Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pretty cold winter’s day

Driving past the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
January 12, 2010. Sort of sunny, pretty cold winter’s day in New York was Monday.

Last night. Priscilla Rattazzi, Eleanora Kennedy, Kayce Freed Jennings and Jennifer Isham hosted a book party for their friend Charles (or Charlie to his friends) at the Upper East Side townhouse Rattazzi shares with her husband Chris Whittle and their family.

The Whittle/Rattazzi domicile is not small but it felt like it last night, packed to the rafters as it was. They were selling books and the author was busy signing.

Author Charles Glass with his new book, "Americans in Paris; Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation." Click to order.
Mr. Glass, who was born in L.A. and went to USC, is now an international journalist who lives in Europe. I’m not sure if it’s London or Paris these days, but he has a dual US/UK citizenship. For ten years He was ABC’s Chief Middle East Correspondent. Some may remember in 1987 he was taken hostage by Shia’a militants in Lebanon and held for 62 days until he escaped. He is the only Western hostage in Lebanon known to have escaped.

The book they were celebrating last night was “Americans In Paris; Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation.” I’ve just started it so I have little to report. It is an evocative look at what it was like when the enemy (the Nazis) came marching in (to Paris). I was thinking, while reading, how inconceivable such a thing seems in my consciousness. It occurred to me the Parisians felt the very same way about it almost down to the moment they found the Germans were not going to bomb but enter Paris. Then the secrets sprouted and the enemy was everywhere.

If you were an American at that moment, you were all right (unless they’d already pegged you as politically threatening). The American Ambassador, William Bullitt was designated “Mayor” of Paris because the government fled. As far as the Nazis were concerned, Paris now belonged to the German Empire and destined to remain that way for the 1000-year Reich.

We recognize many of the characters in the book because of themselves or their relationships. Sylvia Beach who owned the legendary bookstore Shakespeare & Company, had chosen to stay. As did many others. The risks were greater than could have been imagined at the time. Many Parisians were willing to accept the Nazis as leaders if it meant they kept order in the country. It was that easy for more than some. Jews and others knew they were in great danger. In short time, the Americans would be in great danger too. Suicide was not an infrequently alternative to failed attempts to escape. Everyone was a prisoner.
The party's hostesses, Priscilla Rattazzi Whittle, Kayce Freed Jennings, Eleanora Kennedy, and Jennifer Isham. Virgina Coleman and Peter Duchin.
It all seems like a movie now. Charles Glass’ book reminds you that it was and is real life and the way men and women behave with each other given the right set of circumstances.

Meanwhile at the Whittle/Rattazzi’s it was conviviality almost collegiate in spirit, like a party combining faculty and students (except the students are grown up and out in the world plying their trade). By which I mean, it was crowded and cozy and people were ensconced. Drinks were ample (if you could find the bar) and hors d’oeuvres were fresh if you could find them in some corner out of harm’s way. Because the place was wall-to-wall people full of talk and curiosity.

Debbie Bancroft introduced me to Goldie Hawn who has created her own foundation (The Hawn Foundation) which is creating and funding development of teaching methods to help younger children become aware of their brain and the power of consciousness of such.
Goldie Hawn and DPC Goldie Hawn, Debbie Bancroft, and DPC
The foundation’s project is called MindUp, and from what I could gather in the short time we talked, it is all about reacquainting today’s children with what are essentially traditional methods of human communication. It’s more than a great idea, it’s meeting a need that is glaring, shouting at us. Have a look: http://www.thehawnfoundation.org/

Goldie Hawn off-camera (I’d never met her before) is direct and focused on what she is doing and why. You can detect that gamine personality that you see on the screen in her self-expression, but basically she’s like a kind, no-nonsense businesswoman, mother. Very courteous and pleasant to talk to, and focused. And the benefits of what she’s working on apply to all of us.
Lisa Shields and Madeleine Gray. Priscilla Rattazzi and Jennifer Isham. Roger Webster and Jennifer Bradford Davis.
Lynn Sherr and Tom Harvey. Paige Peterson and Mary Link.
This past Sunday night at the 92nd Street Y they opened the 40th anniversary season of Lyrics & Lyricists with “Babalu – the American Songbook Goes Latin,” featuring the music of the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. The show’s artistic director is Desi Arnaz’ daughter Lucie, who also hosts and performs.

Paige Peterson, who has been a friend of Ms. Arnaz since the days they were both in the business and being mentored by Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball’s sidekick in “I Love Lucy,” took in the show for NYSD:
Rex Reed, Lucie Arnaz, Deborah-Grace Winer, and Daryl Sherman.
Lucie Arnaz also hosts and performs. The production includes a Latin big band, vocalists Raúl Esparza and Valarie Pettiford and Latin dancers Mark Stuart Eckstein and Kristine Bendul. Lucie’s brother Desi Arnaz, Jr. is a special guest, making the show a family affair.

Lucie and I have been friends since the days when we both were mentored by the great Vivian Vance who played Ethel, foil for Lucie’s mother Lucille Ball on “I Love Lucy.”
Paige Peterson, Lucie Arnaz, and Susan Silver.
“Babalu-The American Songbook Goes Latin" was a tribute to her father, and a chance to celebrate Desi Arnaz’s musical career and the major role Latin music has played in the American Songbook.

For this show, Lucie has resurrected her father’s original orchestra charts, which have been housed at the Library of Congress for the last 20 years. Desi achieved lasting fame form “I Love Lucy,” but earlier in his career, he was a major player in the big-band era.

Desi Arnaz was the only son of a prominent, wealthy family in Santiago, Cuba. After the 1933 his family was left powerless and penniless in Miami. Desi used his innate musical abilities to put food on the table. He worked for Xavier Cugat, who in time gave him his own small "Latin" band. It was such a disaster that Desi was forced to "beat the hell out of a big Afro-Cuban drum in his "dance of desperation" -- which ended up introducing the Conga, a dance craze that swept the country.
L. to r.: Lucie Arnaz; Raul Esparza and Valarie Pettiford; Raul Esparza.
Ron Abel, Desi, Jr., and Lucie Arnaz.
In 1937 he signed with RCA Records. The handsome, hot-blooded Latin so impressed New York's elite on stage that he became the toast of the town at the La Conga Club. A Broadway show, the subsequent movie role, a marriage to co-star Lucille Ball, a World War and several non-ignited film parts, forced Desi to revisit his first love--music and leading another orchestra.

This orchestra was the best one yet. Desi's first single was "Babalu" it was a huge hit and became his signature for the rest of his life.

The fabulous singer Raul Esparza was spellbinding and smoldering, as was Valarie Pettiford. Raul told the audience "Cubans have to know how to dance. You dance on a brick. Very elegantly." Ron Abel was musical director.
Valarie Pettiford.
Ron Abel and Desi Arnaz, Jr. on percussion instruments.
Lucie is her father's daughter. Tall and stylish she sang the hell out of Desi's music while her brother channeled his father on percussion. Songs by Irving Berlin, Arthur Schwartz, Pepe Guizar, Johnny Lange, Hy Health and Desi Arnaz, Frank Loesser, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Bobby Collazo and Margarita Lecuona.

When the band played the "I Love Lucy" theme song, the audience roared with delight. Lucie's foot work was crisp and exact. She talks to you on stage as if she were in your living room. She made her Broadway debut in "They're Playing Our Song.” We could not sit still in our seats. It was crazy good. Standing ovation? You bet! Broadway bound? Let's hope so!
Valarie Pettiford, Raul Esparza, and Lucie Arnaz.
Cast taking bows.
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Photographs by Richard Termine Photography (Lucie Arnaz).
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