Thursday, April 9, 2020

"Thank You For Asking"

"Thank You For Asking"

Forty years ago today, Bill and I became engaged.  We had been dating for five years.  Since we were both living a show business life, we never thought that we would ever have enough money to start a life together, even though we were devoted to one another and truly, passionately in love.

On Holy Thursday, 1980 Bill came to my apartment, in the early afternoon, and said with a sweet smile, “I think we should get married.”   Needless to say, I was thrilled with the idea and immediately said yes.  He was insecure about picking out a ring by himself and asked me to go with him.  We went to Michael C Fina’s on Fifth Ave.  I never wanted a Big Old Diamond…I always loved Rubies and thought them much more exciting.  

Having very little money, we found a sweet ring with a small diamond surrounded by little rubies.  I loved it and it was only $130… was 1980.  I remember the sales people being very sweet with such a small sale.  Bill purchased the ring and when we got back to my apartment, he officially gave me the ring and asked me to marry him.  There was no elaborate declaration of romance, just pure, sweet, honest affection and understanding that our five years together had proven to us that we belonged together and were one.

Bill had just been hired to be the musical director at a theater in Tampa, Fl for a couple of shows and rehearsals had started here in NYC. We wanted to do something that would mark the day for this special  occasion so  Bill suggested that we return to the restaurant where we went on our first date for a quick bite before he had to go to rehearsal that evening.

Our first date was rather magical, to me.  Bill invited me to a classical guitar concert at Town Hall with Julian Bream and afterwards we went to Great Aunt Fanny’s Restaurant on West 46 Street (Restaurant Row) for some coffee and dessert. We returned to Great Aunt Fanny’s many times during our courtship….it was our place but it was also a place where a lot of show business friends would frequent…..actors, dancers and singers loved it because it was reasonable and had good food. 

So after a few loving hugs and serious kisses, off we went with our Ring to Great Aunt Fanny’s for our celebration.  We sat at the same table where it had all started five years ago and we ordered Burgers and a split of Champagne.  We toasted to each other……with me saying “Thank You for Asking” and Bill saying “Thank you for Accepting.”

To us that day was very special, as I am sure it is to all couples who become engaged, and every year for the passed 40 years, on this day….Holy Thursday…no matter where we are or what our lives have encountered, we still have Burgers and Champagne.  Sometimes we are alone, sometimes we are with other people, but the Tradition still goes on.

I love you Bill Mearns and I love that we still do this for each other.  I look forward to Burgers and Champagne tonight…..and “Thank You For Asking.”

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Rosemary Novellino-Mearns
© 2014

“Say Kids! What Time Is It?” …..That’s the way the Howdy Doody show always started and, being a Baby Boomer, I was devoted to this show in the 1950s.  Buffalo Bob Smith  was the MC of this very popular children’s TV show.  He was a very nice looking man and he wore a fringe enhanced western costume. He had a beautiful smile that lit up the television screen.

The cast of characters on the show were marionette puppets.  The star, of course, was Howdy Doody, a cute freckle faced, redheaded little boy, dressed like a cowboy in blue jeans with a red plaid shirt, a bandanna around his neck and he wore red and white cowboy boots.

We children of the 1950s had no idea what color his costume was because none of the TVs were in color…….everything was in Black and White.  Did we care…….we used our imagination.  It was a wonderfully innocent period of time.  Eisenhower was the President, the hit song on the radio was Patti Page singing “How Much Was That Doggie In the Window,”  “Mr. Potato Head” was the biggest selling toy, and Elvis Presley hadn’t happened yet.

There were a few human members on the show, which included a clown named
Clarabell who did not speak but honked a stupid horn that was part of his costume. He was a perfect foil for Buffalo Bob.

 One of the more interesting members of the cast was the Indian Chief Thunderthud
and there was the beautiful Princess Summerfall Winterspring

The puppet cast of characters were Phineas T. Bluster, the Mayor of Doodyville who was a cantankerous senior citizen.  There was Flubadub, a mixture of eight different animals…..he was very strange, but funny, and Dilly Dally, a good friend of Howdy’s.  
Mr. Bluster                Flubadub                     Dilly Dally

 Buffalo Bob would get things started by sitting at his piano and playing the melody of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay” which now became “It’s Howdy Doody Time, It’s Hoody Dowdy Time, Bob Smith and Howdy Do, Say Howdy Do To You.  Let’s Give a Rousing Cheer, Cause Howdy Doody’s Here, It’s Time to Start the Show, So Kids Let’s Go.”

The audience was ALL children, and Only children, about thirty total and they were called “The Peanut Gallery”.  They sang along with Buffalo Bob and on the last two words of the  song “Let’s GO”…...they would really yell and cheer.  They all seemed immensely happy to be there.  I was So into this show that I wanted nothing more then to be a member of that Peanut Gallery, but alas….it was not to happen.  You don’t always get what you wish for……..or Do you?

I finally grew up and became a professional dancer in New York City and did a little acting, as well.  After my dancing days were over, when I was in my late thirties, I started to write musicals with my husband Bill, who is a singer, musician and composer.  We struggled along doing extra work in films and part time jobs to keep body and soul together.  Doing extra work was not a glamorous job, by any means and I was always rather blasé about working with any of the movie stars.  It was interesting to watch how they worked, but I never got excited about seeing or meeting any of them.  It was just a job to pay the rent.

Bill and I also worked with conventions that came into New York City, and one year we were asked to work the Annual Toy Fair.  When we got to the Convention Center and settled into the registration area, we found out that Buffalo Bob Smith was going to be in one of the Exhibitor’s booths.  Cool, I thought …..maybe we could go into the show on a lunch hour and see Buffalo Bob.

