Mondays on Memory Lane: 1981-2103 ONE NIGHT ONLY AT THE RITZ WITH HOLLY WOODLAWN
– Thirty three years ago I saw advertised in the local underground magazines that Andy Warhol’s outrageous transgender star Holly Woodlawn was to appear in Terrence McNally’s play ‘The Ritz” co-starring then infamous gay porn star Cal Culver better known as Casey Donovan. The show was at Xenon Disco, the strong competition to Studio 54 at the time. Xenon (as Studio 54 was) was also inside an old Broadway theater with huge pinball bumpers that came down from the ceiling that you had to bump with your hip so that alarm bells would go off, part of the current ‘the bump’ dance craze.
‘The Ritz’ was based on Bette Midler’s 1971 unusual meteoric rise to fame in the gay bathhouse ‘The Continental Baths’ owned by Steve Ostrow in the Ansonia Hotel. The Broadway play garnered Rita Moreno (as third rate Puerto Rican actress wannabe ‘Googie Gomez’) a Tony award and her role was reprised in the hilarious 1976 film.
The fact that Holly Woodlawn, herself Puerto Rican, certainly not ‘third rate’ but campy as hell, was performing in this play had me immediately buy tickets for the first night of previews (I couldn’t wait for opening night!). The show was a perfect fit for Holly and she was hilarious. After the show we danced the night away, in the early morning hours, on my way out of the disco I tore this poster off the wall – unbeknownst to me at the time, the show opened and closed that same night due to lack of funding.
For those of you too young to know who Holly is, but the name still sounds familiar, singer Lou Reed refers to Holly Woodlawn in his iconic song “Walk on the Wild Side
,” in the opening lyric “Holly came from Miami, Florida.” Her antics and connections to a now much revered Andy Warhol past are legendary. I seem to be the only one who remembers that when iconic 1960’s/70’s music club Trude Heller’s at 418 6th Avenue (SE corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue) started placing hand prints of the famous performers on their sidewalk, Holly placed her ass prints in the side walk. The block was framed and hung on the side of the club.
AIDS and changing tastes wiped out this entire glorious and glamorous era and the people and it’s clubs simply disappeared. But there is one of the few tough survivors – Holly Woodlawn. I was stunned and excited to receive a notice that she was going to make a super rare appearance at the Laurie Beecham Theater (Joan Rivers’ fav hangout) on Friday, May 17. I bought a ticket immediately and sat 2nd row. I brought with me my theater posters of Holly’s shows such as ‘The Neon Woman’, Women Behind Bars’ – both starring drag legend Divine. But my ultimate treasure is the one night only appearance of ‘The Ritz’. The posters caused quite a stir amongst her fans and old friends, taking pictures of them with their iPhones. Then 7:30 came, the lights were lowered and out she came, thirty three years after I had seen her – Holly.
She is the embodiment of a survivor! Now battling near crippling spinal stenosis, it was heartwarming yet hard to watch her cheerfully be helped on stage by two of her friends. “I am home!” she cried. Now 66, nothing else had changed, the sly wink, the double entendres, the off-the-wall humor, and above all, the immense amount of love streaming between her and her audience. She is sharp as a tact. Funny, irreverent, reflective and above all determined to have a good time. It was a mutual love fest. With no disrespect meant to either women but Holly has sort of morphed into long gone comedian Totie Fields. It was endearing. After the show she was helped from the stage in her wheel chair and her long time friends such as actress Brenda Bergman and fans surged towards her, some wanting autographs, some a photo and some just to recall one of the incredible Warhol days with her. She was able to sign only one autograph and she chose my ultra rare poster, “I can’t do it so well you know, Hans is your name? You know I am part German too,” she said with a determined smile. I was left speechless as I watched her struggle to lovingly sign my poster in hot pink ink. In that moment I was transported back to that first night of previews of “The Ritz”, I could hear “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great! Gonna have the whole world on a plate.” Holly Woodlawn does have the whole world on her plate – and I was lucky enough to be at her feast!
“The Ritz” The farce is set in a gay bathhouse in Manhattan, where unsuspecting heterosexual Cleveland businessman Gaetano Proclo has taken refuge from his homicidal mobster brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci. There Gaetano stumbles across an assortment of oddball characters, including a rabid chubby chaser, go-go boys, a squeaky-voiced detective and Googie Gomez, a third-rate Puerto Rican entertainer with visions of Broadway glory who mistakes him for a famous producer and whom he mistakes for a man in drag. Further complications arise when Gaetano’s wife Vivian tracks him down and jumps to all the wrong conclusions about his sexual preferences.
