Friday, February 26, 2010

Danny Feld Remembers Zelda

I met Zelda in Brentwood in the summer many, many years ago. My father, an actor, Fritz Feld and my mother an actress, Virginia Christine, both for 10 years created an annual outdoor variety show with music, singers, actors and entertainers in Crestwood Hills. It was there that I met Zelda one night being her gregarious self.

We immediately befriended each other and for many years prior to David enjoyed occasional dinners out on the town, mostly in Silverlake. We had just plain fun, chatting and enjoying life. Zelda was all about enjoying life, an example to all of us. Thanks Zelda.

As life is so complex living in LA and traffic divides even the best of souls, weidn't get to see each other as much as I would have liked in the last years, but we always stayed in touch and shared birthday wishes over the phone. And, of course there were Zelda's delightful birthday parties where we always had fun.

In life, we are all touched by wonderful human beings. They leave their mark on us, in our hearts they leave a piece of themselves. They mold us and rub off on us, and we copy them when we like them. And as things go, Zelda was one of those special people who left her imprint in our hearts and soul. Oh, how lucky we were to have known Zelda, simply one of a kind.

Thanks Zelda, you will be sorely missed.

Old Sins Cast Long Shadows

In a previous post, Mark Perry wrote about a role that he'd written for Zelda in The Ghost Whisperer. The air date for this episode, which was filmed after Zelda's last heart attack and was played by another actress as a result, is Friday, March 12, at 8PM on CBS.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bonnie Paull Remembers her Sister, Zelda


Zelda and I were sisters-in-law for 26 years but sisters of the heart for 50. Even after her brother and I divorced, Zelda and I remained fast friends. Our birthdays were in the same year but she had a 3 month’s jump on me. She loved to call around her birthday and give me a weather report on the year ahead for both of us.

We were 19 when we first met at her home in Pittsburgh, PA and she was the maid of honor at my wedding in 1953 in Minneapolis, MN. Once her brother and I were re-located in San Francisco where he was doing his medical internship, Zelda came to visit, and, although she returned home for a while, she definitely left her heart in the City by the Bay.

It wasn’t long before she re-located, found a charming little apartment in North Beach, became a gourmet cook and began cultivating her rich garden of friendships which continued to flourish for all her years. As far as I know, she never left anyone behind. I was amazed at one of her birthday soirees in LA where there were people there from all over the world and from all the decades of her adult life, still adoring and adored, still in communication with her.

During her years in the Bay Area, she worked as a med tech while her love of the theatre began to grow. I remember seeing her in one of her first productions directed by her dear friend Ray Tatar and performed at Merritt College where I was teaching. I may have history a bit garbled, but I recall that someone suggested she do voice overs because of her special vocal sound; she did this and before we knew it, she was in LA, launched in a new career in “the industry.”

I told Zelda many times how much I admired her—her courage, her guts, her total unwillingness to regard her size as a handicap. Her Mother Dincha, whom she adored, had a lot to do with this. As Zelda was growing up, Dincha always infused in her the attitude that she needn’t take a bad seat to anyone and that she could do in life whatever she set her mind to do. And so it was. Look at her career. Look at her relationship with dear David as examples of this winning attitude.

And I admired with awe Zelda’s great, great gift of friendship. Once her friend, always her friend. She forgot no one; Her cast of characters traveled with her around the world, and a very large cast it was, indeed.

Zelda was a great storyteller, very funny, very entertaining. One memorable tale was of two Jewish ladies who went on a Safari in Africa; While Sophie’s back was turned, a gorilla abducted her friend Sadie and carried her off into the Bush. When the friends were reunited weeks later in the hospital, Sophie looked at Sadie with horror. She was bandaged from head to foot. She tried to commiserate with her but all Sadie could mutter from under her swathed face was, “He doesn’t call; he doesn’t write.”

Although Zelda won’t be writing, which she rarely did anyway, or calling any more, which she did often, I know she is with us and her friendship and love are forever.

