Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

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My tea with Margo Feiden

There are two Margos that I adore, Margo Channing (fictional) from “All About Eve” and Margo Feiden (larger than life), of the Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd. and curator of the legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s collection.

To paraphrase Addison DeWitt from “All About Eve,” ‘To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, attend art gallery openings or know anything of the world in which we live – it is perhaps necessary to introduce Margo Feiden. Her native habitat is the art world and the theater – in it she has toiled for 70 years. She is essential to the art world and the theater.’

MARGO FEIDEN

Margo Feiden

I myself am a native New Yorker, born 1955, NYC tour guide today, who since childhood followed and revered Al Hirschfeld’s imaginative drawings that so precisely capture an artist’s voice, personality and movement with the stroke of a pen. I had always hoped that I one day I would get to meet him. That day came on March 21st, 2001 at a benefit performance at The Martin Beck Theater (now ‘The Al Hirschfeld’) of “Nothing Like A Dame,” featuring the who’s who of legendary ladies of the theater. He signed my Playbill and I gently touched the hand of genius as he etched that famous boxed signature.

Hirschfeld sadly passed away on January 20, 2003 in his sleep, just five months short of his 100th birthday.

June 22nd, 2011 Doyle’s Auction Galleries held an auction of his estate, one of the many things I bought was his shoulder bag which still has his handwritten name tag attached, written in his trademark squared signature.

November 14th, 2013 Henri Bendel’s Department store on Fifth Avenue celebrated Christmas with a tribute to Hirschfeld, filling their window with three dimensional figures of his drawings. Inside the store, a figure of Charlie Chaplin sat in the atrium, high up in a tree overseeing all the goings on – it was magical! Helping to create the displays and attending the event was the divine Margo Feiden herself. I showed Chris Fiore the president of Bendel’s my Hirschfeld bag, “I’m going to take you to Margo!” he said. (Shades of ‘All About Eve’!) She welcomed me with open arms and warmth. There I was, after 49 years of collecting Hirschfeld, sitting with Margo Feiden, holding hands and telling her my Hirschfeld stories.

BENDEL HIRSCHFELD CHRISTMAS WINDOW

Henri Bendel’s Hirschfeld Christmas window November 14, 2013

DSC_3383A

Charlie Chaplin observes the proceedings at Bendel’s 

Six years later in June of this year, I am contacted by Margo, it was her secretary on the phone, “Is this Hans Von Rittern? I have Miss Feiden on the line, is this a good time for you take the call?” There was that unmistakable voice, she has never forgotten me and would I come to tea? My heart stopped. Tea with Margo in her Stanford White townhouse – I gladly said ‘yes’! It was arranged for Friday, June 14th, 4:00pm.

June 14th, at precisely 4:00pm, I rang the bell. I was greeted by her personal assistant who took me up the steep staircase to the main floor ballroom, I was in awe. There are the huge leaded glass windows Stanford White designed, the fireplace and all the moldings exactly intact to this day. The walls are filled with Hirschfeld art and . . . sitting in a chair by the sofa is Charlie Chaplin, the sculpture from the Bendel’s Christmas show. On the cocktail table was an assortment of teas and cookies awaiting me. IMG_9782

Six years later, Charlie awaits me in Margo’s ballroom

I was shown the bins of drawings, the hallway filled with iconic images we have all seen over the decades – there they were – in person.

Next to the hallway is ‘the front office’ where two of her staff were busy on the phones. It is filled all the way up to the high ceiling with Hirschfelds that are now part of the American landscape. There was Marilyn, Ella, Bogey, both Hepburns, Sinatra, the Beatles and above the fireplace Margo Feiden’s Hirschfeld portrait. I was agog.

IMG_9780A

‘The Ballroom’ 

Giddily her assistant asked if I would like to go down the cast-iron spiral staircase to the ground floor – down we went. A treasure trove of more Hirschfeld art and the lovingly curated collection of Margo’s glass and antique collection, meticulously displayed in shadow boxes and old wooden display cases. You could see the passion and care that has been put into these collections.

We arrived back in the Ballroom and still no Margo. ‘Hmmm,” I thought, ‘maybe this was just to be a tour of the townhouse.’ I stood there turning about marveling at the stupendous Ballroom chandelier, when suddenly, her assistant invited me to, “See the upstairs”. Gulp. We ascended the grand sweeping staircase from the Ballroom, the stairwell filled frame to frame with jaw-dropping art. All the way up to The Deck we went, where presiding over the residential court is a centuries old tree filled with the songs of birds, not a city noise could be heard. Oh the stories this tree could tell.

