Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Who is Dorothy Strelsin?

Liz Smith, Dorothy Strelsin, Richard Gere
I still don't know exactly when JULIA & BUDDY will be performed in the MITF but at least I know where - in the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre. And so I wondered - who is Dorothy Strelsin?

It isn't such an easy question to answer. I had assumed that since she had a theater named after her (a tiny one in the Abingdon Theatre complex but still...) she'd at least have her own Wikipedia page but she doesn't, so I had to do some Googling around.

The photo here is from the "New York Social Diary" from 2012:

LONG AGO I used to hang out with a former showgirl and woman who married well — the delightful Dorothy Strelsin...

Dorothy married "an industrialist" named Alfred Strelsin, who also does not have his own Wikipedia page but who is mentioned in Wikipedia as a patron of the arts for funding the career of pianist Frank Glazer:
Alfred Strelsin, a New York signage manufacturer and arts patron, provided the funds for Glazer to travel to Berlin in 1932 to study with Artur Schnabel; he also studied with Arnold Schoenberg. Glazer then taught piano in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Strelsin urged Glazer to make his New York debut, telling him, "If you don't start by time you're 21, forget it".
According to Alfred Strelsin's NYTimes obituary, he died at age 78 in 1976.  He was a classic example of poor immigrant who made good:
...the enterprising son of poor Belgian immigrants… (owned a company that) constructed the Sixth Avenue subway in Manhattan in the 1930s. Other (companies) turned out optical lenses for cameras and microscopes, scientific instruments, hospital and medical supplies and electronic motors and generators.
Mr. Strelsin also organized a foundation in his name that annual gave tens of thousands of dollars to charities, hospitals and scholarship funds for the delinquent and the underprivileged. In the early 1960s he was also an aren’t supporer and active fund-raiser with his wife, Dorothy Dennis, the former Broadway singer and dancer, of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival.
Dorothy Dennis, according to the Playbill Vault was only in two Broadway productions, "All in Fun" with Imogene Coca which had three performances, and "The New Faces of 1943" which appears to be a variety show that ran a much more respectable 94 performances. In the playbill bio of Dennis it says:
Dorothy Dennis is a true New Yorker, born and raised here. Her first professional job was on the air. In her brief career, Dorothy has appeared in the nation’s better supper clubs, on television and has done one season of stock. Her only other Broadway appearance was in “All in Fun.” Dorothy is a favorite entertainer of the servicemen and spends a great deal of her free time at Arm Camps and Naval Bases.
I'm impressed she was on television, since this was 1943 and according to Wikipedia: " True regular commercial television network programming did not begin in the US until 1948."

Strelsin was also apparently in two movies according to the IMDB - The Guru (1969) and Kemek (1970). And also "The Champ" according to the NYTimes.

Once she married Strelsin, Dorothy, who was born in 1913 and died in 2001 became a patron of the arts in her own right - the following are named after her, in addition to the theater:
And Strelsin was personally the benefactor of the Ugly Duckling: According to the NYTimes from August 16, 1973:
Dorothy Strelsin, whose Fifth Avenue apartment overlooks the Hans Christian Andersen Statue in Central Park, yesterday offered to the city enough money to replace the statue of the Ugly Duckling that was stolen last week.
“I’ve so enjoyed seeing those kids tumbling all over it,” Mrs. Strelsin said of the Andersen statue and the two-foot high ducking that sat at its base. “I know the kids miss it, and it just has to be replaced.”
Richard Clurman, the City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administrator, said he was “delighted” with the offer.
It’s a lovely thing to do, and it makes me feel good about New York,” he said.
Park officials have estimated that the bronze statue could cost up to $2,500 to replace.
She later paid for maintenance around the statue. The second article was written by Enid Nemy who was a friend of Strelsin - Nemy mentions Strelsin in many articles. Not suprisingly, Nemy was at one time the president of the Dorothy Strelsin Foundation.
Strelsin (left) and Mr. & Mrs. General Douglas MacArthur

What Nemy's articles make clear is that when Strelsin wasn't funding the arts she was getting around town as a major socialite:

