Dear Friends: I'm inspired by my dear friend and "Maritime Mentor", Bill "Mr. Oceanliner" Miller. Below -- a repost of his recent travels. For me, sadly, "land-locked" for most of this year, BUT on November 5, Alfredo and I sail from Rome to Fort Lauderdale aboard the fabulous new "Celebrity Equinox!" I can't wait. We'll update you on our travels once we set sail.
Below - enjoy Bill's postings!
Tue Jul 7th: Home now for two months (and after 17 days on the QUEEN MARY 2) --- with not a cruise ship or faraway port or, most especially, packing or a suitcase in sight! Yes, bliss! Free to schedule almost at will & whim! A nice calendar ahead of leisurely, fun pursuits, many with friends and many in the greatest city anywhere.
Mon Jul 13th: Dinner candles! Jim Guedry has exquisite taste. He’s a great friend of Charlie Howland’s and together we have been invited to Jim’s stunning townhouse down on West 10th St in Greenwich Village. Jim has kept two floors and created luxurious, but very homey & inviting interiors --- beautiful furniture, fine art on all walls, brilliant but ever-changing colors & stacks of alluring, oversized books on shelves & tabletops. We dine in the softly lighted garden, exquisitely maintained & done in descending tiers (could this really be Manhattan?). A cold soup with a tray of additives as a starter, cold filet mignon as a main course & then chilled strawberry sundaes for desert. Too wonderful … the evening passed too quickly. Jim, hugely successful & now retired, is one of the great hosts: attentive & caring, but also chatty, warm and relaxed. The perfect balance!
Wed Jul 15th: Tony La Fiorgia is a great new friend, a best friend. From Hoboken like me and the same age (61), we share vivid memories of bygone days along the waterfront: the ships, piers, those charismatic whistles & fog horns. We met for the first time on Jul 1st at the Brooklyn-Red Hook Cruise Terminal (Tony is manager of it and the cruise facility over in Bayonne) and today we lunch together at a small restaurant in Bayonne. The conversation flows, almost endlessly. Warm, wonderful memories, comparisons, indeed two little kids watching the great liners along the Hudson, but now grown-up!
Sat Jul 18th: Trial run! Tom, Brad & I do a walk, from the So St Seaport & then over the famed Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn Heights. The bridge itself is very crowded, including lots of foreign tourists, and has become a top attraction in the City. Brad is endlessly knowledgeable --- from history & details about the 1883-built bridge itself to warehouse-to-condo conversions in the Heights and, then detailing, such as pointing out the brownstone used in film Moonstruck. We spent the afternoon as a trial for next Sat’s official walking tour co-shared with the South St Seaport & the Steamship Historical Society (but which is eventually canceled due to too few advance reservations). A fun, interesting, very enlightening day just the same!
Mon Jul 20th: Lunch visit to another townhouse, this one just below Greenwich Village, on Charlton St. Three floors of more glorious furnishings, well-framed art & magazine-level décor (lots of grand Biedermeier furniture brought over from Germany in the 1930s as a highlight). The owner has just inherited the house and, with a worried look, expects to pay over $3 million in cruel inheritance taxes. Alone, taxes on the property (a 140-yr old building that also needs millions in improvements) are $20,000 a year.
Sat Jul 25th: More decorative splendor! Charlie Howland & I head to Chelsea, to West 22nd St, on this warm afternoon to visit with Tim Deason in his splendid townhouse. Another grand adventure for me! It is truly an English country house, but brought to midtown Manhattan --- opulent décor, the finest furniture, antiques, grand windows, a library or two or maybe three, an exquisite assortment of books and a very fine collection on British royalty that goes back 300 years. Included are the likes of framed, signed portraits as well as handwritten, framed notes from the likes of Edward VIII, Queen Mary and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor. Drinks in the enchanting garden, then lunch & then the grand tour. Indeed, you forget that you are actually in the City. All very Brideshead Revisited, but more Marchmain House.
