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!😉)
Marilyn, Mozart (Kugeln chocolates) and Mom
Photo of the day: THE SPECIAL FATHERS DAY THAT MARILYN MONROE CAME TO DINNER – I had the most extraordinary fathers day! Mom celebrates fathers day for me every year since I am the ‘daddy’ to our dog Noel, so ‘Noel’ throws me a dinner party every year 🙂 To my surprise mom (age 88) had gone all the way uptown to 86th Street to go to Schaller & Weber delicatessen and got the ingredients for my favorite German dish: Rouladen with dumplings, gravy and green bean salad. I was in heaven, because I usually only just get this treat for my birthday and Christmas, but mom and I have started to work on our her/family’s memoirs together (finally! Its a page turner!) and she felt I deserved it, for all the research and writing I am doing.
But I had an extra special surprise guest, Marilyn Monroe came to dinner last night – in painting form.
To my great shock and surprise a very dear friend of mine gave me the painting as a present that I treasured and coveted from our “Whitewash” exhibit. Carlos (See TF) had painted a two story tall sepia tone Marilyn in the stairwell at 5 Pointz, sadly unseen to all visitors. I was in absolute awe of it. When 5 Pointz was destroyed they vindictively painted over the amazing mural as well – twice, despite the fact she was inside away from everyone’s view. I came to discover the amazing artist Carlos (See TF) and who he is and we developed a wonderful friendship.
This was almost two stories tall, done in sepia tones. here sadly whitewashed.
For the exhibit Carlos brought back some of his famous ladies that he had painted at 5 Pointz, the fantastic geisha girls, a ‘Metropolis’-like masked woman and…Marilyn. I coveted that painting, and for those of you who came know how I feel about that MM painting!
It is so mesmerizing that when my own mother came to see my photos on display next to the Marilyn painting, she was so transfixed by it she didn’t even see/acknowledge her own sons photos at first. “Mom! My photos are here!…” LOL. “I know,” she said, “but I have never seen this magnificent Marilyn you have told me so much about.” The whitewashed Marilyn was one of the photos I included in the exhibit and one of the first to sell. They purposely hung side by side, corner to corner to tell the story. Mom gazed at her the rest of the night, oh and, my photos too.
This Sunday was my day to pick up my remaining photos from the exhibit. As I was packing them up, I remarked to my friend Meres that it was sad to see Marilyn gone. “Oh she’s downstairs all wrapped up…Carlos wants you to have her,” he said with the biggest grin. I froze and just exclaimed “What!” several times, still frozen I wasn’t sure I had heard right or if it was a joke. It was not, I right then and there received the most touching phone call from ‘the artist’ telling me why he wanted me to have the painting, I teared up. “She’s going to the right home.” And so my friend…she did.
I revealed Marilyn to mom at dinner and she was also stunned. “She’s so haunting, it draws you in,” and mom, as on opening night, starred at her the rest of the night.
There are people that cross your path in life, that are such unexpected treasures that make you so much richer. 5 Pointz brought many of these people together and even brought Marilyn Monroe to dinner and she stayed.
Thank you my friend.
What is so haunting about it, is that it is not ‘wet lip Marilyn’, or ‘skirt blowing Marilyn’. It beautifully sad reflective 1962 Marilyn portrayed as a human being – not symbol. Notice the painting goes from light (right side) to the dark side (on the left).
Photo of the day: URSULA VON RITTERN, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! ~ Coming from a long line of fiercely independent women, mom learnt from them and did it all on her own. From my great grandmother Johanna on – three generations of women divorced their husbands, each woman reaching success without her husband. Beauty, talent and strength – a remarkable combination.
Our dog Noel – happy at last 🙂
Photo of the day: FRESHLY GROOMED ‘NOEL’ WAITS FOR HER CAR SERVICE – Our dog Noel (a sheep dog-terrier mix), my mom Ursula and I would like to extend a special thanks to our friends Jude Amsel and Marie Flageul for turning us on to a really wonderful local Long Island City groomer “LIC Doghouse”. Mom and I have been through hell with Le Pitou II/Forest Hills dog groomers that would forget appointments then screaming at my 88 year old mom, shaving sores/cuts on Noel, Noel being returned to us in a frightened state, getting her toenail ripped off by a local Sunnyside groomer (yes you read that right!) and requiring emergency surgery, finding a car service that will take a large dog to far away groomers, let alone finding a groomer that will even take a 60lb dog.
