How to Lead a Double Life Fully

By Kiki Murai

This is a series we like to call UNCAPPED. A look at Herb and Dorothy behind the film lens. What did director Megumi do to capture the scenes that she did for her first film HERB & DOROTHY? And what can we expect in her new film, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, due out September 13? 

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How many of you have a day job that pay the bills, then secretly lead another life after work that no one knows about? Many of us may relate, but perhaps none have done it quite to the full extent as Herb Vogel.

As you know from Megumi Sasaki’s first film HERB & DOROTHY, Herb spent all of his working hours at the United States Postal Office, for over 30 years until he retired in 1980.

The photos below were taken during a shoot at the post office, which Megumi says was the location in which she had the most difficulty obtaining permission to shoot. She recalls that it took her and the crew several months to get a permit.

Truth was, Herb was not too keen himself about returning to the post office to film a scene for the film, as he had kept his lives completely separate from each other.

But in telling Herb’s story, Megumi hoped to include some kind of visual that would give the audience a clear image of Herb’s life as a postal clerk.  There were no photos of him at the post office, thus all she could do was pray for the best. (She had no idea how the shoot would turn out.)

As they entered the post office and walked through the piles and piles of mail, Herb explained what he did everyday for work.

herb at work

 

“The post office was about sending mail, to people,” Herb says in his slow, deliberate delivery. “Almost everyday I would work on these cases. And I learned to do it whether I liked it or not.”  He pauses.  ”I did it.”

As the camera follows him around his former workplace…a documentary miracle happened.

The lovely woman showing Herb around the post office suddenly cries out to a co-worker, ”You remember him?!” And then to Herb, “Oh, see, Libonati remembers you, you see?”

at the post office

 

This man, Joseph Libonati, was a young man when Herb worked there, and he was one of the very few people at the post office who knew about Herb’s other life.

“Joe Libonati.” Joe re-introduces himself to Herb.

“Oh my god, Joe!” says Herb.

“How are you? It’s been a long time. You’re retired since 1980? It’s that many years already? My god.”

“Amazing,” says Herb.

Herb and his former postal workers shake hands as others gather around, reminiscing.

“A lot of the guys are gone. A lot of guys retired, but there are a few of us left,” says Joe.

We learn that no one at the post office – except for Joe – knew who Herb really was. No one knew that when he left the post office at 5pm, he and his wife Dorothy had parties and gallery openings to attend almost every night, artist studios to visit, countless works to view and add to their growing contemporary art collection.

They may have pictured him living in a modest one-bedroom apartment. They likely did not imagine that the walls and ceilings of that apartment were covered with art by world-famous artists.

“I worked with hundreds and hundreds of people, and I never found anyone that I worked with that I can truly talk about art,” Herb says. “And I don’t think that it’s my responsibility to force people to like what I like.”

So how did Joe find out Herb’s secret?

joe

 

Joe explains in the film:

“I had a friend who was an artist at the time and I remember mentioning that I knew this Herby Vogel and he goes, ‘Oh my god, if you could have him look at my work, this would be fantastic.’ And I was like, ‘Herby, you know Herby at the post office?’ Just a total shock.”

But Herb wanted to keep it quiet.

“When I approached him about it, ‘Herby, is this you?’ He was like ‘Keep this quiet, I don’t want anybody know about it’, and so I left it. I respected his wishes.”

Imagine working with a world-class anyone and not knowing about it. But that was Herb’s wish.

“And for over 30 years they never knew anything about my art interest until it was in the papers and on television,” says Herb.

herb close up

Megumi recently told me what it was like to film this scene.

“We were so lucky to run into Joe that day! It was pure coincidence. We really didn’t plan it.

I never imagined something like that would happen.”

Wonderful call, Megumi.

And that my friends, is how this scene was born.

We miss you, Herb.

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Our new film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 opens in two days at IFC Center in New York City. Join Megumi and Dorothy, as well as special guest artists and curators for the entire weekend!

Don’t forget to join us on Facebook for the latest and greatest Herb and Dorothy news!

 

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The Secret is in the Eyes

By Kiki Murai

This is a series we like to call UNCAPPED. A look at Herb and Dorothy behind the film lens. What did director Megumi do to capture the scenes that she did for her first film HERB & DOROTHY? And what can we expect in her new film, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, due out September 13?

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There’s usually more to the story than what the film camera can capture – and many times, those stories are just as delightful than what we’re able to include in the film.

I sat down with Megumi recently to ask what was happening behind certain scenes in her first film HERB & DOROTHY, and second film, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50. Say for example, when this particular image was taken at the National Gallery of Art in the early days of shooting the first film, HERB & DOROTHY.

You may remember it.

Herb looking at Chamberlain Sculpture at NGA viewing room copy

 

Herb, Dorothy and Charles Ritchie, Curator at the National Gallery were in discussion when something caught Herb’s eye. As if led by some invisible force, Herb left the conversation and walked straight toward the object.

Thankfully, Ian, who was working the camera noticed Herb’s movement, and followed him.

“I’ve never seen it in this position,” Herb says, as his eyes pierce through the John Chamberlain artwork.

Curator Molly Donovan joins him, “I think it just ended up that way but it can go any…”

“No, I remember getting it this way.”

“Well, let’s see,”

“I’m not used to seeing it this way. This makes it seem more contemporary…”

Molly changes the position of the artwork, as Herb watches closely.

“Yeah,” Herb says. “I like it better that way.”

“Me too.”

Dorothy joins in.  ”That’s the piece we got when we first got married. We went to a studio. And it’s the first piece we bought together.”

