Chapter 3. ‘Yentl’ Is Having a Premiere

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3.

 

Michael Mayer, Jeffrey Rindler, Me, ‘Yentl’, and YIVO.

How can I even begin to tell you what happened between the spring of 1976 and the fall of 1983?  I could expand on this and go year-by-year, project-by-project, but this is about ‘Yentl’ so I will try to stay focused.  If I have any energy when I finish talking about ‘Yentl’ we can discuss some other issues.

Does anybody remember Michael Mayer?  Michael Mayer, who played a major part in the whole ‘Yentl’ process no longer lives in New York.  He now resides in a cemetery plot in West Palm Beach and seeing how he always loved Florida I am sure it is a lovely area and that he is happy.  I have never been to visit but I will get there one day.

Michael is dead now but he was alive then.  I know you all think John was my right hand man when it comes to Barbra but for ‘Yentl’ those honors are shared with Michael Mayer and Jeffrey Rindler.  When I think of ‘Yentl’ I think of them.  Jeffrey Rindler is very much alive but I will deal with him in a later chapter.

Michael Mayer.

This friendship took a lot of energy.  I was so young and I wish I knew him now, ten years older.  Michael Mayer was originally a friend of John Hanrahan’s.  They met in a bar called The Ninth Circle was John was sixteen (1976) and Michael was twenty-five.  He had at one time been engaged (“Oh, honey, I never told you about Riva?”), broke the engagement, put on his Reno Sweeney T-shirt and hit the bars.  John had already been hitting the bars for about a year (do 15 year-olds still “hit the bars”?) and knew some people and started to talk to Michael when they both ended up standing next to the jukebox.  I think their first conversation might even have been about Liza Minnelli.

So, I had always heard of Michael from John, but never met him.  I bumped into him in Tiffany’s (diner, not the gems store) while he was eating a Rumanian steak.  John introduced us and we talked a bit about ‘The Rose’ for a few minutes and that was it.  Nothing clicked.

Then in the winter of 1982 John and I were both working the mid-night shift as switchboard operators (Harley Hotel, 212 E 42nd Street) and decided to join a gym that we would go to in the mornings.  John did all the shopping and found us a great “two for one deal” at the Body Center (now David Barton’s) on Sixth Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets.  Every morning after doing our wake-up calls we went to the gym just like all with-it young bachelors of the 1980s.

Michael belonged to the same gym and he and John of course already knew each other and I of course new John and then we all arranged to work out together.  Michael was brilliant at the gym.  Any questions he had he went right up to the most gorgeous looking guy and asked.  And he always got an answer.  His theory being that they are working hard at what they are doing and would love to talk about it.  What was even better was his sense of humor about the place.  If we had to wait on line for a machine, Michael would say, “Come on, let’s go” and we’d go to McDonald’s for coffee and cigarettes.  And he would talk, and talk, and talk (“Did I ever tell you about the time Tallulah was on the Merv Griffin Show with Arthur Treacher?”).   He was a complete riot, and we’d eventually make our way back to the weights and pulleys.

Michael sold art.  I always remember him being with Dyansen but I can’t say for sure whom he was with in 1982-83.  Was there a gallery in New York called Circle Gallery?  Well, anyway, he was a salesman.  Anything Michael ever achieved, or owned, he fought for and earned the hard way.  Nothing was ever given to this guy and he really fought every day of his life.

Michael took a certain amount of pity on me…will, pity may not be the right word.  He always said that I was where he was ten years ago and he liked being able to teach me stuff and see me make mistakes and grow and all that.  He thought it was a hoot that I was a fan of Barbra’s.  He thought I deliberately made things difficult for myself for myself because Barbra was so unapproachable and did not work too often and did not do publicity.  There were his opinions, not mine.  He was a fan of Bette Midler and Patti LaBelle and Diana Ross and Tina Turner and let’s face it – one of these girls would hit town every couple of months and you could get tired of seeing them.

