Power Couples Offer Advice

By Masha Leon

Published June 06, 2007, issue of June 08, 2007.
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HOW POWER COUPLES JUGGLE WEALTH, FAMILY LIFE AND YIDDISHKEIT

“Wisdom from the wealthy” would be an apt description of the 92nd Street Y’s May 8 sold-out lecture, “Power Couples: How They Live and Work.” Moderated by TV journalist-cum-diplomatic inquisitor Lynn Sherr, it put on the marital hot seat Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, Daryl and Steve Roth, and Merryl and James Tisch. What surfaced was a retrospective of rich lives (not only in the financial sense), strong family ties and few regrets. How do you balance public and business demands, raise morally and Judaically centered children, find private time and enable wives to have independently creative lives? As family “laundry” was aired with candor, humor and introspection, the audience was delighted with the revelation of Leonard Lauder, head of Estée Lauder (his mother’s cosmetics firm), that his contribution to his happy 48-year marriage was his willingness to change diapers.

Evelyn Lauder, who has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for breast cancer research (the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation) began working at the office of her mother-in-law’s cosmetic firm as a receptionist. In those early days there was limited staff, so young Lauder would disguise her telephone voice and pretend to represent the firm’s then nonexistent departments.

When discussing the raising of children, she said that she was adamant about her kids receiving “the full attention of their parents.” There were “no sleepovers; the kids helped with the dishes… we traveled coach; they had no idea that they were privileged… didn’t even know they had bodyguards.” Leonard Lauder, whose public involvement includes being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that there were no compromises: “We loved our children, loved our business.” So devoted a parent is Lauder, he skipped his mother’s invite to a party for the duchess of Windsor because he’d promised to take the kids to the park. “My mother was difficult; my father was a saint.” Bottom line: “A parent’s responsibility is to teach children how to live without them… to be independent and to love.”

Daryl Roth, a Broadway producer whose credits include “Three Tall Women” and “Inherit the Wind,” is probably kvelling about two shows she produced that are currently on Broadway: the Tony-nominated musical “Curtains” (see below) and Terrence McNally’s tennis-themed show “Deuce.” Roth recalled how, 20 years ago, she decided that a “theater” career “would not conflict with [raising young children]…. Thank God, my husband [Steve] does very well.” Regretting not having taken private family vacations, Roth, CEO of Vornado Realty, explained: “I was not so perfect…. It’s hard to be a good father and build a business. My wife covers for me when I do not show up for [a company] dinner.” Commenting on Leonard Lauder’s admonition: “never go to bed mad,” Roth shook his head: “I flunked that, too.” Still Roth underscored, “Unconditional love, no matter what!”

Jim Tisch, co-president and CEO of Loews Corporation, told of how his father would drive the kids to school. Tisch added, “I would call wherever I am… to know where the kids are.” Merryl Tisch, vice chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, focused on “high expectations… everybody has to work…. There were restrictions about health and safety. In the early days we were not wealthy, no privilege… went on vacations as a family.” Tisch, daughter of a rabbi, noted: “We keep a kosher home. Being Jewish is integral to our home and how we live our life…. As a family we went on vacations to Africa, Asia, Europe…. When at school, the kids were asked what was their favorite vacation, my 8-year-old son replied, ‘Grossinger’s!’”

Leonard Lauder also noted that at his family’s Orthodox home, “Friday night we never went out. Always had Shabbat dinner, always invited people — even when at [our] skiing station. We had kippahs for everyone.” Lauder was not only concerned with the issue of how does one transmit Jewish religious, cultural and historical [values], but also with a question: “How do you agree on art acquisitions?” Apropos, he cautioned, “Never deal in art without consulting your wife.” Twenty years earlier, he’d bought a Gustav Klimt. “Three years ago, a dealer offered me 10 times what I had paid [for it] — I now have 30 Klimts…. I neglected to tell my wife that the moving men were coming to pick up the painting. She sent them packing! I later sent the dealer 10% — his [lost] commission.”

