Subjects of Irving Penn’s “Elaine & Friends” Photo Are First Inductees in Foundation’s Hall of Fame

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NostalgiainVogue-1971In 1971, Irving Penn took what became an iconic picture of some of the A-list at Elaine’s, an eclectic group that included writers, editors, producers and singers — the type of creative mix that found its way to Elaine Kaufman’s saloon on Second Avenue for nearly a half century.

As the Table 4 Writers Foundation, formed to honor Elaine, holds its second annual gala on March 27, the subjects in Penn’s “Elaine & Friends” photo will be inducted into the foundation’s new Hall of Fame.

We are gratified that the Penn Foundation has donated a copy print of the picture for our silent auction at the gala. Six of the seven surviving subjects have graciously signed the copy for us. They are Robert Brown, Christopher Cerf, Bruce Jay Friedman, Arthur Kopit, Lewis Lapham, and Gay Talese. The seventh, Nicholas Pileggi, has kindly agreed to sign it when he returns to New York in April.


Front row left to right:
Arthur Kopit, Jack Gelber, George Plimpton and Gay Talese; second row, seated: Willie Morris, Jack Richardson, Elaine Kaufman, Christopher Cerf, David Halberstam; third row: Nicholas Pileggi, Robert Brown, Jean-Pierre Rassam (center), and Bernard “Buzz” Farber (far right); back row: John Barry Ryan III, Lewis H. Lapham, Bobby Short, William Styron, and Bruce Jay Friedman.

Elaine Kaufman Gala to Benefit Emerging Writers

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By Murray Weiss

Legend has it that restaurateur Elaine Kaufman fed struggling writers in her Upper East Side salon and let them run up tabs as they received one rejection letter after another.

Once the fledgling scribes became paid journalists and authors, however, the doyenne insisted on loyalty that included spending their newfound largesse in her popular Second Avenue boîte — which they and a galaxy of celebrities, politicians, police and a few gangsters gladly did during four decades of New York nightlife.

Since Kaufman’s death in December 2010, a charity created in her memory called Table 4 Writers Foundation is carrying on her passion for discovering writers and assisting them with grant money to help launch their careers.

The charity’s second annual gala will be held March 27 at the New York Athletic Club, where Kaufman fans — including actors Richard Dreyfuss and Chazz Palmintieri, writers Stuart Woods and Mary Higgins Clark, as well as her daughter Carol Higgins Clark — will be honored along with five aspiring writers whose short stories, essays and novel excerpts were chosen to receive grants totaling $12,500.

Gretchen VanEsselstyn, a fiction writer who was among last year’s awardees, never met Kaufman — but support from the charity in her honor helped her turn a corner in her career. She not only won money to give her a cushion to continue writing, she met a literary agent at the 2013 soiree who introduced her to a potential publisher.

“I seldom enter writing competitions, but Table 4 appealed to me because of the connection to New York and to Elaine Kaufman as a restaurant owner,” said VanEsselstyn, who attended culinary school and worked in the restaurant industry.

“It was a great feeling to finally be acknowledged for my writing,” she added.

Like VanEsselstyn, poet KC Trommer never stepped foot in Elaine’s, which closed in May 2011, but she knew the stories about its famous owner and the eclectic gathering of customers she attracted. Trommer was the first recipient of a grant from the foundation, earining it for the first short story she ever wrote.

“It’s hard to constantly put yourself out there when you get so many negative responses,” the single mother of a 4 year old said. “Writing can be a lonely and discouraging process. So, this was very encouraging for me.”

David Ciminello, a New York City public school teacher and a 2013 grant recipient, said the stipend gave him the freedom to focus on a manuscript.

“Elaine Kaufman came from humble beginnings and lived the struggles of what it took to be a successful woman in the restaurant business and understood what a little kindness could do,” he said.

“When you are an emerging writer, there’s no substitute for this kind of encouragement,” he continued. “Table 4 put some wind in my sails and provided the encouragement to keep going and finish something.”

Foundation chairwoman Jenine Lepera Izzi added, “Just as Elaine did from that famous six-top table known as ‘table four,’ we are committed to identifying promising writers who need a little encouragement — and maybe a little kick in the pants, as Elaine used to say — to help them to the next level.”