(See the full clip here.)

Looking back on this scene, Megumi says it was shot before she knew the Vogels well, before she knew exactly what story she was telling in HERB & DOROTHY. Well into the filming of that film, she was frankly lost, because the Vogels would not explain to her what they saw in the works they liked (and purchased).

When interviewing artist Lucio Pozzi, she shared that she was having trouble accessing Herb and Dorothy’s thoughts, and he said it was not in the words they spoke, but in their eyes.

“He’s like those dogs that dig underneath for truffles or the treasure they’re looking for,” said Pozzi. “And his eyes become intense.”

Before starting to shoot on this day, Megumi shared with the crew one important tidbit: Stay focused on their eyes.

Moments like these make a documentary.

That night, crew members Ian (with the camera) and James (in charge of the sound) treated Megumi to dinner at a local Japanese restaurant in Washington DC.  “I had so little money making this film that they actually treated me to dinner!” Megumi recalled. “I’ll never forget them.”

Earlier that day the crew had warned Megumi that they knew very little about art. (Megumi had met them that day for the first time, as they were a local crew in Washington DC.)

But that evening, around edamame and sake, the conversation went something like this:

“I really like Jackson Pollock!”

“You know, I really enjoy Andy Warhol.”

And on Ian and James went, discussing the artwork they filmed that day.

That, shall we say, is the Vogel Effect.

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See the Vogel Effect for yourself on the big screen – our new film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 opens this Friday at IFC Center. Reserve your spot here!

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Your Chance to meet Dorothy, Megumi and Very Special Guests

By Kiki Murai

Hello friends! We’ve been a bit quiet here on the blog since our little series about Dorothy’s trip to Japan (a series Dorothy loved and we’re still getting lots of comments on – thank you!), but let me assure you, things have not been so quiet at HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 Headquarters.

Poster 50X50

With only 9 days until our New York Premiere at IFC Center on September 13, we’re on the edge of our seats.

All eyes are on opening weekend, which may (actually, will) determine the destiny of this film. Fingers and toes are crossed that we’ve done (or are doing) our job of letting enough people know about this film.

Thank you to those of you who are helping us!

Get tickets while you can – the sneak preview of HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 that was held at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts a few weeks ago – in a gorgeous auditorium that seats 500 people – sold out quickly, and they were having to turn people away at the door.

(Thank you to those who came to the Richmond screening!  If you weren’t able to get in, the film is now opening at Criterion Cinemas in Richmond on October 11.  We heard from many of you who gently urged us to have a theatrical opening in the city, and our awesome-and-brilliant team was on it immediately.  We’re a very small team, you see, and we hear your voices.

And what we heard from you was a resounding yes. So Richmond, here we come!)

But first.  New York City on September 13th. We’d love to soar through opening weekend, that is our not-so-secret wish!

If you’re in or around New York City the weekend of September 13-15, please join us.  We have exciting Q&As planned for you all weekend, with Megumi and Dorothy in attendance to answer your questions, along with incredible guest artists and curators.

INTRODUCING A FEW OF OUR SPECIAL GUESTS

  • Martin Johnson

When: Friday, September 13 – 5:20pm Show (Post-show Q&A with Megumi) –  Tickets here.

Dorothy recently visited Martin Johnson’s studio during her visit to Richmond, and saw this work in person. You too will get a close look at Martin’s studio in our film, and his life as both artist and successful businessman (in a field unrelated to art).

Optimized-Marty 2

Read Martin Johnson’s bio here, and see some of his artworks in the Vogel Collection here.

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  • Christo

When: Friday, September 13 – 7:30pm Show ( Pre-show appearance) - Tickets here.

You may remember the scene from our first film HERB & DOROTHY, when Herb and Dorothy went to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s project The Gates in Central Park.

The Gates Central Park

Close friends of the Vogels for decades, Christo discusses his new project Over the River in our new film.

Christo

Read all about Christo and Jeanne-Claude here.  

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  • Pat Steir

When: Saturday, September 14 – 5:20pm Show (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)  - Tickets here.

You may also remember from the first film, this scene with a long-time friend of the Vogels, Pat Steir.

With Pat Steir

Many artworks by Pat Steir hung in the Vogels’ apartment for years. Pat discusses her friendship with the Vogels in the new film, and will be joining us for an in-person Q&A on September 14.

Read Pat Steir’s bio here, and see a selection of her artworks in the Vogel Collection here.

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  • Charles Clough

When: Saturday, September 14 – 5:20pm Show (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)  - Tickets here.

Herb and Dorothy have collected over 500 of Charlie’s works over the years. Charlie appears here in what our early viewers have named one of the most moving scenes of our new film.

Charlie Clough

Read Charles Clough’s bio here, and see a selection of his artworks in the Vogel Collection here.

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  • Gail Stavitsky

When: Saturday, September 14 – 3:10pm Show (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)  - Tickets here.

Gail is the Chief Curator at Montclair Art Museum, the Vogel 50X50 gift recipient in New Jersey. If you remember, the Vogels launched an unprecedented gift project that distributes 50 works from their collection to one museum in each of the 50 states, for a total of 2,500 works.  


Here in this video, you can see what effect the gift had on Montclair Art Museum, as Gail and artist Robert Barry begin the clip by discussing how to install his work.

In the scene below, Gail and Herb (along with the wonderful museum staff) watch the Vogel works being installed at the Montclair Art Museum.

