Peeling the layers of Tania Grossinger’s cocoon
By JERRY TALLMER | The last four words of the Skyhorse Publishing press release on Tania Grossinger’s new book, “Memoir of an Independent Woman; An Unconventional Life Well Lived,” are: “She lives in Manhattan.”
It might more precisely say: “She lives in Greenwich Village, New York City, and has for all the 54 years since — a college girl down from Brandeis — she first came across an ad in The Village Voice for a 3½ -room rent-controlled furnished apartment on Christopher Street, $168 a month.”
“I had no idea where Christopher Street was,” says the Tania Grossinger who’d grown up, fatherless — but oh no, not motherless — first in Beverly Hills, California, where glamorous mama Karla Grossinger, a Vienna-born Ph.D. who spoke 13 languages, found employment charming the celebrity customers at John-Frederics hat shop on Wilshire Boulevard, and then as social director at the famous Grossinger’s resort hotel, run by distant cousin and boss lady Jenny Grossinger, up in New York State’s even more celebrity-crammed Catskill Mountains.
Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher on short-lived honeymoon, or political philosophy’s Ayn Rand, or baseball’s pattern-smashing Jackie Robinson, who became lifelong friends with Tania Grossinger over a ping-pong table at Grossinger’s when she was 8 years old.
Tania Grossinger, who played the trumpet, and her Brandeis roommate, who composed music, were taken into that 3½ -room Christopher Street furnished apartment on six months’ probation.
“I figured: $168 a month. How bad can this get?”
The two girls kept things muted and passed the test. After four years, the roommate moved along. Tania has been there solo, ever since.
“I’m the only person you know,” says the Tania Grossinger of today, “who loves her landlord, Jimmy Silber, and her publicist. Jimmy Silber’s great-grandson, Eugene Silber, is my computer guru. And Greenwich Village is my protective cocoon.”
But “Memoir of an Independent Woman” is not a travel guide to Greenwich Village. It is, rather, a road map to “An Unconventional Life Well Lived,” that being the journey of a woman who through several careers — Playboy magazine and Hugh Hefner publicist, Betty Friedan publicist, travel writer, freelance writer — deliberately chose not to have children, though she now writes an entire book (this one) addressed to a daughter, Natasha, whom she will never have.
A woman who also survived one brief bad marriage only to find herself in love for the next 40 years with a man, 13 years her senior, who was already long married to a troubled woman by whom he was the father of one grown son and three no-less-troubled daughters. He and Tania first started talking, and laughing, one afternoon at the Lion’s Head, a newspaper hangout on Christopher Street now renamed Kettle of Fish.
His name, which came as an enormous shock to the person you are at this moment reading, is and was Art D’Lugoff, an entrepreneur, producer, anti-cop, anti-Mafia blacklist-busting freedom warrior, and club owner — the Village Gate — whom I have known, or thought I knew, ever since the launching of The Village Voice in the fall of 1955. But I did not know about Art and Tania Grossinger even though I’d interviewed her about an earlier book of hers, “Growing Up at Grossinger’s,” back in 2008.
It was a year later, November 4, 2009, that Art D’Lugoff up and died on us. His wife, Israeli-born Avital D’Lugoff, lost in a world of her own, would follow not long thereafter.
“[I] intuitively sensed that the less I knew about her or their relationship,” Tania Grossinger tells us toward the end of her new memoir, “the easier it would be. Am I implying that if I knew more I might have felt guilt about being with her husband? Possibly. I was not willing to find out. Cowardly? We all select, consciously or unconsciously, our personal mechanism for survival. This one worked for me.”
Art D’Lugoff was not a devious personality. Insistent, yes, but the opposite of devious.
Tania Grossinger started to laugh.
“I was thinking on the subway coming up here,” she said, “that if Art were alive now, he’d say: ‘Jerry’s going to interview you? Good! I’ll come along… .”
Does Tania Grossinger still play ping-pong?
“I haven’t in a long time. Bad knee. But I was good!” She thinks maybe Jackie Robinson, back there at Grossinger’s, let the 8-year-old win — but maybe not.
April 15 of this year was an important date both nationally and for Ms. Grossinger, whose “Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship” was published by Skyhorse on that day — Jackie Robinson Day, all over the country, with every ballplayer in the Big Leagues wearing 42, Jackie Robinson’s number on the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was also the day the movie “42” opened across the land, telling again the story of the black American Mr. Guts who, thanks to Branch Rickey, broke the color line in Major League Baseball (and everything else).
Jackie Robinson, who for a while wrote a column in the New York Post, was an Eisenhower Republican. Tania Grossman is distinctly not that.
“But we never discussed politics,” she says.
“I was lucky,” she says of the “protective cocoon” that is Greenwich Village. Now she knows where Christopher Street is.