We stood there for a while and I wondered, ‘Where is the mysterious Margo? Am I to meet her at all?’ After some time we descended back down the magnificent staircase to arrive again in the Ballroom. At about 5:00 pm, it was announced, “Miss Feiden will be ready to receive you now, please have a seat.” I sat on the sofa next to Charlie and waited anxiously.

Then, suddenly, Margo appeared, poised midway, posed gracefully on the sweeping staircase, attired in one of her trademark quilted hats and jackets, hand painted sneakers and a ponytail almost down to her knees, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Staircase

The sweeping Ballroom staircase

I sat there stunned. ‘Hans, get up…say something!’ I thought. I answered as I rose, ”You know how to make quite an entrance, don’t you?!” We spent the next four and a half hours talking about our lives.

It turns out Margo is an avid reader of my blog “In The Wit Of An Eye” and was concerned that she no longer saw me posting my stories. She suggested telling me some of her own stories to get me to write again.

I explained I had stopped writing the blog in 2014 in order to write the life story of my mother Ursula Von Rittern and three generations of the independent women in my family, a telling of how they survived two world wars in Germany in a book entitled, “Last Train Out of Berlin.” My mother Ursula was 88 at the time, and I felt time was fleeting, so by age 90, we had finished the book and even received a complimentary letter from Meryl Streep after she had been handed a copy of the manuscript by me personally. (At age 93, Ursula and I are are still looking for a publisher.)

MOM COVER 2 DARKER!

Margo started to tell me parts of her life story and presented me with rare clippings and mementos of her amazing life, shown here. To know Margo is to receive a history lesson of New York City and it’s art scene.

In 1961 at the young age of 16, Margo Feiden then ‘Margo Eden,’ was the youngest person ever to produce and direct a musical version of “Peter Pan.” This was at the 41st Street Theater in the Wurlitzer Building. Her unique vision was to produce it with mostly high school age actors to fit the parts accurately. These were young professionals from the revered High School of Performing Arts. The fact that the High School of Performing Arts permitted their students to miss school in order to rehearse and perform in her production of Peter Pan, shows the importance they attached to Margo’s production. History was being made.

Here is a rare New York Times Broadway A – Z listing showing the “Peter Pan” production, but let your head spin to see who else Margo was on the boards with at the time: Henry Fonda in “Critic’s Choice,” Carol Channing (later in life to become Margo’s close friend) in “Showgirl.” Ironically Mary Martin was appearing five blocks away at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in “The Sound of Music” and Cyril Richard the original Captain Hook was appearing in a production on 45th street. As well as Patty Duke in “The Miracle Worker,” Lucille Ball in “Wildcat,” Richard Burton & Julie Andrews, Elsa Lanchester, Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, Tammy Grimes, Maurice Evans…the listings go on. As you can see it was a time on Broadway never ever to be again.

1.Peter Pan-NYT-April 1, 1961

The New York Times Broadway A - Z listing, April 1, 1961

The following year, Margo had penned “Out, Brief Candle,” a three act play about dope addiction. Featuring 30 actors, it centered around ‘Bob’ whose life long dream of becoming a surgeon is destroyed by his heroin addiction. In 1963 Margo prophetically returned to the 41st Street Theater where she directed and produced the play herself.

She was heralded in the ‘teen magazines’ of the day, Hi-Teen 11/1962 and Teen Time 01/1963 as “News maker” and “Teen of the Month.”

2.HI-TEEN Magazine-Jan 1963-Pg 22

High Teen Magazine,  November 1962

3.Teen Time Magazine-Nov 1962-Pg 32 (1)

4.Teen Time Magazine-Nov 1962-Pg 33

Teen Time Magazine,  January 1963

At age 17, now known as a child prodigy of the Broadway theater, Margo became the agent, as well as producer, director and publicist of Kuda Bux, a Pakistani mystic and mentalist performer who could read and see despite being heavily blindfolded. They appeared on stage and television together.

Oh, did I mention she is a licensed pilot? Has gone camel racing in the desert? So it is also no surprise, that Margo also happens to be a member of MENSA, the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world, open to those people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardized IQ test.

In 1969, Margo opened her first art gallery, but she had no art to display. So her girlfriend, who just so happened to be iconic photographer Diane Arbus, suggested they exhibit her work. Margo told me, “In the morning within an hour, I had rented myself an art gallery but had no artwork, by midnight, Diane and I had finished hanging her work.”

Also ahead of her time, on December 10, 1995, Margo became the first person ever to hold an art auction on the World Wide Web, when she auctioned five Hirschfeld works on the Internet to benefit New York City Meals-on-Wheels (god bless her).

