(Legendary New York restaurant owner Elaine Kaufman has died at age 81, a staggering loss to Gotham's social scene. Elaine's restaurant was a favored hang-out for celebrities, largely because Elaine would use her less-than-shy demeanor and imposing physical presence to ensure that no one pestered the stars. Long time ABC radio film critic Bill Diehl shares his memories of Elaine in this exclusive column for Cinema Retro)
By Bill Diehl
This photo was taken last year when I dined at Elaine's with my one-time intern, Emily Smolar, now a producer at Paula Zahn's "On the Case." Emily took the photo. I reminded Elaine that I first met her in the late 1960s when WNEW's Jim Lowe took me up to her restaurant at 88th and Second Avenue. "Elaine," he said, "I want you to meet one of the newest member's of our WNEW staff, newsman Bill Diehl." And as I recall Elaine said, "Jim, any friend of yours is a friend of mine." I was never a frequent visitor to Elaine's after Jim's introduction although I returned in the mid 80s for the promotion of a book about Hugh Hefner's Playboy, "Mr.Hugh Hefner and the American Dream," by Steven Watts. Hef wasn't there (I did meet him in 2000 when I had a private visit to 'The Mansion' for an interview) but his daughter Christie was at Elaine's for the book party along with lots of other celebs.
Among the quotes about Elaine's passing---these from the Daily News:
Author Gay Talese: "We're all a little less alive today with Elaine dead."
Woody Allen: "She protected everybody. The bar was so full of celebrated people. But you were never bothered, because everybody was a bigger deal than you."
And I love this, from the N.Y.Times obit---a guy at the restaurant once asked Elaine for directions at the men's room. Elaine said, "It's in the back...take a right at Michael Caine." She was quite something, a real New York fixture. Lots of obits in the NY Papers...NY Times of course has a lengthy one, also the Daily News and the NY Post.
Food was never great at Elaine's but of course celebs didn't go there for the food...they wanted a 'den mother' and that was Elaine.