Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2001

Mary Ann Fitzmorris

New York City: Real life or reel life?
Ever since television and movies became the cornerstone of our culture, people of wisdom have pondered the question: Does art imitate life or vice versa?
My family has just returned from New York, on a winter vacation whose extensive itinerary aimed to determine the answer to that essential question. Our quest began at the Plaza Hotel, the all-purpose lodging set for any movie filmed in New York.
We would have stayed at the Plaza, but there were no rooms available. Evidently, a lot of others were on the same pop culture mission. We were based at another, much newer hotel, so totally cool its a wonder we werent thrown out when my husband showed up wearing a Fiddler on the Roof-type fedora.
The Hudson on Columbus Circle is a hangout for the young, beautiful people of New York. Each evening they gathered in the bar for sophisticated chatter. Just like in the movie “Youve Got Mail.” The kids were delighted to notice.
But even this early discovery did not deter the children from a need to scope out the glitzy Plaza to find the elevators Bette Midler haunted in “Big Business” or the pool where the kid from “Home Alone Two” lost his swimsuit.
After spending $100 on breakfast like the other tourists in the Plazas dining room, my husband lingered over coffee as the children and I conducted our cultural research. There was no pool or swimsuit and the glass elevators remained out of sight. But all was not lost. We did exit the hotel from those famous front steps once used by everyone worthy of a sidewalk star in L.A.
The next several hours were spent at F.A.O Schwartz, such an enthralling place that we completely forgot our mission. It was only as we combed the last few feet of the place, immediately prior to leaving, that we literally stumbled upon the piano keys set into the floor where Tom Hanks danced a ditty in the film “Big.” There was no chance of our eking out an recognizable tune, since the ivories were loaded with other investigators like us.
We didnt have to go far for our next brush with celluloid substance.
Across the street was Tiffany, where people of my parents generation remember the elegant Audrey Hepburn gazing into the window.
Lately, though, the turquoise blue boxes from the store struck our fancy because of a delightfully quirky comedy called “The Muse.” Boxes from Tiffany were featured so prominently in that film that my son had to have one. I made the helpful suggestion of filling a box with a six carat diamond ring, but Dad nixed it, so the salesperson was kind enough to just give us an empty one.
On to the Empire State building, where Meg Ryan went to meet her soulmate in “Sleepless in Seattle.” Now I know the real reason she showed up a closing time. Had she gone any earlier, the long lines would have prevented her from claiming her destiny. From there my husband and I insisted on a brief stop to see a cleaner Grand Central station than the one we remember. While gawking at the ceiling, my son exclaimed, “Hey! Look, Mom, isnt that where Cary Grant tried to buy his train ticket to escape New York in North by Northwest?” Whew! We couldnt have seen something just for the sake of seeing it.
We rushed through Ellis Island because the only thing filmed there were educational documentaries. After purchasing a Statue of Liberty lighter like the one the kid in “Jungle to Jungle” had, we made our way to the New York Stock Exchange.
The traders werent acting as wild as they did in the movies. But even though real life didnt measure up to reel life there, the kids admitted it was still interesting. And something on the monitor caused a stir while we were there, so we left satisfied.
The trips finale was the Today show. Every time we saw people waving wildly my son said, “Mom, if a ever get to New York, Ive gotta do that.”
Because of a blinding snow limiting the competition from other…uh…researchers, the Today show ended with a closeup of my son.
We left New York in a winter blizzard. Just like on the Weather Channel.

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS writes this column every Saturday for LObservateur.