Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Witchcraft on the West Side

Dear Diary:
I had just learned the reason for the strange feelings and sounds in my prewar apartment on the Upper West Side: The previous resident, a young, handsome doctor, had committed suicide there. Lost in thought in the West 80s, I passed a small witchcraft shop in a brownstone near Broadway. Intrigued, I walked in and was immediately entranced by the smells and the colors, the candles, the jars full of mysterious-looking powders and the sign that read: “Spells and potions available on request.” The shop was run by two sisters, a redhead and a brunette, who were “witches.”
I blurted out: “I think my apartment might be haunted.” I explained about the former tenant’s suicide. “Is there a spell for this?” She smiled and said, “That’s easy.” She began mixing colored powders together, gave me a candle and instructed me to pour the mixture into a dish, light the candle, walk into all corners of my apartment with the burning incense and recite the words she wrote down for me.
I felt that perhaps she was getting ready to rip me off, but she rang up $2.87 — a bargain indeed!
I went home and did exactly as she said. In the days that followed, I felt as if the apartment had changed; it somehow felt happier.
One day I thought I should go back into the shop and thank the witch. I went back to where I thought the shop was, but nothing was there. So I strolled block by block through the entire neighborhood and nothing. I can only suppose it was like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement, perhaps? It was there when I needed it and then vanished into the subway steam.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Celebrities spotted on Tour by Jim Dykes, New York City private tour guide

Since New York is a city of celebrities EVERYwhere, it’s undeniable that celebs pop up on our tours. Sometimes as a passenger on the bus, sometimes as a “sight” on the tour, sometimes they become PART of the tour! I recently put out a request to guides on the Facebook site for guides and people came forward with personal stories.
Marc Landman said that he saw both Katie Courie and Savannah Guthrie but years ago his most famous celebrity sighting was SPUDS MacKenzie, the bull terrier from the Bud Light commercials. 
Guide Stan O’Connor contributed: “ I was in Midtown, standing in the stairwell of the double-decker bus, giving a tour. As we went past the Four Seasons Hotel, I told the people that I. M. Pei designed it.  Continuing, I went on to say that "he'd also designed the Javits  Convention Center, the big gold pyramid on the National Mall in Washington and a similar pyramid at the Louvre in Paris" and he..." I looked down to my right, where Pei happened to be standing right below me, and staring up at me, grinning from ear to ear "...and he's right here!  Hi, Mr. Pei!"  Everyone on the bus stood up and was delighted.  A true “New York moment.”

Matt Baker recalls the time that Tony Bennett hitched a ride on his CitySights Bus from the Museum of the City of New York to Fifth Ave. & 53rd St. The bus was nearly empty when he got on, but the 3 or 4 passengers who were there were THRILLED (especially the lady from…where else? San Francisco!)
Matt says he recently did a private tour for the Duke University basketball team. The famous Coach K is a West Point grad and his connections got the team a chance to visit otherwise restricted sections of the military school. 
Guide Lee Michael Klein sent me quite a huge list of celebs he’s spotted or interacted with on tours such as: Billy Joel, John McEnroe, Vanessa Williams, Conan O’Brien and more. Robert E. Cruz has two specific times legendary singer Roberta Flack ended up interacting with his tour.
Gwen Anne Strum mentions Mercedes Ruhl on her bus (and not tipping!) even after Gwen recognized her and greeted her.
Andrea Janes remembers the time Parker Posey joined her “haunted” walking tour on W. 10th St. and clapped.  Lee Gelber remembers the time Al Roker rode along on his bus and tried his hand on the microphone for a special TODAY report, as did Richard Dreyfus on another day with guide Hans Von Rittern, contributing stories about his days in Greenwich Village.
Readers of this column know that I’ve had quite a few “celebrity” moments myself: A few years ago I was leading a group of professional women on Beekman Place and a bearded man tagged along as I talked about the famous residents on the block. Suddenly as he pointed to a brownstone, the man piped up: “Don’t forget to tell them that Steven Spielberg lives here…” Of course it was Mr. Spielberg himself who couldn’t have been nicer. He chatted with the people a bit and hopped up the steps into his rented house.
Just yesterday on the subway with a small group we were standing next to Good Morning America’s Sam Champion. Several years ago in the dead of winter I was doing a small walking tour in Chelsea…as we passed the movie theatre on 23rd St. just as the matinee was letting out, Julia Roberts and her husband Danny Moder strolled out of the theatre, their eyes adjusting to the daylight and they walked right into the heart of my tour group! 
I had many Ed Koch sightings in Greenwich Village over the years…so many that when Mayor Koch would spot me, he would say: “Hi Jim- where are they from today?”  I also see Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick in their West Village neighborhood all the time.   Once, I had a group of boy scouts who attended the TODAY Show and met Ann Curry. She still remembers me and smiles and says hello when I see her on the streets (unlike Katie Couric, who was decidedly un-friendly as soon as the cameras were turned off).
Years ago when I worked at Radio City Music Hall in the tour dept. it was Music Hall legend that movie star Gregory Peck had once worked there. One day while working an event, I met Mr. Peck so I asked him directly and he said “Yes of course I was a guide here while I was taking acting classes. I lived in a little walk-up apt. on W. 52nd St. nearby.” This made me smile because I also was living, at the time, in a little walk-up apt. on W. 52nd St.

