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: GERMANY 2014 WORLD SOCCER CHAMPIONS

GERMAN FLAG

PHOTO OF THE DAY: GERMANY 2014 WORLD SOCCER CHAMPIONS – JAWOHL ! ! !


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Photo of the day: Gay Pride means – never being too old to wear your hair up

GAY PRIDE HAIR


Photo of the day: BABY JANE HUDSON LIVES!

BABY JANE HUDSON

Photo of the day: BABY JANE HUDSON LIVES! – Walking along Abingdon Square in Greenwich Village I came across that unmistakable shock of white unkempt damaged hair, tiny little old lady frame and the dark sunglasses to hide behind. There she was, listening to big band music outside of Injera Restaurant. Perhaps she was humming her favorite tune….”I’ve written a Letter to Daddy…”
(For those of you too young, the reference is the scenery chewing performance by Bette Davis as a fading demented film star in the 1962 film “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”)
Injera Restaurant for Ehtiopian Fusion food with a flair: http://injeranyc.com/

Photo of the day: FRIDAY THE 13th SPECIAL $31 TATTOOS

TATTOO

Photo of the day: FRIDAY THE 13th SPECIAL $31 TATTOOS – Rushing along St. Mark’s Place this past Friday, I came across this colorful tranquil scene in the window of Whatever Tattoo. It reminded me immediately of the many old master paintings of reclining nudes I have seen in museums and books. This handsome tall hunk was just in the perfect classic pose, eyes closed, so peaceful and at rest while getting a giant tattoo on his back.
Now some people if they suffer from triskaidekaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th) they stay indoors, away from ladders, avoid making decisions and all possible harm – others go to tattoo parlors. I think though, that this tattoo will cost more than the $31 advertised Friday the 13th special.
Modigliani's 'Reclining Nude' 1917

Modigliani’s ‘Reclining Nude’ 1917

17 St. Mark’s Pl, New York, NY 10003 (212) 777-2430

Photo of the day: HARVEY FIERSTEIN AND HANS SEE “CASA VALENTINA” TOGETHER

Harvey Fierstein & Hans Von Rittern and Casa Susanna/Valentina

Harvey Fierstein & Hans Von Rittern and Casa Susanna/Valentina

Photo of the day: HARVEY FIERSTEIN AND HANS SEE “CASA VALENTINA” TOGETHER – well….kinda…
Harvey came to see his show last night and I was sitting right near him.
THE SHOW IS FUCKING BRILLIANT! It is based on a cult book “Casa Susanna” which contains flea market find photos of women in the Catskills in 1962 – the women were men. Not drag queens, but men who simply had the desire to express their feminine side on the weekend and go on doing ordinary household chores leading an ordinary life for two days…as a ‘ordinary’ woman. All were married with children. It is not sensationalist Fierstein drag. It is a dramedy of social mores and sexual politics of the sixties,
To be very honest – I didn’t want to see this play. I thought,’who are you to further expose what was to have been private?”
My mother has always said to me, “please destroy all family pictures if there is no one left in your family. I don’t want to wind up in some flea market and have total stranger pawing over my photos and doing god knows what with them.” I sadly agree. So I felt, who is Harvey to do this – how is he to know what really these people were about and what went on, sorry theater fans, this is how I felt. Yet the book haunted and fascinated me of the sadness yet sensation of this secret world revealed. Reluctantly I bought the cheapest discount ticket possible. I brought my treasured copy of the book along with me.
Almost full house. Curtain rises. I am sitting there with arms folded, negative Nancy. ‘Ok, what did you do with this?’ After 5 minutes I was riveted. The visuals, the acting – breathtaking. I abandoned all doubt and negativity and realized I was watching something intensely personal and brilliant. Half way though act one, I kept thinking to myself, ‘where and how did Harvey come up with this, how did this come out of his head?’ Each actor is cast to perfection for the part. I flipped through my book trying to guess who was who. After a while it didn’t seem to matter, there were real people onstage.
It’s story is of intrigue, mystery, politics, raw emotions, sharp wit, great humor, 1960’s sexual politics, being exposed, homophobia, buried secrets, gut wrenching moments, great sets, superb lighting. Mare Winningham and Reed Birney are FUCKING BRILLIANT! Birney channels Margo Channing/All About Eve yet does not imitate her, it is her fiery essence – it is riveting sheer brilliance at what a strong determined (calculating) woman he portrays. He should have won the damn Tony award he was nominated for as best actor in a play. Mare’s voice projects to the upper balcony even in her most quiet sad moments – that’s technique! (They were not micked.) John Collum is everyone’s grandmother of the period.

The setting is the Chevalier d’Eon, a Catskills resort where button-down married men from the city can slip into something more comfortable for the weekend. This sanctuary is run by George (Patrick Page) and his infinitely accommodating wife, Rita (Mare Winningham). And if the place is a bit run down, for its guests it remains “our own Garden of Eden.” But Harvey being the brilliant Harvey, he has set a serpent loose in their garden of Eden, and you are hooked.