New Jersey Montclair Museum13 (2)

  • ————————————–

  • Dorothy Vogel

dorothy

When:

Saturday, September 14 – 7:30pm Show  (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)

Saturday, September 14 – 9:40pm Show (Pre-show introduction with Megumi)

Sunday, September 15 – 3:10pm Show  (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)

Sunday, September 15 – 5:20pm Show (Post-show Q&A with Megumi)

 

Don’t forget to join us on Facebook and Twitter, where we share and discuss how Dorothy is doing these days in anticipation of the film’s opening. Hint: she’s excited.

See you at IFC Center next Friday, Saturday and Sunday!

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Announcing US Theatrical Release Dates!

Herb and Dorothy in HERB & DOROTHY 50X50

We’re thrilled to announce the release of our film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 around the US this fall, starting with the grand premiere in New York City on September 13!

Dorothy and Megumi will be in attendance at IFC Center (NYC) opening weekend, with world-class contemporary artists joining them for the Q&A!  Please join us for this long-awaited event, as we would love to meet all of you!

Following the New York City premiere, the film will continue on to cities around the US. Find your city below, and if it’s not here, don’t fret. We’re still adding to the list. As some of engagements are limited, mark the date(s) on your calendar! (We will let you know when tickets go on sale.)

See HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 at these theaters:

Opening September 13
New York City
IFC Center
323 Sixth Avenue (at West Third Street)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 924-7771
Go to website

 

Opening September 20
San Francisco
Roxie Theater
3117 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415)-863-1087
Go to website

 

Opening September 20
Berkeley
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood
2966 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 433-9730
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Los Angeles
Downtown Independent
251 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-1033
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Pasadena
Laemmle’s Playhouse 7
673 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101
(310) 478-3836
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Encino
Laemmle’s Town Center 5
17200 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91316
(310) 478-3836
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Sonoma
Rialto Cinemas Sebastopol
6868 McKinley St.
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 525-4840
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Palm Springs
Camelot Theatres
2300 East Baristo Road
Palm Springs, CA 92262
(760) 325-6565
Go to website

 

Opening September 27
Monterey
The OSIO Cinemas
350 Alvarado St.
Monterey, CA 93940
Movie Line: (831) 644-8171
Go to website 

 

October 1-3 only   
Honolulu
Honolulu Museum of Art
900 S Beretania St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 532-8700
Go to website

 

October 2-6 and October 9-10 only
Boston
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 267-9300 – General
Go to website

 

October 3-6 only  
Miami
O-Cinema
90 NW 29th St
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 571-9970
Go to website

 

October 3 only 
Akron
Akron Art Museum
1 S High St
Akron, OH 44308
(330) 376-9185
Go to website

 

Opening October 4
Seattle
Northwest Film Forum
1515 12th Ave (between Pike & Pine Street)
Seattle, WA 98122
Movie line: (206) 829-7863
Go to website

 

Opening October 4
Hartford
Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St
Hartford, CT 06106
(860) 232-1006
Go to website

 

Opening October 4
Providence
Cable Car Cinema
204 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 272-3970
Go to website

 

Opening October 4
Washington
West End Cinema
2301 M Street NW, Washington, DC 200037
(202) 419-3456
Go to website

 

October 4 and 6 only
Cleveland
Cleveland Museum of Art
11150 East Blvd
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 421-7350
Go to website

 

Opening October 11
Scottsdale
Harkins Camelview 5 Theatres
7001 E Highland Ave
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(480) 947-8778
Go to website

 

Opening October 11
Richmond
Criterion Cinemas
1331 North Boulevard at West Leigh St.
Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 354-6099
Go to website

 

October 11-14 only
Pittsfield
Little Cinema (Berkshire Museum)
39 South Street (Route 7)
Pittsfield, MA 01201
(413) 443-7171
Go to website

 

October 17-20 only
Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
(405) 236-3100
Go to website

 

Opening October 18
Louisville
Village 8
4014 Dutchmans Ln
Louisville, KY 40207
(502) 894-8697
Go to website

 

Opening November 8
Buffalo
Dipson Amherst 3 Theatre
3500 Main St.
Buffalo, NY 14226
(716) 834-7655
Go to website

 

Opening November 15
Houston
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet
Houston, TX 77005
Go to website

 

December 4 only
Stamford
Avon Theatre Film Center
272 Bedford Street
Stamford, CT
(203) 967-3660
Go to website

 

We will be updating this list often (and letting you know via Facebook and Twitter), so please check back from now until the openings!  We really do hope to see you at the theaters.

As always, thank you for all of your support!

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The Dorothy Vogel Effect and Turning Into a Pumpkin

By Kiki Murai

This blog post is part of a special series documenting Dorothy’s 10-day trip to Japan this spring for the Japanese premiere of Megumi Sasaki’s new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50.

At The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan 

This past spring, while Dorothy was in Japan for the Japanese premiere of our new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50, one question she was frequently asked was, “How has the film (Herb & Dorothy) changed your life?”

To this, Dorothy always replied, “It hasn’t. My life hasn’t changed.”

Of course no one believed her, and the Japanese thought perhaps Dorothy was being modest, a state-of-mind to which they could relate, an answer that provided them with a certain sense of comfort. (Oh, how the Japanese disdain a boaster.)

But Dorothy meant it. “Generally, nothing’s changed. I still live in the same apartment. When Herb & Dorothy first came out, I was recognized once or twice on the street,” she’ll admit, “but not much anymore.”

She doesn’t overspend, though she loves to buy objects (as you know), because she knows exactly what she wants. Since Herb passed away last July, she has been carefully organizing the one-bedroom Manhattan apartment she and Herb shared throughout their married life, and she has no intention of adding to their possessions. (Though she received more gifts in Japan than she knows what to do with.)

