Friday, May 13, 2011
STAR GAZING AT SARDI’S
For a brief period of my youth I lived on Long Island, New York. It was quaint, quiet and pretty dull, even for a girl raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Also, a far cry from the bright lights, glamour and excitement of the big city. But once in a while, on a Saturday, my sister would take me on an outing to Manhattan, where we would do a little shopping, catch a Broadway matinee, have an early dinner and then go star gazing outside of Sardi’s Restaurant.
Sardi’s, located in New York City’s theatrical district, was the pre-and-post theater
hang-out for all the Broadway stars. This toast of Broadway, as it was sometimes referred to, was also known for the hundreds of celebrity caricatures that adorned it’s walls--much like the West Coast’s Brown Derby.
It was just by chance, while wandering in front of Sardi’s, that we became junior stalkers--we didn’t mean to, we just kind of fell in with the wrong crowd--literally. Well, actually, it turned out to be the right crowd, as far as we were concerned.
It all happened very innocently when we found ourselves being blocked by a small group of people, gathered in front of the famed restaurant. We couldn’t figure out what they were all doing there, when suddenly the crowd grew excited and a flurry of flashing lights went off. It didn’t take us long to realize the hullabaloo wasn’t for us, but for some famous personality emerging from the restaurant.
Most of the Broadway stars coming in or out of the eatery appreciated the admiration and would stop to sign Playbills (programs) for their fans. And sometimes, on a good night, we even got to see a few, genuine movie stars, walking down the street. Like the time Paul Newman walked briskly past everyone, trying to avoid the crowd.
In my determination to keep up with him, I found myself walking backwards, so I could keep facing him as he walked down the block. He wasn’t very tall, but what he lacked in height was more than made up for by his illuminating blue eyes. Both he and his eyes held up to their much publicized reputation. Absolutely gorgeous. When I asked him for his autograph, he responded with what I later found out was his standard answer to the public, “Sorry, I don’t give out autographs.”
In retrospect, I think I could’ve eventually worn him down--if I hadn’t walked out of my shoe and had to stop to retrieve it to put it back on my foot. The last I saw of Paul Newman, he was running down the sidewalks of New York and away from me.
Then there was Lauren Bacall, (the widow of Humphrey Bogart and then wife of actor Jason Robards), who came out of Sardi’s with her arm draped around her young son’s shoulder. When asked for her autograph, she let out a husky laugh and said, “I can’t stop--do you believe it, we’re off to see the Beatles?” Getting a whiff of her breath made me wonder if it was possible to suffer from second-hand intoxication. Giddy and a little tipsy, Lauren scampered away to enjoy her rendezvous with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
On one particular evening, I witnessed the full craziness of the paparazzi, like I‘ve never seen it before. Flashbulbs were flashing fiercely, like lightning in a thunderstorm, as the media elbowed their way through the crowd and towards their latest prey. I remember a lot of pushing and shoving between the reporters, photographers, and the fans--all sharing the same common goal of getting as close to the person as they could, who was being escorted by two bulky bodyguards to an awaiting limousine. Curious to see what was causing all of the brouhaha, I somehow managed to do what few were able to do. I got between the press, the fans and the bodyguards and found myself standing next to Elizabeth Taylor. I was so close to her, if I wanted to, I could reach out and touch her. But I didn’t. Knowing the moment wasn’t going to last forever, I tried taking in as much inventory on her as I could.
Mostly, I was surprised at how tiny she was compared to the larger than life persona that she projected on the big screen. And I couldn’t help but wonder if she had intentionally worn purple that night to show off her violet eyes. But it was too dark out to tell the exact color of her eyes, or if they really were violet, as rumored. When I felt the commotion become too much for me, I purposely stepped back, as her bodyguards swept her towards the limo and the crowd who acted like a swarm of bees, surrounded her, and then followed her to her car.
As for Richard Burton, he was a few feet behind me, being detained by several adoring fans, asking for his autograph. Because it seemed a lot calmer and definitely safer than the mob scene that I had just escaped from, I decided to get a closer look at the Welsh born star, who had gained most of his notoriety because of his notorious love affair with the well known Miss Taylor.
Yes, he was tall and fairly well built. But his face was covered with pockmarks and the glow to his skin seemed to come from a sunlamp. His hair, a tawny-gold, was tousled and his blue eyes, although kind, were a much paler shade than Paul Newman’s. But once he spoke, his resonant voice brought out his European charm and all imperfections were forgotten. When he stopped to shake my hand and looked me in the eyes, I suddenly found myself being mesmerized by the man who stole Elizabeth Taylor away from Eddie Fisher. And it became perfectly clear to me how this ruggedly handsome actor, with what seemed like raw sex appeal, had managed to steal Elizabeth Taylor’s heart, not only once, but twice--and perhaps even kept it, until her death.
I don’t know if after all these years, Sardi’s still holds the same popularity as it once had. But if you’re ever in New York, you might want to venture over to this iconic restaurant and hang around for a few moments. You never know, you might get lucky and see someone famous walking in front of you.