New York, NY – November 30, 2000 – Manhattan’s legendary fashion Mecca, Berdgorf Goodman is the backdrop for Joshua Taylor’s own family documentary, Dita and The Family Business. The film airs December 17th at 5:00PM on Metro (Time Warner Cable – Channel 70; Cablevision – Channel 16) as part of its award-winning documentary series, New York Stories. It chronicles the history of this legendary Fifth Avenue institution and the family behind it, through interviews Taylor conducts over the years with his free-spirited, 86-year-old grandmother, Dita. This funny, opinionated matriarch was born in Spain, raised in Cuba and married the filmmaker’s grandfather (and the family business) in a wedding that Walter Winchell said “would never happen.”
Taylor goes about his quest like any good investigator, checking the facts and sometimes fables provided by his grandmother in interviews with other family members. The greatest entertainment in this one-hour documentary comes when Taylor lovingly confronts his grandmother with her “embroidery” of the family’s myths and legends.
Taylor’s grandfather Andy Goodman, heir to New York’s most magnificent retail empire, was socially obligated to wed into his own milieu. Instead, he dismayed his parents and shocked most of high society by falling madly in love with Dita after a chance meeting while vacationing in Havana, the era’s capital of excess. To insure that she wasn’t after him “for his money” the family made Dita sign a pre-nuptual agreement, a covenant which family legend tells was torn up and presented to her in a gift-wrapped sable coat on their first wedding anniversary.
Although eldest son Eddie was expected to spend his life running Bergdorf Goodman as his father and grandfather had done before him, he rebelled, becoming manager of New York’s left-leaning alternative radio station, WBAI. Dita and Andy Goodman’s three daughters (one of whom Taylor learns was from Dita’s brief first marriage in Cuba) also had no interest in fashion. And the filmmaker’s own father briefly tried his hand at management in the store but resigned abruptly during a meeting about hemlines to enroll in the Yale School of Forestry.
The vivacious Dita gives much of herself to the story. She tells of a twin brother who died at birth and of her own incubation at three pounds in a small drawer with heated blankets and steamed red wine in Madrid; of helping the Duke of Windsor to learn Spanish and of being serenaded by Ethel Merman in the penthouse apartment the family occupied high above the landmark store at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, the site of the old Vanderbilt mansion. In order to live atop his empire, great-grandfather Edwin Goodman registered himself as a janitor (“New York’s wealthiest janitor” according to his obituary in The New York Times).
Home videos, family photos, historical footage of Cuba and the inside of Bergdorf Goodman’s realm of haute couture are all deftly woven throughout Mr. Taylor’s interview with his grandmother. It is a truly original family documentary. Among the many striking points made by this gorgeous web of the Goodman family’s ties and tales of high society is the complete rejection by all its children of the same glamorous lifestyle and dynastic social myths the store has come to symbolize throughout the world.
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