Sunday, August 24, 2014

Magical TCM Mystery Tour

By Steve Herte

The skies were threatening to open up as I left my hotel on 47th Street in Manhattan. Hearing the forecast before I left, I gave myself enough time so as to arrive at the meeting place, Ellen’s Stardust Diner (home of singing wait staff), on the corner of 51st Street and Broadway by 11:15 am August 12. I met my fellow tourists standing on line waiting for the red bus that would take us on a magical journey into movie making history. Surprise! The bus was blue and white. For some reason they could not get the red one, but Sarah, our perky, enthusiastic tour guide apologized and explained that the interior of this bus is exactly the same as the red bus. And it was quite comfy.

As we boarded she checked us off her list of 32 passengers. When she came to me I needed no introduction. “You must be Stephen,” she said. As I climbed aboard and found an empty seat, I noticed the several video screens at focal points in the bus and I made myself comfortable. I had my umbrella tucked in the back of my camera bag as a “just-in-case” measure. As I would learn later on, I didn’t need it until the end.

Sarah introduced herself and the driver, Foster, when all were seated. Looking at Sarah, she seemed to me as if she could step right into a movie; her looks were striking, guaranteeing our attention. (Researching later on IMDB, I discovered she was indeed an actress. What a wonderful way to fill the time between assignments.) She proceeded to play an introductory video starring film historian Robert Osborne. The opening number from On the Town (1949), “New York, New York,” followed this, setting the mood perfectly. The next clip, as the bus started uptown, was from Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), and soon we were in Columbus Circle. 

Sarah used video clips as we passed locations appearing in It Should Happen to You (1954), Taxi Driver (1976), and 3 Men and a Baby (1987). She pointed out the elegant building featured in Superman (1978) where Lois Lane’s penthouse apartment was filmed, joking that she couldn’t understand how a line reporter could afford such an apartment. The most memorable scene was from Ghostbusters (1984) as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man happily lumbers up Broadway with 2 Columbus Circle (now the Museum of Arts and Design) on his left.

As Foster navigates up Central Park West, Sarah plays clips and indicates locations from The Out-of-Towners (1970) and Wall Street (1987), and at 65th Street she points out the building that became known as “Spook Central” in Ghostbusters. As we pass the famous restaurant (I consider it a tourist trap, but that’s just me) Tavern on the Green, we learn that it doubled as a casino in The Eddy Duchin Story (1956).

Our first stop was across Central Park West from the Dakota Apartments, home to the recently decreased Lauren Bacall and Yoko Ono, and our group debarked to photograph the ornate iron gates at the entrance and hope for “sightings.” Sarah informed us that the hotel was featured in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

Then we traveled to 77th Street and the American Museum of Natural History, featured in Night at the Museum (2006), Splash (1984), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and On the Town. Sarah ran the clip of Anne Miller tap-dancing before an obviously fake long-necked dinosaur skeleton. Someone knocks a kneecap loose and the whole structure comes crashing down. Afterward we saw a clip from an interview with Anne Miller about that scene where she proudly states that she learned the name of the creature, “Pithecanthropus Rex.” (Someone really pulled a fast one on her – Pithecanthropus was an ape-like ancestor of man.)

Foster then drove down Columbus Avenue, where between 70th and 69th Street, Sarah pointed out the location of the Emerald Inn, featured in the movie The Apartment (1960), 205 Columbus Avenue (which has since moved to 72nd Street). A right turn onto 69th Street revealed the site of the “Shop around the Corner” from the movie You’ve Got Mail (1998). Unfortunately, it’s now occupied by a dry cleaner.

A left turn onto Broadway once again took us past Lincoln Center where, before it was built and just after the previous neighborhood was torn down, a scene from West Side Story (1961) was shot. Other movies featuring Lincoln Center in various ways were GhostbustersAnnie Hall (1977), Serpico (1973), The Producers (1967), and Moonstruck (1987).