Tue Jul 28th: Visitors come to stay! Lauren & Ian Wright are dear friends, from Las Vegas, and sometimes shipmates. She is a designer, he is a celebrity photographer (noted for his 1960s portraits of British celebrities like The Beatles, Twiggy & a young, virtually unknown Margaret Thatcher). They are in New York and staying with me to start a project called Cunard Yanks, about the crewmembers aboard the Cunard passenger ships & freighters of the 1950s mostly that brought American products home to the likes of Liverpool, Southampton & London. Along with clothes, housewares & even refrigerators were 45rpm records, which introduced Rock’n Roll to young, emerging British bands that would blossom into the Rolling Stones and Gerry & the Pacemakers. These crewmembers, who even began to look American in their dress & even hairstyles, were dubbed Cunard Yanks. Ian & I and others hope to develop this comparatively unknown trans-Atlantic history, the cultural exchange, as a book, documentary, lectures, etc.
Wed Jul 29th: Day in Soho, visiting galleries & bookshops, with Lauren & Ian. Sweltering summer heat is draining, however, and then followed by long floods of summer of rain, but which do little to cool down things.
Thu Jul 30th: Birthday candles! John Maxtone-Graham, the celebrated author & ocean liner lecturer, turns 80 this summer and so I host a party (in Todd English aboard the QUEEN MARY 2 berthed in Brooklyn) for 50 of his nearest & dearest. It is a precision affair --- everything goes as planned and as smoothly. Drinks first in the Commodore Club & then the three-course luncheon. Happily, Mary Maxtone-Graham has lent a hand, naming the tables by Cunard liners (BERENGARIA, MAURETANIA, LUSITANIA, etc) and very effectively splitting all couples & pairs. Thus, the conversations flow. There’s a minimum of speeches & tributes and, amidst a good contingent of his family, John’s twin brother Michael makes a most fitting toast.
After the grind lunch, Ian & I film “teasers” for Cunard Yanks, using the outbound QUEEN MARY 2 in Brooklyn as a backdrop. Tony La Forgia has been a huge help, clearing away the usual red tape for filming at the Terminal. Afterward, a visit to Charlie Howland’s on West 72nd St, showing Lauren & Ian his world class ocean liner collection.
Fri Jul 31st: Off to Sutton Place! Sir Harry Evans, a good friend of Ian Wright’s, is loaning his very valuable support to the Cunard Yanks project. Harry is, of course, the noted publishing mogul & who is soon to launch his own biography and who is married to equally famous Tina Brown (she did the hugely successful biography on Princess Diana about two years ago). They live in the super-grand triplex just about on the East River, with very, very English décor (lots of books everywhere & very mixed wall hangings) and even an English garden outside double sets of French doors & which includes a trickling fountain. Enchantment! Harry, who is over 80, but just in from a 7-mile run along the River, is warm, personable, very sweet & completely down-to-earth. Martha Stewart had just been over for lunch the day before, he tells us. He also invites us to his gala book launching in November.
Sat Aug 1st: Mike Mervine is the brilliant genius behind miniature skyscraper creations. An inventor and highly skilled man, I drive out to Allentown, Pennsylvania to his home & workshop. For me, it is toyland! The new creations are wonderful & some soon joining my 200-piece collection --- the Hotel Pierre, the Savoy Plaza, the Lincoln Building, 10 East 40th St, Pan Am and others such as the new Conde Nast and Bank America towers. A grand replica of the Brooklyn Bridge also finds it way into my shopping bag!
Sat Aug 8th: More birthday candles! Dick Faber hosts a very pleasant dinner for Abe/Mick’s 83rd birthday, which is actually on the 14th. Presents are lovely, but being together is the best present of all!
Sun Aug 16th: Jim Crosson is my oldest friend (since we were 6, together back in a very different Hoboken) & also the greatest hero. While VA doctors have kept him alive for over 40 yrs ( he was shot no less than 5 times in the winter of 1968, during battle in the then sinister jungles of Viet-Nam), it has been his own spirit, his enormously courageous will, to survive, endure, push on. He has had over 60 operations since then, spent accumulated years in hospitals and, in the unending ordeal, lost half of his right leg. Today, with his stumped leg infected & well worn (with bone damages), I visit him at the VA Hospital in East Orange. While the doctors may have to amputate the rest of the damaged half-leg, Jim remains optimistic & even cheerful. “Staying alive is the most important thing,” he says several times. Complicating matters, Jim has had several falls recently & the stump, already red and raw, has become infected with particles of asphalt. Jim has had, according to his wife Lindy, immense pain from the resulting infections, etc.
Mon Aug 17th: Scott McBee is a superb designer & artist and he has now completed yet another of his 10-ft long profiles of the great ocean liners. He is a fine, new friend --- every inch a delightful person. We meet tonight & have dinner over on the West Side, on 44th St.
