event musings: Elliot Tiber, Palm Trees, Passions, Garland, and Home

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When: Thursday, August 11, about 8pm
Where: The Paley Center for Media, 25 West 52nd Street
What: Elliot Tiber meets fellow Judy Garland fans

John Fricke gesticulates, Elliott Tiber smiles. Hat, Tiber noted, was a gift from Tennessee Williams. Photo by Martha Wade Steketee.

On August 11 at a screening of television appearances ranging from Jack Paar show visits from 1964 and 1967 to a 1968 visit to the Philadelphia-based Mike Douglas show to show #20 of The Judy Garland Show, recorded in early 1964, Elliot Tiber attended as an audience member and was gracious enough to take some questions from John Fricke (the in-person and informal host of the summer’s events) and from the audience.

Mr. Tiber wrote the book made into the Ang Lee film Taking Woodstock about his 34-year-old self working at the family hotel and the essential role he played in setting up the Woodstock music festival in 1969.  And this year Mr. Tiber has published a “prequel” memoir that covers the years before Woodstock.  In a general dreamy style that is less based on dates and more on emotional decisions and the dramatic arc of a life, we learn of hard-working store-owning Brooklyn parents, a kid with a talent for art, a dreamer who jumps into Manhattan life and comes out as a gay man in his 20s, builds a career in decorating, and meets Judy Garland.

Palm Trees on the Hudson at left. Charming Elliot Tiber, be-hatted and be-Croc-ed, at right. Photo by Martha Wade Steketee.

I read Palm Trees on the Hudson prior to this surprise appearance, so I already knew some of the Garland related stories Tiber imparts this evening at the Paley. She permeates his life story, introduced first as a boy who first heard her voice in The Wizard of Oz (as is true for many of us) and simply fell for the girl who sings of home. Tiber attended the historic Carnegie Hall concert on April 23, 1961 — and writes in his memoir more of the efforts to obtain a choice 10th row center seat and his impressions of the composition of the audience around him than he does about content of the concert itself. (His story of attending and experiencing that evening may be among those included in the Stay All Night documentary about which I have written here.)

Perhaps most pertinent, most personal, most resonant, is his story of meeting Garland at an event (the planning and expenses of which have other dramatic effects on Tiber’s life and career) on a boat motoring on the Hudson in May 1968.  During her attendance at this boat party there is a period of time during which she and Tiber are alone together — the avid fan and the gracious celebrity. He doesn’t provide much detail this evening at the Paley nor in the book about the content of their conversation except for one powerful theme. Home. He quotes Garland as saying to him: “You make your own home … you make your own family.”

Little presents all around.  Thank you, Mr. Tiber.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 19, 2011)

2 comments on “event musings: Elliot Tiber, Palm Trees, Passions, Garland, and Home”

  1. I recently saw the movie “Taking Woodstock” and loved it….especially the Judy reference; wasn’t too sure what that was all about but now I know! And, because of your post here, I am definitely going to get a hold of his book “Palm Trees on the Hudson” !!! Thank you!!

  2. Elliot Tiber had more to say about Judy and Woodstock at the screening impromptu Q and A too. He noted that “I would have invited Judy to sing at Woodstock” — wouldn’t that have been something? but as we all know, her death in London on June 22, 1969 prevented that astounding possibility …

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