Finally we found loving and gentle groomers at LIC Doghouse, they were so gentle and kind to Noel and my mom that they now have a new loyal customer. It is rare that Noel’s tail wags through the entire grooming process. Thank you again Jude and Marie, and a great big thanks to LIC Doghouse – Noel sends you lots of wet licks !
Tom Orzo, Mindy Cassle-Rosato, Hans, Ursula Von Rittern, Deborah Blau, Frederica Meister
Photo of the day: “COME TO THE JEFFREY LEDER GALLERY MY FRIEND!”
– So, life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery! Here life is beautiful…
The paintings are beautiful…even the photographs are beautiful (and selling) !
My dear friends Tom Orzo, Mindy Cassle-Rosato, of course Mom, Deborah Blau and Frederica Meister all came for the grand opening party of the 5 Pointz “Whitewash” exhibit that I am a part of! Why don’t you join the ranks of graffiti lovers, street art lovers, preservationists and the passionate and check out my 16 photos along with the fantastic
works of artists Auks, Cortes, Jerms, Just One, Meres, Orestes, Shiro, See TF, Topaz, Zimad, Hunt Rodriguez proving art is forever! A mourning and celebration of the destruction of the world’s most spectacular street art museum. $20 catalog available for sale in the gift shop.
Come see the exhibit till June 8 at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery: 2137 45th Road, 1/2 block away from the #7 & G Court Street subway station. Two blocks away from 5 Pointz and MOMA’s PS1. Open 12 noon – 6pm.
Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
Fremde, etranger, stranger.
Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante,
Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, spray paint!
Jeffrey Leder Gallery 2137 45th Rd. Long Island City, NY 11101 firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of the day: MERELY THE BEGINNING! APRIL 5, 2014
– I am incredibly
proud and joyful to announce I am one of 11 artists asked to be a part of this important exhibit here in Long Island City, New York!! The Jeffrey Leder Gallery (2 blocks from PS1 MOMA) will open with a unique exhibition featuring 9 Graffiti Artists and 2 photographers. These artists have created art that explores their strong reactions to 5 Pointz being whitewashed overnight.
Contributing Artists: Auks, Cortes, Hans Von Rittern, Jerms, Meres One, Orestes Gonzalez, Poem, Shiro, See TF, Topaz, Zimad
Curated by Marie Cecile-Flageul
April 5 – June 8, 2014
Opening reception April 5, 6-9pm! Come join me – you’re invited!!
“Whitewash, is an answer to the violent act of G&M realty on November 19th, 2013 in Long Island City Queens. Overnight thousands of murals adorning the building known as 5 Pointz were destroyed. It‘s a story of pain, sadness, and anger at times and reflection – An epic of an art community and its home coming apart under the pressure of economical trends and waves of gentrification.
Bringing together a cluster of resident graffiti artists and two Queens photographers, the exhibition enables the artists to express their true feelings and thought process since loosing their work to a white layer of paint, and their home to the pressing demands of real estate development. For the first time since the whitewash we will witness how affected this collective is by being eclipsed from their 11 years home.
The works in Whitewash aspire to such: Laying feelings on canvas, and letting go of the pain, the show brings together artworks that can be interpreted as confession, lessons, or reflection but also aspirations and hopes.
Whitewash is an obvious requiem for 5 Pointz the building but also maybe the beginning of a rebirth of 5 Pointz the community and its true core: the people.“
Photo of the day: “IT’S A VON RITTERN!” – A very proud Ursula Von Rittern, aka “mom” points to the six photos exhibited in the “PHO-TO-GRAFFS” exhibit that opened this weekend at the Gold Coast Gallery! Great news: I sold some pieces and I am featured in the gallery’s store too!!
Mom checks out ‘the Von Ritterns’ for sale
I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Marie Flageul and Meres One without whom 5 Pointz would not have been what it is and to their treasured friendship. To Jude Amsel, gallery director of the Gold Coast Arts Center for her kind guidance. To two of my dearest friends who came out to support me, tour guide alums Deborah Blau and especially to Tom Orzo who took the time to drive a very proud and delighted Ursula Von Rittern (not bad for 88 years old, huh?) to her son’s gallery premier. I am a very lucky man.
