The Bookstore That Bewitched Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Greta Garbo
The Rizzoli in New York City was no ordinary bookstore in its ’70s heyday. Celebrities flocked to this glamorous and buzzy temple of literature and culture.
From The Daily Beast
December 16, 2014
When Rizzoli bookshop closed this past year on 57th Street, many people lamented its loss. It was the last really elegant shop of its kind left in Manhattan. But for some of us, while its closing was sad, it was a tempered sadness. After all it wasn’t the real Rizzoli bookstore that had opened at 712 Fifth Avenue in the 1960s. That particular shop, sold to Bendel a decade ago or so before, had been the ne plus ultra of American bookstores. Those of us who worked there during its glory years in the 1970s and early 1980s knew how absolutely unique it was, as I hope to show in my book, Nights at Rizzoli.
Italian media mogul Angelo Rizzoli had an empire of newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations throughout Italy, and bought the building because his reporters and media staff needed a New York headquarters. The bookstore was opened as a way of presenting Italian books and culture to Manhattanites.
It was never intended to do anything as vulgar as actually earn money. If anything, it would lose money gently, elegantly, hopefully not very much at one time. Because the shop was emblematic of that peculiar Italian institution known as La Faccia, i.e. presenting the best face possible.
And did it ever! Situated between 55th and 56th streets on what real-estate brokers dubbed Millionaires Row, Rizzoli was next door to Harry Winston Jewelers, across the street from Tiffany’s and George Jensen Fine Glass.
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Nights at Rizzoli
Salvador Dalí, Jerome Robbins, Jackie Onassis. Gregory Peck, Mick Jagger—S. J. Perelman—I. M. Pei. Philip Johnson, Josephine Baker, John Lennon: they, and so many more who made New York City the center of the universe in the 1970s, all had one thing in common besides their adopted hometown—they shopped at a legendary palace of books, music and art: Rizzoli Books at 712 Fifth Avenue. There, Kennedys and Rockefellers mingled with tourists and “regular” customers under the watchful gaze of sophisticated employees, themselves a multi-talented, international collection of artists, scholars and rogues.
Nights at Rizzoli is the memoir of Felice Picano, an aspiring but near-starving young writer who in 1971 lucked into a part-time job at the stunningly elegant store via a friend. It metamorphosed into a life-changing experience, one that exposed him to some of the brightest lights in the world’s cultural capital. At the store, he himself became a key player on a stage that opened every night to a new drama that often featured romance, at times violence, and of course always the books and their readers.
And when his shift was over, in this post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era, the handsome young bookstore manager stepped from one world into another, prowling the piers, bars and very private clubs of a different New York City.
Author: Felice Picano
224 pages, including 5 black & white photographs
Paperback ISBN 978-1-939293-67-1 • E-book 978-1-939293-68-8
$24.95 at Amazon.com Buy it Here
A 20th-Century Life
If that early biographer and arch-gossip, Plutarch, were alive in 2014 and writing an updated version of his Lives, he'd do far worse than include in his gallery of contemporaries the singer, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker and entrepreneur, Wakefield Poole. At least, according to Jim Tuskhinksy's sweeping new documentary movie, I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Pole that premiered at Los Angeles' Outfest film festival this past weekend.
If Poole's name isn't familiar, perhaps you may know one of the films he made, which in 1971 and 1972 helped to alter everyone's view of what a gay man was and could be -- most famously Boys in the Sand. Poole is to gay film and especially gay porn what D.W. Griffith is to the film medium in America: the originator and first master. And unlike Griffith, Poole's movies can be watched without flinching some 40 odd years later. To my mind Bijou is a classic.
I was at the Poole movie premiere because I'm in the film, one of the "talking heads" who contextualize what we see on screen. Also, because Wakefield Poole touched my life through his art, almost through a career choice -- about which later -- but mostly through the unique and beautiful men on the scene we knew, now gone, among them the famous Casey Donovan.
True Stories Too
Award-winning author Felice Picano returns with a new collection of memoirs, True Stories Too: People and Places from My Past, expanding his highly praised portraits and anecdotes to reveal histories of his family, friends, and lovers. In this new volume Picano also delights with wonderful new tales of the many places he has lived in and visited, including New York, California, Rhode Island, Germany, and Japan.
Author: Felice Picano
Pages: 278, paperback
Pub Date: June 17, 2014
“Felice Picano, as his name suggests, is both a happy and piquant memoirist. Gifted with a prodigious memory and an inexhaustible curiosity, Picano observes everything—Japan, Berlin, his own family—in a fresh and indelible way.”