29 April 2011

A Cure for the Cheese Royale

"We're all red inside."

Harry might approve. "Turn your cameras on."


...in all things.

28 April 2011

Max Raab Part II

Max in Rittenhouse Square AP Photo by Brad C. Bower

"...strength and stability. Everything I'm not."

I never heard of Max Raab until recently. He's a helluva story. If you're over 40, you've probably heard of; The Villager, J.G. Hook and Rooster Ties. Then there's the woman's shirt dress he created and the films he produced: Clockwork Orange, Walkabout and Lion's Love along with documentary films, STRUT! and Rittenhouse Square.

He loved sailing, drinking and playing the sax. He loved Rittenhouse Square. He made a pile of money. He lost a pile of money. Adored by friends and employees...Max Raab must have been a hoot.

"For me, success is getting acceptance of ideas I believe in."

In the late '40s, Raab sees college girls going crazy over Brooks Brothers button downs. Unhappily knocking out crap for his father's blouse company, Max creates a button down shirt for women. It takes off. He takes the same shirt and creates the shirt dress. It takes off.

"Waspy women love the classic suburban look, and Jewish women want to look like WASPs. I knew I had a winner."

In 1952, Raab opens his first shop in Elkins, PA. Five years later he starts The Villager. A preppy clothing manufacturer for women. Check out eBay for some timeless finds. His father thinks he's crazy and his wife leaves him. And that's too bad because Raab winds up with 140 franchised stores. The NY Times calls him, 'The Dean of the Prep Look.' He starts Rooster Tie in 1969. He marries his head designer at Villager. Things are humming along until 1970.

"I didn't anticipate the blue-jeaning of America."

Raab loses $2.5 mm before selling to the apparel company, Jonathan Logan. There's a sharp turn left to the west coast where Raab becomes a film producer. He'd had a bit of success in the early '60s when he secured the rights to John Barth's novel, End of the Road. The debut picture for Stacy Keach and James Earl Jones. He tries again with the rights to the novel, Clockwork Orange but strikes out with Hollywood until he convinces Stanley Kubrick to direct.

Raab thought there was little difference between producing a line of clothing and producing a film. He followed Clockwork with Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout. Nominated for a Golden Palm at Canne it was the film Raab was most proud of. Lion's Love by Agnes Varda and Hex starring Keith Carradine cap off Raab's feature films when he decides to return to apparel.

"I get much more recognition in the apparel industry."

Borrowing $100,000, Raab kicks off J.G. Hook in 1974. His timing is dead on as prep returns for a second act. Raab sticks to classic clothing that doesn't upstage the woman and describes the company logo as a 'hook' or anchor and claims the initials were random.

"My logo shows strength and stability. Everything I'm not."

In 1989, he creates Tango, a menswear company, but nine years later sells J.G. Hook and get's the producer bug again. This time with documentaries about his home town of Philadelphia. STRUT! is about Mummers and Rittenhouse Square is a 2005 doc about Raab's favorite park.

Raab died in February of 2008 at 81. I feel like I just missed him.

Max Raab Part I

27 April 2011

Why I Like Bourdain

This is a car wreck. You want to look away, but Alan's drapes and untucked shirt are like a pair of blue strobe lights cutting through the night on I-95. The crumpled metal and chrome stained with...triple cream.

In & Around...

Bryant Park 8:15 to 8:33 AM - 27 April 2011

26 April 2011

Max Raab & Tango - Part I

The early '90s (when most of you were 10) were a bizarre time for ties. It reminded me of the '40s where ties were hand painted in some vulgar theme and worn 3 inches above the waistband. I figure those '40s designers - all from LA no doubt - came out of retirement in 1990 and took one last shit shot at cranking out some of the butt-ugliest ties in cravat history.

The ties dove tailed nicely with suiting from, Balzac, Verri Boutique, Armani (Le Collezione), Comme des Garcons and baggy polyester trousers from New York Uomo. Hugo Boss (not so well known for designing Third Reich uniforms) was all the rage and my assistant asked me why, at my age, I dressed like it was still 1985.

I thought myself vindicated when I saw these ads in the June 1991 issue of M Inc. Tango by Max Raab (more about Raab, Pasha of Prep, this week) spoke to a conservative style that mixed color of the '90s with cut and design more associated with the '80s and the early to mid '60s. It was a slap in the face to clothing names ending in a vowel. It was also the last shout of Ivy for almost 20 years.

But thanks to Max, I wasn't dead yet...

Max Raab Part II

25 April 2011

Duck Politics

(Double click to get it all, yeah?)

It's a pretty good batting average, what? But for politicians?

23 April 2011

Pat Conroy's Shrimp & Grits

Not for Passover

Buy good grits


Fry bacon

Bake shrimp - That's right. Bake it.