As we turned right going up Amsterdam Avenue Sarah played a clip that turned out to be one of the first movies ever made, and titled Mounted Police Charge (1896)Continuing on Amsterdam Avenue, Sarah pointed out locations featured in The Lost Weekend (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and The Naked City (1948). Nearing 73rd Street and turning left on 74th to head up Broadway, Sarah waxed poetic of the beautiful Beaux-Art style of the Ansonia Hotel seen in The Sunshine Boys (1975) and right nearby, Verdi Square, bringing memories of Three Days of the Condor (1975).

Our next landmark movie site was a building called “The Apthorp,” located between 78th and 79th Streets on Broadway, and featured in Eyewitness (1981) and Network (1976). Just past 80th Street was our second stop, and everyone was able to shop at the famous Zabar’s, which doesn’t really have a cash-only line as seen in You’ve Got Mail.

Refreshed and sated we continued on to the Floral Market from Hannah and Her Sisters, between 92nd and 93rd Streets. Then, turning right onto 96th Street, we saw Saint Francis Church, featured in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and Foster used the 96th Street transverse road to cross Central Park. At this point Sarah posed a tidbit of movie history, stating that Central Park is the most filmed area in the world and that it’s larger in area than the Principality of Monaco. Movies showing parts of Central Park include Barefoot in the Park (1967), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Sweet Charity (1969), Where’s Poppa? (1970), and Marathon Man (1976). As usual, Sarah backed up her information with several clips.

Next on our tour of movie-making-land was the famous building designed by Frank Lloyd-Wright, the Guggenheim Museum, which graced the backdrop of four movies: Working Girl (1988), Arthur (1981), Daddy Long-Legs (1955), and Cactus Flower (1969). 

The Elizabeth Taylor fans on the bus “ooh’ed” and “ahh’ed” as we drove past 1050 5th Avenue, featured in a scene in BUtterfield 8 (1960). Then as we approached 82nd Street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art filled our field of vision on the right, and was where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan had an improvised scene in When Harry Met Sally (1989) (in the Egyptian section, near the Temple of Dendur).

A smooth turn left on 72nd Street took us past 114 East 72nd, an address featured in Midnight Cowboy (1969), and an equally smooth turn right on Lexington Avenue brought us to our 3rd stop, where we saw the original brownstone from Breakfast at Tiffany’s at 71st Street.

Continuing down Lexington Avenue we passed the Barbizon Hotel at 63rd Street, where both Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli stayed at one time, and then it was on to Bloomingdale's on 59th, where scenes from Splash (1984) and Moscow on the Hudson (1984) were shot. Robin Williams had to learn Russian to be able to perform the role, and his character defects in Bloomingdale's.

Foster takes a left turn on 58th Street and we head for Sutton Place, where at Riverside Terrace (the most expensive neighborhood in town), the famous romantic park bench scene from Manhattan (1979), with a lit 59th Street Bridge, was filmed. Needless to say, there is no bench there now, and we learned that Woody Allen had the city leave the bridge lights on and the street light off to provide just the right lighting for the cameraman. As we strolled back to the bus, Sarah pointed out 444 East 57thStreet, former address of Aristotle Onassis.

Back on the bus, Sarah showed clips from Dead End (1937), My Man Godfrey (1936) and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)But New York City proved how congested it can get when we tried to cross Third Avenue. A tow-truck hitched to a cab, followed by another tour bus, blocked our intersection for at least three changes of traffic lights because the traffic ahead of them wasn’t moving. No matter, for Sarah used the down time to conduct a movie trivia contest.

With Foster’s expert driving we finally made it through the New York gridlock and turned left on Lexington Avenue, where at 55th Street, Sarah indicated the location of the Friars Club, noting that it showed up in The Sunshine Boys (1975). She added that it was a predominantly men’s only club until the annual dinner was for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was not invited. She wasn’t happy, and the rules were changed.

After having promised us (before the traffic jam) that we would see the site where Marilyn Monroe stood in the famous photo from Seven Year Itch (1955), we arrived at the subway grating in front of the restaurant L’Entrecôte (fourth one from the left) at 53rd Street. However, Sarah informed us that the scene was later re-shot on a studio set because the technical crew couldn’t drown out the catcalls and hoots from the men watching from the sidelines.

