Happy Days Are Here Again ...

Last night at Four Freedoms Park on on the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island where the Four Freedom Park Conservancy was hosting its first Sunset Garden Party. As soon as I entered my eyes were caught by the lady in the pink or is it a creamsicle orange? That's Gina Pollara, one of the forces behind the building of the park. There's another lady sitting off to the side who lives just across the river to the East. She told Ms. Pollara that she spotted her from her apartment several hundreds yards away. That dress. We're looking southwest. The bridge in the distance is the Williamsburg Bridge and smokestacks are Con Edison's. 7:30 PM. Photo: DPC.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013. A beautiful sunny day, yesterday in New York. Temperatures in the low 70s, and a soft breeze passing hither and yon. All that rain in the days before, and very cool Spring weather has left us with a lot of rich, fresh green bursting all around us in the city’s streets, as well as many tree-shaded Upper East Side and West Sides.

Memorials and New York nights. I took that opening shot about 7:30 last night, over at the Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park Conservancy’s Sunset Garden Party at the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.

I’ve lived in New York for many years and often within sight of Roosevelt Island. But until last year when the Louis Kahn-designed Park was under construction, I never went there once in decades.
Looking east to Queens with its famous Pepsi-Cola sign most visible in Manhattan at night riding up the FDR Drive.
Last night was my fourth or fifth visit. Each time the feeling is the same: it’s wonderful to be there. It’s wonderful to be on this slip of an island (although it feels far bigger when you’re actually on it), and to look out at Manhattan to the East and Queens to the West.

You get there from the East by tramway over the river – an extraordinary view too, because from that height you comprehend the vastness of the water around us as well as the metropolis itself. 

It takes about four minutes traveling by the Ed Koch 59th Street Queensboro Bridge. (It was officially the Queens Borough for years but everyone called it the 59th Street Bridge – Paul Simon even wrong a song called the “59th Street Bridge"). Recently it’s been made a memorial to our late Mayor Ed Koch.
An allee of Lindens leading down to the monumental and the Jo Davidson bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
So once you’re on terra firma Roosevelt Island, everywhere you look – with that wide expanse water separating you from it – it’s New York all around. And you’re in its center, a serene contrast to the canyons of Manhattan or the farflung, fully populated quieter neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn.

Then, standing on that southernmost tip of the island – where you see the lady in the orange dress (that’s Gina Pollara, Executive Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park) – you get a fresh lift to your spirits.

That’s what it felt like last night as the Sun was setting just beyond the Manhattan towers across the water, surrounded as we were by nature’s magnificence and the architectural munificence of The City, looking its very best and this splendid monument. (Distance makes the heart grow fonder, even?).
The Jo Davidson bust of Franklin Roosevelt.
A closer look.
Looking at the structure.
Arriving on the island by tramway (there’s a subway stop also and a road connecting but I don’t know where), it’s about a five minute walk down island to the park.  You pass the ruins of the old smallpox hospital, built about 158 years ago back when the island was known as Blackwell’s Island.

Preservationists are working to secure and stabilize what’s left of the structure.

The building was designed by the same man – James Renwick – who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Its presence lends a kind of faux-eeriness of its high Gothic Victorian style, standing abandoned as it was in the wilds. All reminding of another time, a slower, darker age in a pre-electrified world.
The yacht SS Mimi cruises past our stately ship.
Getting closer to the entrance of the park, I could hear wonderful music in the distance – American songbook mixed with rock, and a woman singing – and the sound of voices chatting at an outdoor party.

Reaching the tent at the foot of the grandsteps, I passed it by on my way up to the monument, figuring that if there were any official activities going on, they’d start there. The party had started at five. I arrived almost two and a half hours later and learned I missed Bill Vanden Heuvel’s welcoming speech about the monument and what Roosevelt’s speech to Congress in January 6, 1941 stood for.

That shot of Gina Pollara and the great East River tidal strait reaching out to the Atlantic shows you what I found. The view is compelling and in the refreshing coolness of the air and the granite and the openness. As it happened I knew several there including some old friends.
Bill vanden Heuvel's daughter Ashley von Perfall, Scott Hirsch, Dr. Christopher Breiseth, Melissa Hirsch, Jennifer Rabb and her daughter Miranda Goodwin.
Kathy Sloane. Gina Pollara, Executive Director, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.
After spending some time in this serene environment on this beautiful evening, I decided to go back to the tent to see if I could find Mr. vanden Heuvel to congratulate him on his great achievement (getting this park designed, financed and built).

The music in the distance was so steady you could feel like dancing. At first I thought they had an excellent DJ spinning a lively, sophisticated background and maybe some dancing. But it was too lively, sophisticated to be a recording. It turned out to be Peter Duchin and his orchestra and his songbird Roberta Fabiano (my favorite interpreter of Cole Porter, the Beatles and the Gershwins).
Roberta Fabiano, Bill vanden Heuvel, and Peter Duchin singing "Happy Days Are Here Again."
vanden Heuvel and Duchin taking their bows.
On arriving there I saw Bill vanden Heuvel going up to the bandstand where Peter Duchin and Roberto Fabiano were doing their upbeat rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again” (an almost- anthem of the first Roosevelt Administration after the Market Crash – which turned out to be “not really” that “happy”).

Those happy days definitely had arrived last night, at least for those bright brief moments, on Roosevelt Island and the Sunset Garden Party for the FDR Four Freedoms Park. The vibe was so relaxing and laid back, out there in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the metropolis, yet far from the rumble of the taxis and the rattle of the subway trains, I could have stayed for hours.
View of the United Nations at twilight, from the Four Freedom Park.
The meadow just outside the Park next to the hospital ruins.
The sunset across the river at the end of the canyons of 54th Street.
Monday, the Night Before, was another grand evening for the books. Over at the Hudson Theater in the Millenium Hotel on 44th Street just off Broadway, The American Cancer Society (New York Chapter) held its annual Spring Gala ‘’One Centennial Sensation” – a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.