Photo of the day: NO SMOKE MARIJUANA HERE – Since this sign went up in the staircase of mom’s apartment building, she’s just going to have to find another place to light up . . .
Photo of the day: HAPPY 88th BIRTHDAY URSULA VON RITTERN – This is almost a scene from “The Sound of Music”, the photo was taken about the same time the famous von Trapp family was roaming in those hills as well singing their hearts out. This photo was taken approximately in 1938, mom is about 12 or 13 years old here wearing her traditional German dirndl dress. With not a care in the world picnicking in the mountains not knowing what horrors she was about to experience in Germany. Her teen years were spent in World War II, the stories are gruesome yet fascinating. We are in the process of writing our family history and her life story now. Ursula finally immigrated to the United States in 1952, I arrived three years later in 1955, and so the story continues. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag and Happy Birthday mom!
Photo of the day: SCHALLER & WEBER’S GERMAN DELICATESSEN in YORKVILLE FOR CHRISTMAS & NEW YEARS – At the turn of the century from 1890 – 1910 one third on New York City spoke German, today hardly anyone does and instead you hear Spanish, Russian and Chinese. I was born in 1955 and as a child we would go to the German section of the city named Yorkville. Yorkville’s center street was East 86th Street and it’s surrounding streets. In this area you could still here strains of “wunderbar” and ooom-pah-pah ♫♪ all around you. You could buy everything from back home: Mecki books, Salamander shoes, Zarah Leander and Heino records, Teewurst, Loden coats, Tyrolian hats, beer steins, wooden nut crackers, Lübeck Marzipan, German magazines and newspapers and all the wiener schnitzel and beer you wanted.
That was then, today there are only 2 establishments left that I know of. The Heidelberg Restaurant (1648 Second Avenue) where today the little dark haired Guatemalan waiters wearing (much too big) lederhosen tell you the day’s specials in a heavy Spanish accent. But…there is one staple that has remained – Schaller and Weber, opened in 1937 at 1654 Second Avenue/86th Street, a German delicatessen where the white haired old German butchers with German accents still politely slice the fresh deli meats daily.
When I was a little boy, this place was heaven to me and still is. You can just lock me up behind the deli counter and leave me in there for a week. Ahhh! The smoked hams, the dozens of salamis, the stuffed peppers, stuffed veal, weiß wurst, Westphalian ham and my obsession – rouladen! Rouladen are very thin slices of beef, rolled up with spices, bacon and onion inside, pan fried with a rich dark gravy, add boiled potatoes and you’re set. Then there are also the wonderful chocolates and marzipans, sauces, white asparagus, smoked fish, hearty breads, Bahlsen cookies, Maggi and Knorr spices and a fine assortment of cheeses.
For Christmas and New Year in 2013, Schaller and Weber is that one place I can still retreat to and relive my childhood, inhale deeply and feel at home. I’m ready to order all the meats, cold cuts and cookies for New Years Eve and Day. The store, (thank god) has hardly changed. I go inside and it is Christmas/Weihnachten 1962 and I’m standing in line with my numbered ticket to be called as I am fixating on all the goodies I hope my mother will buy for the Christmas holidays, always topped off with the treat of a Lübecker marzipan bar. Some kids dreamed of being locked up in toys stores and candy shops – I dreamed of being locked up in Schaller and Weber! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Frohes neues Jahr!