With abiding love to Zelda, her family members and her many friends.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Judith Lazarus Remembers Zelda

Zelda and I met in 1993 when I was assigned to do an interview with her for the LA Times TV Guide when she was doing "Picket Fences." Little did I know I would find a soul sister. Now I realize I was not the only one that thought of her as family. Zelda was instantly a friend, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother, to all who were lucky enough to fall into her circle.

I should have known: Whenever we were out together, people would approach her with such warmth and love, and she gave it right back. At our lunches--Paul's Cafe, Orso, ChaChaCha or Jerry's Deli--someone always came up to the table to talk to her. Unlike some other "celebrity lunches," the vibes were amazing, from the fans or friends, and to them from Zelda. I remember her at a dress fitting for an awards show that turned into a comedy routine, drawing everyone at the tailor shop around for an impromptu show...working the room at her birthday parties, where there were too many Zelda lovers to even say more than hi...perched on a stool for one of her cabaret nights...calling with details of her travel adventures for work, play or family events--she was enthusiastic about it all. There was always an aura of love and appreciation around her. And there was nothing like one of her hugs.

From our first meeting, Zelda was in my thoughts as a frequent inspiration. She was such a special person, and her existence was a comforting antidote to the ills of the world, and to my own tribulations. Even when circumstances eliminated our lunch outings, there were always the phone visits. Yes, we kvetched and cried sometimes, but always with an appreciation of the good things in our lives. I still think of her first when I hear a new joke, find myself reaching for the phone to hear her laugh.... Hard to believe she was so angelic and earthy at the same time. I think of her as a realistic optimist.

In that article, I quoted Zelda: "I don't think my past is as interesting as where I'm going. We all have something special, and those who have the courage to put it out there are troubadours in a way. We have to model ourselves positively, then see how we can work together to make it happen." Zelda certainly had the courage, recognized what was special in each of us, and shared what she knew to help make the world a better place. I hope wherever in the Universe she has gone now, she is rewarded for the love she shared on this planet. I miss her.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elvira Cano Remembers Zelda

I met Zelda in Cannes film festival 5 years ago. I was at the Hilton reception waiting for a job meeting. I was sitting in the reception area and then a lovely sweet woman asked me where was I from. We started talking, she invited me to join her and David for lunch and we become friends! What impressed me from the very beginning in Zelda was the fact that she saw no limitations in life. The limit is the sky!!!!! And she enjoyed life to the fullest.

It was very funny to talk about boyfriends with her. She was always there for me,specially when I decided to move to the USA. She was always there for me. And it made me feel very well knowing that I had her as my friend.

She was a sweet sweet friend!!!!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mark Perry Remembers Zelda

As I read the obits and tributes that began to appear in the wake of our Zelda’s passing, I was struck by all the adjectives used to describe her: diminutive… petite… tiny… small… little… and one website even used the word “wee.” Those of us who knew her can chuckle at those words, because we know that whatever the divine Ms. Z. lacked in physical stature, she more than made up for with heart.

For a little person, Zelda was larger than life.

How truly blessed were we that she took a shine to us? For me, it began on the set of Picket Fences back in ’92. It was my second TV show as a writer, and not a very satisfying gig creatively given that the series creator wrote all the episodes. Sadly, I don’t recall the circumstances of my very first encounter with Zelda, a lapse of memory I can only chalk up to the mutual feeling that she and I had always been friends. Thankfully, for whatever reason, she took me under her sizable wing. The only line of dialog I ever wrote for her that actually made it to film was in a story about Human Growth Hormone. Zelda’s character staged a protest, chanting over and over: “Hell no! We won’t grow!” Honestly, I consider that a milestone of my career.

