MAKE WAY FOR THE ROMANOVS

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I may have been the only small boy in St. Mark's grammar school in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, who grew up praying for the restoration of the tsar. Very few little Irish Catholic kids cared one way or the other but I did, desperately, mostly because of a great movie I grew up on, called "At the Balalaika."

That leads me to the fact there is these days among Americans an absolute fascination with tsarist times. Contemporary Russia may be a mess. But the old regime, unless you happened to be a peasant or a proletarian unfortunate enough to have been exiled to Siberia, was glorious. And on Tuesday evening of next week (Feb. 13) the excitement reaches an absolute crescendo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where they are having a black-tie reception and dinner "in the grand imperial style" of the tsar.

The evening kicks off an exhibition at the Met, and later a tour of the country, of the collected work of Peter Carl Faberge, jeweler to Tsar Nicholas and the master craftsman who created all those jeweled eggs. Punch Sulzberger of The New York Times and board chairman of the Met, and Patrick Choel, CEO of Faberge Co., a division of Chesebrough-Pond's (parent company is Unilever), are co-hosts. You may begin to discern a promotional tie-in here between Faberge, the company, and Faberge, the great jeweler.

Need I tell you that among the leading collectors of Faberge eggs in this country is the Forbes family. And that Steve Forbes is running for president? Or that one of the season's best sellers is Robert Massie's "The Final Chapter," all about the doomed Romanovs. Or that Warner LeRoy has bought and is refurbishing The Russian Tea Room here in Manhattan, "slightly to the left of Carnegie Hall"? Or that Prince Nicholas Romanov has been in the States discussing, in detail, the bones of the late tsar and his wife and kids, and their reinterment at St. Petersburg Cathedral? Or that an auction of Sinatra memorabilia racked up hefty prices for Frank's own Faberge collection?

All this may be more than you care to know about Faberge or the damned tsar, but for me, well, as I say, I doted on "At the Balalaika," which I saw many times in the Sheldon Theatre (also known as "The Itch") on Sheepshead Bay Road. Nelson Eddy was the star and there were all these other great White Russian emigres played by guys like Akim Tamiroff and Mischa Auer and Louis Calhern and they drove Paris taxicabs by day but by night they changed into their cossack suits and were all exiled archdukes and generals who spent all their time plotting the overthrow of the commies and the restoration of the throne to the Romanovs.

And when they weren't plotting they were strumming the balalaika and singing and dancing in their boots and fur hats and knocking back the old vodka and hurling glasses into the fireplace and spooning up the caviar and lusting after Ilona Massey. It was a hell of a life, all these gallant officers and lovely blondes hanging about, and I thought I would dearly love to grow up and hang about in nightclubs singing and drinking vodka with blondes and arguing about Rasputin and recalling memories of the Winter Palace and sledding about in troikas and plotting against Lenin and Trotsky.

I mean, leaning on the bar of Wollensky's Grill and discussing the Super Bowl with Pat Ford the bartender is one thing. Plotting to restore the Romanovs is quite something else again. I tell you, the excitement is such that next week at the Metropolitan Museum if it starts to snow, I will probably burst into nostalgic sobbing, and won't be at all surprised if they didn't, by God! produce Anastasia, right there on Fifth Avenue.

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