Photo of the day: DEBBIE HARRY, CHRIS STEIN, BLONDIE, EARTHA KITT AND HANS – 35 YEARS LATER – or “How a Russian, an old concert ticket and Eartha Kitt got me to meet Blondie” – Last night one of music’s most influential and iconic duo, Chris Stein & Debbie Harry of “Blondie” gave a very rare 90 minute audience participation interview about their lives and the formation of “Blondie” the new wave group that we all know. All you need to hear is Debbie’s “oooohh oh oh-oh” from “Heart of Glass” and you recognize it instantly. The venue – The 92nd Street ‘Y’.
I brought with me my 1979 Blondie concert tickets from Asbury Park’s Convention Hall for the then expensive price of $8.50. ‘The Laughing Dogs’ opened for them. On the day of the concert my friend Susan and I begged the promoters not to tear our tickets so as to preserve them and they obliged! In today’s times that would never happen. So, I showed up at the ‘Y’ stage door last night at 5:30 for the 8:00 show. The Ebayers all started showing up. “She doesn’t like to pose with people.” OK, I thought, a photo is out, autograph is the main goal then.
One of the security guards saw that I had a very rare French 12″LP of ‘Sunday Girl’ with me and was eager to see it. He winds up showing me his record collection on his iPhone, proudly exclaiming he knew all the songs on his records and that they are in mint condition. “Do you have this one?!” “Remember that one?” The last one he showed me was Eartha Kitt’s first lp “That Bad Eartha”, I told him that I had been friends with her and the stories she had told me of making that first album, well…that sealed the deal. “Come back after the show,” he said.
At 7:20 a black town car pulled up and she emerged. Hair in curlers, radiant as can be. Rushed right in. Her driver told me she was exhausted, fighting a cold and was unnerved that she did not know who the interviewer was.
A few moments later Chris Stein pulled up willing to sign a few autographs. The Ebayers pressed forward. The ‘record collector’ security guard made room for me. I showed Chris my 1979 concert tickets and he laughed and said ‘you deserve an autograph after all this time!’. In he went.
Debbie’s driver and I wound up being all alone at the stage door and he started to tell me about his life. He is a Russian scientist who immigrated here in 1989, became a Wall Street trader but lost it all in the stock market crash. He decided to take his knowledge and educate his daughter on the principles of science and economics. She is now graduating with a Masters Degree in physics. We spoke of politics, America’s influence on music, only to discover he sold his piano and bought and electric guitar and knows the riffs to all the hard core rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s and starting playing air guitar for me – Blondie’s chauffeur is playing air guitar for me – surreal !
The interview was conducted by Anthony DeCurtis, co-author of Clive Davis’ autobiography. Chris in his white hair, all black suit and boots, wearing blackout shades he evoked the 1980’s all over again. Debbie looked stunningly radiant. Her now coifed hair had transformed her into a luminescent modern day Marilyn Monroe, same color, same tossed soft curls. She was dressed in a white cotton blouse with parachute style yellow shawl, tuxedo pants and combat boots. Total Blondie.
Speaking of clothes, they explained their original look came from the thrift shops of New York in the early 70’s. “Disco was big lapels, bright colors and we wanted to be the antithesis – the early Beatles black suits with the narrow lapels, secondly also because that shit was the cheapest in the stores and nobody wanted it, now it’s all gone. No one looked like us, we would get stared at in the street in those days.” Debbie laughed.
Debbie’s voice actually has a Marilyn quality, soft spoken, she takes a moment to think before she speaks, and just answers the question, short and to the point yet often reflective. When asked about being the first breakthrough rap recording artist (who happens to be a white female) with the song “Rapture” (the man from Mars is eating cars!) and how did it come about she explained, “I didn’t know the word ‘reggae’ but Chris heard there was this festival going on up in Harlem and we went. I loved that the music and that it had a message, told a story and so connected with the people, I loved the rhythm. We basically stole/copied their style…the rest is history.”
But their influences came from the opposite direction as well, “Dreaming”/(Eat to the Beat) is blatantly lifted from Abba “not enough so I could get sued” chuckled Chris. Debbie said, “yeah I listened to them, but I could never get past that polka-like sound that crept into their music.” She grinned and laughed.
When Debbie laughs or reflects she leans back and pulls her hand through that platinum ‘Marilyn’ hair and as the evening progressed and as the hair became more tossed – she morphed more and more into a 68 year old radiant Blondie/Marilyn.