Schaller und Weber goodies
Imported Brands Maggi, Panni, Bechtle, Riehle (Manager’s Favorite)
Pickles & Sauerkraut Gundelsheim, Hengstenberg, Pickled Herring
Mustard & Ketcup Lowensene, Handlmaier & Thomy, Feisner & Hela (Ketchup)
Honey (Honig) Bihophar & Langnese (Assorted Flavors)
Soup & Gravy Mixes Knorr, Maggi Potato Dumplings & Pancake Mixes
Jams /Jellies Darbo (Austrian), Vavel (Polish), Landsberg (Germany)
Breads Landsberg, Mestemacher
German Cheeses Limberger, Harzer Kase, Tilsit
Coffees Jacobs, Tchibo, Dallmayer
Syrups Darbo (Austrian), Marco Polo (Hungarian), Adro, (Many more & assorted flavors) Assorted Cosmetics 4711, The oldest brand in Germany, Fa, Nivia, Kamille
Sweets & Treats Haribo: Gummy Bears (Large Variety), Swedish Fish: Abba (Assorted Flavors),
Bahlsen Cookies: Kipderl, Waffelette, Butter Leibniz, Kopper’s Chocolates,
Marzipan: Lübeck, Maker, Mozart Kugeln: Reber
Von Rittern traditional German candle lit Christmas tree
MY OLD FASHIONED GERMAN CHRISTMAS TREE 2013: Yes – those are real candles. We celebrate with no flashing lights or loud music, our ‘church’ is the tree. The tree is decorated with ornaments dating back several generations, about ninety years. Modern ones are included of course, that way the tree is a living story of the family’s history. The favorite ornaments are hung so that they will catch the candlelight and the whole tree tells a story of the family’s history. Mementos from trips abroad, favorite childhood ornaments, all that tell our likes, hobbies and loves. Tin foil wrapped chocolates and marzipan fill the tree as well. We usually get the biggest tree that will fit in the apartment (we once had a 14 foot tall tree) but now that mom is downsizing, we get a smaller tree and it is placed on a turn of the century old wooden steamer trunk that was used when my great aunt came to visit us in the New York and it is used as a table base to place the tree upon.
Depending on the size of the tree, anywhere from two to four dozen candles are placed in strategic spots in the tree. Each candle illuminates the special ornaments nearby. The candleholders are metal clip-ons in the shape of a pine cone. You can still buy the candles and holders at Schaller and Weber’s, a surviving German delicatessen just off 86th Street on Second Avenue in what was once an entire German neighborhood.
December 24 Christmas eve, we have our traditional Christmas goose dinner with roasted apples (this year we had duck), home made dumplings, white asparagus, red cabbage, string beans with topping and lots of gravy.
After dinner, the elder of the family lights the candles in the room and on the Christmas tree and puts the ‘Christmas record’ on the phonograph. The record is of German church bells and church choirs singing. When all is ready, a golden bell is rung and the rest of the family comes into the glow of the room. We stand quietly side by side, arm in am or holding hands and quietly listen to the beautiful music we have listened to for decades before. That is ‘church’ to us. As the first side of the record ends, we play the other side, sit down and just quietly gaze into the serene candlelight, watching the ornaments glisten. No electric lights are on in the room, just the glow of candlelight, just as it is in Germany, France, and all of Scandinavia. Let your imagination go back to the late 1800′s enjoying a room just simply lit by candlelight.
The second side of the record ends with a jolly children’s song “Der Weihnachtsman ist da!/Santa Claus is here!”, signifying it is time to open presents by the amber glow. We grab some of the marzipan, gingerbread and chocolates that are on the dining table for all to enjoy as we open our treasures. At midnight a bottle of champagne is opened to ring in Christmas day and we all have a helping of mom’s strong rum pot preserves!
Rum pot preserves with vanilla ice cream
At one time it was my whole family enjoying this tradition, now it is just my mother and me left to carry on, and one day it will just be me, but I will always do it, perhaps with a heavy heart. But this is Christmas, a German Christmas, my heritage. My great grandmother’s, grandparent’s, mother’s and my heritage. Fröhliche Weihnachten!
THANK YOU ! – for the over 200+ (I lost count) international happy birthday wishes on Facebook and here on my blog! I am truly overwhelmed 🙂
I tried answering many of you but couldn’t personally answer all, it was just a matter of time and logistics. So – I’ve put up this road sign to say THANK YOU and VIELEN DANK to all of my international friends. You have made me feel so special. (Mom says: “Over 175?! You got that many cards?” “No mom, they’re email wishes.” “Oh, I guess that how things are done nowadays.” “Yes, mom.” Mom thought a little bit – “Let me see them!”)
My personal thanks to my neighborhood friends Marie and Meres for giving me an extra special local birthday celebration. And of course a very special thanks to Ursula/mom, who at 87 still makes the best home cooked German birthday dinner in New York ❤ !
A soldiers hospital in Germany, 1917, World War I
Mondays on Memory Lane: 1917, MY GREAT AUNT SINGS FOR THE SOLDIERS OF WORLD WAR I – On this Veterans Day, it is important to remember the soldiers of all nations. I have discovered this photo of my great aunt, Anny Cornelius, in a German hospital in 1917 during World War I. She was only 17 at the time and already a gifted singer, she went on to sing lead roles in the Berlin opera.
