BITS and PIECES # 48

2

May 29, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 48
Hello again from Luquillo,

Here’s another story from the past — it describes a long weekend spent in Manhattan with my actor father in the late 1950s…

I think you might enjoy it…

n.b.: For those of you who are following it, I should have part III (the final episode) of ‘The Turkey Trot Chronicles ready to read in a couple weeks, if all goes well — I’m ‘sandwiching’ its edit in between other writing projects (e.g., ‘the Stowaway Snails’ illustrated children’s book), and so on…

Anyway, here’s this week’s story…

GARDEN PARTY

I had made a reservation at the fusty old Algonquin hotel on west 44th street in Manhattan. My father ‘headquartered’ often at this historic lodging when he was in town performing in a play or filming a TV series. I was anxious to experience its quirky literary and theatrical ethos at first hand…

It was May, 1959; I had recently flown across the country from Los Angeles to the east coast. Company policy dictated that its scientists and engineers fly first class (so we would be ‘rested’ upon arrival!), so I spent the trip luxuriating in the topnotch accommodations of a Trans-World Airlines Lockheed 1020G Constellation. Arriving in Boston, I hired a car and drove to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod, where I spent the following week in consultation with Air Force scientists and engineers at the top-secret Experimental SAGE Site (ESS)…

My father was in Manhattan, finishing-up taping a revival of his acclaimed 1953 TV series ‘The Adventures of Colonel Flack’, which he had originally performed ‘live’ for the Dumont Television Network. The series had been brought back by popular demand, and all 39 previous episodes were being re-staged and ‘kinescoped’ by CBS for syndication in cities across the nation…

I decided to retain my rental car when my business with the Air Force was finished, and drive to Manhattan where I could reconnect with him over an extended weekend before flying home to Los Angeles. Lately, we seldom saw one another due to our busy traveling schedules…

He was staying at the Lambs Club, the historic social club for actors, songwriters and others involved in the theater. It was conveniently located on west 44th street, a few blocks up from the Algonquin…

Late Friday afternoon, after checking in at the front desk, and following the bellman to my room, I called dad from the phone on my bedside table. He had just come from a hard day’s shooting at CBS, and wanted to relax for an hour or so. He suggested that we meet for dinner at Toots Shor’s at 8 pm. Shor’s famous restaurant and saloon was only a short distance from the hotel on west 51st street, so I elected to walk over that evening, after I showered and changed clothes…

That night, while we enjoyed a pair of Toots Shor’s thick, juicy New York sirloins, and rapidly depleted a bottle of quite agreeable Bordeaux claret, dad revealed that he had been invited to a garden party at the summer estate of Donald Alvord, an old friend of his from the 1930’s. The estate was located in the Hamptons on Long Island, which he assured me was not far away from Manhattan, while strongly encouraging me to accompany him, since it would be “Quite a pleasurable trip, old boy, and besides, we will have an opportunity to catch-up on things”. A chauffeured limousine would pick us up promptly at 10 am in front of the Lambs club. I readily agreed to his plan, although I had no idea where (or even what) the ‘Hamptons’ were, and, as a ‘hayseed from southern Californian, I held only a rough concept of where Long Island was located…

After dinner, when we adjourned to Toots Shor’s justly famous oversized circular bar for a nightcap and some more catching-up we bumped into an old and treasured family friend (and one of my surrogate uncles): actor Leon Belasco. He was currently appearing with Don Ameche and Hildegard Neff in the Cole Porter musical ‘Silk Stockings’ at the Imperial Theater on west 45th street. He had stopped by Toots Shor’s for a drink after the evening performance. We gossiped for a while, and then dad turned to me and said “Since I’m filming tomorrow, why don’t you find a matinee performance to attend, and we’ll get together at the Algonquin later for dinner”. When I said I would look around for an available ticket, Mr. Belasco broke in to make me a wonderful proposal I could hardly refuse: “Butch”, he said, “how would you like to watch our musical Silk Stockings from the wings (e.g.; backstage)?” Wow, I thought, would I!! “I would love it Mr. Belasco” I hurriedly replied…

So, the next afternoon I watched the musical from backstage; the best seat in the house! Arriving early, I quickly found Mr. Belasco after being directed to his dressing room. He took me around and introduced me to Mr. Ameche, Ms. Neff, George Tobias, Gretchen Wyler and other cast members, and then I was led to a vantage point just off stage right and given a folding chair to sit upon while I watched the performance. It all went by in a wonderful blur, and before I knew it I was thanking Mr. Belasco, waving goodbye to my new ‘friends’, and making my way back to the hotel in a blissful reflective daze…

