By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City
In the olden days–1992 and 1993–my sister Joany and I shared a dream job. The two of us were responsible for a full-page weekly feature in the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine. It was called My Favorite New York. Each week we would meet a celebrity at their favorite place in New York City, have them tell us why this was their favorite place and a Daily News photographer would photograph them there.
Last time, I wrote about nine A-listers of stage and screen.
This time, I’d like to introduce you to a new set of luminaries. Some set records as being the most, the first, the funniest, the only, the tallest and the unreasonably demanding (hint: ribbit).
Kevin Nealon, comedian, actor. Favorite New York: Bide-A-Wee Animal Shelter
At 6’3”, Kevin Nealon was our tallest celeb and the most flexible. He managed to fold himself into a cage at the animal shelter. Even more amazing was that the tall News photographer crept into the cage with Nealon and took the picture.
Itzhak Perlman, described as “undeniably the reigning virtuoso of the violin.” Favorite New York: Shea Stadium
On the way to Shea, Itzhak Perlman told us that at age 4, he contracted polio and has walked using leg braces and crutches since then. (He’s always seated when he plays the violin.) For going out on the field, he thought it best to use a wheelchair. (Recently, I have seen him in my neighborhood using an electric Amigo scooter.)
When we got to Shea Stadium, Itzhak Perlman wheeled himself out onto the field. It was the coldest day of the year, but no matter what the temperature, Perlman, a dedicated Mets fan, was happy to be there. It seemed as if he’d be willing to stay there until Major League Baseball’s opening day. That wasn’t the case with us or the photographer. Once the photo session was over, Perlman, Joany and I got back in the van and headed to the city.
Much to our surprise, Perlman started telling us jokes. Funny jokes. His taste and timing…perfect. It’s a good thing he was a musical prodigy, because it would have been hard for him to be a stand-up comedian. (His line, not ours.)
Mayim Bialik, actress, game show host, author. Favorite New York: A/X Armani
Starring in the 1990s sitcom Blossom, 17-year-old Mayim Bialik met us at the trendy Soho clothing store. Usually, after the interview and photo session, the celeb is first to leave the location. Bialik was eager to have us leave so that she and her mother could shop at the store. A distinction shared by…
Jaclyn Smith, actress. Favorite New York: Newell Art Galleries
After the interview and photo session, Jaclyn Smith sent us packing so that she could tour each of the six floors of antiques.
Kirk Douglas, actor, author. Favorite New York : N.Y. Public Library, Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street
It was a thrill for us to meet Kirk Douglas. He was Spartacus. He was Vincent Van Gogh. He was Champion. He was a real movie star. He was Jewish. That counted for a lot in those days, growing up in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, back on Fifth Avenue, there we were, at the bottom of the library steps, and there was Kirk Douglas…KIRK DOUGLAS! on the top step, waiting for the News photographer to set up the shot.
Suddenly it started raining. The photographer quickly covered himself and his tripod with a tarp while Douglas raced down the stairs to the car that brought him. He had the driver open the trunk and take out an umbrella. Instead of going up the steps again, he came over to Joany and me, opened the smallish umbrella and held it over us, while he was left out in the rain. Look in the dictionary under “mensch,” and don’t be surprised to see a picture of Kirk Douglas. (I’ll be surprised if you even have a dictionary.)
Fernando Ferrer, Bronx Borough President (ran for mayor and lost to Mike Bloomberg). Favorite New York: Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College
The honor of being the best and worst sport goes to Fernando Ferrer. He was the only celeb celebrating his birthday on the day we met him. Worst sport: We asked that he show up in his birthday suit, but he refused. Best sport: He was afraid of heights and was willing to pose while standing on a backless ledge, built on a hill.
Emma Thompson, actress and screenwriter. Favorite New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum
The celeb we came closest to losing was Emma Thompson. Before she left for the United States, her bag was stolen from her assistant’s car in Scotland. She boarded the plane anyway, without her passport, and was due to land in New York at about 9 a.m. and be taken directly to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum to tape an interview with Katie Couric for the Today Show and then to do our interview.
At 4 a.m. that morning, publicist Barbara Langdon, who set up the interviews, got a call saying an immigration lawyer would have to obtain permission for Emma to deplane. Since she didn’t have her passport, she was going to be sent back to England.
At 5 a.m., Langdon reached an immigration lawyer who was able to arrange for the actress to be at the museum on time.
Nonetheless, after the aggravation of losing all of her personal belongings and traveling all night, Emma was one of our most vivacious, charming and fun interviewees. Along with her Academy Awards, Emma Thompson wins the prize for being Best Trouper.
Nathan Lane, comedian, actor. Favorite New York: Sam’s on West 45th Street (a popular after-theater show biz hangout)
We knew Nathan Lane years before he qualified to be the star on our feature page.
Joany and Sonia Reese (mother of commercials star Mason Reese) made the rounds of comedy clubs, selecting the most talented to be part of a TV pilot for Mason. Nathan was one of their finds (along with Eddie Murphy and Carol Leifer). The pilot never came to be, but along with cream, Nathan rose to the top. It was wonderful to have Nathan be the most successful person who we knew when…
Maury Povich, TV show host and Connie Chung, journalist and TV news anchor. Favorite New York: Madison Square Garden
According to the hand-written thank-you note from Maury Povich and Connie Chung, this was and is their favorite photograph. How do I know? Povich’s public-relations person asked to borrow the slide so she could surprise them with a framed print.
According to a recent note from the couple, they still have this favorite photo hanging in their home.
Kermit the Frog, mega-Muppet. Favorite New York: Central Park
Kermit was the only celebrity who wanted “star treatment.” It’s true. His people asked for a stylist and an art director. They also wanted photo approval. Then again, none of the other celebs had unsightly wires to deal with. Even though Kermit’s requests were denied, he jumped to it and came through like the professional performer he is.
What’s your favorite New York hideaway? Share your answer with us in the comment section below.
Lydia Hope Wilen had a successful collaboration with her late sister Joany as nonfiction bestselling authors (18 books), journalists, TV personalities, writers and talent coordinators on a Nickelodeon series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Reading Rainbow episodes, skit writers for Dr. Ruth's TV show, Diet America Challenge on CBS, and writers of screenplays (optioned but not produced yet).
Lydia is writing on her own now and has just completed an extraordinary book for young people and their parents. It will have them laughing and learning...once she gets an agent and it gets published.