1994 with Mardee, my late wife, Kenya Knight, and Gladys Knight

In 1994 Mardee took a job as a co-author of Robin Leach’s Healthy Lifestyles Cookbook: Menus and Recipes from the Rich, Famous, and Fascinating. If you haven’t heard of Robin Leach you might want to know that in the 80s and 90s he was a real big shot on television when he hosted a reality show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Leach also worked on-screen on various other television shows, but Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was the production that made him into a household name back then. He was one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met in my life.

One of the most fun jobs I got involved with in the Robin Leach project was helping to serve lunch to the New York Giants football team, and although I’m not interested in sports in the slightest, I must admit that I was star-struck when we went to Giants Stadium to feed a large pack of huge men. “Bring about three times a much food as you think you’ll need,” Mardee was told. And it’s a good job she did as she was told—every last morsel disappeared.

Ian Duke, the son of Jim Duke, co-owner of Drake’s Drum who gave me my first bartending gig in New York, was a huge Giants fan, and he and one of his friends volunteered to help for no pay—we had no budget for this type of thing and we desperately needed more hands than four to feed the Giants. Ian and his pal, though, worked with us all day just so they could hang out with their heroes for a few hours. Thanks guys. We couldn’t possibly have pulled it off without you.

There were several funny incidents that went down at Giants Stadium that day, and it was Mardee’s gingerbread men that proved to be the hit of the party. She baked them at home, decorated them with blue numbered jerseys and she made them all racially correct—chocolate cookies for the African Americans on the team, and vanilla cookies for the white guys. The players thought that this was pretty hilarious, and one African American player picked up the cookie that bore his number, looked at it curiously, and said, “I’m black? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

The only other project I helped with on this book, involved none other than Gladys Knight, the “Empress of Soul” who won Grammys for Midnight Train to Georgia, That’s What Friends Are For (with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John), At Last, and a few other best-selling singles. Gladys Knight is a true mega-star. And she cooked dinner for Mardee, me, and a few other folk at our apartment on West 28th Street, New York.

Gladys—I think of her on a first-name basis even though we spent just one afternoon and a few hours in the evening together—was in New York for a very short time—and Mardee had arranged to rent a small kitchen in a New York hotel so that the Motown Queen could cook a leg of lamb for the book with photographers present to record the occasion. At the very last minute the hotel backed out. “Someone just booked a private party and we’re going to need the extra ovens, grills, and ranges,” they said. Mardee had to put something together within 48 hours. She called Gladys.

“All I can think of is that we do this at our apartment,” Mardee said.

“No problem. What’s your address and what time do you want us there?” was Gladys’ response.

What a sweetheart, huh?

Elevator Woes

We lived in a 1,200 square-foot loft on the fourth floor of a building that was a stone’s throw from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. It was a decent building filled with nice people, and it was well-maintained, too. But on the one day that Gladys Knight came to see us, the damned elevator broke down. In my memory this had never happened before, and it didn’t happen again at any point during the almost seven years we lived there. Like most New York buildings, no matter how well maintained they are, the stairwell in our building was a little cluttered, and none too clean. People left their bicycles in the hallway, for instance, and there was the odd bed-frame propped up against the wall, awaiting proper disposal. Jesus Christ, I thought. It just had to happen today, didn’t it?

Gladys Knight, on the other hand, was completely unfazed by this development and she, along with her PA, and her daughter, Kenya, simply giggled a little at my embarrassment, and climbed the stairs, negotiating the obstacle course, with genuine smiles on their faces. I helped carry their bags.

Kitchen Time

We had all the fixings that Gladys needed to make her signature leg of lamb, and she got straight to work, slathering the lamb with mustard, herbs, and spices, and popping it into the oven to roast. Two photographers were there to record the event.

Gladys drank tea that afternoon, and she hung out in our apartment doing crossword puzzles and chatting as we waited for the lamb to cook. She told me that her father had to work two jobs to keep food on the table when she was a kid, and he made the whole family get up in the middle of the night to eat together–it was the only time he was in the house at the same time as everyone else.

“WE are all going to sit down and eat this lamb when it’s cooked, right?” Gladys asked.

We set the table for 8.

Halfway through dinner Gladys asked, “Do you know what I really like about Robin Leach?”

There was absolutely nothing that either Mardee or I liked about Robin Leach, so we asked her to explain.

“Well he never looks down his nose at you,” she said.

“GLADYS!” I said, “100 years from now nobody will have a clue who Robin Leach was, but everyone will know who Gladys Knight was. How could you think that he would ever look down his nose at you?”

You could see Gladys allowing this information to sink in.

“I never thought of that,” she told us.

Says a lot about the woman, right?

Thank you for being a Friend that day, Gladys. You are one heck of a human being!

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