On Thursday October 25th, the Katonah Museum hosted the second of this year’s CrossTalk series with New York Times reporter Milt Freudenheim and actress Jane Alexander. “A cultural mash up – experts on fascinating topics colliding in the same space,” is how the Fall/Winter monthly intersection bills itself.
Mr. Freudenheim deferred to the Emmy Award winning actress to initiate the evening. “I’m here to open for Jane Alexander,” he joked.
Nonetheless, he held his own with a series of career snippets and life lessons from his chosen field. “We used to have an old newspaper saying, if your
That was easily verifiable in witnessing one of the odder stories associated with Fidel Castro’s visit to New York after the Cuban Revolution. Used to slaughtering a meal before preparing, said Freudenheim, “Castro actually had live chickens running around his hotel room.”
Actress Geraldine Page was on the receiving end of a similar sense of urgency at the hands of Adlai Stevenson during a UN conference. “She was shocked to find his hand on her knee under the table,” he remembered her account.
Above the fray, meeting Eleanor Roosevelt as the New York Times UN Correspondent was one of his more memorable moments – especially in regards to what it revealed of the American icon. Seated at a table with delegates from Latin America, Africa and Asia, she kept shifting around the table and made herself available to all. “It was a delight to delegates who normally didn’t get that type of attention,” he said.
That crossed over perfectly to Jane Alexander who would go onto star in Franklin and Eleanor in 1976. She led by explaining that her life has been a series of epiphanies, beginning at the age of seven when her father took her to the ballet. “I was transfixed. I had never seen a play or a movie, and I thought where has this been my whole life,” said Alexander.
She told her father that’s where she wanted to be even though ballet did not turn out to be the medium. Going on to do plays in high school, she was on her way but another world opened up to her by way of a scary and up close introduction to a spider. “I was terrified of them,” she says.
Mom allowed one to navigate her arm and instructed her daughter that all creatures have a purpose. After that, Alexander began a double life and an undying interest in the natural world emerged.
In this, she anticipated a possible disappointment among those hoping for more a dissertation on her Hollywood exploits. “I apologize to everyone who was hoping to hear about Paul Newman and Robert Redford,” she said.
Judging by the response, the audience was definitely open to learn of an activism that began with searching for frogs in Boston, along with a fascination for birds that took off when her family moved to the country. There, she started to track the return of migrating birds, and Alexander's interest had clearly been upped exponentially by adulthood as she once found herself bird watching in the jungles of Belize.
But the movements of the 60's helped turn her interest into activism. "I started by taking part in anti nuclear marches and when the test ban treaty emerged, I realized change could happen," she said of this epiphany.
Her next awakening took place in the 80’s with a visit to the Serengeti. The antelopes, ostriches and zebras in full expansive view, she said, “most of our lives are lived in rectangles. The world is not like that. It’s in curves.”
In this, she began an encircling activism on the issue of poaching, and the attention she would bring to the plight of everything from African elephants to Sonoran geckos had her received the Global Wildlife Ambassador Award. “They began this position so more lay people would get involved in this arena,” she said.
So with less than 300 black rhinos remaining and elephants and sharks ever dwindling and drowning for their ivory and fins, this ambassador employed the tactics she utilized as the president of the NEA in fighting off artistic extinction. “We learned lessons there on how to fight the battle,” she said in response to a question from the audience.
And the New York City ban on shark fin soup is among the victims but the word from the newspaper world remains in decline – especially in wake of Newsweek’s decision to eliminate its print edition, according to Freudenheim. “It’s not a pretty picture,” he said.
Ms. Alexander only hopes the polar bear can fare better in outlasting disappearing ice flows than the print medium has in the face of diminishing subscriptions. “You never know, they may adapt,” she said, but getting involved is more the aspiration she’s after from her position and experience.