From what I gather, she took her fellow class mates and volunteered to sing for the wounded soldiers. Whatever country is fighting, music is always used to try to heal the soldiers spirits. When you look at the faces of the wounded soldiers, you can see – there are really no winners in any war, the only winner is the human spirit.
Photo of the day: CELEBRATING THE BEGINNING OF A NEW DAWN = MAYOR BILL (74%) DeBLASIO – Last night in Chelsea’s Mustang Sally’s bar, dedicated animal rights activists, anti-Quinn and staunch pro DeBlasio supporters were uncharacteristically quiet as we listened to the uplifting speech given by our new mayor. Tears on the faces of the supporters glistened from the light of the 5 giant TV screens surrounding us, Bill’s voice filling the room. The 12 year reign of oppression, dictatorial rule and genocide of the middle class and our buildings and old establishments has finally ended. It may have been 10:30pm at night, but it was as if there was bright sunshine in the room, we were all beaming so much. We had done it!! We have all worked so passionately and hard, no one more hard than Donny Moss and Allie Feldman who started the ball rolling by getting rid of Christine Quinn with the help of animal rights groups. Our little rag tag group conquered with spirit and heart the billionaire dollars spent by the Koch brothers (sound Romney-like familiar??), the power of Bloomberg and the republican cash heavy war chests. Instead these grass roots groups and many more fought Goliath and won: NYCLASS, ABQ, Outer Boroughs Against Christine Quinn, Queers Against Quinn, Kittens Against Joe Lhota, Stopping NYC Horse Abuse, GoosewatchNYC, Bill DeBlasio for Mayor, and of course Donny Moss’s Defeat Christine Quinn. A landslide 74% victory, HA !
The dark, racist, oppressive cloud over our lives and this city is being lifted. A ‘mensch’, a caring human being is taking over, with a heart and not ice in his monied veins.
I am so DAMN proud of each and every one of them, and my mom who even at age 87 went out and campaigned and handed out Anti Quinn, then pro DeBlasio flyers every day she left the house to go grocery shopping or walk the dog. She was known as the “you have to vote for Bill DeBlasio!” lady here in Queens. Well mom, Donny, Allie, Daniela Knoppik, Natasha, Brian and Jeanne Gari, Andy Sydor and ALL you wonderful friends and supporters = WE DID IT!
Mrs. DeBlasio, Cynthia Nixon, our next mayor Bill DeBlasio and Susan Sarandon.
Ursula and Hans Von Rittern VOTED !
Photo of the day: 9/11/2013 SO MANY LOSES / SO MANY GAINS (and…karma is a bitch!) – On this day in New York when we remember the over 3,000 loses of loved ones at The World Trade, a work place I once called home on the 102nd floor, we also last night gained so very much back! A dedicated group of individuals who sought to stop the hemorrhaging of this city, banded together and defeated one of the most corrupt, cold hearted, and scheming politicians since Boss Tweed in 1853, councilwoman Christine Quinn last night.
Donny Moss and 91 year old Natasha
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.
How much is that doggie in the window? To show her lack of character, she was against all animal rights activists to the point of refusing to pass a bill that would now make it mandatory to require sprinkler systems in pet shops. Let the puppies and kittens burn, along with the workers.
Daniela and ABQ friends
Karma is a bitch! In 2011, I lost my Gray Line tour guide job of seven years thanks to Quinn. She single handedly destroyed the double decker tour guide industry by pushing through a ‘headset bill’ in order to please a few well heeled residents of Greenwich Village who had complained that tour guides on the open mics were “too loud”. The original bill did not provide for the headsets to be connected to a live tour guide, me. Councilwoman Gail Brewer added the proviso in the bill that a live guide must be giving the tour. Since Twin America the monopoly that owns the double decker tour bus companies City Sights and Gray Line are heavy contributors to her Christine Quinn’s campaign, miraculously the ‘live guide’ proviso was taken out of the bill in the middle of the night. No sound tests were ever done as required. I headed a group called “Keep New York Live” and protested at every TV station and at city hall with the help of my fellow tour guides. On the final day of our fight we had a twelve noon rally planned on the steps of city hall. No press showed up. At 12:15 I called friend and transit reporter Greg Mocker of WPIX11 and asked ‘where you all?’ Greg’s response “well it’s canceled isn’t it? Quinn said it was canceled.” The bill passed with Quinn’s single authority. Over 200 tour guides were no longer ‘allowed’ to come to work or were given insulting low buy out packages. No work, no health care, nothing.