Colby reserve cheddar

Scallions on top

Eat this 'fore it gets cold

This recipe was handed down to Pat Conroy from his father -- whose love of southern food was only matched by my own father. Colonel Conroy was from Chicago and married to a southerner. His radio call sign, "The Great Santini." My father was from Duluth and married to a southerner. His radio call sign, "The Happy Bachelor." A coincidence? I think not.

I eat Shrimp & Grits only three -- maybe four times a year. It's beyond rich. I can feel myself gaining weight with each bite. Prosecco cuts through the fat and melds with the cheddar cheese melted in the grits. I always tweak the recipe. Next time I'll try country ham instead of bacon. Here's how it currently works:

Simmer grits 45 minutes.
Cook bacon.
Clean shrimp (These were Gulf shrimp and perfect).
Douse tray with olive oil and add shrimp.
Season with sea salt and lots of pepper.
Bake for 10 minutes at 350. No need to flip shrimp over.
Plate bowl with grits and add a handful of shredded cheddar.
Add a tablespoon of bacon fat and stir until cheese melts. About 5 seconds.
Crumble bacon on top of grits.
Add shrimp.

It's a huge pain to cook but good stuff to nibble on while you do. Make this for a friend so they'll do the dishes. This doesn't work for leftovers. Eat all you can until you think you'll burst. Like a tick. Do nothing the rest of the day 'cept wish to hell you knew how to cook this in 1984 and could write like Pat Conroy today.

22 April 2011

Happy Easter

St Augustine Beach, Easter 1984

21 April 2011

Dressing An Easter Basket

Pierrepont Hicks Madras Tie

Corbin MTM Canvas Trouser

It helps to have a theme. Gives you a place to start and no one needs to know. Easter is about warm days and the lure of Summer. Waxed cotton gets the heave ho and bright cotton madras dances in the sun. The green gingham is my grass in the basket while madras serves as Paas and the canvas trousers are Peeps. Does anyone know how to dye an egg madras?

20 April 2011

19 April 2011

18 April 2011

All The Way...

"In my life there have been few
who've affected me the way you do
(you do, you do)"

Pet Shop Boys
It Always Come As A Surprise

The news of a whore house in Spring Lake spread through the barracks like wild fire on the Serengeti. Spring Lake bordered Ft. Bragg to the north and was home to the poor, enlisted and hundreds, if not thousands of mobile homes - of which one double wide, The Devil's Playground, was doing a booming business.

There was talk of a woman nicknamed, 'The Screamer.' She'd shout profanity laden descriptions of what she wanted, and that sounded pretty darned good to me, seeing I was 19 and all the screaming I heard had to do with what I was doing wrong.

A bunch of us climbed into someones car and after an hour of searching a trailer park in the dark, we found a double wide that fit the description. We also found a line for the screamer that reminded me nothing was a secret long at Ft. Bragg.

The Madam of the house took my military ID and paper clipped it to an index card which she filed under 'T' in a gray metal box. I sat down on a folding chair in the shag carpeted living room and watched TV with the line, my buddies and two huge black staff sergeants still in fatigues and providing security.

The Madam had a body that said, "Go Airborne" but 40 miles of bad road on her face. Her hair was jet black along with her disposition. She was not happy with the line and started asking if anyone wanted a date with her. No one moved. Feeling sorry for her (and being at the end of the line), I raised my hand like it was first grade.

I could hear the screamer as I watched the Madam undress in a tiny bedroom. A red rose tattoo covered her belly button and a tattooed green stem with thorns traveled all the way down to what she called her pot of dirt. Afterwards, she returned my ID and punched a hole in the index card. "Get to 10 and you get a freebie." she said.

I'd go back for the Screamer but the Madam would smile when she saw me, hand me a beer and whisper something amazingly filthy in my ear. I came to know Rose well and was something of a regular. Besides, I was pretty sure the screamer was full of crap - what with the screaming taking on an all too repetitive pattern.

I found a woman who'd actually go out with me and quit going to the Devil's Playground. A year or so later, I saw Rose having breakfast at IHOP with a woman who looked to be her mother. Rose looked at me for a good three or four seconds, and without any expression, turned back to her mother. I never saw Rose again but more than anything, I remember her eyes -- Big and dark and able to see every mistake I ever made or would make.

15 April 2011

G. Bruce Boyer Remembers Nina in Philadelphia

"...one of the great East Coast haunts for jazz performers"

"I thought I was pressed to the marrow."

"We were all smokers then, my drink was dry vermouth on the rocks."

I recently confessed to the sartorial holy one, G. Bruce Boyer, my love of Nina Simone's, "A Little Sugar in my Bowl", and how it's one of the great songs of strategic (cued only after the second drink or with tea) seduction. Instead of a comment, Bruce came back with a story after which we discuss the specifics of that memorable night almost 50 years ago.

What a Night! Nina Simone in South Philly

I remember seeing the great pianist-chanteuse Nina Simone at Pep's Showbar at the corner of Broad and South Streets in South Philly in the early 60s. At that point the club had already been one of the great East Coast haunts for jazz performers and aficionados for two decades or more. Nat King Cole had played there, and so had Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Lester Young and Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Thelonius Monk, and Jimmy Smith. Going to Pep's was a jazz pilgrimage.

We all knew about Nina Simone. She had a hit recording of “I Loves You Porgy” in 1959 – the best version of that song ever – and followed it up with a live album recorded at The Newport Jazz Festival in June of 1960 that reached high on the Billboard jazz charts. By that time she had a tight group of wonderful sidemen with her – Al Shackman on guitar, Chris White on bass, and Bobby Hamilton, drummer – and the show rolled out a thrilling sample of what came to be her unique mixed repertoire: classic American songbook standards, folk songs, blues, African music, all infused with her special brand of Julliard-trained classical riffs.

She was an incomparable artist and played much of that wonderful mix of music at her Pep's engagement. Starting off with an extended version of the great blues “Trouble in Mind”, followed by a stirring, elegiac jazz/classical version of “You'd be so Nice to Come Home to”. Then some Ellington and more blues. The audience knew it would all lead up to “Porgy” for a grand finale.

About a half hour or so into the show she had gently just begun to swing into “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, when she suddenly stopped playing. Just stopped, her high-coiffed head bent over the keys and the sidemen trailing off. The place got quieter and quieter 'til you couldn't even hear an ice cube clink in a glass; there was complete silence … except for two thugs at a table in the corner who had been talking. Another 30 seconds in that vacuum and they looked up too, and found Miss Simone glaring straight at them.

“Let me make myself perfectly clear,” she enunciated, with considerable contempt in her level voice. “Either I play or you talk. Got it?” She glared at them for another uneasily long 30 seconds to what now was an oil painting: nothing in the room was moving, nothing. Waiters stood like statues, drink trays in the air. You could have heard an idea drop. Then she snapped her fingers and swung right back into the tune. Need I add these two boys were afraid to move a muscle?

So “Porgy”, when it finally came about 30 minutes later in the finale, was something of an anticlimax for me. I'd never seen anything like it. Nina Simone commanded that large room full of partying people like Patton at Bastogne. She had peerless talent and she knew it, and so she had complete assurance. She was not about to take any chicken shit from anybody. She demanded respect. She also got a ten-minute ovation.

I can see it all still, as clearly as I can see this keyboard under my fingers. What a night in South Philly! Glorious music and a life lesson from a true artist. What a night.

The Trad: I love that story. Who was with you that night?

G. Bruce Boyer: There were three of us. Young men in our early twenties.

TT: Did you drive?

GBB: We drove to Philly from Allentown in my 1957 coral-and-white Ford. It was a 1 1/2 hr trip. It would have been early summer, June.

TT: I assume you guys weren't wearing shorts and flip flops.

GBB: We were all wearing suits. Those cotton-synthetic blends that were so popular in the early 1960s. It was the style to button the top two buttons, or only the top one if you were really smooth. They wore tan ones, but I wore a navy blue one, with a white button down and repp-striped tie. I thought I was pressed to the marrow.

TT: Smoking and drinking?

GBB: We were all smokers then, my drink was dry vermouth on the rocks.

TT: So? Anything happen? You know? After, Nina?

GBB: We were cool and sharp, but we struck out. We just didn't have the game the big city boys had. Didn't get home til about 4 in the morning, empty-handed, but WE HAD SEEN NINA SIMONE! At home we had major status for weeks.

G. Bruce Boyer's Selected Discography:

Nina Simone: Songs of the Poets (Edsel Records)

Nina Simone at Newport (EMI Records)

Nina Simone Anthology: The Colpix Years (Rhino Records)

Nina Simone Gold (Verve)

Nina Simone/ Little Girl Blue (Fuel Records)

Nina Simone: My Baby Just cares for Me (EEC Records)

Nina Simone Sings the Blues (RCA Records)

14 April 2011

Gay Talese & Shirt Boards

Esquire Magazine's Best of 40 Years

Talese and Thomas Wolfe

The Talese Gate
The Shirt Boards

Five minutes early so I walk past the gate to his four story townhouse and stand on a corner. A cab pulls up for a fare but I shake my head. I pull out my phone and pretend to read an email. I feel like I'm staring at my navel. Put the phone away and walk past the house again. Two more minutes to go. I've never met Gay Talese but have seen him in the neighborhood more than once. First you see the hat and then the swagger. He's hard to miss.

Talese asks if I want something to drink. "Water? Maybe a Scotch?" "I'll have whatever you're having." I say. "I don't drink in the afternoon." he smiles and his eyes crinkle. It's 5PM on a Saturday that feels more like late November than late March. "Water is fine." I tell him. Talese leaves and I stand by two leather tufted sofas that could stand some saddle soap. A formal dining room is to my left and the fireplace surrounded by books reminds me of the other writer who lives here.

Talese returns with a cold bottle of Pellegrino and two white wine glasses. We sit down at opposing sofas and he crosses his legs. He's in amazing shape and I later learn, at 79, he still works out. More for me to feel bad about.

Highly polished black loafers are, I'm guessing, Bally. Dark gray trousers with a cuff not quite two inches but almost. A waistcoat and jacket of the same wool plaid in dark blood red. Purple and blue stripes on a white shirt frame his face and an Hermes-green tie of some early vintage and narrow width blossoms from his neck. A small, almost feminine, gold watch on his left wrist reminds me that Italians are almost always too studied. But it suits him to the ground. I think of the camera in my jacket pocket but don't have the guts to ask for a picture.

Gay Talese talks in a voice that is fast-slow metered and dry like dead Summer pine needles. We're 20 minutes into the interview before I realize the tape recorder isn't on. He's like a skilled salesman who overcomes objections before you ask them - For every one question I ask - Talese answers nine more on my list. His right profile suggests John Slattery, the silver haired Roger Sterling from Mad Men.

Near the end of the interview, I ask him about the shirt boards he cuts up for note taking. Gay pulls a couple from inside his jacket and hands them to me. "Here. Keep a couple." Talese smiles when I see the one with my name on it.

The Gay Talese interview will appear in a magazine due for release this Fall.

13 April 2011

The Death Of Tom Wolfe

I can't help but think of Tom padding around his room at the Chelsea Hotel in slippers and a proper dressing gown of the period. His affair with Aline Bernstein ended badly but they kept in touch and you can read their letters here.

Wolfe didn't know he had 18 weeks to live when he wrote this check. He left for a tour of the West and 11 national parks on June 19th. During the two week trip, "Wolfe pounded through two pairs of good pants; his beloved new brown gabardines wore through on the eighth day, and another pair, into which he hastily changed, gave out on the next to last day of the trip." The Death of Tom Wolfe by Elizabeth Nowell, Esquire Magazine, April 1961.

Wolfe died September 15th, 1938 just 18 days before his 38th birthday. His last letter was to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner's whom he had fought with and left for Harper and Row.

"...I had this 'hunch' and wanted to write you and tell you, no matter what happens or has happened, I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that fourth of July day three years ago when you meet me at the boat, and we went out on the cafe on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building, and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and the city was below. Yours always, Tom"

12 April 2011

Chelsea Hotel - Just Friends

Reprinted with permission - Click on image to enlarge

Molly Parkin
Suzanne Bartsch

Stanley Bard

The hand rail at Washington's Headquarters in Valley Forge was original to the 18th C stone farm house. Visitors loved to touch it knowing George Washington had done so. Little else was original. "Furniture from the period." "Paint shade researched but..."

The Chelsea is original. Thomas Wolfe walked through the small lobby. So did Mark Twain, Arthur C. Clarke, Dylan Thomas and Sid Vicious. And Jane Fonda, Milos Forman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Houseman, Arthur Miller and Janis Joplin. With so many famous residents the unknown take on greater celebrity thanks to photographer Claudio Edinger who documented them in this 1983 book.

Ann Van Ess, Molly Parkin, Don Normal, Man Lai and today's semi famous, Suzanne Bartsch. I never got to know them but I'd flip through this book and wonder about them. Just as I might if I saw them walking through the lobby. There are few places I feel at home. A hotel in South Kensington. A restaurant on 60th. A farm house in North Carolina. And here.

I lived a few blocks away in 1984. I hung out in the lobby and often had black bean soup at a Cuban Chinese (La Chinita Linda on 19th St. and 8th Ave) restaurant a few blocks south. One afternoon, I stared at Blair Brown eating -- until she shot me a nasty look. I looked down at my black beans in shame and promised never stare at the famous again.

In 1992, I stayed a couple nights at the Chelsea in a $75 room. There was a TV without a remote and a poem written in the closet. The room was bright with light during the day and there was not a sound at night. I felt as if something would happen but it never did.

The summer of 2001, I proudly walked into the lobby as a prospective tenant. There was a studio apartment painted royal blue with a hot plate and a sink for a kitchen. Mr Bard told me the rent was $4,500 a month. The next apartment I saw had been occupied by Bob Dylan. A one bedroom but with a kitchen larger than the studio. It was $7,500 a month. I could select my furnishings from a diverse collection in the basement.

I'm not sure what'll happen to the Chelsea or all that furniture. I know I'll never live with her but I still like to see her. Just as friends.