April 2015


Sinatra at 100 at Lincoln Center (and Patsy's)


December 15th of this year, will mark the centennial anniversary of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra in Hoboken New Jersey. And the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts is jumping the gun in the parade of tributes and retrospectives sure to roll in as the year rolls on,

how we used to dress, but the angle at which he wore it, will tell you more not only about his swagger, but prototypically that of America in the last mid-century. And pictures and movie clips of him with his Rat Pack—cigarette and glass of hard liquor in hand (Jack Daniels being Frank’s preferred liquor as we see displayed)—speak volumes of what we used to think was the personification of cool masculinity. All of which Mad Men seemingly works so hard to recreate in its bid for authenticity (An Ad Man on “Mad Men” and a Final Season APRIL, 2014 MUSE-LETTER).

Even Frank’s hobnobbing with presidents, and in switching his allegiance as a Kennedy Democrat to a Reagan Republican, reflected the decided mood swing in the country’s politics at the time.

Just one more of the many surprises of this exhibit, is realizing the scope of his humantarian efforts for many causes. In acknowledgment of such benevolence, he did receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar in 1971 (in the course of which, he gave one of the more gracious acceptance speeches you will ever hear. And his contributions in raising awareness of social injustice for example, have included a ten-minute film in which he starred in 1945, “The House I live In.” It was developed to oppose anti-semitism and racial prejudice at the end of WWII. It won an honorary Academy Award.

Later in that year, he would appear in his first full length Hollywood film “Anchors Aweigh,” in which he would hold his own in dance numbers with Gene Kelly no less. They would team once again four years later in “On the Town.” And of course, that is the thrust of the exhibit— Frank, the consummate performer.

As a singer, an interpreter of a lyric, the “seller” of a song, he is arguably the best pop vocal artist there ever was. And so there aren’t many revelations on that score here, other then learning how and when he got his first gigs. And there’s lots of fabulous video showing him at work. But one is reminded through various photos and posters and an Oscar, that perhaps surprisingly, he was also a very good actor.

His “comeback” effort in “From Here to Eternity” earned him a Best Supporting Actor win, and is the stuff of show biz legend. But he was also excellent as I remembered, in “Suddenly,” a 1954 film in which he played a potential presidential assassin. (Ironic given what would follow in less than a decade). And the following year, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for “Man With the Golden Arm.”

He would go on to appear in over 50 films, showing both his comedic and dramatic chops in the likes of “Guys and Dolls,” “Pal Joey,” “The Joker is Wild,” “Ocean’s Eleven” (the quintessential “Rat Pack film”), “Come Blow Your Horn,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Von Ryan’s Express.”

Some may be aware that he was also a self-taught painter on the side. But that his artistic sensabilities were good enough to win him a Grammy Award as Art Director for the Best Album Cover of the year in 1958, the year of the inception of the Grammys, will be news to most.

Not yet having my fill of Sinatra I suppose, I would find myself soon after at Patsy’s, said to be his favorite restaurant. It was at this place recently, with Nancy Sinatra as Patsy’s special guest, that three new paintings by pop artist Peter Max in honor of Frank were unveiled.




In this old world Italian eatery, Frank’s presence is still strong if not boardering on omnipotent, what with the many photos and even statuary of him about the place. One such bronzed sculpture of Frank and the guys is unmajestically positioned on a small table outside the rest rooms. He would have laughed, and perhaps did—who knows how long it’s been here— at such a place of honor.

When speaking of Frank, an American Icon, the Chairman of the Board, the leader of the pack, the humanitarian, the renaissance man, the loyal restaurant customer, what more can you say but… “Doo-be-doo-be-doo.”





To They Who Leap of Faith


for my children


I saw you go over the top
and down into the abyss —
the soles of your feet
left me behind.


Deeper you plunged
to where dragons still breathe fire;
sea lions in prismatic waters,
you come up not for air
but for a charge of pure white light
then continue—flex in a void
within echo of the rigid ground
in which I pitch my iron staff.


I would have followed you
in the eternal summers;
a lemming with flaxen hair
cropped close to my thoughts
on hero and heaven—
I would have followed you who are both.


And you would have known me,
and seen me, and I—you,
in places we cannot meet now
but perhaps will one day
when I tire of my vigil.

              —Ron Vazzano





Elephants to Leave the Circus


A story broke last month, that thankfully for a change, had nothing to do with terrorist atrocities. I guess you would call it a human interest story, though it had more to do in the interests of animals— “Ringling Bros. Says No More Circus Elephants By 2018” (


It’s about time. But why the need to wait three more years for them to leave? (Elephants walk slowly?).


As kids, we tend to be brought up with a belief that animals are here for our amusement; to perform tricks for our delight. For years, Letterman has satirized this notion with a regular feature on his show called “Stupid Pet Tricks.” Those of us of a certain age, might recall our first exposure to such tricks via the Ed Sullivan Show, in which old stone face would introduce acts such as bears from Moscow riding bikes.


I guess it never occurred to me as a kid, that bicycle riding was not indigenous to the ursine species. Or that there was a good chance that a bear would rather shit in the woods than ride a bike on TV. Though I must admit even now, that Chimpanzees did seem to like putting on clothes and mimicking human behavior. But Elephants? There they were under the big top, being forced to stand on hind legs while forming conga lines, as we squealed and parents beamed.


We marveled at the incongruity of animals of such heft showing such synchronized grace and balance, while an overly costumed woman rode atop them as if in some sort of triumph.


This of course occurring in between the acts of say, horses being forced into a repeated gallop at 30 MPH within a small circle, or lions getting their chops busted by a whip and chair toting “tamer.” Wild animals by the way love such taming, as was demonstrated when a tiger nearly tore Roy Horn— of Siegfried & Roy of Las Vegas fame—to pieces in 2003.


Yes, we did cry at the story of an elephant cruelly nicknamed Dumbo, being separated from his mother. But all’s well that ends well in that “Disneyfied” tale, told to sooth our blessed little hearts about life’s cruelties. Yet in the real world, many new-born elephants continue to be orphaned as their mothers and family have often been killed to support a brutal ivory trade. Though there are organizations that have stepped in to keep these babies— denied mother’s milk— alive by “bottle” feeding and nurturing them. One such place being the pioneering Elephant Nursery at the Nairobi National Park in Kenya, where I was fortunate to visit a few years ago.



While we have not been guilty of any such atrocities in this country regarding pachyderms— with the exception of the filmed and well publicized (at the time) electrocution of Topsy, a female Asian elephant at Coney Island in 1903—one would be hard pressed to make a case that circuses have had the animal’s best interests at heart. And so it was fun to see the elephant get some measure of revenge in the 2006 best-selling novel and later movie, Like Water for Elephants.


And now in the real world, the Ringling people are finally owning up to some misgivings in the matter, albeit reluctantly.

"It was a decision 145 years in the making," said Juliette Feld (spokesperson for Ringling), referring to P.T. Barnum's introduction of animals to his "traveling menagerie" in 1870. Elephants have symbolized this circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.”


145 years in the making? While such admission is admirable, why then wait still three more years to rectify a wrong of such duration?

"We're not reacting to our critics; we're creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant," Kenneth Feld (Ringling CEO) told The Associated Press as he broke the news… but acknowledged that because so many cities and counties have passed "anti-circus" and "anti-elephant" ordinances, it's difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year.”


What now of the other animals still performing under Mr. Feld’s tent? Is there a creation of a preserve for their retirement on the horizon as well? As the song suggests …send in the clowns.







Quote of the Month




“A descent into madness
follows closely the loss
of a sense of irony.”

            —Francis Lawrence














April: When the Stars Come Out for Poetry



As it has been so designated now going into its 20th year, April is National Poetry Month. A poster has been designed for the occasion by noted artist and illustrator for The New Yorker, Roz Chast— based on a poem by the late Mark Strand—of which 120,000 copies will be distributed for free in schools, libraries, bookstores and community centers to promote a month long celebration.


And why not? If you can have National Honey Month to promote the beekeeping industry (September), is poetry not as sweet? Or conversely, as stinging? Probably not for the many for whom it flies under the radar… to mix metaphors. Though ironically, the whole rap genre has provided a form of poetry for a whole new generation of ears. Though that too falls on many older deaf ears. So you won’t hear rap or anything resembling a so called poetry slam at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center this April 15th, when the stars come out to read poetry.


The 13th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind, conceived by the Academy of American Poets for this venue, celebrates poetry by featuring well-known actors, artists, musicians, dancers and public figures on one stage, sharing their favorite poems.


It is particularly interesting, and yes fun, to see these celebrities in such a different context, if drawing a packed house of over 1,000 people each year is any indication. Which is rather amazing given that I have attended, and participated in poetry readings where you could fit the audience into a phone booth. If you could find a phone booth; a subject upon which I once waxed poetic and philosophic (Once There Were Phone Booths JUNE, 2012 MUSE-LETTER).


Last year Kevin Klein “brought the house down”—a relative idiom when speaking of this sort of performance art—with his reading of Billy Collins’ rather wry poem on parental chiding of a teenaged daughter, “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl.” In part…

“But did you know that at your age
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory


Of course, there will be time for all that later in your life,
after you come out of your room and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.


Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you —
playing with your food and staring into space…”

I have personally enjoyed past readings by Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, Patrick Stewart, Dan Rather, Gore Vidal, Liam Neeson, Tony Kushner, Rosie Perez, Esperanza Spalding and Sam Waterston. Other readers over the years have included Caroline Kennedy, Sting, Alec Baldwin, Tom Brokaw, Brooke Shields, Patti Smith, Katie Couric, Wynton Marsalis and Jake Gyllenhaal.


This year’s lineup will include:


           Holly Hunter
           Gloria Steinem
           Vanessa Williams


      Kris Kristofferson
     Nick Cannon
     Debra Winger
     Judith Jamison



Of course poetry must ultimately stand on its own words and not the names reading them. And it has become more of an acquired taste in our culture, what with it no longer being part of any general school curriculum in which one was once forced to memorize and recite poetry in the classroom. Which is another reason for events such as these. But once acquired, one tends to cling to it, as I tried to attest to in a short poem that I wrote that was once published in a small literary magazine. (An oxymoron, for is there such thing as a large literary magazine).






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