We talked and talked about the wonderful and even curious stories she has to tell. It was now 9:30pm, the summer sky was casting it’s dark hues into the ballroom, it was time to end my delightful tea with my fellow Sagittarius Margo. Perhaps I will tell some more of her stories here. My favorite (so far!) is of the fateful meeting of Hirschfeld and Charlie Chaplin in 1932. I teared up as I sat on the sofa listening to Margo tell the tale, gazing into those sparkling blue eyes of hers. Thank you dear Margo.

This November 19th, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd. Margo is penning her memoirs to follow hopefully thereafter. I dare think it shall be Auntie Mame, er ah, Margo telling tales that will keep us captivated!

I hope you will also stay tuned for more stories from me as well, especially hopefully one day, my book, ”Last Train Out of Berlin” – – – Berlin, March 21st, 1945: A charismatic opera singer receives secretive warning that Berlin is doomed by advancing Russian forces and that there is one last train out of Berlin leaving in four hours. A true story that spans three continents and three generations.

STAY TUNED . . .

https://www.alhirschfeld.com/ 

(with a special nod

to my extra-special line editor…you know who you are!😉)

 


TEST – I’m coming back with exciting stories

Testing 1 2 3

It’s been so long I have forgotten how to post :O WRITER'S BLOCK


To do list for July 4th, 2015

MAILBOX

To do list for July 4th: Make sure the social security payment has arrived.
Write the rent check.
Pay the electric bill.
Pay the phone bill.
Pay the insurance bill.
Write sister Adelia a letter.
Put on my pretty blue skirt.
Make sure there is no garbage in the mailbox at Times Square.
Mail the rent, bills and letter.

Photo of the day: LOOSING NEW YORK

LOOSING OUR NYC

We have been loosing our city at a rapid speed since the 12 year Bloomberg administration. Our new mayor Bill DeBlasio didn’t make things any better. A shill and phoney sell-out as our city’s history continues to be torn down left and right while being raped by an overbuilding of glass towers where they ought not to be.
As a tour guide I am supposed to tell people how wonderful New York City is...I do. But they don’t see that Harlem is now only 40% black, overrun by self-righteous white yuppies renovating Harlem’s brownstones pushing the original residents out. Greenwich Village once an epicenter of gay culture, dance clubs, cool quirky shops, cutting edge boutiques is now devoid of anything gay, buried in GAP, Polo, Starbucks, Sephora, Michael Kors, more GAP, more Polo, more Michael Kors. (Btw, Michael Kors being a screaming queen doesn’t count.)
The mushroom rate of the ‘space needle’ über high, über rich residential high rises on 57th and 58th Streets will put parts of Central Park’s south end into permanent shadow at certain times of the year. Jackie Onassis is turning in her grave.
Jackie O. would also be horrified to discover that grand Central Terminal is to be encased in super tall, super glassy high rises, therefore dwarfing the spectacular station, reducing it to a needle in a haystack.
Tribeca and Soho once filled with artists and art spaces are now filled with tourists artfully shopping. Times Square has become a 2nd rate shopping mall filled with Elmos badgering your for $5 photos. The lower east side aka ‘the Bowery’ is rapidly loosing any trace of our large immigrant history. It IS filled with our ‘new immigrants’ the young rich, spacey Millennials, trust fund babies and tech company millionaires. Apartments costing $1 million in the Bowery are cheap.
Little Italy is nothing but 6 or so blocks of Italian restaurants trying to hang on while the Chinese and the stores of Soho eat up their once large thriving Italian neighborhood. Fuggedaboudit.
New York’s harbor was once the busiest harbor in the world. Today, with a combination of damage from hurricane Sandy and the sheer greed of the Bloomberg/DeBlasio real estate ‘developers’, in South Street Seaport nothing will be left but a few gratuitous red brick buildings and only one old sailing ship to be now surrounded by a mirror glass ersatz ‘Pier 17’ and two gigantically tall mirror glass ‘luxury towers’ encroaching on America’s historical land mark the Brooklyn Bridge.
Go to Brooklyn then you say? Oh no, that is being gentrified at a hyper speed such has been never witnessed before in America. The foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is now being encased in a towering glass apartment building in DUMBO and the once spectacular view of the bridge from the Brooklyn Heights promenade is now obliterated by a gigantic apartment complex. If anyone would have told me that one day the views of the Brooklyn Bridge will be gone, I’da said you’re nuts.
Further in Brooklyn, whites buying $1+ million town homes in Bedford–Stuyvesant is now the norm. What was once our largest African American neighborhood, now has it’s residents being forced to go back to their Southern roots where they might be able to afford the rent. Meanwhile ultra hipster Williamsburg battles it out with ultra orthodox Satmar Jewish Williamsburg for real estate, who will win is anybody’s guess.
Hey, but Hans you’re safe in Queens. Not so, as my neighborhood fights off the flood of ‘poor upper middle class’ who can’t quite afford the $500,000 to $1 million dollar glass towers of the East River’s Long Island City. One by one we are seeing the affordable shops disappear, street vendors forbidden and a slimey corrupt councilman like Jimmy Van Bramer sign off on real estate deals wiping places like the spectacular 5 Pointz Graffiti Museum and the immigrant’s car-repair shops of Willet’s Point off the map while he brown noses his way up in the mayor’s administration.
If anyone has noticed, I haven’t posted daily “Photos of the Day” since mid June, I needed time to reflect. I will continue to tell people how ‘wonderful’ New York is, but I will also tell them that the city is an illusion, a big grand, sparkling, smoke & mirrors illusion. With my camera I will try to find something worth capturing that someone’s cell phone camera has not. My main concentration will be on researching and writing a book about my Von Rittern land baron roots in Bremen, Germany, and a second book on my Broadway stage door memories.
In the meanwhile, my German guests, while taking my tours say to me, “Sadly, it’s happening in Germany too, capture it while you can.”
I’ll try.

