixon about foreign affairs. I think he's a man of intelligence and knowledge in this area."
For the past five years, Wicker has been married to Pamela Hill, vice president of ABC News and executive producer of the network's documentary productions. They live in a four-story brownstone on the Upper East Side. Though both enjoy cooking, their busy schedules call for many visits to local restaurants.
Wicker's next book is a historical novel about the American Civil War that he has been researching for several years. "It probably won't be completed until 1981," he says, "but I expect it to be the best book I have ever done. It's certainly the one I'm putting the most effort into. At the same time, the column is my first priority. That's the clock I punch. ... My experience is, the more you write, the better you get at it. It's a business in which you keep sharpening your tools all the time."
|EASTSIDER TOM WOLFE||[Back to Top]|
During New York City's newspaper strike of 1963, a 31-year-old Herald Tribune reporter named Tom Wolfe visited California in order to write an article for Esquire magazine about the souped-up, customized cars and the crowd they attracted. When Esquire's deadline arrived, Wolfe was unable to pull the article together, so he typed out his largely impressionistic notes and sent them to the editor, who decided to run "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" exactly as written. Thus was Tom Wolfe established as one of the most important new talents in American journalism.
Today he is generally recognized as the foremost proponent of what might be called the nonfiction short story. The majority of his eight books are collections of factual articles written in the style of fiction. His latest effort, The Right Stuff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12.95), is about the seven Mercury astronauts and the world of military flying. Over cocktails at the Isle of Capri, a restaurant not far from his Eastside apartment, the slender, gentlemanly, and slightly bashful author spoke at length about his new book and a dozen other subjects. Dressed in a one-button, swallowtail, yellow pinstriped suit -- "it's kind of an early Duke of Windsor" -- he poured forth his colorful phrases in a rich, soothing, mildly Southern accent that rang with sincerity.
"I began this book in 1972, when Rolling Stone asked me to go down to the Cape and cover Apollo 17. Somewhat to my surprise, I became quite interested in the whole business of: what's the makeup of someone who's willing to sit on top of a rocket and let you light the candle? And I ended up writing four stories for Rolling Stone ... in about a month. And I thought if I spent a couple of months in expanding them, I'd have a book. Well, it's now 1979 and here we are." He laughed heartily. "It was so difficult that I put it aside every opportunity I had. I wrote three other books in the meantime, to avoid working on it.
"I ended up being more interested in the fraternity of flying than in space exploration. I found the reactions of people and flying conditions much more fascinating. So the book is really about the right stuff -- the code of bravery that the pilots live by, and the mystical belief about what it takes to be a hot fighter jock.
"Flying has a competitive structure that's as hotly contested as the world of show business. And the egos are just as big -- in fact, in a way, they're bigger. ... It's hard to top surgeons for sheer ego. I think surgeons are the most egotistical people on the face of the earth, but pilots usually make the playoffs: they're in there."
An excellent caricaturist who has published hundreds of drawings and mounted several major exhibitions, he confessed to being vain about his artwork because "I don't feel as sure of myself as I do in writing." A book of his drawings will come out in 1980. He also has a captioned drawing each month in Harper's, the magazine where his wife Sheila works as art director. Tom was a lifelong bachelor until they were married last year.
He arrived in New York in 1962, armed with a Ph.D. from Yale and three years' experience on the Washington Post. "I really love it in New York. It reminds me of the state fair in Virginia, where I grew up. ... The picture of the East Side really is of the man living in the $525,000 co-op, leaving the building at night with his wife, both clothed in turtleneck sweaters with pieces of barbed wire and jeans, going past a doorman who is dressed like an Austrian Army colonel from 1870."
No relation to the novelist Thomas Wolfe, Tom Wolfe has written only one short piece of fiction in his life. He is now thinking about writing "a Vanity Fair type of novel about New York" as his next major undertaking. In the meantime, he is working on a sequel to The Painted Word, his book-length essay abut modern art that appeared in 1975.
"Another thing I'd like to try is a movie script," he added. "I've done one -- a series of vignettes about life in Los Angeles. ... But many talented writers just go bananas in trying to write for the movies. Because they're not in charge of what they're doing. All that a good director can do is keep from ruining the script. He cannot turn a bad script into a good movie. He can turn a good script into a bad movie. And often, I think, it happens, because the director is given a power that he simply should not have."
