About the people

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The Obelisk behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art as seen through the Magnolias. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020. First the weather. Ehh — that’s New Yawkese for boring. Nothing happening, Sun, rain, cool kinda, otherwise blah. Temp high 40s, low 50s. It was Tuesday; I had to remind myself.

Wottaya think we’re some kinda fools on this day?  As Yogi Berra probably said: “Gentlemen, include me out.” That’s the Day we’re in today. 

Debbie in her bedroom, photographed by Allan Warren in 1987.

It is also the birthdates of two MGM movie stars I liked when I was a kid: Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell. I can still see both of those girls on the MGM screen in Technicolor; they were the prettiest to this kid. Jane, who lived here in town for years, now lives outside the city. Debbie left us suddenly two years ago. 

Back in the late ’80s, coincidentally, I was hired to ghostwrite a memoir for Debbie, during which time — over the course of a year interviewing — I came to know her well.

This photograph was taken in her bedroom about the time we began the interviews which stretched out over a year (she was still working on the road 44 weeks a year). I only saw her bedroom once. At that time she was living in a fairly modest bungalow in North Hollywood. 

Her mother, Maxene Reynolds, lived across the road in large two-story house with swimming pool, a gift from her daughter. Debbie’s place was nicely and comfortably decorated, often using furniture that she bought at studio auctions (back when studios were divesting all kinds of property like furniture and costumes). Her dining room furniture came from “The Good Earth,” an MGM classic in its day based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck. 

The house showed no signs of a movie star. Except, when you entered through the front door, there was short hall to the door of her bedroom. Both walls leading to it were neatly covered with framed black and white photos, personally autographed to Debbie, of many of the famous stars she’d met, knew, or worked with. 

“To my dear talented friend Debbie.”

This one afternoon when I arrived for the interview, the bedroom door was open —  to an all white room with a four poster with white lace curtains pulled back to an all white bed and coverings. Next to her bed was a round table covered in a matching white fabric, with two large silver framed photographs and a white telephone. One photo was of Jack Lemmon with his handwritten inscription: “To Debbie, who loves you … Jack” and the other larger photograph in a silver frame was Cary Grant.

She was a remarkable woman, strong, powerful, hardworking, ambitious, witty, sensitive, thoughtful, kind, respectful of her elders and everybody else, and talented. All right in one woman. We captured that in this memoir. She never read a page of it until it was a completed manuscript. Then she read it all and changed not a word. She cried at the end. So did I. She was a good one.

Yesterday felt like a Saturday. I had to go out to run a couple of errands. The store where I buy my household supplies, Price Wise Discount, had a sign on the door: Closed indefinitely due to the threat and discomfort of the store’s staff in dealing with so many people close up.

I get it. So I walked down the block to the Duane Reade on the corner. There were five people separated by six feet, waiting in line to get in. This “separation” will probably become the norm like the masks and the overall anxiety that afflicts most of us. 

Looking through the store window, I could see there was only one cashier for several people waiting in line (separated). All had to be checked out before I could expect to be let in the front door.  The matter wasn’t pressing; I left. It could wait; I just needed a reason to get out of the house and into the world for a few.

The now customary six feet of seperation.

Many of us who work independently get our daily rush from the company we keep at lunch or dinner. It is my personal social life. I love dinner with a friend at Sette Mezzo. I love the clatter of the crowd, you’re in the thick of it. I love the excellent and friendly service, the delicious menu and their ability to look after their customers favorites’. All accomplished with a glad thanks. I get my New York always changing people-fix there. I haven’t been there (or anywhere) in three weeks. I’d heard they were open for four hours a night for takeout. Last night I got a call from Gennaro, the owner, to tell me they were closing until further notice. 

This is New York life on a day-to-day. New York is about the people; and where they congregate to see The People. Chris von Hohenburg, the photographer, is on the same page. He went out the other day with his camera and provided a significant reminder of the world of what we’ve been missing. His images capture the solitary importance of the “favorite haunts” — each an establishment to its neighborhood regulars and longtime patrons.

To close: JH sent me this video yesterday afternoon with no comment. I didn’t know if it were in reference to something personal or if he were thinking of putting it on the Diary.

It looked like a real family-made vid, no one I knew. In other words, nothing remarkable. I turned it on because JH had sent it, and I was curious as to what was interesting about this family whom I did not know.

Well … Now I do. This video is about this family, whom I still do not know except… what they are demonstrating, much to our pleasure and delight, is the other side of life — the good side, the smart side, the sensitive side, the loving side and most of all the practical side, too. They also demonstrate what a real family looks like. With all the bad news inundating us, this is the GOOD NEWS! See if you don’t agree …

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