Sunday, October 2, 2016

Tiny moments

The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden at Cooper Hewitt. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, October 3, 2016. Like the week just passed, last weekend was overcast with occasional rain and temperatures running in the mid-60s into the mid-50s at night.

Last week. A long story of two tiny moments. Friday, JH and I were having a business lunch at Michael’s when Mickey Ateyeh to ask me to stop by her table where she was having lunch with Brenda Vaccaro.

I’d never met Brenda Vaccaro before, nor had I ever seen her off-screen except once. That was in 1965 when I had a part-time job working with Jimmy Molenski, the famous headwaiter at SARDI'S restaurant. I worked the before-theater dinner hour (5:30 to 7:30) Tuesdays through Saturday and the lunch hour on Matinee days (Wednesday and Saturday).  Sardi’s was the hub for the entire theatre and entertainment world as well as many socially prominent New Yorkers in those days.

Everybody came through those doors in those days, and often even daily. It was exciting for this kid who had (brief) dreams of being an actor. I saw many of them frequently but as it happened I was never there when  Brenda Vaccaro came into the restaurant. Although, she remains in my memory’s eye to this day when I was working there by the door and I spotted her crossing 44th Street from the Shubert toward the restaurant. She was then starring in “Cactus Flower” (where she was nominated for a Tony), and crossing the street on a wintry day, she was bundled up in an impressive mink coat, walking at a serious pace, looking like a star ... in a hurry.

I was about to open the door from inside for her as she seemingly was approaching the outer doors, when she didn’t stop but kept walking east. Not a memorable moment but one of those that has stuck in my craw ever since – the almost moment when I would have met (or actually just said hello to) Brenda Vaccaro.
Lauren Bacall and Brenda Vaccaro in "Cactus Flower."
Brenda now has had a long working career, to this day but somewhere in those days of the late '60s, early '70s or thereabouts she moved to Hollywood where she’s worked ever in television and films, and I never saw her again. Until Friday afternoon when I finished my lunch and went over to Table One where she was lunching.

Mickey introduced us and she greeted me like an old friend (actors can be very good at that) which made me very comfortable and so I told her about my visual memory on that winter’s day in her fur coat. She just wanted to know how the coat looked (Great!) and then Steve Millington came over, knowing I carry my camera with me when I’m out and about, and asked if he could take a picture of the two of us. Sure, why not says Brenda.

She’s in town working on a film or a series called Gypsy.  It’s not about Gypsy Rose Lee but is a new Netflix series. Mickey told me we three would have lunch one of these days and I’ll learn more about Brenda. Although she’s one of those people who has a very warm and charming personality, so it felt a bit like a reunion with an old friend.
DPC with Brenda Vaccaro at Michael's.
Thursday night was AFTD’s inaugural HOPE Rising Benefit at the Pierre. AFTD stands for the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Last week was FTD  week and this benefit was hosted by the Newhouse Family who have had two family members afflicted by this brain disease. One is Susan Newhouse, the late wife of Donald Newhouse, and Donald’s brother Si Newhouse. The evening honored David Zazlav, who is CEO of Discovery Communications (The Discovery Channel) which is a Newhouse company.

Susan and Donald Newhouse.
Susan Newhouse died of the disease a year ago last August. I never really knew her but I saw her and her husband often. They were very active philanthropists (she was longtime chairwoman of the Fresh Air Fund, among her interests) and they often attended openings and benefit galas that I covered.

They were most memorable because they were clearly a couple who were always gracious and friendly and from the looks of it, they were a great team.

She was petite and unassumingly cheerful – but never intrusive – with people. Whenever I saw her I just liked saying hello to her to get a breath of that sweetness. There was nothing unreal about her despite her family’s position in the community. It was their warmth, not their name or their great philanthropies that singled them in public. You could see they felt that way about each other.

When I first heard that Susan Newhouse was ill with a brain disease, I thought of her husband and what a loss it would be.

In the course of the evening, Donald Newhouse briefly took the podium to present Mr. Zazlav with his award which is the inaugural award for this charity --  The Susan Newhouse and Si Newhouse Award for HOPE.
The reception room of the Pierre. The table setting.
The cake.
Before the awarding, Mr. Newhouse recounted to us that when he first started working in the family business as a young man, his boss was his uncle. Whenever his uncle spoke to him in the office, he recounted (and we were getting a picture of a strict older man, speaking sternly to an underling), whenever Uncle told him what to do, he replied “Yes sir!”

In Donald Newhouse’s early days in the company, it was Yes Sir Yes Sir. Then one day, the uncle said to his nephew: “I met the girl you’re going to marry last night.” To which Donald replied “Yes sir.” And so it was.
Event Co-Chair Daniel Hedaya, AFTD's Chairman of the Board Gail Anderson, Event Co-Chair Donald Newhouse, Paula Zahn, Event Co-Chair Katherine Newhouse Mele and Event Honoree David Zaslav.
I don’t know Donald Newhouse except to say hello to. I have met several members of his family. They are remarkable to the outside eye for two things: they are pleasantly friendly people, and they are a very close family. They are all often together; many of them. They summer together on a large family estate/compound. They often dine together early Sunday evening at Sette Mezzo. They work together, and they treat each other with a kind of deferential respect, like the Uncle story. But they treat everyone they come in contact with like that. It’s not effusive or attention drawing but just a matter of fact.