Michael got completely caught up in the ‘Yentl’ frenzy.  He thought Barbra was brilliant and he thought my excitement for her reminded him of him sneaking into the Ed Sullivan Theater to watch the dress rehearsals of The Supremes are getting into Fillmore East to see Ike and Tina Turner.  (“’Nut Bush’, honey.  ‘Nut Bush’.”)

He worked me hard that summer.  Does anyone remember the summer of 1983?  Does Diana Ross in Central Park ring a bell?  I had moved downtown in February 1983, one month shy of my 23rd birthday.  I was living on the east side – 1st Avenue and 20th Street (don’t ask me the address, I don’t remember) and Michael was living on the west side – just off 7th Avenue – around 17th or 18th street – maybe it was 16th?  Just ten years ago and I don’ t remember.

That was a fabulous apartment he had.  He had the ground floor, below sidewalk, of a brownstone and it was all done in greys and blacks and whites.  Everything was sectional or modular and pillowed and mini-blinded.  I know have the Michael Mayer coffee table.  It is this white Formica egg-shaped thing in two layers and the top layer swings out.  If it looks a little off-balance that’s because Alex Hampsas and I stood up on it at a Tony Awards party and sang a duet of “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” all the time holding onto our Black Russians.  That Alex.  He used my ‘Yentl’ soundtrack album cover as a coaster for his Black Russian at my Yentl Party but that’s still a few chapters away and better to explain it there.

Well, the spring of 1983 was very busy indeed.  Bette Midler was at Radio City in June.  The restored ‘A Star is Born’ was there in May, Shirley Bassey (if you have not you must) was at Carnegie Hall in June, Lorna Luft was in ‘Snoopy’ at the Lambs Theater in March, John Hanrahan threw me a surprise 23rnd birthday party.  He made my whole living room look like the inside of a red and black tent.  I had always wanted to attend a “Liza Tent Party” because Rona Barrett always used to report on them during the ‘70s and I wanted one.  Everyone wore red and black and smoked red cigarettes.  And ‘Yentl’ was opening in November.

I don’t remember the first time we head that there was going to be a gala premiere co-hosted by the Ms. Foundation and YIVO.  In all likelihood it was probably printed in Liz Smith’s column.  I remember making a quick decision about which organization to hit.  I ruled out the Ms. Foundation completely.  It seemed much too elite and I figured all the tickets would be bought by Martin and Bella Abzug.  Seeing as how I never even heard of the YIVO Institute, well, this seemed like something I could investigate.

I forget now what the YIVO Institute is.  I could look it up in my notes but I don’t have the time.  Of the top of my head I’m going to say that it is a museum created to preserve the letters and artifacts and historical records of pre and post Holocaust Jewish life in Europe.  Evidently, Barbra, or someone connected with ‘Yentl’, had used their research information and the “thank you” was they could co-host the gala premiere as a fund-raiser.  That’s pretty much it, I think.  If anyone needs further explanation on the YIVO institute please feel free to call them direct.

Like I did.  I called them direct and inquired about the premiere.

For only one hundred dollars you got a ticket to the premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater on the Wednesday night before the official opening and you invitation to a sit-down reception at the big Sheraton on Sixth Avenue.  I timidly asked if I, a nobody, could purchase tickets or did I have to be related to Estee Lauder in order to do so.  No, just send us the price of admission.

I called John Hanrahan, Alex Hampsas, Jeffrey Rindler and Michael Mayer (using a rotary dial phone, no doubt) and told them we were doing this.  Everyone agreed accept Jeffrey Rindler.

“Kid, I have to pay my rent.”

When I repeated this to John he said the funniest thing.

“I think Jeffrey should use his rental for ‘Yentl’.”

Isn’t that witty?  Only John.

I must stop this story for a moment.  This should really be the last chapter but I just thought of it so I’m gonna speak it up here.

