Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mothers of the Year; Better than Noel

Looking north along Crosby from Grand Street (the day before the rain). 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
February 24, 2010. Steady rain falling yesterday into the night in New York.

First things first.
Last night at the Café Carlyle, Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill invited me to the opening of John Standing performing Noel Coward. I am a Noel Coward aficionado although with the exception of the late Bobby Short who had his own musical signature, I’ve never really been impressed by those who’ve followed in Coward's tracks singing his songs that always sounded not quite the “right” Noel without him.

Until last night. Better even maybe than Noel Coward, is this Noel. There were many people in the room who already knew that about him, including some who’ve been following Standing for years – including Sarah, Duchess of York who came out of the dark and took the stage right after the lights cameup, urging everyone to come back again and again to hear this very funny man with his “sly biological urge” sing the highly witty, funny Coward songs.
Blanding in performance last night at the
Cafe Carlyle.
John Blanding after his Noel Coward performance with an old friend, agent Boatie Boatwright.
After performance, Sarah, Duchess of York takes the stage with her friend Mr. Standing.
Born Sir John Ronald Leon, Standing’s mother, the actress Kay Hammond, performed in original Coward productions on the West End. Although he doesn’t use the title, he succeeded his father as 4th baronet. He was born at Bletchley, the family country house in Buckinghamshire which served as the Enigma code breaking center during World War II.

On his mother’s side he was born into a distinguished acting dynasty. Educated at Eton, he served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and has worked extensively on both London and New York stages as well as films including “King Rat,” “The Psychopath,” “The Eagle Has Landed,” “Elephant Man,” “Mrs. Dalloway,” etc., as well as television in the BBC’s 12 part “The First Churchills,” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”

Standing recounted last night that he first met Noel Coward at age 10 when the boy went backstage to see his mother who was appearing in a Coward show, and Coward was having tea in her dressing room after the show.
Lord Charles, a friend, John and Sarah Standing and the duchess after the show.
“His head shone, his dressing gown shone, his shoes shone. Everything about Noel Coward was shining,” he recalled his childhood memory.

Until last night I didn’t think it possible to revive Noel Coward’s songs for us later generations, as performers seem to “act” Noel Coward-ish when performing his material. John Standing, however, lends his own style to the Master’s work. Dressed in an open shirt, well-worn blue blazer, grey jeans, you’re all ready for the come-what-may of a man who can tell a good joke (as if surrounded by friends at the bar). And he just sings ‘em, lousy voice and all, like a witty, carefree upper class Brit that he is, who gets every word of the Coward lyrics, and delivers ‘em to you (like a pro) for a night of laughter and music. Brilliant beyond.

If you’re a Noel Coward fan/aficionado, and you’ve never heard John Standing, don’t miss this one.
Last night was a busy one in New York. Over at the Roosevelt House on 47-49 East 65th Street (the first home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their family), President Jennifer Raab of Hunter College conferred Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letter on Ambassador Felix G. Rohatyn and Elizabeth Rohaytyn.

While up at the Museum of the City of New York, The Director’s Council was holding its annual Winter Ball. This has become one of the most popular black tie annual wintertime parties. Pictures tomorrow.

Meanwhile, yesterday, at the Pierre. The Women in the Story.

Hoda took the podium and told the guests from her experience recovering from breast cancer: The way you live your days is the way you live your life. If you don’t like it, change “Monday,” and then “Tuesday.”

Hoda Kotb.
Reva Robinson with her daughter Tory Burch.
After her successful bout with Breast Cancer, Hoda did just that. She got rid of what she didn’t like. “I got a divorce.”

The room guffawed.

Hoda was emcee for American Cancer Society (New York) Mother of the Year luncheon. The benefit co-chairs were Cricket Burns, Caroline Cronson, Anne Grauso, Kara Ross, Jeanne Sorensen Siegel, and Nancy Weeks, and they made a big success again.

I’ve been attending for years because of my friend Diana Feldman who was one of the Vice Chairs but is also the Chairman of Special Events for the American Cancer Society, New York City. Diana is a one of a kind. A cheerful little earful, I like to think of her because a smile comes easily to her in the presence of others. But beyond that, she works at this because she is as deeply committed to the cause. I’ve written about her before in this light partly because she is so likeable in her objectives that I want to shower her with compliments. But aside from that, she’s presided over an event that is always affecting and yesterday was no exception.

They “honored” Deborah Axelrod MD and Tory Burch. I hadn’t heard of Dr. Axelrod although I soon learned that she is famous in her field and has performed countless successful breast surgeries.

Dr. Axelrod was introduced by her two sons Ben and Max. Actually she was introduced by Max while Ben stood to the side and watched. Max is the perfect name for this kid who may be going to business school or whatever, but is already more like a graduate of the Seinfeld School of Speechifying. The kid was a riot talking about this mother. The other kid said nothing and seemed perfectly happy keeping it that way.

Dr. Axelrod is one of those women who does a million things besides perform surgeries and counsel patients back to good health. She admitted she was obsessive/compulsive but besides her work and her family, she designs jewelry too, and when she finished telling us about her Motherhood, you got the feeling she was looking for something else to do also. You could see that her patients also know this Mother.

Ben Raskin and brother Max Raskin with their mother, Dr. Deborah Axelrod,
Tory Burch is famous, period, although I have to say I knew her “before.” On the surface anyway (which is still how well I know her). Her very great business/retail success appears not to have changed her at all. Is that possible? I don’t know.

She has a very offhand, almost serious girlish presence. You could imagine that she was a perfect daughter. There’s a somewhat self-effacing quality to her personality. I always wonder if she gets really angry and yells at her kids and scare ‘em. You know, the Joan Crawford character. I can’t imagine this in Tory. However, her life has demonstrated a laser sharp focus that is very dynamic.

She’s an alumna of the Ralph Lauren school. But really. There are others, but not many, at least in the schmatte-based business, who have achieved such a powerful brand/personality identification.

She’s also been married two or three times. And has three sons and three stepdaughters. Since her last divorce she’s had several highly publicized relationships (dating) including Lance Armstrong and currently Lyor Cohen, the head of Warner Music.

Yesterday Hoda Kolb, in introducing Tory, mentioned how Tory’s original plan was to have three stores selling her designs and products. That was a few years ago. She now has 25. And the number in the planning has been moved up to 100.

Yesterday in her acceptance speech, after being introduced by her mother Reva Robinson, we saw another side of Tory Burch. She thanked her mother for her blessings and then with her voice suddenly breaking, she struggled to add her regret that her father, who died of cancer, could not be there to share the moment. That thought stayed with her and with us throughout her brief speech in which she talked about helping people with cancer and doing everything to fight the disease.
Vera Wang Charlotte Ford Diana Feldman
Mariana Kaufman Margo Langenberg and Jean Shafiroff Anne Ford
Topsy Taylor Tina Sloan and Sue Bloomberg Helen Lee Schifter
Wendy Carduner Jeanne Siegel, Frank Gifford, and Stephanie Krieger
Marcia Mishaan and Jenny Conant Tom Gold Cynthia Lufkin
Patty Raynes Kathie Lee Gifford and Paula Zahn Ambassador Brenda Johnson
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