My good friend Alison Arngrim played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie and after years of me telling her to write a book, she finally wrote a memoir: CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE BITCH (she mentions me on page 299). When Alison is in New York from L.A., she stays with me and has tagged along with me on numerous group tours over the years. When she was here in June, she got a call to be on THE VIEW because Whoopi Goldberg  had read her book and liked it.  I had a small group that day and Whoopi was able to get us all into the audience to cheer Alison on and then met everybody afterward.

Years ago after my first or second appearance on Joan Rivers’ local show, Joan became momentarily fascinated with tours of New York and for a short time, was doing her own “Joan Rivers tour” on the Big Taxi tour bus!
Just for fun from Jim Dykes, New York City private tour guide:

In case you're curious, in New York City, check out the number of stores:

Dunkin Donuts-515
Subway Sandwich shops-467
Duane Reade/Walgreens- 318

Baskin Robbins-202

Friday, February 14, 2014

REGIS PHILBIN- DONE IN BY EGO AND $$$ DEMANDS- not your average "retirement" 

In 1994 Regis Philbin left the Upper Eastside and his Park Avenue apt. which had been his home since he returned to New York from Los Angeles in the 80’s to begin his morning chat show, syndicated nationally by Disney/ABC’s Buena Vista division.  A life-long Catholic, he lived near his St. Ignatius church where his daughters would be married. Footnote: this was the church of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s funeral as well as Jackie Onassis’ funeral in 1994.

He moved across Central Park to the Upper Westside to a new condo tower-Millenium Tower, where his famous neighbors have included: Tony Danza, Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner, Liam Neeson, Alan Alda (Regis’ next door neighbor on 53rd floor), Julie Andrews, Howard Stern and others. But more importantly, his new condo was across the street from the ABC studio where he did “LIVE WITH REGIS & KATHIE LEE”…later to become LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY. So he could now sleep late and stumble across the street to do his show LIVE….and collect his paycheck of roughly $18-$20million per year…without breaking a sweat chatting for ONE HOUR a day! But this wasn’t enough—Regis wanted MORE.
I was always a fan of Regis Philbin…something about the magic chemistry he had with his perky blonde co-hosts who were all young enough to be his daughters.  And then 2 years ago, he abruptly resigned from his perch co-hosting one of the most popular morning chat shows!   After a tearful on-air goodbye which went on for weeks, the truth began leaking out. It was all about MONEY. Regis Philbin was a great actor…greater than anybody realized…he played a nice guy on morning TV and everybody bought it—but apparently the truth is pretty ugly.  He’s a Bronx-born small-minded ego maniac who believed his own publicity and thought he was the biggest star in the world who could never be fired.

Apparently, it was time for contract negotiations and Regis  told his longtime agent Jim Griffin he wanted a big increase from the $20million per year he was getting. According to TMZ, Griffin talked with Disney execs about a new contract for Regis when his current deal expired and told them Regis’ demands.  The Disney/ABC execs made it clear that Regis would not be getting an increase, in fact he’d be getting a pay CUT, partly because the show was not performing as well in the ratings and partly because Regis takes a lot of time off. Regis, who has one of the world’s biggest egos, was furious at the lowball offer and that was the trigger for his announcement that he’s leaving the show.  He fired Griffin immediately, who had been his agent for decades.  So much for loyalty.