Well Ms. Christine Quinn – karma is a fierce bitch. YOU took MY job away in 2011 and now I have taken YOUR job away in 2013 ! ! !
2011 TOUR GUIDE PROTEST at NBC STUDIOS
The heir to the throne: With an arrogant sense of entitlement as covered in the New York Times, she also had the ’empty chair syndrome.’ At many of the local mayoral forums chairs were set up on stage for all the mayoral candidates, hers – was usually empty. If she did deem to show up, her head never looked up from her blacberry.
NEW YORK TIMES AND PRESS COVERAGE
The cowardly lioness: Donny Moss became the monkey on Christine Quinn’s back, she could not leave her house without Donny trailing her as he held up his signs and calling out the truth about her record. No matter what camera angle she tried, there were either Donny or the ‘ABQ’ people behind her. It came to the point that Quinn would not enter any venue through the front door, she had security sneak in her the back door for fear of bad publicity photos and press. What sort of beginning is it to your term as office when you run and hide from your public? Too yellow, spineless and cowardly to face your constituents.
The awesome DONNY MOSS & DANIELA watching DeBLASSIO’S victory
Rag tag group takes down Quinn – Crazy cat ladies, people who dress up their dogs, horse lovers, gay activists, passionate New Yorkers like the incredible Donny Moss, Arthur Cheliotes, Allie Feldman & Wendy Kelman Neu formed groups “Defeat Christine Quinn” and “NYC Is Not For Sale” respectively which then morphed into the “ABQ – Anybody But Quinn” campaign, unprecedented in New York’s political history. We canvassed subway stations every night, manned phone banks and hounded Quinn wherever she made and appearance, Donny Moss being the most wonderfully persistent of all of us! In that time Quinn went from leading in the polls by wide margins to plummeting weekly. No greater plummet than election night when, as other candidates percentages went up….hers went down from 26% to 18% to an embarrassing 15%.
Brian Gari “cat calls” republican mayoral candidate Catsimatidis
Picture election night: Each candidate had their large expensive venues filled with their high paying donors and political strategists in their expensive suits with the media tripping over them. Yet here we were, in a little bar called Mustang Sally’s on the west side, fifty of us in the back room, in our sweaty t-shirts and jeans, none of us rich, only rich in passion and conviction. It wasn’t the Bloomberg/Romney-like dollars that Quinn had, it wasn’t all the New York newspaper’s endorsements, it wasn’t the political pundits who said she would win, no, it was the people with pet hair on their now iconic red ABQ (Anyone But Quinn) t-shirts that had all the might. It was volunteers like 91 year old Natasha and my 87 year old mother Ursula. We have changed the course of New York’s history. Never underestimate the passion and the anger of the crazy old cat lady!
AUNT MIA AND HANS
DONNY MOSS AND HANS VON RITTERN
Premier issue July 28, 1983
Mondays on Memory Lane: SOUTH STREET SEAPORT, A PROUD VON RITTERN HERITAGE – In 1983 my mother was the private assistant to Clifford Day Mallory of the Mallory’s of Mystic. It is the Mallory family that established Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and has 3 museums named after them there. As a proud New Yorker Mr. Mallory greatly believed in preserving the sea faring heritage in New York’s harbor and helped establish South Street Seaport. Mr. Mallory and my mother Ursula worked with Frank O. Braynard one of the founders of South Street in arranging the design, funding and publicity. They even elicited the help of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. For my mother, working on this project was a matter of great pride in her heritage – my great, great and great grandfathers were sea mrchants, traveling to the far east and Africa to bring back riches to Germany. (My grandmother had the only pineapple anyone had ever seen in 1905 Hamburg, Germany!) Therefore opening day on July 28, 1983 was a proud day for our family and for New York.
It is today, thirty years later, that is a horrible unthinkable day as Pier 17, the steel pavilion that has greeted millions of visitors since opening day, will be torn down thanks to developer greed aided and assisted by our destructive Mayor Bloomberg. A modern sleek glass box soul-less shopping mall will replace it.
