Friday, August 27, 2010

Heading off for the last week of summer

Tanya Zuckerbrot, Katie Lee, Stacey Griffith, Elizabeth Cutler, Keri Glassman, Ingrid Skjong, Elisa Niemtzow
Surveying the neighborhood 1:40 pm.
August 27, 2010. Warm and sunny, yesterday in New York. Waiting to hail a cab on my corner, I watched some of my neighbors loading up their SUVs, heading off for the last week of summer.

Quick cab ride down to 57th and Fifth. The avenue sidewalks, however, were filled with tourists. How could I tell? Lots of adults with young children as well as people taking pictures of themselves in front of the Trump tower as well as Tiffany. And people speaking to each other in French and German.

Lunch at Michael’s which was especially quiet for that restaurant midday. Not surprised; Steve Millington, the GM, had told me on Monday that this was historically (at Michael’s anyway) a very quiet week.

We are about to head into the last week of summer as we know it and as the kids know it. It has been an easy summer for a lot of us city dwellers (and probably elsewhere), because of the relentlessly hot weather.

This week’s NYSD HOUSE visits LuAnn de Lesseps, aka the Countess at her new apartment on Riverside Drive. I haven’t read the interview at the time of this writing (I usually don’t see it until we go online with it, as it’s written and produced by Sian Ballen, Lesley Hauge and Jeff Hirsch). These are some of my favorite interviews anywhere. You could say that’s because they’re on NYSD, but to me it’s because they’re always interesting or intriguing , and usually I know very little about the subjects until I read it.

Pat and Bill Loud and their five children.
As it happens I do know the Countess de Lesseps. I still find the title a bit obtrusive since I met her with her husband Alex years ago and there was no mention of a title in the introduction. Furthermore she’s very American (and part Native American).
There is a quality about her – maybe it’s just physical – that reminds me of Pat Loud, the wife and mother on the “original” reality television show – “An American Family” documentary that debuted in 1973 and followed the day-to-day of a family in Santa Barbara by the name of Loud. However much of that that may have been staged, it most definitely was real (and riveting).

You saw this family evolve in the way families naturally do. The eldest son Lance came out, on television and eventually the mother, and also the couple, Pat and Bill, separated and divorced.

I don’t recall any histrionics like you might see on today’s “reality” shows. Lance eventually moved to New York where he was a popular figure in the late 70s, as did his mother Pat who became a literary agent. The 12-part series had a profound impact because in one way or another their issues were our issues, and so it was compelling to see them deal with it all.

Watching the Louds being followed around their house by a camera was interesting even if they had nothing to say to each other, and often what they did say was “nothing,” just as it is in any household in real life with families completely familiar with each other’s presence.

Today’s “reality” Housewives shows, of course, are not like that. The little I’ve seen of them seem like grown women (and occasionally men) vying for attention and apparently adoring the camera. When I first met LuAnn de Lesseps she told me she wanted to pursue an acting career and this show is no doubt an actualization of that pursuit.

Pat Loud and her son Lance.
I was talking about these shows recently with a very smart woman friend of mine who is also a big television watcher, which I am not. She told me that she’d seen all of the various “Housewives” shows and only likes the New York one.

“I love love love it,” was how she put it.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s so much fun watching them make asses of themselves,” was her immediate answer, adding, “It’s hysterical.”

My friend, incidentally, is not an insensitive woman, nor is she unkind in her assessment of others. She sees the show for what it is – entertainment meant to amuse. Of course the entertainment is people striving and in strife. So really it’s a spectator sport. Maybe the 21st century equivalent of what the Gladiators were to the audience of ancient Rome. Or the Christians and the lions. Nevertheless, it’s been a boon to television and a lot of employed people.

The Pat and Bill Loud family, as I recall, were, even under stress, not unkind to each other although they had a healthy dose of Sturm und drang that was enough to leave you troubled. And the end it wasn’t a Hollywood version of life but the real thing. Lance in New York had a moment of celebrity but eventually died, age 50 of AIDS, looked after by his loving mother.

The last I read, Pat and Bill, though divorced, were living together again in Los Angeles. The denouement of their “series” is not surprising to those of us who watched it because they obviously were people who cared about and loved each other. This was “reality” in the concept of “an American family,” circa 1970s. Today’s “reality,” it seems is an entirely different story made cohesive by lawyers, agents and producers. Very little love lost there, right folks?

Dr. Gregory Mahl and Larry David in front of the Carlton Hotel.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest of television reality, JH has a friend whose father, a man named Dr. Gregory Mahl, has always been considered a “ringer” for Larry David, the creator/star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Aside from the “physical,” the two men were both from Brooklyn, born only a month apart and both have two daughters.

Dr. Mahl’s resemblance to the TV star is great enough that he’s been mistaken for him on more than one occasion by actual friends of Larry David. Once, for example, while driving in a convertible with the top down on Further Lane in East Hampton, he passed Jerry Seinfeld who got off the bicycle he was riding and held up his arms as if to ask why “Larry” wasn’t stopping for him.

Another time Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder, walking together on the Upper East Side together, stopped and knocked on the window of a Japanese restaurant where Mahl was eating, to wave hello. Another time, while vacationing in Aruba, a family passed by his large palapa and were overheard saying that “it figures that Larry David would get the largest hut.”

Limo drivers, people in restaurants, airline passengers, often try to strike up conversations with the “star” who isn’t. Often when he denies he’s Larry David, they don’t believe him and think he’s just trying to be anonymous.

Recently Dr. Mahl’s daughter Jen, who works at the Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue, called her dad to tell him that Larry David, the real Larry David was going to be there filming an episode of "Curb," and that he should try to meet him. And so he did. Whattaya think?
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