Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Birthday Milestones

Empire State Building. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, August 12th. Yesterday was another beautiful summer day in New York; sunny and mild with temperatures in the low 80s. In the late morning, the clouds came in escorted by rolling thunder. A downpour followed for a half hour, depositing an inch and a half of rain, leaving evening temperatures in the low 60s.

Down at Swifty’s, they closed the restaurant early evening for a private cocktail party preceding Arlene Dahl’s birthday dinner in the back room.

The invitation was an 8 X 10 black and white still of a scene from her starring role in MGM’s “Three Little Words”(1950), a musical biopic about songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (played by Fred Astaire and Red Skelton). Debbie Reynolds made her MGM debut in the same picture.

The Miss Rheingold Girl, 1951.
A little girl from Minneapolis who modeled and took drama classes, Arlene graduated from Washburn High and the following year was voted Miss Rheingold Beer of 1946.
The Rheingold ad campaign was one of the most famous campaigns of that era. It made it the most popular beer in New York from the 1940s through the 1950s. The jingle which was enormously popular, rang in everyone’s ears: “My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer/Get some Rheingold whenever you buy beer.”

There was a Miss Rheingold contest each year, and by the early 1950s, more than 25 million votes were cast annually. The winner received a cash payment as well as a modeling contract and many other opportunities. The first winner, Jinx Falkenburg, had a long career on radio with her husband, public relations guru Ted McCrary. Among the other winners besides Arlene were Tippi Hedren, Hope Lange, Grace Kelly and Hillie Mahoney.

Arlene’s winning took her to Hollywood
where she signed with Warner Brothers, and then with M-G-M where she made a number of films before the studio system was broken up by the anti-trust laws and the contract players were relieved of their obligations.

In 1950, at age 22, the same year she made “Three Little Words,” she married movie Tarzan, Lex Barker. That marriage lasted about a year and a half when the couple were divorced and she remarried screen heart throb Fernando Lamas (Barker married Lana Turner) with whom she had a son, Lorenzo Lamas. The Lamas marriage ended in 1959 and she married Texan Chris Holmes (Lamas married Esther Williams) and they had a daughter Carole. The Holmes marriage ended in divorce and Arlene married vintner and wine merchant Alexis Lichine, followed by a marriage to Rounsvelle Schaum, with whom Arlene had a son, Stephen.
In 1984, Arlene married packaging designer and fragrance marketing consultant Marc Rosen with whom she celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary this year. Arlene, who is also a professional astrologer and columnist on the subject, likes to note that she’s been married to half the signs in the zodiac before finally settling on a Libra.

Arlene and Marc are a familiar couple on the New York social circuit (and actually live right around the corner from Swifty’s – a popular lunch and dinner destination for them).

Last night’s guests included Arlene's three children, two of whom have made her a grandmother to eight and fourteen if you include her stepgrandchildren; as well as friends Jane Powell and Dick Moore, Sally Ann Howes and Douglas Rae, Michael Feinstein and Terrence Flannery, Geoffrey Thomas and Sharon Sondes, Ann Downey, Mario Buatta, Liz Smith, Charlotte St. Martin (head of B'dway League), Katherine Oliver (NYC Commissioner of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting), Ambassador Enriquillio and Audrey del Rosario, Isabelle Leeds, Tom and Diahn McGrath, Donald and Barbara Tober, Rex Reed, Yanna Avis, Robert Zimmerman, Nancy Paul, Robert Osborne (of Turner Classic Movies), Anita Jaffe, Suzanne Mados, Nell Yperifanos and Jerry Tishman.
The backroom at Swifty's set for Arlene Dahl's birthday dinner.
There were after dinner toasts sent by Joan Rivers and Elaine Stritch, both of whom are in London, and read by Sally Anne Howes. Michael Feinstein sang “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” and then accompanied Lorenzo who sang one for his mother.

Arlene’s daughters and two sons toasted their mother, as did Liz Smith who remarked that that kind of movie stardom is unknown today (you had to be living then to know what she meant).

Rex Reed gave the longest and most amusing toast, telling the dinner party about how Arlene was his favorite movie star when he was a kid growing up in Louisiana and collecting pictures of her, many of which were sent to him by a cousin who helped him collect. One day he read in a paper that Arlene Dahl was going to be appearing in the Rodgers and Hart musical “I Married an Angel” in Dallas, and he asked his father if he’d drive him to Dallas, figuring that would be his one chance in life to see his favorite movie star.
Arlene and her birthday cake with Douglas Rae watching over.
“Dallas?! Why that’s 250 miles away!” the father protested, dumfounded. But the kid won the day and dad drove him the six or seven hours where he waited in the car in the parking lot while the kid went in to see the show.

After the show the kid wanted to also wait by the stage door to get his favorite star’s autograph (much to his father’s worn groaning impatience and chagrin). By the time Arlene appeared, the kid realized he didn’t have a pen or pencil for the autograph. So, the star realizing the dilemma, reached into her purse and pulled out an eyebrow pencil which did the trick, and the kid left happy.

As it happened, years later, Rex was guest hosting a show for Mike Douglas and he invited Truman Capote and Arlene as his guests. He reminded her of that long ago incident at the stage door in Dallas and was surprised that she remembered the incident well and they’ve been lifelong friends ever since.
Arlene raises her glass to her husband with Stephen Schaum, Yanna Avis, Michael Feinstein, and Marc Rosen.
Rex’s story and its denouement perfectly describes the character and personality of this woman who has been a famous beauty, movie star, famously married, businesswoman and friend. It expanded on her daughter’s description of a mother who was always generous with her compliments and assurances that bolstered the daughter’s self-confidence – a picture of a glamorous woman, always kind and sensitive to others, always gracious and never dominated by ego or the self-centeredness that often comes with the territory of being a movie star. Indeed, when you meet or are in the company of Arlene Dahl, it is only that eternally beautiful and famous face that refers to her glamorous life and career.

When she finally spoke last night after the cake and the encomiums, she told us that “love was the most important” element in her life – love of family, partners and most importantly friends – that knowledge was what protected and nurtured her and her own family throughout her life. That and the final and very successful partnership with her husband Marc Rosen who she also pointed out, is eighteen years her junior. It was a great and very special evening, one that could only be found in New York.
Geoffrey Thomas and Ann Downey Tom McGrath and Donald Tober
Diahn McGrath and Robert Zimmerman Sharon Sondes, Geoffrey Thomas, and Yanna Avis
Arlene Dahl and Yanna Avis Yanna Avis and Michael Feinstein
Carole Holmes, Lorenzo Lamas, Arlene Dahl, and Stephen Shaum Carole Holmes
Lorenzo Lamas and Michael Feinstein Geoffrey Thomas and Isabelle Leeds
Charlotte St. Martin Robert Osborne and Liz Smith

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