Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Persian Room!

Dinah Shore at The Persian Room
"Some of my happiest days and nights were spent in the Plaza Hotel and the Persian Room. Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers packed them in every night. 
Great Memories!" - Andy Williams

Happy Wednesday!


Tonight in New York, you can  see Petula Clark at Feinstein's, Paulo Szot at The Carlyle, Lorinda Lisitza and Ted Stafford at The Metropolitan Room.


In the heyday of cabaret when they were called nightclubs, one of the most magical places  was within the Plaza now existing only in memory: the nightclub known as the Persian Room. For more than forty years, from 1934 to 1975, the Persian Room was the place to be in New York City. An unparalleled array of performers graced its stage—everyone from the incomparable Hildegarde and Kay Thompson to Julie Wilson, Andy Williams, Lainie Kazan, and Michelle Lee.

And, though more than three decades have passed since the final ovation, there are many from both sides of the footlights who remember this extravagant nightclub with great fondness.

Now there is a wonderful book celebrating this rich part of New York's rich nightlife history!

VANTAGE PRESS
CELEBRATES THE RELEASE OF
by Patty Farmer
The first-ever oral history of the Persian Room -New York's premiere cabaret for four decades.

And for one night only I will be celebrating in that rich history to celebrate the release of this book. I will be joining author and host, Patty Farmer, as celebrity chef Todd English and famous Persian Room luminaries' such as Marge Champion, Celeste Holm, Barbara Van Orden, Tony Butala, Lesley Gore, Betty Johnson, Hilary Knight, Julie Wilson, Leslie Uggams, Tony Sandler, Don Dellair and more as we gather to celebrate the release of “The Persian Room Presents.” 
 
A portion of the proceeds from each sale will be donated to Childhelp for the treatment and prevention of child abuse.
 
Eddie Fisher  and Connie Stevens in the Persian Room - Credit: Corbis
Call it the biography of a place, a collaborative memoir, a history-but whatever you call it, The Persian Room Presents will transport you to the most elegant and magical night spot New York has ever known. In this dishy, personal, and compulsively readable book, dozens of celebrities reminisce about their experiences performing and partying at the Plaza and they all agree on one thing: there's never been anyplace like it. For more than forty years, from 1934 to 1975, the Persian Room was the place to be in New York City. An unparalleled array of performers graced its stage. And, though more than three decades have passed since the final ovation, there are many from both sides of the footlights who remember its charms. Among the many stars who spoke for the record are Andy Williams, Marge Champion, Polly Bergen, Diahann Carroll, Connie Stevens, Lesley Gore, Patti Page, Carol Lawrence, Jack Jones, Michele Lee, Lainie Kazan, Julie Wilson, Tony Butala, Tony Sandler, Celeste Holm, Kaye Ballard, and Roslyn Kind. Don Dellair regaled the author with humorous tales of both Hildegarde and Liberace. Hilary Knight-the legendary illustrator who brought Eloise to life-spoke wistfully of Kay Thompson and Lisa Kirk.
Ethel Merman, Gary Morton and Lucille Ball at the Persian Room - Credit: D'Arlene Studios

Wow! What a rich legacy. Marge Champion, Julie Wilson, and Celeste Holm have all become dear friends of mine And I have been lucky enough to see Connie Stevens, Leslie Gore, Carol Lawrence, Jack Jones, Michelle Lee, and Lanie Kazan on stage.

I can't help imagining the excitement what it would have been like to have seen them on stage at the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel in the heyday of New York City's nightlife?

I moved to New York in 1979. New York and the world was an interesting crossroads. There was no Internet, the world of cable television had not grown to what it has become. If you wanted to see a classic or older film, you watched it on the late show or went to revival houses.
Video and cable was still in the future as well as "home entertainment" centers. New York was just emerging from one of the worst economic periods in its history and people were going out again. There WAS a nightlife. I don't think that it was as rich as what I consider the heyday of New York nightlife, the 40s through the early 70s, but it was rich. Unfortunately, in the mid-80s, the AIDS crisis hit hard. Then the Internet world opened big, and with home entertainment centers and hundreds of channels to choose from… that definitely put a dent in people desiring to get out of the house and going to see live shows. Then in 2011, the world drastically changed from the world we once knew.

I could write books on my thoughts with what is wrong with the paradigm of New York City Cabaret. It has shifted from the world of elegant well-dressed patrons going to see major stars to…. Well, you can fill in the blanks. A few years ago, James Gavin wrote an incredible book celebrating the rich history of New York City's nightlife. And next month, a new book will share a space on my bookshelf.