During intermission I asked to buy the poster. The head usher saw I was carrying the book. He tells me several of the men are still alive and the man who took the photos actually had come to see the play! I come further to find out, that of the men/women who are still alive, Harvey (I think) felt it his duty (and privilege) to interview them. So some of the mystery was gone, but yet all the more heightened. Who are they and what has become of them?! I was obsessed with the fact that the usher knew what the photographer of most of the photos looks like! I am even more energized for act two for now I know how much more ‘real’ the story is and I was watching also a history lesson unfold.

As I am waiting for the curtain to go up, coming up my aisle is an unmistakable figure of man – it’s the playwright himself Harvey Fierstein! He sat 1 row across from me! I had to go over to him to ask to sign my poster. “He’s got the book,” he growled to his friend. I grabbed his wrist and kept babbling “it’s brilliant! It’s brilliant’! Hans tongue tied = not often. Back to my seat. I now watched the show and out of the corner of the eye watched this Broadway royalty watching his own show. Surreal. He laughed at the jokes, was stoned faced at the serious moments, just like the rest of us.

Harvey's reactoin to Jonathan Groff (blue t-shirt) being there

Harvey’s reactoin to Jonathan Groff (blue t-shirt) being there

After the show I ran to the stage door and got the cast to sign the poster. Glee star Jonathan Groff was there, a girl next to me nearly died. Harvey was saying goodnight and I asked if I could have my picture taken with him and the book since he had made it come alive along with preserving gay history. “Sure with the book!” We hugged and the guy I gave my camera to couldn’t figure out how it works. Harvey growled, “Heterosexuals! They can’t even figure out how to work a camera.” We all laughed and that is the moment captured in this wonderful moment. I am still on cloud nine.

Casa Susanna

Casa Susanna

The ladies who lunch

The ladies who lunch

GO SEE THE PLAY – it has a limited run and is closing June 29. Tickets sometimes available 50% off at TKTS nightly.

CASA web site: http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/2013-2014-season/casa-valentina/

New York Times review: http://online.wsj.com/articles/like-earlier-hot-spots-williamsburg-adds-gloss-1402620838

Cast signed poster

Cast signed poster


Photo of the day: OLD TIMER’S NAVY SALUTE

SALUTE

Photo of the day: OLD TIMER’S NAVY SALUTE – Yesterday in Bryant Park, the navy serenaded lunch time picnickers with a rousing concert. At the end of the concert, the conductor asked audience members from each branch of the military to stand up and be recognized. This old timer still gave the perfect proud navy salute.
The Navy Band Northeast Pops Ensemble and the U.S. Fleet Forces Band featured a wide variety of musical styles including traditional concert band literature, pop, Jazz and patriotic favorites.

Under the direction of Lt. Cmdr. Carl Gerhard, Navy Band Northeast is one of 13 official bands of the United States Navy worldwide, and is comprised of 45 professional Navy musicians, many of whom are from the New York metropolitan area and welcomed a chance to perform in front of the hometown crowd.


Photo of the day: GRAFFITI ASCENSION, 5 POINTZ PAINTING BY CHRISTIAN CORTES

GRAFFITI ASCENSION - CORTES

Photo of the day: GRAFFITI ASCENSION, PAINTING BY CHRISTIAN CORTES – This painting is my mother’s favorite at the current ‘White Wash” exhibit. This powerful, haunting and emotional piece best describes artist Christian Cortes’ feelings of the destruction of 5 Pointz. Many of our visitors to the gallery seem to mesmerized by it and agree.
Christian Cortes is a Visual Artist working in New York City. He’s a freelance illustrator and a painter. Christian has worked mostly within the music and fashion industries. His commercial work is a mixture of hand drawn and computer illustrated techniques. Although Christian’s work can seem very clean and polished, he likes to keep a sense of the hand done techniques still present within his pieces. His gallery painting style developed out of his graffiti background. Christian has been exploring combinations of graffiti typography with surrealism, abstraction, South American iconography and New York culture.

If you would like to hire Christian Cortes for a commercial job or commission him for a custom project, he can be contacted at Christian@cortescreates.com. Please make sure to state clearly the details and budget of the project.

If you would like to see more expressions by great artists on canvas and in photographs (mine included) this weekend – come to the Jeffrey Leder Gallery this weekend and view the brilliant art by artists: Auks, Cortes, Hans Von Rittern, Jerms, Just One, Meres One,  Poem, Shiro, See TF, Topaz, Zimad, all brilliantly curated by Marie Cecile Flageul!
The Jeffrey Leder Gallery: 2137 45th Road, L.I.C.
#7/G subway stop. One block away from 5 Pointz and PS1 Moma. Admission is free, open 12-6.
Leder Gallery: http://www.jeffreyledergallery.com/whitewash.php

Christian Cortes: http://cortescreates.com/