Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Charlie Brown

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – A New York City Holiday Tradition – The Book!


2016 is the 90th Anniversary of what was organized in 1924 by R.H. Macy’s immigrant employees as a street carnival. The group would undoubtedly be surprised to discover efforts to celebrate their new country with European traditions became an international symbol of Thanksgiving. As of last year, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured 27 floats and 17 balloons. (In 1939, floats were still pulled by horses.) The parade has marched every year but two since then, pausing only during wartime when rationing of helium and rubber necessitated hiatus. Planning for each procession takes 18 months.

Photographer Matt Harnick’s earliest memory of the parade is waking up to tubas and trumpets. His family home on the 14th floor of a venerable Central Park West building overlooks the staging area for bands and floats. Buses pull in early. Drum majorettes in skimpy outfits with epaulets huddle together for warmth. Musical instruments and stilts are unloaded. Half dressed clowns and headless animals on hind legs go in search of hot coffee. Tune up begins. In those days, balloons were quietly inflated on 86th Street. “It was a little dicey up there,” he recalls.

By the 1980s, maintenance moved to 77th and 81st between Central Park West and Columbus where balloons are laid head to toe and inflated by a team of specially instructed Macy’s employees. (There are stilt walking classes and a clown school as well.) Night-before viewing became the festive public event it is now with slow rivers of parents and children touring around a flattened Charlie Brown or raised fist and burgeoning muscles of Spider-Man. “On one side of each balloon is an easel with its character’s name posted, on the other are directions for inflation-which chambers to fill first…” Matt tells me.


Though he remembers sitting on his dad’s shoulders in front of the building, most Thanksgivings the Harnicks spent the morning preparing turkey to take to family dinner in New Jersey. Eventually Matt would cook the bird himself making him even busier. He didn’t take advantage of opportunity to see an entire parade until 2014. (This year he’s cooking and shooting.)

Sheldon and Margery Gray Harnick’s children both expressed interest in taking pictures when they were very young. A former actress and exhibited painter as well as a photographer, his mom learned the latter from her father. Matt grew up with it. Seven years ago, he received his first digital camera and headed out Thanksgiving morning. Most of those shots were unfortunately lost with a data card.


The next year, he approached the parade “with the intention of taking the best pictures I could.” Year after year, Matt would squeeze his way up to the barriers, sometimes running into the same local denizens, sharing notes. Cameras improved, Matt grew more skilled.

In 2013, book proposal accepted, Matt sat down with Bill Schermerhorn, Creative Director of Macy’s Parade and Entertainment Group since 1983. They had a wide ranging discussion and the photographer was invited to Macy’s 70,000-foot Moonachie, New Jersey facility. Where most of us would have described the place as Santa’s Workshop on steroids, “The first thing I thought of seeing all the maquettes hanging from the ceiling was, my God, this is just like (puppeteer) Bill Baird’s workshop.'” he says. “My parents did three shows with him. It was a very magical place.” (Musical theater icon Sheldon Harnick wrote scores, and both he and Margery gave voice to characters.) There’s something benignly innocent about the recollection. Floats, balloons and costumes are assembled across the river. Matt’s first love are the balloons.


Starting in 2014, project in hand, he’s had an all-access pass to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “2014, I stood on 77th Street in a raging ice storm and shot almost the entire inflation of the Thomas the Tank balloon.” The largest balloon, Thomas is 53-feet long, 23-feet wide, and 47-feet high. “If you look underneath, you can see they’ve detailed the crankshaft in the machinery,” Matt says with enthusiasm. Those photos are, alas, not in the book. You can, however, see several sharp images of Scrat (the acorn-obsessed, saber-toothed squirrel from Ice Age) as he becomes a fulsome 59-feet long, 24-feet wide, 41-feet tall.

“The balloons I remember as a kid were sausage-like, but they’ve discovered the technology of using a webbing of ropes on the interior to hold shapes in position…Today, they’re incredible feats of engineering as well as artistry.”


Matt never asks people to pose. He thinks of the parade as “a living organism. It’s like nature photography. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible.” The book offers evocative images of bands, floats, clowns, dancers, the Moonachie Workshop, and balloons from all angles. In addition, there are Macy’s archival photos, some of which date way back. Early shots of The Rockettes, Mickey Mouse as you likely never knew him, and, balloons most of us don’t recognize, are priceless.

Still unjaded, Matt Harnick intends to continue photographing the parade. “I don’t know what’s going to be new this year and I don’t want to. There are always different floats and balloons, the order changes as does the music. It’s like Christmas. To me-there are so few surprises anymore…The important thing is that there are no small parts, even if someone just shows up, puts on a costume and walks down the street…I love it.”


This is a terrific gift book for anyone with memories of the parade, those who can’t watch the event in person, tourists. Its THE perfect present if you’re going to someone’s home on Thanksgiving. (Both Amazon Prime and Barnes & Noble promise to deliver in 24 hours.) Vibrant photos give one a real feeling of the tradition, while text by Steven M. Silverman is as entertaining as it is illuminating.

All photos by Matt Harnick 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-A New York City Holiday Tradition
Photography by Matt Harnick & The Macy’s Archives
Text by Stephen M. Silverman
Rizzoli Books

Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater


Before Howard Ashman and Alan Menken hit pay dirt with Little Shop of Horrors, long before they became synonymous with reinvigorating Disney animated movies, 1979’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, based on the Kurt Vonnegut book, appeared briefly Off Broadway. Vonnegut’s sharp irreverence, couched first in science fiction, then as fantasy and finally as wry, humanist observation, was almost a rite of passage for a generation of smart young people enmeshed in alternative culture.