Another possible project, said Wolfe, is a second volume of The Right Stuff, to bring the story up to the $250 million Soviet-American handshake in 1975. The 436-page first volume has been received with acclaim. In the New York Sunday Times book review, C.D.B. Bryan wrote: "It is Tom Wolfe at his very best. ... It is technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic -- it is superb."
* * *
An Interview with Tom Wolfe
from The Westsider, 11-22-79
Tom Wolfe, one of the most original stylists in American writing today, burst spectacularly on the literary horizon in 1965 with The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a collection of articles about contemporary American life written as nonfiction.
Wolfe's adoption of stream of consciousness, his unorthodox use of italics and exclamation marks, his repetition of letters, and his effectiveness in inventing hip phrases with nonsense words and classical references, helped establish an entirely new literary form -- the nonfiction short story.
His reputation was cemented by such books as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Pump House Gang and The Painted Word, a lengthy essay on modern art. Wolfe sometimes illustrates his work with his own pen-and-ink drawings.
His latest book, The Right Stuff, deals with the age of rockets, the early astronauts and the world of military flying. Published in September 1979, it is a critical and commercial success that has already hit the best-seller list.
A tall, slender, 48-year-old transplanted Southerner with a rich baritone voice, Wolfe speaks softly, chooses his word carefully, and exhibits a kind of schoolboy bashfulness when discussing his own work. A New Yorker since 1962, he lives on the Upper East Side with his wife Sheila, the art director of Harper's magazine. On the day of our interview, Wolfe is wearing his customary one-button, swallow-tailed, yellow pin-stripe suit, which he describes as "early Duke of Windsor."
Q: What made you decide to write this book?
A: Back in 1972, Rolling Stone asked me to go down to the Cape and cover Apollo 17. That was the last mission to the moon. ... Somewhat to my surprise, I really became quite interested in the whole business of: what's the makeup of someone who's willing to sit on top of a rocket and let you light the candle? And I ended up writing four stories for Rolling Stone in about a month. And I thought if I spent a couple of months in expanding them, I'd have a book. Well, it's now 1979 and here we are." (He laughs.) It was so difficult that I put it aside every opportunity I had. I wrote three other books in the meantime, to avoid working on it.
I ended up being more interested in the fraternity of flying than in space exploration. I found the reactions of people and flying conditions much more fascinating. So the book is really about the right stuff -- the code of bravery that the pilots live by, and the mystical belief about what it takes to be a hot fighter jock, as the expression goes. I became interested in people like Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier back in 1947. When the seven Mercury astronauts were chosen, they were not the seven hottest test pilots in America, although they were presented as such at the time. The arrival of the astronauts as a type completely upset the competitive hierarchy of flying.
Flying has a competitive structure that's as hotly contested as the world of show business. And the egos are just as big -- in fact, in a way, they're bigger. . ... It's hard to top surgeons for sheer ego. I think surgeons are the most egotistical people on the face of the earth, but pilots usually make the playoffs: they're in there.
Q: Speaking of your other books: how do you manage to know all the hip phrases of the day? Do you spend a lot of time with teenagers?
A: At one time, people thought I was some sort of medium who hung around with children to pick up what young people were thinking and doing. Well, that interested me very much in the '60s, when suddenly young people were doing extraordinary things -- things they had never done, which really boiled down to living lives that they controlled, sometimes in a communal way, going with their own styles, rather than imitating that of their elders. So it was fascinating. I made a point of learning about it.
Sometimes now I turn on the radio and I don't recognize a single song on the charts. Right now I have no idea what any of the top 20 singles are. And I have the feeling that it's probably not worth finding out, because we're now in a phase where we're just filling in the spaces of what was introduced by rock and the Beatles and the Grateful Dead and so on. There's nothing very new, I don't think. Maybe I'm wrong.
Q: How do you choose your clothes?
A: Right now I'm in the phase of pretentiousness. During the late '60s I had a lot of fun by making mild departures in style -- wearing white suits instead of blue suits, things like that. That was very shocking and unusual in 1963. Suddenly things reached a point beyond which it really wasn't worth going, as far as I was concerned, when Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman appeared on the Dick Cavett Show in body paint.
There's one direction in which clothes can go that still annoys the hell out of people, and that's pretentiousness. If you wear double-breasted waistcoats, which I rather like, that annoys people. Spats more than annoy people: they infuriate people. Try it sometime if you don't believe me. They think that this is an affront. It stirs up all sorts of resentment. We're in a period now in which the picture of the East Side really is of the man living in the $525,000 co-op, leaving the building at night, both clothed in turtleneck sweaters with pieces of barbed wire and jeans, going past a doorman who is dressed like an Austrian Army colonel from 1870.