Photo of the day: SEPARATE MEETINGS – The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, a place where people come to study and research. Some people come to marvel at the magnificent architecture. Some come to see the excellent exhibits. Some come here for meetings. Some meetings are
very business like . . . other meetings are private.
Photo of the day: I ♥ NY ! Banged up as she is, this mannequin’s enthusiasm for the honky tonk of Times Square can’t be suppressed! Happy weekend everybody !
Photo of the day: THE WHOLE BALL OF WAX – When you are a daily New York subway rider, you come to know ‘the regulars’ on your train. That man who always folds The New York Times so precisely when reading it’s almost an art, the Russian woman who loves wearing leopard patterns, the Indian man who listens to Bollywood soundtracks so loud on his iPhone ear bugs – you can hear it clearly three seats away, the girl who seems to think the subway is her bathroom and meticulously applies her makeup stroke by calculated stroke, the snoring businessman who prefers to wear gray suits. But then there are the other “irregulars”: ‘Lady Karisma’ a woman who wears emerald green sequins, plays a melodica and announces the history of Brazilian music before she sings Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘The Girl From Ipanema” off key, the kid selling candy “for my high school team”, the air head folk singer who singing on the minority laden 7 train is just so, so out of place, the crazy lady from 46th Street who wears totally mis-matched clothes with a preference for lace gloves and veils, eats bags of sunflower seeds and very busily talks to herself – but don’t touch her, she gets testy.
But this being New York…there is always something new to surprise me in this never ending stream of a free show. The other day I was crammed onto a #4 uptown train during rush hour and had barely any room to move my head to look around. As I glance to the left, the lady with the big oversized bee-keeper-like mauve hat did catch my attention. She was terribly engrossed in working on something with her hands. There was also a strange odor coming from her way. Not offensive – just not a recognizable smell. Ok, curiosity getting the better of me, I inched closer. The smell was of the wax she was kneading. There she was – making an old fashion shoe out of candle wax, yes you read that right. A shoe…out of wax. She had a cardboard box of dirty, presumably found candle stubs that she was breaking pieces off of in order to add and mold them very meticulously to her shoe. By the way, the matching shoe was in the box. I tried getting a look at her face but the mauve bee-keeper hat prevented that. She studied the shoe, turned it from all angles in order to apply the next piece of dirty wax just right. I watched her with fascination. As the train pulled into 42nd Street and I got off the train, I just wondered ‘what does one do with a pair of wax shoes?!’
Photos of the day: ♫♪ ON THE 20th CENTURY LIMITED ♫♪ – The 20th Century Limited was an express passenger train operated by the New York Central Railroad from 1902 to 1967, during which time it would become known as a “National Institution” and the “Most Famous Train in the World”. In the year of its last run,The New York Times said that it “…was known to railroad buffs for 65 years as the world’s greatest train”. The train traveled between Grand Central Terminal in New York City and LaSalle Street Station in Chicago along the railroad’s famed “Water Level Route”.
From February 1978 to March 1979, “On The Twentieth Century” was a big, splashy art deco Broadway musical starring none other than Imogene Coca, John Cullum and Madeline Kahn. Imogene stopped the show as Letitia Primrose with her rousing song “Repent!”.
“On The Twentieth Century” 1978 Broadway cast lp
Last weekend May 11-12, 2013, the extravagant 20th Century Limited made a much sought after reappearance at the Centennial Grand Central Terminal Train Show. The crowds were twice what the police expected. It was a two to three hour wait to see the ‘Limited’ alone, but it was worth it! The New York police made the very unpopular decision to shut the show down early to handle the overflow crowds. I was literally the last person to make it in line to see the famed art deco train at 1:00pm. Phew! The upside of that was, since I was the last, the Grand Central volunteers were so happy to see I was the last one – I got a private tour! I was dizzy with euphoria as prying eyes outside were looking in wondering ‘who is that guy?!”.
In the stainless steel operational kitchen.
