Chapter 5. The ‘Yentl’ Party

My Selsun Blue living room in Jackson Heights.  1983.  Notice Barbra's picture on the far table.

My Selsun Blue living room in Jackson Heights. 1983. Notice Barbra’s picture on the far table.

5.

The ‘Yentl’ Party

I mentioned earlier that I moved during the summer of 1983.  Also mentioned was this was my second move of the year, the first occurring in February.

I moved from 20th Street and 1st Avenue to 37-43 88th Street, Apt. 5-H Jackson Heights, NY  11372.  Rotary dial 718-478-7247.

Why Jackson Heights?  Well, it just sort of happened.  I was paying $475 for my share of a two bedroom, one bath in Manhattan.  I thought this was excessive even for 1983 prices.  Ernesto, the captain at Mindy’s restaurant at the Harley Hotel, where I was working as a telephone operator, decided to buy a house and vacate the apartment.  Mindy’s was named after Leona Helmsley – that’s her nickname).  He was always selling watches or suits and I used to joke with him that when he had some real estate to sell to see me then.  The rent was a grand total of $365 per month, two bedrooms, one bath and an archway that led from the entry foyer to the living room.  I figured “why not?”  I didn’t have an archway where I was.   Having grown up in the Bronx a 35-minute subway ride was not a problem for me.  I didn’t get any of my reading done when I lived on 20th Street.

So I moved.  Some other time when the focus is not on ‘Yentl’ I’ll go into the horror stories of moving and setting up home.  For now, all you need to know is although I painted the living room a lovely Selson Blue (after the shampoo) the floors were trashed during the process.  John had warned me to “cover those floors good” but I was over it and not much a floor coverer so the floor in the entrance hallway was a beautiful mosaic of all the other colors in the house.

I hadn’t attended to this since I moved in a few months prior but now that I was having a Yentl Party to celebrate the premiere of the Barbra Streisand film ‘Yentl’ it was time to attend.  I couldn’t have people in with the floors such a mess.  Well, not that it was a mess, but, I mean, here’s Barbra going off to Communist bloc countries to film a movie and I couldn’t even scrape a floor?  That wouldn’t look right.  So invited everyone over for a Yentl Party and then didn’t do a damn thing about it until just hours before.

I had taken the week off from work prior to the opening of the film.  This is what the schedule looked like:

Sunday: The Yentl Party

Monday: Final fittings and accessory shopping

Tuesday: See Monday

Wednesday: The Ms. Foundation and YIVO Institute benefit premiere of a Barbra Streisand film ‘Yentl’

Thursday: “20/20” Presents Barbra Streisand, Papa Watch Me Fly.  Private screening at Michael Mayer’s apartment

Friday: Opening day of ‘Yentl’ at the Ziegfeld Theatre, first performance to be attended by Joseph Naughton and Jeffrey Rindler

I think this was a pretty full calendar of events for a group of people who had absolutely nothing to do with the movie.

I’m not a cleaner.  I don’t the process, I can’t mix detergents, and I have no patience.  I can vacuum, but as this apartment had hard wood floors, I would just spray some Pledge on the bottoms of my socks and slide around.  With that being said, whom did I think I was kidding trying to get my home in shape in two days?

I had three pieces of mix and match bureaus in my bedroom that I wanted to paint black and I had the front hall to clean.  Believe me, that paint was glommed onto the floor.  Friday night I started painting the furniture and continued that process on Saturday.  Saturday afternoon I did the liquor and dry goods shopping and Saturday evening it was time to clean the floor.

I will never forget this as long as I live.  Every time I scrubbed and scrubbed to make a drop of paint disappear it still looked like there was still a million drops left.  Try erasing ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ dot by dot.  I was on my hands and knees scrubbing with bristle brushes and scouring pads, trying to get down to the natural wood.  I knew I had to get every spot.  Why?  Because John Hanrahan would walk in and say, “You missed a spot under the bookcase.”  Thank God Michael Mayer had me working out in the gym all summer because my arms were getting such a pounding.

At around 11pm I needed a break and went out and bought the Sunday New York Daily News.  The magazine section had Barbra on the cover and a long telephone chat with Liz Smith was reported on inside.  This got me through the night.  I just read it over and over.  I loved her new look and I really loved all the press coverage ‘Yentl’ was getting.  From the moment New York magazine put that little picture on their Fall Preview cover it had been non-stop Barbra.  Oh, happy days.

Finally, the floor was done and I fell into bed, happily inhaling the fumes of the still drying paint on the bureaus.

I woke up on Sunday morning the exhilarated.  This would be the last Sunday of my life that I could say “I’ve never seen ‘Yentl’.”  Every Sunday of my life starting with the next one would be a Sunday after I’d seen the movie.   Stuff like that just gives me what to think about.

I don’t remember the menu.  I never plan good menus.  I never know if people expect dinner or not.  So it’s usually a hybrid of foods.  I love chips and dip and hate vegetables; I probably served a London Broil.  I don’t know.

