The Third Anniversary ‘Yentl’ Party
“Does anybody want to watch ‘Fresno’?”
That’s the punch line. Remember it. With those six words a very dear friend almost ruined my life.
I guess by now you’ve picked up o the fact that I like parties. I get this from my mother. She was always having a party for some reason or the other and I happen to like having people into the house. So, for the third anniversary of the release of the Academy Award winning film ‘Yentl’ I decided to have a party. I don’t know what the significance of the third anniversary was…I hadn’t had a party in a long time and this was as good as any.
Every mistake I made for the first party I was determined not to make for this one. Not that I made too many mistakes the first time out but I was really going to make this a special event.
First thing on the list was a new paint job. Goodbye to Selsun Blue and hello Dusty Rose. I now had Michael Mayer’s “Haitian Cotton” sectional sofa which I had steam cleaned special for the occasion, his fabulous coffee table, I bought a new wall unit (the first piece of furniture I ever bought) for some ridiculous price. I didn’t have to buy a new television or VCR because they were purchased the year prior for ‘The Broadway Album’ media appearances.
The entire evening was planned to within a minute of perfection. I was serving Italian food with all the trimmings. Prepared by my sister, but I was serving it. I remember going to eight supermarkets before I finally found Knorr Vegetable Dip mix. I wanted to get away from just serving Lipton’s California Onion.
I planned an aggressive agenda but it was completely doable. We were going to watch ‘Yentl’, and the ‘20/20’ program that I now had a copy of on VHS, and the special ‘making of’ program that appeared on the BBC but was shown on a local station. I had purchased, at great expense, the 22-minute documentary ‘I Remember Barbra’. This was filmed memories and comments of people talking about Barbra Streisand, which I had first seen earlier at an “art house” in New York. We were also going to watch the 8mm footage of John Hanrahan from 1976 that I had transferred to VHS with a special commentary from John. He was going to discuss our first sighting of the People magazine where Barbra first spoke about ‘Yentl’. Wait, there’s more.
Michael Mayer was going to give his lovely speech about “Jewish books” and their significance to the Jewish history and the thirst of knowledge that can never be quenched. Alex would follow and show us his unscarred knuckles and his new long hair. Jeffrey Rindler was going to hold a mini-seminar on how the compact diskette of ‘Yentl’ plays at a different speed than the movie soundtrack and what ramifications this may or may not have on the listening audience.
I had taken out of temporary storage and put on full display the ‘Yentl’ library. The magazines, the clippings, all the mementos from 1983, were all available for viewing. I even bought a picture book of New York City apartments that was published in 1983 to remind attendees what the civilization was living in when ‘Yentl’ was released. You can re-read that last sentence again and then decide or you can decide right now if you think I lost my mind. Your call.
Do you think I planned too many events for a four-hour party?
Let me say this right now. If any of you feel those little knots of impending disaster while boarding a plane, don’t get on it. Why wait for the plane to crash to prove you were right all along? I should have listened to my stomach.
For some reason my shirt didn’t fit. I think that reason might have been the six hundred and four Entemenn’s Bavarian Cream cakes I had eaten since November 1983. How did this happen? How cold my shirt not fit? Okay, I wasn’t at my ‘Yentl’ fighting weight, but was I really ballooning at this rate? YES! I was horrified. I tried on another shirt. Same thing. When did my shirts stop fitting? And why was I only finding out about this twenty minutes before the guests arrived? Well, this would not do. I couldn’t stand for the entire party and I refuse to sit down in ill-fitting shirts so that the buttons are popping, what was I to do?
As it was November I decided to wear a sweater over the shirt so I could leave the buttons opened. You all know how I perspire. Who wears a sweater in an apartment? Naked, in a tub of ice water, I am still hot. So I went around and opened every single window in the apartment – thinking no one would notice that it was 45 degrees. I was still sweating and still had all this Italian food to get cooking.
When I am uncomfortable I am useless. No fighting it, I cannot rise above it, I am just useless. As the party started people began closing a window here, another one over there. My face got redder and redder and the water was just pouring out of me. I looked like Liberace’s Dancing Fountains. What was the brilliant advice all my friends gave me? “Why don’t you take off your sweater?” Why? Because I was fat.
Did I mention Alex showed up with a black eye? Now, Alex’s entire presentation for that evening was only going to work if he had no bodily injuries. His knuckles were fine again and this was theme – that all of us were ‘injury free’ since the release of ‘Yentl’. And he walks though my door with a black eye like I’ve never seen. How can he give a talk about spiritual contentment when he’s sporting a black eye?