With their cat Archie by her side, Dorothy says, “I really should be doing more (cleaning). But there’s a lot to get through.” If you recall their apartment from Herb & Dorothy, you might agree.

“There’s no rush, Dorothy,” I say. “Take your time.”

It’s no longer the possessions that mark Dorothy’s life, but rather the experiences and friendships.

 

Impeccable timing for real cherry blossoms

One standout experience from Dorothy’s trip to Japan this past April (as Dorothy is first to remind me) was “the beautiful geisha dance”. Oh yes, how could I forget, how Dorothy’s eyes lit up inside the traditional Kyoto theater for the Miyako Odori, or Cherry Blossom Dance.

It was the second to last day of our trip, and we had to fulfill one final wish of Dorothy’s in Kyoto, which was “to see a geisha”. Kyoto is one of the few cities left in Japan where you actually can see geisha and/or maiko (geisha-in-training) walking down the street, in full kimono.

We’re lucky to see a maiko though the backdrop is less than elegant

Contrary to popular belief, catching a glimpse of geisha and/or maiko walk down the street is a rare occurrence in the rest of modern Japan. Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is just as fascinating a city to modern Japanese folks as to the many foreign visitors the city receives each day. And Kyoto knows it.

 The Gion District, one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in Japan

A one-month limited engagement where the geisha women and maiko girls glide gracefully across the stage to tell the story of the four changing seasons, the Miyako Dance is an opportunity available just once a year, one Dorothy was delighted to experience.

 Dorothy reads the program carefully before the show

The performance is expressed entirely in traditional dance, and two hours later, when the show was over and we streamed out of the theater Dorothy glowed, “Oh, that was just beautiful.”

A weekly theatergoer in New York City for many decades, Dorothy has seen countless stage performances and yet, “This was such a treat. Thank you.”

Dorothy’s smile just about says it all.

 

 

 

 

 

The thing about being in Dorothy’s company is that you tend to forget she is that Dorothy Vogel. The one that was interviewed in The New Yorker earlier this year.

Though she was greeted by thunderous applause at every theater in which she and Megumi appeared, for example, her genuine curiosity was never towards herself, but for the people who came to see her.

Dorothy told me after our trip, once we had returned to New York, “I didn’t realize the intensity (of the Japanese) toward the film, and that was surprising.” She continued, “but all in all, the warmth was wonderful.” They had indeed been waiting, and were thrilled for Dorothy’s visit to Japan.

 Japanese fans follow Dorothy out of the theater to tell her how she has inspired them

What we didn’t know, was what was going through Dorothy’s mind every time she stepped in front of an audience welcoming her with a standing ovation. “I was afraid I would disappoint people,” Dorothy later confided. “The film has built me up to be much bigger than I am. They’re expecting someone great, and little old me shows up.”

“That’s not true!” Megumi and I protested. But Dorothy was not easily persuaded. Our assertion that she is a giant (though not physically) was met with, “No, it was Herby. He was the one.”

She said it nonchalantly, just like that.

 One of many screenings attended by Megumi and Dorothy

Dorothy made her gratitude known at every turn during the trip, and at the end she thanked us many times for the ten days together. “I was treated so well here by my team, like I was a china doll or something! It was nice to be taken care of.” She always made it a point to remember who did what. “I was taken care of so well. Now I’m going to turn back into a pumpkin.”

She certainly didn’t turn back into a pumpkin, as we prepare now for the US release of our new film, Herb & Dorothy 50X50. Dorothy is about to meet many, many more enthusiastic supporters.

In the meantime, Dorothy is back in New York City, stronger than ever.

“I was very proud of myself for being able to go to Times Square today and going to the theater,” she told me a week after we came back from Japan, “because I also like to be independent.”

That’s our Dorothy.

 

For daily updates about Dorothy, Megumi and our new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50, please join us on our Facebook page. The comments we receive there are wonderful, and we share them with Dorothy as well! Or come say hi on Twitter.

 

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Remembering the Laughter

By Kiki Murai

This blog post is part of a special series documenting Dorothy’s 10-day trip to Japan this spring for the Japanese premiere of Megumi Sasaki’s new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50. 

Photo by Megumi

A few days ago, Megumi was en route to Tokyo (from New York) on an international flight when she saw that Herb & Dorothy was one of the featured films on the plane. What an incredible surprise!

“Just arrived in Narita. Great to find Herb & Dorothy on ANA flight!” Megumi posted on her Facebook page upon arrival in Tokyo. (For those who happen to be flying internationally on ANA, you can catch the film until the end of June!)

Now, that is an experience not many people in the world have the privilege of enjoying in their lifetimes. Congratulations, Megumi!

 

Coincidentally, it was just two months earlier that Dorothy herself was on the very flight. (Imagine how interesting it would have been for Dorothy to find the film on-board.)

Yes, it was just two short months ago that Dorothy flew with us to Japan for her first-ever trip, to attend the premiere of Herb & Dorothy 50X50.

Since the trip’s end, we’ve brought to you a few episodes from the well-planned (read: packed) trip in Megumi’s home country, a 10-day extravaganza that took us from Tokyo to Sapporo to Osaka to Kyoto, a schedule of a rock star by anyone’s standards.

There was the visit with the US Ambassador and Dorothy’s favorite meala hometown hero’s homecoming and many, many press interviews. With each new city and each new person she met, Dorothy’s suitcase accumulated more and more gifts.

There were countless ‘firsts’ on the trip, one of the most magnificent being of course, the cherry blossoms in full bloom at Osaka-Jo (Castle) and in Kyoto. The weekend we were there in fact, was the best (the locals told us) for sakura-seeing, as the delicate blossoms flitter away after just a few days.

