Aftermath: Miss Streisand's New York for Marcello Mastroianni
A few months ago, Marcello Mastroianni told the readers of Esquire where he would take me if I were to visit Italy. When I got to the part about the pasta e fagioli, I dropped the magazine and started racing around the house screaming, “Elliott, get down the suitcases. Where's the English Italian dictionary? I'll call the airport. Are all your suits back from the cleaners?”
Of course, when I came to my senses, my husband consoled me. “We'll go, Barbra, next year. . . .”
It all seemed like a bad television plot. Like when Lucille Ball used to get herself into these predicaments. Then she would call Vivian Vance and it would get worse, which is what happened when I called my mother in Brooklyn.
“Hello, Mom. Have you seen Esquire yet? No, Mother, it's not just for men. Yes, Elliott knows I read it. Lots of women read it. You're thinking of the other one. Listen, that's not the point. In the magazine, Marcello Mastroianni talks about everything he would show me if I were to visit Italy —the Colosseum, the Caffè Rosati, Naples, his tailor, the pasta e fagioli ...”
“That's noodles, in a bean sauce, with. . . .”
“Never mind, it sounds like the way your Aunt Esther cooks. Never could learn. But what's the matter with you? You're not going to Italy. You have a performance tonight. People pay money, Barbra. Travel from Minneapolis and Far Rockaway ......”
Before she could say “The show must go on,” I mumbled, “Talk to you tomorrow, Mother.”
Ten seconds later, the phone rang.
“Barbra, what was his name again? The Italian. Yes, that's it. Well, he's here. He's in New York. His picture's in the paper. At the airport with this Italian actress. The one who married the nice doctor. That's right. Lola Brigida. Well, let me read it a minute.... Oh, he's receiving some award in Hollywood, then stopping again in New York before going back to Italy.
“Now, Barbra. This is your mother talking. What are you going to do for that man—after he was so nice to you? Of course, I understand. You'll go to Italy next year. But don't you think you could spare a few afternoons and show him New York. Ask him over to dinner. After all, he may be a famous movie star, but he's still a foreigner, a traveler in a strange country.”
I hung up thinking, “I wonder if Mastroianni's mother made him join a cousins' club?”
Mothers may be pretty square people, but they always seem to hit upon a note of truth. Elliott and I sat down and considered our favorite places and decided Mastroianni would appreciate their importance. He would understand. We would pick him up at the airport and spirit him straight off to Chinatown. I would point out that the big restaurants aren't the best. The little coffee shops are! We would bring him to a place where the specialty is hahn bow. It's a kind of Chinese hamburger: delicate piece of hot doughy bread filled with meat, like chopped roast pork or pieces of chicken. No tea, just coffee. Or we might drop by the Hong Fat Noodle Company and order in enormous plate of their delectable wide noodles served with Chinese vegetables and meat. If he liked seafood, we would order abalone, or snails—Chinese style, covered with black bean sauce—which you have to suck out of the shells or pick out with a toothpick.
After everyone was stuffed with food and sleepy, we would drive up Fifth Avenue to the Plaza Hotel. He would have to stay there be cause Elliott and I only have one bedroom and it wouldn't be polite to let Mastroianni sleep on the couch. And it wouldn't be good for the couch, either. The next day, we would wander the Plaza for hours, riding the mirrored elevators, walking the faded carpeted halls, touching the marbled walls. We would leave notes for each other in the potted plants and sit in the lobby watching the clock and the people. Elliott would pretend to be a foreign agent. Mastroianni would instantly recognize the Palm Court as a spy-movie set and we would lunch there amid whispers, winks and puffs of cigarette smoke.
I've had a few lessons so we'd speak Italian as much as possible. Mastroianni, I know, doesn't speak much English. Just as well. The Italian language is beautiful. So melodic, open and free. I can hear it transform the most ordinary sentence—like, “Hey, get your Maserati out of my driveway”—into a great musical outburst.
During the day, we would roam all over the city. If he were curious, we would take him along Third and Second Avenues to the thrift shops where he might find one of those wonderful fur lined men's coats from the Twenties. Although it probably doesn't ever get too cold in Italy, even in the north, Mastroianni seems like the kind of man who would appreciate the elegance, style and handiwork of these coats.
We could stop at one of the open-air candy stores on Second Avenue and Seventh Street, where they still know how to make chocolate egg creams, a vanishing art. We might take him over to a grocery store on Houston Street where we would buy button candy and long strings of strawberry licorice.
If it were warm, we could sit on the terrace of our apartment. It goes halfway round the building and you can see the Hudson, the East River and the Bronx. I would look up a recipe for mint juleps.
Since we have an extra glove, we could play three-handed catch in Riverside Park and when we got exhausted from running around, we would plop on the grass under a tree and watch the bridge, the boats and the traffic on the West Side Highway. Walking back home, we would introduce him to Nick, the hot-dog man who parks his wagon on Tenth Avenue. Instead of sauerkraut, he serves chunks of onion steamed in tomato sauce over the frankfurter. Bellissimo!
On a Sunday morning, we would do something glamorous. We would have brunch at the Rainbow Room. I would order for everyone fresh fruit, smoked brook trout, beer-and-bread soup, eggs and steak and chocolate soufflé. Since Europeans don't like breakfast, he would be especially impressed with all this sumptuous elegance served so late in the morning—noon! Not to mention the view. But best of all the room—the chandeliers, the mirrors, the lush carpets, the china, all the Elegance of the Thirties still there.
From the RCA Building, we could see the Empire State Building, so we wouldn't have to go there, but maybe Mastroianni would take me to the Statue of Liberty—because I've never been there myself.
Sunday afternoon would be fun if we drove to New Jersey so that we could go across the Verrazano- Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn where we could pick up my fifteen-year-old sister Rozie. Together we'd go to Coney Island. If the Aquarium didn't absolutely mesmerize him, I'm sure he would love the ghost rides, crashing around in the tunnels, and screaming.
Then, because she was so instrumental in all this, we would have dinner with my mother in Brooklyn. (She would insist on inviting the Ruffinos, our neighbors, for Mastroianni. I think that's nice.)
Dinner at my mother's is quite a project. Two men have to open up the big table in the living room and after, the chairs are in, no one can move. (My mother sits by the kitchen end of the table.) Then, out comes the food. Rozie helps.
Of course, there's chicken soup with kreplach. And chopped liver and gefilte fish and lukchen kugel and knishes and potato latkes and tsimmis and lots of chalah bread. With all the charm of a Jewish mother, she would coax “Marcello” into trying kosher wine as well as “just one more helping of latkes.”
And after dinner, best of all, my mother would sing a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan and Rozie would sing her rock-and-roll repertoire. Mr. Ruffino would ask Mastroianni what part of Italy he was from. And Elliott would hold my hand under the table.
. . . But real life never follow the imagination. Everything happened so quickly all I can remember is that someone called me one evening at the dressing room and told me Marcello would be there at the show that night. Afterward, he came backstage and Elliott invited him to dinner the following evening. Since we didn't want to compete with Italian home cooking, I prepared in all-American dinner of roast beef and apple pie and lots of chianti. He was absolutely charming—and then he was gone. No egg creams, no thrift shops, no Plaza, no latkes, no nothing. But we talked!
One thing I concluded from my bilingual conversations with a world-famous movie star: Marcello Mastroianni's mother and Barbra Streisand's mother wouldn't need an English-Italian dictionary. God uses the same cookie cutter for them all!
— Barbra Streisand
- Marcello Mastroianni's Italy For Barbra Streisand
- A Redbook Dialogue: Barbra Streisand and Marcello Mastroianni
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