We quickly looked him up in the program to see where the booth was located. We assumed the booth had something to do with Howdy Doody, after all it was the Toy Show.  Well, no…….he was in a booth just helping out a friend.  It had nothing what so ever to do with Howdy Doody.

My thought was, “who cares”…..I still would like to meet Bob Smith, so on the second day of the show, Bill and I made a plan.  We skipped our lunch and went right into the exhibit hall. We found the aisle, and rather excitedly, walked as fast as we could to find Him.  When we reached the booth, it looked rather sparse.  There were no flashing lights or music or anything special like some of the other exhibitors had, and I couldn’t tell you what type of toy they were trying to sell but “There HE Was..the One and Only Buffalo Bob.”

He looked exactly the same except he had white hair.  He was in his Buffalo Bob Costume, fringe and all, sitting at a table signing autographs.  There weren’t too many folks on line….only two other people were there when Bill and I joined the queue.  I felt bad that there weren’t more groupies waiting to see him.  Hey, it’s Buffalo Bob Smith….what’s the matter with everyone.  Don’t they know WHO he IS?

We waited for just a short amount of time, and I remember thinking that this was really cool.  Here I was a mature woman, almost fifty years old, and I am finally going to get a chance to meet one of my childhood heroes.

At last, it was our turn. We proudly walked up to the table where he was seated.  He looked right up at me and said, “Well, what’s your name young lady”……...His voice was the same voice that I had heard soooo many times emanating from my TV set while sitting crossed legged on the floor of my parent’s living room, and in an instant, as if I were in some kind of a time warp, I turned back into a 7 year old little girl. That voice……..his voice…….I was startled, stupefied and completely paralyzed.   I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think…..I just stood there saying something like…..  ”Ahhh….  ahhh…. ooo…. ahhh… oooo”….. completely dumbfounded.  My name…..I don’t have a name….what’s my name?  It was unbelievable what was happening to “Miss Blasé.”  Luckily, Bill saved me and said, “Her name is Rosie.”

Buffalo Bob picked up a small black & white picture of himself and Howdy Doody and signed it “Hi Rosie, Hugs from Howdy and Buffalo Bob.”  He handed me the photo; I took it and just stood there feeling like a complete idiot.  Bill, said my Thank Yous and gently guided me out of that booth.  When we had walked about fifty feet away, I came to my senses.  “Oh My God” was the first thing to come out of my mouth.  “I acted like such a jerk…...what in the world did I do?”  I asked Bill, “should I go back and apologize for being SO stupidly star stuck…..he must think I’m out of my mind.”

Bill, lovingly squeezed my hand, guided me out of the hall and said, “you don’t have to explain anything to him.  He get’s it, believe me, he get’s it.”


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SOCKS.....Our Homeless Neighbor

Illustration by Nino Novellino

Our Homeless Neighbor
Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

© 2014

Seeing someone living on the streets of New York City is, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence.  You somehow become immune to reacting to these people and sometimes you even become visionless and don’t even see them.  This is a case that made all that resistance impossible……

My husband and I live on the Eastside of Manhattan and our apartment windows look out onto Second Avenue.  For a few years, there was a homeless man that lived right across the street from our apartment, in full view of our secure and safe high rise, doorman building.  The distinctive trait of this individual was his voice.  He was a small man, about 5’6” which was a little hard to determine because he would spend much of the day in a squatting position while he yelled at everyone that walked by him, in a voice that was bizarre.  It was a low, guttural sound that was so piercing you could hear him a block away.  You could not understand what he was saying, most of the time and it had an almost cartoon sound to it.  It was truly strange and early in the morning or late at night, when the city is quiet, you could hear him in your apartment. 

Every morning as I would open our drapes to greet the morning sun, there he would be squatting and yelling.  No one said anything to him.  The busy city travelers would just walk by and not even react to his berating, probably because you really could NOT understand a word he was saying.

In 1982 my father passed away and, as with many families, some of his personal items were given to me.  Shortly after the funeral, I was helping my mother clean out some of my father’s clothing.  She came across some brand new dress socks that she had purchased for my father just before he gotten sick and asked me if my husband, Bill, could use some socks.  I, of course, said yes…..who wouldn’t want eight pair of new black dress socks?

A few days later, as Bill was putting these new socks into his drawer, I was standing in our living room looking out the window and my attention went directly to this homeless man across the street.  It was cold outside and he was wrapping his feet in newspaper and putting his paper wrapped feet into his worn out shoes.  My immediate reaction to seeing this, was sorrow for this poor human being.  My heart began to break as I witnessed this desperate attempt of survival against the City’s wintry morning. 

My sad spell was broken by Bill announcing to me that he now had too many socks.  He couldn’t even fit them all in his drawer.  Once my senses were back in my apartment and not on the street, I asked Bill to come to the window and see our poor homeless neighbor.  As he looked out the window upon this sight, his sadness turned positive and said, “why don’t we give HIM some of my older socks?”  Wow, I thought, what a great idea. 

We immediately went into our bedroom and started to pick out any socks that were slightly used.  They were still in pretty good shape, but when you have eight new pair, why not part with the old.  We filled a plastic grocery bag with Bill’s socks and decided we’d deliver them on our way to work.  We began to feel pretty good about doing this, and thought that, maybe my father would think this was a good thing, too. 

