Happy Birthday, Woody! The famous/infamous film director Woody Allen turns 75 today.
I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a teenager and can watch Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Interiors (yes, Interiors) over and over again, which I’ve done on many a rainy Sunday. He captured and romanticized life in New York City in the 1970s and 80s in ways that no one else could, from uptown upper-middle-class angst to the downtown art scene to historic Brooklyn.
I had always been attracted to New York, but after seeing Woody Allen’s films, I fell in love with it. In fact, if it weren’t for Woody, I might not have ever moved to this glorious city. (If you keep reading, you’ll find a list of some of my favorite Woody Allen NYC film locations.)
Beginning in 1980, I visited New York on a regular basis, often several times a year, and each time I would hope to see him. Whenever I’d head to the museums on Fifth Avenue or walk through Central Park, I’d keep my eye out in case he passed by. If I saw a film shoot, I’d run up, hoping it was the director at work.
Of course, I could have gotten a reservation at Michael’s, to see him play the clarinet on a Monday night, a weekly appointment he famously would not break, even for the Oscars. But I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford the hefty cover charge or dinner fare. (Besides, I needed to save my money for the downtown dance clubs. It was the 80s after all.)
Clearly I wasn’t very aggressive about my goal, but I held it dear, nonetheless. I believed in serendipity at the time. Fate.
And it was fate that must have heard me in 1989 just prior to another trip when I rather dramatically told a group of friends at dinner, “I’ve been trying to see Woody Allen for ten years, and if I don’t run into him on this trip, then it wasn’t meant for me to ever move to New York.”
Lucky for me, 48 hours later, after checking into the old Pickwick Arms (now the Pod Hotel) on 51st Street, I stepped out for a walk, rounded the corner onto Park Avenue and ran smack into Allen on break from shooting a scene outside the Waldorf-Astoria for Crimes and Misdemeanors. I was in heaven.
After apologizing and being shooed out of the way by a production assistant, I left a note for my friends at the hotel, then planted myself across the street on the Park Avenue divider and watched him work for the next few hours. I had to practically be carried away when they called it a wrap.
Two years later I was accepted into a graduate program at New York University and have been a New Yorker ever since. (Surprisingly, since then I’ve never seen Woody Allen in person again. I’ve missed running into his subsequent on-location shoots, and on the one Monday night when a friend took me to Michael’s on my birthday, he didn’t show up.)
Still, he retains a special place in my heart, as do so many of his life’s observations. In honor of his still being with us and continuing to create a film each year, here is a list of a few of my favorite Woody Allen movie locations, many of which, sadly, no longer exist.
Art-House Cinemas: Beekman Theatre, Bleecker Street Cinema, New Yorker Theater, Thalia Cinema, 68th Street Playhouse. Immortalized in several Allen films; all closed, save for the revitalized Thalia within Symphony Space. I managed to make it to a few, particularly the Bleecker Street Cinema, and 68th Street, before their demise. You can read more about them on the website Cinema Treasures. cinematreasures.org
CBGBs: Hannah and Her Sisters. Punk, post-punk, alternative. Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television. Closed since 2006, but lives on in many fans’ hearts as one of the best downtown clubs ever. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBGB
Central Park: What more is there to say? It’s the green heart of the city. www.centralparknyc.org
Cherry Lane Theatre: Another Woman. Open since 1924 and still located in the heart of Greenwich Village, making it one of the oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theaters in the city. www.cherrylanetheatre.com
Coney Island: Annie Hall. The freaks, the run-down rides, the crazy “only in New York” moments. Bobo capitalism is taking over the area, with many older businesses being kicked out and shut down last month to make way for bland, mediocre chain restaurants and stores. Not all is gone yet though. There’s still a museum, burlesque shows, special events, and some sideshows are due to return with the Spring 2011 season. www.coneyisland.com
Dean & Delucca Café: Husbands and Wives. This former European-style café on Prince Street was housed in what had been the original location of the famed gourmet grocery store, now a block away on Prince Street at Broadway. It was one of my favorite places to grab a bite and read a book while taking a break from gallery hopping in the 80s—before SoHo essentially became an outdoor shopping mall. www.deandeluca.com
Elaine’s: Manhattan. People never came here just for the food. This restaurant has always epitomized where the smart New York celebrities would gather, especially writers—at least back in the 70s and 80s. At least to me. Open since 1963 and still going strong—with Elaine Kaufman still around—at 1703 Second Avenue, near 88th Street. No website.
Pageant: This great used bookstore and print shop was supposed to be in SoHo in Hannah and Her Sisters, but at the time of filming it was located on East 9th Street just off Fourth Avenue (now The Central Bar). It moved to Houston Street in the mid 90s, then closed in 1999. You can still shop via its website. www.pageantbooks.com
The Waldorf-Astoria: Crimes and Misdemeanors. One of the great grand classic hotels of New York City. A restoration in the 1980s revealed long-thought-lost Art Deco detailing and mosaics. Read more in my HelloNewYorkCity.com article.