Posted by Melanie Chartoff
Decades ago, as a fledgling (broke) New York stage actress, I had the good fortune to be befriended by the film producer Robert Chartoff (”Raging Bull,” “The Right Stuff,” “Rocky,” and the “Rocky’s, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6”). We met on the basis of our identical surnames and hoped we were kin, but, alas, traced our ancestry back to different origins. It seemed our last names were accidentally namesake bastardizations of different, multi-syllabic and multi-Slavic monikers of yore, carelessly abbreviated by uncreative Ellis Island officiates.
Having the same name (although it came from different sources) and simpatico sensibilities made us feel like we were kin. This sort of serendipity felt miraculous, like the time my malfunctioning checking account was so out of balance, it somehow came out balanced to the penny. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Lucky for me, who’d been thrilled when Robert first put our family name in lights and on the big screen with “They Shoot Horses Don’t They,” he made the Technicolor Chartoff name in lights look like I could do it, too.
When times were touchy during my first forays stepping my toe into television, hamisha Bob would take me to terrific restaurants for great meals. He was a gourmand with a Pygmalion Complex, and I was a perfect pig. Between acting opportunities, he also gave me a tasty, cushy job, a key to his office and parking spot near MGM’s main gate, later to become Columbia, then Sony Pictures’ main gate when I grew up to star on a series there and earn a Chartoff Parking Spot of my very own. In those days, when I was an up and coming new face in Los Angeles, folks in the biz would query if he and I were related and I would proudly say, “Oh, no, no, he succeeded completely on his own.”
There were other advantages to sharing the surname Chartoff, I learned whilst trying to talk my way out of a speeding ticket in Malibu one day. Sprung from the New York Subway Systems into my first hit TV series and my first flashy car that screamed “Arrest me!!” I should have been tethered, grounded, and punished. I was a moving violation. But instead, mistaken by the Highway Patrol for a blood relative of Bob’s, they let me off with a flirt.
Bob and I both leaned so far left as to be horizontal and shared hectically eclectic views similarly skewed as improvisational Jews—again an accident of our same ideas arrived at through vastly different journeys. So in the late 80’s he invited me to my first Malilbu Passover at his compound. Aside from his three great kids (now an attorney, a countess opera singer, and a film director) and their friends, plus me and my pisan boyfriend, guests included Brother John, a Franciscan monk replete with floor length, roped robe, plus a plain-clothes barefoot guru named Allan, also starring Maude Adams, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith.
Why was this seder different from all other seders?
To a displaced East Coaster, it was so arrogantly L.A.; by the Pacific, by the pool, with such a diversity of personalities. I recall every morsel of that ceremony, catered by Bob’s groovy Caribbean cook, Larry, with delectable variations on familiar Passover food themes: a charoses with champagne raisins and crab apples, Caribbean koogle with plaintains, and the kosher creme de la creme of the feast—chicken roasted in kosher white wine and prunes. This seemed the most practical Jewish chicken dish I’d ever tasted.
But most vividly I recall the sonorous tones of Brother John, Guru Alan and Burgess Meredith, reverently reading the Haggadah, and the whole event breaking down when the non Jews challenged the Chosen people to “Prove why you’re so chosen” on the spot. As Elijah did not arrive to drain his goblet that sacred day, the Jews and gentiles partying as one made the wine and the all dividing lines disappear. We all felt like kin that night.
(from the Campbell’s website, of all things.)
4 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs. each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
Preheat oven to 350oF.
Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done with thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.
With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.
To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over chicken.
16 pieces; 10 or more portions.
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March 22, 2010 | 9:15 pm
Posted by Melanie Chartoff
“Peacenik Einstein and the Nuke Fluke” by Melanie Chartoff
As a fledging playwright always sniffing around for juicy moral dilemmas, one great paradox in one great man’s life has always attracted me.
A pacifist/physicist’s knowledge that the atom would soon be split for purposes of furthering fascism, suggested that same exploitation to a standing U.S. President by our scientists for purposes of preserving Democracy. As German scientists furthered nuclear fission based on that physicist’s own theories, he uncharacteristically encouraged America’s unleashing a monster that holds the world prisoner today, encouraging war to keep the peace. And he spent the rest of his life regretfully backpedaling and arguing against his own human fit of pique.
Albert Einstein, fine minded and occasionally funny genius, physicist, Zionist, peacemaker, deemed traitor and defeatist by the German government, idol by ours, would’ve been one hundred thirty one years old last week. He’s been gone fifty-five years as of April 18th, but still he captivates minds and audiences everywhere. Exploited in Apple ads, satirized in films and commercials, sanitized in floating photos seen on many screen savers, a few of his many facets will now grace our stages by means of two playwrights in two up and coming theater productions here in Los Angeles. WIll one of them cash in on my not so original idea? Probably both, so I’m attending to see if there’s anything left for me to say.
Internationally heralded, political playwright Donald Freed’s “The Einstein Plan,” at Los Angeles Theater Center’s reborn facility, has only two performances scheduled at the present time, March 27th at 8, March 28th at 3. (Go quickly to latc.org for tickets.)
