Heart of the City Archives









Snapshots of some rougues in a gallery
by Hank Donat

Shortly before I took the most expensive cab ride in the country, from the Western Addition to the Pier 23, I remembered the words of Marguerite Rubel. The clothing manufacturer is the longest surviving member of the San Francisco Fashion Industries, a professional organization founded in 1920.

Asked for the secret to sound fiscal management, Rubel advises, "Put more in the till than you take out." Rubel should know; she's been in business for over five decades.

When we met for the first time in her studio on the waterfront last year, Rubel said, "Gladys Hansen tells me you never write anything bad about anybody. Is that true?"

"Well, let's see." I said, "I implied that Susan Leal was boring once. I panned the Phantom of the Opera, twice. And, I hate the new Union Square."

Rubel deadpanned, "Those don't count."

Last week Rubel and I took in Teatro ZinZanni, the dinner and show that's a hit with tourists and a fair share of locals, too. The t-word is not always pejorative. Finocchio's was beloved by tourists. Just don't tell them ZinZanni is really high art - a contemporary vaudeville venue, and a splendid one at that.

Rubel and I disagree on some things. Her disdain for Hillary Clinton is a favorite topic. Rubel prefers Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I have to admire a man who exercises for eight hours a day," she says, "I've never been able to do it for more than five minutes."

But, there's one thing about which we agree wholeheartedly. No one is cuter than ZinZanni's juggler, Tuan Le. The Vietnamese youngster comes to San Francisco via Berlin, where he won the Junior Prize in the first International Vaudeville and Comedy Festival...

Richmond District native Derek Yee isn't a wife beater but he plays one on TV. The actor appears in a public service ad titled, "One," which provides information about the group Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. I spied Derek on KGO channel 7 during an ER rerun.

Reruns were on Yee's mind when he emailed me with cheers over the "Streets of San Francisco" episodes now appearing on KBHK channel 44 on Sunday nights at 6 pm. Yee was distressed when "Streets" disappeared from channel 20 a few years ago, along with all those wonderful dogs that did the station identification...

Herb Gold's 80th birthday party at Palio d' Asti on Sacramento Street was a dignified affair, gift-wrapped Viagra and fire-extinguished cake notwithstanding.

"Herb's the last person in the room who needs that," whispered one guest, not referring to the fire extinguisher.

Gold writes in the New York Observer that he is among the last of the Herberts. Hoover killed the name. "Just as there were few Adolphs and Benitos born in Italy and Germany after 1945," says Gold.

Responding to cries of "speech, speech" - didn't that go out with vaudeville? - Gold told the story of his encounter with Dashiell Hammett. Lee Houskeeper, the longest surviving Maltese Falcon fanatic, has made Gold repeat the story every time I've seen them in the same room together. "It's not much of a story," says Gold each time.

Late one night, Gold takes a left for a right inside Lillian Hellman's house and instead of finding the restroom Gold finds Hammett, "a skinny old man, younger than I am now," sitting up in bed, reading. The writers exchange introductions before Gold leaves to find the loo.

With money from a Ford grant, Gold came to San Francisco in the early 1960s to work on a play. He had just taken an apartment on Waverly Place near Washington Square in New York.

After a few months in San Francisco, the writer says he was playing tennis on Russian Hill one day when he felt the sunlight warming his face on a beautiful day. He realized it was January 1. Gold phoned New York and announced, "I'm staying." With no remorse whatsoever Gold says, "I'm the only person ever to give away an apartment on Waverly Place."

Palio d' Asti's owner Gianni Fazio and executive chef Daniel Scherotter have taken a stand against legislation by State Senate President John Burton which would ban foie gras.

Animal rights groups called for the ban, saying that foie gras production is cruel to the geese and ducks that are overfed with a funnel for days before being slaughtered.

"San Francisco is a world class dining destination," Scherroter says, "Limiting a restaurant's ability to provide a gourmet staple is outrageous."

Patricia Breslin, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association agrees. Her organization is urging Burton to reconsider the bill.

Perhaps I have a masochistic streak, but I like food with unlimited cruelty. That's why I don't mind the service at Citizen Cake.

Filmmaker William Farley offered the following tribute to his friend Spalding Gray, the renowned monologist who was found dead in New York's East River on March 7. Because of Gray's history of depression and suicide attempts, suicide had been suspected since the "Swimming to Cambodia" author went missing in January.

Farley writes, in part, "Spalding Gray took many journeys and we were blessed to hitchhike along.

"Regardless of the terrain he chose to cross, we were always grateful for the glimpses of a landscape we might have chosen to hide from if we had our way.

"Armed with a sense of humor that was larger than our fears, he made us feel brave.

"What more could be asked of Spalding Gray, a man who dared craft words that gently brought us to visit the unexamined assumptions of our day."

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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