Mondays on Memory Lane: MICHAEL JACKSON 8-29-1958 TO 6-25-2009 – On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson was murdered by his so-called doctor, Conrad Murray, by acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication and suffered a heart attack in his home on North Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In August of 1967 Michael (age 7) and The Jackson 5 auditioned at the famed Apollo Theater’s talent contest and easily won first prize. Diana Ross introduced the Jackson 5 to the American television viewing audience on her TV special in 1969, the rest is history. Forty years later the story horrifically came to an end on a day in June of 2009. The news was shocking. On the west coast fans had several places to mourn, the hospital, his home and Hollywood Blvd’s Walk of Fame. On the east coast fans surged to New York’s Apollo Theater on Harlem’s 125th Street where Michael was discovered.
It was one of those summer heat waves where you felt like you can fry an egg on the sidewalk, but people came by the thousands. You had to stand in line for two blocks to get to the front of the theater to leave flowers or leave mementos behind. Street vendors lined the street with everything ‘Michael’ for sale, his music blared from every stand. Worldwide TV crews were everywhere.
Directly to the left of the Apollo was an empty lot surrounded by a blue wooden wall. Fans instinctively took out their felt tip pens and started writing messages of love to Michael. Within a few days the wall started to turn black from all the signatures. But the Apollo theater brought out plastic sheeting to cover the wall so that fans could continue to sign, day after day, the sheets filled up rapidly.
On July 1st, I came to pay my respects and watch the phenomena. After I had left a few messages on the wall, I stood back and watched the people. Hour after hour in the heat and then it struck me. As I watched people signing the wall, I noticed – there was an old black woman next to a young white woman, an old white woman next to a young black woman. There were people of all colors, all ages, all genders, all persuasions. So many different languages could be heard: Finnish, German, French, Russian, Italian, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, all dialects.
Music had brought them all together. Through Michael’s music they were all one, united, if only for that brief period in time. The love of music unites. Michael united all. Rest in peace Michael.
. . . Doctor Murray received the maximum sentence of four years. . .
Photo of the day: 4,000+ SOLDIERS LOST IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN – On Memorial Day weekend, I always take my guests to Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue and 29th Street, which since 2006 has honored the fallen soldiers of these wars. Every Sunday yellow ribbons are added to the ever growing sea of yellows ribbons on their cast iron fence surrounding the church. Look at the white name tags and see all their names, but more movingly – see all their ages: 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26. . . a tragic loss of young lives.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale served as senior minister from 1932-1984 here, preaching ‘the power of positive thinking’. Under his ministry Marble’s influence reached national levels and became known as “America’s Hometown Church.” On November 19, 1961, Lucille Ball married her second husband Gary Morton in the church. On March 16, 2002 Liza Minnelli married gay David Gest in a freak $4 million dollar wedding ceremony. In the wedding party were Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross.
This church has seen a lot of history since being built in 1852, but today the most stark historical reminder is offered by this church with these yellow ribbons. Let’s think positively that this church won’t have to add many more names in the future, enough is enough.
MONDAYS ON MEMORY LANE – BACK STAGE WITH AGNES MOOREHEAD: It is Sunday,February 4th, 1973 and Agnes Moorehead, better known to mortals as Endora, was giving her last performance in the George Bernard Shaw play “Don Juan In Hell” at the old Palace Theatre in Times Square New York. I had to attend the performance since the shocking notice had been in the papers that past Friday that Sunday the 4th would be the final performance after only a total run of 24 performances.
Shocking? Yes. You see the cast included: Paul Henreid of ultra film classic “Cassablanca” and “Now Voyager”, Edward Mulhare of the TV series “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, Ricardo Montalban latin film star as lover and villain and of Star Trek fame. Directed by esteemed actor John Houseman. But most of all…there was Endora. From 1964 till 1972, one of my sheer pleasures was watching witty, chic, acid tongued Agnes Moorehead play Endora, mother-in-law to Darrin Stevens on the beloved TV classic series “Bewitched.”
I was still a bell-bottomed sophmore in high school and unfortunately not smart enough to secure the autographs of the entire incredible cast, my main goal was Endora/Agnes! So after the show I ran to the stage door and waited and watched for the luminaries to leave. Paul Henreid left, Edward Mulhare left and Ricardo Montalban left. Ninety minutes went by and the nervous question was – where was Agnes?!
In a panic I ran into the main entrance of the theatre to enquire if she was still in the theater (perhaps she had snuck out.) One of the ushers who still there cleaning up pleasantly said “Oh she’s still here! You want to meet her?!”
Huh? This doesn’t readily happen. These were still innocent times though. The history of celebrity security is basically divided in two. Before December 8, 1980/John Lennon’s assassination and after December 8th 1980. No one thought anything to stop this star struck kid in the platform shoes and huge bellbottoms from running to find Agnes Moorehead in that huge, huge theater. I raced down the aisle. “Wait!”, I thought, “slow down, don’t appear too eager or as if you don’t belong.” I slowed my pace but my heart beat only faster. The cavernous theater’s aisles led me to the side of the stage where a stagehand volunteered to show me to her dressing room. I was in disbelief! You know how incredible it was to be behind stage of the legendary theater where the greatest of the greats had performed? In the vaudeville days it was Ethel Barrymore, Bert Lahr, Fanny Brice, the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers and Lillian Russell. In modern times such incredible luminaries as Judy Garland, Bette Midler’s first show, Liza Minnelli, Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross. The film “Citizen Kane” premiered here on May 1, 1941 . . .and there I was. To quote Eve Harrington in “All About Eve” ‘You can breathe it, can’t you?!’
