Photo of the day: INGRID BERGMAN DIES – This was the startling headline New Yorkers were greeted with on August 30, 1982. Bergman had died at the young age of 67 in a London hospital of breast cancer leaving us with incredible memories of “Casablanca” and “Gaslight”. I had spent a wonderful evening alone with her ten years earlier in 1972 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater as she was appearing in the play “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion.” I just gazed at her as we talked. Her face had not changed, her voice was exactly the same, her eyes still sparkled. I was so mesmerized realizing I was looking into the actual eyes of Ilsa Lund….
Photo of the day: BOGEY AND ME at THE UNITED PALACE “CASABLANCA” RE-PREMIERE – ‘Mondays on Memory Lane’ takes us to a grande gala evening of tuxedos and gowns as the revitalized United Movie Palace once known at the Loew’s 175th Street Movie Palace, re-premiered the all time film classic “Casablanca” starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. Having once spent a magical evening alone with Ingrid Bergman in 1972, the film also has an extra special place in my heart.
The Palace originally opened in 1930 as the Loew’s 175th Street Theater, presenting vaudeville and “talking pictures.” With its spectacular Thomas Lamb design, it was the last of the five Wonder Theatres to be built. In 1969, when many of the city’s grand movie theatres had been demolished or turned into multiplexes, the Palace was purchased, and preserved in magnificent style, by Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter (Rev. Ike) for his church. Rev. Ike paid big money to have European craftsman restore the hand carved gold detail work throughout the theater declaring: “We are all created in God’s image, therefore each of us is god-like. Therefore you should be made to feel like a god when you enter this palace.” (You do, thank you Rev. Ike!)
United Palace Loew’s lobby
Since Reverend Ike’s death in 2009, the United Palace has been led by his son, Xavier, a life-long musician and minister currently working with the Rhythm Arts Alliance in Southern California, whose dream has been to create a cultural center uptown. Toward this end, he has organized UPCA as a secular non-profit that has a long-term licensing agreement to use the theater and rehearsal and classroom space.
Loew’s Palace balcony
The theater is Manhattan’s third-largest; portable partitions enable its use for audiences ranging from a few hundred to its full capacity. It has hosted symphony concerts, been used in films, videos and TV shows like “Smash”.
United Palace Loew’s theater
What was expected to be an event that would just draw a couple of hundred people through their web site and friends on twitter and Facebook, wound up drawing an audience of 1,100 people! (I was made aware of it by my friend Carolyn Blackbourn). Admission was $15 but those appearing in formal gowns and tuxedos were given free admission but could still make donations to the theater in form of raffles (I won a poster!). The audience was polled by a show of hands, how many were visiting this theater for the first time – 75% of the hands went up! How many had never seen “Casablanca” in a movie theater before – 50% of the hands went up! The audience gasped with the excitement knowing we were all sharing this wonderful experience of “a first” together, that is the magic of film- the shared experience in the dark.
Mike Fitelson and Lou Lumenick
We were treated to live music performances by the SONGS chamber Orchestra and serenaded with “As Time Goes By” by Tim McAfee Lewis. Executive director of ‘the Palace’ handsome Mike Fitelson welcomed us with a wonderful speech of his goals for this architectural treasure. This was followed by the world premier of hip hop artist GPK’s music video “Bouger” which happens to have a ‘Casablanca’ theme. “Casablanca” was introduced by New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick, declaring it his favorite film of all time. Then came that magic moment when the lights are dimmed, the dark screen illuminated with the Warner Brothers logo and the magic began. The film is perfection. Bogey and Bergman are perfection, Peter Lore and Paul Henreid are perfection, the script and editing are perfection. It’s truly is the golden age of 1942 Hollywood.
Loew’s Palace mural
The joy of classic lines like: “Play it! ” (no Bogey does not say ‘again Sam’, Woody Allen did).
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money] Croupier: Your winnings, sir. Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.
Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night. Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you. Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.
Rick: Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And I hope that this is also the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the many of you who will check out The United Palace web site (below) and visit this spectacular theater for future events.
