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Waking Up to New York

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Larry Kramer, playwright
Arrived: 1957
After college I was stationed at Governors Island. We could come into New York every night if we wanted to, and God, we did. The USO gave out free theater tickets, and someone had donated two sixth-row-center tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. There weren’t that many soldiers who wanted those tickets, so I went a lot to see Zinka Milanov and Antonietta Stella.

I also got a chance to explore the gay bars off Third Avenue in midtown. There was one bar in particular called The 316, on East 54th. I would walk around the block five times before I got up the nerve to go in. There would be guys of all ages just getting off of work. Everybody would stand around not talking to each other. There were all of these unwritten regulations about cruising you had to learn.

After the army I got a job as a messenger boy in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, where I made $39 a week. I was also interested in becoming an actor, and I took classes with Sydney Pollack, who told me, “Larry, you’re very good, but you’ll never get the girl.”

One of the great things about being in the mailroom was that you were encouraged to read everybody’s mail. So I would stay late reading how much Elvis was making in Vegas, or who was going to get what part. But eventually enough was enough, and early one morning I marched into the office of my boss, Nat Lefkowitz. I said, “Mr. Lefkowitz, you don’t know me from Adam. My name is Larry Kramer and I went to Yale and I think I’m smart enough not to be in the mailroom.” You didn’t do things like that, but that is, in fact, what you do if you want to impress someone. They transferred me out of the mailroom. They made me a secretary, and I had to learn shorthand.


Lorne Michaels, executive producer, Saturday Night Live
Arrived: 1975
I’d been living in California for the better part of five years, and what I remember most about the transition to 30 Rock is that I didn’t have the required clothes. You know, when I was writing for Laugh-In, we worked in a motel and wore Hawaiian shirts and pants that flared. I remember going to Saks Fifth Avenue and buying an oxblood-colored V-neck sweater, and then buying a green corduroy jacket on Madison Avenue. I could wear the jacket with jeans, which then was a relatively fresh style. I was 29 turning 30, and I felt invincible.

When I walked into the lobby of Rockefeller Center the first time, I thought, Well, this show is absolutely going to work. There’s something about walking into 30 Rock that puts audiences in a good mood. There was so much available space at the time it was like there were deer running through the hall. I met a lot of people, but the first and deepest friendship I made that summer was with Paul Simon. We would go to this restaurant called Chin-Ya in the Woodward Hotel, and I would bounce ideas off him as I started to put the show together in my mind.

James Franco, actor and student
Arrived: 2008
I’d never really taken the subway before. I love it! The one thing is, I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks in my car in L.A., and now I don’t have that. I go to the Columbia library all the time—I’m enrolled in film school at Tisch and the creative writing program at Columbia. I could be stumbling out of, like, clubs, you know, but I’m not. Everybody used to come up to me in the library. Then I realized I was in the one room people are free to talk in. Now I go to the quiet room.


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