I love New York! I am always grateful for any opportunity to visit this amazing city.
The purpose of my visit was to hold a private screening at the Paramount Screening room, courtesy of the wonderful David Bruson, and then have a cookbook dinner at Sardi’s.
I first met David in Toronto a few years ago, where we had a very very memorable dinner with Larry Hagman and a band called Ghoul Town during Fan Expo. It seemed hard to imagine we could top that experience, but we might have just done it on Tuesday night.
Our original intention had been to show one of my dad’s films, but once we added Sardi’s into the mix, I decided to put together a special version of the talk I give for that night—with some new videos added into the mix.
More and more, I’ve come to realize that the essence of my talk is about the daily practice of joy—that same joy I’ve been experiencing on this road trip. But I’ve also realized something else while meeting Vincent Price fans on this trip. I’ve always believed that any choice we make comes down to choosing between love and fear. People who see the horror community from the outside imagine that it is a community focused on a fear-filled genre. But when I spend time with horror fans, all I can feel is love—their immense love for my father and other icons of the industry, their joy at coming together with others who love their genre, their fun at dressing up in costumes, their pride in showing me their tattoos or memorabilia they have collected. And I always feel their warm welcome as they thank me for coming and for continuing my father’s legacy.
My friend Cynthia recently told me that scientists have proven that our initial response to anything is always negative! And so it is up to us to choose the positive. We have to choose love over fear. That can feel difficult when we are bombarded on a daily basis by bad news on every front. To have the opportunity to take this road trip and to share what I am learning is my daily reminder to choose the positive and life a life of love over fear. As for dad, it’s ironic, I know, that my dad made a living scaring the daylights out of people. But that’s not why his legacy has lasted for over 20 years since his death. It’s that he loved every minute of doing it—loved being alive. As my brother so perfectly put it, “He loved life, and so life loved him.”
That spirit of love and life showed up in abundance on Tuesday night when fans and friends from all over the globe gathered for our screening and then moved over to Sardi’s for a memorable meal. My friends from college; fans from New York and England; David’s friends; dear friends from Santa Fe; new friends such as Francesco, Elaine, and Valerie from my Monday lunch at The Orange Squirrel and my family—my nephews Jody and Keir, Jody’s wife Amy, and Keir’s daughter Talia, all came!
I hadn’t been to Sardi’s in years, but they were wonderful in putting together the event! They brought my father’s caricature down to the main dining room near our tables, and they put together a menu that included many of the recipes in the book—including one that is no longer on the menu.
Asparagus Milanese was one of my father’s favorite dishes. He loved to make it for brunch, lunch or dinner. Using fat asparagus (never the skinny), he would peel the bottoms so that they would be as tender as the tops and then cook them. A fried egg and thinly sliced Parmesan or Pecorino Romano were placed on top. To me, it was always the perfect dish—but I had no idea it had come from Sardi’s. We all agreed it was our favorite dish of the night.
I had Sardi’s famous Shrimp in Garlic sauce for my entree. I love shrimp and garlic in any form, and this was delicious and very 1960s--in a way that took me back to the comfort foods of childhood. As did the ridiculously rich and caloric Boccone Dolce (Italian for “sweet mouthful”)—Sardi’s most famous dessert made with meringue, fresh strawberries, whipped cream and a touch of chocolate.
Someone recently told me that they thought A Treasury of Great Recipes perfectly captures the Mad Men era—in all its elegance and excess. So does Sardi’s. It’s like going back in a time capsule to the great days of Broadway when Sardi’s was the place you came to await your reviews and either celebrate in style or drink away your sorrows. The red leather banquettes, walls filled with caricatures of so many stars of stage and film, the wait staff in their burgundy jackets, and even the menu of old-style classics brought me back to my childhood trips to New York to see my father or one of their friends in a show, or to visit my godmother—who was born, grew up, and lived her whole life in the same apartment on the corner of 72 and Lex. That was the New York I fell in love with—and the fact that it still exists in places like Sardi’s truly does bring me joy.
I think that the reason it has survived is because theatre people love feeling connected to their lineage. My friend Michael told me that it is still the place for actor’s to come on Wednesdays between the matinee and evening performances, because they offer a half-price lunch. Think of all the amazing conversations that must have occurred at Sardi’s over the past 86 years! Oh to have been a proverbial fly on the wall!
After dinner, we all gathered to have our pictures taken with my father’s caricature. Although I had seen the drawing before, it had been at least 30 years. This time I was struck by three things: His lips! I had never thought of my father as having particularly notable lips of any kind—but this artist had chosen to make his rather voluptuous and bright red. I couldn’t help but wonder why—and would love to have been able to ask. His looks! This was clearly one of Sardi’s earlier caricatures, probably from the 1940s. While many of the more recent caricatures focus on exaggerating certain recognizable features of the star, this one is really just a very handsome drawings of a handsome man. I loved that. Yes! My father signed the photo with just one word. Yes! Did he mean Yes! because he had “made it” by becoming a Sardi’s caricature? For a man who once said that true fame was being the subject of a New York Times crossword puzzle, possibly. Or was the Yes! in response to the artwork, which he felt really captured his essence. That could have been it, too. But I prefer to think of that Yes! as his response to life.
When he spoke at my high school graduation, my father read the first stanza of one of his favorite poems by ee cummings.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
It was hard not to feel that same Yes! as my friends Gay and Billie and I caught a cab downtown after the event. To have so many people I care about and who care about my dad in one room, and to have felt his presence there so strongly—and mainly to have had so much fun together—it was the best reminder I could have had to keep choosing joy and love over fear. What better way to capture that choice that to just say Yes!