AN ENGAGING READ
One of my very favourite books combines all three of my areas of interest…HISTORY, HUMOUR, & TRAVEL. It is also about one of my favourite cities – New York. Apple of my Eye was written by the late Helene Hanff, better known for her best selling memoir 84 Charing Cross Road.
Asked to provide the copy for a photographic work on her hometown of New York, Helene realised there were vast gaps in her knowledge. She conscripted her friend Patsy Gibbs to join her in exploring and rediscovering the city. Whether the photographic work ever saw the light of day is a mystery, but the resulting Apple of my Eye is a delight. In 1986 I followed in Helene and Patsy’s erratic footsteps, precious volume in hand. The ladies led me to George Washington’s wooden false teeth in the Fraunces Tavern, and to many other weird and wonderful sights.
Patsy proved to be extremely pedantic (like my darling partner Rob) constantly saying, ‘Write that down Helene. Did you get that down?’ Her frustration with the ‘lackadaisical’ Helene grew until at one point she snapped that the photographic book would need a rider stating that everything in it was only ‘half accurate’. I’m sure Rob would like to add the same warning to my Taste of theThames, because I failed to record every detail of information from every church, museum and National Trust property we visited along the Thames Path!
UPDATE – July 5 2005
HAPPENSTANCE & HELENE HANFF
In June 2005 I was travelling to Sydney from the Blue Mountains when I heard on ABC radio that the actor Anne Bancroft had died. There was an immediate response from callers, who spoke of her enduring marriage to comedian Mel Brooks and of her wonderful theatre and movie performances. However, no one mentioned the film for which I best remembered Miss Bancroft: 84 Charing Cross Road. Perhaps this was not surprising as the movie’s nostalgic literary theme lacked the mass appeal of The Graduate, in which Bancroft played the seductive Mrs Robinson. Her death saddened me, and yet I was filled with wonderful memories.
As mentioned above, I had become obsessed with the works of Helene Hanff. 84 Charing Cross Road was based on letters between herself, then a struggling New York playwright, and Frank Doel, an antiquarian bookseller in London. The book was a surprise best seller. Prior to the movie it had been adapted for the stage, indirectly fulfilling Hanff’s childhood dream of having one of her plays performed in London’s West End.
Returning to our hotel after visiting the Fraunces Tavern, Rob suddenly said; ‘Let’s cross here and walk up Madison Avenue.’ As we did so we found our way blocked by a film crew. Heavy lunch time traffic was being halted every few minutes to allow a scene to be shot. I was fascinated by the speed at which old lamp posts and flower stalls were set up and 1950’s motor vehicles driven into position. The scene being filmed involved a dowdy woman crossing the street to post a letter. ‘What’s happening?’ I asked the person next to me, and was astounded by her reply: ‘That’s Anne Bancroft. They’re filming a movie called 84 Charing Cross Road’.
I later discovered that, like me, Ms Bancroft was a huge fan of Helene Hanff’s book. She was introduced to it when a complete stranger approached her in the street and presented her with a copy. Mel Brooks bought the film rights as an anniversary present for his wife.
Naturally I went to see 84 Charing Cross Road when it was shown in Sydney. It was fortunate that I knew the book well because I was so busy looking for ‘our’ scene that I could scarcely concentrate on the dialogue.
Another strange coincidence occurred after Bancroft’s death, when I was searching for the photographs we had taken of the New York filming. I resisted the temptation to be distracted until I came across a letter from a close friend, written from London in August 1987. Perhaps because my friend had been unwell and much in my thoughts, I began to read it. On the second page she had written:
‘I took Captain & Mrs E (the people she was then living with) to see 84 Charing Cross Road last night …..I was watching closely for that scene you saw being shot, where Helene Hanff posts the letter on Madison Avenue.’