So, out we went to make our delivery.  Our homeless neighbor was in his usual squatting position and he was yelling up a storm.  Bill and I stood about 10 feet away from him, trying to figure out how we were going to present our donation to this man.  It was as if we were seriously looking at him for the first time and what we saw was a sad, filthy human being.  He was so grubby that he was literally encrusted with dirt. It looked like you could chip the dirt off of him.  I had never seen anyone in this condition before and we were a bit taken a back.

I remember Bill saying to me……”you give it to him….you’re better at these things then I am.”  I just looked at him and said “OK, give me the bag.”  As I approached the man, I decided to kind of squat down to where he was so that he could hear me.  Since we couldn’t understand him, I was a little concerned about whether or not he could understand me.  So, I walked over and got myself into a bending / squatting kind of position and held the plastic bag out like a gift and said, “excuse me, but would you like some socks?”  He said something like…..”Huh?”  I repeated my offer with….”would you like some socks?”  I looked right into his eyes and he looked right back at me with two of the most beautiful piercing blue eyes I had ever seen, and said in his gravely strange cartoon voice….”are they CLEAN?  I’m not wearin’ em’ if they aren’t clean.”

I was stunned to say the least, and in my head I myself thinking…..”what did he just say to me?”…...but trying to be a good, understanding and giving neighbor, I remained undaunted, still in my squatting position, probably blinked a few times and replied, “Yes, sir…..they are very clean.” 

He took the bag with his unwashed, grungy dirty hand and said “thanks.”  I replied, “you’re very welcome.”  I stood up and walked away shaking my head.  “Wait until I tell you what he asked me,” I said to Bill.  I repeated his words to Bill and we both just shook our heads, but as we walked away, we knew that this man, who from that moment on was referred to, by us, as SOCKS, had held on to his own dignity, and isn’t that what everyone wants.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who Saved Radio City Music Hall?

This was an important part of history.
I have just completed a book about the experience.
Click the link below to watch
a video which shows a small part of
what we went through.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Performing in the Bolshoi’s SPARTACUS
Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

© 2011

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine, Wendy Perron, Editor-in-Chief of Dance Magazine, to be interviewed, along with her, by Lauren Erin Brown, a dance historian. Lauren was researching The Bolshoi Ballet’s 1962 version of Spartacus. Puzzled why anyone would want to research this particular ballet, I agreed to the meeting.

The interview turned out to be very interesting, and a great deal of fun, as well. Both Wendy and Erin are truly knowledgable about the ballet world, and since this is a passion for all three of us, we ended up talking for almost four hours.

In 1962, I was a sixteen year old Junior in High School, and studying ballet with Irine Fokine, in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Miss Fokine, as we called her back then, was the niece of the world renowned choreographer Michel Fokine and the daughter of the Prima Ballerina, Alexandria Fedorova. You might say that she was “well connected” in the ballet world.

Being serious ballet students, we all knew that the Bolshoi was coming to New York City that fall. I was already a fan, and I was completely taken with their lead ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya. She had become my idol. The first time I saw her dance Swan Lake at the “Old Met,” I almost fell out of the balcony. She was so dynamic, exciting and dramatic. The whole house went insane with applause and bravos. She had over twenty curtain calls that night. They even started to bring the fire curtain down, to get the audience to leave, and every one started to chant…..”We Want Maya….We Want Maya.” This actually made them stop the fire curtain, and she came out once again for another curtain call. The crowd went into a passionate frenzy. Her curtain calls were almost as good as her performances.

A group of us from the Fokine studio, would get on the bus, in New Jersey, and go into the city for standing room tickets, when the ballet companies came to New York City. The Old Metropolitan Opera House was on Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets, which was just a couple of blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. All very convenient, indeed. We’d stand in line for hours. I remember the box office men, at the Met, were very rude and kind of scary, but once we had our tickets, we’d clutch those treasures, as if they were gold. If you were lucky when doing Standing Room, and there were empty seats in the house, sometimes the ushers would let us use them. All of a sudden we had orchestra seats. That is a fond memory.

One day, after ballet class, Miss Fokine asked the “older girls” to stay after class for a few minutes. She told us that, through her mother’s connections, she found out that the Bolshoi was looking for mature looking teenagers to appear as “Supers” in their new ballet “Spartacus.” They were holding auditions in the city on Sunday, and she thought we should all go. Well, we were immediately in a TIS’. The excitement of possibly being on stage with the Bolshoi, in New York City, at the Metropolitan Opera House was beyond any of our wildest dream.

Of course, we decided to go. We all wore our best dresses and high heels. We probably all wore White Gloves, as well. Remember, it was 1962 and there was a dress code for everything.

The audition was in one of the studios in Carnegie Hall. All we did was line up in a straight line. We did not dance one step, nor did we change into dance clothes….just stood there, trying not to look nervous, as they looked us over. I do remember Madame Fodorova was there speaking in Russian to the people behind a table. Sometimes it is good to have connections, because all of us that were from the Fokine Studio ( about 10 of us ) were chosen. We just stood there, acting as professional as we could, and did not react when we were picked. They took our names and told us to be at rehearsal the following week at the Met.

When we were finally out of the studio, we werer all tremendously excited. Hugging each other and jumping up and down, as young girls will do. We must have been awfully noisy and very unprofessional. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. My dream was to become a professional dancer, and now I was actually going to be on the stage with the Greatest Ballet Company in the world. I don’t think my feet touched the floor. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family.

One of the girls was a little older and she could drive. A few of us drove into the city with her for these rehearsals. We all pitched in to buy $1.00 worth of gas and paid the .50 cent toll on the George Washington Bridge.

