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.”
Butts n elbows
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?”
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
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.
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
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
My personalized advertising on the Barclays Oculus
Photo of the day: CHER COMES TO BROOKLYN’S BARCLAYS CENTER TONIGHT! – Six decades of hits, six decades of fashion, six decades of fantastic shows all culminate tonight in Cher’s “Dressed To Kill” tour here in New York. Cher the eighth wonder of the world, will perform with loveable ‘fun girl’ Cyndi Lauper at Brooklyn’s new modern wonder the Oculus, at the Barclays Center. I’ll be there with Janet Novick and my international Cher fan friends and we’ll be ‘dressed to kill’!
(I’ve done my own advertising on the Barclays oculus here with my photos personally taken of Cher and Cyndi.)
Postcard story from New York: “STOMPING AT THE SAVOY IN HARLEM”
New York, October 15, 2:00pm, 1954
The Savoy the showplace of Harlem, has acquired an international reputation for its unique styles of dancing. Such dances as the Lindy-Hop, Big Apple, and the latest of all sensations the Mutiny Swing, had their origin at The Savoy.
To: Mrs. M. A. Ryan
U.S. Army Air Corps
8505 W. Warren Ave
“Hi Marg: We arrived in NY Monday at 9:30p.m. are having a swell time here. Say hello to the girls for me
Connie + Bob”
Sadly Connie & Bob’s adventures at the famed Savoy were never received by Mrs. M. A Ryan at the U.S. Army Air Corps since the postcard is stamped “FOUND IN PACKAGE BOX COLLECTION”.
It is guaranteed that Connie & Bob had a ‘swell time’ since The Savoy nightclub was dubbed the swingingest hot spot in Harlem and all of New York City. The first non segregated club allowing blacks and whites to swing together. The famed Cotton Club was for white patrons only with famed black musicians on stage. At The Savoy – real hep cats dug some cool jive on the be-bop side! They were jammed packed every night from March 12, 1926 to July 10, 1958. Often thousands had to be turned away. The Savoy is deeply rooted in our dance, music and culture. Music united all at the Savoy !
Read about it’s wonderful history here and see the link to the YouTube videos below.
See a brief video history:
With swing’s rise to popularity and Harlem becoming a connected Black community, The Savoy opened at a perfect time, giving the rising talented and passionate Black dancers an equally beautiful venue. The Savoy’s ballroom, which was 10,000 square feet in size, was on the second floor and a block long. It could hold up to 4,000 people. The interior was painted pink and the walls were mirrored. Colored lights danced on the sprung layered wood floor. In 1926, the Savoy contained a spacious lobby framing a huge, cut-glass chandelier and marble staircase.
The Savoy was extremely popular right from the start. A headline from the New York Age March 20, 1926 reads “Savoy Turns 2,000 Away On Opening Night – Crowds Pack Ball Room All Week”. The ballroom didn’t go dark a single night of the week.
The Savoy even participated in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, presenting “The Evolution of Negro Dance”.
The Savoy was unique in having the constant presence of a skilled elite of the best Lindy Hoppers, known as “Savoy Lindy Hoppers”. Occasionally, groups of dancers such Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers turned professional and performed in Broadway and Hollywood productions. Whitey turned out to be quite a successful agent, and in 1937, the Marx Brothers’ movie A Day at the Races featured the group. Herbert White was a bouncer at the Savoy who was made floor manager in the early 30s. He was sometimes known as Mac, but with his ambition to scout dancers at the ballroom to form his own group, he became widely known as Whitey for the white streak of hair down the center of his head. He looked for dancers who were “. . . young, stylized, and, most of all, they had to have a beat, they had to swing”. The Savoy held a yearly dancing festival called the Harvest Moon Ball featuring lindy dancers. The first Ball was held in 1935, and the contestants introduced the Lindy Hop to Europe the next year.
Unlike many ballrooms such as the Cotton Club, the Savoy always had a no-discrimination policy. Generally, the clientele was 85% black and 15% white, although sometimes there was an even 50/50 split. Lindy hop legend Frankie Manning noted that patrons were only judged on their dancing skills and not on the color of their skin: “One night somebody came over and said, ‘Hey man, Clark Gable just walked in the house.’ Somebody else said, ‘Oh, yeah, can he dance?’ All they wanted to know when you came into the Savoy was, do you dance?”. Virtuosic dancers, however, excluded others from the northeast corner of the dance floor, now referred to as the “Cat’s Corner,” although the term was not used at the time. This part of the floor where the professional Lindy dancers ruled was on the 141st street side of the room and was then referred to just as “the corner”. Only Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers could dance and work routines there. Competition was huge in “the corner” and every serious hopper awaited the nightly “showtime”. Other dancers would create a horseshoe around the band and “ . . . only the greatest Lindy-hoppers would stay on the floor, to try to eliminate each other”. On 140th street was the opposite, mellow corner which was popular with dancing couples. The skilled Tango dancer known as The Sheik frequented this corner.
