A Nod to Italy: From Freedom to Film


By Masha Leon

Published October 10, 2003, issue of October 10, 2003.
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It was ciao or shana tovah and a gut yontef as nearly 500 guests arrived at the Plaza hotel for the controversial Anti-Defamation League September 23 “Appreciation of Italy” dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Waiting to be scanned airport-style at the entrance to the ballroom, I had a heymish litvishn Yiddish exchange with London-born Rabbi Gerald Meister, Israel’s adviser for Christian affairs.

The high-profile Italian presence had emcee Maria Bartiromo, host of CNBC’s “Special Report with Maria Bartiromo,” in a dither as she read the dignitaries roster. It included the president and first lady of Peru, Italy’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, Spain’s foreign minister and the consuls general of Finland and Poland.

After presenting Berlusconi with a menorah, ADL national director Abraham Foxman thanked him for his unqualified stand against antisemitism and restated Berlusconi’s rationale for supporting America: “’Did you ever visit Anzio Beach?… I look at rows and rows of crosses and Stars of David and I remember… those who laid down their lives so we in Italy can have freedom.”

The event was a beehive of networking. Representatives of Jewish organizations, including Michael Miller, Kenneth Bialkin, Leon Levy, Malcolm Hoenlein and Alessandro Ruben (representing the Union of Italian Jewish Communities), were chatting it up with Israeli diplomats including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Ambassador to Italy Ehud Gol, Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon, Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman and Consul-General Alon Pinkas. There was molto buzz.

* * *

Anti-Defamation League dinner vice chairman Henry Kissinger was not at the Plaza but at the Waldorf-Astoria where his wife, Nancy Kissinger, was co-chairing the 2003 Top Dog Gala. The black-tie event, which raised $1 million for the 93-year-old Animal Medical Center, honored Kathy and Alan “Ace” Greenberg. “If the medical center took two-legged animals, I’d go there,” said dog owner Greenberg, a philanthropist, magician and chairman of the executive committee of Bear Stearns.

“I’ve been married to Kathy 16 years, 4 months and 23 days,” he said. Kathy Greenberg, a 1982 cum laude graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, was supervising attorney at its Bet Tzedek Services Clinic. She opened the New York Legal Assistance Group in 1990 to provide free legal services to the city’s poor and elderly in civil cases.

After her 17-year-old dog died, mistress of ceremonies Barbara Walters confided, her “heart broke.” Lamenting “When will I get a grandchild?” she settled for a Havanese Bichon, which she named Cha-Cha-Cha. Photogenic attendees included Lauren Bush, Jayne Seymour and Lucky, a Maltese formerly owned by Marvin Hamlisch and adopted by Wendy Diamond.

* * *

At the September 16 pre-launch book party for “Italian Movie Posters” by New York Times film critic Dave Kehr, hosted by the Museum of Modern Art (its publisher) at the new Loro Piano Boutique at Bergdorf Goodman, I chanced upon a Yiddish theater story.

Amid the artsy-society crush, I met London-born Jason Grant, an actor, playwright and director who volunteered: “My mother was half Jewish; my father was half Jewish, and my great, great-uncle Phil Schneider managed a Yiddish theater troupe with Menashe Skulnik that performed in Philadelphia.”

He recalled his first day in Stella Adler’s acting class: “She made her entrance wearing a blue knit dress, high heels, a mink coat draped over her shoulders…. She sat down, the coat fell away onto the chair… and then class began.”

The book is a “must have” for movie buffs. Largely unknown to the American public, these remarkable posters depict American and Italian movies with wit, flair and hyperbole. For example, the 1946 film “Jolson Sings Again” (“Non Ce Passione Pui Grande”), “starring the soon-to-be-blacklisted Larry Parks,” is depicted in one poster in a surreal mode and in another like a World War II USO promo.

A poster for the 1952 film “The Marrying Kind,” starring Judy Holliday, is in the style of “The Thing That Came Out of the Swamp.” Western movies are flamboyantly depicted with Grand Canyonesque bravura. Go buy it!

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