Q: Do you do a lot of drawing?
A: I have a regular feature in Harper's. I do one large drawing each month, with a caption.
Q: What's your artistic background?
A: I never was trained in art. I worked for a commercial artist a number of summers when I was in high school. And I learned anatomy from drawing boxers in Ring magazine. It was the only way I could think of to learn anatomy.
Q: What's the extent of your artistic career so far?
A: I've had two gallery shows of drawings. ... And I'll have a book of drawings coming out next year. I find myself very vain about my drawing. I guess I don't feel as sure of myself as I do in writing; therefore I'm always straining to get people's reactions to what I've drawn.
What I do mostly is caricature. I try not to make them too cartoony. This is a period that absolutely cries out for good caricature. Part of it is that the great caricaturists used to be people who were determined to be fine artists. Every artist, whether he was good or bad, learned anatomy very thoroughly. He learned how to render landscapes, buildings, and learned something about costume. So the ones who didn't make it as easel painters might turn to doing caricature, and some of them were spectacular.
We all grow up thinking we're in an era of progress, because we have had so much technological progress. But it simply doesn't work that way in art and literature. We're living in an era -- to use Mencken's phrase -- of the "Sahara of the beaux arts."
I wrote about that in The Painted Word. In fact, I'm doing a sequel to that now. It will be an article for Harper's magazine. I'm moving into the areas of architecture and serious music and dance. It's very enjoyable to work on a subject like that after a long haul of writing about astronauts -- essentially because it's easier.
Q: What do you like to watch on TV?
A: To be honest, my two favorite shows are Mannix -- which, alas, is no longer except in reruns -- and the Johnny Carson Show. I just think he's terrific. It was such a common currency among those in the general category of intellectuals to like the Dick Cavett Show and not the Johnny Carson Show. And that is so much the party line that it takes awhile to dawn on you that Carson is really extremely funny. Dick Cavett: he has a lot of talent, but when it comes to wit, and even in handling the language, he's simply not in Carson's league.
There are a whole bunch of shows, I must say, in which I simply don't know who these people are. A lot of general-circulation magazines today are really television magazines. People magazine is a television magazine. Look at these people. Who are they? Who are Mindy and Mork? I mean, I've never seen the show. And yet, they're obviously extremely well-known.
These magazines now, in an era in which general-circulation magazines are in trouble, have hit upon this idea: all these people that are watching television will have the thrill of recognition if we write about the people they've seen on television. So Sports Illustrated will tend to give you a kind of a rehash of the game of the week or the fight that everyone saw on television. It's kind of funny. At first, television was always cannibalizing the printed word for material, and now it's suddenly turning around.
Q: Do you have any other major projects coming up?
A: For years I've been telling myself that I was going to try a Vanity Fair type of novel about New York, and I think I should probably try to make myself tackle that next. I've debated whether to make it fiction or nonfiction. My fiction writing has been confined to one short story that I did for Esquire. And I was surprised that it was harder than I thought to write fiction. I thought that I could sit down on a Sunday afternoon and knock out a short story, because you could make things up.
Another thing I'd like to try is a movie script. I've done one -- a series of vignettes about life in Los Angeles. ... But many talented writers just go bananas in trying to write for the movies. Because they're not in charge of what they're doing. All that a good director can do is keep from ruining the script. He cannot turn a bad script into a good movie. He can turn a good script into a bad movie. And often, I think, it happens, because the director is given a power that he simply should not have.
Q: Do you feel a lot of pressure on yourself when you sit down at the typewriter, as being one of the trend-setters in American writing today?
A: It was terrible after my first book came out, and I suddenly got a lot of publicity I never dreamed I'd get. I was still working with the Herald Tribune as a general assignment reporter at the city desk. And I suddenly was made aware by publicity that there was something called the Tom Wolfe style. And this can really do terrible things to you. I wrote a whole series of just dreadful article because the first phase I went through was: "Well, I'll be damned. I have the Tom Wolfe style, I guess I'd better use it." And so I started writing these self-parodies. The second phase was: "I've got to stop this. It's self-destructive." And I would write something and a bell would go off and I'd say, "That's Tom Wolfe style. Now is that good the way I've used it there, or it is bad the way I've used it?" And this became very troublesome.