As we all walked down the street to the Met’s stage door, I could tell that we all felt like real dancers. It was one of those….”look at me….I made it” feelings. When we stepped into the stage door on 40th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, I felt so grown up and happy. I was also extremely nervous. We were ushered down stairs to a rehearsal studio that was old and musty. The whole back stage area looked used, tired and completely Wonderful to me.

The rehearsal studio was filled with people. The smell of sweat and rosin was only overshadowed by the sound of a slightly out of tune piano that was echoing thought the halls. We were told where the dressing room was located, and all of us got changed as fast as we could. Everyone had a nervous look in their eye, and we all became unusually quiet. All we heard around us was Russian. Needless to say, none of us spoke anything except English.

In 1960, an American ballet dancer, Anastasia Stevens, left the U.S. to join the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. There was much “to do” about this at the time. Remember, we were in the middle of a “Cold War” with Russia. They were the people that were going to kill us. Anastasia had flaming red hair and a pretty face. All the papers and magazines, of the time, had written articles about her. I remember cutting her picture out of Life Magazine and putting it into my ballet scrape book. She was part of this tour. Much to our relief, Anastasia Stevens was there to translate for us. She seemed a bit distant, yet pleasant and it was helpful for them, as well as us, during these rehearsals.

As the rehearsal began, we realized that there were other U.S. dancers from other schools chosen as well. A lot of students from Ballet Theater School. If my memory serves me well, there must have been about 25 to 30 of us. We were all to be used in the big crowd scenes.
The choreographer was Yakobson and the lush score was by Khatchaturian. In the first act, 10 of us were to run down the center of the stage, with carrying large urns over our heads, and lay down by the footlights to honor the entrance procession of “Spartacus” and his army.
During this first rehearsal, all of a sudden I looked over by the piano and who was standing there, but Maya Plisetskaya. I quickly realized that she was going to be the lead in this ballet. My heart started to race and I hoped my mouth didn’t drop open. There I was standing in a rehearsal studio, looking like I belonged there, with my idol only a few feet away from me. Heaven…….yes, I was in heaven.

We were told at this rehearsal that we would be paid three dollars a performance. Spartacus was scheduled for 8 performances. We were also told, “Do not to bring cameras to the theater, do not wander around the theater, and you are not permitted to watch from the wings.” “If we were not on stage, you were to stay in our dressing rooms.”

A few days later, we had our first stage rehearsal. We were given real dressing rooms. They were in the basement of the Met and very primitive. All the walls were rough brick. We each had a mirror with lights and a chair and for some reason, I don’t think there were any doors on these dressing rooms. They resembled cells. There were several of them.

Finally, it was time to step onto the Met Stage. I had been coming to this theater to see ballet since I was 12 years old. The first time was with my brother, Nino. He treated me to see the Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” (orchestra seats). It was very exciting, and still one of my happiest memories. Now I was going to stand on That Stage.

As I stepped out and looked into the house, it almost took my breath away. The excitement was exhilarating. It was strange how much smaller the house looked from the stage. I discovered, later in my life, that It always looks bigger when you are in the house, and it looks smaller when you are on the stage. That’s true of almost every stage where I have performed.
I could see all those beautiful red and gold boxes and balconies in that classical horseshoe shape. The “Old” Met was an extremely beautiful theater, very European, extraordinarily elegant, and wonderfully ornate. I loved it there. It was so much more beautiful then the Opera House we now have at Lincoln Center.
This rehearsal also had the full orchestra. The Khatchaturian score for Spartacus is beautifully melodic, with passages that can make you weep and others that are tremendously exciting.
The company was assembled on the stage and the rehearsal was about to begin. Everyone was anxious and on their marks. It seemed to be going along very smoothly. Everything was falling into place. We couldn’t really talk to the Russian dancers because they didn’t speak English, or so they said. I remember talking to one of my friends back stage about the Bolshoi female dancer’s stage make up, and how sparse it was compared to ours. It was very simple and they hardly wore more then mascara and lipstick. As we were talking, a couple of the girls jerked their heads around, as if they wanted to listen to what we were saying. I think they might have been a little afraid of us as we were of them. Maybe they were told not to speak to us. We all seemed to get along very nicely, even though we couldn’t really speak to one another.

The second act, which I was not in, was a big orgy scene. They wanted everyone in that crowd scene to be actively involved… shall I say…... “in each other.” They wanted a lot of kissing and rolling around going on, on that stage. Some of the Americans dancers had a good time during that scene. While all this silliness was going on in the background, there were some spectacular solo variations being performed by the Bolshoi soloist. The young and handsome Vladimir Vasilev did a very sexy variation. He had a powerful jump. In this solo, he seemed to fly through the air and land on some kind of a bed object. It was very impressive. There was also Natalia Ryshenko who performed in that act with a sultry, seductive number.
Much of Spartacus was very earthy and sexy. Most of the men had bare chests and the women had on simple sheer dresses and sandals. There were battle scenes with men jumping up against another man’s Armored Shields. Spears and swords clashing in conflict.

A touching and romantic adagio between Spartacus (Dmitri Begak) and his wife Phrygia (Maya Plisetskaya). The combination of this beautiful piece of music and Plisetskyaya’s artistry was thrilling. She is such a great actress as well as a wonderful dancer, that you completely believed the love and affection between this man and his devoted wife.

