GRETCHEN WYLER

GRETCHEN WYLER

When Gretchen Wyler was appearing on Broadway in Larry Gelbart’s “Sly Fox,” we met her after a matinee for a lunch date. During the performance, we noticed two men sitting in the front row who clearly were there to see Gretchen. The cast included Vincent Gardenia and Jack Gilford, but we could see by their body language that the fellows up front were paying little mind to two fine actors. Even when Gardenia or Gilford was speaking, those fans were watching Gretchen.

I can’t say I blame them for their attention to a woman whom I and many others admired. However, I couldn’t help thinking, while I watched them, of John Lahr’s novel “The Autograph Hound,” which describes people who carry their fascination with celebrities beyond the borders of rational thought and into the realm of obsession.

MANNY RAMIREZ

MANNY RAMIREZ

We waited for Gretchen outside the theater. Those two men were waiting, too. When Gretchen came out, they approached her and she spent several minutes with them. When she joined us, she said, “I must have given those men my autograph a hundred times by now. I don’t know how many times they’ve seen this show.” She said she encountered the men on virtually every performance day, that they handed her index cards for her signature and inquired about the health of her Great Dane, which they mentioned by name, and made other small talk.

At no time, either during her conversation with the two fans or during her explanation to us, did Gretchen display any impatience. She was a person of grace, a person who understood her symbiotic  relationship with the public and, not incidentally, with the press. I don’t know what statistics Manny Ramirez will amass during the balance of his baseball career, but no one will ever attribute to him the quality that distinguished Gretchen Wyler.

You can read about Manny’s version of grace at this link:

http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-plaschke-manny-ramirez17-2009jul17,0,3496566.column

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tillieIt was sort of uplifting yesterday to be able to sit at a restaurant on the boardwalk at AsburyPark, admiring the details on the Paramount Theater/Convention Center building, and watching the passing parade. The last time I drove near that boardwalk, many years ago, I was afraid to get out of my car. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the people there; I’m kind of foolhardy in that way — seldom afraid of people. I was afraid that looking more closely at what was obvious from inside my car would break my heart altogether. I knew what happened there, but I had never seen it.

We were staying in Belmar for a couple of days this week, so we drove up to Asbury Park to tread the boardwalk and have dinner. There was a very mixed crowd making the promenade — which reminded us of the corniche in Beirut. That was one of the best things about the reborn boardwalk, that all sorts of people seem to feel welcome there.

CONVENTION HALL (DETAIL)

CONVENTION HALL (DETAIL)

There wasn’t a crowd there last night although several of the retaurants were doing a brisk trade, but the waitress at Tom McLoone’s told us that on weekends the boardwalk is packed. Again, better than it’s opposite.

One can’t help wondering, though, how this regeneration will be sustained and made to grow. I understand progress has been stunted by the general economic malaise, and while it is heartening to see what is new on the boardwalk, it is chilling to see what is still in ruins and to see the voids where businesses and games and rides have vanished. I tried to recall where Bubbleland was located — the collection of kiddie rides that was owned and managed by Lloyd McBride, who also was one of my instructors in communications when I was an undergrad at Seton Hall. We took our eldest three children there, and Mr. McBride — I still have too much respect for him to call him anything else — would often let them ride for free.

I was sorry that at the same time I was feeling a certain elation at seeing that boardwalk revived I also had a sense of foreboding that this grand experiment wasn’t going to work. But when we got home, I puttered around the Internet until I found an interview with Mr. McBride that was published in the Spring of ’08. He’s retired from Seton Hall and he lost his rides to eminent domain, but he’s still in Asbury Park and he assured the interviewer that the city “will come back.” Since I’m too much of an optimist to be afraid of people, I think I’ll be too much of an optimist to think that Mr. McBride could be wrong.

THE PARAMOUNT THEATER AND CONVENTION HALL

THE PARAMOUNT THEATER AND CONVENTION HALL