JOAN RIVERS’ FUNERAL FILLED WITH SURPRISES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS

JOAN RIVERS FUNERAL collage

Joan Rivers’ funeral today was filled with surprises and disappointments. The surprises were the great wonderful celebs that showed up on a moment’s notice, many by foot sauntering up 5th Avenue! I was 1st row behind the reporters but they were all on ladders and mostly barricaded a good camera shot, but between the elbows and butts I saw:
To think I saw in one hour: Kathy Griffin (very shaken) and Rosie O’Donnell arrive together, Howard Stern, Judge Judy!!, Rachel Ray, Andy Cohen (by foot, one of the few to wave to the crowd), Geraldo, Barbara Walters, Michael Kors, Ivanka Trump walking up 5th, Carolina Herrera, Donald Trump (by limo), Sarah Jessica Parker who you could see kept saying “amazing, amazing” with a big broad smile, Whoopi Goldberg (in tears) coming on foot from around the corner, columnist Cindy Adams, reporter Deborah Norville, Letterman’s Paul Shaffer, Joy Behar very upset, Marlo Thomas and husband Phil Donahue walking hand in hand up 5th, Glenn Close (she’s tiny!), Hugh Jackman and Audra McDonald who both sang in the service, Wanda Sykes, Hoda and Kathie Lee arriving in same car, Dr. Oz, singer Judy Collins, Clive Davis, the complete cast of Fashion Police including Giuliana Rancic, and Kelly Osbourne looking fabulous in her purple meticulously curled mohawk hairdo.  The only photo I got was Whoopi and Ivanka 😦
The Gay Men’s Chorus sang “There’s Nothing Like a Dame.”
The disappointments: NO red carpet or craft services! WTF?! That was exactly what Joan had requested! Biggest disappointment of all – NO Meryl Streep. The least she could have done was to send in a tape of her “crying in five different accents.”At least my friend Susan Godwin was there to show support from animal and dog lovers and me making it clear I was saying ‘thank you’ for her support of the gay community her entire career long. Thank you Joan.

Best quote from the service: Howard Stern paid tribute to his friend, joking, “I hope Joan is somewhere chasing Johnny Carson with a baseball bat,” and added, “Joan was a best friend for the world.”

See More

Butts n elbows

Butts n elbows

Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump


Photo of the day: PAYING MY RESPECTS TO JOAN RIVERS

JOAN RIVERS FLOWERS

Photo of the day: Paying my respects to Joan Rivers. How could I not leave flowers for a woman who fought for AIDS funding before it was popular? Who worked in ‘Gods Name We Deliver’s soup kitchen and made the meals, and surprised some homebound guests by delivering them personally. Who fought for gay rights and equal rights? Whose NYC comedy club appearance proceeds all went to charity? I left a rainbow colored assortment of roses for Joan & Melissa, thanking them both.
Joan Rivers – a true New Yawker. Brash, bold, in your face, a fighter and . . . she made it. Living on 5th Avenue. Still relevant at 81. Gone way to soon, New York will be a sadder and emptier place without her. “Can we talk?”