The evidence of that was apparent Thursday night in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre. The evening was planned (chaired) by Kathy Newhouse Mele, daughter of Sue and Donald. Among the 400 guess, no doubt there were many family friends and business associates.
David Zaslav, Katherine Newhouse Mele, Donald Newhouse, Executive Director of AFTD Susan Dickinson, and Daniel Hedaya.
The room, which I’ve been in scores of times was lighted for the first time (to me anyway) with an orange and red hue reflecting on the walls, ceiling, and paneling and curtains. It gave an effective rosiness and warmth to soften the subject at hand -- because the subject is neurological, brain diseases: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, Dementia and FrontoTemporal Degeneration -- among others -- none of it has a cheerful aspect to it.

AFTD is not new and it is not uncommon. It seems to affect people usually in their middle age – from 35 to 65 – although Sue Newhouse was afflicted later in life (she died at 80). It can affect children too. I’m not knowledgeable enough to explain the nature and outcome of the disease but it is just as alarming as Alzheimer's or any of the other brain diseases.
Executive Director of AFTD Susan Dickinson.
Kathy Newhouse Mele.
Paula Zahn was the emcee of the evening. She told us that she had just visited her mother who is in her early 90s and a victim of Alzheimer's. She related how she had come from a very close family and mother. And there was nothing she could do for her mother but watch. AFTD, while not new, is just being put out there. The Lauder brothers, Leonard and Ronald, who founded the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, have donated $5 million to AFTD with the same objective. Donald Newhouse matched that with another $5 million.

We were brought together for all the right reasons: to make us ALL aware of this condition, and to raise the funds, $1.8 million on this night, to assist and fund research to learn more and to find a cure.
David Zaslav, CEO and President of Discovery Communications. The Discovery Channel reaches a billion people across the world. Mr. Zazlav was presented with the inaugural Susan Newhouse & Si Newhouse Award of HOPE Thursday night.
The host committee planned the evening with cocktails at 6 and dinner at 7. We heard speeches briefly of a young woman and a young man both of whom lost parents (mother and father, respectively) to AFTD. They recounted their experience as well as the effect on their personal lives. After David Zazlav’s acceptance speech, graciously and sincerely acknowledging the Newhouse family, Kelli O’Hara performed a program of several songs from musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. And that was the evening. We were out by nine o’clock. There was a somber quality to our presence but it was a beautiful evening also. It was the vibe.  To learn more, go to:
Kelli O'Hara performing a short program of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe.
For the families, for the children; Sunday, a week ago, September 25th, The Edible Academy Family Garden Picnic was held at the New York Botanical Garden.  This is one of NYBG’s best family parties of the season. It’s family and friends coming together in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden for an afternoon of outdoor discovery. The picnic’s special guest Chef Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s The Chew, was there for a kid’s culinary workshop, and a delicious picnic featuring Carla’s Southern Kitchen chicken. 

There were many children among the 300 guests and there was a wonderful selection gardening activities, games, kitchen crafts, honey harvesting, apple pressing, tree climbing, and music for them. They were all participating and enjoying the celebration of organic vegetable gardening and cooking for the whole family.  
Gregory Long and Carla Hall.
Chairs of this year's picnic were Noreen and Ahmar Ahmad, Christina and Laurent de Marval, Emma and Todd Goergen, Annie and James Lansing, Jennifer and Beau Lescott, Amory and Sean McAndrew, Allison and Roberto Mignone, Kimberly and Jean Putzer, Kate Solomon and David Wasserman, and Julia and Ted Weld.

The Honorary Chair was Jill Joyce; and Founding Chairmen were Julie and Nick Sakellariadis.  Support for this event was provided by Manhattan Magazine.
Carla Hall and Young Gardeners.
Proceeds of the event support the Garden's Edible Academy, which is the hub of the children's organic vegetable gardening program. This new initiative promotes nutrition and the benefits of a healthful lifestyle. It is housed in a LEED-certified, environmentally sustainable building with a green roof, two high-tech classrooms, new display gardens, a teaching greenhouse, and a terraced amphitheater.
Family Picnic.
There will be a groundbreaking ceremony of the Edible Academy complex on Thursday, October 27th.  It is an important milestone of the Garden’s 125th year and the 60th year of the Children’s Gardening Program. When completed, the Edible Academy, expanding the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden, will revolutionize and enhance NYBG’s garden-based educational programs. They will offer life-changing opportunities to children from the Bronx and Greater New York City. The complex will double the number of on-site learners from 50,000 to 100,000 annually. The Edible Academy’s programming will also be expanded to offer distance learning opportunities, additional teacher and educator training, cooking demonstrations, and special events. 
Maureen Keating, Jeanette Haugh, Jill Joyce, Maureen Chilton, and Julie Sakellariadis.
Emma Goergen, Carla Hall, and Todd Goergen.
Alyssa de Marval, Ella de Marval, and Christina de Marval. Noreen Ahmad and son.
Kids Culinary Workshop.
Amory McAndrew and children. Apple Pressing.
Young Gardener enjoying an apple.
Kids Culinary Workshop.
Kate Solomon and David Wasserman. The Ramm family.
Potato Sack Race.
Lesly Moreno, Emma Goergen, and Sasha Lazard.
Andrea Greeven Douzet and friends.
Jacquie Garrett and grandson.
Young Gardener Discovering Hens.
Gardening Activities.
Kitchen Crafts.

Photographs by Kelly Taub/BFA, Jason Green, and Ben Hider (NYBG).

Contact DPC here.