Regis told Kelly Ripa about his decision 15 minutes before they went on the air…she was stunned and later became very angry because (reportedly) she felt it showed a total lack of respect for her. Apparently, the entire production team was angry at Regis because they felt he hurt the show by “blindsiding” everyone. . The media was immediately full of reports that “Regis is retiring…” stories which Regis and his P.R. reps immediately shot down. On shows like Letterman and The View, Regis almost shouted at interviewers “I’m not retiring! I’m just moving on…!”  But the real story, the bottom line: it was all about MONEY.

Disney’s arguments made sense: so-so ratings, an 80 year old host who takes a LOT of time off and let’s face it….what else is he going to do? He literally lives across the street from the studio…he walks across the street just before show time, chats for an hour and then collects a gigantic paycheck, which he felt wasn’t enough for his “talents.” Regis had experienced more than a few health issues over the years and he was closing in on 80 years old. As we know, TV is all about younger demographics and they were a little afraid that their senior citizen host could literally “drop dead” on LIVE TV ….and what would THAT do to their ratings and their “brand” which is a show called LIVE with…..? So they did a bunch of “farewell shows” for Regis and let him say goodbye gracefully over a couple months and replaced him with football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, and guess what?   The ratings have soared…never better in the show’s history, which reportedly, has made Regis even more furious- partly because Regis brought Strahan into the show  over the years including a pre-taped bit where he and Strahan are baby-sitting Kelly’s three kids.

What’s Regis Philbin doing now? Unsuccessfully trying to be a sports commentator on FOX, doing an occasional guest-starring role here and there and I just heard him on his new gig: contributing little pre-taped opinion pieces on WOR Radio. How the mighty have fallen!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Manhattan Mafia Memories and Murder!

It’s always fun to spice up your New York tour with a few famous names—from time to time I toss in names & places that have to do with famous Mafia references, although so many of these places have completely changed that a lot of imagination is necessary on the part of the guide and the tourist. Some Mafia references are scattered all over to the far corners of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, but there are still a few favorites in Manhattan.

Sparks’ Steakhouse is still there on East 46th St. where in 1985 Paul Castellano was gunned down near Sparks’ front door, which then made John Gotti the new “Godfather” of the Gambino crime family. If you’re walking people around town on foot, combine your viewing of Sparks with perhaps the United Nations, Tudor City and Grand Central.

Another Gambino crime associate met his end at a midtown barbershop.  Over on West 55th St. is a hotel that’s had many names—on Oct. 25, 1957 it was known as the Park Sheraton Hotel at 870 Seventh Avenue when Albert Anastasia went in for a haircut & shave. His driver/bodyguard had taken the car to an underground garage leaving Anastasia unprotected when suddenly two gunmen rushed in and began firing, killing Anastasia after a brief gun battle. Today the barbershop is gone…for years it was the lobby bathroom, then a gift shop and now it's one of New York City's 283 STARBUCKS locations, believe it or not! 

In Little Italy there are still some famous “Mafia” locations…John Gotti’s famed Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street down in Little Italy which was repeatedly and secretly “bugged” by the Feds to get the goods on Gotti’s underworld activities, is now an expensive ladies boutique!
Further down Mulberry Street is Umberto’s Clam House which has also moved 3 or 4 times since the original location at the corner of Mulberry & Hester Street where “Crazy” Joe Gallo was murdered in a surprise “rub-out” on the night of his 43rd birthday April 7, 1972 following a bloody mob war he initiated with the Columbo crime family. Supposedly Joe Gallo was one of the masked shooters that killed Albert Anastasia in the barbershop in 1957 and this was his payback.

Other local reputed Manhattan Mafia locations: RAO’s Italian restaurant (members only) located in a very out-of-the-way part of Manhattan….E. 114th Street in Spanish Harlem which was once an Italian/Irish neighborhood. John Gotti’s daughter Victoria Gotti, the author is still a regular at RAO’s. Also the TRIANGLE Social Club on Sullivan Street is supposedly Vincent “the Chin” Gigante’s regular hangout for decades. Also Columbus Circle was the site of mob boss Joe Columbo’s rubout in 1978 during a Unity Day parade—although hundreds of people witnessed the shooting, no one was ever caught.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Private Schools in Manhattan-up to $46,000 a year and LOTS of attitude, interviews and b.s.

“Where are the schools and the grocery stores?” is a frequent question from tourists. After explaining that large grocery stores with parking lots don’t exist in Manhattan, I point out Whole Foods, Gristedes, Fairway and a few others.  But when it comes to schools, the sky is the limit… guides talk about the various public schools, especially the specialized high schools (Fashion, Business, Math & Science, Performing Arts, etc.).
But when there’s time and interest, I take it a bit further and get into an in-depth explanation of the world of private schools and how there are more elite private schools crammed onto Manhattan’s 22 square miles that any other place in the world…filled with the children of the Rich & Famous. It’s quite a cut-throat experience interviewing and trying to get your children accepted into these elite schools where tuition can range from $21,000--$46,000 yearly!  In fact, there are more than 300 private schools in Manhattan. It’s been comically suggested that women register children into the best schools when they are still fetuses in the womb, because of a typical 5-6 year waiting list!
Notable schools in town: Hewitt School, Brearley School (Caroline Kennedy is a famous graduate), Trinity School, St. John Cathedral School, York Preparatory, the Calhoun School, Avenues The World School (Suri Cruise attends), the Beekman School, the Collegiate School (boys), St. David’s (boys), the Lycee Francaise, the Steiner School (Jennifer Aniston), and many more.
 Some of the most desirable:
  1. Spence School for Girls- E. 91st St.- Founded by Clara Spence in 1921, it’s a combination “finishing school” and prep school. Anna Wintour, editor of VOGUE, sent her daughter Bea here. Gwyneth Paltrow went here, so did Katie Couric’s girls, Mayor Bloomberg’s daughters and many more.
  2. Dalton School- Co-Ed- E. 91st St.- Robert Redford’s kids, Barbara Walters’ daughter, Claire Danes, Anderson Cooper, etc.
  3. Convent of the Sacred Heart- E. 91st St.- Regis Philbin’s daughters, Lady Gaga and her sister, Nicky Hilton, many more.
  4. Nightingale/Bamford School for Girls: E. 93rd St.
  5. Chapin School for girls- Ivanka Trump, various heiresses
  6. Buckley School for Boys-E. 75th- lotsa Wall Street sons’
  7. Stevenson School for Boys- see above
  8. Alexander Robertson School- W. 95th St.- founded 1789
  9. Browning School for Boys- E. 62nd St. & Park Avenue
  10. Dwight School-Central Park West- Paris Hilton (can you believe she actually went to school?)
One of my favorite schools is Professional Children’s  School- W. 60th St.- founded in 1914-   I’ve visited here and my cousin Lesley was a music teacher there and in fact, she met her husband there.   Lesley tells me that it was a very freaky experience to try to teach music to kids who are already on Broadway, making movies, starring in their own TV shows or playing Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Lesley says: “It’s also quite an experience when you have child stars whose designer clothing and handbags are a month’s salary to me!”
Famous graduates of P.C.S. include: MacCaulay Culkin and Kieran Culkin (they lived in the tower next door), Sarah Jessica Parker (when she was ANNIE), Scarlett Johanssen, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Ricki Lake, Vera Wang, Savion Glover, Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell, Joan Blondell, Marvin Hamlisch, child prodigy violinist Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony Michael Hall, Irene Cara (FAME), Ann Blyth, Phoebe Cates, Beverly Sills, Adam Arkin, Milton Berle, Sandra Dee, Melissa Joan Hart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Francis, Carrie Fisher, Jane Krakowski, Ruby Keeler, Elliott Gould, Diane Lane, Donald O’Connor, Jennifer O’Neill, Phyllis Newman, Rita Moreno, Jerry O’Connell, Amy Irving, Patty McCormack, Christian Slater, Susan Strasberg, Tara Reid, Martha Plimpton, Leslie Uggams, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Walken, Dick VanPatten, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Tempest Bledsoe, Buddy Rich, Sidney Lumet, Peggy Lipton, Lorna Luft, Brooke Adams, Pinchas Zuckerman and many more.
From Metropolitan Diary:
Overheard on a crosstown bus: three high school girls in school uniforms from a fancy Upper Eastside girls’ school:
High Schooler #1: (in the middle of a conversation about the coming weekend and their respective country houses): “I always feel like a stupid rich kid saying we have a place in ‘The Hamptons’, you know?”
High Schooler#2: “I NEVER say ‘The Hamptons’. I just say we go to Long Island. The Hamptons sounds, you know…..”
High Schooler #3: “ I LOVE saying ‘The Hamptons!’ That way people don’t think we’re so rich. Only renters say ‘The Hamptons.’ “

Jim Dykes, licensed New York guide and GANYC member, is the co-founder of Rich and Famous Tours, www.richandfamoustours.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Madonna-- the complete story

Madonna—the complete story 

We’ve all read the big news that at long last Madonna (Louise Ciccone) has put her fabulous Central Park West apartment on the market, not exactly priced to sell quickly at $23.5 million.  I wondered how long it would take her to sell….she hasn’t lived there in a couple years since she offended and alienated everybody in the exclusive building with her constant redecorating, renovating as well as loud music and fled to a huge mansion on E. 81st Street near the Lexington Avenue subway.

Her CPW abode was pieced together from sections of apartments on the fifth, sixth and seventh floors in Harperly Hall at 1 West 64th Street. Harperly Hall was built around World War I in what is referred to as “arts & crafts style”…on a sunny day if you peer carefully you can see the colorful artsy trim around the top of the building. Other neighbors in the building include Mikhail Baryshnikov, Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, Ed Asner, Carol Kane and a few more. 
Madonna moved in after being rejected from a dozen other fabulous co-ops on the Upper East and Westside. In fancy co-ops, one negative vote from a board member can keep you out of a desired property. Madonna was rejected from buildings such as the San Remo, the Eldorado, the Majestic, 101 Central Park West, 989 Fifth Avenue, 1010 Fifth Avenue and others.  Finally her friend, the writer Gail Gregg (Mrs. Sulzberger whose husband runs the New York Times) took pity on her. Gail was on the board at Harperly Hall and used her influence with board members to assure Ms. M got into the building in a basic 2 bedroom apt. on the fifth floor. But as soon as the ink dried on the deal, Madonna was already wheeling and dealing and buying out other people in the fancy building.
It wasn’t long till Madonna began buying every other apartment on the fifth and sixth floors over the years as well as a few more on 4 and 7.   She was knocking down walls and adding staircases and constantly renovating which made her a pariah in the building and during most of these noisy and dusty renovations, she wasn’t even living on the premises! She was in London or Los Angeles!  She eventually had two entire floors and pieces of others.  At one point she attempted to buy more apartments on the 7th floor and the building began threatening legal action.  After the legal threats were settled, she fled the building for E. 81st Street.  She still has homes in the Hamptons, Michigan, Malibu, Miami, London, outside of London and a few other places. Not bad for a girl from Detroit who moved to New York with a few hundred dollars and slept on sofas in the East Village!
Madonna moved to New York from her native Michigan in the early 80s to study dance but quickly abandoned that idea for a career in pop music.  She was a bit of a “mythic” figure in those days…a girl who wore crosses and created her own style.  A girl who knew exactly what she wanted…fame & fortune in the pop music business and single-mindedly made up her mind to get it, any way possible.  It’s been more than whispered for years that she is not a good singer…she’s a product of the computerized music industry, echo chambers, backup singers, gimmicky dance numbers and scenery. She knew the value of the new MTV video business and her career “hit” just as music videos were coming into their own.

People in the industry say she has a very ordinary voice but has other oral skills supposedly as well as a good business mind, discipline, determination and almost no scruples.  She used flirtation, sexual favors and some say even thievery to get her way. Stories are rampant from those days that Madonna would target guys in the music business and go home with them. After getting high and having sex, it’s said she would wait for them to fall asleep and then she would rifle thru their apartments looking for anything she could use... she was famous for helping herself to names and phone numbers, money, valuables and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. Some say she even took bits and pieces of songs that were in the process of being written and passed them off as her own compositions in years to follow.
I don’t know her, but I was a “club kid” in the early 80’s for awhile and Madonna and I have been “buzzing” around in the same orbit since those wild days.  When I was working at Studio 54, she was up in the dj booth supposedly “sexually persuading” the DJ to play her latest demo records. She also was a fixture at other clubs such as Xenon, Limelight and the former Danceteria, a club located on W. 20th Street near Sixth Avenue in the old Cammeyer Department Store building which is now luxury condos across the street from the former Limelight, now a retail center.  Madonna was a fixture in EVERY club in New York in those days…all the former “club kids” of which I was one, remember her….some more fondly than others.And now she’s “first lady” of the pop music industry...all hail the "queen" from Detroit!