Tue Aug 18th: Heading east! Marilynn, Janice & I become the traveling trio as we board the infamous Long Island Railroad and, with a few toots on the whistle, we head out to Westbury on Long Island to see Fred Chernow, good friend & fellow lecturer (“Dr Memory” on cruise liners as he speaks on memory improvement & assets such as name recollection). Fred has a PhD in psychology & has just sold his wonderful house (a rather big notation these days with the very depressed economy) and, afterward, is moving into luxurious North Shore Towers. Recently widowed, Fred has a new ladyfriend (no, not girlfriend) named Claire, who has a very warm, “we’ve known one another for years” manner about her. Homebound, the train has glitch & we are stalled near Mineola for 20 mins. Tension mounts quickly --- a warm evening & no air-conditioning & then of course the sheer delay of it all.
Wed Aug 19th: Bob Marshall is another new best friend & an actor, producer & director. Together, we are doing the documentary Mr Ocean Liner, which will run about 55 mins & include a series of interviews reflecting my life & times and also being blessed with having a passion for something. Bob is in town & today we are filming in the City: at South St Seaport, we do Mary Pelzer & Carol Rauscher, who are just terrific & so very professional as always; then to the high-rise “palace” of 90-yr old Bernice Heller (the most traveled woman in all of Manhattan according to the invincible New York Times) and then at home, in Secaucus, for Tony La Forgia, who is also quite wonderful & adds much to the Hoboken story, that sort of On the Waterfront touch.
Tue Aug 25th: We might as well have been on a small French passenger ship, say in the 1930s, heading rather exotically for Algeria or Morocco, steaming from Marseilles. The Café Luxembourg, up on West 70th St, is done in French Deco, smallish and as if on a side street somewhere in Paris. The décor is almost minimalist, but cozy & inviting. The waiter wears 1940s tortoise shell glasses & tells me of a shop down on 14th St that specializes in vintage eyewear. Marilynn Klein & I do lunch. I use the bus to & from the Port Authority Terminal and the City seems awash in people: the locals, tourists, groups being towed about by signing & umbrella carrying guides. The mood, despite the bleak financial news each day, is buoyant & optimistic & even distracting.
Thu Aug 27th: Trip downtown! Great cranes --- with the background buzz of throbbing machinery --- fill the vast, open site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. The first girders of orange-red steel are now poking-up above sea level for the 1776-ft tall replacement for the original Towers. Dick Faber & Capt Jim McNamara have lunch together and, within our many combined years and shared interests, we reminisce about the bygone days of “Shipping Row” along Lower Broadway.
Fri Aug 28th: Once again, and like fine china, life is so fragile. My dear friend Bob Pelletier has died very suddenly down in Fort Lauderdale. The news is like a strong electric shock with lingering feelings that sting. Bob was in fine health on Monday, entered the local hospital on Tuesday for an otherwise simple heart procedure, contacted one of those mysterious, but sinister hospital infections on Wednesday and then slipped into a coma on Thursday & was dead by midnight. He was 66. Bob was a dear friend of 25 yrs & was long employed in the cruise industry (Cunard, Costa, Delta Queen Steamboat & others). We had lunch together just last January. Wounded, I feel I have been robbed.
Sun Aug 30th: Des (Kirkpatrick) & I take in a new Manhattan attraction: the High Line. A former rail freight line in Chelsea, it once fed box cars into big factories & warehouses, but has been revamped as an intriguing, elevated park (complete with gardens, benches, even a small amphitheater). We climb up on West 20th St and walk south, in breezy, bright weather, to the Meat Packing District, blow West 14th St at Gansevoort St. The crowds are thick, restaurants & bars crammed and the mood seemingly cheerful, even energetic (but again, despite the otherwise dire financial situation & sluggish job market).
Mon Aug 31st: After lunch at a Spanish restaurant in Ironbound, in Newark, Tony La Forgia & I visit his home, in Rutherford, to see his collection of miniature ships & Lionel trains. Joyously, little boys together again, playing on a carefree summer afternoon!