In Lauder’s closing thoughts, he spoke about time: “I’d like to have 24-month years — not enough time to squeeze in everything…. There is not a day I don’t complain to my wife… My goal is to stay healthy enough to leave the world better than it is. And when the conversation is over, make sure there are no regrets. Fairness [about the estate] so there [will be] no resentment,” he cautioned. Evelyn Lauder concluded: “We are the oldest couple here. My wish is that the [cancer] foundation go out of business.” And how did she feel about her mother-in-law? “I loved working with Estée.”


PAJAMAS A RAY OF LIGHT IN THE LIVES OF CHILDREN IN NEED

“‘Hi! I’m from “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” said the voice on the telephone,” reported Genevieve Piturro, founder and executive director of the Pajama Program. “I was speechless.” But not for long. When Piturro appeared on the April 2 show, Winfrey had to curb her guest’s enthusiasm about the program that distributes new pajamas to children in welfare shelters and foster homes nationally and worldwide. Admission to that particular “Oprah” show segment was a pair of pajamas. It was reported that the tally was 32,046 pairs (!), and Winfrey arranged storage and transportation to designated facilities. At its May 4 luncheon at The Pierre, the Pajama Program honored Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn, who accepted her award from the program’s 2004 Mother of the Year honoree, Meredith Vieira. Also honored

was Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of ABC News’ “20/20.” Vargas’s husband, songwriter-singer Marc Cohn, was schepping nachas. Among the presenters were Jacky Teplitzky, former sergeant in the Israeli army and now executive vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Teplitzky has been a Pajama Program booster since the organization’s 2003 inaugural luncheon, at which Ivana Trump — also present — had been designated as the program’s first Mother of the Year.

Burstyn alluded to her own painful childhood and to her adopted son, then urged: “The goal is to get hundreds of thousands of PJs and surrogate mothers to read to these children.” The Pajama Program was born after Piturro, a volunteer, was asked by a child in a shelter, “What are pajamas?” In addition to shipments nationally and overseas — 11,000 pairs were delivered directly to Hurricane Katrina survivors since the program’s launch five years ago — there are now 48 national P.P. chapters. After a feature story, “Unique Concept,” appeared in the April 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Piturro reported: “We received thousands of e-mails… from readers as far away as the Middle East, where we sent PJs to an active-duty soldier based in Baghdad who distributed the clothing to Iraqi children.” Though tens of thousands of pairs of PJs have already been sent abroad — including to Israel — “the goal,” Piturro said, “is to get 40,000 more pairs to children worldwide.”


IT’S APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE FOR “CURTAINS”

“Curtains,” the John Kander (music)/Fred Ebb (lyrics) frenetic musical with echoes of Aaron Copeland and choreographic homage to Agnes de Mille and Martha Graham, leaves you gasping. A musical company in Boston (circa 1959) whose star is an incompetent leading lady showcases a continuum of frenzied, at times ridiculously hilarious, musical numbers. She is sabotaged by the death (or is it a murder?) of musical-within-a-musical’s producer. At the plot’s epicenter is a seemingly bumbling — but don’t pre-judge — Detective Cioffi, brilliantly played by Tony-nominated David Hyde Pierce in a style reminiscent of Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau of “Pink Panther” fame. Cioffi falls Georgia Hendricks, played by indefatigable dance-phenomenon cast member Karen Ziemba. Whew! Now take a deep breath. That, dear reader, is but a hint at the pace of “Curtains.” The musical’s joy is Debra Monk, who portrays a virago of a Jewish mother from hell named Carmen Bernstein. The character’s origins, I suspect, are not Ashkenazic, and her husband, Sidney Bernstein, the musical-within-a musical’s murdered producer, had been in the shmatte business. To see this heart-palpitating production is to relish the magic of Pierce and marvel at Monk, who thrills with her show-stopping number, “It’s a Business.” The number includes such no-need-for-translation references as Shabbos and Yom Kippur. Full of Yiddishisms and double entendres that fly like darts in a pub, “Curtains” is bound to please New York audiences as well as the rest of America.


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