Palm Trees on the Hudson
A True Story of the Mob, Judy Garland & Interior Decorating
Length: 224 Pages
Size: 6 X
Price: $24.95 US
Availability: In Print
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Synopsis • Contents
Introduction • Reviews
Palm Trees on the Hudson is the hilarious prequel to Elliot Tiber's bestseller Taking Woodstock. Before Elliot found financial success by bringing Woodstock Ventures to his upstate motel, he was one of Manhattan's leading interior designers. Then Elliot's career came to a halt due to a floating society party, Judy Garland, and the Mob.
In April 1968, Elliot was hired to throw an elegant dinner party aboard a luxury yacht on the Hudson River. Included on the guest list were New York's rich and famous--politicians, financiers, and even Elliot's icon, Judy Garland. The big night arrived. But when a fight broke out, resulting in the destruction of everything including rented palms, Elliot's event turned into financial disaster. Things couldn't get any worse--or so it seemed until the Mob paid a visit.
By turns comic and tragic, Palm Trees on the Hudson is the take-no-prisoners memoir that gives readers a more intimate look at the man who went on to fight back at Stonewall and who helped give birth to the Woodstock Nation.
Elliot Tiber has written and produced numerous award-winning plays and musical comedies. As a professor of comedy writing and performance, he has taught at the New School University and Hunter College in Manhattan. His first novel, Rue Haute, was a bestseller in Europe, and was published in the US under the title High Street. He is also the best-selling author of Taking Woodstock, as well as a highly sought-out lecturer.
1. Judy and the Free Dish, 1
2. Meet the Teichbergs, 5
3. We're Not in Bensonhurst Anymore!, 21
4. Elliot Tiber, Decorator, 41
5. Momma and Homos and Shrinks, Oh My!, 63
6. The Judge and the Bar, 83
7. Somewhere Over the Hudson, 97
8. A Toll on the Road, 119
9. Back to White Lake, 141
The movie house went dark, and I found myself watching a girl who seemed not much older than I was. Within minutes, her tiny dog was taken away from her, a storm separated her from her family, and her weathered farmhouse was ripped from the earth and spun around like a top. The events in this girl's stark black-and-white world were happening so quickly and were so alarming that I felt tearful and afraid. But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the screen lit up in dazzling Technicolor, soft music played in the background, and the girl's world became one of enchantment. Dorothy Gale was in a beautiful sunlit land far away from her home in Kansas—and far away from mine in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, too. She was in the Land of Oz.
Dorothy sang and danced her way through her magical new world, caught between a desire for adventure and a hunger for her safe and loving home. I was totally absorbed in the movie, hypnotized by the story and all the strange and exotic characters. No one in this film looked like the people who trudged down the crowded, dreary streets of Brooklyn. Instead, Dorothy—clad in a gingham dress and gleaming ruby slippers—skipped down a shining yellow brick road accompanied by her faithful dog, Toto; a talking scarecrow; a lovable tin man; and a cowardly lion. I wanted so much to follow her, to be one of her new friends, to share in her journey.
The Wizard of Oz captivated me as no film had before. Like every child, I was entranced by the songs, the colorful costumes, and Dorothy's thrilling adventures. But the movie also spoke to me in a very personal way. When Dorothy sang "Over the Rainbow," I was spellbound not only by her beautiful voice, but also by the longing and hope she expressed. Like me, Dorothy felt out of step with her everyday world and dreamed of a trouble-free home where she would be loved, accepted, and happy. Could it be that the longed-for world actually existed for me as well, far away from my real-life existence of screaming parents and family arguments?
To say that the movie had a profound effect on me would be an understatement. For the first time in my six years of life, I felt a connection to another person. Maybe it was a childish crush, or perhaps it was simply the fact that this girl dreamed of a better place and actually found it. Whatever it was, the few hours I spent in the theater couldn't have been a more enjoyable experience—except for the woman sitting next to me, nudging me with her elbow throughout the movie, saying "Elli, stop shuckling around in your seat, you're gonna drop the plate." The woman was my mother. For me, Elliot Teichberg, going to the movies every week was an escape from the lunacy I called home. For Momma, however, it was all business.
With the war raging in Europe, movie theaters were hard-pressed to pull in paying customers during the week. In an effort to attract more patrons, especially women, they began to offer a free dish on certain evenings. When the old Metro theater, a rundown former vaudeville playhouse, began its Plate Night promotion every Tuesday, the giveaway was not lost on my mother. Each week, a different dish was handed out. Sometimes it was a soup bowl; other times, a dinner plate. Every once in a while, the hard-to-come-by gravy boat was offered. Hundreds of different pieces were given away, one piece at a time, enabling frequent moviegoers to acquire a massive set of dishes.
For Momma, this was an opportunity to cash in. She didn't care very much about what was playing at the theater. For her, it was a simple business transaction. On Tuesday nights, she took me to the Metro, and on Thursdays, she took my youngest sister Renee to another local theater that had its own Plate Night. Children under ten got in for free, so for the price of just one ticket, mother got two dishes. What did she do with them? That was the beauty of it. She arranged them in the front window of her housewares store, where she would sell them to women who were hoping to complete their own partial sets or to those ladies who didn't know you could get the dishes for the price of a movie ticket.
For me, it was a perfect arrangement. Momma got what she wanted, and I enjoyed a temporary escape—a place where I could lose myself for a couple of hours. Of course, I quickly learned how to hold onto a dish without dropping it, but that was a price to pay. I wasn't about to give up my Tuesdays at the movies because of a broken plate.
I knew that Momma couldn't care less about what I was feeling. As soon a movie ended, she would pull me out of my seat, abruptly breaking the spell cast by the story. But tonight, not even Momma could drag me out of Oz. The sights and sounds of this movie filled my head. Sure, I had a box of magic tricks at home and a magic wand that I had made from a twig I found in our garden. But not even with the sparkling glitter I'd glued on did it compare to the magic I saw in the movie. My box of tricks didn't sing and dance; it didn't transport me to an enchanted world. After seeing The Wizard of Oz, I could never enjoy that box of nothing again.
In 1943, I knew practically nothing about Judy Garland other than how she moved me as the character of Dorothy, but I was instantly smitten and hopelessly hooked. I knew I would always have a special place in my heart for her. What I couldn't have predicted was how she would become an icon for the gay community, which had yet to loudly and proudly announce itself to the world. Nor could I have guessed the impact she would have on my own life as a gay man and artist. But we'll get to that later. For now, let me start my story by introducing the Teichbergs of Brooklyn—a family not so much over the rainbow as over the cuckoo's nest.
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