Speaking of Family: ‘A Star is Born’
So, as I begin to wrap this up, I remember that I almost forgot to tell you about the time I met Pauline Herman, her husband, and their daughter Ann at the “preview/premiere” of ‘A Star is Born’ back in 1976 at the Ziegfeld Theatre.
I think I heard it on the radio, or maybe there was an ad in the paper? No, I think it was the radio, possibly WPLJ – for some reason that sticks in my head. But the news of the day was that later that evening a press preview was being held for ‘A Star is Born’ at the Ziegfeld Theatre. They didn’t call it a premiere – but some lucky fan could call in and win tickets to the screening. Not being lucky I didn’t even dial but decided to hop on the subway and see what was going on. This was the most talked about movie of the year and I couldn’t wait to see it.
Before I left my mother’s apartment in the Bronx I took down off the wall two large posters of Barbra Streisand that I had blown up from images in a book. There used to be a photo booth at Gimbels on 34th Street that would do this sort of thing. I think they were two of my favorite black and white images from ‘The Way We Were’. Now, why I thought I needed to bring these I’ll never know, but I was an odd kid, so sometimes there is no explanation, available or needed.
Not much was happening that December afternoon in front of the Ziegfeld Theatre and I thought I must have heard the information wrong. But I was happy to see the marquee had ‘A Star is Born’ up so I figured I must be in the right place but maybe I got the time wrong. Some guy comes walking up the street with these big black canisters. As green as I was at that age I knew what they were – they were the cases you transported film in.
“Is that ‘A Star is Born’?” I asked.
“Yep, just in time.”
Okay, so that mystery was solved. I was still a little uncertain about what was going on and when it was supposed to go on but I stood tough. No barricades, no police, no nothing. I must have been there for about an hour when two ladies showed up and asked me if was the front of the line. I told them no, I was just loitering, not sure why, but I wasn’t on any line.
We got to chatting about this and that and the older of two inquired about the posters I had with me. So, shy as I was, I told her how much I loved Barbra Streisand, how I went to see ‘The Way We Were’ so many times after my father died, how I am still buying all of her older albums, and so on.
“I’m her aunt.”
“I’m her Aunt Pauline. This is my daughter Ann.”
Now for the life of me I wish I could remember the connection. Pauline Herman was not her mother’s sister or father’s brother but married into the family – maybe Barbra’s mother’s brother was married to her sister – I cannot remember and that pains me because Pauline Herman was one of the nicest people I have ever met and I should remember this. Maybe she was related through the Kind family, again, I don’t remember.
I hope I’m not talking too much, Barbra has so little privacy, but Pauline told me who she bought Barbra her first pair of sneakers, about Roz’s great success losing her weight as a young girl, and so on. Very nice and chatty – nothing scandalous or anything like that.
She was very impressed with these mounted posters I had with me and we started talking about Barbra’s beauty and what not. She thought I was such a nice young man (why, I have no idea – if you saw pictures of me when I was sixteen you would have thought I had been in hibernation eating fatty meats up on a mountain) and told me I should write to Barbra and tell her my story. She took out a piece of paper and wrote down Barbra’s address on Central Park West and told me to write her a “nice note, tell her I gave you the address”.
Seeing as how she gave me something I offered her the posters, never thinking she would take them. Not that my offer wasn’t sincere, it was, but I figured they were “fan” things and she was clearly family, what would she need with posters of Barbra? She took them both.
But wait. She wasn’t finished. She had a picture of Barbra taken at a family reunion/party that was a little blurry and she was wondering if I could take it to my guy at Gimbels and see if he couldn’t maybe fix it up. Well, I’ll see, I’m not so sure what he can do with a blurry picture –
But wait. There’s more.
She and her daughter had a quick little huddle and then Pauline produced a ticket to that afternoon’s screening. Her son-in-law couldn’t make it, he was stuck at work, so if I had nothing to do and if my mother wouldn’t mind me being late for supper –
I’ll take it.
And that’s how I got to see ‘A Star is Born’ before Christmas Day. There was no way my mother would allow me to go to the movies on Christmas Day, the day the picture opened, and this was, truly, ‘The Best Gift’ I ever got. Although that sounds ungracious to all the wonderful socks and sweaters my mother bought for me; she tried, she really did try, and she would take my list of Barbra records around in her bag every Christmas shopping season – but this ticket to ‘A Star is Born’ was truly out of the ball park.
The seating for the preview was general admission. Pauline and I split up – I told her I liked to sit in the back, she told me she liked to sit closer to the front – but she gave me her phone number and asked for mine. I actually thought for a second if I was allowed to give out my home phone number but I gave it to her, thinking that was that.
