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The Poetic Pandemic – Part 4

Gene and Carol – Opening Nite After Play

 

By Carol Ostrow

 

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1982. I was visiting my brother Philip for the holiday in the big city. Philly was much older, always treated me like someone he wanted to avoid. Never the less, as his baby sister, he introduced me to Opera, Ballet, Broadway and all the finer things in life. I loved him dearly for it. He was brilliant, a successful Psychologist, much shorter than me and a big pain in the neck. Nevertheless, we only had each other. I always forgave him for his bad behavior towards me.

That particular weekend, my dearest friend from D.C., Bette LaVine, whom I affectionately referred to as the Divine LaVine, invited me to a posh party at a penthouse apartment in the United Nations building overlooking the East River. She was dating a recent widower from NY and wanted me to meet him, as well as the hostess. I schlepped Philly with me. As we stepped into the elevator, a handsome, white haired gentleman by the name of J.Gene Hochfelder walked in with us. As it turned out, this was the Devine LaVine’s boyfriend. He followed me all around the apartment, curious as to who I was. I liked him.

Bette could see the attention Gene was paying to me. She gave her permission to date him, wonderful friend that she was. Two years later, when we decided to marry, she was my maid of honor and remained my friend till she died, many years later.

Honeymoon Hong Kong 1984                      Wedding Oct. 7, 1984

 

Our wedding was spectacular. We had 250 guests at the elegant Pierre Hotel. Our honeymoon was a glamorous combination of sightseeing and visiting Gene’s business associates in Japan, China and incredibly gorgeous, mysterious, Hong Kong. Gene manufactured women’s clothing under many company names and was famous for his knitwear. He was the Sweater King in the industry. When we returned to NY, we finally moved into our 2 bedroom apartment on the 41st floor of the Olympic Tower on 5th Avenue. We had Central Park directly in front of us with unobstructed views of the East River and Hudson River on each side. I had sold my interest in the business to my partners in D.C., as well as the apartment and my beloved wreck of a car. Bye, bye D.C., hello the Big Apple.

 

Gene & Carol Travel to Bali to see the Dalai Lama

 

How lucky I was to have this beautiful man in my life. We traveled all over the world and, between being a hostess for him at business parties and family events, I squeezed in acting lessons, dancing classes, a few readings for plays that were never produced. I landed a small part in a show called Prairie Du Chien, that was staged in an old train station in the Catskills, somewhere near the old Borscht Belt. I was getting nowhere with my acting. I needed more. Gene wanted me to be happy. This meant keeping my own identity. I loved being a wife but, there had to be more. That meant not using his name, keeping mine. The family could not understand or accept that.

Gene had five sons, five daughters-in-law and thirteen grandchildren. The little ones adored me, the others did not. The old story of a younger woman with a much older man, their father. Nothing new in that. However, I did the best I could with what fate handed me. Gene was very insistent that they be supportive of my efforts in producing shows and they were, when I began that chapter. That support did not last very long.

I was on my way with a chance meeting with the marvelous, well respected producer, Arthur Cantor. I had just put together my first attempt at presenting a show. I knew Broadway was not exactly waiting for me with open arms as an actress or anything else. However, Arthur had seen the show, thought it was awful and offered me the opportunity to see what it was like to put together all the pieces of a production as if they were pieces of a puzzle. This was an old-fashioned genius who not only produced classics on Broadway and London stages, he was a general manager, a terrific advertising person, talented director and all-around leader in the industry. His friends were legion. I met and worked with stars such as Eileen Atkins, Julie Harris, so many more than I can mention here, to the theatre owners like Gerald Schoenfeld, as well as all the critics from every newspaper in the world who paid respects to this legend. I was in heaven, to stay the least.

Carol and Gene

Two years after our marriage, Gene became ill with one health problem after another. He was very brave. Always encouraging me to keep working. He was a decorated war hero, survivor of Iwo Jima, a Captain in the Marines and could respect my tenacity to move forward in the difficult, impossible world of show business.

 

Shows Produced by Carol Ostrow

 

It was a world he knew nothing about but loved it when introduced to it. He was so proud to be with me on all the exciting opening nights, understanding the need to be creative which he also was, in his own way. He taught me how to play golf and I taught him about the business of show. Those shows were not always successful but the effort put into them was. That was what really mattered. Working with the most intelligent, creative, talented and beautiful people on God’s earth was all the success I needed. Making money wasn’t so bad either.

During the six years I worked with Arthur, first as a lowly assistant, then, gradually taking more responsibility as he grew older, I became his partner. We produced many shows together as you might have read in my bio. Together we went to readings, bought the rights to shows we thought had a chance, cast every actor, did all the publicity and raised the money. I even started a new business, getting groups to come to see our shows at a discount. This proved to be a very important part of my life later on. Who knew?