For some reason, during rehearsal, we were allowed to remain in the stage area and watch all of this, and as I watch this adagio, I decided that I HAD to sneak on the stage during performances and watch them do this every night. I figured out how and I did. This was all just too good to believe.
My family was excited for me, my friends were happy for me. Everyone brought tickets and the excitement keep growing.
It was finally opening night. The theater was filling up with fabulously dressed men and women. In those wonderful days, people still dressed for the theater. Everyone was wearing their finest furs, dresses and jewelry.
There was actually a little hole in the main curtain which allowed you to peek through and see the audience. I thought that was cool.
The lights finally dimmed, the overture started and we were all in place. I had my urn and I had my mark to hit and I was ready. As I was lying there on the Met stage right in front of the footlights, all of a sudden I heard Booing. Yes, loud, rude, shocking BOOING. The audience hated what they were watching. There was not one Point Shoe and not one Tutu to be found in Spartacus and this made them mad. I think they thought that they were going to see Swans and Princes, but they got sandals and swords.
This was shocking for us, and I can’t even imagine what the Bolshoi was feeling. I must say that the production did resemble a Cecil B. DeMille movie. Enormously big, and grand, with a cast of hundreds and all those dancers running around in sandals.

The reviews were not good, and they cut the amount of performances in half. We only did four. This was all very sad. I only made twelve dollars instead of twenty four. I only got to sneak backstage and watch my idol four times, instead of eight.
One night, there was actually had a bomb scare in the theater. We didn’t take it too seriously, but I was surprised how frightened the Russian dressers were. These were older women that took care of the costumes and shoes for the company, and they were almost in tears. It was sad and I felt sorry for them. I kept thinking, as a sixteen year old, why is everyone so afraid of these people. We were all getting along wonderfully. It’s such a great testament to the arts, that people from completely different walks of life, with different political beliefs can come together, and work as one unit for something they believe in. I felt that way when I was sixteen and now at sixty five, I still believe that.
The last night of the performance, I thought to myself, I’m bringing my camera. What can they do to me…...the ballet ends tonight. Several of the American dancers had the same idea. At the end of Act 3, Plisetskaya took a curtain call. I knew exactly where she would be, and how long I had to do this. One of the male American dancers, who I did not know, had the same plan. We stood there in the wings with our camera ready. I remember saying to him as Plisetskaya came walking towards us…”On the Count of 3 we’ll take the picture then run…….O.K. …, two and he snapped his picture. I wanted to hit him, but I snap the shot, flash bulbs and all. As we were both running away, I yelled at him about taking his picture too early. He said he got nervous…..whatever.
Back in New Jersey I took that roll of film to the camera store, and eagerly waited for those pictures to be developed. Finally, they were ready and to my wonderment, I had a Great picture of Plisetskaya. In the lower corner of the photo is the other guys ARGUS camera, but that was all right with me. I spent my Spartacus money to have the picture blown up to an eight by ten. It looked great.
In the 1960s, after the Bolshoi or Kirov performed at the Met, they would go on tour, and then return for another week or two, at the old Madison Square Garden on 50th Street. So… girlfriend and I got on the bus and came into the city with that picture. We sat outside the stage door of the Garden for about two hours, when all of a sudden a cab pulled up and out stepped Plisetskaya. I held out the picture and a fountain pen. She smiled at me and said in broken English…..”AH Spar-tac-ous”…..I nodded yes. She signed the picture in English letters and it has been on my wall for almost 50 years.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dancing With The Lighthouses

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

The first time I laid my eyes on “Old Nauset Lights”, was in 1961. I was 14 years old, and I had come to Eastham, Cape Cod with my ballet teacher, Irine Fokine, and 16 other ballet students for six weeks of ballet and the beach.

It was my first time away from home, for more then a few days, and I felt like I was on an adventure. I can remember being very excited, after a six hour drive from Ridgewood, NJ, driving down Cable Road for the first time. We turned into a woodsy driveway that ended in a perfect circle in front of the “coolest” house I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe my eyes.....this house had 2 wooden lighthouses attached to it on each side.

Miss Fokine had rented this house, “Old Nauset Lights” (all the houses had names) to run a summer ballet school. Mr. & Mrs. Kingsland owned it, and they were both artists. We only saw them the day we arrived and the day we left. Back then, you may have called them beatnik types......that was pre-hippie time. They were both very nice.

Between these two lighthouses, there was a rectangular structure that formed a large living room connecting the two lighthouses. In each lighthouse, there were 2 bedrooms. Doors, from the living room, took you into these bedrooms. Each one had a curved wooden staircase that went up to a small bedroom in the top and there was a larger bedroom in the bottom. That’s where all the female students slept.

There was one other bedroom built off the living room near the kitchen.
That was Miss Fokine’s bedroom.

The kitchen was very antiquated. It looked like something out of a 1940s movie, with a large beat up sink and very old refrigerator. There was only ONE bathroom that was also an shower, just an old tub with feet, one small sink and a toilet with the tank overhead. There was a chain attached to this tank, to pull for flushing. That bathroom was for 16 people. How did we do it?

In the back of the grounds, there was a small building where we had our ballet classes. This building also served as the living quarters for the two male students.

There was a strange wooden structure off to the right of the front lawn which was used for storage and it also had two OUT HOUSES, which unfortunately or fortunately had to be used from time to time.....remember 16 people and ONE bathroom.

Miss Fokine picked this picturesque spot to run a summer ballet school. We were all very serious about ballet. We took ballet classes twice a day (morning and afternoon), and somehow we would managed to get to the beach between classes. This ballet school continued from 1961 until 1965.