When I did this book, The Right Stuff, I decided I really was going to try to tailor my language to the mental atmosphere of pilots, and somehow make my tone what I have elsewhere called the downstage voice. You're writing in the third person about other people, but your own writing style takes on their tone. So I think the result is a book that seems different in style, and is sort of an experiment for me.
|WESTSIDER PINCHAS ZUKERMAN||[Back to Top]|
"Travel is not fun anymore," sighs world-renowned violinist, violist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman. "It used to be. Now there are all the checks and securities at airports, and the hotel standards have gone down. The old-style luxury hotel is gone. Now it's a businessman's Ramada Inn, kind of hit-and-run hotel. But you learn to live with it."
Since making his American debut with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein 11 years ago, he has been a soloist with every major orchestra in Europe, and acted as both conductor and soloist for most of the leading orchestras in America. His schedule of 120 concerts a year is solidly booked until 1982, and he has a discography of several dozen recordings on four labels. For personal credits, Pinchas -- or "Pinky," as he prefers to be called -- has lived on the West Side for 17 years, been married to Eugenia Zukerman for 12 of those years. They have two daughters, one of whom is a skilled pianist.
The New York Times has called him "one of the world's leading violinists," the London Times has said he is "absolutely without peer," and the Washington Post has labeled him "the most versatile of all major musicians." Born in Israel, the son of Polish survivors of Auschwitz, he was invited to perform at the White House last year for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. "I want to tell Sadat he should set up a recording studio inside the pyramids," he joked before the event. This year, Pinky's greatest honor was his appointment as music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the only full-time chamber orchestra in America.
But the most astonishing thing about this burly, muscular man who speaks nostalgically of the "old days," may be his age. He's 31.
"I think I had as normal a childhood as one could expect from a talented boy that had to work," he muses in his living room overlooking the Hudson River. Serious one moment, clownish the next, he frequently punctuates his remarks with loud belly laughter. Pinky's sense of humor is one of the things that endears him to his close friend, violinist Itzhak Perlman, who lives six floors above. They were born three years apart, grew up a few miles from each other, and both came to New York with the help of violinist Isaac Stern to study at Juilliard.
The pair sometimes travel together for concerts, and according to Eugenia Zukerman, "they do things like imitate apes at airports." Eugenia herself is an extraordinary woman. Besides being a wife and mother, she is a flutist with an international music career of her own, frequently appearing in recitals with her husband. In addition, she is a highly talented writer who has written free-lance articles for many leading publications, and now devotes three or four hours a day to her first novel.
On October 19 at 10 p.m., and for the next three Friday evenings, Channel 13 will present a series called Here to Make Music, which documents Pinchas Zukerman's musical collaborations with Perlman, Stern and others. Zukerman's life story is told through the use of recordings he made before the age of 10, old photographs and candid interviews, producing a portrait that is often fascinating.
"I think music on TV is getting definitely better in America. They're ahead of the game at the BBC and in Europe, but they're quickly catching up here," he notes. "Sometimes they overcompensate with pictures for the sake of making a so-called `interesting' show for the guy sitting with his slippers in the living room, drinking a glass of beer. They're afraid to leave the camera on the same musician for three minutes. That's why you've got this flute playing, and you see this horn player picking his nose."
When I ask Pinky about critics, the color rises in his cheeks. "Don't get me on critics," he warns, before launching into an unrestrained diatribe. "First of all, they're not critics as far as I'm concerned. They should be reporters. But they never report what goes on in the concert hall. The public stood up and clapped for 10 minutes. Say it, damn it! Don't say that bar 56 was not right in the Beethoven G Major Sonata. Who cares? It's so stupid!
"I'm a great fiddle player. They all say that. Fine. It's understood, it's granted. It's there. Okay. So instead of criticizing my fiddle playing, they say I'm becoming aloof, and this and that. ... One week they tear me to shreds for my conducting. The next week I get these rave reviews. Now, how can one person be that different in one week? What do they think, that I'm a duet?"
Asked how much time he spends practicing, Pinky replies: "As much as I need to. I don't think about time. You either live music or you don't. ... Music is an unending art form which demands your complete attention and perfection at all times. What a wonderful thing to be able to say -- I'll be able to say it in maybe 15 or 20 years -- that I have gone through all of Schubert's works. What an incredible achievement that is! I can tell you, it's a lot more satisfying than flying an airplane."
~ THE END ~
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