 At Osaka Castle…

And in Kyoto

Dorothy was delighted about this very Japanese experience. “We were lucky we were there for the best weekend!”

In Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, we made sure Dorothy could experience the famous Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion, below), a Zen Buddhist temple that every first-timer to Kyoto must see…

Dorothy makes sure to read all of the literature 

…as well as Ryoanji, a zen temple famous for its serene rock garden. The temple garden here (photo below) is considered to be one of the best examples of a zen garden in Japan. (Except it’s now the farthest thing from serene, swarming with tourists.)

To really get to know Kyoto (and see its hundreds of temples and shrines, as well as taste its famous cuisine and sweets, shop for gifts, and perhaps enjoy a tea ceremony session or two), you would need more than the half-day that we had. But we were due back in New York the following day. Oh, the life of a star (that would be Dorothy, our lovely VIP).

A memorable, candid moment came that afternoon following our lunch in Kyoto, a traditional Japanese meal Dorothy had been looking greatly forward to.

Piping hot sukiyaki (in individual pots) and tender slices of salmon, along with delicate dishes of seasonal vegetables and sushi won Dorothy’s approval. “Very good,” she said.

After lunch, Megumi pulled out her iPad so we could show Dorothy our Facebook page. I had been updating Dorothy daily with many of the kind comments left on our page by you, our supporters (thank you!), and Dorothy had begun to take an interest in it. (Which made it much easier for me to ask Dorothy for photos throughout the day. “For Facebook, Dorothy!”)

As they scrolled down the page and looked at the photos, Dorothy came to one of her in her bright pink Uniqlo jacket and started to laugh. The photo was from an interview on one of Japan’s most popular morning television shows, filmed on a cold, rainy day. (The production crew unfortunately did not have a Plan B, so we kept filming outdoors, piling all of our jackets onto Dorothy’s lap to keep her warm on this almost wintry-day in March.)

“I look like Mahatma Gandhi!” she squealed at the photo, and started to giggle. Her laugh was contagious, and pretty soon Megumi had caught it (“Mahatma Gandhi!”), as we roared with tears in our eyes.

To see Dorothy having such a good time, to see her truly laughing – almost uncontrollably – filled us with such joy.

(I hope Dorothy forgives me for posting that image here. “Oh,” she had groaned when she watched the actual television segment live a few days earlier. “I look terrible.” But really, we had no other option that day, as seen in the photos below.)

In Megumi’s film Herb & Dorothy, Dorothy and Herb are captured exactly as they are, unpretentious, authentic, and without a “camera persona”. They are who they are, both on-camera and off.

Spending time in Japan with Dorothy, it was a real treat for us to be able to get to know her in even more depth, who in addition to being ‘sweet’ and ‘charming’, is independent, strong-willed and full of unabashed humor.

One more Kyoto post to go!

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As always, if you would like to leave a comment for Dorothy, the best place to do it is on our Facebook page, as Dorothy checks it (with us) regularly. On Twitter, we are right over here. Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in Dorothy in Japan, Staff Message | Comments Off

Lessons on Friendship from Dorothy

By Kiki Murai

This blog post is part of a special series documenting Dorothy’s 10-day trip to Japan in March for the Japanese premiere of Megumi Sasaki’s Herb & Dorothy 50X50. In the post below, however, we begin with Dorothy’s birthday celebration that took place last week in New York City.

“Happy Birthday, Dorothy!”

Last Tuesday, Megumi, her three close friends (and friends of Dorothy), and I raised our mason jar glasses at a bustling Upper East Side Mexican restaurant to celebrate Dorothy on her 78th birthday (margaritas for us, a diet coke for Dorothy).

“It’s a little loud in here,” Dorothy said, surveying the post-Happy Hour Tuesday crowd as the Knicks played on three screens. But once the chips and guacamole landed on our table, there were no more complaints from us. “I love avocado,” Dorothy said. (As Dorothy likes to say, “Delish!”)

Meanwhile, our Facebook page overflowed with messages from all of you, Dorothy’s friends and supporters. The words were cropped, printed and delivered to Dorothy at the birthday dinner, pages and pages filled with care. “Oh! Oh, how nice! Thank you. Thank you,” Dorothy said when presented with the printouts, as she has become, since her Japan trip, increasingly appreciative of Facebook’s capabilities.

(“A lot of people are reading this blog too,” Dorothy never forgets to tell me. “Thank you.” And in that one comment, I realize why she is loved by so many. Her generosity is real.)

Building A World-Class Art Collection

Dorothy’s life is filled with friendship, as you know from the film Herb & Dorothy, where we learn of her and Herb’s exceptional ability to make friends. In an increasingly unsocial age where friendship is now accomplished with a click, anyone can “make” a friend in less than two seconds. But spending time with Dorothy reminds one of what makes it takes to grow a friendship: effort and genuine curiosity.

The Vogels are world-renowned art collectors, no doubt because of their “eye” for art. As artist Will Barnet says in the film:

“You can be rich and have an aesthetic eye. You can be poor and have an aesthetic eye. Herb and Dorothy were born with an aesthetic eye. It’s something you cannot just develop over a period of time. You have to have that instinct as to what is right in a picture and what is wrong in a painting. And they have the ability to judge.”

Using this aesthetic eye, their dedicated (nearly-obsessive, as even they say) pursuit of art was another factor that made them famous. But what differentiates them from other collectors was their honest-to-goodness friendships with the artists, before the art even entered their home. Herb and Dorothy met and got to know the artists, both through their works and in real life, always arriving in their art studios with buckets of respect and curiosity.