“Here’s looking at you kid.” Bogey & Bergman
Photo of the day: “BLESSED ASSURANCE” GOING TO CHURCH (THEATER) WITH CICELY TYSON – On Friday night I had the great privilege of seeing one of the greatest actresses of the present day – Cicely Tyson give her final stage performance of her career in Horton Foote’s play “The Trip To Bountiful.” It has taken me a full day to recover from the emotional reaction to this stirring performance. In my 57 years, this ranks as the single top performance I have ever seen on stage. I have seen Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Patti Lupone in Evita, Jessye Norman, Elaine Stritch, many of the great others and even the great Bette Davis on stage, but this is the most emotional performance I have ever witnessed. Cicely Tyson’s entire being transforms into the character she portrays of 88 year old Mrs. Carrie Watts.
“The Trip To Bountiful” resonates so much now to the sold out performances because it speaks to our fast moving times. Mrs. Carrie Watts (originally played by legendary Lillian Gish on televison) wants to go home one more time to see her birthplace home in the town of Bountiful. She lives in 1953 Houston, Texas with her son and his self involved wife (Vanessa Williams), both of whom prevent her from going home for two reasons: her (supposed) weak heart and most of all, her social security check her son’s wife covets. Carrie finally slips out of the house and to the Greyhound bus station only to find out Bountiful doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Determined, she boards the bus for the next nearest town. On her way she befriends a young newly wed woman (Condola Rashad) to whom she reveals her story. As they arrive in the nearest town’s bus station, Carrie discovers she has lost her purse with her money (.35 cents), social security check and the truth that no one is alive anymore in the town of Bountiful. This seemingly to be the end, Carrie cheers herself up and the young woman by determinedly singing the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” And then, an unheard of phenomena occurs.
Cicely Tyson’s character is so convincing and the hymn so moving – the audience softly starts joining in. There is no orchestra, this is a dramatic play. Breaking through the fourth wall, the souls of the audience are joined with the spirit of Cicely Tyson’s character. I was moved to streaming tears of wonderment and joy. The joy of witnessing the lifting of souls to “Blessed Assurance” and a divine performance, the likes of which I have never seen.
See it from my perspective: I am white, sitting in an audience that is mostly of color, filled with many church going women. I did not know the hymn Cicely sings is an actual hymn. The audience does. It is a faith restoring hymn that has become a staple in the black churches of America, it is a part of their upbringing. As Mrs. Carrie Watts/Cicely is trying to lift their spirits up and she starts to recite, then to hum and then sing the hymn, this ‘chorus’ seemed to emerge. I didn’t understand what the effect was. A recording? A chorus back stage? In that instant you realize you are part of an extraordinary unprecedented experience as the audience by their being so moved, joins in. I have never experienced anything like it. It has been reported in The New York Times, this phenomena of, for first time in theater history, that the audience joins to share the moving spirit of the encouraging moment. Cicely’s body language as the old 88 year old woman, clasping her handkerchief, her face joyfully beaming, waving her hands in the air to god, is a vision I will never ever forget. I was shaken by the experience for the entire next day, making me think – what are we all rushing towards so quickly, only to run past what we are looking for? It made me wish for a gentler time, a quieter time, and to treasure the present before it’s gone and we wind up having to search for it, only to find it gone. I too yearn for a trip to Bountiful which alas seems to be gone.
This great actress, who has given us ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’, ‘Roots’, ‘Sounder’, ‘A Woman Called Moses’ – the story of Harriet Tubman, and recently ‘The Help’, has given the world an incomparable stage moment at age 80 (some say 88). In the final moment of the play, her son and daughter have caught up to her to bring her back home, forced to return, she is peaceful that she has seen her home in Bountiful one last time. Mrs. Carrie Watts waves and says “goodbye” to her home before she has to head back to Houston, then, turns to the open neglected farm fields (the audience) and waves, quietly and softly says “goodbye.” Curtain, the end.
The overwhelming meaning and emotion of that moment has moved me beyond compare.
1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
3. Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.
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.