After the movie ‘Yentl’ opened I had such a feeling of loss.  I remember thinking that I had put so much of my life on hold while waiting for the release of this motion picture.  Anything I needed to do I could after ‘Yentl’.  I vowed never to get caught up in anyone else’s dream – to keep myself focused on myself.  However, looking back on that period, I am amazed at how much activity was actually going on.  In 1983 I moved twice, first out of my childhood home to 20th Street and then in August I moved again from the city to Jackson Heights.  I had a week with Alex on Shelter Island in August; I went to the New School of Social Research to learn word processing so that I could change careers.  I was working two switchboard jobs  – midnights at the hotel and weekend evenings at Manhattan College – going to the gym, seeing every movie released so that knew what kind of competition ‘Yentl’ was up against and on top of all that I was planning ‘Yentl’ premiere events.

I still cannot get over the fact that I moved twice in one year.  I think moving once a decade is sufficient torture.  Last year when I moved out of Jackson Heights and back to Riverdale John has asked wouldn’t it be nice to stay one more year so that I could have the “Tenth Anniversary ‘Yentl’ Party” in the same apartment?  Please John, who has time to be so sentimental?  And anyway, there is no “Tenth Anniversary ‘Yentl’ Party” – but more about that later.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.  The YIVO Institute.  So I ordered our tickets and we are all set to attend the New York World Premiere of the Barbra Streisand film ‘Yentl’.  It would have been easier to give birth.  Standing up.

Michael Mayer was determined that I look my best for the premiere.  My highest recorded weight was 353 pounds back in 1979.  Around that time a bunch of doctors decided to tell me I was diabetic and that I needed to lose weight.  I took their advice (and a couple of handfuls of Black Beauties) and was now maintaining at around 221.  As I’m over six feet four, 221 is close enough to “goal” weight for someone who used to weigh in at 353.  I knew those eleven pounds meant I would not be seen anytime soon in see through Scassi evening pajamas but at least I could fit through the doors of the I.R.T. subway.

“Close enough” were two words that Michael Mayer never wanted to hear.  “Close enough” are not words of achievement and accomplishment.  He gave me several speeches on the fact that words hold us back and by saying the words “close enough” I was giving up the war without engaging in battle.  He was determined that I lose those eleven pounds and walk into the Ziegfeld Theater as skinny as possible.

Those eleven pounds were (and still are) the hardest to lose.  At 221 I had settled into some “normal” eating habits for the first time in my life.  Oh, sure, Michael and I would still go to the bakery for our coffee and Rugalah to bring to the movies (the only way to go) and French Fries had found their way back onto my plate (and into my mouth) but, all in al, I was still maintaining at 221.  Thin people eat French Fries, why shouldn’t I (as my former boss Leona Helmsley might say).

Michael cut all those extra little extras right out and intensified my gym workouts.  O longer did we hop across the street to McDonald’s and cigarettes.  We were now committed to a full gym experience.  Well, one of us was.  Michael now had his lox and bagels delivered to the gym from the Hollywood Diner on 6th while I made do with water.  And because he had to make sure I was exercising every minute he no longer worked out.  Well, pardon me for only doing 98 leg-lifts.  What a summer.

Two weeks before the premiere I weighed in at 212 pounds.  After sauna.  I told Michael that was the last official ‘Yentl’ weigh-in.  If I didn’t make it, I didn’t want to know and if I did make it, fine, I wouldn’t need the proof.  Michael said something to me I will never forget.  “You look great honey.  You are close enough.”

I hate a challenge and I hated him.  Two weeks later I got on the scale.  Two hundred and ten pounds – even.  Pass the cream cheese, the sun has set, the fast is over, wake me when the kids want to go home.

In 1973 I might not have been able to figure out how to fit in my seat for ‘The Way We Were’ but in 1983 I was going to the premiere of ‘Yentl’ with a figure.  And room to spare.

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