In Tune With June!

There’s a lady most of us know who has posed for her own 2011 calendar. No, she’s not a model. Here’s a hint: she’s an American actress who has won six Emmy Awards plus has had at least 20 nominations. The last hint is that she is the oldest person to guest-host “Saturday Night Live.” I’m talking about talented, vibrant, incomparable Betty White. Her calendar will feature photos from her incredibly varied career. It will also show her with various animals.
Her career has spanned over 70 years, and Miz White is still going strong. Currently, the “Hot in Cleveland” star, who will also be seen on “Community” and just about anywhere else that a television set or computer monitor is on, has recently signed a deal to write two books. The first book, “Listen Up!” is about life lessons learned during her career in Hollywood, with an emphasis on the extraordinary past 15 years of the star’s life. The second book is called “The Zoo and I” and will have stories about Ms. White’s life with the animals at the Los Angeles Zoo (she is a board member there and an animal rights’ advocate).
The lady has the spunk of a 25 year old, even though she is pushing the hard side of 90! You go, girl! Simply thinking about Betty White makes me feel good.
Do you have a favorite day of the week? Mine is Tuesday thanks to Vince Giordano. Who? Vince Giordano is the handsome, excessively talented leader of 11 rhythmically-inclined and also excessively talented men, and boy, do they put on a show. Where? They entertain in New York’s theatre district. Called Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, they can be found playing up a storm every Monday and Tuesday evening at the Hotel Edison’s Sofia’s. Whenever possible, I try to get there on Tuesdays because I thoroughly enjoy their dance-band music of the 20s and 30s – the musical era I prefer.
Their debonair leader leaps from tuba to bass sax to an aluminum upright bass. He plays vigorously in the old-school slap style. And he does more – he croons, too, into a big round silver microphone. Most of the instruments are vintage. It’s fun to watch musician Andy Stein playing a strange-looking “phono-fiddle” into a gramophone horn attached, I suppose, for amplification.
At Sofia’s, you can sit and enjoy the scene or get up and shake your booty. The audience is interesting in itself – filled with aficionados, nostalgics, celebrities, and young and old swing dance revivalists (I even did the jitterbug with twinkle-toes Mel Weiss). What is especially wonderful at Sofia’s on Monday and Tuesday evenings is that, for New York City, it’s a real bargain. There’s no extra charge to stay through three sets – from 8 to 11 p.m. (I stay for two). There’s a$15 cash music cover charge for the whole night of wonderful music, plus $15 food/drink minimum (and the food is surprisingly good). The large wood dance floor gets filled with many excellent dancers – but if you’re not a dancer, it’s entertaining to simply watch and listen to Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.
This is something I rarely talk about, but recently I learned that someone else has had the same experience – what I considered a shameful secret. I failed kindergarten, and was forced to repeat it. What? Here’s the reason why. It was because I am completely left-handed and couldn’t follow the teacher’s right-handed directions. Today, a child is allowed to be left-handed, but not back in the Ice Age.
All of the above came to my crowded mind when I learned that one of the leading actors in television’s “Bored to Death” also flunked kindergarten. In his case, it was because he couldn’t spell his last name – Galifianakis (I can’t spell it now!). In the noir-rotic (is that a word?) HBO comedy, the three main characters – and I do mean characters – are Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis. Now in season two, the fine script is greatly helped by its ensemble trio.
“Bored to Death” follows the misadventures of a young Brooklyn writer who is feeling lost. He is going through a painful break-up and rather than facing reality, he turns to his fantasies – acting as a private detective because he wants to be a hero and a man of action. The off-beat comedy has him solving some cases and making others worse. As for a favorite of mine, Ted Danson, I don’t know when he got so funny. In this series, he plays a high profile managing editor and Jonathan’s boss. I found myself laughing as soon as he appeared on the screen.
Now there’s another HBO series that is a comedy filled with dark humor. The idea of this show is hilarious. A middle-aged high school basketball coach, divorced and struggling to provide for his two kids, takes on a second job. He decides to exploit his best asset. Since the show’s title is “Hung,” you know that he struggles to get his life back on track by “pleasing” lonely women. “Hung” is funny and, at the same time, very serious. Its story is easy to relate to today.
The innovative series is set in the backdrop of the economically beaten downtown of Detroit. It reflects the economy and addresses the subject matter of male prostitutes without making it look glamorous or fake. There are poignant performances by Thomas Jane and Jane Adams (his pimp). HBO continues to come up with entertaining, witty, and relevant stories. You might try both “Hung” and “Bored to Death” and see if you agree with me.
Just blocks away from the Hotel Edison is the storied, swanky Algonquin Hotel. That’s where one finds “New York’s Best Cabaret” in its legendary Oak Room. But if one plans to experience that New York gem, you’ll have to empty your bank account. With its dark paneled walls, white tablecloths, and gleaming grand piano, it’s easy to slip back in time to a more glorious era, but since dinner is at 6:30 p.m. ($60) and the show at 8:30 p.m. ($40),you can see that it’s first rate cabaret with top shelf prices. It’s a long time since my last visit. In fact, I couldn’t remember how I got there, but Phyllis Levine did. She reminded me that (what seems like another life) Mort Epstein was my escort.
This time I settled into the banquette with my Fort Lee friend to enjoy the regal performance space presenting “Our Sinatra.” Singing individually, in duets, and in wonderful three-part harmony were Christopher Gines, Hilary Kole, and Eric Comstock. These talented performers were accompanied by the very fine Boots Maleson on bass, who I was very happy to see. In interviewed him in a jazz magazine in what seems like thousands of years ago. It was an air-kissing moment. In a newspaper review of “Our Sinatra,” the headline read “Frankly, original trio does Ol’ Blue Eyes justice.” I would drink to that – but it’s too expensive.
Hey, kiddies, if you are reluctant to brave the Holland Tunnel, there’s a joint that’s jumpin’ right in our backyard and you won’t have to empty your wallet for this place! All you need to do is find your way to the corner of 18th Street and Broadway (that’s our Broadway). It’s a new spot in Bayonne. I was there on a Friday night and the place was packed with young and older folks (and two adorable children) I got lucky. I sat next to everybody’s favorite record spinner, Danny Stiles, and the Bayonne Bunny, Josie Rudo.
The food was excellent, the prices fair, the service fine, plus there was a warm welcome (he’s a good hugger) from George, the owner. There was entertainment by a D.J. and the local Elvis Presley impersonator, Eddie O’Rourke, who sang and wiggled for over an hour (with his happy mom and brother applauding). So give Nueva Venezia a shot. I think you’ll be glad you did!

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