Patty Farmer has compiled a book celebrating one of New York's greatest cabaret rooms, the Persian room at the Plaza Hotel.
Since she was a little girl, Patty Farmer dreamed of living at the Plaza-just like that scamp Eloise, whose storybook adventures she relished. Decades later, that dream came true and she found herself permanently ensconced in an apartment on the eighth floor of the famed hotel-and more passionate than ever about exploring every nook of it and immersing herself in its history.

The Persian Room Presents is the first book in a series she is planning about many aspects of her beloved landmark home.
Patty Farmer
I spoke with Patty this morning and it was like talking to a long lost friend. For one thing, she shares the same passion for bygone era that I do. Interestingly enough, Patty is not an entertainer herself, but rather someone who feels that this history needs to be told. And I couldn't agree more. Patty told me that it took her about two years to compile this book.
As mentioned earlier, this is an oral history. Patty traveled back and forth across this great country of ours, interviewing and recording those that were there and those that have a connection with those that were there who've passed on.

The first interview that Patty was able to conduct was with the wonderful Kaye Ballard. Kaye put Patty in touch with Hillary Knight, who illustrated Kay Thompson's Eloise books, and Patty was off and running.

Patty shared with me so many wonderful stories and anecdotes that are covered in her book. I am choosing not to divulge too much here in hopes that you too will buy the book. It is available through pre-order at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.. They will start to be shipped on March 1.

Persian Room wall paper/Book Front pages - Credit: Courtesy of "The Persian Room Presents"
I will touch upon several delicious tidbits you'll read about in this book One such story is the night that Polly Bergen was appearing in the Persian Room. In Polly's show, she did a medley of Helen Morgan of Helen Morgan, songs. One night after the show, after Polly returned to her room, she received a phone call from the front desk that there was a woman who insisted upon seeing her. After finding out that this woman happened to be Helen Morgan's mother, Polly invited her up to her room.
Morgan's mother ended up selling Polly the television rights to the Helen Morgan story, and the rest, they say, is history.

The Persian room has such a rich legacy. In Sabrina, for example, Humphrey Bogart tells secretary to get a table for two at the Persian room.
Persian Room wall paper/Book End pages - Credit: Courtesy of "The Persian Room Presents"

When Andy Williams was appearing as part of the Williams Brothers with Kay Thompson in her acclaimed act, he met Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus. Stanley inquired as to what Andy did with his days. He encouraged Andy to educate himself and enrich himself with all that New York had to offer. To take advantage of art galleries, museums, everything related to the arts. Andy took him up on that and started a love affair with art that continues to this day. Andy Williams has one of the richest greatest art collections around.

Liza Minnelli, Peter Allen and Lainie Kazan in the Persian Room - Credit: Corbis

One interview that got away was Patty's interview with Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters.
Patty was invited to Phyllis's home in Las Vegas. They instantly hit it off, ending up spending hours discussing Phyllis's career and especially her performances at The Persian Room. Phyllis's sister, Chris even joined in in some of these discussions. However, Phyllis would not allow Patty to record any of their conversations. Perhaps this goes back to when she was wiretapped by the FBI when she was involved with Sam Giancana. This being an oral history, none of those interviews are included in Patty's book.
Patty did share with me, however, that the McGuire Sisters were just three young girls from Miamiville, Ohio, with great voices and ambition. When they auditioned at the Persian room, they had no agent or manager. When they walked in, an interview was going on. They asked to speak with whoever was in charge and told him that they should be booked!

I asked Patty, what major aspect stood out the most for her from writing this book. I was thrilled with her response. It also is a lesson that I learned over and over from those who have had rich careers. And that is a very strong work ethic. Patty mentioned, that in her interviews with Patti Page, Carol Lawrence, Leslie Gore, Leslie Uggams...just to name a few; most of them have been working since they were very young. . None of them HAVE to work. They lead comfortable lives.They do it for the love of entertaining.

Most of the acts were booked without an audition because of their name value.
However, when Michelle Lee played the Persian Room, she had to audition, even though she had been a Broadway sensation in how to succeed in business without really trying, and had recently starred in the love bug. The powers that be still felt that she was an untried commodity. She was doing fine until the night that Diahann Carroll came to see her perform.
Michelle was so flustered that she felt that she had blown a few moments of her show. When Patty interviewed Diahann, All she recalled her that evening was how wonderful Michelle was. When Celeste Holm was playing the Persian room, she was also starring on Broadway in Oklahoma! She would finish the show at the St. James Theatre and rush over to the Persian room to entertain there. Her shows were always sold out.
Jack Jones and his mother, Irene Hervey - Credit: Jack Jones Archives
There is also a hysterical story about an act that opened for Lanie Kazan! You have to read the book to find out what happened!
A few interesting things you'll find in Patty's book is that most contracts lasted 4 to 6 weeks. The first act that was booked in the Persian room was a dance team, the DeMarcos. The Persian Room continued to book dance teams until Hildegarde broke through that barrier forever changing how the room was booked for entertainment.
The Persian Room continued to book entertainment, ending with Billy Eckstein in 1974. Once again, in 1974, New York was a mess. The city was bankrupt, crime was an all-time high, and the unions made booking this room virtually impossible.
 