We all became very friendly with the local people that lived on Cable Road. The Meads lived next door and the Mathersons lived across the street. Both of these families had children and friendships were formed. I know that my friendship with the Mead family has lasted over 40 years.

Bob Whiting had an Hot Dog and Ice Cream shack on top of the Dunes, on the beach, just left of the parking lot. He sold the best “soft ice cream”, vanilla and chocolate. It was quite delicious.

All these people became part of our Ballet family and because of them, we learned about the history of these lighthouses. The house was actually built with two of original “Three Sisters Lighthouses” that were on Nauset Beach before the Red and White “Nauset Lighthouse” replaced them.

I was instantly fascinated by all of the lighthouse history and was always asking questions. No one was allowed to go anywhere near the Nauset Lighthouse back then because it was run by the Coast Guard. There was a wire fence around it and many warning signs to Keep Out.

As with anything, the ballet school evolved. It turned into a performance space, as well. The following year an outdoor platform was build, in the back, and used for the ballet classes. It had a ballet barre made with a thin metal pike that went all the way around. The platform was high enough to also be used as a stage. Miss Fokine decided to give performances on Wednesday and Thursday nights for the locals and tourists. Benches were made for an audience and a sign hung on the fence on Cable Road reading, “Irine Fokine Ballet in the Pines.”

I didn’t go back to the Cape, officially as one of the students, until 1964, the year I graduated high school. I did, however, go up every year in between, just to visit. I was completely hooked on Nauset Light Beach.

By 1966, I had become a professional ballet dancer and working at Radio City Music Hall in the Ballet Company. Yes, there was a Ballet Company that was a separate group of dancers from the Rockettes.

I had a picture of the Nauset Lighthouse on my mirror in the dressing room at the Music Hall and everyone heard about this wonderful beach that I loved so much.

Thanks to my friendship with the Meads, Norma Mead was very good about sending me information about the Lighthouse. She sent me all the articles about the move that it made in 1996.

I continued to come up to the Cape. I came up with friends that were dancers at the Music Hall and then later with my husband, who I met at Radio City Music Hall.

My first trip to Eastham with my husband, Bill, was in 1985. I so wanted him to see “My Beach” and “My Lighthouse.” I remember driving down Cable Road and getting excited because he was about to see this “Cool” house that I lived in, and ,of course, talked so much about. As we approached the driveway, my heart sunk. The two lighthouses were there, looking very beat up, but the house was gone. We parked the car and ran over to the area to find that only the foundation of the house remained. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I quickly called Mrs. Mead to find out what had happened.

It seems that the Kingslands abandoned the house and it started to fall apart. The Parks Department, very wisely, had the house dismantled, but saved the two lighthouses.

They built a lovely park in that area and managed to find the third “Sister Lighthouse” and rejoin all “The Three Sisters”, again.

This past November, my husband and I decided to take a quite week off from New York City and come up to Eastham to relax. As we were packing, I said to Bill, “You know, I’m 62 years old now and for 48 yeas I have had a passion to go inside “Nauset Beach Lighthouse. Let’s see if they have a web site and tours are available.”

We looked it up on the computer and there it was, in all IT’S beauty, but the tours ended in October. My disappointment was huge and then I had an idea. If they had an e-mail address, I could write to them. We frantically started looking for an e-mail address and there it was.

So I sat there for a moment, and started to write to: Dear Lighthouse Keeper .............I briefly told my story and passionately asked if there was any chance to visit the Lighthouse. This was just a couple of days before we left.

The next morning, I was frustrated because there was no reply. By that afternoon..... still nothing. Then, around 4pm, our phone rang and a woman named Shirley Sabin introduced herself as a member of the Nauset Light Preservation essence..........”My Lighthouse Keeper.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to keep my excitement under control, so she didn’t think that she was dealing with some New York City “Nut Job.” She sounded very nice, but she told me that the tours were over. She also informed me that the Coast Guard no longer controlled the Lighthouse and I could go up to it and touch it without being arrested.

We continued to talk, and she asked me some question about the house that the ballet school used. She hadn’t lived on the Cape back then, but she had some knowledge of a ballet school. We talked some more and then finally, out of the Goodness of Her Huge Heart, she said that she and her husband would met Bill and me and give us a tour. You would have thought I had won the lottery. I was SO happy and excited. She gave me exact instruction about where to meet them in the parking lot on Monday afternoon at 1:30 and they would be wearing their uniforms. That night, I actually had trouble sleeping because I was so excited. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve.

The sun was shining brightly over All My Lighthouses that November afternoon, and Bill and I made sure we were there by 1:15, fifteen minutes early. I really didn’t want to be late for this date. Around 1:25 a car pulled up with two people in green uniforms. It was as if we all knew each other right away, and the tour started.

We walked down to the sight of the house first and Shirley pulled out a key. I said, “Oh my God, are we really going to be able to go inside one of the Sisters?” “Yes you are,” she replied. In we went and there was a picture of the ballet school inside as part of the history of this place. Ed Sabin asked me if I knew any of the dancers. As I walked over to the picture, to my Wonderful of the pictures was of me, doing a Pas De Duex, at one of the performances in 1964. I was beside myself with joy that I had personally become a part of the “LIGHTHOUSE” history on Nauset Beach.

Shirley and Ed asked me where the house actually stood and where the platform was were we took class and gave performances. We walked all around the area and I gave them all information I could.

They opened all three of the “Three Sister Lighthouses” for us and we were able to go up to the top of one of them. The stairs were still in good working condition.