When I came down from my room that evening, I found my father seated at a small table next to the lobby’s grandfather clock, thoughtfully sipping St. Ledger and Appolinaris water (his favored ‘Scotch and Polly’ cocktail) while waiting for me to appear. We ate an early dinner in the Algonquin’s legendary ‘Rose Room’, formerly the home base of the celebrated ‘Algonquin Round Table’, a group of writers, critics, actors and wits whose members included such luminaries as Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connolly, Tallulah Bankhead, Edna Ferber and Harpo Marx, among others…

After dinner, I persuaded my father to go across town with me to the Village Vanguard, a jazz club on south 77th street, in Greenwich Village. Don Shirley, the renowned pianist and composer was performing there, and although dad was no jazz aficionado, I thought he might enjoy listening to Mr. Shirley’s virtuoso arrangements, especially his treatment of Negro ‘spirituals’ of which dad was inordinately fond. Happily, he enjoyed himself enormously, tapping his feet to the jazz beat. During the break, Mr. Shirley passed by our table, and recognizing my father, stopped, introduced himself and after some preliminaries, mentioned how much he had enjoyed himself as a young boy when his mother took him to see a production of DuBose Heyward’s 1927 stage play ‘Porgy’ that dad had directed with an all-black cast at Los Angeles’ Biltmore theater in 1938. Dad thanked Mr. Shirley profusely, adding wryly that he was “pleased to hear that you and your mother had a chance to see it, old boy, as it folded for lack of interest shortly thereafter.” We all got a chuckle out of that…

The next morning, I was at the Lambs at the appointed hour. The limo arrived promptly at 10 am, and we were quickly and smoothly propelled out of the city and were soon passing through the south fork of Long Island and onto the Montauk highway, on our way to the Hamptons and Mr. Alvord’s garden party…

As we turned onto the private road leading to the estate, I got my first look. The main house was a splendid Victorian mansion set on a slight rise, with an expansive, meticulously trimmed lawn extending all the way to the rocky shoreline which featured a boathouse attached to a short wooden pier. As we disembarked from the limo, I noticed that a large white canvas tent was set-up on the lawn. I quickly determined that it was meant to shelter the guests and a sumptuous array of delicacies from the bright summer sun. The tempting fare was arranged on long, white table-clothed benches, manned by liveried butlers. Iced buckets of champagne and rows of fluted glasses were strategically located along the tables…

When our host, Mr. Alvord spied my father alighting from the limo, he bustled over to greet him, and when I was introduced, he graciously smiled and said that he remembered meeting me as a young boy at our Beverly Hills home in 1942. They soon wandered off, arm in arm, deep in conversation leaving me to fend for myself…

The bright sun caused me to squint through slitted eyes at the array of guests — men in blue blazers, white flannel pants — bare feet stuffed into shiny boat shoes. The ladies wore colorful, silky summer outfits with their manicured and painted toes peeking from leather sandals. It all seemed very ‘Gatsbyesque’, and I felt terribly out of place in my rumpled, three button, dark gray whipcord ‘engineer’s’ suit, flashy Rooster tie and scuffed Florsheim wing-tip oxfords…

It was hours since breakfast, and I was ravenous, so I wandered over to the tent to sample the delicacies. As I was working on a tasty iced shrimp dipped in hot sauce, the man standing to my right turned and extending his hand in greeting, declaimed “Chandler Hovey Cooper, please call me ‘Chad’, I’m in oil, what’re you in?”

I repressed an urge to inspect his boat shoes, naked ankles and white flannel pants cuffs for any evidence that he might have inadvertently stumbled into a pool of viscous lubricant, and instead, offered my hand and replied “I’m Alan Mowbray, an engineer with the RAND Corporation”. “How fascinating”, he replied disinterestedly, scooping a handful of shrimp onto a napkin, and wandering off, presumably to find someone even more fascinating than me to chat with…

I wandered down to the boathouse, looked inside and found a rowing scull. I removed my suit coat, took off my shoes and socks and rolled them in my coat along with my tie and placed the bundle on a shelf in the corner of the boathouse. I got in the scull, untied it, unlimbered the oars and sped away into the sound, spending the next hour or so sightseeing from my nautical vantage point…

Returning, I tied off the boat again, retrieved my suit coat, shoes, socks and tie, and wandered back to the tent in search of my father. He had been looking for me — the limo was waiting and he was anxious to return to Manhattan…

We arrived at the Lamb’s Club around 5 pm. I thanked dad for a great afternoon, and a wonderful weekend, and said goodbye — I was leaving for Los Angeles on a United Air Lines flight (first class, of course) early the next morning, and he would be back at work at CBS filming another ‘Flack’ episode. We shook hands briefly (an Englishman and his son seldom display their affection in public), and agreed to keep in closer touch…

And so it went — an eventful long weekend in Manhattan…

© 2014 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 48

  1. mkhulu says:

    More good stuff, Captain.

  2. paul herriott says:

    alan:great item..was there in all those places…biz right now for a few days then will respond with “Time”..ph

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: