Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Revisiting Patty Farmer: The Persian Room Presents


Richard Skipper, Patty Farmer, Jack Jones
I became familiar with Patty Farmer when mutual friend, her publicist, Harlan Boll, sent me a press release to write about her upcoming book, The Persian Room Presents back in January. It celebrates the rich legacy of a now long ago and mostly forgotten nightclub in New York.

Being a fan of that era AND its nightlife, I was thrilled to interview Patty.  From the moment, we first spoke, I fell in love with her and her enthusiasm about preserving this great legacy. I couldn’t wait to read the book and pre-ordered it in Amazon.com. When the book arrived, I couldn’t put it down.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the star studded event celebrating the book’s release earlier this year.

She has been on a whirlwind with personal appearances. As a matter of fact, our conversation yesterday took place as she was en route to a luncheon date with Lainie Kazan and Barbara Van Orden, both have chapters in Patty’s book. She will be in East Hampton on this Saturday night along with Hilary Knight, who illustrated the Eloise books, and Sam Irvin, who wrote the definite biography of Kay Thompson. This will be moderated by Dick Cavett.

I suggest anyone within a fifty mile radius attend this event. I wanted to revisit Patty and get a new perspective eight months after my initial interview.
Writing The Persian Room Presents took Patty a little over two years to write. She did not set out to write a book.
She was curious and started collecting historical data on The Persian Room. She was curious about this nightclub and how it started. She couldn’t find this information anywhere else. The Plaza Hotel, where The Persian Room was located for four decades, did not have this information. Patty was forced to go out to the libraries and archives to try and retrieve this information. It started as a curiosity. As she started gathering information, the idea of a book came to her. She wanted it to be in place so that the next person who came along who shared the same curiosity could go and find it more easily.

She started putting it into book form and it started evolving from there. She had the basic facts: when it opened, when it closed, what it looked like, who decorated it, what was going on in America during those different decades, what was going on in New York specifically through those decades. Patty also thought this story needed some heart. That’s when she started going to these wonderful entertainers from The Persian Room and asked them for their memories and musings and as they started contributing, it became the book it is.

The Plaza Hotel in New York was celebrating its one hundredth birthday.
Because Patty has a small apartment in the Plaza, she was very curious.
Anything that’s been around one hundred years, whether it is a person or a building, has gone through so many changes, and so many transitions.
One hundred and seven years ago, most people didn’t have cars. The main source of transportation was horse and buggy. Being a history buff, all of this seemed enormously interesting to Patty.
She wanted to find out more about this Persian Room and why it started. The genesis of the Persian Room was born out of prohibition and a gayer time.
Patty calls herself an old fashioned history geek.
The first interview that Patty secured was like being at the top of Mount Olympus, it was Kaye Ballard! Patty sent Kaye a letter in Rancho Mirage, California. Imagine her surprise one day when the phone rang and she picked it up to hear that familiar voice on the other end! “Hi, Patty! I hear you’re writing a book about The Persian Room. I would like to tell you about my time there.” That was an exciting start to this project. She and Kaye had numerous conversations and lunches.
Lainie Kazan, Barbara van Orden, Patty, Connie Stevens, Michele Lee
Kaye is someone that Patty feels she could pick up the phone and call anytime, such a career and a wonderful woman.  

What I love about the book is that it is an oral history from those that were there instead of a “he said, she said” book.
Liza Minnelli, Peter Allen and Lainie Kazan in the Persian Room - Credit: Corbis
The holy grail for Patty, the interview she wanted but did not get, was Liza Minnelli. Who doesn’t want to talk to Liza! Logistics and scheduling precluded that happening.
As it happens, Patty was introduced to Liza about a month ago through a friend.
He introduced Patty to Liza and Michael Feinstein.
They were told that Patty had written this book about the Persian Room , and, of course, at that time, Liza said, “I played The Persian Room. Sit down. Let’s talk.” Patty thought, “Where were you six months ago?”In 1966 Liza Minnelli brought her Night Club Act to the Big Apple. She opened her "Cabaret Type Revue" Debut in Grand Style
at the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York to enthusiastic reviews.
Since writing the book, so many more people have reached out to Patty. “I was at The Persian Room” –Florence Henderson. Patty hopes to have a revised edition with more stories.
Celeste Holm played The Persian Room in 1943
Once the book was “finished”, it was a rushed process. It became a high priority with the publisher and it still took about six months. There was the editing and the layouts…which were surprising to Patty. Although, this was Patty’s first book, she wasn’t “unknowledgeable” about that whole process.

She thought it would end up on the shelves in a month or so after writing it. In a “rush job”, it took six months. Patty is told that that process typically can take up to a year or more. It’s a lot of tedious work. There’s back and forth to the editors. The first lay out had many mistakes. Diahann Carroll’s pic, for example, on Marge Champion’s story. In the first printing, there were still errors. It was reprinted and that was better.
Barbara Van Orden
Patty still thinks it was a wonderful magic room. It was also the times. She wishes that she could almost transport herself through time. After the book came out, Patty has given a lot of interviews and spoken to a lot of people.
One of the many questions asked is, “ Why can’t we have rooms like that today?”  We still have wonderful nightclubs in New York. Some are closing. Some have closed. There are also new ones that have opened. You can’t replicate what was. It was the times. It was a time when people dressed up to go out.
It was a time where women had all afternoon getting their hair done, and put on their make-up, deciding what jewels to wear, men wore tuxedos regularly for an evening out on the town. When you look at those photographs, you know that people just didn’t rush out of work and go out on the town. It would have been nice to be a part of that time. Patty’s only regret is she can’t have it all. She can’t be a twenty-first century girl and go out dancing and to have been part of the social scene of the 1950’s.
Patty is really happy to say that there is nothing she would have done differently as far as this book is concerned. She is really pleased. She executed her vision. She got to interview most of the people she set out to interview. She was pleasantly surprised with the number of people who agreed to talk with her. Kaye was the first. Andy Williams was the second one. It was great times for him appearing with Kay Thompson and he said yes. They all took time out of their still busy schedules. Patty was also lucky to have what has become Celeste Holm’s last interview. She and her husband joined Patty at the Palm Court at the Plaza to gossip and catch up on stories over afternoon tea. In addition to getting her great story, they had numerous phone interviews. Patty considers herself lucky to experience Celeste.  
Leslie Uggams
Patty’s life hasn’t changed that much since the book came out. She is happier and this is a new facet. She now knows she can write a book.
She has made new friends including yours truly.
Cabaret is far from dead as far as Patty is concerned. She is also seeing younger audiences in the shows she is attending.
Last weekend, Patty went to the new club, Below 54. She made a point of looking around and saw people in their twenties, thirties, and forties. That’s encouraging. It’s nice to see people going out and discovering cabaret. She hopes that that just perpetuates. A lot of people may think that it is an art form for the older set.
From personal observation, Patty says that is not true. She goes to a lot of the clubs often.
Patty’s cabaret going has happened as a result of the book.
Now she is being exposed one by one to what is out there. It makes her look more often. She now checks the calendar to see who is at the Carlyse, Feinstein’s, Below 54, or any of the other rooms. She is now so much more in tune with the whole art form.

Connie Stevens
There are so many new favorites that she doesn’t even want to pick one off the top of her head. She has heard a new singer named Briana that is forcing Patty to really pay attention to. She is a jazz singer that blew Patty’s socks off, a great new up and comer.
This book was significant for Patty on so many levels. It was her first book.

There is another book in the works which I am keeping under wraps until Patty is ready to announce it.
She did succeed in putting out an informative book. One review reads, “ A must have book for anyone who loves history, and specifically, New York history.”
That made Patty beam. That made it all worthwhile. A lot of the “girls” of the book have been wonderful and instrumental in helping Partty promote the book, Michele Lee Lainie Kazan, Barbara Van Orden. Barbara is one of the huge gifts that came out of this project. They have become good friends.
They feel like they were sisters separated at birth.
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday
Patty feels like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Each memory from writing the book is wonderful. The biggest collective memory is the work ethic of all of these wonderful entertainers: Celeste Holm, Andy Williams, Tony Butala from The Lettermen, Leslie Uggams. All of these entertainers started entertaining when they were very young. Andy, Tony, and Leslie were all eight years old when they began. They are still entertaining audiences today! Andy Williams does concerts. Leslie Uggams just did Thoroughly Modern Millie in St. Louis. Tony Butala tours with The Lettermen doing one hundred concerts a year. They do it because they love it. They are not doing it because they are trying to make the mortgage.
 Patty has been to the homes! She knows!! She knows how they live.
  That is such an example for Patty. Celeste was 95 when she passed last month.
Celeste Holm
She tells in Patty’s book how she was starring in Oklahoma!, she would leave the St. James Theater at 10:30 still taking off her stage make-up, while she ran to the Plaza to do the late show at The Persian Room. Patty said to Celeste, “You were a Broadway star. Why were you doing late shows at the Persian Room? Was it financial?” Celeste answered by saying, “No, I love to perform.” She did that at twenty-six when she was the toast of Broadway as Ado Annie. She still loved to perform at ninety-five; still out and about, doing concert appearances with her husband, opera singer Frank Basile. Marge Champion is ninety-three and is as active as ever. She is still dancing. She still does her high kicks and performs at Disney exhibits. She was the model for Snow White and the dancing hippos in Fantasia.
Marge Champion
There is one thread that runs throughout Patty’s book with every entertainer, that is the lack of small venues. In the seventies, with the rock scene taking over the music industry, and more and more concerts being done at Madison Square Garden, and other stadiums, everyone wanted to go to those events to see their favorite stars.

Many of these entertainers have expressed to Patty that they wish there were smaller rooms again. We are losing them faster than we’re getting them. The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel closed earlier this year.
Michael Feinstein
We don’t know if Feinstein’s is really going to relocate. It pretty much is the same scenario we heard from the Oak Room. They said they were renovating to re-open and then went away from cabaret.
 Patty is constantly being brought back to that work ethic, never giving up, perseverance, not taking it as a personal thing when you get a “no” from a press agent. Patty grew up in a family where everything was done by the book. Patty’s mother never had to give a reason. It was always, “That’s the way things are done.” Or “That’s not the way things are done.”  She was brought up with a tremendous amount of manners and you didn’t bother people. With that instilled in Patty, it was tough to go back a second, third, or fourth time to say, “Hi! It’s Patty Farmer. I’m just checking in to whomever…” With Jack Jones, they spoke four times and four times he was busy.
Eventually, Jack said let’s get together and talk. It was worth it.    
Patty has brought to the table sincerity. She truly was interested in what these people had to say.
Lainie Kazan
She was curious and she loved learning about the Persian Room…about the physical room itself and Julie Wilson and all the other fabulous entertainers.
Luckily, Julie is another who Patty now calls among her dear dear friends. Like Barbara van Orden, these came as a result of the book.
The book was not without a bump in the road. There was one performer, who shall remain nameless. Even if his name were to be mentioned here, most would not know who he is. Patty went to Palm Beach to talk with him. She always records interviews. He was very bitter and critical about his lack of success.
There were certain singers that he felt he was on par with, Eddie Fisher, or any other top male singer. He wanted to be paid by Patty for his interview. After Patty went down to Palm Beach on her own expense, he had someone contact her to say that he wanted to be paid for his story. That was disheartening after the generosity of the big stars giving the public their stories, that this man wanted to be paid. Patty had no problem saying, “Thank you very much, but that’s not the book I’m writing.”He is not part of the book.
Patty pretty much completed the book on her schedule. She had her wish list of who she wanted to talk to. She pretty much kept to that list.
Everyone was willing and able to participate. Those that she didn’t interview pretty much boiled down to scheduling. She had a pretty strict outline that included the list of performers she wanted to interview. There were referrals from people on her list suggesting she interview certain people and those introductions were made.
The last interview that Patty spoke with was Jack Jones. She advises me to hang in there with the interviews that I am trying to secure.
On the fifth phone call, Jack told her that he was in town, he was recording a new album and he would fit her in...and he did!
Patty and Barbara Van Orden
Patty and I share something in common. We are interested in the process and what makes them tick as opposed to their sex lives or private lives! Leave that to People, TMZ, and US magazine.
I would like to once again that all of my readers who can make it to attend the East Hampton Authors night on Saturday night in East Hampton. Patty feels so honored to be included. As mentioned earlier, she will be with Hilary Knight who co-wrote and illustrated Eloise, Sam Irvin, who wrote the definite biography of Kay Thompson. They all, of course, have a connection to the Plaza Hotel. Eloise was born in the Persian Room. Once again, Dick Cavett is hosting the event. Patty, unnecessarily, feels humbled to be in their presence. It’s raising money for the library. They all have donated books to the library. Our libraries are facing the same fate that is happening to a lot of print magazines and newspapers. There aren’t as many people taking advantage of libraries as in previous decades. People very read books anymore. Patty is all for supporting your local library.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press Contact: B. Harlan Boll
626-296-3757 or h.boll@dcpublicity.com


WHAT/WHO: Patty Farmer, author of “The Persian Room Presents,”joins a celebrated list of authors including Dick Cavett, Jack Cavanaugh,  Hilary Knight, Jeffrey Lyons, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and more for “Authors  Night,” 2012. This years Honorary Chairs include Lynn Sher, Barbara Goldsmith, Dava Sobel, David Baldacci, Robert Caro, Dick Cavett and founding co-chair Alec Baldwin.


WHEN: Saturday, August 11th at 7:00 pm
WHERE: Authors Reception from 5 – 7:30pm and Dinner Parties at 8:00pm
TICKETS: Tickets range in price from $100 for the cocktail hour only to up to $2500 for select
dinner parties. Available at http://www.authorsnight.org/ or calling 631-324-0222 ext 7

Authors Night is a lavish fundraiser to benefit the East Hampton Library. All proceeds go directly to
the Library. Beginning in 2005 with a handful of dinners and a few hundred attendees, it has grown to
be the premier literary event of the Hamptons with over 160 authors and more than 1,000 people in
attendance. he evening begins under the tent at the East Hampton Library. Enjoy fabulous hors
d'oeuvres and wine. Meet your favorite authors, buy their books and have them inscribed. The most
recent titles for each author will be available for purchase at the event. Every title — past and present
— written by our guest authors can be inscribed at the event. Don’t forget to bring your books with
you to have them inscribed!

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 nightspot 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.
Order your copy today by clicking HERE


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.

Thank you Patty Farmer for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!


With grateful XOXOXs ,


Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!

I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

Do you have any pics?
If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!



Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
              
My next blog will be... Musical Director John Head's Memories of Hello, Dolly! (Mary Ellen  Ashley and Betty Grable)

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


  
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!



TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

 
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!



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