It wasn’t long before we were meeting for dinner at her beloved Orso, or she was coming to the parties my former wife and I would throw. I remember vividly the night she stood in our kitchen when I came out to her. She had a very emotional reaction, immediately concerned about my well being and my wife’s, and when we assured her that we were getting through the transition, and had waited to tell our friends until we were ready, she smiled sincerely and offered her love and support to both of us. I had no idea at the time what a unique and fierce advocate she had been for the gay community – a group I had just publicly joined. Perhaps the greatest honor of all was having her at our wedding in 2008, when my partner Mark and I officially became, in Zelda’s words, “the Marks Brothers.”

I survived one season on Picket Fences, and left after that, often saying that the only good thing to come out of the experience was our friendship. I was deeply honored when she said the same.

The hardest thing about her passing is that Zelda was such a constant in my life, as I know she was in all of her friends’, which makes her absence all the more achingly palpable. The phone calls were frequent, as were the dinners. Oh, and those spectacular birthday parties she’d throw for herself. I was further blessed on those occasions when she’d attend my own birthday party and grace us with a bawdy, ribald song. No one could sell it like Ms. Z.

It was always a delight to hear that incomparable voice on my answering machine when she’d leave a message for us, “Hi Mark, hi Mark, I feel like I’m the ditto girl. I just wanted to say hi and find out how you guys are doing and what’s new in your lives that’s exciting to report. All right my darlings, be of good cheer…”

How lucky have we all been to receive those messages from a woman who apparently counted friends above all else?

I still have Zelda’s last few messages on my answering machine. There are maybe a dozen or so, and I just can’t bring myself to delete them. True confession: I’ve saved more than that. And now I’m glad I’ll be able to indulge myself on my birthday by hearing Zelda sing “Today today today today today today’s your birthday…”

I think she would have wanted it that way.

I miss her terribly. Her naughty and wicked sense of humor. Those filthy jokes. The words of love. The nick names. The long chats. Those hugs that were genuinely filled with love and seemed to last for hours.

For me, one of the saddest things about her passing is that after years of talking about it, I had finally written a part for her that was tailor made for Zelda Rubinstein. I’m currently working on Ghost Whisperer, and pitched an idea to have Zelda guest star as the evil ghost of a medium from the 1920s. A fierce and formidable presence in a vintage wooden wheelchair. The role was written to make it as physically easy as possible for Zelda, despite her health concerns, to deliver a real tour de force. I even had the character at one point saying “Don’t go into the light!” When I ran that by Zelda on the phone, during one of our very last conversations, I expressed my worry that I might be exploiting her fame from Poltergeist. Zelda actually laughed and said, “Oh, I’ll say it honey,” and then, in a chillingly dramatic delivery, she acted out the line for me on the phone in that inimitable voice:

“Don’t go into the light.”

While I was finishing the script just prior to pre-production before the holidays, Zelda left another message: “Mark, I’ve had a heart attack…” When we visited her at Hollywood Presbyterian, we talked about her getting out in time for the shoot that started the first Monday in January. I honestly thought she’d bounce back in time to do the role. I honestly believed that if anyone could recover from a similar ordeal, it would be our Zelda. There was just no imagining life without her.

But she finally let go. God knows she tried not to, hanging in there for as long as she possibly good. I remember telling Mark while she was drifting in and out that whoever or whatever was the keeper of Death’s Door, they were getting an earful from Zelda as she tried to talk her way out of crossing over. She was so unbelievably fortunate to have David at her side, looking out for her, and we are now incredibly blessed that he has become such a good friend to all of us. But then, Zelda had a knack for collecting the most amazing people.

Finally, we had to cast the Ghost Whisperer role with someone else. To her credit, the actress we cast was wonderful, and I never once told her that the role had been written for the iconic Zelda Rubinstein. But please tune in to Ghost Whisperer for our 101st episode later this year. It’s called Old Sins Cast Long Shadows and the role of Madame Greta was supposed to be Zelda. It’s eerie to watch it now and realize how brilliant she would have been, but if you do, just picture Zelda in the role. She would have been astonishing.

Goodnight Zelda. Mark and I love you. We thank you for the priceless gift of your friendship.