When asked what rock group from the CBGB era to you feel should have been more recognized, Chris instantly and angrily said “The Ramones, I mean come on, their were fucking brilliant, they should be up there today with the Beatles and The Stones!” What was so great about CBGB’S? Debbie answered: “No one watched you, we just did shit, if we fucked up it didn’t matter and that’s how we evolved, we were not under a microscope.”
How does she feel about being such a music icon? Was she harassed? “It felt great. We weren’t thinking of the future, we were just in the moment. I mean I did wind up becoming a feminist mainly because of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. I wanted to get even for those ladies, I felt so sorry for them. ‘Here world take this!’ and here’s to you Billie and Janis. I was never harassed because I was with Chris, the band didn’t lay their hands on me because I was ‘Chris’s girl’. At one point though it did become us versus them, but we got past that.” On meeting Warhol: “We met in passing at Studio 54 and became friends. He was determined to photograph me in 1979, he did my hair for the shoot! He used to shoot with these crappy Polaroid cameras, I mean like the oldest archaic models, so we used to look for them in thrift stores as we toured and would give them to him,” said Debbie. That happened to be the 1979 poster advertising the Warhol Blondie issue that I had brought with me to be signed.
They have just released a new double VINYL lp with re-recorded classic hits as well as 12 new songs. The double albums has two titles “Blondie 4(0) Ever/Ghosts of Download.” Sadly they did not have a signing afterwards. They plan to tour “with festivals” in Europe later this year and tour in the USA in 2015! Chris Stein’s book of awesome photography will go on sale in August. Many of the photos were shown in a slide presentation and they both humorously reminisced about the ‘old times’. Audience questions were taken during the last 20 minutes and were very insightful.
At the show’s end I ran to the stage door already besieged with Ebayers and fans. Luckily the her driver and the security guard placed me near her car door. As Debbie noticed the Ebayers had pressed forward she didn’t want to sign anymore but her driver and the guard steered her towards me and both the guard and I said simultaneously “He’s/I’m not an Ebayer!”. Debbie looked, warmly smiled at me, squeezed my hand and signed her full name unlike the initials she had dome for the others. I floated on an ‘Atomic’ cloud all the way home. Here is my incredibly awesome rare signed treasure above – 35 years later!!
BLONDIE 1979 Village Voice ad
Mondays on Memory Lane: PLEASE HELP GIVE CAROL CHANNING A 2013 KENNEDY CENTER AWARD – If you are of a certain age, or you know your entertainment history, there are certain voices that on first note you recognize instantly. The Brooklyn of Jimmy Durante, the heart of Louis Armstrong, the belt of Ethel Merman, the breathiness Marilyn Monroe, the growl of Eartha Kitt, the shaky quality of Katherine Hepburn, the accent of Marlene Dietrich, the staccato speech pattern Bette Davis and above all the big hearted gravely “hello” of Carol Channing!
Carol is larger than life, she is a living caricature of herself, a favorite of the best caricature artist of all time Al Hirschfeld. She is also living Broadway history having created two of the most iconic characters in theater history, Lorelei Lee of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and Dolly Levi of ‘Hello Dolly’. No matter who you remember playing these characters on screen, Marilyn Monroe or Streisand – Carol originated them! But above all, there is no other creation like Carol herself. You fall in love with her the moment you set eyes on her.
At age 92, nothing has changed, her saucer eyes, her broad grin, that bowl cut hair style, the platinum blonde hair, that child-like enthusiasm with a heart of gold and above all, above all – that voice! I have had the thrill of seeing her on stage many times in my lifetime: 3 times as Dolly in 1970, 1978 and 1995. Once as Lorelei Lee the ultimate diamond loving gold digger the 1974’s ‘Lorelei’, the musical stage version of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’. In film she will be forever remembered as Muzzy Van Hossmere in Julie Andrews’ ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ as Carol sang in a vocal range from a high ‘C’ to the lowest note possible in ‘I’m Just A Jazz Baby’ and ‘Raspberries!’
On April 30, 2011, my good friend Jeffrey Shonert and I had the thrilling absolute surreal honor of sitting in front of Carol Channing and her late husband Harry Kullijian at the premier of her life story documentary “Larger Than Life” at the Tribeca Film Festival here in New York. This was thanks to the larger than life heart and love of my dear friend, entertainer and author Richard Skipper. As the film ran I could hear Carol commenting on the film to her husband – two Carol voices at once – surreal!! Richard, I am forever indebted to you!