Tickets for the event next week are $300 and tax-deductible, Izzi said.

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Table 4 Today

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By Tess Malone

When restauranteur Elaine Kaufman was alive, she gave writers a refuge at her favorite spot, Table 4. Even though the restaurant and Kaufman are long gone, her memory and devotion to writers live on with the Table 4 Writers Foundation. The foundation gives out $2,500 grants to writers at a gala at the New York Athletic Club on March 27. The 2013 winners include, “Bound” by Karen Yin, “Gotham Mexico” by Danny Theiman, “Kim of Noho” by Kurt Pitzer, “Parkside” by Jennie Yabroff, and “Rent Control” by Matthew Perron. Additionally, several of Elaine’s regulars will be honored, including Mary Higgins Clark, Carol Higgins Clark, Stuart Woods, Chazz Palminteri, and Richard Dreyfuss.

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Chazz Palminteri pays tribute to the late restaurateur Elaine Kaufman.

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Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 2.50.23 PMA HUNGRY YOUNG ACTOR’S BEST FRIEND

Chazz Palminteri remembers the “kick-in-the-ass” lectures he got from iconic restaurateur Elaine Kaufman at table four in her Upper East Side eatery, Elaine’s. Kaufman, who died in 2010, was known for serving large portions of tough love to aspiring, down-on-their-luck writers amid a crowd of A-list regulars like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Richard Dreyfuss and Michael Caine.

Although Palminteri was a struggling actor ready to throw in the towel, it was writing “A Bronx Tale” that really launched his Hollywood acting career. Fitting, then, that Confidenti@l has learned he’ll receive a lifetime achievement award from the Table 4 Writers Foundation, which honors Kaufman’s memory, at its second annual awards gala on March 27 at the New York Athletic Club.

Palminteri told us Kaufman was one of the most generous New Yorkers he has ever met. “After she read you the riot act, she’d tell you to get something to eat — on the house, of course, because we struggling artists had no money to pay anyway.” We also hear Table 4 will also be dishing out $12,500 in grants to aspiring scribes.

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Fond memories of Elaine’s

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New York Post

March 10, 2013

Writers, actors and regulars of legendary restaurant Elaine’s gathered Thursday to remember owner Elaine Kaufman and give grants in her honor to a crop of young talented writers. “Welcome to Elaine’s, you five. There’s now a little bit of Elaine’s in all [your] lives,” said Gay Talese at the first annual Table 4 Writers Foundation gala, referring to the fact none of the night’s winning scribes had ever set foot in the restaurant — which closed in 2011 after Kaufman’s death — but that they’d carry on the joint’s tradition of nurturing writers. Comic Robert Klein used his time onstage to turn the New York Athletic Club into a Borscht Belt comedy club, with jokes about kosher food, Catskills resorts, colonoscopies and Cialis. He also admitted he was not an Elaine’s devotee. “I spent more time at Shun Lee, where the Chinese writers hung out,” he cracked. Also at the gala were emcee Jim Kerr, Chris Noth, Tony Danza and Dominic Chianese. Quipped a guest: “Elaine would have loved to have been here . . . she would’ve charged for twice as many people.”

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At Gala Toasting Elaine’s, Tony Danza Recalls a Typical Table: “Arthur Miller, a Mafia Guy, a Detective, and Me”

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By Bennett Marcus
2:40 PM, March 8 2013

tony-danzatable-4-elaines“It’s a reunion. There are people here that I used to see three nights a week, or sometimes more often than that, I now do not see for a whole year,” Gay Talese said of the Table 4 Writers Foundation awards gala on Thursday. The author was referring to the regulars that patronized Elaine’s, the former New York City restaurant run by the late Elaine Kaufman, in whose name the foundation was formed—Table 4 at Elaine’s was always reserved for writers.

Talese was honored at the gala, the foundation’s first, along with a businessman, Joseph Coppotelli, a priest, Father Peter Colapietro, and several emerging writers who received grants from the organization. Comedian Robert Klein did a comedy routine at the dinner, held at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park, and actor Dominic Chianese picked up a guitar and sang “Hava Nagila,” prompting 85-year-old Dr. Ruth Westheimer to jump up and dance.

In other words, it was a typical Elaine’s crowd.

