Rosie O’Donnell loves the little children of Nyack, N.Y. It’s the adults she can live without.
Perhaps it’s a good thing the syndicated talk-show host has put her 1880’s Victorian mansion there up for sale (not enough privacy, according to a recent press report). For on the evening of Oct. 31, Ms. O’Donnell did something that had some of her neighbors in a tizzy. Nyack residents told The Transom that parents who took their children trick-or-treating chez O’Donnell were greeted at the entrance gate by a security guard. The adults had to cool their heels while the guard escorted the children the 20 feet to the doorway of Ms. O’Donnell’s home where she was waiting to hand out some upscale goodies–Pez dispensers, Spin Pops and full-size Nestle Mocha bars–to the costumed masses.
Even though Ms. O’Donnell is not long for the easygoing, hipster Rockland County suburb, some of the parents were put off by her lack of neighborliness, especially since she has built a reputation on being the nice talk-show host (as long as you’re not Tom Selleck).
“Nyack is very open, very friendly,” said one resident, who noted that Ms. O’Donnell supplemented the high brick wall that surrounds the property with trees, security cameras and guards. The resident added that “some people were outraged” by the Halloween procedure.
Ms. O’Donnell’s publicist, Jennifer Glaisek, said, “I think the fact that [Ms. O’Donnell] actually opens her house up for kids is kind of incredible. I don’t really know any other celebrities who do that. And there is a huge influx of people who come there.” She estimated at least 1,000 children visited Ms. O’Donnell’s home on Halloween.
“There’s really no reason for the parents to go up to the house,” Ms. Glaisek said. “I mean Halloween is for the kids, it’s not for the parents to go see what the house looks like and to be wandering around the property. It’s easier that way and it’s safer for everyone involved.” Ms. Glaisek said that Ms. O’Donnell’s security force “are all really nice and respectful and great with children.”
Then again, Ms. O’Donnell has always tended to favor kids over her adult public. She has had a longstanding policy of giving autographs only to preadolescents. Said Ms. Glaisek: “It sounds to me like someone was a little sour.”
Besides, if Ms. O’Donnell really wanted to piss off the neighbors, all she would have had to do is invite her friend Penny Marshall over and blast Ms. Marshall’s nasal Eeyore-like voice over a loudspeaker.
Those street signs that denote the city’s historic districts are done in a color known as terra cotta, but blood red might have been a better choice.
That’s the hue that a number of people involved in the process of preserving and commemorating the city’s landmarked buildings and neighborhoods are seeing in the wake of a benefit dinner thrown by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s private, nonprofit Historic Landmarks Preservation Center, or H.L.P.C.
Before and after the event, which was held on Oct. 5 at the Russian Tea Room, some careful readers of the invitation noticed what they claim is a curiously worded sentence about the purpose that H.L.P.C. serves in the city.
The sentence on the back of the invitation read: “The H.L.P.C. has also been responsible for creating the Historic District Street Sign Program, historic markers, plaques and medallions.”
But sources familiar with the situation point out that the regulation and designation of historic district street signs are the responsibilities of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a city agency. Helping to fund that initiative is the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1980 to financially assist the commission.
So, how does Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s H.L.P.C., which is not affiliated with either the landmarks commission or its foundation, claim credit for creating the street sign program?
Well, for about 17 years, Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel served as the landmarks commissioner, and for about nine years she was the chair of the foundation, she told The Transom. “I initiated and had approved, designed, created every aspect of all of those programs,” she said, including the street sign program.
If that was the case, The Transom asked, then shouldn’t the wording on Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s invitation have been clearer? Shouldn’t it at the very least have read that she, not the H.L.P.C., was responsible for creating the street sign program?
“I am the H.L.P.C.,” Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel replied. “Now you know.”
Still, sources contend that the H.L.P.C.’s invitation, and even the organization’s name, could lead some people to confuse Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s organization with the landmarks commission. For instance, the commission regularly puts up plaques commemorating historic buildings. Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s organization, on the other hand, installs “cultural medallions” that, according to that aforementioned invitation “document and highlight important aspects of New York City’s cultural, economic, political and social history.”
One source told The Transom that the foundation sent Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel a letter taking issue with some of the copy found on the Oct. 5 invitation. (Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel said she did not recall receiving any letter.)
