I was AWOL yesterday for most of the day, producing a memorial celebration for our late friend Elaine Kaufman with veteran TV producer Fred Rappoport. And what an afternoon! The erudite long time Elaine’s patron Dick Cavett handled hosting duties, and Elaine Stritch, Liz Smith, Gay Talese, Sports Illustrated’s Terry McDonell, and James Lipton were among the illustrious speakers. Their backdrop at Merkin Concert Hall was an incredible reproduction of the Elaine’s bar that was conceived and constructed by Fred Gallo of PRG Productions–he does all the big Broadway shows. Michele Lee and Lucie Arnaz each sang, with Ron Abel and his band backing them up.
The show went on for a pretty fast moving three hours–Stritch, coming in at the end, joked that she might have to take an insulin shot on stage. But Stritch also pretty much stole the show with her stories about bartending at Elaine’s early in her career–and serving one man 37 drinks in one night! There were great stories from restaurateur Joe Allen, as well as mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, famed NY rock deejay Carol Miller, Bill Bratton and Rikki Klieman, New York Yankess president Randy Levine, New York Times metro editor Pete Khoury, and Father Pete Colapietro. Long time head waiter Gianni Adamo and bartender Alex Gregg got standing ovations. There was a touching photo slide show at the end from Jessica Burstein, set to a medley of Ella Fitzgerald singing “‘S Wonderful” and Kenny G playing “Auld Lang Syne.” It was very sweet.
Later, at the after party in PJ Clarke’s downstairs private room at Lincoln Center, Josh Gaspero and Jenine Izzi, two faithfuls, announced the formation of the Elaine Kaufman Foundation for young writers. And what a fun party–Michele, Lucie, “The Sopranos” star Dominic Chianese, and Father Pete serenaded the crowd with a Capella renderings of their favorite songs– Michele sang in Yiddish, Lucie in Hawaiian, and Dominic in Italian. Elaine would have loved it, and of course, demanded that everyone order dinner!