Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Yesterday’s weather: It rained the late night before into the early morning. Lightly but enough to energize the green shoots of flowers soon to bloom around the trees on the sidewalks of the avenue. But it was mainly cloud cover and coolish enough to need a warm jacket. At this point we are waiting for Springtime. For more reasons than the weather.
The matter of the virus and contagion have taken over the city which means pretty much everybody. It is very odd; it is very quiet. The book I’ve already raved about, “The Splendid and the Vile” — about Churchill and the The Blitz in 1941 — mirrors that identical feeling. It’s a kind of meandering anticipation.
In London at that moment, and in the book, they were anticipating being bombed by Hitler (and they were!). Here in New York in March 2020, the anticipation is about The Unknown, a bomb of other sorts. Here we have Covid-19, the expressed reason for everyone doing their best to Stay In and avoid people (referred to gently as crowds), and stock up.
Yesterday, at a press conference with President Trump, the Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that they were considering a multi-billion dollar bailout to everyone including, President Trump’s adding that it would include $1000 to every American. Wow! Did I read that right? I’m sure most Americans could use it! Most people I know could. It would definitely be well an appreciated palliative for the majority of Americans in debt. A thousand bucks will definitely help even if it gets you through a few weeks or a month. But then what? Because the anxious financial markets sound like maybe there’s another “virus” just around the corner, and it’s being anticipated by the boys and girls in the know.
Meanwhile, back where the home and heart here, it’s been a week since I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Sette Mezzo in the land of the verbose and the fascinating (somewhere in the room). And I do miss it.
The last time I was there is a good example. I was the guest of Jeanne and Herb Siegel. Herb, incidentally, is also the maternal uncle of our illustrious contributor, Blair Sabol. Her mother is Herb’s older sister Audrey. I mention age because Audrey is now on her 97th, seven years ahead of her little brother. Hard to believe because both are still precisely present and in control of their own lives.
Herb, who I think is 90 this year, is one of the most interesting people I’ve come to know here in New York. New York is the land of accessibility and Herb is a perfect example for me. He was famous in his youth throughout maturity in the business world and specifically Hollywood and show business.
He was a kid from Philadelphia who started out in life as an agent. I don’t know exactly how his interest developed but I know his older brother-in-law Ed Sabol as well as the father of his wife Ann (who died earlier in the new century) were important influences.
By the 1950s, Herb was very successful and had his own agency. By the 1960s he was an influential entrepreneur in the film, radio, and television business. In one of this business deals he acquired a company called Chris-Craft, a manufacturer of luxury motorboats and cabin cruisers that had gone into bankruptcy. The boat business sold off, he turned the company into a mover in Hollywood as well as majority stockholder in three studios at different times. All Americans knew the name because its history of pleasure motorboats and cabin cruisers, but by the late ‘60s in Hollywood and the business world, Chris-Craft meant Herb Siegel.
That’s not detailed background of a long and successful career that made him a billionaire, but I love our dinners (and lunches) because he enjoys sharing the history of that adventure. I can ask him about everyone he’s met, known, and worked with — the titans of industry as well as well as the stars and the business (and its ancillary relationships) — and his knowledge is encyclopedic.
Last week at dinner I asked if it were true that Frank Sinatra married Ava Gardner in the Siegels’ house in Philadelphia. It was major Show Business news in the world at that moment. And so it was, on November 7, 1951. Herb had known Sinatra because he often stayed at the home of Herb’s father-in-law in his early days when he came to Philadelphia for concerts.
When Sinatra and Gardner married, the press was so heavy outside the Siegels’ house that when it came time for the newlyweds to leave, Herb and his wife Ann were dispatched to leave their house by the front door with raincoats over their heads as if they were Frank and Ava hiding from the photographers, and got into the limousine to take the “newlyweds” away (and disperse the reporters and photographers). It worked.
From Frank and Ava (this was Ava’s third husband; she was Frank’s second wife) the conversation moved to Herb’s business in Hollywood where he formed an important friendship with Lew Wasserman of MCA-Universal who was a mentor as well as an important connection in his business.
Ann Siegel died after a long battle with cancer in 2005. Two years later Herb met and married Jeanne, herself a widow. Among her many qualities, Jeanne is an excellent and patient listener at least when it comes to us two boys going back-and with the questions and responses about that distinguished career in the heyday of Hollywood, radio, television and the Broadway stage.
It’s always a fascinating evening of information and insight for me, with the hospitality and the Sette Mezzo menu to accompany this writer’s appetite for information and understanding on how a world works.
Meanwhile, the town’s around even if most its inhabitants are indoors or out in the country.
JH worked his camera magic taking in the neighborhood around him.