It started as most benefit gala evenings do, with cocktails and then dinner. No black tie, thankfully. It so happened that it was also the first Marvin Hamlisch Memorial Award being given to Michael Douglas. Marvin Hamlisch lost his sister and his father to cancer. He had been a devoted and generous supporter of the ACS.
Terre Hamlisch, Jeremiah Hernandez, and Diana Feldman.
Monday was the day when the headlines broke about Michael Douglas’ health. I missed it on the breaking news (which I don’t watch) or the tabs, and never heard a word about it until I arrived at the reception. Evidently it was “a sensation,” but an odd one considering the seriousness of the man’s medical condition. Because it had something to do with sex, not a few seemed quite amused, ironically. The matter itself was not news to me as I’d been told about it last week by a friend who knew about the matter. Our Lady of the Self-righteous Reproach over at the Post nevertheless sang her anthem.

After the cocktails we went into dinner where the theater is. Diana Feldman, who is the special events organizer volunteer for the ACS-NY, and who is a big big booster of the organization, welcomed the guests and thanked Terre Blair Hamlisch for organizing the evening we were about to see. She also thanked the benefit co-chairs – Terry Allen Kramer, Suzanne Mados, Richard Feldman and Lily Safra. Only Mrs. Safra was not present.
Michael and Eleanora Kennedy. Richard and Diana Feldman.
Suzanne Mados and Donald Stannard.
DPC and Charlotte Ford. George Hamilton and Terry Allen Kramer.
Then Terre Hamlisch took the podium and presented the award to Michael Douglas.

Mr. Douglas was looking rather chipper for a guy whose personal health and privacy were being trumpeted all over the media in the past few hours.

He first talked about his and his family’s long relationship with Marvin Hamlisch. Marvin’s last work was on the making of “Behind the Candelabra.” He told us that Marvin – who was a child prodigy – once explained that when he heard music it just moved from brain to his hands and he could just play it on the keys.
Terre Hamlisch.
Michael Douglas.
Then he told us the previous 24 hours had been quite a ride for him. Everyone in the audience understood, and his remark evoked affectionate laughter. He talked briefly about his medical condition and seemed rather matter-of-factly optimistic about everything. He left an impression of a self-possessed man of talent, integrity and dignity – something that many in the media seem devoid of, all things considered.

After the speeches, dinner was served. And then Mrs. Hamlilsch came back to tell us what we were in for. We were in for a rapturous, moving, joyful, inspired evening of Marvin Hamlisch’s work performed by a long list of the following: Lucie Arnas, Klea Blackhurst, Stephanie J. Block, Kevin Cole Lilla Crawford, Adrian Der Gregorian, Peter Dugan, Maria Friedman, Joel Grey, Capathia Jenkins, Robert Klein, Marissa McGowan, Matthew Morrison, Bernadette Peters, Staples Players, Teal Wicks, Charles Yang and John Lloyd Young.
Kari Siegel, Joel Grey, and Jennifer Podol.
Donald and Barbara Tober.
Barbara Taylor Bradford and Robert Bradford.
Arlene Dahl and Marc Rosen.
Gigi and Harry Benson with Topsy Taylor. Klea Blackhurst and John Fletcher.
Dawn Mitman, Sandy Diamond, Cynthia Esposito, and Lynn Jacobson.
Tony Leeds, Diana Feldman, Margo Halle, Marley Goodman, and Joy Ingham.
Robert Zimmerman, Joy Ingham, and Stanley and Sydney Shuman.
Paul and Ursula Striker. John Cook and Nancy Shaw.
Ronnie Rothstein with Sherri and Joe Abruzesse.
Ashley Endelman, Tara Peters, and Beth Rodway. Yanna Avis.
Jeanne Lawrence and Donna McKechnie.
Geoffrey Bradfield, Sue Chalom, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Richard and Cricket Burns. Ted Hartley.
Dr. Albert Lefkovits and Cheryl Lefkovits.
Jean and Martin Shafiroff. Hilary Califano.
Ebs Burnough and Jules Asner.
The show opened with the Staples Players – kids from a school in Connecticut who are dedicated to performing shows with such panache and talent that Terre Hamlisch, upon seeing their performance of “A Chorus Line,” asked them to be part of the evening.

They were followed by Donna MeKechnie who sang the song that was written for her in the original production of the show. From there followed about an hour of brilliant performances, all singing Marvin Hamlisch’s songbook. Two students from his alma mater, Juilliard, Peter Durgan on the piano and Charles Yang on the violin, thrilled the audience with their individual renditions of Marvin Hamlisch. One performance after another brought down the house. I regret only that I don’t have the ability to share the thrill of it all in words. By the final performance of Kevin Cole playing a medley of Marvin Hamlisch compositions – all famous to our ears. It was a beautiful evening, captivating to the audience: arresting, affectionate, and softly bittersweet – a perfect memorial for a gentle genius.
Staples Players opening the show ...
Donna McKechnie. Matthew Morrison. Maria Friedman
Maria Friedman.
Capathia Jenkins.
Teal Wicks, Marissa McGowan, and Stephanie J. Block.
Peter Dugan and Charles Yang.
Adrian Der Gregorian.
Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein.
Joel Grey.
Lilla Crawford. Klea Blackhurst. Bernadette Peters.
Ella Green and Marissa McGowan.
Lloyd Young.
The performers take their bows.
The rousing applause.

Photographs by Annie Watt (ACS)

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