“There are three paths to being an educator — a teacher, an academic or a policymaker,” Lincoln Center Chair Katherine Farley said of honoree Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, at the March 5 Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education Gala. “She had been all three… and has a parallel career in philanthropy, with health care, education and the arts the focus of her generosity.” A smiling Tisch responded, “With me, all things are personal. I am happy tonight to be joined by my mother-in-law, Billie Tisch. There has never been a cross word between us in the 41 years I have known her. Those of you who know me, know that is a testament to her, not me.” She noted the presence of “my wonderful husband, Jim [James Tisch], adding that this “would have been the 90th birthday, if he were still alive, of Larry Tisch [her father-in-law], who guided us all.”
Merryl Tisch’s gracious nod to her mother-in-law and to her extended philanthropic Tisch family reminded me of a tribute she once paid to her birth family in December 2009, at a gala for the American Friends of the Open University of Israel: “My father held three jobs. My mother two. My grandmother, who did not speak English but spoke Yiddish and German, used to carry my bag and sit with me as I did my homework. My father said, ‘Mamele, in our tradition, education is everything.’”
Accepting LCI’s award on behalf of the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, its corporate chairman and CEO, Gerald Hassell, said: “I think Lincoln Center is the greatest performing arts center in the world. I have never seen anything like it!” Award presenter Farley added that BNY Mellon “has supported Lincoln Center for over 50 years — since our beginning.”
Among the 220 guests at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall who helped raise $900,000 for LCI’s programs were Ira and Ingeborg Rennert, Susan and Jack Rudin, Judith Kaye, Ann Unterberg, and Lorie Slutsky. Unterberg, LCI’s chairman, delivered the evening’s opening greetings. LCI’s new executive director, Russell Granet, informed, “The institute seeks to inspire a sense of intellectual curiosity and engagement in all students, on campus as well as in the community.”
The March 4 “Jamie deRoy & Friends” variety show, held at the nightclub 54 Below — also known as “Broadway’s living room”— on West 54th Street, was akin to a Catskills’ hotel “Late, Late Show,” where wit was king and the jokes even more raw than steak tartare. Playing to a sold-out room, Jamie deRoy, who got her start in the Catskills at the Concord and at Grossinger’s, sat perched on a stool and held court as guest comics and artists, including Lewis Cleale (“The Book of Mormon”) and Grammy award-winning songwriter and country star Larry Gatlin (“The Will Rogers Follies”) entertained. DeRoy, who has a Megillah-long roster of credits as a performer and a Broadway and off-Broadway producer (including the current the off-Broadway “My Name Is Asher Lev” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which recently moved to the Golden Theater), had them rolling in the aisles with her edgy parodies showing that nothing is sacred.
There was the “Upper West Side Story” (modeled after “West Side Story,” original lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein), which deRoy and parody writer Jan Schor, reconfigured. In a parody of “The Jet Song,” the lyrics “When you’re a Jet” morphed into “When you’re a JAP,” hitting comedic homeruns: “When you’re a Jap, you’re a Jap all the way / From your first Gucci bag to your last Perrier… / The Jap is going to have her way tonight / No shiksa’s going to have her say tonight….”
There was an original opus, “Jews Don’t Camp,” with music and lyrics by David Buskin: “Jews don’t camp. / If it hasn’t got a lobby, I don’t want it for a hobby… / If your sleeping bag is tiltin’, you can meet me at the Hilton… / I get hives and start to break out if there isn’t Chinese take-out.”
Schor and deRoy made John Hartford’s megahit “Gentle on My Mind” into “Gentiles on my Mind,” with lyrics like, “My mother used to sit me on her knee and tell me till my face was blue. / “Go flirt with any color, race or creed my dear, but come home with a Jew.’”
I first met deRoy in June 1993 when she hosted a 100-year celebration for Fred Allen at her Alwyn Court apartment. Allen, who was a regular on the now archived TV show “What’s My Line?” one of the most popular shows ever on radio, was the original owner of the apartment. The guest roster that night included comedian Henny Youngman, NBC announcer Ed Herlihy, actress Sylvia Miles and composer Charles Strouse. Can’t wait for her next New York show. A good haimish laugh is hard to find.