Come Hear the Music Play, Life is a Cabaret …

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The warm greens of spring on the corner of 93rd and Madison. Photo: JH.

Thursday, May 11, 2023. A bright, sunny day yesterday in New York, just like Springtime back whenever, and beautiful.

Yesterday JH and I had one of our rare lunches together at our old stomping crowd, the still new and fresh (menu too) restaurant on 55th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

We were reminiscing about previous lunches there where there is often a lot of city-action — well known people dining with other well known people; authors, editors; producers, directors, socialites, tourists from out of town. Action! Jeff reminded me of a memorable one way back in April, 2004. Some lunches don’t get tired; they just keep moving along.

But first, those Crispy Brussels Sprouts! To die for!

Lunch at Michael’s. I admit. It’s like a habit. It’s part of my job. Why not? I can think of worst ways to spend a lunch. This fabulous restaurant; a good table, you see the world coming and going. And all important my dear; oh so important. Just ask ‘em. And famous too, while we’re on the subject. Who could object?

On this day, there was Francine LeFrak and Rick Friedberg, Mr. and Mrs.; she with the producer’s credits and he with the security credits – Mayors Koch and Giuliani. They were entertaining a gang. There was Larry Burstein the publisher of New York Magazine with Alexandra Penney who created Self magazine for Mr. Newhouse — and later retired to Conde Nast Heaven which is quite the heaven to retire to while still breathing. There was Lloyd Grove, the Daily News columnist with Kate Betts, formerly of Harper’s Bazaar, and film producer, former Paramount head Stanley Jaffe; big time book editor Alice Mayhew with one of her authors Jenny Conant; Emmy’s head Peter Price, as well as another Newhouse Conde Nast star, Linda Wells (who started Allure Magazine), book agent Joni Evans with John Stossel and editor David Hirshey; mega-agent Suzanne Gluck of William Morris, Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor and Grand-daddy of Reality TV, (looking sorta Lincolnesque — I said sorta — in a teal blue knee-length suit coat and pants); Barry Diller at another table, ABC-TV’s Cynthia McFadden with O Magazine’s Gail King and Amy Gross at another, Esther Newberg, Stanley Shuman, Sherry Westin at other tables, to name just a few.

And then, the reason I really wanted to go there for lunch was in the back room, they were celebrating Joel Grey‘s birthday. Number 72. I saw him the second night in Cabaret umpty-ump years ago. It never occurred to me any of us had grown old until someone told me this was his 72nd.

So I brought my camera and asked the management if I could go in and take a picture. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You do feel a little nervous because you never know if people want another picture taken or not. But the management directed me to Joel’s PR guy and he said it was okay. So I went in.

Joel Grey looking off at the mystery man (that’s Bernadette Peters talking to Mary Tyler Moore in the background).

Joel was surrounded by well-wishers — there were 90 invited for lunch. I was seeing all kinds of famous faces – Alec Baldwin, Dominick Dunne, David and Jean Halberstam, Marvin Hamlisch, Fred Ebb, Kate Burton, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Richard Johnson of Page SixLinda Lavin, Larry Kramer, Joe Mantello, Liz Smith, Bebe Neuwirth, Enid Nemy of the New York Times, Mary Tyler Moore, Cindy Adams, Morley Safer and his wife Jane, Bobby Short, Gay and Nan Talese, Barbara Walters, Paula Zahn, producer Fran Weissler, Joel Siegal, Gerry Schoenfeld of the Shubert Theatres, Chita Rivera, Carole Shelley, Diane Judge and Iris Love. A lot of well known New Yorkers. All surrounding the man. Who looks just about the same as he looked thirty-eight years ago when he was up on the stage of the Broadhurt Theatre.

I asked him if I could take a picture. Joel Grey is one of the nicest of the nicest. No problem. Couldn’t be more accommodating. And just as I was about to snap it, a young guy, tall and rangy came up and started talking. I knew I had little time because they were supposed to sit down to lunch. I said, interrupting: “Okay Joel, I’m ready …”

And he turned to me, and the guy next to him automatically put his arm around Joel, buddy-like and was camera ready. I said to the other guy — very bold of me — “No no, not you. Only Joel. I only want Joel.”

No grays at 72 years.

The guy looked a little non-plussed, like “Gee … sorreeee …” and he moved aside, and I took the picture. The first is of Joel looking toward the guy, as if to say, “What can I do, I’ve got this pushy photographer …” And then I took a second. The man at 72 years young.

When I finished, some guy standing next to me said: “How come you didn’t want a picture of Hugh Jackman?”

What? That was the guy I kicked out of the picture. The guy who is on Broadway right now what Joel Grey was on Broadway when he opened in “Cabaret,” the hottest commodity on the Great White Way.

I felt like an ass. I didn’t say anything though; just slunk off to my waiting table in another part of the restaurant. Although, in fact, very often famous faces off-camera or off-stage can be unrecognizable. The camera and the stage do things that the ground floor doesn’t do.

That was lunch. At dinner, it so happened, coincidentally, I’d been invited to a buffet that Judy and Sam Peabody were giving at their Fifth Avenue apartment for Ben Gannon and Robert Fox, the producers of The Boy From Oz, starring the third guest of honor, Hugh Jackman!

I took my camera. I figured he wouldn’t remember me anyway. I was there for about a half hour when he showed up. There must have been forty or fifty there, including, among others Dominick Dunne, Doug Cramer, Blaine and Robert Trump and Blaine’s beautiful mother — who looks like a movie star. Jerry Schoenfeld again with his wife Pat. So I stood on the sidelines until I saw that Mr. Jackman had a spare moment. Then, I went over to him.

“Hi,” he said, as if he recognized me. Oh geez. I told him I’d seen him at Joel Grey’s birthday. He nodded, friendly, big smile, uh-huh. He remembered.

“I’m that idiot who told you to get out of the picture.” He nodded, still big smile, uh-huh, and said something gracious like, “Oh, you’re not an idiot.”

“Well then, you better take the picture,” he said, noticing the camera, still grinning. I did.

Hugh Jackman

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