“The thing about Elaine’s was that you would walk in any time, and end up at a table with a wild assortment of people, a very eclectic group,” said Tony Danza, an habitué. “You’d be, like, with Arthur Miller, a Mafia guy, a detective, a plumber, and me. And Elaine, of course.”

It was noted during the speeches that Elaine Kaufman favored men; she didn’t bond with many women. But there were certainly exceptions. “I was one of the few women that she loved,” Dr. Ruth told VF Daily. “I was not a regular, and she didn’t mind that because I’m not a drinker. Whenever I came, she was wonderful. One time, I was about to meet somebody, and he didn’t show, she put me at a table with an Israeli publisher, and I published a book!”

Novels by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark were piled on tables around the room. Mother and daughter were Kaufman intimates. “We loved Elaine, and went to her restaurant regularly,” Carol said. “Elaine always gave me some jewelry on my birthday, and she wrote some notes to me on different occasions, so I have personal things that I cherish from her.”

Chris Noth began hanging out there in the early 1990s, and it turns out he was a second-generation Elaine’s regular. “My mom used to go there,” he told VF Daily. “She was a reporter for CBS News, so she used to hang out at Elaine’s all the time in the 70s.”

In fact, at his New York venue, the Cutting Room, Noth recently set up an “Elaine’s room,” with photos of various former Elaine’s habitués. However, he says his place is not a substitute.

“You know, to me, part of what it’s about, and what she created that’s hard to find, is a place for communion, you know, for a gathering, which is the essence of a great tavern. You’d go in, and you’d know there’s someone from somewhere that you’re going to know, or someone that you want to know, and it would always be like going to a warm fire on a cold night.”

Talese has yet to find a replacement for his old haunt. “Now that she’s closed, all these writers, like myself, are working harder—we’re more productive,” he told us. “We wasted so much time there, talking about what we weren’t writing. Now we’re not talking about anything, because there’s nobody to talk to, and we’re stuck with our writing,” he added, laughing.

“So we’re saving money on cabs, making more money from our writing—all of us are preparing for our retirement. And Elaine’s was kind of like, for some of us, it was a place to just talk away, and stay out late, and pretend we were young—younger than we really were, by about 20 years.”

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Table 4: Channeling the spirit of Elaine Kaufman and supporting writers

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October 3rd, 2012

out-to-lunch-kaufmanFor many chasing the writing dream, self-identifying as a writer based in New York City is synonymous with struggle. While the inspiration that can be found in NYC is real, the anticipated glamour of the climb to success is more often supplanted by ego-busting rejection letters and a sad diet of whatever’s on sale at the grocery store. Now, thanks to the Table 4 Writers Foundation, a chance to ease the pressure (and perhaps temporarily, the ramen) exists. For the first time, the Foundation is offering grants of $2,000 for New York City fiction and nonfiction writers.

The Table 4 Writers Foundation was started this year to honor the memory of Elaine Kaufman, a New York restaurateur known for opening her doors to writers. Named after the table in Elaine’s restaurant that has been called the “Algonquin Roundtable of its generation,” the space offered writers a place to refuel, network, and take in some no-nonsense advice from Elaine. I spoke with Brian McDonald, the chair of the beneficiary committee of the Foundation, about the grant opportunity. As a former bartender in Elaine’s restaurant, McDonald has a special relationship to the mission of the Foundation. McDonald explained, “It was Elaine who suggested I go back to college, and it was Elaine who supported my dream to write. If I hadn’t worked at Elaine’s, and knew Elaine, I don’t think I would have become a writer.”

The Foundation’s first grant competition for writers was established to provide monetary support to promising writers who could use some extra help. Because Elaine was a New Yorker through and through, the grant is limited to New York City writers. “We hope to help promising or struggling writers who can use the two grand to further their careers or to take a little heat off their backs from the bill collectors. I know from experience, it’s not easy to make a living as an up-and-coming writer. It’s tough,” said McDonald. The grant winners will be announced around the time of Elaine’s birthday in February at an annual gala, where an award called “The Elaine” will also be given to a prominent writer.