NYTimes March 12, 1961
Shakespeare devotees in New York again are working for the success of the annual dinner through which funds are raised for free performances of the Bard’s plays in Central Park.
Mrs. Alfred Strelsin is executive chairman of the benefit, arranged for April 23 at the Commodore. Her vice chairmen are Mrs. Willian Vanden Heuvel, Mrs. Lionel C. Perera Jr., Robert Preston and Laurence Harvey. Sir John Gielgud is honorary chairman of the dinner, for which Joan Crawford is serving as general chairman.
This assisting Mrs. Strelsin include Countess Anatole Boxhoeveden, Mrs. Edward T. Clark, Mrs. Edward Gropper, Mrs. David Brockman, Mrs. Diane Eristavi, Mrs. Dorothy BIddle, Mrs. Giovanni Buitoni and Mrs. Louis Green and mrs. Arthur V. McDermott.
Others are Mrs. Louis K. Ansparcher, Joseph Martinson, Duke and Duchess Pini di San Miniato, Mrs. Clark Williams, Mrs. Maurice H. Mogulescu and Nancy Walker.
Miss Walker, Sir Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn have been invited to perform Shakespearean excerpts at the dinner. Last year’s event raised $19,345 for the summer Shakespeare festival in Central Park. Joseph Papp is producer of the plays. Tickets are available at the Commodore.
NYTimes April 16, 1967
In addition to letting its members dress as they please, Le Club provides another fringe benefit: the opportunity to visit from table to table. “You can’t do that in other night spots” says Mrs. Alfred Strelsin. “You have to stay put at your own table.”
Mrs. Strelsin, who lives on Fifth Avenue but was once described by her husband, an industrialist, as liking “to rough it between the Waldorf and the Plaza,” even gets excited about the food, “especially the steaks and spaghetti.” (The usual attitude is that the fare is simple and quite good, but not distinguished.)
NYTimes July 1, 1978
For Dorothy Strelsin, a long weekend in New York is like “being alone in fantasyland.”
“It’s a few days when one can do just what one wants, without being caught up in appointments” said Mrs. Strelsin, widow of Alfred Strelsin the industrialist. “All my friends are away and although I love them, it’s wonderful to wander around alone.”
January 23, 1980:
Dorothy Strelsin waited for a special event before she ventured out with her small camera. Mrs. Strelsin, who was Franco Zeffirelli’s host during his recent stay in New York, did her snapping at a glittery Sunday night party for the director/designer given at the Hisae restaurant on East 58th Street by Iris Cornelia Love.
"I guess I felt secure, and a little bolder, because I was under the auspices of Franco,” said Mrs. Strelsin the  widow of Alfred Strelsin, the industrialist. “But it really tickled me. I loved it. I’m going to do it again.”
NYTimes October 26, 1981:
Mary Sanford, a name synonymous with the April in Paris Ball, Palm Beach, Fla., and Saratoga, N.Y., chose red and black, as did Dorothy Strelsin, a co-chairman of the New York committee, and Helen Bernstein of the Palm Beach committee. 
NYTimes July 30, 1982:
None of it seemed to faze the guests, among them Lady Sarah Churchill, Egon Von Furstenberg, Meg Newhouse, Dorothy Strelsin, Kate O'Toole (the daughter of Peter O'Toole), Leroy Reams of ''42d Street,'' Sylvia Miles and Calvin Klein, who were dressed in everything from jeans and shorts to silk and satin.
But by far the most interesting item about Strelsin's activities is this piece from April 29, 1968:
Tall, dark Prince Alexander Romanoff, a descendant of the Russian czars, was among those invited; so was Miss Sophie Nabokov, cousin of Vladimir Nabokov, the author. Miss Nabokov is a descendant of a regimental commander at the Battle of Borodino, one of the film's important sequences, and she liked the film.
"Wonderful," she said afterward.
"We wouldn't miss this," said Princess Alexis Obolensky, whose husband is Russian. "It's beautiful."
Yakov Alexandrovich Malik, Soviet Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the United Nations, seems to have been there somewhere—but not for the afternoon showing.
Perhaps he agreed with Mrs. Alfred Strelsin, the industrialist's wife. She, too, skipped Part I.
"I've always made it a rule to relax on Sunday afternoons," she explained. "I believe with the Hindus that everything will come gradually. I can see Part I during the week."
Mrs. Stelsin, who obviously is back from India and her session with the Beatles, Mia Farrow and Maharishi Mahesh, the yoga guru, wore what looked like an Indian coat of turquoise with coral and silver heads. It was made in California.
Is it possible that Strelsin was really in India with the Beatles? That would blow my mind. But so far I haven't found any confirmation.

The New York Social Diary also has this to say about Strelsin:
She was one of those people you might meet in a large international city who seems to have connections all over the world and seems to be glad to see everyone. I knew her only casually but Dorothy liked “to mix it up,” in other words she knew all kinds of people.

Franco Zeffirelli was a friend and often rented the place or stayed as a houseguest when he was in town working. I knew her casually out there since we had mutual friends. European princes, movie stars, Wall Street bankers, opera stars, Broadway stars, socialites and gigolos; they all passed through the portals of chez Strelsin and were charmed by the generous spirit of their hostess.
The article includes a photo of Dorothy Strelsin's ass. I don't know why either. Because it was the 60s?