When the movie was over the scene outside was bedlam. The barricades were up, the police were out in full force, there was something going on.
When you exit the Ziegfeld you empty out into a little courtyard off to the side and I bumped into this nice chatty guy who asked me how the movie was.
And I kept walking – he stopped me. He asked me why I wasn’t hanging around to see Barbra – it seems I was at an afternoon “preview” but there was an “opening” happening later that night – and he said we’d have a perfect view right into the windows of the lobby. I remembered the night ‘Funny Lady’ opened and the madness that went on and I begged off. He thought I was out of my mind, he was nice about it but he thought I was out of my mind.
That weekend my mother and I and I guess my sister went to visit my father’s grave for his 3rd anniversary. I may have remarked on this before but that is always a sad trip and I really felt for my mother and sister. Others were buying scarves or sweaters for their husbands and fathers but my mom and sister were buying Christmas wreaths for his grave. When I got home my brother told me I had a phone message (this was well before answering machines) and showed me the piece of paper he wrote it down on.
Pauline had called. Now, I didn’t grow up in a family where the kids had their own phone numbers. Not many did – only the rich kids in the movies or possibly Patty Duke on her show – but try to think about the insanity of me trying to find a private moment in a Bronx apartment to telephone a lady who lived on Fifth Avenue in order to talk about Barbra. And I did grow up in a family where if the mother asked you whom you were talking to on the phone you better not say “Rin Tin Tin” or she’d wallop you.
Somehow I made the call and Pauline got right down to business.
Did you write that letter to Barbra yet?
When can you come up to the apartment so I can show you this blurry picture?
I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mother.
Okay, ask your mother. And write that letter.
Of course I didn’t ask my mother. If I had said I was going downtown she would have said, “Weren’t you just downtown?” So, I might have told her I was going to the library or something and then walked blocks and blocks out of my way to get the subway because she could see me from the kitchen window if I walked to the elevated on our corner. Oh, the drama. Yes, I would like to have my youth back but only if I can skip the teenaged years.
Somehow I made it Pauline’s apartment building. I had no idea how the building numbers ran on Fifth Avenue; I might have only spied them from the carousel at Central Park, never mind walking into one of them. I almost turned back – I was wearing dungarees and sneakers and I cannot imagine what the doorman was thinking as he rang me up.
Have you ever been in a Fifth Avenue apartment? Whatever you think it might be, Pauline’s was. I felt so unclean. I didn’t know if I should take off my shoes, stand in the kitchen…She was as gracious a hostess as she was a sidewalk date. I wanted to look around and touch everything but I just sat there. She offered up a soft drink, a tray of cookies. Now, I’ve never been one to say no to a cookie but I didn’t dare eat anything for fear of dropping it or smudging some icing on her fabrics.
I don’t remember much of the visit accept my fear of being there. I do know that I was smart enough to tell her that there was no hope for the blurry picture – you can’t unblur blurry. I thought about taking it and trying but I knew there was no hope and I didn’t want to disappoint her later, so I told her the truth.
I sort of lost touch with Pauline. And this was my doing. Our last conversation was on the night Barbra won all those Golden Globes for ‘Yentl’. I never felt worthy of Pauline’s “friendship” (if that’s the right word). And I try to remember if someone pushes me off, or doesn’t want to be my friend, that I did the same thing with Pauline. It was not about her, it was about me. I couldn’t – well, whatever. But I’ve learned to make yourself available to people, offer what you can, and if it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated or appreciated, don’t blame yourself, because peoples’ reaction to you has as much do to about their own reactions to themselves.
This past winter I saw Roslyn Kind in ‘Three From Brooklyn’ on Broadway. Lori knew the guy who helped her dress and I told Lori we were going and I was going to stand around and meet her.
We waited for Roslyn and I told her how much I enjoyed her performance. And if she had a minute, I wanted to ask her about someone in her family.
I thought I saw her eyes flicker, just a bit.
How is your Aunt Pauline?
The moment passed and she told me that Pauline had “passed last year.” I was truly saddened by this. I told Roslyn how proud Pauline always told me she was of her, how kind and sweet she always was with me, and how I think of her often.
Well, Pauline, I never wrote that letter. Maybe what I’m writing is it. I was thirteen when I first saw ‘The Way We Were’, I was twenty-three when ‘Yentl’ was released, and now at the age of thirty-three it is probably time to close the circle. I still have that piece of paper you gave me when we first met, so maybe this will end up to be the letter.