Whether for vacation,
delectation or arm chair fantasizing, “Inside the Plaza”: An
Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel is an irresistible
bon-bon, a must-read.
Note for the
uninitiated: The Plaza Hotel, described as “the largest French
chateau in the world,” occupies the southwest corner of 59th
Street and Fifth Ave., directly across the street from Central
Park. A playground for the privileged, it’s the fairytale-like
castle where Eloise lives, the rich romp, the royals relax, and
the arrivistes/wannabes disport themselves.
It’s where Truman Capote held the fabled
“Black and White Ball” for Katharine Graham, where Neil Simon
set “Plaza Suite,” and who can forget Barbra Streisand and
Robert Redford in the final scene of “The Way We Were”?
This chronicle of
a unique Gotham institution is by the estimable Ward Morehouse
III. It’s rich in history – to be relished even by those who
think they aren’t interested—and awash in familiar names and
unfamiliar anecdotes: J. Edgar Hoover, as few have seen him; JFK
and Jackie; JFK and Judith Exner; Onassis and Jackie; Onassis
and Maria Callas (as only Jackie Susann knew and told, albeit
thinly veiled, in her posthumous novel, “Dolores” and now is
revealed openly in this tome) and the lavish lifestyles – even
by Plaza standards – of visiting Middle Eastern potentates.
In this engagingly written and carefully
researched delicacy, Ward has created a mélange of morsels to be
savored. It’s an ideal vacation or travel book because no matter
where it’s opened, there will be a fascinating vignette that can
be understood without having to refer back to anything else.
Lost your place? No matter. Open anywhere and enjoy.
While this is
first and foremost a fun read, there’s also much that
illuminates. The hotel is part of the history of New York --
really, in many senses, of the world—and the anecdotes provide a
glimpse into the private lives of the literary (F. Scott and
Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, playwright Ferenc “The Play’s
the Thing” and “Liliom” Molnar, Neil Simon, Gilbert Seldes,
among others), the legendary (including Gertrude Lawrence, Mary
Martin, Ethel Merman, Cary Grant, Paul Newman and Joanne
Woodward and The Beatles), Powerful pols ( Jimmy Walker and John
Lindsay among them) and the notorious (Sam Giancana). Almost a
footnote: “Fosse and Niles” in 1950. The “Fosse” is dancer and
later to be acclaimed choreographer and director Bob Fosse.
“Niles”? Mary Ann Niles, the first Mrs. Fosse! (It was my
pleasure to work with “Spooki” Niles in “The Pajama Game” years
later, and Bob Fosse attended a performance.)
There are pages of fascinating photos
including particularly lovely shots of JFK and Jackie, Marilyn
Monroe and Angie Dickinson. Also, of a very young Mia Farrow
with her mother, Maureen O’ Sullivan.
One can make a
game of trying to identify those in various shots who are not
named. In a photograph of the author’s parents, distinguished
drama critic Ward Morehouse, Jr., and actress Joan Marlowe,
there in profile is someone apparently animatedly speaking to
them, and I wager that someone is movie star Jane Wyman (the
first Mrs. Ronald Reagan). The upturned nose is the clue.
There’s no one
better qualified to write a biography of a hotel than Ward
Morehouse III. He grew up in posh hostelries all over the globe,
as his myriad books on the subject attest. He lived at the Plaza
first with his parents, then with his father and stepmother.
As a child he got
to know the nooks and crannies and revisits them as he guides
the reader on a virtual tour. This volume is an updating of his
2001 effort, so there are all manner of new facets to be
observed. He got the know the staff of old, and remained in the
loop as the newcomers arrived. He apprises us of their functions
and how the hotel actually works. The kitchens are particularly
interesting, given the five restaurants on the premises.
The author takes us
through the changes in ownership and what each wrought. But
throughout, it’s the clientele
“Inside the Plaza” An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel
Theatre and Cinema Books,
An imprint of Hal
Pages: 244 plus 40
pages of photos