The confusion has not been limited to the landmarks commission. In a story about the H.L.P.C. dinner, which was billed as a celebration of the city’s “Cultural Laureates,” The New York Times reported that a spokesman for the organization had identified the evening’s laureates (one of whom happened to be Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s husband, Carl) as “living landmarks.” But Living Landmarks is an appellation that another preservation group, the Landmarks Conservancy, uses for its annual benefit dinner. Not only was the term already in use, but officials at the Landmarks Conservancy–a nonprofit group that offers financial and technical support including grants and low-interest loans to property owners living in historic districts or landmarked buildings–had trademarked the term.
“There has been a lot of confusion among the preservation organizations, particularly if you have landmarks in your title,” Landmarks Conservancy president Peg Breen told The Transom. “I think it’s important for us to be clear about respective histories and our accomplishments so that people can understand who and what they’re giving to.” Ms. Breen added: “We each do good things in our way, but each of us is different, Barbaralee’s organization being about the newest organization with landmarks in the title. We seem to have made it as confusing as possible and we should do our best to make it as unconfusing as possible.”
Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel did not see anything wrong with the invitation’s depiction of the H.L.P.C.’s accomplishments. (“My record reflects my history,” she said.) She explained that while she was the chairman of the landmarks foundation, she presided over the installation of historic district signage in the lion’s share of the districts that exist today, 68 of 71 historic districts by her count. She also contended, “I am the person that is doing the street signs still.” Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, who said her work for the H.L.P.C. is done pro bono, said a number of the historic districts’ street signs have been rendered in green, and that she has been lobbying the city’s Department of Transportation Commissioner Wilbur Chapman to change them to the correct terra cotta. Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel attempted to arrange a conference call with The Transom to Mr. Chapman’s office, but no one answered his phone.
“What have they done?” Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel said of the landmarks commission. Then, she added, “I wish them well. There’s room for everyone.”
Susan Ball, current chairman of the landmarks foundation, acknowledged, “There haven’t been many historic districts designated in the last few years. Douglaston, Queens, was the last one.” But she added that she’s currently working on three new ones: the Hardenbergh Rhinelander, Vinegar Hill and Stone Street historic districts. She also said, “I don’t know how many plaques we’ve put up. We just did one at the Harlem Y.M.C.A. three days ago.”
“We’re on it tooth and nail,” Ms. Ball said, adding that she was unaware of any problem with the color of the historic district street signs. “If she has any problem, she should call the commission or the foundation. That’s the normal course of dialogue.”
It’s Swell, You’re Hell
Frank Gifford’s punishment is not over.
On Oct. 26, Mr. Gifford got to introduce his wife, talk-show hostess Kathie Lee Gifford, who had flown in from San Francisco to perform at the annual Parkinson’s Disease Foundation benefit dinner at the Plaza Hotel. But a few songs into her set, Mrs. Gifford, who seemed to be wearing a bra, trotted out a song that she said she had written herself and which she had performed in the past. Although she forgot a number of the lines (at one point moving her to sing, “I left my mind in San Francisco!”), the song dealt, rather skeptically, with the media’s treatment of Mrs. Gifford’s tabloid-friendly life, including her husband’s infidelity. “They put you on the cover/ Say your marriage is over/ They put you on the cover/ Say your husband’s a rover,” Mrs. Gifford sang with Ethel Merman-like energy while Mr. Gifford was in the room. “There must be something missing from somebody’s life/ If they’d rather read about the plight of Frank Gifford’s wife.” Around this point in the song, the refrain, which had been a variation on “It’s swell, you sell!” became “It’s hell, it’s hell!”–later, in reference to the media, the line became “It smells, but it sells!” Mrs. Gifford also had a line in there about the press depicting her as someone “who loves to put small kids to work” and adding that if she read all the things the press printed about her, “I’d hate me, too!”
The Transom called Mrs. Gifford’s attorney Ron Konecky with the hope of obtaining the complete lyrics, but Mr. Konecky said he was unable to reach Mrs. Gifford by press time. He did say, however, that the song dealt with “much more” than her marriage. Mr. Konecky said the song lampoons the press and that it was her husband who advised her to write it.