I dragged Lori Schmidt into the kitchen for a quick conference. Although she was not part of the ‘Yentl’ 1983 festivities, she was a guest at this party. Could she entertain us with her “all the girls from summer camp went to see ‘Funny Girl’ and loved it’ story? She’d think about it, but would not commit.
John Hanrahan absolutely refused to let his “lost footage” be screened. He remembered what the wind did to his hair and was quite upset that the studio had released these out-takes. He would speak about the day in question but absolutely no footage. I asked him to reconsider and he could use the footage to discuss “Changing Hairstyles: 1976-1983”. He looked at me and fixed his jewelry. No. (See: Chapter 2. A Piece of Sky.)
Michael Mayer was running late. When did Erte turn 90? He was doing something with Erte’s trip to the states, or his birthday – I don’t know, something. Now, I’m sorry, I realize Erte was Michael’s business but we’re talking Barbra here. Tell Erte to wait! This is a party for ‘Yentl’ not some Tupperware representative.
Everyone seemed too long setting down. Now, I’m the first one to vote “yes” for a cocktail hour, but we had lots of things to accomplish in just four hours. Then Michael Mayer showed up with bags and bags of Popeye’s Chicken and was in no mood to speak about Jewish books. Jeffrey Rindler couldn’t speak about the differing speaks of the CD vs. album because we hadn’t watched the movie yet.
But I turned up the ‘Yentl’ music, started rearranging the memorabilia and whatnot, but nothing was clicking. Everyone was having a good time, with not one word of ‘Yentl’, but me.
I took matters into my own hands and brought Michael Mayer into the bedroom and told him he had to go out there and give the same Jewish book speech he gave to me three years earlier. He needed to get this crowd under control and focused and he was the only one to do it. I told him how much I was counting on him, that the party was now in his hands. He told me not to worry. He knew exactly what I was looking for.
I was the Marlo Thomas of Jackson Heights. Michael and I went back into the living room and I asked everyone to shut up, Michael has something very important to stay to us. Everyone did shut up and turned to Michael to hear his important words.
“Does anybody want to watch ‘Fresno’?”
Did I mention that Michael loved Diana Ross?
You do remember ‘Fresno’ don’t you? The three-night television movie starring Carol Burnett and Terri Garr? The prime-time spoof of prime-time soap operas?
Obviously I had underestimated its appeal. The crowd went for ‘Fresno’.
I retired from party planning that night. The trends had changed and I hadn’t changed with them. I was out of touch with my audience and it was time for me to close shop. I did not want to stay in business if it meant I had to give ‘Fresno’ parties. Don’t even try to guess. People had a fabulous time and told me it was one of the best parties ever.
The following spring I did not issue invitations to my Oscar party. The afternoon of the awards the first phone call I received was from Jeffrey Rindler. What time is the party? There was no party. He could come by if he wanted but this hostess wasn’t in the mood for a party. Then someone else called, and then another call…so the crowd always comes back but I’ve never had another party. There was no party for ‘Nuts’, there was none for ‘The Prince of Tides’, and there was none for the “boxed set”.
I’ve slowly gotten back into the party circuit. I’ve had a couple of successful hotel parties, they give me a suite at the Lowell every weekend and I ask people around and light a fire and serve a house cocktail. That seems to work. This past September (1993) we all went down to Atlantic City for the Miss America Pageant and I had a pretty good pre-finals party, attended by two of my favorite state delegates of all time from the previous year, Stephanie Patterson (Miss Missouri, Top Ten at Miss America) and Catherine Ann Lemkau (Miss Iowa, First Runner-up at Miss America).
But when it comes to Barbra, I’m still too hurt by the entire ‘Fresno’ experience. I had marked the evening of November 19th, 1993 as the night of the ‘10th Anniversary Yentl Party’ but too much would have to be done and my heart just isn’t in it. Michael Mayer has passed away, my cd player is on the fritz, and I haven’t bought a laser disc player yet. So there will be no party.
To my friends who I am sending this to I suggest you gather your thoughts in private and think about the last ten years. Watch the movie if you want, listen to the music, do whatever you want that brings it back to you. This booklet of stories is your party. This is the chips and dip that you love so much. These pages are the Black Russians that won’t be spilled on my floors or album covers. I will be home and I will look through the photo albums and the magazines and I will watch the movie and applaud Barbra for having some so far and being kind enough to take all of us with her.
What I should have done was rented the Ziegfeld Theatre or that MGM screening room that YIVO wanted to stick us in but who has time anymore? Did we really used to do so much?
Stop the presses: I just heard that Barbra is appearing on ‘20/20’ the night of November 19th. Forget everything you just read above. Party at my place. Free beer, you come.