Many dances such as Lindy Hop (which was named after Charles Lindbergh and originated in 1927) were developed and became famous there. It was known downtown as the “Home of Happy Feet” but uptown, in Harlem, as “the Track” because the floor was long and thin. The Savoy earned the nickname “Home of Happy Feet” from Lana Turner who remarked of the dancers, “What happy feet these people have”. The Lindy Hop is also known as The Jitterbug and was born out of “. . . mounting exhilaration and the ‘hot’ interaction of music and dance”. Other dances that were conceived at the Savoy are The Flying Charleston, Jive, Snakehips, Rhumboogie, and variations of the Shimmy, Mambo, and many more.
It is estimated that the ballroom generated $250,000 in annual profit in its peak years from the late 20s to the 40s. Each year, the ballroom was visited by near 700,000 people. The normal entrance fee was 30 to 85 cents per person, depending on what time a person came. 30 cents was the base price, but after 6pm the fee was 60cents, and then 85cents after 8pm. The Savoy had made enough money by its peak of business in 1936 that $50,000 was spent on remodeling it.[
The ballroom had a double bandstand that held one large and one medium sized band running against its east wall. Music was continuous as the alternative band was always in position and ready to pick up the beat when the previous one had completed its set. The bouncers, who had previously worked as boxers, basketball players, and the like, wore tuxedos and made $100/night. The floor was watched inconspicuously by a security force of four men at a time who were headed by Jack La Rue, and no man was allowed in who wasn’t dressed in a jacket with a tie. Besides the security staff, the Savoy was populated by “Harlem’s most beautiful women”: the Savoy Hostesses. They would be fired for consorting with patrons outside the ballroom, but inside the hostesses would teach people to dance and were dance partners for anyone who purchased a 25 cent dance ticket. Roseland Ballroom hostesses often visited the savoy on their night off; this inspired Buchanon to create Monday-Ladies-Free Nights. Other special events began during the week, including the giveaway of a new car every Saturday. The floor had to be replaced every 3 years due to its constant use.
“Stompin’ at the Savoy“, a 1934 Big Band classic song and jazz standard recorded by Chick Webb, was named after the ballroom. The song was featured in an episode of I Love Lucy in which she performs the Jitterbug.
Chick Webb was the leader of the best known Savoy house band during the mid-1930s. A teenage Ella Fitzgerald, fresh from a talent show win at the Apollo Theater in 1934, became its vocalist. Floating World Pictures recently made a documentary called “The Savoy King” about Webb, Ella, and the ballroom. It was shown at the 50th New York Film Festival.
The Savoy was the site of many famous “Battles of the Bands” or “Cutting Contests“, which started when the Benny Goodman Orchestra challenged Chick Webb in 1937. Webb and his band were declared the winners of that contest. In 1938, Webb was once again challenged by Count Basie Band. While Webb was officially declared the winner again, there was a lack of consensus on who actually won that night. Earle Warren, the alto saxophonist for Basie reports that they had worked on a song called “Swingin’ the Blues” for the purpose of competing and says, “When we unloaded our cannons, that was the end”. Webb’s “unbeatable” band had been bested.
The Savoy participated in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, presenting “The Evolution of Negro Dance”.
Despite efforts by Borough President Hulan Jack and others to save it, the Savoy and the nearby Cotton Club were demolished for the construction of a housing complex, Bethune Towers/Delano Village. The Ballroom was shut down as a result of “charges of vice filed by the police department and Army”. The mayor was the target of protest by angered members of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The ballroom was auctioned off for $25,000 to a “middle-income housing project”. Count Basie was quoted in the paper saying “With the passing of the Savoy Ballroom, a part of show business is gone. I feel about the same way I did when someone told me the news that Bill (Bojangles) Robinson was dead”. On 26 May 2002, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, surviving members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, unveiled a commemorative plaque for the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets. The tradition of swing has lived on today and many surviving dancers from the Savoy still dance when they can. As Norma Miller says in her memoir, “Although Harlem created it, the Lindy belongs to everyone”.
Photo of the day: A BUNNY TAIL – The Nestle’s Quick bunny made an appearance at a local Greenwich Village Easter fair recently. He was very adorable and bounced around and danced so much with the little kids that his tail came loose. His cameraman quickly alerted “Quick” so they tried to find a secluded corner over by the vegetables and flowers that were still being set up.
That excited these two little girls who wanted to know if even chocolate bunnies really do love their carrots so much. The entire time they were so enchanted by Mr. Bunny that they were clueless that he was having his tail put back on.
“Ah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love carrots.”
“Ok, move it along kids.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna eat the carrots, in a minute, now give Mr. Bunny some privacy, move it along kid….”
HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE !