King Kong, the Jewish Heritage Museum and E. Houston Street
Richard J. Garfunkel
December 26, 2005
Well Christmas and Hanukkah came into town not with the melodious sounds of Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s standard but more like Gene Kelly’s romp through puddles in Singing in the Rain. Of course to some wags in the newsrooms this was the first time these two gift-giving Holidays coincided since either 1997 or 1959. Of course Christmas seemed to come earlier this year. At one time holiday decorations would wait until Thanksgiving to be festooned from every stanchion and light pole. But this year, despite the high cost of electricity, the holiday seemed to take life not long after Halloween. Unfortunately the criticality regarding the profligacy that accompanies the holiday season was jeopardized by the ill-timed and abortive transit strike. The fiasco that threatened to quash New York’s merriment ended as abruptly as it started this the union head, Roger “I Get No Respect” Toussaint, shot himself in the driver’s pedal foot. With a sudden declaration that the executive board voted for the transit men/women to go back to work, all of the workers did, but with the unhappy reality that their Christmas stockings would be quite a bit lighter.
In the meantime my daughter Dana came to the Tarrytown with three friends from Boston. Of course they were here to see the big town all decked out with boughs of holly and attend the annual Jewish single’s fandango called the “Matzo Ball.” For all which that event is made up to be, it could be more accurately re-named the “Matzo Farfel!”
So the day after the “Ball” was over, on Christmas Day we all went to see King Kong III. Of course expecting huge lines and a madhouse at the theater we bought our tickets on line. But, lo and behold, despite the deluge, the lot was not crowded, the multiplex was not jammed and the line for the latest chapter of “Kong Meets the Blond” was sparse. Of course all of you remember the original, King Kong Merion C. Cooper’s epic masterpiece, which we just finished watching tonight on Turner Classic Movies. The current edition is much more loyal to that version and it is not a “tongue and cheek” updated, “politically correct” statement on the environment and fossil fuel. But of course, in retrospect, maybe the Charles Grodin, Jeff Bridges, and Jessica Lange romp around the ill-fated twin towers had a more significant message then “it was beauty that killed the beast!”
Naomi Watts looks a good deal like Fay Wray, who starred in the 1933 classic, and recently died in 2004 at the ripe old age of 97. Vina Fay Wray, who was born in Alberta, Canada, moved to Arizona with her large family and then on to Los Angeles. She entered films at the tender age of 13 and in 1926 she was chosen as one of 13 starlets picked to “make good” by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. Along with Janet Gaynor, winner of the first Academy Award for Seventh Heaven (and other works), and Mary Astor the co-star with Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon, Fay Wray hit pay dirt playing Ann Darrow in the first King Kong. The action and special effects in Kong III are quite remarkable, so if you go, be prepared to hold on to your seats and enjoy the ride.
After the excitement of King Kong, a large Chinese meal and the continuing and unrelenting rain we made our way back down route 9a to Tarrytown and a warm evening of Bond movies on Spike TV’s 8 days of James Bond.
Today was no different when it came to the weather. We made plans to drive downtown to the Jewish Heritage Museum on Battery Place. The traffic was light, and by the time we reached lower Manhattan the rains had abated. The Museum is directly south of the famously expensive Stuyvesant High School and the American Express Building. It is a relatively quiet area on a holiday afternoon and it sits right on the Hudson facing both Jersey City and the Statue of Liberty. Again, there were no crowds and the museum was pretty much all to ourselves. Its main focus is the story of the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and the ensuing Holocaust promulgated by Nazi forces and their Fascist allies. But there is much on Jewish cultural life in Europe and the Americas during the period 1880-1930 that preceded the Holocaust, and of course, the end of the war victory and liberation along with re-birth of Judaism. What also impressed me was the new section devoted to the American Jewish contribution to the War effort. Over 550,000 Jews served in World War II, a higher percentage of individuals than any other ethnic or religious group. Over 11,000 Jewish servicemen and women gave their lives for their country and 55,000 received decorations. There were many pictures of World War II veterans adorning the walls. Most were of average Americans citizens doing their duty, but two stood out to me, former mayor Ed Koch, a sergeant in the US Army in Europe, and Robert Morgenthau, the long-time District Attorney of Manhattan County and the son of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who was an officer in the United States Navy and one of the museum’s founders.
There is a lot to see there and a great deal to learn and re-learn. On one hand, we always must re-visit the struggle to preserve our own freedom to be ourselves, and on the other hand, we must not forget the contribution free men and women made to save the world from the dark night of Nazi tyranny.
After our adventure of coming to grips with the past, we headed over to Katz’s Delicatessen on East Houston Street. Our guests from Boston had never visited this classic gastronomic landmark that has been serving New Yorkers since 1888. Besides gaining recent notoriety in Harry Met Sally, Katz’s Deli famous for the often-quoted line, “send a salami to your boy in the Army,” has been host to numerous Presidents and foreign dignitaries. Of course adorning the walls near us were pictures of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachov, and of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I am not sure whether FDR ever got down to Katz’s Deli, but right nearby is a beautiful park named after his wonderful mother Sara Delano, who contributed time and money to the East Side Settlement houses.
Of course our group had the obligatory half-sour and sour pickles, matzo ball soup, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, and French fries that were washed down by Dr. Brown’s black cherry and cream soda. Even at 3:00pm in the afternoon, Katz’s was very crowded. Finally after an hour of gorging we were able to finally stand up and crawl our way out to the car. We drove the gals up to Madison and 51st Street where they were able to walk over to the stores and see the holiday festooned windows and we headed back to Tarrytown and an evening with Fay Wray.