“THE TIMES in which we live move too fast for the considered historian to record them. They move too quickly to permit the writing of long books about momentary phases. Ours is the age of the reporter.”
If you think that is a recent quote, a comment on our age of instant reporting, blogging and tweeting, you’re wrong. The above was written by Dorothy Thompson, the famous journalist (and wife of Sinclair Lewis) in 1932. She was explaining the big rush of her short book, I Saw Hitler!
Dorothy’s quote is culled from a longer book, coming from Simon & Schuster. It is titled Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, written by Andrew Nagorski. This book chronicles observations — from letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs — of American reporters, embassy workers and even tourists who worked and played in Germany, from 1922 to 1941. It is riveting stuff.
Today, people continue to ask, “How could it have happened? How could Hitler have mesmerized a nation, planned a global conquest and attempted to exterminate the Jewish race?” Mr. Nagorski’s book goes a long way in explaining. With few exceptions, most people — even savvy journalists embedded in Germany — simply could not believe what they were seeing. They didn’t take Hitler seriously … they were isolationists … they didn’t really care that much. And anyway, no one man — certainly not one as physically unprepossessing as Hitler — could truly sway all of Germany, could he? (Only his icy blue eyes distinguished him.)
I read this book in one terrible gulp. You know what’s coming, and you want to scream, “Wake up before it’s too late!” There are never enough examinations of this period. It wasn’t the 14th century; it was the 20th, complete with cars and movies and most of the luxuries, modern conveniences and civilized attitudes we have today. Yet it happened. And yes, of course it could happen again. It does, in fact; “ethnic cleansing” has occurred in Bosnia and Africa. (Although the German people, after the humiliations of World War I, were inherently attuned and primed to follow a leader blindly.)
Amongst the cast of real-life characters there was one odd, infuriatingly flighty standout. Her name was Martha Dodd, daughter of William E. Dodd, who served as the American ambassador to Germany for a number of years. Martha was pretty and promiscuous, and spent her time in Germany bedding as many attractive men as possible — Nazi or otherwise. At first she was sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Then she became disenchanted and switched her attentions to Communist Russia, which she considered an “ideal” way of life. She married an American financier, but became a Soviet spy! Eventually she and her husband fled the U.S. They both died in Prague many years after the war. Martha was kind of a thoughtless idiot, but as she kept popping up throughout the book, I wondered if her story might make an interesting film? The heroine doesn’t always have to be nice, after all.
In any case, Martha is only one of many who populate the pages of Hitlerland. This is an important, chilling book.
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AND NOW for something lighter! Remember Lulu, the blonde Scottish singer whose rendition of “To Sir, With Love” helped that Sidney Poitier movie become a huge hit in 1967? Well, Lulu is still around, sounding almost exactly the same as she did as a 19-year-old, and looking remarkably youthful too. (If it’s surgery, it’s brilliant work.)
Lulu is currently touring with rock legend Lou Reed. This is just the latest in a series of concert collaborations — Elton John, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, Sting and Robbie Williams. Lulu is now mulling a one-woman show at the Palm Springs Follies Theater. She was encouraged by the recent smash appearance of another ’60s icon, Lesley Gore, at the Follies.
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WE ARE always trying to emphasize that stars are real people with real feelings. With real feelings. They are. And so are the press reps who guide these stellar beings onward and upward. Or safely sideways, when things aren’t going too well. So naturally they want their credit, occasionally.
Last week at the always-crowded Michael’s restaurant, I spotted Katie Couric and the famous press rep Cindi Berger. I noted that both these women looked better than ever, fresh and vibrant. But I also referred to Cindi as Katie’s rep. Wrong. For the past six or seven years Matthew Hiltzik has manfully and skillfully done his duty for Miss Couric. He is smart and protective of his clients.
So there. That’s settled. Now, Matthew — how about some news on the adorable Katie?
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ON APRIL 1st, there will be a big red carpet rolled out in front of Clyde’s, the new upscale sports-bar eatery that is the brainchild of Knicks icon Walt “Clyde” Frazier. The spot, which features American cuisine with a touch of Asian, is located on 38th Street and 10th Avenue — the increasingly deluxe and well-populated Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan. (The place is already open for business, but the fancy-schmancy star-studded stuff happens on the 1st.)
But I’m not telling you this just to plug a restaurant I haven’t visited yet. I am giving a shout-out to Clyde’s manager, Jennifer Jordan. For twenty years, this beautiful blonde dynamo managed the El Rio Grande Tex-Mex place right downstairs in my Murray Hill building. Jennifer became El Rio to me, although I’ve been in this building over thirty years and frequented El Rio even before Jennifer arrived. Ms. Jordan could be mistaken for a taut-bodied teenage girl at times, despite the fact that she is the mother of five children. I recall that she rarely took much maternity time off. Running a restaurant is hard, serious work. (Recently, she got into Zumba — it works!)
All of us who have made El Rio a second home of sorts — warm, inviting and, oh, that chili! — we miss Jennifer’s presence terribly. But El Rio — a great institution in my neighborhood — will go on under the guidance of the very nice Diane Francesca Giovannone. And Clyde’s is lucky indeed to have Jennifer on board. I’ll be dropping by soon. (Both restaurants are run by the same company, so Jennifer has stayed in the “family.”)
Maybe, even though he’s a football star, I’ll meet Tim Tebow at Clyde’s, now that he’ll be a Jet and a New Yorker. I guess I can only pray.