He has destroyed more historical districts through zoning variances and under the table deals during Bloomberg’s term in office than with any other mayor in this city’s history. He has done more damage than 911. His crony and ambitious puppet councilwoman Christine Quinn wants to be voted in as Mayoral candidate in our local primary tomorrow.
ANYBODY BUT QUINN – HELP SAVE NEW YORK !
Photo of the day: THANK YOU to my diverse group of friends who showed up for the opening night reception party of my one man show at The Brogue! 4910 Skillman Avenue, between 49/50th Streets, Sunnyside, NY. The photos will be on display and for sale for three months!
The photos were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that Hans’ friends soon would be there!
Come celebrate my one man show!!
15 photos beautifully displayed at The Brogue Bar in my hood of Sunnyside/LIC Queens.
Located at 4910 Skillman Avenue (between 49/50th Streets).
Easy to get to: take N/R/Q train to Queensboro Plaza, transfer to “7” GREEN/LOCAL train, get off either 46th or 52nd Street and walk 2 avenues north.
Let’s make this a birthday/Christmas/4th of July/ Labor Day celebration!
Wine and cheese will be served, cash bar.
Please come – I will be so happy to see you all!
Photo of the day: THREE FIERCELY INDEPENDENT WOMEN: My three ‘moms’. Each woman went against the society of her times and lived her life as she saw fit, not as society dictated. I am these three women. If you love me – you love them.
Anny Cornelius: My theatricality, musicality, passion, humor and style. Against all dictates of the day, she refused marriage offers from royalty and fine suitors and ‘married’ her opera career to wind up singing Carmen at The Berlin Opera.
Amahlie (Jaehne) Von Rittern: Divorced her husband to raise her child as she saw fit. Later gave up her concert pianist career and country to come to America (not knowing the language) to help raise me. My appreciation of music, love, compassion and sense of art and balance come from her.
Ursula Von Rittern: Divorced her husband to raise me on her own. Refused alimony in the 1950’s and did it all by herself. She went from selling vacuum cleaners to California residents in the early morning on the telephone to finally breaking through the sexist glass ceiling of the 1970’s and 80’s and wound up in a corner office, assistant to the CEO of Manufacturer’s Hanover Bank. My liberal views, determination and hard work ethic come from her.
I am these three women.
In the works is a family history of four generations of independent women who all raised their children on their own against all odds, through two World Wars, traveled around the globe, sacrificed, fought sexism and society’s morals. Mom is 87 and currently writing the book. Stay tuned . . .
SNOW GLOW: During my hiatus from blogging and Facebook, the blizzard of February 10, 2013 hit Sunnyside Queens, New York and I got the photograph I had been wanting to get for a long time. The street my mother lives on, 45th Street, near Queens Blvd. has a great view of the passing #7 train. When it rains or snows it always has an atmosphere of eerie yet romantic, old world yet in today’s times and a great misty light play. I grabbed my camera and stood in the snow for two hours till midnight photographing the storm and the light plays. This is one of my favorites moments.
THE GREEK EARTH MOTHER ~ MELINA MERCOURI: In honor of Greek Independence Day yesterday Καλημέρα CALIMERA!
For those of you too young to know who Melina Mercouri was, below is the Random House dictionary definition of ‘earth mother’ = that would befit Melina.
n. 1. the earth conceived of as the female principle of fertility and the source of all life.
2. a female spirit or deity serving as a symbol of life or fertility.
3. a sensuous, maternal woman.
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In 1960 Melina Mercouri had become an international sensation. Her Greek film classic ”Never On Sunday” was a tremendous world wide success. The lp record of the musical score by Manos Hadjidakos played constantly in our house – I was raised on it and it played in every public establishment you went, there was a craze for everything Greek. “Never On Sunday” became the single most successful foreign film at the time. Melina played ‘Ilya’ a feisty Greek streetwalker with a heart of gold. Not until 1970 was I even allowed to see the film because for those times it was considered to risqué for television and mom wouldn’t allow me to see it in the movies. I was captivated. I had never seen such an earthy woman. The confidence, the walk, the mannerisms and above all – that voice! “Never On Sunday” is based on ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw later to become “My Fair Lady” starring Audrey Hepburn – the streetwalker then changed to the more befitting flower girl for American tastes.
