What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (“Romeo and Juliet”, William Shakespeare)
Maybe so. But it’s even sweeter when you get your name on something. Back in the day the Montagues and the Capulets had their issues, today it’s the battle of the naming rights. I was thinking of that when I recently saw my first Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game at what used to be called KeySpan Park in Coney Island. Now it’s MCU Park (for Municipal Credit Union), but still a great venue with a small town atmosphere — you can even run the bases once the game is over. The Cyclones are a Minor League team of the New York Mets, but the less said about those CitiField dwellers the better.
Here in New York you’re not anybody until you get a street or a bridge or some structure named after you, although usually you have to be dead to get that honor. Some of us natives never accept these changes — they’re still just the Triborough and Queensboro bridges to most of us, and we could care less who Major Deegan was (a New York City politician and a major in the Army Corps of Engineers, in case anyone wants to know).
There is great and growing enthusiasm for private names in public places. Names go up, and sometimes they come down. Villanova alumni may recall that their sports arena was once named for a du Pont, but when he was convicted of murder, his promise of a $5 million donation to the university wasn’t enough to prevent removal of his name.
Let’s look at Lincoln Center to see what it might take to get a theater named after you. If you said money and connections, you may continue reading. The latest addition to the building on the West Side land, where the Jets and the Sharks had their turf war, is a 112-seat theater called the Claire Tow. Just a few months old, it hopes to attract a younger and more diverse audience with a $20 ticket price. Claire Tow has a husband named Leonard, a Lincoln Center board member, who made a donation of $7.5 million.
For a mere $1 million in 1973, the Forum Theater in the lower level was renamed the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Ms. Newhouse was the widow of Samuel I. Newhouse, a publisher of newspapers, magazines and books, along with radio and TV holdings.
The only Broadway theater not in the theater district is the Vivian Beaumont, named for Vivian Beaumont Allen, heiress to the May Department Store fortune, whose gift of $3 million in 1958 was crucial to the development of the Lincoln Center complex.
Recently, my daughter Shari treated me to a performance of “Harvey,” the nearly 70-year-old play about a 6-foot-plus rabbit, invisible to all but Elwood P. Dowd. I played Elwood a couple of times, and in one production Shari had the role of my niece Myrtle Mae. We enjoyed the show a lot — it took place at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54. Built in 1927 as an opera house called the Gallo, it soon was turned into a theater named The New Yorker, followed by a dinner theater known as the Casino de Paree, which then became the Federal Music Theatre. In 1976, it was converted into the flamboyant celebrity nightclub Studio 54 until the Roundabout took it over with its revival of “Cabaret.”
What’s in a name, indeed! So for you rich guys out there who want to give your wife the right present, The Outrageous Fortune Company is still looking for a new theater in northeast Queens. Come up with the cash and I’ll be happy to discuss naming rights.
Contact Ron Hellman at rbh24@Columbia.edu.