The author was older than many admirers, often referring to traumatic World War II experience beyond their ken, but shared with them a social conscience that emerged like a pendulum swinging between cynicism and idealism. This volume in particular might have been written by Bernie Sanders supporters.

Santino Fontana (Eliot)and the office staff

In the first minutes of the production, Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana) enters with a pratfall and haplessly donates $50,000 of his family’s foundation to a poet seeking immeasurably less.“Go and tell the truth,” he instructs the nonplussed writer. He’s devoted and he’s loaded/So we haven’t a complaint…sings his staff.

The Rosewater Foundation, created by Eliot’s U.S. Senator father (Clark Johnson) to help descendants avoid paying taxes on the estate, is based in New York City, not Rosewater, Indiana where the family manse stands empty. Though it’s “handled” by a large legal firm, Eliot has inherited control. He wears the crown uncomfortably and is often drunk. Obsessions include Volunteer Fire Departments (we learn why later) and a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout who is quoted and later appears as the voice of “real” sanity. (James Earl Jones). A psychiatrist deems Eliot incurable for reasons of not gratefully toeing the gilded line.

Despite, or perhaps because of, advantages, the young man couldn’t be more of the people. As written and expertly acted, Eliot seems like sweet, slightly obtuse Charlie Brown with an adult conscience. Equally uneasy in the upper echelon lifestyle curetted by loving wife Sylvia (Brynn O’Malley), frustration builds until our hero decides he must go in search of his destiny and disappears. Letters arrive from Hamlet to Ophelia, the escapee’s perception of himself and Sylvia. The other is Volunteer Fire Departments. We learn about this fixation later.

Encores! Off-Center Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Skylar Astin (Norman Mushari)

Meanwhile, Norman Mushari (Skylar Astin), a young lawyer at the firm, learns of a codicil in the Rosewater Foundation set-up that states Eliot can be replaced by another family member if he’s proved mentally unstable. The ambitious associate recalls what his professors told him about getting ahead in law. “… just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.” One practically sees Eureka! flash over his head.

Leap-frogging Volunteer Fire Departments across the country (including a delightfully staged musical number), Eliot also has a eureka moment and returns to his depressed hometown. He opens the house, sets up an office, and becomes Rosewater’s defacto therapist and philanthropist (black telephone), as well as a member of the Volunteer Fire Department (red telephone.)

Encores! Off-Center Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Brynn O’Malley (Sylvia) and the townspeople

We meet and compassionately hear from raggle-taggle citizens who grow to think of him as a Saint. Aspiring to be supportive, Sylvia arrives, and tries, how she tries to fit in! Eventually, however, his patrician spouse has a meltdown at a meticulously planned soiree when her guests prefer Cheese Nips to pate and coke to champagne. Brynn O’Malley’s deadpan apoplexy is as convincing as her love for and incomprehension of Eliot.

Encores! Off-Center Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Kate Wetherhead (Caroline Rosewater), Kevin Del Aguila (Fred Rosewater)

While Eliot is altruistically fulfilling himself, Norman has found Fred (Kevin Del Aguila) and Caroline (Kate Wetherhead) Rosewater, in, wait for it, Pisquontuit, Rhode Island. The couple are bickering malcontents not adverse to swindling rich relatives. Both actors are marvelous in the deftly staged “Rhode Island Tango” and apple-pie-corny “Plain Clean Average Americans.” It appears to be a slam dunk, but of course, is not.

Narrative displays several signature Vonnegut themes, the familiar device of God-like narration (James Earl Jones), and characters found in other books by the author. Lack of this awareness in no way impedes enjoyment. There’s also a brief scene from one of Kilgore Trout’s space adventures – a disconnect, but very funny.  Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics are literate, specific, and filled with heart. Alan Menken’s music is, well, fine. This was their first collaboration.

Encores! Off-Center Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Santino Fontana, James Earl Jones (Kilgore Trout) and company members

Santino Fontana’s embodiment of Eliot is consistently engaging and sympathetic. Really, one wants to take him home to mom. The actor is completely natural and has an appealing voice.

Skylar Ashton (Norman Mushari), who looks too much like Fontana, is a solid player but could have more fun with numbers like “Mushari’s Waltz” in which his ballet seems restrained.

James Earl Jones literally lends resonance to the piece. His Kilgore Trout is a credible curmudgeon.

Of the townsfolk, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Mary Moody), Liz McCartney  (Diana Moon Glampers), and Kevin Ligon (Selbert Peach) shine.

Director Michael Mayer uses Donayle Werle’s simply structured Set with skill and aesthetic variety. A fire pole and hose are used to great effect. Small stage business adds immeasurably. Heart and humor go hand in hand.

Choreography by Lorin Latarro is beguiling. Leon Rothenberg’s Sound Design couldn’t be crisper or better balanced.

Another terrific production by Encores.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: The Company

New York City Center Encores! Off-Center presents
Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Book & Lyrics-Howard Ashman
Additional Lyrics Dennis Green
Music-Alan Menken
Directed by Michael Mayer
City Center
131 West 55th Street