Recalling violinist Lea Luboshutz becomes her


By Jerry Tallmer

Wolf’s ‘likably honest on-stage memoir’ shines for five performances only

You want to know from royalty?

This is royalty:

Two ladies — grande dames — are strolling down the main street of Rockport, Maine. One is the world-famous violinist Lea Luboshutz, better known to headline writers and everybody else as “Lubo.” She owns a summer house in Rockport. The other lady is her dear friend, the Baroness de Rothschild. This is some years ago, you understand.

At Lubo’s ears are diamonds given to her long ago by a supposed husband back in Russia. Around her neck is a likewise world-famous double-strand of matched pearls.

Now, in Rockport, Maine, a gentleman comes up to chat with these two ladies. He admires the diamond earrings and the double strand of pearls.

“Oh, my dear, these aren’t real,” says Lubo. “None of these. The real ones are in the safe.”

Lubo’s granddaughter — her name is Catherine Wolf, and she’s a hard-working stage, screen, and television actress of our own era — says with dry amusement: “When my grandmother died, we opened the safe. There were no real ones.”

Lea Luboshutz, who left this earth at 80, in 1965, is pretty much the star of “On Becoming,” Catherine Wolf’s likably honest one-woman on-stage memoir of what it was like growing up — and reaching for her own artistic self — as a young person in a scarily gifted family.

In fact, Grandmother Lubo sort of takes over the 80-minute show that’s at the Cherry Lane Theatre for five performances (September 23-26). “Excuse me, dollink, I vill do zis,” she says, through the lips of Ms. Wolf. “I vill tell the story,” she announces, muscling granddaughter aside.

“Jesus! She keeps coming in,” says that granddaughter offstage. “An incredibly powerful lady. Late in life she had a little brain tumor. The doctor held his watch to her head, moving it from side to side as he asked: ‘What time is it?’

“ ‘Time for a drink!’ she said. She never looked back, always looked forward.”

Lubo was friends with (you could look it up) people like Marlene Dietrich and Isadora Duncan, and Catherine’s great-uncle Pierre Luboshutz. Lubo’s brother — later the male half of Luboshutz and (Genia) Nemenoff, his wife, much-in-demand duo-pianists — was Isadora’s accompanist in Paris. Which leads to a recollection that’s not all fun and games.

“When my mother” — Lubo’s daughter Irene — “was around 11 years old, Isadora came to visit. My mother was in ballet classes that she loved. Lubo and Isadora woke my mother up in the middle of the night, had her put on a tutu and dance for Isadora. Who took one look and said: ‘No talent!’ So my mother was taken out of ballet school.”

Half caustically, half ruefully, Catherine Wolf appends:

“When I was age 5 I was already damaged goods. They tried all sorts of musical instruments on me, and I flunked all of them — an American little girl who wouldn’t practice. My brother Andy practiced seven hours a day. I didn’t want to do that.”

Soon after the 1917 Revolution, Lubo had made it out of Russia to do a concert in Germany, with son Boris as accompanist. Then got 8-year-old daughter Irene out too. Never went back to Russia. The next stop was Paris.

Lubo speaks (via Catherine):

“Soon after we moved to Paris…the famous manager Sol Hurok invited me to come to America…Joseph Hoffman, the famous pianist, who was then the director of the newly organized Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia — when he found out I was on my way to America, he begged me, he begged me, to be the Professor of Violin at Curtis.” Which she did and was.

Catherine Wolf speaks:

“As a little girl, I knew Lubo was a star, and so was her brother Uncle Pierre Luboshutz and his wife Auntie Genia Nemenoff…And Uncle Boris [Lubo’s son Boris Goldovsky] was pretty good too. We used to listen to him on the radio every Saturday during the intermissions of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts” — and so did thousands upon thousands of other people, for many years.

“Lubo had three children. One was killed in an avalanche. One was my Uncle Boris. And one was my mother, Irene Goldovsky Wolf. My father was Billy Wolf [more formally Walter L. Wolf], the first man to design special shopping bags for stores like Bonwit Teller and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“My mother and father were just ordinary people, but Lubo, Pierre, Genia, and Boris, they were stars, I wanted to be like them…But what was left for me to do? I’d not allowed myself to be fully who I was, before I allowed myself to be fully who I was.

“And then, on my 13th birthday, I was taken to see Kitty Carlisle Hart in ‘Lady in the Dark’ at the Bucks County Playhouse and my life was changed forever. I decided I would be an actress.”

Catherine Wolf did indeed become an actress whose career has stretched from working on Broadway in “The Innocents” under the direction of a sometimes testy Harold Pinter to — years and films and TV stints later — creating and running a Colleagues Theater Company for gifted senior (50+) actors…with, at several critical moments, the indispensable help of an extremely senior and still exquisite Kitty Carlisle Hart.

Speaking of seniors, Irene Goldovsky Wolf, Catherine’s mother, is still going strong at 93. So is the Bay Chamber concert series, up there in Rockport, Maine, more than 40 summers after it was put into life by Catherine’s brothers Andy and Tommy Wolf.

Andrew Wolf, who used to practice piano seven hours a day — and as an adult worked the 88s under Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose — died of a brain tumor at 46, but Thomas Wolf still today administers those Bay Chamber concerts.

There used to be an actors’ hangout called Jimmy Ray’s on Eighth Avenue at 46th Street, One night Catherine Wolf was brought there by a friend. Her heart stopped when she saw the Big Blond Beautiful Man behind the bar. His name was Hugh Gormley.

That was in 1966. They were married in 1999.

“It took a while,” says Catherine.

All the pieces of Catherine Wolf’s life began whirling around in her head two or three years ago. Margery Beddow, the author of “Bob Fosse’s Broadway,” told her: “You should put all this together.”

Which is what Catherine Wolf has done in “On Becoming.”

“I think when you write about yourself, it becomes universal,” she says.

I don’t know if Lubo would agree. Doesn’t sound like there was anything universal about that one.