Jules Dassin, Melina’s husband in real life, directed the film as well as starred in the title role of the American tourist Homer, who is determined to transform Ilya into a refined lady of culture. Melina’s Ilya, not able to bear sadness, doesn’t believe in the classic Greek tragedies. She loves going to the theatre to see the tragedies but in retelling the stories later to her ‘clients’ and friends at the local bar, she twists them from her perspective so that they all end happily with the line, “and they all went to the seashore!”
In person Melina’s voice was smokey and gravely (mostly by nature but also partially due to her chain smoking). Her tossed blonde hair was like a mane. She moved like a sensual tribal dancer. Her laugh was absolutely unmistakable – uproarious, uncontrolled, deeply from the gut. Endless enthusiasm, filled with a passion for the arts and life. A fiercely independent Greek destined to become Greece’s member of parliament in 1977 and Greece’s first Minister of Culture in 1981!
In the fim clip as she is being carried off the man laughingly says “…and they all went to the seashore!”
On Saturday, October 21, 1972 we met. My mother Ursula worked at the time for Clifford Day Mallory of Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. The Mallory family happened to have founded Mystic, Connecticut. Mom was personal assistant to Mr. Mallory who was in the shipping brokerage business, which means, they brokered empty cargo ships to the highest oil company bidder for them to be used to transport their oil to the port of choice. Mr. Mallory had a business deal with Jules Dassin while Melina was in town for her failed musical version of “Lysistrata” . . . so all our lives converged.
This divine earth mother had come to Broadway in the Greek comedic play ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes written in 411BC! It ironically deals with the story in which the women of Greece withhold sexual favors from the men until they men agree to stop going to war. A sexual political farce. Melina was born to play the part. The show previewed on October 20, 1972 – the night the above seated dressing room photo was taken. My first and ever lasting impression of her was how she pronounced my name. ‘Hrchrchanzz’. Being Greek, she could not say a soft letter “H”, but out came this throaty ‘Hrchrchanzz’. A hard “H” purred from her lips. Sitting there in her dressing room in her off white cashmere pants (she loved cashmere) and her deep purple silken blouse, blowing billows of cigarette smoke into the air.
”Lysistrata’ played 35 previews until it’s opening night we attended on November 13, 1972. The show was for 1972, too ahead of it’s time and the reviews (many based on personal vengeance) were very unfavorable based on Melina’s political views against the military coup of her country. Shockingly it closed after only 8 performances/one week. Closing night was October 18, 1972. Melina took the news philosophically. “Po po po! I can’t be sad, I was born Greek and will die Greek, this is telling me I am meant to concentrate even more to fight for my country.” She continued on in the United States to publicize her 1971 book “I Was Born Greek”. Melina was staying at the hotel Nevaro on Central Park South in the penthouse suite. While Melina’s husband Jules conducted business with mom’s boss Mr. Mallory, mom and I were sent to keep Melina company. Melina had loved the photo I had taken of her the night we met, “Po po po! It is so soft, yes?” Melina’s ‘yes’ meant ‘isn’t that so?’ The ‘softness’ comes across because she was so happy and had such belief in her new Broadway show. To please Melina and to take her mind off the show I had the photo made into a poster (black and white was all I could afford) and presented it to her in her hotel suite. “Hrchrchanzz! I think you do this to make me happy, yes?” Yes I did. Melina signed my copy of the poster which has been framed on my wall for the past 41 years.
Sometime in the 1980’s I heard from some fans of hers complimenting me on the photo. It turns out Melina had used the photo in a Greek publication of her biography – I had been published! Sadly I have never found a copy of the book or the literature. Every time I pass that vibrant proud Greek earth mother’s photo on my wall- I still feel her embrace and hear that uproarious laughter “Ah Hrchrchanzz!” She was and always will be Greece!
A brief bio:
(Greek: ΜελίναΜερκούρη), born as Maria Amalia Mercouri (18 October 1920 – 6 March 1994) was a Greek actress, singer and politician. As an actress she made her film debut in Stella (1955) and met international success with her performances in Never on Sunday, Phaedra, Topkapi and Promise at Dawn. She won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, and she was also nominated for an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and two BAFTA Awards.
A political activist during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974, she became a member of the Hellenic Parliament in 1977 and the first female Minister for Culture of Greece in 1981. Mercouri was the person who, in 1983, conceived and proposed the programme of the European Capital of Culture, which has been established by the European Union since 1985.
She was a strong advocate for the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon, and are now displayed in the British Museum.