EFTI.Talk - Edith Hall Friedheim
Hi I'm Mike Reid, Dean of the college of Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida, which is the home of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute. I'm here today to interview Ms. Edith Hall Friedheim who helped to found the institute which is named after her husband Eric, a giant in the field of travel publishing and her husband for many years. I think you'll find it fascinating Edith has a great story to tell so we warmly welcome you on behalf of the institute to this interview. Well as you know I was born and raised in Canada in Toronto, and from the age of five I wanted nothing else but to be a concert pianist. And that began when I went to a movie my friend's father took us to a movie and I was five years old we were both five, and I came home from the movie and my mother asked me how how was it how did you like your first movie and I burst into tears and I was inconsolable. How sad. My poor mother thought it was violence or something in the movie,
but apparently through my tears I said "the music was so beautiful". So my mother called the movie theater and asked what the soundtrack was of the movie that they were showing in those days you could reach someone at the movie theater. It turned out that the soundtrack was the Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. Oh lovely. So my mother knew she had a weirdo on her hands, and I started piano lessons and that's what I did. And what I wanted to do. Then when I was 14 my piano teacher asked me to get a copy of the Chopin a tunes, I was ready to begin playing some of the easier ones. And I got an edition a Shermer edition that was the famous yellow [yeah yes yes of course] and there was a name across the front cover Friedheim, and that was Arthur Friedheim. Who was a very very well-known pianist a great pianist yes a student of France list
and he had edited these Chopin a tunes. Each a tune had a paragraph that he had written, and I was so impressed and so in awe of his insight into these very obtuse abstract pieces right. Yes and I knew that he was some kind of a genius, so I started to research him and found out about his career and so forth he lived in New York he taught he concertized and so forth, and so on. And I went about my business and became a concert pianist, moved to New York because that was where you had to be if you wanted to make a living in the arts, and I moved there when I was 18. Was that move a shock? Was the culture in New York very different? No it was like my home. Really.
My parents were very um keen on the arts they were they both played the piano quite well, and they were great museum goers and concert goers and theater goers. So every Christmas we went to New York for about 10 days, and I was going to do this yeah yeah and all I wanted was to move there eventually. But when I was 17 I was accepted as a student at Tanglewood, and that was a very very big honor of course. And while I was at Tanglewood I met a composer and his wife who was a pianist they were Canadians, and they were involved with the Manhattan with the Mannes College of Music in New York. And they said to me you really need to come to Mannes in the fall. New York is definitely where you want to be. And I said my parents have already enrolled me at Oberlin in Ohio, and they've already paid you know put a huge down payment.
And they said well you've got to come to New York, so after Tanglewood I went back to Toronto and announced to my parents I wasn't going to Oberlin after all. My goodness how did they handle that? did they put up with it all right? Because I was a very rebellious kid. I and my brother both. We we we just did what we what we felt we had to do and I knew I had to go to New York. So they accepted it and I went. Anyway eventually I ended up in Cleveland, and I loved it I taught at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Yes wonderful school. I got married there and I had a child. And by and by we moved to New York.