I do know that people had a good time.  It was all very exciting.  I know it doesn’t seem like much to someone who wasn’t there, or it might not have been Hollywood, but I can go on record as saying we were all thrilled at the prospects of the movie and we were all happy to be together.  I advise anyone to have as many parties as they can when they first get their own homes.

I had planned to play the soundtrack during the party.  John Hanrahan made an impassioned plea not to hear it.  He wanted to see the movie “pure” without any pre-conceived notions or ideas on how a song should be staged or used.  As every vote was a majority we agreed with him.  We played other Barbra records, some other records, and just hung out and smoked cigarettes and made drinks.  As Velma Kelly would say, “sitting around boozing and having a few laughs.”

It was a wild party.  Everyone was in such a happy mood.  Alex used my ‘Yentl’ album cover for a coaster but who cares?  We were drinking so many Black Russians and getting a little sloppy as the evening went on and I was much too happy to argue about it.  The highpoint of the evening came when John screamed out, “I want to hear the album!”  So we listened to the album.  Everyone loved it and then we played it again, louder, and everyone loved it even more.

You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced John at one of my parties.  I have pictures of my mother’s friends at her parties and John’s Aunt June at their family parties and this is how I picture John – legs crossed at the end of the sofa with a big bag on the floor.

But, he was a handful as a guest.  The first rule was to tell him that the party started an hour earlier than it actually did.  This meant that he would at least show up in time for dessert.  John always picks out the best seat in the house and staying there.  If anyone wants to visit with him they have to find him and wait in line.  I on the other hand would never sit down.  Do you remember the Malibu party scene in ‘A Star is Born’ when Judy Garland is walking around in that (hideous) orange party gown asking everyone if they want to see a picture, do you want to see a film?  That’s me.  I talk far too much about far too little.  I have one goal left in life and that is to stop talking.  If I never talk to another person in my life I think I could die happy.  I’m so impressed when I go out to the bars and see people are aren’t talking.  It must be so nice to be able to stand there and keep your mouth shut for three hours.  This is going to take some time but I hope by the time I’m forty I will have shut up completely.

Back to John.  So, he would sit on the couch and visit with whomever came over to him.  He would speak just above a whisper.  This comes from all that training he had in the clubs.  John always says that if you talk “under the music” you can be heard better than if you try to shout above it.  Every forty minutes or so John would stand up, fix his slacks, straighten out his wrist jewelry and go to the bathroom for a hair and make-up check.   He would then go to the bar and whisper, “Does anybody need anything?”  Of course nobody heard him and he would only have to fix his own drink.  There would be one last mirror check in the foyer and then he’d float back to his seat.  If someone had taken his place on the sofa he would simply whisper, “Thank you for taking care of my place.  I’m back now.”  And he’d stand, no not stand – pose there until they got up.  He would sit down, put his drink on his coaster, re-fix his wrist jewelry, cross his legs and light a cigarette.

Talk about the androgyny of the soul.

About 2 a.m. I walked Jeffrey Rindler to the elevator.  We said our goodbyes and I went back into the party.  Forty minutes later another guest thought it was time to go (I don’t remember who) and I walked them to the elevator.  I opened the elevator door and standing there was Jeffrey Rindler.

“Kid, I’m stuck in the elevator.”

“What do you mean, kid?  How come you’re stuck?”

“Kid, the elevator won’t move.”

“Kid, did you push L?”

“No, kid. I thought you pushed L.”

Had I been wearing heals I might have fallen off them.  This was the funniest think I had ever seen in my life.  All twenty-three years of it.  Now, granted we were both bombed out of our minds but this was pretty out of control.  He thought I pushed the button, I thought he would have pushed the button and he’s standing there for three quarters of an hour waiting for the elevator to move?  He had me in tears.

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Well, I put the other guest in the elevator (I’m thinking it must have been Michael Mayer) and making sure I pushed L bid them goodnight and brought Jeffrey back into the party that was still in full swing.  Everyone was thrilled to see Jeffrey (I thought it was a sign from God that he hadn’t made it to the lobby) and insisted he come back in “for more.”  If I don’t see him for months at a time I still get the same rush as when I opened the door and saw him there.  He will always be there for me and I hope we’ll always be there for each other.

Stop right now.

I almost forget to tell you the disaster that almost ruined the week.  Saturday, while I was cleaning, I received a telephone call from the YIVO Institute.  Apparently there had been a rush for tickets and the premiere was over sold.  They were giving me two options.  A full refund of the money or we could attend a screening of the film in the private MGM screening room instead of the Ziegfeld Theatre and still attend the party.

For once in my life I did not make a hasty decision just to keep some authority figure happy.  I explained to her that there were other people involved and that they would be my guests on Sunday and I would put the situation on the table then.  I told her it would be Monday before she could have an answer.

When I told them they were outraged.  At this point I didn’t care (maybe it was the paint fumes).  I had waited so long for this movie and now it was too close for me to think about in a rational fashion.  So close and still so far.  I’m always sort of hovering but never landing on the target.  Michael Mayer told me not to worry.  He told me to meet him at the YIVO Institute on Monday morning (the next day) at 11 a.m. and he would straighten everything out.

If anybody could tell anyone to go to L it was Michael Mayer.

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