I couldn’t believe how small the space in the top was. I lived on the top of one of the lighthouse with two other girls for six weeks. There were 3 of us on the top and 4 girls in the bottom bedroom. Kids will do anything.

I felt like I was floating on air as we walked back up Cable Road to finally go into Nauset Lighthouse. I was impressed that there is an actual Path to walk on now. We use to walk in the road.

Now we were walking up the small hill where that majestic Red and White symbol stood so proud. As Shirley took out a key put it into the lock, my heart was pounding.
Remember, this was a 43 year old Dream of mine about to come true. The door slowly opened and I was actually standing inside this magnificent structure looking up at all those steps surrounded by a beautiful array of hundreds of bricks lining the interior wall.

Up the stairs we went with our camera clicking madly. The echo of my laughter and joy bounced all over the place. We took pictures going up the stairs and pictures going down…pictures looking out of the windows and pictures outside looking in.

Shirley and Ed Sabin, spent the whole afternoon with us. They were both more then patient, and I believe they could see how sincerely thrilled we were with the generosity of their time. They are so sincere about the preservation of all this history, and both so knowledgeable about all these lighthouses that have lived on Nauset Light Beach.

This may seem strange or dramatic to those of you that live in Eastham because the “Lighthouse” belongs to all of you. Those of us who live elsewhere, and come there for a visit, can only borrow “The Nauset Lighthouse” for a short time.Thank you, to all of you that worked so hard to preserve All Four of these fabulous Lighthouses. It takes a lot of work and a great deal of effort to save something historical, and we must never stop struggling for preservation. Bravo!

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns
President of “The Showpeople’s Committee To Save
Radio City Music Hall”
A Proud Member of Nauset Light Preservation Society

Copyright 2009

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

There was a black and white, 8 by 10 picture, with a red frame, hanging in the basement of my childhood home in Glen Rock, New Jersey. This picture depicts an event that happened in the autumn of 1952. I was only six years old, but I do remember this occasion. It’s a story in the lives of my Mother and Father and Eleanor Roosevelt.

My parents were both Italian immigrants that came to the United States when they were babies. My father, Lt. Colonel Joseph J Novellino (Ret.), looked like Prince Reiner of Monaco, and was a Civil Engineer. He was head engineer for a man named Anthony Cucolo in Rockland County, New York. My mother, Mary Novellino, who looked like a combination of Loretta Young and Ava Gardner, was a housewife of the 1950’s, raising three children, in a pretty little suburban town, Glen Rock, New Jersey. They were a stunning couple, but it would have been improbable that they would ever entertain a First Lady.

Mr. Cuccolo looked like an Italian Maurice Chavale’. He was very wealthy and even more flamboyant. He always wore double breasted suits and drove a black Cadillac. He too was an Italian immigrant. His thick Italian accent made it hard for us, kids, to understand him sometimes, but we all liked him and much to our surprise, he liked us, too. He was a widower who didn’t like to go anywhere alone. My parents were young, beautiful, charming and fun to be with, so they were his constant companion.

The memories I have of my parents, 53 years ago, are vividly seeing them all dressed up and going off to places like the Waldorf Astoria in New York City with my Mr. Cucolo. My older brother, Nino, was given the job of baby sitter for my younger sister, Tina and me. Around six in the evening, after we were fed, I remember my mother coming down the stairs in our living room, looking like a movie star in a cocktail dress. My father would whistle and say, “Pet (which was his pet name for her) you look like a million bucks”. She’d give him a kiss and off they would go with the rustle of her petty coats and the smell of perfume and cologne lingering in the air. Because my brother was the baby sitter, after they left, we got to stay up and watch TV which we thought was very cool.

One September evening, we were all relaxing after dinner, when Mr. Cucolo called and asked my parents to come up to his home in Sufferen, New York. He had something that he needed to discuss with them.

As my mother tells the story.......when they got to his house, he was standing in the living room, looking rather pompous, and there was an envelope in the center of the floor. They brought the envelope to his attention. Mr. Cuccolo said, with a mischievous expression on his face, “pick it up and open it”. They both found this strange but they picked up the envelope and read the contents. Much to their surprise, it was an acceptance note from Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to a luncheon at Mr. Cucolo’s home in October. He was impressed with the wealthy, powerful and political people of the world, and wanted, very much, to be accepted in their circles.

Back to the mother and father looked at him and asked the obvious question about this strange envelope “on the floor”. He had decided to donate some money to the Democratic Party and had invited Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to his, beautiful, sprawling mansion on 150 acres of land, with a private lake, swimming pool and tennis court, for lunch. He looked at my mother and said, “you organized the whole thing. I’ll give you the guest list” Very much like Ana and the King of Siam.

Still standing in the middle of his living room, she heard him mandate her orders. She was to do everything. This included the menu, the seating, the table arrangements. He wanted her to give the servants her receipts for the meal. My mother was and still is an amazing cook. Mr. Cucolo thought it would be only right to have a true Italian meal served and he was crazy about my mother’s cooking. My mother’s homemade manicotti was to be the main course.

Remember, my mother, had three kids to raise which involves, piano lesson, ballet lessons, art lesson, PTA meetings, Women’s Club, Alter Guild and a husband. In her mind that would leave very little time to organize such an event, in less than a month, but it was my father’s boss and she was, from time to time, a wonder woman.

A few weeks into this whole affair, Mr. Cucolo called my mother with a brainstorm of an idea. In her mind, she didn’t need any more responsibilities added to her already growing list for this luncheon. He had come up with a “Brilliant idea”, he informed her. He wanted my mother to find small individual, Sterling Silver Cheese Graters, have them engraved and use them as Place Cards. He was convinced that Eleanor Roosevelt had never grated her own cheese and this would be a different experience for her. Now, even though this was completely annoying, she did think that it was rather cleaver.