Nearing 51st Street, Sarah pointed out the Art Deco electrical embellishments on the old General Electric Building and, right after it was the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which figured in Coming to America (1988), Ma and Pa Kettle Go to TownBroadway Danny Rose (1984), and of course, Weekend at the Waldorf (1945). As Foster looped right around the Waldorf onto Park Avenue, Sarah treated us to another historical fact: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s private train car is still beneath the Waldorf in an abandoned station. She then indicated the former Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building) at the end of Park Avenue, featured in Live and Let Die (1973) and which had a monster-sized hole punched through it in Godzilla (1998).

A little farther up Park Avenue we saw Saint Bartholomew’s Church, the setting for the wedding in Arthur and, at 52nd Street, the sleek lines of the Seagram’s Building, which appeared in The Best of Everything (1959), Baby Boom (1987) and Scrooged (1988).

At 63rd Street Foster turned left, crossed Madison, and with one more left turn we were back on 5th Avenue in front of the Hotel Pierre, site of a scene from Scent of a Woman (1992). Then on we rolled to Central Park South and its abundance of sites. First up was the Plaza Hotel, which was the setting for (surprise) Plaza Suite (1971), Home Alone 2 (1992), and North by Northwest (1959) (the famous scene in the Oak Bar). 

Next was Bergdorf Goodman’s Department Store, which was seen in Arthur. Across the avenue is FAO Schwartz, the location for Tom Hanks dancing on huge piano keys in Big (1988)And, at 57th Street, we saw the flagship store of Tiffany’s, seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Sarah interjected a story about Audrey Hepburn trying to get something different to eat there because she didn’t care for Danish pastries. As we left Central Park for the last time she mentioned that Barefoot in the Park actually referred to Washington Square Park.

Two blocks later we were at the Saint Regis Hotel, where scenes from Radio Days (1987) and Hannah and Her Sisters were filmed. And again, two blocks later, at 51st, we passed Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, site of The Godfather 3 (1990) and Miracle in the Rain (1956) - for both of which Sarah played clips. In the same area, seen via the promenade to Rockefeller Center Plaza, our bubbly tour guide pointed out the strange, 37-foot-tall botanical sculpture “Split Rocker” by Jeff Koons looming over the gold statue of Prometheus. Supposedly the sculpture is one-half toy pony and the other half a toy dinosaur. I don’t see either. Films with scenes in Rockefeller Center include Nothing Sacred (1937) and On the Town.

Cruising down Fifth Avenue, we arrive at the main branch of the New York Public Library with its two enormous lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the entrance. Among its film credits are NetworkBreakfast at Tiffany’s and Ghostbusters. Here we heard a short dialogue between Bill Murray and a librarian. “Have there been any instances of insanity in your family?” “I had a cousin who thought he was Saint Jerome.” (Saint Jerome is the patron saint of libraries.)

We were over the three-hour mark when we arrived at the Empire State Building at 34th Street and its three major films: Sleepless in Seattle (1993), An Affair to Remember (1957), and everybody’s favorite, King Kong (1933).

Then, looping back up Madison Avenue, Foster navigated his way to Grand Central Station, site for Spellbound (1945), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), North by Northwest and Superman (1978). Sarah played a “thank you” video from Robert Osborne, and we all stepped down from the bus. The rain, which had been holding off the entire time started to fall as we left, thanking Foster and Sarah for a wonderful tour, and entered the beautiful space that is the busiest train station in the country.

I had an amazing time. So much information, some I knew, a lot I didn’t. Having spent my entire life in New York City, I prided myself on knowing just about everything there was to know about the city. Taking this tour showed me just how much there was for me to learn - and this is a wonderful way to learn. I urge every movie buff to take the tour - not only those of us here in New York, but also tourists to the city. There is no better way for a tourist to get an introduction and feel of New York than to take the tour. The professionalism of the TCM staff will help open up new panoramas, not only for first-time visitors, but also for repeat visitors who may feel that they’ve seen just about everything New York has to offer. Just go to the website - - and make your reservations for what will be a day to remember.

As I departed, the excitement prompted the need for a time to calm down. I strolled through the rain back to my hotel thinking of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, which, unfortunately, was not shot in New York City.

No comments:

Post a Comment