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.’
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.
Henri Bendel’s Hirschfeld Christmas window November 14, 2013
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.
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.
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?”
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.)
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.
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.”
High Teen Magazine, November 1962
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 . . .
(with a special nod
to my extra-special line editor…you know who you are!😉)
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.”
Photo of the day: Gay Pride means…never being too old to wear your favorite blue sparkly dress
Photo of the day: Gay Pride means . . . never being too old to stand up for your rights
Photo of the day: A STUDY IN PINK – Some people take their investments very seriously. Some people take their health very seriously. Some take their religion very seriously. Some – take their strawberry smoothies very seriously.
Seen at: The Good Stuff Diner 109 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011 b/t 7th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas in West Village
Photo of the day: MOURNING THE GAY PRIDE DAY’S GRAY’S PAPAYA ~ What on earth will Gay Pride be without the wonderfully bright yellow Gray’s Papaya on the corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street, the epicenter of the Gay Pride day parade?!?!
For anyone that has ever followed the maddening crowd of the parade on the sidewalk as a spectacular spectator, knows the tightest bottleneck of the parade is when you come to the main intersection of 8th/6th. It is where the large Fifth Avenue sized fabulous parade has been squeezed onto narrow 8th Street and now pours onto the big 6th Avenue intersection again leading it to the ceremonial entrance to gay history’s Christopher Street. The police have therefore cordoned off any chance of you crossing the street within blocks of this big intersection. It does give the parade marchers the space to twirl and show-off before shashaying onto Christopher Street – it’s a divine madhouse! But the one chance you had to make it around the corner as a spectator was to cut through Gray’s Papaya’s open walk-through corner, and by the thousands we did.
It was a quick mini party stop for you to grab that desperately needed cold juice and those wonderfully tasty hot dogs and $1.00 slices of pizza, it was party on the go! The (sadly now) iconic paper fold out fruit decorations hanging from the ceiling made it feel like you were stopping by a madhouse Carmen Miranda fruit stand! With the perfect flow through traffic pattern open corner set-up, it was the absolute ideal guaranteed chance at grabbing that badly needed drink and some nourishment as you tried to make it further along the parade route. That super staff never missed a Latin beat, those dogs and slices were dished out as fast as we ordered them, those Papayans were one of the true martyrs of the parade! I always admired how they kept there cool while others were like “ay caramba!”. Nicholas Gray, the proprietor could not afford to have his monthly rent increased outrageously from $30,000 to $50,000 a month, therefore he was forced to close.
Yes there is Nathan’s in Coney Island and it has wonderful history, but most New Yawkers are not willing to pack a suitcase to travel to the outer reaches of Brooklyn for a dawg. So, Gay Pride and the largest Halloween Parade in the world and especially late night party goers all are going to miss you terribly, a very strategically placed Gray’s Papaya. Adios mis amigos, adios 😦 . . .
Take em’ to the chorus
Come to the back Go ahead, be gone with it VIP
Go ahead child Go ahead, be gone with it
The mighty Quinn: For the past twelve years, Quinn and Bloomberg have systematically destroyed New York City as the city has become a city of the über rich and the very poor, 45+% now live near or at the poverty level. We have lost over 12 hospitals during their term in office, glass luxury apartments replace them. Quinn ruled the city and controlled the zoning laws with her slush funds making the city open season for the greedy real estate developers as zoning law changes have become the norm. South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 is being torn down, neighborhoods like Harlem, Greenwich Village and Soho are loosing their soul. Her tearing down of St. Vincent’s Hospital, it’s church and the 9/11 memorial is the most egregious. As the years passed, she became the most powerful politician only second to Bloomberg, a power that was had by vitriolic temper outbursts and control of the city funds.
In 2011, New Yorkers working on the campaign to educate the public about Christine Quinn’s record had a busy year, with more than 20 protests at her public appearances and 2013 campaign fundraisers. Before the 2009 City Council election, many people in her district told us they were planning to vote for Quinn. Once they looked at her record, however, many were just as dismayed as we were. These voters who paid closer attention are part of the reason Quinn struggled to win re-election in her own district. We believe that our campaign made a difference, and we intend to have a more profound impact in the 2013 election for Mayor. In the meantime, Quinn continues to give people new reasons to join the movement against her:
On December 2, the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center released its 2011 NYC Council report card, which grades Council members on their “record in promoting the human rights of New Yorkers” during the previous 12 months. Christine Quinn received a D+, the second to lowest score. To quote the report: “Both the political power of the Speaker and the reticence of the Council Members to challenge it are inhibiting the advancement of human rights in New York City. The power of the Speaker has delayed hearings, stalled votes and restricted the passage of legislation.”
Example: As Michael Powell wrote in the October 10, 2011 New York Times, “A year ago [City Council] members tried to push through a living wage in the Bronx and to mandate a few sick days for workers. [Christine Quinn] ensured each effort ended up baled, tied and set by the BQE for early sanitation pickup.”
Abuse of City Funds
The Speaker position concentrates an extraordinary amount of power in the hands on one person. As Speaker for the past five years, Quinn has abused that power to advance her political career at the expense of the democratic process and the public she alleges to serve.