To the telephone my mother went. To the city my mother went. She contacted Macy’s, Gimbel’s, B Altman’s, Lord & Taylor. She asked about tiny cheese graters at every Department Store that she could think of and got nowhere. Finally, she called Tiffany’s. Alas, they and they alone had just what she was looking for.

The next day, my mother and Mr. Cucolo headed into Manhattan to Tiffany. Yes, indeed, they had them, but they were $150.00 a piece and this was 1952. Mr. Cucolo was wealthy but not stupid when it came to money.

In the middle of Tiffany’s, he had another idea. He’s said to my mother, “Maria, from Tiffany we go to Mulberry Street”. As if God was saying, “I don’t think so,” the sky opened up and torrential rain started to fall from the heavens. One of those storms when it gets really dark and the rain comes straight down, so hard that even if you have an umbrella, which they did not have, it does no good.

To add to the adventure......a bit of history........even in 1952 it was hard to find a cab, in New York City, in the rain. After an absolute soaking, they finally got a cab and headed to Mulberry Street, in Little Italy, downtown Manhattan. When they got there, still wet, his orders were that he would take one side of the street, and she would take the other side, towards their quest. It was still raining. Now, remember.......another little piece of history........ in those days, ladies wore high heel shoes and white gloves when they went into the city...........and this my mother did.

Still, not one small cheese grater was to be found in all of Little Italy. Their spirits were turning as grim as the weather. How can such a clever idea turn into such a hassle?

Despite the cheese grater problem, the menu was going to be flawless. Mr. Cucolo wanted this luncheon to be perfect, so my mother cooked that meal seven times and seven times my mother, father and Mr. Cucolo rehearsed how that luncheon was to go. They actually ate antipasto, manicotti, wine, fruit and dessert seven time, in Suffern, with their host.

Then, a week or so later, my father, was in Paterson, New Jersey, and went into Quackenbush’s Department Store to pick something up, unrelated to this luncheon. As he was walking through the store, much to his surprise, he saw Tin Nutmeg Graters, which looked just like a small cheese grater. He couldn’t believe his eyes and to top it off, they were only ten cent apiece. He quickly ran to a phone to call my mother with the Grater news. My mother, always a fast thinker told my father to buy all of them and she called a jeweler in Ridgewood, New Jersey (the next town over from us) to ask if they could Gold Plate and Engrave these Tin Graters. With a resounding yes from the jeweler, my mother and father were the true heroes of that day.

The day of the luncheon arrives and my mother, dress in her 1950’s afternoon luncheon attire, went directly into the bustling Cucolo kitchen to instruct the servants on how to prepare these dishes. Mr. Cucolo, in his black Cadillac, went into New York City to pick up Eleanor Roosevelt. He rented a Mink Blanket for Mrs. Roosevelt to put over her legs, just in case she got cold and presented her with a double Orchard Corsage.

There were 11 people total for lunch that afternoon of October 4, 1952 . When those 11 people, including Mrs. Roosevelt, walked into that grand dinning room with it’s long formal table, and high backed leather studded chairs, the table was set perfectly. There was a huge arrangement of flowers and fruit cascading through the center of the table. The long stemmed crystal wine goblets sparkled in the afternoon sunlight, and on everyone's place was a Gold Cheese Grater. They were engraved with their name, the date and also “Guest of Honor Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the World.”

My mother was seated directly opposite from Mrs. Roosevelt and found her to be, needless to say, very intelligent with a wonderful sense of humor. She seemed to be having a great deal of fun with her Cheese grater, which made the three grater hunters very happy. At one point, she had such a hugh pile of cheese on her pasta that my mother leaned over and asked, “Mrs. Roosevelt, are you having some cheese with your pasta or some pasta with your cheese”? Mrs. Roosevelt found that very funny and continued to grate. I guess it was true that she never had grated her own cheese before, especially with a Gold Grater.

After the dinner the servants washed all the Cheese Graters and put them in boxes with a beautiful ribbon wrapped around them. They were then presented to each guest as a gift.

There was also a professional photographer there to take a picture of this major event in Suffern, New York. No press, just one photographer was present.

About a week later, every guest received a copy of that photograph. That picture has been hanging in my mother’s basement for fifty four years. My mother, who passed away at age 98, was always willing to tell the story of this event, if asked about it, but never seems to have any particular pride or excitement about that day, which probably explains why the picture is in the basement. She was always coming to Mr. Cucolo social rescue and considered this event another in the long line of adventures with this man.

I was home to visit my mother and went down to the basement for something and there was that picture. It was hanging on the same wall that it hung when I was a kid, a teenager and now an adult. We didn’t give much thought to it, either. It was just always hanging there.

All of a sudden I found myself starring at this picture. I also found myself thinking, how many people do I know who can say that their mother or father arranged a luncheon for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most important women of our time. I found myself, alone in the basement, puffing up with pride at what my mother had accomplished.

I brought the picture back up stairs and hung it in the living room where it should be. My mother, still just shrugs the whole ordeal off as an event that she did because she was asked to do it. Her children think it was very impressive, and she should be proud of the story. So, I decided to put it on paper as a tiny piece of history. It may be no bigger then a crumb of cheese but my mother and father were part of it.

That Gold Cheese Grater, though, was always been kept behind glass in a special place in our dinning room in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Copyright 2006