To experience this treasure from the past all alone is incredible. The sleek art deco fluid designs, the wonderful mint green art deco colors, the big deco furniture, the sheer elegance of every detail is exquisite. It was sensory overload. These were the days when travel was a luxury and an exciting experience you got dressed in your best for. Ladies with hat boxes, men with top hats and ties, children with their nannies in tow. I saw the whole train. The private dining room, the main dining room, the art deco bar, the sitting room, the sleeping quarters for the crew, the luxurious suites, the deco bathrooms, the all stainless steel kitchen-still operational. The best feature of all is the elegant high style art deco observation car in the back, shaped like a bullet. Wandering through the train James Bond’s intrigue with the adjoining rooms in “From Russia With Love” came to mind. Marilyn Monroe in her upper sleeping berth of “Some Like It Hot”, the romantic and thrilling memories were everywhere. I was told the most oft asked question asked upon seeing the sleeping berths was “Where’s Marilyn?”. The train is privately owned and you can rent it for $14,000 a weekend to travel the scenic rails of America. Get 20 of your best friends together, dress in your vintage best and it’s worth it! ALL ABOARD !
The owner, way in the back of ‘Star Trak Inc.’, finally taking a rest in his domain.
Photo of the day: GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL IS 100 YEARS AND 100 DAYS OLD TODAY – In the 1968 the city wanted to tear it down. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stepped in and fought for it’s protection:
“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.”
Sadly enough, her statement is even more true today in the Mayor Bloomberg/Councilwoman Christine Quinn administration than it ever has been. One half million people a day wonder at the awe of this magnificent saved building. With the greed that is so prevalent in our city today, with buildings being torn down left and right in favor of monsterous soul-less glass boxes – how many buildings are we to loose?…
Photo of the day: THREE FIERCELY INDEPENDENT WOMEN: My three ‘moms’. Each woman went against the society of her times and lived her life as she saw fit, not as society dictated. I am these three women. If you love me – you love them.
Anny Cornelius: My theatricality, musicality, passion, humor and style. Against all dictates of the day, she refused marriage offers from royalty and fine suitors and ‘married’ her opera career to wind up singing Carmen at The Berlin Opera.
Amahlie (Jaehne) Von Rittern: Divorced her husband to raise her child as she saw fit. Later gave up her concert pianist career and country to come to America (not knowing the language) to help raise me. My appreciation of music, love, compassion and sense of art and balance come from her.
Ursula Von Rittern: Divorced her husband to raise me on her own. Refused alimony in the 1950’s and did it all by herself. She went from selling vacuum cleaners to California residents in the early morning on the telephone to finally breaking through the sexist glass ceiling of the 1970’s and 80’s and wound up in a corner office, assistant to the CEO of Manufacturer’s Hanover Bank. My liberal views, determination and hard work ethic come from her.
I am these three women.
In the works is a family history of four generations of independent women who all raised their children on their own against all odds, through two World Wars, traveled around the globe, sacrificed, fought sexism and society’s morals. Mom is 87 and currently writing the book. Stay tuned . . .
Photo of the day: DISTURBING AIRPLANE PHOTO OF FINISHED WORLD TRADE CENTER – Friday May 10th, 2013 marked the final topping of the new World Trade Center with the last top portion of the spire being put in place. The finished symbolic height 1,776 feet. 1776 the year of the birth of our country. The Twin Towers were 110 floors high, this new tower is 111 floors high. While photographing the new spire on it’s monumental day, I happened to catch this disturbing image as a jet airliner passed by.
Photo of the day: NOT YOUR AVERAGE NIGHT AT CARNEGIE HALL – So you thought Carnegie Hall is quiet and reserved for it’s classical music concerts…well you’re wrong. This sell out house was cheering on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with their red state colors and were there to see one of the most exciting singers around Storm Large. Having front row center seats added to my excitement!
Storm sang Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” made famous by Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya. Storm was in top form singing and acting the part with her trademark deep gut passion. The concert broadcast live over classical music station WQXR consisted of
- RACHMANINOFF Caprice bohémien, Op. 12
- RACHMANINOFF Isle of the Dead
- WEILL The Seven Deadly Sins with Storm Large
- RAVEL La valse
Storm Large takes her bow to thunderous applause with conductor Leonard Slatkin.
Carnegie Hall built by Andrew Carnegie for his wife in 1891 because she said she had no decent place to listen to music in New York, is one of the few concert halls in the world that is acoustically perfect. It has had some of the greatest voices of all time and some of the most iconic concerts have been recorded here. Imagine sitting where Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, James Gang, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jessye Norman, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf have appeared! It is one of the musical treasures of the world.