Sunday, December 28, 2008

During the intermission of the "Nutcracker" by the New Jersey Ballet last week, five-year-old Maeve lined up with other little girls to have the Mouse King sign her program. One of the toy soldiers and the boy who danced the role of Fritz also scribbled their names. Watching Maeve, I thought of the number of times many years ago when I’d stood outside stage doors with my friend Carolyn waiting for actors to emerge. Our goal wasn’t so much the actual autograph as the opportunity to see our favorites up close.

In our early teens, Carolyn and I would take the subway from Flatbush into Times Square (It was even more seedy then!) on many a Saturday afternoon just to wander around the theatre district. We’d watch actors enter the theatre for matinee performances, then exit later and head for a local bar or restaurant for a between-performance meal. When “Picnic” was playing at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street, we were more interested in the star Ralph Meeker than we were of a young actor named Paul Newman who was third or fourth on the cast list in the Playbill. We’d see him, too, walking along the street and even got his autograph.

The ‘50s were also the heyday of live television dramas aired nightly on the three networks. In the lobby of the RCA Building– now the GE Building which still houses the NBC Studios - was Cromwell’s Drugstore. During rehearsal breaks, many of the actors sat at the counter in Cromwell’s and had their lunch. On one particular afternoon there was hardly a soul there when Carolyn and I went in for a soda. The only other people we saw were two guys at the far end of the counter. All of a sudden we realized it was James Dean and another actor, Nick Adams. Of course, we tried to be sophisticated and pretend we didn’t notice; we didn’t fool anyone. All of a sudden, James Dean had his camera out and pretended to photograph us. Of course, this got us giggling.

They were more innocent times. Today, I can’t imagine allowing two 15-year-old girls to wander freely around the theatre district, to take the elevator up to one of the floors of the Brill Building where they'd find the Four Lads in their agent’s office, or who’d be escorted by Mitch Miller backstage at the Roxy Theatre to meet their idol, Guy Mitchell.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Luciano Pavarotti or Cher?

Who would you rather hear sing “O Holy Night”? Since I'm a traditionalist, it's not hard to figure out who I'd choose. Of all the sounds of Christmas, this carol is my favorite. Not only is it beautiful melodically, but it reminds me of my father, who loved it too. Whenever I hear it, my thoughts return to Glenwood Road in Brooklyn, to Christmas Eve, to putting up the tree, to Midnight Mass on a cold, crisp night.

Nowadays, every performer worth his or her place on Entertainment Tonight records a Christmas album. But there are those of us who still prefer Bing Crosby's, Johnny Mathis’, Nat King Cole’s or Perry Como’s renditions of Christmas songs. The very first album I ever received was Bing Crosby’s on which he sang “White Christmas.” (I kept it until this past July when I moved back to New Jersey and had to depart with many things that connected me to the past.) [Photo]I still get teary-eyed when I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Though it was written for those men and women serving in the Armed Forces during World War II, it is equally poignant today as a reminder of all those who serve.

I wasn't prepared for the modernization of the traditional carols and holiday songs until one night during the old Sonny and Cher Show. Cher appeared as the strains of "O Holy Night" began. A few moments later I cringed as she belted out this beautiful carol in typical Cher style. From then on, I was forced to accept the fact that nothing stays the same – not even Christmas carols. Fortunately, PBS occasionally airs reruns of Luciano Pavarotti singing his glorious version.

So when my granddaughter asks for a Christmas CD by the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus, I shudder. But I oblige.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Labels: Christmas carols

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Seamus Heaney

Over the past few years two things have given me hope that America might once again have a leader of whom we can be proud. First there were Barack Obama’s two books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Then I came across the poem The Cure of Troy, written by Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. I pinned this excerpt to my bulletin board to remind myself each day of what is possible.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

To learn more about Seamus Heaney, visit

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Blessed Virgin

I was just putting out the garbage when I noticed the Blessed Virgin Mary standing alongside the dumpster. No, I wasn’t having an apparition. It was a plaster statue. Mary’s left hand was gone, and she looked a little the worse for wear.

When I attended St. Vincent Ferrer School in Brooklyn, we, like many other Catholic schools, devoted the month of May to the Blessed Mother. Once a year, children would make little altars at home. I’d drape a little table in my bedroom with a light blue tablecloth and set my personal statue on it. On the wall above my bed was a framed prayer called “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.”

There are some who think that Catholics pray to statues when they see people kneeling with clasped hands before a statue of Christ, or Mary or Joseph or one of the other saints. That’s not the case. It’s not idolatry. The statue is just a reminder of to whom we’re asking for help or thanking.

Each May, St. Vincent Ferrer held special devotions to Mary. My sister and I still talk fondly of the hymns we sung during the processions to the altar. And, we still know the words to “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother” and “Bring Flowers of the Fairest.” One girl was always chosen to place a bouquet of flowers on the head of Mary’s statue. It was an honor. I was never chosen for that. I seem to remember it was always Carolyn. I wonder if Carolyn remembers.