The artist and good friend to the Vogels, Robert Mangold says in the film:

“They’re friend collectors, you know? They’re not collector collectors. They’re people who were like family.”

The Secret to Making Friends

When we were in Japan at the end of March, I was blessed with the opportunity to get to know Dorothy, spending ten days together.

While in Sapporo, the ground still covered with snow, Dorothy and I had a conversation in a taxi en route to the Olympic Ski Jump arena. (We had some extra time while Megumi was being interviewed by the press, and neither of us had a clue where to go or what to see in Sapporo.)

As we drove up the snowy winding roads, I accidentally blurted something like: how can one become more social?

I explained that as an introvert, her and Herb’s ability to make friends struck me as magnificent. Dorothy nodded, not batting an eye, then answered openly and honestly. “I’m shy too,” she said. “I’m an introvert. I don’t enjoy parties and large get-togethers.” She continued, “Herby was the one who was very social, and it was because of him that I was able to meet and speak with so many people.” She said it so lightly, so matter-of-fact.

“So that’s the secret?” I asked. “Yes,” Dorothy answered. “Find a partner who is more social than you,” she said. I laughed.

But Dorothy was serious, and thus I made a mental note. Find partner who is…

The Little Things

I learned throughout our trip that Dorothy has the gift of making and growing friendships. And it’s all in the little things.

A day or two after the Sapporo cab chat we were in another car, this time in Shibuya (Tokyo), when Dorothy noticed a logo shaped like a dog on one of the signs we whizzed by. “What’s that?” she asked.

I explained it was a community bus stop for the “Hachiko Bus”, referring to the loyal dog made famous in the film The Tale of Hachiko, who met his owner after work every day at the train station. In the film, Hachiko arrives at the train station at the same time each day, every day, even after the owner passes away. It is heartbreaking, and also based on a true story. (The bronze statue of Hachiko the dog is now a famous meeting spot outside of Shibuya station.)

“Oh,” Dorothy said. And we moved on to a different topic.

Some weeks later, when we were back in New York, Dorothy emailed me to say that Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, the Hollywood remake starring Richard Gere, would be airing on television that night, at 8pm on the Hallmark Channel. She had remembered our little conversation, and just wanted me to know.

Like I said, it’s the little things.

I haven’t asked, but I have a sneaking suspicion Dorothy does this with all of her friends. She sends little notes, from a “thank you for lunch” to announcements of new Broadway openings. (We share a love for the theater.)

She speaks softly, but she is not soft. She is kind. In the film, Dorothy says:

“We continued to collect and we became more well known. And we started having many exhibitions and a lot of articles were written about us. But above all, of all the rewards we got from collecting art is knowing the artists, getting to know them and understanding them.”

Happy Birthday, Dorothy! We’re all so lucky to have met you.

 

 

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A Visit with the Ambassador

Dorothy visits the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo

By Kiki Murai

As you know, Dorothy worked as a reference librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and Herb as a postal worker with the US Postal Service, both until retirement. By day, they worked diligently to serve the people in their communities, keeping their latest CBS ’60 Minutes’ feature under wraps from co-workers.

At night and on weekends however, they kept a social calendar that would make any socialite dizzy, tirelessly attending New York City gallery openings and parties, in between visits to artist studios. Yet they rarely missed a day of work.

And when they were not working, they were collecting art. As many of you know, living expenses were covered with Dorothy’s salary, and Herb’s salary was dedicated to their art collection.

“How did you do it?” I asked Dorothy. “We were young,” she replied.

In 1992, when the now world-renowned art collection had filled every available space in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, the Vogels waded through numerous requests from museums around the country and selected the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to help manage their collection. It was not a difficult decision. If you recall, the National Gallery of Art was the destination of Dorothy and Herb’s honeymoon.

In the film HERB & DOROTHY, Dorothy discussed why the National Gallery was chosen:

“We liked the idea that they’re free, that anybody could go in there. And also because we both worked for the government. I worked for the city. He worked for the federal government. We’re giving it back to the people of the United States.”

And give back they did. In 2008, when the National Gallery announced they could no longer hold the more than 4,000 works in their collection, they and the Vogels created The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States gift project, whereby 50 works from the collection would be gifted to one museum in each of the fifty states (the theme of our follow-up film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50).

Now, every state in America has a museum showing (or has shown) the Vogel Collection.

(The Vogel 50X50 Exhibition is currently showing at the Seattle Art Museum (through October 27, 2013) and will begin its run at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in two days on May 11th. And this August, the show will begin at the Yale University Art Gallery, so you still have a few chances to see the show in person!)

For the Vogels, giving back to the people of the U.S. was more than just a wish, and it has not gone unnoticed. While in Japan, Dorothy was invited to meet the United States Ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, with his wife Susie, at the U.S. Embassy.

“It’s a great honor to meet the representative of your country,” Dorothy said in the car as we headed to the embassy on that warm spring day in March. She had accepted the invitation immediately, with great enthusiasm.

As we walked into the grand entrance, Ambassador Roos and Susie Roos greeted each of us warmly before leading us to the visiting room.  On the way, we passed several works by Christo, which Dorothy of course recognized instantly.

The loveliest of visits lasted over an hour, with Dorothy looking genuinely thrilled to be in the company of the U.S. Ambassador. Both the ambassador and his wife had seen (and enjoyed) the film HERB & DOROTHY, and expressed their anticipation to Megumi about the follow-up, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50.