Be of good cheer…

Monday, February 8, 2010

Peter Landrock Remembers Zelda

In 1982 myself and some friends went to see the new movie POLTERGEIST playing at the Zeigfeld Theater on W. 54th St in Manhattan We loved the movie, but were blown away by the woman who played the medium Tangina. Everyone in our group agreed that whoever the newcomer Zelda Rubenstein was, she had just asserted herself as an icon in cinematic history.

I could never have anticipated that one day this unique and talented woman would bestow on me the mitzvah -one of her favorite yiddish-isms - of her friendship.

Six years after that movie, I would move to Los Angeles, and become part of the original staff of ORSO Restaurant. ORSO grew into quite a show business hangout and Zelda became one of our most beloved regulars. (Notably, ORSO - which rarely closed it's doors for private parties - agreed to play host for Zelda's celebratory party when she adopted her daughter and family in the early 1990's).

As was Zelda's way, she very quickly flirted, joked and warmed her way into my life and my heart. Hearing her voice on my answering machine always made me smile: "Hi honey! How the hell are ya? Give me a call when you have the time - let's have a meal together!!!"

I have many great memories of our lunches at CHA CHA CHA in Silverlake - usually on a Thursday or Friday - it was a great way to end the week and start the weekend. We used to call it 'our place' - but there's not a doubt in my mind those fried plantains and bowls of guacamole must've been shared with innumerable dates on other days of the week too.

Zelda loved to get together for one on one's with her nearest and dearest - but she also loved to gather all those friends for her fabulous birthday parties which were held - literally - from one end of Los Angles to the other . . Without a hint of irony she would say "Honey, this year I'm going to have to have a smaller party - I'm keeping the guest list down to 50 . . . or 100"

Another example of Zelda's humor came in the fall of 2002. She left a message on my voice mail:
"Hi honey, it's Zelda Mae . . . I've got a favor to ask of you . . they are honoring POLTERGEIST at the Vista Movie Theater in Silverlake on Friday . . and they want the remaining and attending cast to put their hand-prints and signatures in cement in front of the theater. I'm wondering if you could come and give me some support. And I mean that literally!
I'm a little top heavy these days and I'm worried that if I don't have someone holding on to me when I bend over to put my hand-prints in the cement, The Vista will end up with my tit-prints as well! Let me know!!!

Zelda never lost that ribald sense of humor . . . Even as the years went by, she became a more frequent visitor to Cedars Sinai . . .but whenever she was up to it, she took great fun in sharing her 'blue material' with visitors, nurses and doctors alike. And I never saw anyone take offense - you couldn't help but like - and love - Zelda.

But any memory I have of Zelda would be far from complete with mentioning the love of her life and her life's partner, David. I don't think I ever, ever spent time with her that she did not tell me what a special man he was and how deeply she loved him - as she would often tell me: "I love him on a cellular level". And David's devotion was the perfect match. His love, understanding and care of her through the years was something wonderful to witness. True love.

I truly feel blessed to have known them both.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stephen Mendel Remembers Zelda

My Friend Zelda

I met Zelda Rubenstein in 1982. I had arrived in Los Angeles in the fall of 1981 from Montreal. Like so many others I had come to the mecca of LA seeking fame and fortune. I was standing in a line at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on the last day to submit photos for the next edition of The Players Directory. I was not alone; many others had waited until the very last moment to do the same. One of those was Zelda. I knew she was an actress, what would she be doing there otherwise, but I hadn’t seen Poltergeist. She looked me up and down (I’m exactly two feet taller) said something to me about being a tall drink of water and we began a conversation that continued until she lapsed into a coma in late 2009.

2009 was not a very good year for Zelda; she was in and out of the hospital the whole year with one health issue or another. Over the years, but most especially in ’09, I’d often taken her to her various doctors when her dear friend and companion David was working.