Among the most powerful weapons in Quinn’s arsenal are the discretionary funds—tens of millions of dollars that Quinn doles out to reward campaign donors and loyal Council members and withholds from Council members who challenge her agenda. As Jason Farago wrote in a December 15 editorial in The Guardian, “Quinn is not only the most powerful legislator in the city; she’s pretty much the only legislator in the city, and from her perch she has nearly unilateral control over lawmaking. She decides what comes to the floor… and her caucus votes for it, or she makes them pay.”
Example: In March, Quinn strong-armed Council members to vote to rename the Queensboro Bridge in honor of former Mayor Ed Koch. Months later, in December, Koch endorsed Quinn for Mayor—two years before the election. A poll found that a majority of voters (64 percent) opposed renaming the bridge after Koch, and Council member Peter Vallone Jr., of Astoria, spoke out against it. Quinn responded by cutting Vallone’s discretionary funds by $600,000.
To put this political stunt in historical context, the Triboro Bridge wasn’t renamed after Robert F. Kennedy until 40 years after his assassination.
On October 4, Clyde Haberman of The New York Times observed in a piece entitled “Like Putin, Like Bloomberg” that Russia’s Prime Minister “was more scrupulous about observing the niceties of term limits than were New York’s political leaders: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his Medvedev equivalent, Christine C. Quinn….” With the help of “complaisant council members,” Haberman wrote, Bloomberg and Quinn “simply changed the law to reward themselves with third terms.”
After the 2008 slush fund fiasco destroyed her chances of becoming Mayor in 2009, Quinn needed four more years to improve her image. But her role in overturning term limits has only further damaged her reputation.
Real Estate Ties
As Kate Taylor reported in the January 5 New York Times, Quinn has already raised more than $4.9 million in campaign contributions. The vast majority of donors who have made the maximum legal contribution of $4,950 to Quinn’s campaign are real estate executives, as are many of the campaign bundlers who have raised more than $20,000. In return, Quinn advocates tirelessly for real estate developers at the expense of her constituents. As WestView readers know, Bill Rudin is planning to build 450 luxury condos on the site of St. Vincent’s Hospital, in Quinn’s district. True to form, Quinn has publicly stated on several occasions that the Lower West Side needs a full service hospital while helping pave the way for Rudin to erect his condos. As of July 2011, seven members of the Rudin family had contributed a total of more than $30,000 to Quinn’s campaign, which may help explain why Quinn not only refused to advocate for tapping into millions of dollars in available reserve funds that might have helped save St. Vincent’s, but also refused to support a community effort to keep the St. Vincent’s site zoned for community use.
In its 2009 City Council scorecard, the NY League of Humane Voters concluded that the “biggest obstacle to more humane laws in NYC is the inexplicable opposition to animal welfare legislation by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn,” who has “attacked virtually every effort in the Council to make life better for animals, despite claiming in letters to concerned citizens that she cares about animal welfare and even ‘supports animal rights.’”
Not only has Quinn killed every substantive animal protection bill introduced into the Council, but she has also fast-tracked several meaningless bills that make her look like she’s helping animals when, in reality, she’s only helping herself politically.
Example: A majority of New Yorkers support a ban on horse-drawn carriages. Quinn does not, and she has killed legislative efforts to take the carriage horses off the streets. But in an effort to make herself look as though she cares about the welfare of the horses, Quinn fast-tracked a bill in 2010 that was filled with fake reforms such as banning carriages operators from working below 34th Street, where they don’t work anyway, or between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 a.m., when no customers are out. The purpose of the bill was to grant carriage operators a rate hike, but Quinn only touted the fake reforms in the press, giving the impression that she’s an advocate for animals when she has been just the opposite. In 2011, at least seven carriage horses collapsed, tripped, spooked and died in midtown.
In January 2011, Quinn fast-tracked another bill that makes it illegal for New Yorkers to chain their dogs outside for more than three hours. Quinn admitted that the bill is unenforceable, but she held a press conference promoting this meaningless bill, again giving New Yorkers the impression that she cares about animal welfare.
In September 2011, Quinn fast-tracked another bill that erased a law requiring a city-funded animal shelter in every borough. She did this as a favor to Bloomberg so the City could dodge a lawsuit demanding that it fulfill this obligation. (Shelters are desperately needed in The Bronx and Queens.) Rather than being honest about the purpose of the bill, Quinn added language to it mandating increased resources for existing shelters, thereby making a step backward for animals look like a step forward.
How much of Quinn’s campaign is being funded by NYC taxpayers? In the last election, it was a fair amount. In an article in the August 20, 2009 Village Voice, Elizabeth Dwoskin reported that 31 of Quinn’s “more than 90 volunteers” were in fact paid staffers, though Quinn’s spokesperson claimed they were doing the work on their own time.
Quinn has a vast amount of taxpayer-funded city resources at her disposal for her campaign, including a chauffeured SUV. She has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, his paid consultant Ed Koch, the Democratic Establishment and the LGBT community. She has a bully pulpit as Speaker and has the Mayor inviting her to speak at high profile events. But perhaps that’s not a bad thing, because the more potential supporters are exposed to her, the more chances they have to see how much there is about her candidacy not to like.
On our side, we have the truth about Quinn’s record; a public that is becoming more informed about her; several other viable candidates for Mayor; and the will to fight to restore ethics, fairness, democracy and humanity to NYC government.
My 87 year old mother canvases our local street handing out fliers to anyone that will listen – so do I.
See you in the streets.
For more information, see Donny Moss’ documentary “Christine Quinn: Behind the Smile” on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uhR3-8xK6s