Dorothy and the ambassador share a few words

A final photo of Ambassador John V. Roos, Megumi, Susie Roos and Dorothy

 ”It was a real highlight of this trip to be able to meet them,” Dorothy said. And we could tell by her glowing expression that she meant it.

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Just two posts left in the Dorothy in Japan blog series!  Thank you all for reading. As always, if you would like to leave a comment for Dorothy, the best place to do it is on our Facebook page, as Dorothy checks it regularly. On Twitter, we are right over here.

See you in the next post!  (You can go back and scroll down to read the other posts right here.)

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The Truth About Customer Service in Japan

By Kiki Murai

For those of you who have spent some time in Japan, you may recognize the country’s customer service as superbly executed and consistent in its efficiency, sometimes I dare say, to a fault.

From the high-toned Irasshaimase! that greets you as you enter the store to gift-wrapping that resembles an extreme sport (producing both beauty and large amounts of paper waste), you’ll rarely come across a rude waiter (and they don’t even get tips!) or apathetic grocery store cashier who cares more for her chipped fingernail than your carton of milk.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that the emphasis on perfection in Japan often robs its customer service of simple “human” qualities such as easy laughter, witty banter, and a “Hi hon, your usual?” with a dash of genuine and a smile to follow.

Which is why we were a bit thrown when our Osaka friends took us to a famous okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka called Kiji, where the food was impeccable and the service absolutely genuine.

For you foodies out there, okonomiyaki is an Osakan ‘pancake’ with a personality that is more Friday night pizza (made-to-order with lots of toppings, paired with beer and a group of friends) than Sunday brunch (sweet with maple syrup, cut up leisurely and enjoyed with coffee).

The literal translation of okonomiyaki is “grill what you like” and the batter basics are flour, water, eggs, and shredded cabbage, with a choice to add chunks of shrimp, squid, octopus, pork, mochi, cheese and more (some restaurants get creative), which is then grilled on a teppan hotplate and decorated with sauce or mayonnaise. (Your choice.)

You can find the dish around the country, but Osaka is its rightful home, and a must-eat when visiting the city.

The okonomiyaki restaurant we were led to was a bustling, no-frills space on the B1 floor of a large shopping complex in the middle of Osaka, plastered with yellowed business cards, photos, and messages from customers that seemed to go back decades. Completely unpretentious.

We didn’t know what we were in for, but the minute we met the owner, we felt comfortable.

“You’re from New York! Sit down, sit down!” the charismatic owner welcomed us as soon as our friends explained we were visitors. He looked around his small restaurant (which was packed) and at our party of 7, apologizing for making us wait.  ”Sorry this place is so small! Do you mind waiting a bit?”

Ten minutes later, two tables opened up. The owner said, “I’m sorry there’s no table big enough for all of you together.” He then pointed to two side-by-side tables and quipped, “Manhattan and Staten Island. Will that do?” We laughed and made our way to the two islands, whereby he would be the ferry.

We filled Dorothy in on the banter but from her easy smile, you could tell she too was charmed. “And what are we eating?” she asked. “Leave it to me!” the owner boomed. “I’ll whip up a special one, just for you.”

We could see why the restaurant was packed. He chatted with everyone who walked in (not just famous documentary film stars), “Hey you two, we have two counter seats up here! Whaddya waitin’ for?” and so on. This was Osakan customer service, and our explanation that “people in Osaka are all friendly and every conversation ends in a joke” was finally starting to make sense for Dorothy.

We were famished, and no sooner did the okonomiyakis hit our hotplates (the master had done most of the cooking at the counter) did they disappear, as if into thin air.

“Delish!” Dorothy said in an almost-squeal, as she cut into her piece of the pie with the individual metal spatulas we each had been given. “Delish!” No time for “delicious” even. We polished off three large okonomiyakis in a matter of minutes.

There was no more concern for Dorothy’s appetite.

After the meal, I heard the owner approach our friend and ask discreetly, “Does she (Dorothy) have someone waiting for her at home?” Hmm, I thought, what an odd thing to ask. 

Five minutes later, my question (and slight concern, as we all know how much Dorothy misses Herb) was answered. The owner approached our table with two small wrapped gifts in his hand. “This is for you,” he said to Dorothy.

He had washed and wrapped the small white dish and spatula Dorothy had used, for her to take home as a souvenir, and he had included one more set. “This is for your husband,” he said. “Oh, but my husband’s –” Dorothy began, but before she had a chance to finish, the owner said, “I’m sorry to hear he’s no longer with us. But I know he’s still with you.” “Oh, oh, thank you,” Dorothy said. “Thank you, that’s so kind.”

Asked if she and Megumi could sign a HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 flyer to post up on his wall of fame, Dorothy jumped at the chance. “Oh of course!”

She had the feeling it would be appreciated.

Later that afternoon, we were upstairs at Umeda Garden Cinema, the cinema complex where the Osaka premiere of HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 was to take place, and Dorothy and Megumi were speaking to the audience. When asked about her most memorable moment on this trip so far, we expected her to mention Yoshinoya. Of course. Until this afternoon, Dorothy’s fantastic ode to Yoshinoya always elicited applause and laughter.

But on this day, Dorothy changed direction.

“Well we just had a wonderful meal that was delightful. I really enjoyed it.” As Megumi filled the audience in on the details of Dorothy’s okonomiyaki adventure, Dorothy glowed, “It was really wonderful. And the owner was such a kind man.” The audience nodded appreciatively, as they knew exactly which restaurant Dorothy was talking about.

That night, we were told Kiji had a long line out the door with customers who headed there straight from the film. The owner called the theater and asked the staff to “please, please express our gratitude to Dorothy.”