Tue Sep 1st: Midday meeting at Mario Pulice’s sumptuous West Side apartment in Manhattan, filled with a treasury of NORMANDIE & other prized ocean liner collectibles, to further discuss & plan for our exhibition on that great French linert at the South St Seaport Museum. Opening is tentatively set for February of next year. Immensely knowledgeable, Mario is also wonderfully generous in loaning (and for as long as 9-10 months) his glorious pieces, including the blonde wood piano from the ship’s Deauville Suite & often used by another great icon of the glamorous 1930s, Marlene Dietrich.
The City is ablaze with tourists & I watch from along Central Park. Dinner over on East 82nd St in another temple of style & décor: Christine Roussel’s lavish, but very comfortable apartment. Christine is the archivist for Rockefeller Center, an author of several very grand books (one is on the artworks of Rockefeller Center) & is herself now lecturing onboard the QUEEN MARY 2). She’s also a great friend of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. A gorgeous meal (filet mignon as the main course) is served in the splendor of her wood-paneled, book-lined dining room (with antique silver pieces, stunning deep blue porcelain & fine crystal). The food was enhanced by the varied guests, including Jamie Gibb, a noted designer & decorator. He regales us with stories, tales, the sheer gossip of some celebrated clients.
Wed Sep 2nd: Steve Rivellino is the former manager of Radio City & a noted Broadway producer. We lunch together in a small Italian restaurant over on Tenth Avenue. He too is a lecturer onboard cruise ships & is also a periscope into the lives of the rich & talented. Steve is also too busy to catch a full breath and, among other things, is writing two diverse books --- one on his many theater experiences & the other on the nuclear-powered merchant ship SAVANNAH.
Thu Sep 3rd: A relaxing drive on an idyllic day to New Hope, to visit a friend but who lives in the nearby Pennsylvania countryside. We lunch first in intimately charming Lambertville (which is actually just across the river in New Jersey) and then to his home, another wonderful home of the finest décor, color, precision, great taste and altogether in a most massive house of seemingly countless rooms. Along with the most magnificent carpets (he collects Persian & Turkish rugs), everything was shining, gleaming in high perfection.
Fri Sep 4th: Alain Dayan has made over 100 films about passenger ships, cruising & also cruise itineraries. Based in Paris, all are scene and often more than once on French as well as European television. He has just completed two series: one on sailing the Far East on a Costa cruise ship and another on a trans-Pacific voyage, but aboard a large, French-owned containership. He has arrived in New York today (and aboard the QUEEN MARY 2) to prepare his next title: New York & the great liners. We have worked together before, in the ‘90s, on a film about the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2. But today, we meet in Lower Manhattan --- the bygone “Shipping Row” along Lower Broadway --- and, with his crew of 5, we film at the Customs House, Battery Park, along the bottom end of Broadway and then amidst the Monarchs of the Sea exhibition at the South St Seaport Museum. Release is scheduled for November.
Sat Sep 5th: Day in the country! The trees in Bob Allan & Rob Rothstein’s backyard must be over 100-ft tall. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the branches & creates a magical, poetic effect. We do dinner outdoors, even as the light fades, on grilled shrimp, barbecue chicken & salads. Dessert is, however, done indoors and includes some kind of pink fudge cake. Lots of other friends around the table & so lively conversation throughout. A most relaxing time!
Sun Sep 6th: While I have 5 new books in the works (3 of them due out before Christmas), I receive contracts for no less than 10 more, 5 each in two series (one on passenger ships by decade, the other by nationality). Tom Cassidy, soon to relocate from Long Island to the west coast of Florida, is over for lunch. Despite the 1000 miles in between, we want the friendship to stay afloat, to stay healthy & lively.
Tue Sep 8th: Another crossing of the Atlantic, another trip to dear England. Departed promptly at 5 aboard the ever-wonderful QUEEN MARY 2. Just like coming home --- the staff especially is so welcoming, friendly, helpful. Did the commentary from the bridge & spoke up until that tight, 14ft clearance of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Commodore Warner, an old friend, is in command. Busy day in New York harbor as it is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s first visit and discovery, and so Dutch warships & sailing vessels on parade, the Crown Prince & Princess in town for a week of celebrations & even the Empire State Bldg will be redone in bright orange tonight (for the Dutch royal House of Orange). Having just completed a sell-out 4-night cruise over the Labor Day weekend up to Canada & back, the QUEEN is tonight returning to the 6-day crossings for which she was created --- 2,500 passengers aboard (just short of capacity and divided largely between 1,100 UK travelers and 900 from the US) and, up in the kennels, 8 dogs & a cat.