The stagehand led me through the winding corridors to one remaining dressing room where the light was still on. “Miss Moorehead…someone here to see you.” There she was, methodically packing her blue suitcase. She came to the open door, “Yes?” as she looked at me inquisitively. “What is it dear boy?” That unmistakable voice, the mannerisms, the posture, the red hair – it was Endora saying ‘speak up!’ I was in awe. I nervously told her had wound my way backstage because I couldn’t run the risk of missing her and just to shake her hand. Her right hand had rows and rows of bracelets that clinked as she took my hand. I had brought with me a rare photo that ABC TV local stations used to focus the camera on when they went to commercial. I nervously watched as she signed it with my ink pen which didn’t take on the glossy photo (this is pre-Flair pen days) and she didn’t have another pen either, so the autograph is sort of scratched into the photo. She surprisingly asked me “Oh, Endora eh? So which was your favorite Darrin Stevens name?” “Durwood” I replied. “Mine too!” she said, “it was so easy and fun for me to say, it was the name we used the most. Is there anything else? I must pack.” I asked if I may take her picture with my little instamatic camera. She regally struck a profile pose. “Now young man, I must go.” She headed back into her dressing room and I wandered unescorted through those wonderful backstage hallways and walkways of theatrical history. Not knowing where I was going, I found myself at the edge of the stage. The lone single ghost light was standing center stage. ‘Why not?’ I thought, this would be my only chance! I peaked out from behind the curtain – no one. I took my first step. My clunky wooden platform shoes echoed on the wooden floorboards as I crossed the stage Judy Garland and all the legends had stood on. When I came to center stage, I stood there for a second and breathed – you can breathe it! I took a silent bow . . . and left.
ENDORA’S NAMES FOR DARRIN STEVENS:
Dagwood, Darwood, Durwood, Durweed, Beady eyes, Charm Boy, Dalton, Dar-Dar, Darius, Darwick, Darwin, David, Dawson, Boy, Delbert, Dennis, Denton, Derek, Derwin, Dexter, Digby, Dino, Dobbin, Dogwood, Donald, Dorian, Dulcin, Dulfin, Dum Dum, Dumbo, Dumpkin, Duncan, Featherhead, Glum-Dum, Tinker Bell, What’s his name and Low-grade mortal.
THE PERSIAN ROOM AT THE PLAZA HOTEL, 1974: Where were you 38 years ago on November 29, Friday night, 1974? I was 18 years old and took my friend Amy Hernandez to see a drag revue at the Plaza Hotel’s Persian Room, one of the most magical places within the Plaza. For more than forty years, from 1934 to 1975, the Persian Room was the place to be in New York City. An unparalleled array of performers graced its stage—everyone from the incomparable Hildegarde Shirley Bassey, Ethel Merman, The Mills Brothers, Kay Thompson (mother to Eloise), Eartha Kitt, Bob Hope, Liberace, Diahann Carroll, Julie Wilson, Andy Williams, Josephine Baker, my dear Celeste Holm and Marlene Dietrich’s last New York appearance.
It was done in high Persian style in deep iridescent tones of blues, greens and purples – nowadays we would view the decor as high camp/kitsch, but it was divine! The entrance looked like a golden gate to a palace. Today it is where the main lobby of the hotel is on the left side as you enter the Plaza Hotel, with sadly not a hint of it’s decadent past.
Amy Hernandez’s mother owned an east side townhouse bar and restaurant called ‘The Beef & Bourbon’ and the bourbon, her mom’s (and Amy’s) favorite drink of choice, flowed freely. Amy had an uppity twin sister named Carol who never liked anything I had to say and would just say “Oh Hans…”.
‘Manhattan Follies’ was the talk of the nightclub world and I just had to go! Impersonated that night were the then staples: Dietrich, Garland, Ross, Channing, Marilyn and Mae and that new sensation Bette Midler. The headliner was up and coming drag star Craig Russell who would go on to make the hit 1977 film called “Outrageous!”
The room still had a ‘cigar & cigarette girl’, a shapely woman with a tray strapped under her bosom selling smokes for high prices (Lena Horne started out as one). A Weegee-like man went from table to table with a huge old fashioned flash camera an offered souvenir photographs.
Some of the photo’s fun details: I am wearing a black and white polyester Marilyn Monroe print dress shirt with an awfully huge white poly tie. The suit is black velvet bell bottomed and huge platform shoes (that you can’t see here) that had silver stars on them. The program pictured here on the right, is next to me by my seat. Amy’s polyester print blouse was black and white to match me. Note my index finger is extended on my lap because I am trying to show off a silver ring in the shape of a man’s head wearing a turban which I felt was appropriate for the evening’s occasion. Amy and I didn’t know we were partaking in history because sadly the ‘Manhattan Follies’ was the last and final show to play at The Persian Room.
The 1970’s was a glorious era. My era. A decadent era of nightclubbing, dancing, glitz and glamour. Studio 54, Xenon, 12 West, Ice Palace and the Paradise Garage. Huge shoes, hair sprayed hair, big eye glasses, bell bottoms and that wonderful disco music.
Where where you November 29, Friday night 1974?…