Dorothy likes this story. Back in New York, she opened her bags and showed me her plate and spatula, instantly bringing back the aroma of those decadent first bites.

“I’ll probably never go back to Japan again, so this means a lot. This is quite nice,” says Dorothy.

And that my friends, is how a small okonomiyaki joint trumped Yoshinoya as Dorothy’s favorite meal in Japan.

Thank you so much, Kiji-san!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, the best conversation happens on our Facebook page. Come join us! Leave a comment. We make sure Dorothy gets them.

If you missed it…this is part of a blog series documenting “Dorothy Vogel in Japan”.  Those interested in reading the first four installments in the series, please visit Part 1 (Dorothy’s Arrival), Part 2 (Knowing What You Want), Part 3 (The Big Premiere), Part 4 (A Hometown Hero Is Born (Twice)), and Part 5 (Food Is Where the Heart Is).  Thank you for reading!  

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Food Is Where the Heart Is

By Kiki Murai

This is part of a blog series documenting “Dorothy Vogel in Japan”.  Those interested in reading the first four installments in the series, please visit Part 1 (Dorothy’s Arrival), Part 2 (Knowing What You Want), Part 3 (The Big Premiere), and Part 4 (A Hometown Hero Is Born (Twice)).  Thank you for reading!     The story begins with a shrimp bowl in Times Square.

For Dorothy, the bowl-friendly Japanese franchise restaurant Yoshinoya, formerly located on 42nd Street in the bustling Broadway theater district of New York City (and once called “the McDonald’s of Japanese fast food” by New York Magazine) was a favorite. A frequent theatergoer who attends a Broadway play or musical at least once a week, the comfort of a reliable go-to restaurant is crucial.

At Yoshinoya, Dorothy’s bowl of choice was always shrimp (an item that doesn’t exist in Japanese Yoshinoya restaurants), but as is the fate of many New York eateries (and Broadway shows), this orange-signed chain restaurant closed without warning last year. So much for reliability in the city.

But Dorothy was now in Japan, the land of the original beef bowl, and we had to find a way to fit “Eat at Yoshinoya” into our schedule. Dorothy had been looking forward to this for weeks, and we couldn’t let her down. (I secretly hoped the Yoshinoya in Japan wouldn’t let her down either, in the absence of the shrimp bowl.)

Like a Starbucks or McDonald’s, you will find a Yoshinoya every few blocks in Tokyo. We peered into the tiny orange restaurant packed with gray-suited businessmen sitting on bar stools along a u-shaped counter, wordlessly polishing off their gyudon (the beef bowl – what Yoshinoya is really known for). The restaurant has found a niche in the Japanese culture as a quick fix for beef-lovers with 15 minutes to spare before their next meeting. (Please note gentleman in suit exiting the restaurant, at left of photo.)

A spirited “Irasshaimaseee!” (Welcome!) called out to us from the other side of the counter as we entered. We ordered our bowls to go (beef bowl for Dorothy), the other customers hardly looking up.

The bowls were ready in three minutes. Ah, Japan. Land of Efficiency. You’ll be amazed just how much life can become streamlined if you just organize yourself. (Though you feel rather like a clumsy bull for the first few days (or weeks).)

As a culture that greatly respects the “silver generation” or seniors, however, no one was pressuring Dorothy to act any faster than she needed to.

Ten minutes later, we found an empty bench near the cherry blossoms at the Tokyo National Museum, and eagerly spread out our lunches. We had been in Japan for a few days now, but Dorothy had yet to have a meal that truly satisfied her palate. We hoped this would be the tide-turning moment.

Thankfully, it was.

“Mmm, this is very good,” Dorothy repeated, polishing off the entire bowl – except it wasn’t exactly a bowl. “Would you call this a bowl? Do they consider these bowls in Japan?” (*Note: Bowls in Japan are round as well, but square plastic containers were likely more convenient for takeout purposes.)

Round or not, we were thrilled Dorothy was thrilled – so much so, in fact, that she praised Yoshinoya as “the best meal I’ve had in Japan” to packed audiences at subsequent screenings of HERB & DOROTHY 50X50. The audience always laughed, delighted that Dorothy was so happy with the meal, but also slightly worried it really would be the best meal she’d ever have in Japan.

Dorothy loved the Yoshinoya beef bowl enough to have it for three consecutive days.

“I like that I know what I’m getting,” Dorothy said, an understandable theory when in a foreign land. When everything you see, hear and feel is new, new and new, comfort is few and far between.

If you find it, you will of course, turn to it when you can.

Since arriving in Japan, Dorothy had been operating on a rock star’s schedule with interviews, appearances, and premieres, all while fighting jet lag and insomnia. Add to this foods she didn’t recognize and a language she did not speak, with toilet seat covers that opened automatically when she neared (“Oh!” Dorothy said in surprise when it happened the first time. “Oh!” she said when it happened the second time. You just do not get used to these things), and many, many light switches and buttons in the hotel room, it is a wonder Dorothy kept her witty self together.

If Yoshinoya brought joy, comfort, and reminders of home (ironically), we were all too happy to take Dorothy there.

On a side note, whenever I asked Dorothy if she was hungry, she always replied, “I could eat.”

When I laughed, Dorothy told me with a smile, “That’s what Herby used to always say. ‘I could eat.’ I sound just like him!”

To be continued…

In the next installment of the series, the meal that finally topped Yoshinoya…and why. Stay tuned! 

As always, the best conversation happens on our Facebook page. Come join us! Leave a comment. We make sure Dorothy gets them.

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