Thursday, April 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: I'll Take Manahatta

Manhattan, circa 1660.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

One Night Only With Angela Lansbury and "The Chalk Garden"…"Judy at Carnegie Hall" — The original version is still the best (and available on CD) Also a P.S. To Liz and Suzanne Goodson, wandering in Manhattan.

“TO talk of the 13 original English colonies is to ignore another European colony, the one centered on Manhattan, which predated New York and whose history was all but erased when the English took it over,” writes Russell Shorto in his amazing book, “The Island at the Center of the World.”

Of all the fabulous books I have dispatched to my friends at the Strand Bookstore downtown (to make room for new books) this is the one I can’t let out of my sight.

It tells the story of Dutch Manhattan and the forgotten colony that shaped America.
ONE NIGHT ONLY!  And if you must do something drastic to make this happen for yourself, we, at least, forgive and understand. (We can’t bail you out, but we’ll testify on your behalf.)

On Monday, June 19th, Angela Lansbury, the international treasure whom Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with, in her youth, will star in Enid Bagnold’s drama, “The Chalk Garden.”
This happens at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.)

Bagnold’s play, which premiered on Broadway in 1955, concerns a seemingly wayward young woman, sent to live with her strict grandmother, Mrs. St. Maugham. The girl is additionally cared for by a mysterious governess, Miss Madrigal.  Secrets are revealed. I can say no more, in case none of you caught the ’55 show, starring Gladys Cooper, Siobhan McKenna and Betsy von Furstenberg. Or the 1964 film, with Edith Evans, Deborah Kerr and Haley Mills.
The cast of "The Chalk Garden" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1955. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.
Frank Dunlop directs, and the rest of the cast will be announced shortly, but Dame Angela enacts Mrs. Saint Maugham, who gets far more than she bargained for with her granddaughter and the evasive governess. (As it is only one night, I suppose Miss Lansbury won’t be eligible for another Tony Award — she’s had seven nominations and five wins!)

This special event is a benefit for The Acting Company.  Tickets will be available beginning on the 19th of this month. Call 212-772-4448. Or visit www.hunter.cuny.edu/kayeplayhouse.
ON April 23rd, 1961, here in at New York’s Carnegie Hall, an extraordinary thing happened — Judy Garland sang.  Critics at the time noted that it appeared she sang as she never had before, and was unencumbered by any distractions — opening acts, dancers, etc.  Just a lady, a microphone, and that thrilling voice.
The concert was put down on vinyl, a two-record disc (rare in those days). It went on to spend a then-unprecedented 13 weeks at the No. One spot on the Billboard charts, and remained on the charts for an astonishing 73 weeks. Even those who thought they didn’t like Garland, were swept away by this Grammy-winning masterpiece, orchestrated by Mort Lindsey.
In subsequent decades, as vinyl turned to CD, “Judy at Carnegie Hall” had various re-incarnations. Purists insisted on the entire concert — not more songs, there were no more. (As an exhausted but exhilarated Judy exclaimed at the end, “Do you really want more?  Aren’t you tired?”)  But all her patter, pauses, instructions to the musicians were added.  Interesting? Yes. Maybe.  But I always felt the vinyl recording — the one that became legendary — had been a little lost in the new frenzy for “every little thing.”  The original was brilliantly edited and moved seamlessly to its tumultuous climax. “Good night, God bless, I love you!” cried Judy as her audience dissolved into hysteria.  
I mentioned all this recently, to a friend. She told me, much to my surprise and pleasure that a few years back, the classic “Judy at Carnegie Hall” — the version that thrilled millions in 1961, and capped Garland’s dazzling “comeback” — had been released on CD, in its original mono.

The cover is different, but the concert is the same.  This is the one to listen to, to understand why it mesmerized the public, and why Judy herself, in the few years she had left (she would die in 1969) somewhat lived in the shadow of her most famous recorded work. Available through Amazon.  Highly recommended!
HERE IS a P.S. to our recent story of Suzanne Goodson and Liz Smiths’ deciding to spring for car and driver so they could be taken to see the Fearless Girl and the Wall Street bronze Bull in lower Manhattan.

If you read about that little adventure, you know it turned into a travelogue of sightseeing downtown and mid-town. You discovered that these women had been faking it over the years. They thought they knew it all. And yet, how ignorant they had found themselves about their beloved Manhattan.

They’d like to correct a few omissions.

Liz speaks: “I came to NYC four years after the end of WWII. I have lived and worked at newspapering and at TV, both in front of and behind the scenes. And I always thought I knew everything about my precious Manhattan.

“After all, I have been living here through the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and a little bit of the 21st century. But I realized how little I knew after being driven by a “real” child of New York — one Jason Silvia. He knows where everything is and its history. “

Jason works mostly for the writer, producer, three-time-Oscar winner Bill Goldman. But Jason escaped because when Suzanne asks, men still jump to please her.

She is a born Southerner but she has spent most of her life as a New York lawyer, wife and amateur journalist. It turns out that Suzanne was as startled, at the rapid changes taking place in little old Manhattan, as Liz is.
Liz with pals Suzanne Goodson and Barbara Walters.
Suzanne speaks: “Liz is correct. We were both woefully careless about down and midtown Manhattan. I was just crazy to see the little girl and when we got to her, I forgot I had a camera in my phone and I just stared out the car window. Plus, I had never seen the Bull that I could remember. I guess I can be forgiven for not knowing anything but midtown Manhattan. And it is changing all the time too!
“Maybe great cities rise and fall and their histories are changing all the time ... Jason, in the Meatpacking District, which you say is being crowded out, what big suppliers are left to deliver steaks, chops, seafood?”

Jason rattled off the names — “London Meat ... 2mfoods ... John W. ... Weichsel Beef Company ... Reliable Wholesale Meats. And back there, JT Jobbagy and Interstate Foods."
“I loved it here as a kid, when all the meats were sold in little hideaway slots and tiny old buildings and sausage was just hanging from the ceiling ... uncivilized but alive only moments before. Sometimes the butcher would give you a frank!”

As Liz reported last week, with Jason, we have to begin to tour the rest of Manhattan.

Next? Harlem at night. And Jason knows the names and places of every nightspot in town.

Contact Liz here.