According to McDonald, Elaine’s Upper East Side restaurant attracted both well-established writers, and those who were still waiting for a break. “Some of the big names that hung out at Elaine’s were once small names and struggling. She would give them a free meal, or hold their dinner checks for a while, until a royalty or advance check came their way. That’s the spirit we’d like to preserve.”

For more information and the grant application, click here. The deadline is October 15th.

Photograph by Jonathan Becker.


The Table 4 Writers Foundation: Elaine Kaufman’s Legacy Lives On

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By Bill Morris

Published by on August 23,2012

Elaine_Kaufman_2005For nearly half a century, Elaine Kaufman ran a restaurant in New York City that was a haven and a clubhouse for writers of all hues — brand names, up-and-comers, wannabes, and unknowns, the gregarious and the lonely, the elegant and the scruffy, the prolific and the blocked. The one thing they shared, other than thirst, was the desire to get out of their own skulls and into an interesting conversation.

At Elaine’s, with remarkable regularity, they succeeded. They found not only fellow writers, but cops, actors, gangsters, comedians, tourists, celebrities, and colorful nobodies. A young New York Times reporter named Gay Talese started going there in 1964, when the place was in its infancy. Here’s how he described its allure in 1993, on the occasion of its 30th birthday: “Among other things, Elaine’s is a therapy center, a halfway house for husbands between wives, a late-night talk show without cameras and microphones or commercial interruptions, a place that caters to the nocturnal needs and nourishments of New Yorkers who, as evening approaches, are not sure with whom they wish to dine, or with whom they wish to sleep after they dine, or even if they wish to sleep.”

The glue that held it all together was Elaine herself, an outsize personality with a sharp tongue and a sharper wit, who was usually installed opposite the bar at Table 4, dressed in her trademark round eyeglasses and flowing dresses. She was a magnet, a matchmaker, a traffic cop, a den mother, and, yes, an unlicensed head shrinker.

She died on Dec. 3, 2010 at age 81, and less than six months later the restaurant, starved of the oxygen of her personality, closed. By then it had become apparent that there would never be another Elaine’s — or another Elaine.

“What we liked and enjoyed about the place for more than 40 years was that it’s not replaceable,” Talese told me recently. “In New York you feel everything’s replaceable. The reason Elaine’s is irreplaceable is that when Elaine died there was no one who could make you feel that there’s no place else you’d rather be. An empty place has existed in our hearts since the place closed.”

Several Elaine’s regulars, part of the diaspora of the dismayed and bereft, started discussing ways to repay Elaine for all the encouragement she gave to writers and other creative people. They decided to form The Table 4 Writers Foundation, which has just announced that it is giving out its first batch of $2,000 grants to writers who live in New York City.

“The grants are for all New York writers, not just young and struggling writers,” says Jenine Lepera Izzi, a jewelry designer who met her husband at Elaine’s, became a close friend of the proprietor, and is now chairwoman of the foundation. “My core belief is that I’d love to wave a wand and bring the Jack Kerouacs back. That creative energy was what New York was built on — until the 1980s and ’90s, before rents and costs got so high — and it’s pretty much been squashed.”

I was introduced to Elaine’s — and to Elaine — by Peter Khoury. He and I wrote for the same North Carolina newspaper in the 1990s before moving, separately, to New York. Khoury, now the night metro editor at The Times, became a regular at Elaine’s and, eventually, a close friend of Elaine. One night, as he and I walked into the restaurant together, Khoury received a hearty ovation from the crowd– because the Times‘s metro desk had just broken the story that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had a taste for high-dollar prostitutes. It was the only time in my life I’ve heard people applaud a journalist. No wonder Khoury — and so many other writers — liked going to Elaine’s.

“We’re trying to get the word about the grants out at places where writers congregate — writers’ rooms, libraries, bookstores,” says Khoury, who sits on the Table 4 Writers Foundation board of directors and has published several short stories in literary journals. “Elaine was a force of nature, a large, large personality. She instinctively knew if you needed a hug, a Heineken, or a kick in the heinie. We can’t replace her, but through the grants we can give New York writers a little recognition, a little leg up. It’s a way to celebrate and remember her.”

The foundation plans to award five $2,000 grants to New York writers, age 21 and up, at a gala in February of 2013. Entries, fiction or non-fiction, must be post-marked by Oct. 15, 2012.

Image Credit: Wikipedia



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