Monday, November 26, 2012

The Suicide of Terry Gionoffrio - September 1967

Though her resemblance to the actress Victoria Vetri was a matter of some debate among the tenants at the Bramford, there's no argument that the troubled Terry Gionoffrio was like a daughter to us. Ask anyone. Terry moved into the building in 1966, after making a large sum of money posing nude for several high-end men's magazines under the evocative alias Angela Dorian. She was sure as could be that Hollywood stardom was within her reach & we nurtured her ambitions while trying to keep her grounded. Her father & mother were immigrants from Italy who'd died in a drunk driving accident on the Pacific Coast Highway many years earlier, leaving Terry a starry-eyed orphan with all kinds of gumption but very little common sense. 

After posing in her natural state for the magazines, she'd wisely chosen to "mature" in Manhattan, where she could easily bury her ribald past in a slew of acting, painting & guitar lessons. We took to her immediately, drawn to both her aura of loneliness & her fierce, vivacious will to succeed. Having studied under Stanislavski herself as a teenager, Minnie coached Terry in acting & leavened the melodramatic seriousness of 60s method acting classes with some real-world practicality & wit (Minnie's specialty). Terry had the keys to our apartment, came & went as she pleased & filled the role of the child we never had with such ease we were barely conscious of it happening. That is, until she jumped from our window onto 72nd Street one autumn evening while we were seeing Jules Feiffer's doomed play Little Murders on Broadway & grieved us to the bone with her sudden, inexplicable self-destruction. 

Later, when the precious gamine Rosemary Woodhouse became the object of our attentions, she was kind enough to impart to us something Terry had told her once while they folded laundry together: "They picked me up off the sidewalk, literally...I was starving and on dope and doing a lot of other things. They're childless though. I'm like the daughter they never had. At first, I thought they wanted me for some kind of a sex thing but they turned out to be like real grandparents...I'd be dead now if it wasn't for them. That's an absolute fact. Dead or in jail." To some degree, this put our hearts at ease. 

Several photographs of Terry Gionoffrio posing as Angela Dorian
Rosemary with Terry Gionoffrio in the laundry room of the Bramford
Rosemary & Terry at a get-together in the Woodhouse apartment

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cocktail of the Week - Leaving Manhattan

We were in quite a rush before we left for Asturias, Cantabria & Galicia on the northern coast of Spain, so we failed to mention our lovely bon voyage party. Asim Tuttle, who lives down the hall, hosted the fete & his story is an interesting one. His Austrian father, a Jewish horticulturalist, wound up stranded in Morocco fleeing from the Second World War & there met an utterly charming Arab woman named Ahlam. They fell in love & produced our evening's host & hero. Unfortunately, the mother died giving birth & new father Turtelbaum & his son were whisked away to the United States the next day by North Africa's heroic underground.  Asim swears he has no idea how the family name went from Turtelbaum to Tuttle, but Tuttle's Floristry & Ornament on Orchard Street in Manhattan became very popular, specializing in floral arrangements for grand European-style funerals in New York City & doing a few arrangements for the movies when his Old World clients & cinema intersected. 

Asim's father contracted consumption in 1952 & spent his remaining days at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium while his handsome young son made the flower shop his own, decorating the prosceniums of our city's theaters & nightclubs with elaborate floral ornaments. Howard Barnes, of the New York Herald Tribune, once wrote that Asim's exquisite arrangements were much wittier than the plays themselves. Even the famous Tuttle funerals became the stuff of legend, often looking more like elegiac parade floats than the dour wreathery we normally associate with these rituals. The first people to notice Asim's morbid flair belonged to the local Black Hand & for years our friend provided the American Cosa Nostra with the finest, most garish funerals money could buy, creating magnificent carnation horseshoes, dahlia sub-machine guns & lattices of lilies, reflecting an obviously damned soul's ascent to paradise. Soon after, Asim caught the eye of Hollywood & he moved to Los Angeles & began designing & advising on funeral arrangements for films, sketching out Gothic floral dreams for Billy Wilder's monkey funeral in Sunset Boulevard & a hundred other famous movies. Though he nearly always missed having his name in the opening credits because his work relegated him to being assistant to a production or set designer, Minnie & I always recognize his work when we see it & if we don't, Asim is there to bark, "Those wreaths? They're mine" or "That casket spray? Surely you can see that's my work!". And he's not a hollow braggart, the Asim Tuttle Touch is as apparent as the directorial flamboyance of a great auteur. His extravagant funereal arrangements in The Loved One  (an adaptation of the novel by our dearly-departed friend, Evelyn Waugh) is the finest floral work I've yet to see in a movie.

Asim Tuttle's Father decorated the casket for vaudeville actress Mirena Shed

Asim's father's work on the film Three Doorways to Love, 1944

While we were out shopping for the miscellaneous items one needs on a long trip, Asim cajoled Mr. Niklas into giving him our key & letting him decorate our apartment in an array of Spanish flowers & our favorite purplish blossoms so that we quite literally gasped when we returned to the apartment. Not only had he created the most ornate scenes from the Spanish Inquisition in Petrea Volubilis, Gorse Thicket, Black Rockrose, Armeria & Perpetua, but he'd provided the most elegant cocktail I've yet to experience & named it the Leaving Manhattan. All of our friends attended & the cocktail -- though not an easy one to mix -- remained in circulation the entire evening, thanks primarily to Asim's young assistants Bulag & Stephen who carried Russian brass teapots of the stuff from guest to guest with such silence & stealth one can be assured they led a secret life as Hashisin. We retired early, but there were still a few people discussing Leo Taxil in the living room when we called for our taxi & left the Bramford for Spain.

Here is the recipe for this wondrous drink, so you can brew it before you make your own heretical pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela:

2 oz Bourbon, preferably Woodford Reserve
1/2 oz Punt e Mes (dark brown Italian vermouth)
1/4 oz Dark Creme de Cacao
1/4 oz Lapsang Smoked Tea Syrup (make a pitcher -- 1/2 superfine sugar/4 oz strong-brewed Lapsang souchong tea)
2 dashes Orange Bitters
An Orange or Pomegranate Twist for garnish. 

We're glad to be home & Minnie & I can't wait to continue blogging for you.

Hail Satan!

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012