Photo of the day: INGRID BERGMAN DIES, August 30, 1982

INGRID BERGMAN DIES

Photo of the day: INGRID BERGMAN DIES – This was the startling headline New Yorkers were greeted with on August 30, 1982. Bergman had died at the young age of 67 in a London hospital of breast cancer leaving us with incredible memories of “Casablanca” and “Gaslight”. I had spent a wonderful evening alone with her ten years earlier in 1972 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater as she was appearing in the play “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion.” I just gazed at her as we talked. Her face had not changed, her voice was exactly the same, her eyes still sparkled. I was so mesmerized realizing I was looking into the actual eyes of Ilsa Lund….
INGRID

Photo of the day: THREE FACES OF GRIEF at ERIC GARNER RALLY

THREE FACES OF GRIEF
Photo of the day: THREE FACES OF GRIEF – Three mothers, three dead sons. Today at the Justice For Eric Garner Rally on Staten Island, led by Rev. Al Sharpton, the mothers of three slain boys made a surprise and very powerful appearance. Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown’s mother (right) barely able to speak through her tears, Kadiatou Diallo (center), the mother of 22-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 NYPD bullets in 1999, and the mother of Ramarley Graham (left) an unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by NYC police in 2012.
They spoke in support of Eric Garner and accountability the police must take for brutal unjustified shootings that have become common place in this country like the old Jim Crow south. Name after name from the last two decades, including Trayvon Martin and Eleanor Bumpers were read off, it sent a chill through me. These are gestapo Nazi racial murders like that of Berlin 1939. There are taser guns, tear gas and mace – none used, shooting point blank is out and out murder. (Whatever happened to ‘shoot to maim and stop’?) Yet no Teflon police (or George Zimmerman) are in jail.
Choke-hold victim Eric Garner’s entire family was present: Esaw Garner, Eric Garner’s widow and Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr and their children. To see so many faces of grief on one stage has left me shaken and is something I will not forget.

I CAN'T BREATHE


MARILYN MONROE June 1, 1026 – August 5, 1962

MARILYN PAINTING


Marilyn Monroe June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962: the ethereal eternal beauty.
This stunning painting is one of my treasures by friend and artist See Tf.


Postcard story from New York – “A GRANDE DINNER FOR TWO in 1914- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY”

1914 DINNER collage

Postcard story from New York – “A GRANDE DINNER FOR TWO in 1914- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY”

New York, July 30, 1914

“Churchill‘s,” Broadway and Forty-ninth Street, New York.

 

To: Mrs. Wm. A. Johnson

250 N. Water

Franklin, Ind.

“Wed. evening,

Dearest Momma,

Have just gotten back from having dinner here. A Mr. Barkus from South Carolina to me and little Miss Blair to dinner. He sent us both roses – mine were two dozen cream tea roses. He left on the train for S.C. and sent us home in a taxi,

With lots of love,

Maude

A grande evening was had by all 100 years ago to the day. It seems Mr. Barkus from South Carolina was quite a gentlemen sending the two ladies home in taxis and roses the next day!

In Times Square things were still ’rosey’, but World War I had just been declared and two days later Germany had declared war on Russia.

Churchill’s was ’the’ place to be at the time. Lobsters! Champagne! Showgirls!

For the decade before Prohibition, Churchill’s Restaurant and Cabaret was one of the largest and swankiest of the “lobster palaces” along the Great White Way.

The eponymous establishment was the creation of ex-NYPD Captain Jim Churchill. Located on Broadway at 49th Street, the eatery could accommodate 1,200 patrons and employed a staff of 300. Guests could dine on the special for a mere buck-twenty five, listen to live music, dance and rub shoulders with denizens of the theater district like actress Anna Held and philanthropist and nightlife fixture Diamond Jim Brady.

Attempting to refute the notion of the scandalous, sinful “Broadway Life” popular in the fictions of the day, Churchill said “Broadway is simply the Coney Island of night-time New York, where some of the people play a bit, eat a bit, drink a bit, talk, sing and laugh a bit—and get a bit dizzy. But the dizziness imparted by Broadway is no more fatal than the dizziness that comes from riding on a gaudily-painted merry-go-round…”

Shortly after the passage of the Volstead Act in 1921, which established prohibition, Churchill shuttered his business, leasing the ground floor to the Toy Yoeng Syndicate of America, which converted it into a Chinese restaurant – today known as the popular Ruby Foos.

(Note the bandshell in the way back above the crowd, that’s Maurice Levi and his orchestra. Kinda like the Harmonia Gardens in Hello Dolly, 2 girls out for dinner on the town.)

 churchills-NB