Abe Foxman and Carol Ostrow

 

Cast & Crew Backstage After Play (Anne Meara, Jane Powell on right, Carol center back row)

 

Carol (producer of Adrienne Haan’s Kurt Weill show at Metropolitan Room)

 

I was also busy working for my husband’s favorite charity, the Anti-Defamation League. They gave me the title of Entertainment Director. Abe Foxman, the National Director, Gene’s dear friend and Holocaust survivor, would bring me scripts of shows he thought might raise money for the organization. I put on the large fund raisers in theatres such as Town Hall, the Hudson Theatre where such luminaries as Olympia Dukakis, LaChanze, Jason Robert Brown, Carolee Carmello, Sheldon Harnick, Tovah Feldshuh, Robert Cuccioli and many, many more performed or were honored at an event. I was also given a script for a short film called “Torta Bluma.” It was about a true incident in the Holocaust. It would star Stellen Skarsgard and Simon McBurney. Abe asked me to look it over. If I liked it, he wanted me to raise money for it. I loved it, raised the money and vowed to make more films in the future. I kept on producing plays and musicals Off-Broadway, to give me a little joy, as there was much sadness and confusion waiting for me at home every night.

 

Carol and Gene in Florida           3 years Prior to His Death

 

Gene was now desperately ill. The last three years of his life, he was blind and a quadriplegic. Never once did he complain. Our apartment was now a hospital with a wonderful couple, Roz and her husband Errol, living with us in the guest room, taking care of my poor Gene’s body. He needed constant, professional care. I took him out to dinner every evening so he could mingle with people.  I slept on the blue velvet sofa in our living room every night. Craziness became the norm. Then, in the middle of the night, he passed away in my arms on September 20th, 2004, one month shy of our 20th Anniversary. Every single bit of life I was then accustomed to, came to a shocking, frightening, sudden halt. That luxurious, privileged life I shared with Gene was over. My fabulous, incredible, loving husband was gone.

Then, as life would have it, my mother, stepfather and brother passed away. I felt totally alone and depressed. I wanted to find a synagogue to say prayers for my family on the high holy days. I could have gone anywhere.

 

Some of the Shows Produced at Actors’  Temple 2016 to present

 

Carol, Richard Rodger’s Son, Anna Bergman 2016 Fundraiser Actors’ Temple “Love Songs from Richard Rodgers”

 

Fate played another hand in my life when a friend told me about the Actors’ Temple, a well-kept secret where all the old time (many famous) Jewish stars on Broadway were members or just raised money for it. I attended, fell in love with the building and its wonderful, unusual history. I subsequently became so devoted to this little Shul that it has become part of everything I do. Being voted onto the Board and serving as its President, producing fund raisers for the last 5 years, has brought me meaning and a real purpose.

Absolutely every single thing I ever learned in life has brought me to this place and moment in time. I would not change a single second of it. This is not a memoir, so I am going to stop here although there is so much more of my life to share with you. As they say in show business, “Always leave them wanting more.”

 

 

From the Pandemic Pen:

Every ending can be a new beginning,

Like a lottery you hoped to be winning.

There is so much opportunity to find,

If you just keep opening your mind,

Don’t be blind,

For that door you push through

Can hold surprises for you.

I know you will be fine!!

                                                                                                                    *

I must relate what I really appreciate,

Sitting right now, sunning my face,

In the tiny park, over water, on Sutton Place.

I just took a walk, wandering around,

So lucky to breathe in the air that I found,

Just a few blocks away.

All my neighbors, each in a mask,

Gasping, as though walking, was a very hard task.

Damn, I am so out of shape,

Not realizing till I took this great escape.

Fresh air, boats floating by me,

In the green water, this first time I see,

How simple life’s pleasures are by far.

When life gets back to normal, I make a request,

To remember to live simply, it’s really the best!

           On my way home now to rest,

I’m exhausted.

*

For us to get through these harrowing days,

We need to get going, get out of this haze,

And quickly get back to a Broadway phase.

Oh, how we love to see talent perform,

To hear a musician blowing that horn,

To watch the dancers, with fast flying feet,

To force us to rise, straight out of our seat.

To hear the audience sigh in relief,

When the hero gets the girl, in disbelief,

That the beauty we see is just too brief.

Two hours in fact, to be exact.

To pay too much to see a HAMILTON,

Or laugh too loud at BOOK OF MORMON.

To be amazed by the stage, actors at play,

Where we can see genius on almost any day.

It must come back, there is no other way.

As theatre reflects everything we feel,

This is a must, a very big deal,

I can give you a discount, throw in a meal,

So we march onward and, please,

 Finally heal.

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