Mr. Freed’s project takes a radical, movement-encouraging approach to Einstein’s dilemma of how to be aggressive in a way meant not to antagonize but to heal. It will animate Albert’s “2% Plan” for peaceful protest being able to affect government change in Act 1, then, in Act 2, give the audience an opportunity to vocally participate in solutions to this nation’s most pressing problems in an interactive improvisation. It’s experimental theater at its most cutting edge starring…us, plus esteemed film and stage actor James Cromwell as “The Exile” who explains Einstein’s premise. Here’s my chance to be part of that paradox, if not as a playwright, as a participant. So I’m putting my money where my imagination already was.
Then, opening April 10th at Theatre West, Kres Mersky will tell a tale of “The Life and Times of A. Einstein” from the standpoint of his long time secretary Ellen. (Go to theatrewest.org for tickets) She has both written and stars in the piece, much like she told a tale of Isadora Duncan some years back by embodying the innovative dancer in a piece that still tours the U.S. Never a dull moment simply sitting passively in Los Angeles theater these days, as live theater competes with computer games. In her rendering, we again are not inert bystanders. In the piece, it’s Albert’s birthday. We play the press being advised how to best question the genius, and, in her explanations, discover much more of the human about him, his theory of relativity made colloquial and humorous in her telling, as well as her feelings for him.
Here’s a juicy moral conflict. Can a neophyte playwright fritter away her desire for creating high quality theater by attending high quality plays rather than writing them? With such fine offerings on one of my favorite subjects, I’m taking the risk.
March 10, 2010 | 2:58 pm
Posted by Melanie Chartoff
I’ve been an actress all my life. But, even though I make a fool of myself professionally on stage, radio, screen, cellphone, webisode, and reruns soon coming to a chip in your head, off duty I’m demure. When I’m not playing a “role,” I’m a vaporous mist. Ask anyone, and if they can even remember me, they’ll tell you it’s true. Although I photosynthesized in the limelight all my life, having private, personal, intensely dramatic moments in highly public places for big bucks, in real life I’m shy and retiring. But as my agent is also retiring…from the business…forever….and I can no longer rely on him to get me work, I need a personalityectomy fast.
In an era in which paradigms are toppling faster than we can justify their scarcely remembered value, mystery and modesty are no longer survivable. Join any social network and every narcissist’s bragging; everybody’s entrepreneurial, caffeinated, compulsive in a cacophony of questionable skills. And kids start prenatally, testing for fancy schmancy private schools before they’re born.
My neighbor’s enterprising eight year old twins, Peter and Andrew, sell drinks out of corner lemonade stand for twenty five cents a serving, fifty cents more for kosher. A dollar more and they supply the paper cups. You can bring your own cup, or suck out of the spigot, which they immediately sanitize and have a rabbi bless. You buy one measly slurp, they try to sign you to a three month delivery contract; you supply the bottles, they come with a keg. Or they pour it into your ice cube tray—three bucks a fill—and you can have your own lemonade-sicles any time. And business is booming. Free valet parking is now available for bikes, in line skates and skateboards. These kids have IRA’s and they’re not even in big boy pants yet.
Bobby, the brazen and blessed brainiac next door, is signing with a child talent agency—to be a child agent for children. He’s managing an eight year old prodigy’s piano career, advertising him door to door, selling shares in the kid’s future intellectual property rights and his personal appearances at a party near you or at your house. His older sister Sarah is selling protective masks painted pink and decorated with snouts for swine flu in advance of any possible pigdemic. Saving up for college? Who needs college? These geniuses own their own businesses, attorneys, patents, creative control, and their collective ages add up to less than forty. They’ll buy their own darn college.
Such moxie. Such enterprise. Such Type Triple A’s. These children are the bleeding edge, genetically predisposed to be non disposable by their parents’ financial challenges, charismatized with confidence by their communities, instilled with competitive drive by their schools, role modeled by those aggressive lowlifes on reality tv shows, these kids are forced to innovation by the times. Mom’s laid off? What’s left to discover? Dad’s downsized? What resources are left to exploit? They don’t look to plunder nature for their creations. They look to the internet as their new frontier, as their way out West, staking claims and squatting in unexplored broadband territories. They spiral their brainchildren virally. And they can precog obsolescence like sci fi film heroes.
See, their immigrant great grandfathers were watchmakers and jewelers. They could look through their loupes and see into the entire history of a watch fob and a quartz crystal. They could sniff at a big red ruby ring and declare it paste at three paces. But Seiko ate their shorts.
Their American first generation grandpas were icemen. They’d drive up in a truck, clamp a cube on their backs and into your icebox to cool your summer days with ice cream. But Fridgidaire froze them out.
Forget product futures. These wise childs microfinance, manufacture on order only and with their executive parents taking pay cuts, they see the writing on the deletable wall—me, too.
I’m extroverting my shy flower of a persona into an ego worthy of their times, marketing myself online and via the upstart agent next door who’s hardly as tall as my shoulder. No fool, with a mitzvah of chutzpah, he’s signing me, as his token mature client, as a kind of novelty act, to a series of one day contracts with a daily option to renew, plus a posthumous buy-out on my reruns when I’m dead. Five year plans? Feh. Living for the future? Is there an App for that? Nah. Success is survival for another day, these days, especially in the no business of show business 2010!