From 1984 through 1989 I lived in Toronto while working on a TV series. Zelda came to visit me there and also in Montreal when I shot a movie there as well. We were neither of us wealthy and I remember vividly driving from Montreal to Burlington, Vermont to pick her up from the much lamented People’s Express ($99.00 one way across the US!) You should have seen the looks on the immigration and customs man’s face when she pulled out her passport and answered the questions about what she did for a living!

I had a small SUV for many years and it was always a bit of a chore for Zelda to get in. So one day I went into an auto parts store and found a step that could be attached to the passenger side of the vehicle and we called it the Zelda step from then on.

She had a temper of course, one day we were walking about the site of the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal and some hillbilly came up to her and said something to the effect of “ain’t you that little girl from the movies?” I won’t repeat what she said but suffice to say he retreated tail between legs.

She always called on birthdays of course and never missed any plays I was in or musical gigs I performed at over the years and I did the same and saw everything she was in.

Sometimes we’d go for weeks without a conversation and then one of us would pick up the phone (usually her) and we’d catch up.

I saw her many times over these last few years, I’d go and pick her up at home and we’d go out for lunch or dinner and she would never, ever let me pay. I visited her at home and when she was hospitalized or needed to be transported somewhere.

I loved her and always will. She will be forever in my heart.

Valerie Orrock Remembers Zelda

When I met Zelda, it was because she had agreed to come to Seattle to work with kids interested in drama or storytelling at a summer arts camp that I coordinated. We hit it off right away. Before she arrived I was explaining the program and the kids it served. She agreed to be an honored master artist at two sessions. At some point in a phone conversation she asked about the student ages. When I explained the students in the second two weeks were middle school age, she got very quiet. "Oh", she said hesitantly. She explained that she had had a bad experience with children that age and found them in which they were cruel. She was not sure about working with them again. Before I could suggest an solution or alternative, she reversed her reaction and declared that she would do it. She explained that this was an excellent opportunity for her to face her fears. She said that what could they do now, she's older and they are lucky to be at the camp. "Besides, its a camp of artists. We're all artists."

I love this story because it shows Zelda's humanity. Her great capacity to care for others and her willingness at any age to learn and grow. These qualities endeared her to me and ten years later we were still phone buddies always checking in, me with my Jewish Grandmother and she with her Portuguese Granddaughter as she used to say. I will miss those phone calls, I already do. But I feel blessed that my life was touched by her and that I was able to witness her touch the lives of those kids who in the end, thought she was very cool.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Joe Bauer Remembers Zelda

I met Zelda at the home of Graham and Alex maybe fifteen years ago. I think I didn't realize her size immediately as her presence was so large. Andre the Giant couldn't have filled the room more. As I recall, she eyed me up and down, decided I had something to offer (she was a proud flirt) and extended her hand, saying "hi, honey! Nice to meet you! Graham has told me so much about you!" Had he? Who knows, but that set me at ease and off we went into conversation about who knows what. I didn't think of the movie career that had so influenced my younger life-- I didn't have a chance. You needed full attention to keep up with Zelda's nimble, darting, inquiring mind. She was the definition of "cutting to the chase". She was a tremendous story weaver (better than "teller"), and worked the pregnant pauses and big payoffs. Her dramatic abilities were indistinguishable from her living, each informing the other at every moment. Some party, I'd passed out on Graham's sofa (not like me, really!) and woke to the strange sensation of small hands messaging my face. My eyes opened and focused on Zelda, hovering ethereally above like a welcoming angel, my head in her lap. She said "lay still honey, this is good for you"-- something in that vein. I'm sure it included "honey", though she also called me "good lookin'" and simply "Joe Bauer" (never simply "Joe"). After her most recent heart attack I visited her at Cedars, expecting to find her flat on her back, monitors and tubes, etc. Instead she was down the hall, entertaining her doctor and some aids in a small dining room, alert as ever. Some would have been deflated by the circumstance but Zelda weighed it, accepted it and moved on. I think that's what I'll always remember about Zelda; she never stopped moving forward.