Alex Hampsas, Diana Ross and the Summer of 1983
Do you know how they always say you can’t have one thing with the other? For instance McDonald’s and Burger King. Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Dallas’. Hertz and Avis. Diana and Sarah. ‘Yentl’ and Diana Ross. Diana Ross? Let me explain.
Diana Ross in Central Park the summer of 1983 was clearing a defining moment for me. Just like I will never forget ‘Yentl’, I will never forget Miss Ross.
I had heard The Supreme was going to be performing live and in concert in Central Park. Well, let me say this. She shouldn’t have. Any singer who sings in Central Park is going up against the memory of the one and only Barbra Streisand and her historic appearance ‘A Happening in Central Park’. I really think it should never be done. I felt violated. She might as well have remade ‘Funny Girl’ (which let’s be honest she tried to do with ‘Lady Sings the Blues’. Am I the only one who notices some structural borrowing?)
Alex and I had spent the spring and summer hanging out together. He was “in-between” relationships at the time and my apartment in town was our crash pad. I don’t remember a thing we did, but I know I had a blast. Alex would get on the N train from Queens dressed in these little bitty shorts and with his shirts all cut up like he was in ‘Flashdance’. Get the picture? He would not be “in-between” for long.
As it turns out a co-worker of Alex’s introduces him to Jimmy Connors. Now, in all these years I never got it straight if it was Connor or Connors but does it matter? Alex went crazy nuts over this guy. Jimmy was a very pleasant fellow. Tall and thin (hateful), good looking like you wouldn’t believe and a charming personality. Anyone who laughs at my jokes is classified as having a charming personality and Jimmy was always laughing.
Alex and Jimmy had quite an intense summer. One might say they were on fire. Alex always took things to the max. Later in the summer he was out on Shelter Island and I got this frantic phone call to meet his friend Patty, the one who introduced him to Jimmy, in the Diamond District because she was picking up a diamond post earring (say that as if you’re chewing gum – dyemin pos errin) for Alex to give to Jimmy. Jimmy was headed out to the Island with Patty and Alex wanted to give it to him right then. He could not, would not wait another week, or another day. I had to meet her because I had cash. Remember I was working midnights so two o’clock in the afternoon was the middle of the night for me. But off I went to the Dyemin Districk, met up with Patty and the deal was closed. The energy of youth.
But that’s neither here. Nor there actually. Their first date was the same night as the Diana Ross concert in Central Park. Somebody out by their way (Queens) had Wometco Home Theater (cable provider) and they were going to go that way and watch it. Even though all of New York was concentrating on Miss Ross, we only had thoughts of the ‘big date’. I was happy that something other than the concert was occupying my mind so I gave my full attention to Alex. I last talked to him about 1pm and told him I was going to sleep and have a great time with JimmeeKahna (they were both natives of Queens so try to imagine what the two of them sounded like) and he should call me if he needed anything.
I don’t remember what time the phone rang…5:15? 5:30? It was John Hanrahan.
“Are you watching ‘Live at Five’?”
“You’ll love it. Sue Simmons says it’s raining over the Tappanzee Bridge and Tarrytown and that it’s going to rain in Central Park tonight!”
I bolted up in bed and lit a cigarette.
“It’s gonna storm! She’s gonna be rained out! The clouds are forming!”
I turned on the television set and sat and smoked my cigarette and watched in awe as the storm clouds gathered overhead and waited for the deluge. It rained and it rained and it poured. All those Apollo lift-offs my mother made me watch when I didn’t want to and now finally I felt like I was watching some real history. I was vindicated. Diana should never have attempted to out-do Barbra and she was paid back in full. I turned off the TV and took out ‘A Happening in Central Park’, played ‘Natural Sounds’ on volume seven so my neighbors could hear what a real concert should sound like and went back to bed.
All this thrilled Alex because the next night he and Jimmy would have another first date as Diana tried it again. Alex worked at the Shubert Organization at the time and for some reason got two tickets, but he and Jimmy were going back to the WHT apartment party so I went to Central Park with Karen, another co-worker of Alex’s.
Now you are all saying it was a free non-ticketed event, and it was, but just to the side of the stage was a V.I.P. section. We had side view seats of the stage, the crowds were on the other side of a plywood wall – I didn’t even see them, had no concept of the amount of people out there. On our side of the wall were about 100 members of the press, photographers, industry people and general whatnot. It was an intimate little group and Miss Ross kept (or so it seemed) playing to us because we were closer to her than the masses. I have nothing to say about the show. The most boring two hours I ever sat through (and I saw ‘Merlin’ with Doug Henning and Chita Rivera).
WABC Radio interviewed me after the concert. I said, “The only person who should perform in Central Park is Barbra Streisand. Miss Ross had us singing along to so many of her songs I thought we were working for her.” Diana Ross was the original Karaoke machine – I never heard her finish a song by herself.
Karen and I had a head start out of the park; we were among the first people to hit Central Park West. I actually felt the surge, or the wave of all the people behind us trying to get out of the park at the same time. She asked if she could hold my hand so she wouldn’t be trampled on or get lost in the crowd. We left the park safely and were well away before anything got out of control.
Alex and Jimmy dated for some time. I don’t remember how long but it seemed like forever (as time does seem to anyone under 25 years old). I hosted a surprise birthday party (or I hosted Alex as he hosted the party) in my apartment for Jimmy sometime later that year – or was it the next year? Alex and Jimmy have pretty much lost touch. Alex and I are still friends. We met while waiting on line to buy tickets for Liza Minnelli at Carnegie Hall back in 1979. We didn’t think to exchange numbers but we bumped into each other again a little bit later while waiting on ling for Bette Midler’s ‘Divine Madness’ show on Broadway.
The first time I ever called Alex’s house was on Thanksgiving Day 1979 to tell him Liza was marrying Mark Gero, and that they were expecting a baby. His mother hated me calling so early. As I hung up the payphone somewhere on a corner of Central Park West I heard this big roar from the crowed. Was it Gloria Vanderbilt in her Cinderella float? No, it was Diana Ross as the stem in the Daily News sponsored Big Apple float.
Now, you might not believe this but I happen to love Diana Ross. It doesn’t take a dime store psychologist to figure out that I wasn’t mad at her. I was mad that her fans got to see her. I was only seven years old when Barbra gave her concert in the park and as she has retired from live performing I just was not too thrilled that Diana’s fans could just wander in from work, or the hot-dog stand and see a free concert. I thought she was treated shabbily in ‘Dreamgirls’ (a show I really did not care for), and there is no fighting it – she is The Supreme Miss Ross.
But stay off the lawn.