Just a taste of  some of the great stories Farmer collected once she got the celebrities talking, include:


Robert Goulet and  Carol Lawrence - Credit Photofest

*** Carol Lawrence relives the chills she felt when Cary Grant marched up to the stage and gave her a kiss (during an act proclaimed by Ed Sullivan to be ”the best nightclub extravaganza he had ever seen”).
 
*** Andy Williams talks about his time as a member of Kay Thompson's quartet-before he became the suave, solo crooner we all know and love.
 
*** Leslie Uggams reminisces about the rollicking New Year's Eve party she threw after her show.

*** Constance Towers reveals the time she accidentally insulted Joan Crawford (and the revenge Joan took-in front of a paying audience).

*** Barbara Van Orden recalls how Frank Sinatra helped safeguard her virtue with the “word.”

*** Tony Butala of the Lettermen recounts the group's groundbreaking use of a “camera song.”

*** Diahann Carroll remembers taking one sleeping pill and a bottle of Champagne up to her suite to mount a half-hearted suicide attempt.

 "Within the first pages of reading this wonderful book I was transported back in time. Patty captures the innocence but also the elegance of an almost forgotten time and delicately places it in a bottle for us to experience all over again." - Tony Butala, The Lettermen

"A fabulous retrospective of the Persian Room in its heydey. People who never had the good fortune to experience the place firsthand will hear the music!" - Lainie Kazan

To order the book today, CLICK HERE.

I want to also reiterate that portions of this book go to Childhelp for the treatment and prevention of child abuse.
 Founded in 1959 by Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, Childhelp® is a leading national non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect. Childhelp's approach focuses on prevention, intervention and treatment. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD®, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and receives calls from throughout the United States, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. Childhelp's programs and services also include residential treatment services (villages); children's advocacy centers; therapeutic foster care; group homes; child abuse prevention, education and training; and the National Day of Hope®, part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month every April.
Several of Childhelp's programs were firsts, and continue to be studied by professionals worldwide as "models that work." Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson continue to actively lead the organization and provide its vision, serving as Chairman/CEO and President, respectively.
Please visit their website for more information and how you can get involved. 

Thank you Harlan Boll for introducing me to Patty Farmer and I cannot wait to revisit The Persian Room!


Thank you, Patty, for the gifts you give to the world! 

NO COPY WRITE INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!
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                              Tomorrow's blog will be...CELEBRATING GRETCHEN REINHAGEN

 Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!
Celeste Holm Opens at Plaza
  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TOMORROW!

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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

On September 9, 1958, Columbia Records toasted its thriving jazz division with a party in the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel which included performances by Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing and Duke Ellington. This informal, but candid Don Hunstein shot, eavesdrops on the coolest table in the room, where Lady Day and Miles Davis share a joke with the mythic jazz-blues singer Jimmy Rushing. The Jazz at the Plaza party marked the first time jazz had been performed at the deluxe New York hotel.

In Loving memory of ALL of the the great entertainers that played The Persian Room who have passed on

4 comments:

  1. AHH LOVE IT. I SO HAVE FOND MEMORIES OF THE PERSIAN ROOM. BRAVO JACK PHELAN

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  2. My Dad was the Maitre d of the Persian Room from 1932-1939 .I have A collection of Menus signed by some of the Greats of Hollywood and drawings done of Him & the other Waiters .He loved to talk about those wonderful days all the Time. Thanks for the Book Mz Farmer

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  3. My uncle was Maitre d and manager of the Persion Room in the 60's and 70's. We heard all the stories about the celebraties and we have lots of pictures and memorabilia

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  4. I'm 77 and still alive and kicking. I loved the Persian Room!! It was my 'expensive date' place. You can read that as my 'tonight's the night' date. I graduated from Penn in 1960 and still remember going to the Persian Room, diploma and 2nd Lieutenant's commission in hand, with a tall, leggy, model. Well, one can hope can't one. We ate, we danced, then we went back stage to meet the artist who was a friend of my date. Then off to Lindy's for desert and coffee. After Lindy's we went to the Monkey Bar in the Hotel Elysee. The photograph of all of us hung on my wall for years. The Night Club Era was a marvelous time to live in New York City!! Just remembering the great times I had at Night Clubs has brought on the tremors because I don't stay up past 10:30 any more. To think I once had the energy for the Persian Room, Lindy's and the Monkey Bar! Thank you for the great post!!

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