Once a year The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C hands out lifetime achievement awards to the greats of entertainment. Since their inception in 1978, in all this time, Carol Channing has never been honored. How they have overlooked and bypassed this legend is a travesty and embarrassment. What to me makes it worse, last year seemingly having run out of names to give it to, they gave it to mad magazine poster child David Letterman. How throwing watermelons off a roof while stupidly grinning into the camera merits a lifetime achievement award over the life’s work of Carol Channing is beyond me! She has entertained us since the 1940’s, has worked tirelessly for Arts In Education. She IS theater!
Thank you !
Hans Von Rittern
RORY PATTERSON – AIDS QUILT 1985
WORLD AIDS DAY
A memory by Hans Von Rittern
In the 1970’s and 1980’s I was what you call a “stage door Johnny.” I would haunt the stage doors of the theater district hoping to get an autograph of the greats of the time. Gloria Swanson, Ingrid Bergman, Richard Burton, Lauren Bacall, Anne Baxter, Eartha Kitt, Elizabeth Taylor, Ruby Keeler, Diana Rigg, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert and dozens more, it was a glorious time.
When the performance was over, I’d go into the theater pretending to look for something (not) left behind and grab a Playbill and then rush to the stage door to get an autograph. I was in high school and early college days and couldn’t afford the tickets to all the shows I wanted to see. What I could afford after my rendezvous with Gloria Swanson or Ingrid Bergman – was a hamburger at a long gone theater restaurant called “Charlie’s“. It was located on West 45th street, right off Schubert Alley between Broadway and 8th Avenue.
One of the waiters there was Rory Patterson. He had a magnetic charm and would always wink and give me a free drink from the bar. (He happened to be legendary actor George C. Scott’s favorite waiter and George would standardly tip him a $50 dollar bill no mater what the check came to.) Over the years Rory and I became friends. He was a cool guy to know because after the Broadway shows were over, many of the supporting casts would come to Charlie’s and sing around the baby grand piano. The walls were covered with framed posters of the shows, all of them autographed to the hilt, now worth a fortune. So Rory would invite me to stay at the bar and we would sing show tunes with the cast of “Applause” or “Sugar Babies” (sometimes Ann Miller herself would be there), “Sweeney Todd” , “Hello Dolly” or Eartha Kitt’s “Timbuktu”. I was star struck at the magic goings on after hours that many a theatergoer didn’t know about. There I was at one o’clock in the morning singing show tunes with Rory and Eartha Kitt!!
By 1978 I graduated college and life had to become a bit more serious and staying out all night till all hours weekdays wasn’t the smart thing to do, I had a job to go to. Rory continued on at Charlie’s and whenever mom and/or friends and I went to the theater, the natural stop afterwards was of course Charlie’s.
On Rory’s nights off he would appear in many of the local cabarets and night clubs, there were so, so many of them in those days. He was a talented singer and was developing a following, some of them famous. My family and I would have front row seats at many of his shows. He was finally ‘discovered’ for his great singing voice and good looks and was offered the lead role in a Broadway musical called (I think) “The Singer” (something like that…, but it never opened).
Rory was so terrified of the auditions he started to drink, heavily. So much so it became a detriment to his character and the part was taken away from him. He drowned what he felt was his failure and fears in booze and sex. Gay bath houses were in every part of town in those days and Rory would drink himself blind and wake up the next afternoon in one of the bathes. He’d show up late for his shift at work. His downward spiral caused him also to lose some of his friends. It wasn’t good to be seen with someone who slurred their words. “Wasn’t he supposed to star in that musical? What happened to him?” His mother couldn’t save him, his friends started to give up and slowly I must admit I drifted away too. As far as I knew Rory felt it was safer to just bar tend and wait tables than to face the terror of having to prove yourself to producers and backers and then audiences night after night.