Meet Paul O’Loughlin, the new cruise director here, but coming over to Cunard after 30 yrs at sea with the Fred Olsen Line and then mostly with Princess Cruises. Also meet with dear friend Bob Marshall, who is a fellow lecturer & now producing a documentary on my life & times and called Mr Ocean Liner. We will film several shipboard personalities as well as general scenes and my lectures during this crossing.
Wed Sep 9th: Long, but very busy day. 10am lecture by Bob Marshall on The Year of the Three Cunard Queens and which includes bits of his wonderful video footage that is part of a high-selling DVD series. Afternoon lecture by John Guare, the famed playwright & a most charming man, and then to the ship’s TV studio, to do the next morning’s TV show with Paul O’Loughlin. But the big stars today are Doris & Irma, now 95 and 80 respectively and the “queens” of travel on Cunarders. Doris has logged 1,800 days while Irma has 1,700. Charming & chatty, they are like Lucy & Ethel in ways! They are making the full 24-day trip (a 12-night cruise to the Med from Southampton & then connecting to the 6-day return, all on the QM2) and then, with a mere 2 weeks at home, they join the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY for a four-week cruise between New York, Eastern Canada & back again. Doris is, of course, well known as “Dancing Doris” and takes to that polished floor in the Queens Room each night. Some say that she has her own rating system of the dance hosts!
Pre-dinner party in the Queens Room, which is jammed, chatter-filled & beautifully attired. The Commodore ably does the officer introductions. After dinner (we are at a table for two just off the grand entrance to the Britannia Restaurant & have two excellent servers), Craig Dahn gives another wonderful show: piano, great pieces of music & his trademark glittering outfits (including bejeweled blue shoes!). Met a sweet couple afterward, from Maryland and nearing their 60th wedding anniversary, who said: “What a handsomer son I had!” They were, of course, referring to Michael, who has joined me for this eastbound crossing (and then heads to Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava & other Eastern spots after we land in the UK).
A day today that is, by the way, 9-9-09
Thu Sep 10th: 10am lecture by Michael Dann, who was a vice president for programming at CBS-TV in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and very much involved with such memorable shows as I Love Lucy. As with many 88-yr olds, he is often quite open, unabashedly honest, even outspoken. “Lucille Ball & Carol Burnett were the nicest stars,” he reported to an attentive audience, “while some of the men were not. Milton Berle & Red Skelton were mean, often difficult & sometimes very nasty. But the absolute worst of all was Jackie Gleason, a huge star but also a huge alcoholic. He would never rehearse, was especially mean & even abusive to women and had the most volatile temper.” Michael is headed to London, visiting his old friend David Frost. Myself, I speak at 11:15, a book-signing at 2 (nice comments from fellow passengers and, as always, someone pops up from Hoboken) and then Bob Marshall’s talk on the history of newsreels at 3:30 (his grandfather was in the business and his work includes the only color footage of the likes of the Normandy Landings of 1944, the liberation of Paris & then Allied invasion & destruction of Berlin). A very busy day altogether, then rushing to make the officers’ party at 6:45 & then dinner with Commodore Warner at 8:30.
High winds on the outside & so a bouncy night for the 1132-ft long QUEEN.
Fri Sep 11th: The eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, especially the hideous attacks on the World Trade Center. Cmdr Warner conducts a 10:30am memorial service. Bob Marshall continues his superb work on Mr Ocean Liner, the documentary on my life & times and which now has over a dozen filmed interviews in the hopper. More interviews today, including Amanda Reid, the asst cruise director.
Playwright John Guare lectures this morning & tells us of the “critical importance of place” in writing, in plays. He also tells us that writing everyday is valuable to improve one’s craft, but even more so that it becomes an integral part of one’s existence. Later, we chat privately & expectedly he is filled with anecdotes about actors & actresses, the theater & of course other playwrights. “Gloria Swanson invited us to dinner one evening in the 1970s, to her grand apartment on Fifth Avenue,” he recalled. “She had an idea, a great & interesting one she thought, but wanted to wait until after dessert. Finally, over coffee, she called the butler & together they unveiled a master plan on long, rolled paper. It was to make Sunset Boulevard, her own unforgettable movie of 1950, into a Broadway play and, as she added, maybe even into a musical. She herself would be very willing to appear!” (Swanson died in the early ‘80s and so missed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of the mid ‘90s.)