Victoria’s Secrets: A powerful week with powerful women

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli with Samantha, me and Elizabeth

This was a spectacular week spent with powerful women in starkly different settings.

I got to spend time with hundreds of women who support Planned Parenthood and also enjoyed a remarkable Broadway play about two iconic, enormously successful women in the beauty business.

On May 5, my daughter Elizabeth asked her sister Samantha and I to join her at the annual Planned Parenthood Nassau County chapter gala; Elizabeth is active with the organization and serves on its Planning Committee. Naturally, Samantha and I said yes.

As we drove the long, curving, tree-lined road into Bethpage State Park to get to Carlton on the Green, we saw picketers standing at the entry gates, carrying shocking signs of aborted children and demanding the demise of Planned Parenthood. It was not unexpected since passions are running higher than ever over the group’s mission.

In its own words, Planned Parenthood seeks to empower women to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. The organization works to make medically sound health care and educational services accessible to all women, while also promoting public policy ensuring that all women are able to get the services they need.

Contrary to public opinion, few of Planned Parenthood’s services are connected to abortion. The organization educates and offers testing to men and women of every race and ethnicity. Many of these services aren’t paid with government funds, but rather through private insurers or by the patients themselves.

What Planned Parenthood offers most is a freedom of choice for women, something that resonates more today even as the group’s existence is threatened.

The Nassau County branch’s gala had its largest attendance to date, and raised more money than ever before. Its devoted leader, president and CEO JoAnn D. Smith, repeatedly made a bold statement about Planned Parenthood: “We will survive.”

The overflowing room of supporters included the honorees Diane and Bernie Yatauro and many local political leaders including State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Congressman Tom Suozzi; all supporting the theme “We Will Survive.”

Beauty business rivals in War Paint

Then, on May 6, my friend Linda DeSabato and I were mesmerized by the performances of Tony Award-nominated stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in the powerful story of bitter cosmetic rivals Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden in the musical “War Paint.”

Since Linda and I are both presidents of our companies, we related to the story of the two trailblazers Rubenstein and Arden in the years from 1935 to 1964 — a time when a tiny number of women led national brand companies. Helena Rubenstein became the wealthiest businesswoman in America, as stated by Forbes magazine at that time.

They could have been twins in their similar pursuit of success. Ironically, both experienced the betrayal of the men in their lives and their changing alliances to their rivals. They both suffered from prejudice; Arden, who was a Canadian Episcopalian, but was excluded from an exclusive WASP club membership because she was considered “nouveaux riche,” having made her money herself and not being part of the “old world” money, while Rubenstein was denied the opportunity to purchase a penthouse Park Avenue co-op by the co-op board because she was Jewish. (Rubenstein would get her revenge by buying the building, then living out her life in the triplex penthouse!)

The glamorous and remarkably talented LuPone and Ebersole wore stunning costumes created by the talented Catherine Zuber. Some of the gowns I’d love to wear myself; Arden’s favorite color, pink, is also my favorite, and was used prominently in War Paint in both the costumes and background lighting.

The sold-out crowd got the full vocal talents of the extraordinary lead women, offering everyone a look into the lives of two powerful women (who never met, even though they lived and worked only a few blocks apart in Manhattan). They were born decades ago, but their extraordinary accomplishments live on.  

Go see “War Paint” at the Nederlander Theatre. You, too, will love it!

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