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An Autobiography: Chapter 38, Covered Bridge

When we were living on Roosevelt Island, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship was located in Manhattan with offices in one of the United Nations’ buildings. We visited the office several times and had lunch in the U.N. restaurant. From there we could look out the window and see Roosevelt Island. I think Dr. Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, would have been pleased that the offices of the organization, which was founded in 1940 to support his hospital work in Africa, was located near the United Nations. It later moved to Boston.

One night, before the tram was operating, we went to see a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), but I can’t remember what it was. I do remember the mix-up we had on the subways. After we left BAM and went to the subway station, I’m not sure what I was doing – maybe looking at papers at the newsstand – but Georgianna and Heather went down the wrong steps. I looked for them and saw across the tracks a train pulling out – and there was Heather and Georgianna going to who knows where!

There was nothing I could do but get on the train to Queens. It was late at night, and I was worried. I got off the subway at Queens and stood at the corner waiting for the bus to Roosevelt Island. I waited a while to see if they showed up. Well, in a short time here they came, laughing and happy! Just a typical evening in New York.

Allan Jones was one of our favorite singers, and his starring role in the 1935 film version of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, with Irene Dunne, was only one of his memorable films. At the age of 69, on November 3, 1976, he gave a rare concert appearance at New York’s Town Hall, and Georgianna and I spent a wonderful nostalgic evening. His LPs were on sale, and I have one, which he signed.

Show Boat Poster 038 

Another memorable appearance we attended, in addition to Jones and Alberta Hunter, was seeing the great harmonica virtuoso, Larry Adler, at a club in New York. He transformed the mouth organ from a children’s toy into an instrument of the classical repertoire. He was a close friend of George Gershwin and said, “He wrote the Rhapsody in Blue for me.” Adler’s 1984 autobiography is entitled, ”It Ain’t Necessarily So,” a song from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” The London Sunday Times wrote, “A super book, really super!”

Larry Adler Cover 038 

In the fall of 1976, we rented a car and the three of us took a trip to New England to see the glorious colors. At every turn, the scarlets and oranges were breathtaking. Leaving the metropolis of New York behind, we entered a new dimension, and those memories stayed with us for a long time. When we came upon a “back-in-time” covered bridge, we all expressed great delight. We got out of the car and took photos, and then we drove slowly across the bridge.

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As to why covered bridges were built, some New Englanders reckon that the roofs protected the beams from freezing in bad weather. Others will tell you that since these covered bridges look like barns, animals would cross without fear. I like the latter reason. But whatever the reason, these beautiful aesthetic architectural marvels are a much-loved part of the New England landscape.

After our trip, we were thinking about a second production at Goldwater’s auditorium, and chose one of the greatest comedies ever written: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take it With You.” The original production opened at the Booth Theatre on December 14, 1936, and played for 837 performances. The play won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The film won the Academy Award in 1938. One of the best autobiographies in theatre history is Act One, by Moss Hart. We scheduled the play for late January 1977, so auditions and rehearsals began in late 1976.

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A gentleman moved to the Island from Trinidad and brought his Calypso music with him. We became friends, and he told us stories of his life and sang songs for us. I remember one time when we were walking in the snow, which he had never seen before, he laid on the ground and rolled in it. Georgianna told him to put his arms outstretched and get up. Then she showed him his image in the snow and said, “Look you made an angel with wings!”

At one of the festivals on Roosevelt Island, Georgianna was the “fortune teller,” and a friend – I wish I could remember his name – wrote a Calypso song about Georgianna and her fortune telling. It was a great song and everyone loved it. He sang it throughout the day, beckoning people into Georgianna’s “tent.”

At the entrance to Island House, there was a large vacant storefront waiting for a tenant, and one day in early November we were coming home, passing the window and Georgianna said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Christmas scene with a tree and decorations in there for the holidays?” I thought that was a lovely idea, so I went to the office and talked to Mary. She told us we could do whatever we wanted with the space for Christmas.

That idea soon developed into a unique and beautiful theatrical production: The Magic of An Old Fashioned Christmas. For two days – December 18 and 19 – we produced ten live performances in pantomime depicting an old-fashioned Christmas, complete with music heard through speakers outside the windows where people gathered to watch the performance.

This original production may have been the first of its kind, and it delighted young and old alike. The setting was a reproduction of a turn-of-the-century living room with papered walls and several of the “Moore ancestors” framed on the walls. There was a beautiful decorated tree, packages underneath, and a huge gift box with ribbons. The kids watching intently were fascinated when the grandfather played the violin until the box opened and Heather came out as a “dancing doll.”

We celebrated New Year’s Eve at a gala concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln’s Center. Georgianna was an excellent seamstress, with years of experience with costumes for productions and making most of Heather’s clothes. That night, Heather was beautifully dressed as usual, and after the concert she was the center of attraction. We were so proud of her and looked forward to another exciting year on Roosevelt Island.

Avery Fisher Hall 038 

Don’t miss the next chapter: Easter Prelude