Fast forward to September 26, 1985, it was opening night of Lily Tomlin’s brilliant one woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and mom and I were thrilled to attend this genius of a new show. The show was a comedic masterpiece and mom and I reminisced about Lily’s earlier days on ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In’, so… feeling nostalgic we thought we would celebrate the night by going to Charlie’s and surprise Rory and to catch up. We happily went to ’his section’ and waited to see his cheery smile. We were brought menus. Drinks were served and finally a waiter asked us for our order. “Oh no,” we said, “We’re waiting for Rory”. Our waiter rushed over to the bar, we assumed to get Rory. Dead silence fell over the staff. They all seemed to freeze in their spots and they all just looked at each other and no one would look us. It was that kind of awkward moment you see dramatized in a movie. Our waiter returned, “I think may not have heard,” his look was so grave we knew it wasn’t that Rory had merely been fired. “Rory passed away.” He leaned over our table and whispered in the lowest whisper possible “It was AIDS.” The word was not said out loud in those days. Nothing else was said. We just pointed to the hamburger on the menu and fought back the tears because we had already drawn attention, it wasn’t easy. We ate in silence. As we left the manager came over and hugged us and said “We all loved Rory, George C. Scott is a little richer now.” It was an awkward joke but we know how he meant it. Mom and I walked home and were guessing what this new plague AIDS was about. We simply didn’t know, it hadn’t hit us yet. It was a night that changed us forever.
The next day I found my old address book and contacted his mother. After a long consoling conversation she ended the call by saying, “He’s on the quilt, you know.”
In those days the AIDS quilt was only in the beginning stages and not that large yet. I contacted a Broadway AIDS charity of the time and they offered me to come by their office to see a photo of his quilt.
One of the volunteers in this tiny office handed the photo to me, there was ‘Rory Patterson’ spelled out in little hand made cloth light bulbs and underneath, lots of Playbills. I smiled, Rory in a unique odd way, had finally gotten his name up in lights without the stage fright, safe and secure, finally not wrestling his demons, but resting in peace.
The idea for the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was conceived in 1985 by AIDS activist Cleve Jones during the candlelight march, in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. For the march, Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs that would be taped to the San Francisco Federal Building. All the signs taped to the building looked like an enormous patchwork quilt to Jones, and he was inspired. It officially started in 1987 in San Francisco by Jones, Mike Smith, and volunteers Joseph Durant, Jack Caster, Gert McMullin, Ron Cordova, Larkin Mayo and Gary Yuschalk. At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased’s remains. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, The Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones’ lives. The first showing of the The Quilt was 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Quilt was last displayed in full on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996, but it will return in July 2012 to coincide with the start of the XIX International AIDS Conference, 2012.
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?…
Photo courtesy of Richard Turk
EARTHLY REMAINS – THE LAST RECORD STANDING AT COLONY RECORDS: My 100th post.
A story of eerie coincidence. Colony records was an iconic sheet music and record store on Broadway which sadly closed after 64 years a few weeks ago. Repeat patrons included Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Eartha Kitt and Michael Jackson, who in his later years took to scheduling after-hours appointments to drop by.
In my Sept. 28 blog “The Music Man’s Last Verse” I told the story of meeting Richard Turk the owner as I was trying to photograph the moving out and demolition of the store. We shared our memories of the store and (it turns out) our mutual love for singer and actress Eartha Kitt. “I was obsessed with her song C’est Si Bon, and of course fantasized about her as the Cat Woman on the Batman TV show.” Richard fondly recounted. His fantasy came true when one night, “Eartha Kitt came in, the store simply exploded!!! An absolute dynamite personality!”
I myself became obsessed with her when I saw her sing “I Want to be Evil” on the Ed Sullivan show in the early 1960’s. In the era of blonde Doris Day virgins, here was this black woman that wanted to be evil, I thought it was divine! I sought out all her records and amassed quite a collection with the help of Colony Records. In 1978 my dream came true when I met her March 1, 1978 at the Mark Hellinger theater when she starred in all the all black version of ‘Kismet’, a new show called “Timbuktu”. She made her entrance on top of a pyramid of black muscle men, one of them being a former Mr. Universe. She slithered down the pyramid and strode to the front of the stage, curled her bare toes over the edge, rose her arms and purred “I’m here!” It usually took many minutes for the wild enthusiastic applause to die down. I was in heaven. I crashed the opening party and was invited into her dressing room and she herself then invited me to Sardi’s opening party and we became friends after that, dancing nights away at Studio 54 and then exchanging letters while she toured with the show.
Fast forward to Wednesday, September 26, 2012 and Richard and his son were shooting some video memories in the Colony, everything was cleaned out and they were in the basement when his son showed Richard one solitary record left on a shelf. “This is 100% the truth…” Richard said, “This LP was the only item left in the empty Colony”
RCA 1953 Viktor 10″ LPM 3062 “RCA Viktor Presents Eartha Kitt” containing both songs “C’est Si Bon” and “I Want to be Evil”. As Richard put it, “Erie shit…stranger than fiction eh!!”
The Earthly remains of Colony Records…Richard has kept the record for his private collection.