Thursday, September 15, 2011

September Song

It’s not an everyday love story. A robust young man is introduced to a glamorous woman more than twice his age. Famous and adored as she is, he, being several generations behind her, has never heard of her. She, seasoned and wiser, knows a good thing when she sees it.

Asked to drive her home from the evening’s event, he finds an unexpectedly long ride engrossing, their conversation full and flowing, her laughter endearing. She hasn’t had much to laugh about lately, and he makes her happy.

She invites him to a screening, and then, again and again to somewhere. Quite soon, they’re spending most of their time together. The months between May and December fade softly from sight. They’ve fallen in love.

A few basic facts: She was 81 at the time, he, 36. Less than a year later, he moved in with her. They were inseparable, but they didn’t rush anything: they waited five years to get married. She gave herself the wedding as a birthday gift.

A few more facts: He is an opera singer whose big baritone voice has also taken him onto concert, theater and cabaret stages. She is an actress/singer who has done it all in every show business medium. He devotedly collects the tangibles of her golden memories: of winning an Oscar; appearing in 34 films, 26 Broadway shows, and countless TV shows—including her own; recording 6 albums. Now, and long overdue, he is drawing on his own wealth of unlikely experiences with a solo cabaret show aptly called, “Memories… Are Made of This.”

He and she are Mr. and Mrs. Frank Basile. She is Celeste Holm. And if you are several generations behind, go to

“Memories… Are Made of This” is an unusual amalgam of song and patter—patriotic songs that don’t sound hokey, arias that don’t sound out of place in a cabaret room, popular and romantic songs infused with warmth and humor, and anecdotes that candidly acknowledge youthful folly as well as unexpected good fortune. Frank is having fun remembering, and his memories, even the bitter ones, are sweet, delivered with an irrepressible grin that seems as if it could only have been drawn by the sweep of a cartoonist’s hand.

This would not be New York if there were not skeptics in the room, and I sensed, not for the first time, that Frank’s unabashed homage to Celeste,
radiant at 94, brought out the worst in more than one of them. Full disclosure here: Celeste and in time Frank were my neighbors and dear friends for many years, which gave me as good a chance to observe them—not always in the best of their circumstances—as anyone from the world of people looking either directly or askance at them. Let the skeptics cavil and carp about them all they want. They’re the real thing.

My favorite part of the evening? With apologies to Frank, it came after the show when his 73 year old mom, leaning down and hugging Celeste, looked up at me, her face beaming, and said, “I’m happy to be with my daughter-in-law.”
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Note: You can see Frank Basile in “Memories… Are Made of This” at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, New York City. Remaining performances: September 20th and 27th at 7 p.m.