Friday, May 06, 2005

The Queen of Ajax

If Marlene Dietrich were still alive---she died on this day in 1992---she would be. . . vewwy vewwy old. Her NYTimes obit headline deems her a "symbol of glamour." But I seem to recall an interview with a Times reporter many years ago which began with Dietrich down on her hands and knees scrubbing her dressing room floor. Looking up and seeing the Times guy, she said: "Just call me the Queen of Ajax."

The late Nat Shapiro was Michel Legrand's manager for many years, the guiding force behind "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well" and "Hair" and produced dozens of recordings (Lena, Maysa, Nina et al). He also co-wrote the seminal jazz book "Hear Me Talkin' to Ya." Nat authored several other books as well, published music, flakked for Frank, Mr. B., Nina. . . and I run out of energy just thinking about it all. Somehow he managed to also find the time to be a good friend of mine. Nat also produced some of Marlene Dietrich's recordings, one of which I recall was the star's Live in Rio album.

Apparently the job came with certain responsibilities that went beyond the usual record producer job description. Nat told me that one time the door bell rang at his upper West Side apartment at two in the morning. He answered it and there stood none other than Dietrich. Nat was a night owl and a bit of an insomniac as well, Marlene had been wandering the neighborhood and spotting his lights on, thought she'd drop in to say hello. At 2 am. . .without advance word. But then, goddesses seldom phone ahead.

Nat's wife Vera, awakened from a sound sleep, peeped through a crack in the door and espied their unexpected visitor. A few minutes later, according to Nat, Vera then made HER entrance into the living room, dressed to the nines, with full makeup, hair out of curlers, her best frock, the works. . .at 2 am!

Years later I mentioned to Vera that Nat had told me about the occasion but that I didn't really believe that the ultra-sensible woman that she is was capable of such overweening vanity and feminine competitiveness. . .even in the face of Marlene Dietrich. In so many words, Vera told me to "Believe it, honey, believe it!"

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