I had already lived in New York gone to Cleveland and then moved back to New York. My husband was an artist he was a full professor at Pratt Institute in the art department. And I was teaching and playing in New York, so it was a very very rich life. You know the story about my working for Isaac Stern I'm sure. Yeah but I think we need to hear that for this recording. I think we need to hear that story. Isaac Stern needed um an administrative assistant part-time, and I was hired. And my job was to [wait wait wait wait how did you just happen to know Isaac
Stern that's not trivial?] I was pretty well known by that time. The music industry like any other is such that you get a huge attrition rate Mike most people drop out. Yep because for one thing practicing an instrument is so difficult and so time consuming. And then getting work is almost impossible, I was lucky I was a very good teacher and I loved it. So I always had lots of teaching. But and I met somebody who was Isaac Stern's manager
and she hired me. And so I went to work for the great man you know that he was a very famous violinist of course of course of course sure. So I was to type his correspondence, he got a lot of mail mostly fan mail and he answered every single letter. And I had to type from a dictating machine. And he would come down after a day or two and say Edith have you got some letters for me to sign? And I would say i'm working on one Mr. Stern. And we went to his mother's apartment for lunch he was lovely to me he really was I met his children and his wife he worked in his apartment. So about three weeks into this job he called me
into his office. And said to me you know i've had a very serious heart attack, and I said I know Mr. Stern. And he said and my doctor tells me I need a full-time secretary. Oh I can work full-time Mr. Stern. I could never forgive myself if I asked you to do that, you have much more important work to do I couldn't bear it if I stood in the way of your career. So I left feeling 10 feet tall, and about two years later I was walking down broadway and it suddenly hit me that he had fired me and I didn't even know. I thought he was making the big sacrifice for my career it was a great lesson to learn. In how to do something you know how to how to how to let somebody go how to fire them and have them realize it right. So that was that and um I just you know did my thing, and eventually
I burned out I didn't want to practice the piano anymore. Yes I had been doing it all day every day since I was five years old, I had remarried, I had met Eric in the most wonderful way because i had gotten into travel writing again by chance. I met someone who needed a researcher to update two books one on New York and one on Washington and Virginia both for Fromen. So a very famous publisher and very famous very very. And so I applied by they told me to write
a restaurant review, and if they liked it they would hire me. Well I had a daughter who was a French trained chef, and had a restaurant in New York. She went with me to Le Bernardin and I wrote a review, and they liked the review so I was hired. When [was the review ever published?] oh yes they're yes in the Fromer books yeah. I did a lot of restaurants and a lot of museums and hotels for. So anyway the time came when i really needed a full-time job. I had gotten
divorced and I had no money and my children were in college. It sounds quite dire, it was dire. But it wasn't the first time it was dire, I had a lot of dires in my in my yeah because in the arts it it just is that way as you know probably. So I met somebody and the woman actually the woman that I wrote the updates for the Fromer books for. She said you need a full-time job, I used to work for Eric Friedheim he owns a travel magazine for the industry it's called Travel Agent Magazine. It was a weekly publication which at one point he had to publish twice a week because
of the competition coming along and publishing twice a week it was a very competitive business. She said would you like me to call him for you I hear he's looking for a wife. and I would like to get back in touch with him for my own sake, and you would be the hook. And I said thank you I would love that that sounds wonderful. So she called this Eric Friedheim person, and he agreed to talk to me on the phone. And I called him and I fell madly in love with him on the phone because he had a gorgeous voice very cultured he had been born in London and he had a little bit of that patrician speech. Do you know what I mean? Yes of course very often. He agreed to see me he agreed
to see me. So I went over to his office and we had an interview, and he told me that he never did any of the hiring because he couldn't bear to fire anybody if it didn't work out. So he had his editor do all the hiring. And anyway there were no jobs at the magazine, but would I like to go to dinner.
And I said that would be very nice. And he said to me well by the way what did you do before you were a travel writer? And I said I was a pianist, he started to say my father was a pianist when I put it together. Ah yes of course. You know 40 years later in a different country in a different life on a different planet here was Arthur Friedheim's son, the person that I had worshipped all my all my childhood. It really sounds faded. I think in I often think that it was faded because there was
no adjustment period at all when we got married. It was as if we had been you know together in some other life. He had been very happily married to his first wife Betty and she had died very tragically at the age of 64. He had been a widower for a number of years, but he wanted to remarry because she had made him so happy he wanted to try again you know. So we made a dinner date, and he was late. And I had a policy of not waiting longer than 10 minutes for anybody, so I left the restaurant. I bet few people did that to Eric Friedheim. Nobody did that to Eric
Friedheim. He had behalf of the women in New York falling at his feet I mean he he dated everyone in the travel industry in New York. My goodness and I bumped into him he was coming into the restaurant and I was he said where are you going? And I said don't worry about it it's fine I just don't wait longer than 10 minutes for anybody, but it was lovely meeting you and bye-bye. Oh no please come back please, so he cajoled me into going back into the restaurant and that's how it started. Yeah so that that your relationship with Eric must have been extremely rich, it must have had so many elements to it. What if anything- because this was obviously a very prominent man and
you probably knew a lot about him going into the relationship- what surprised you most about Eric? What surprised me about Eric was the combination of patrician, elegant, tall, handsome man and street fighter. He was a real down dirty kid. He had grown up poor in the Bronx, he was in lots of fights when he was a kid, his mother bought him a printing press when he was eight years old and like I decided to be a pianist at five he became a writer at eight never did anything else. Really he wrote a he wrote a newspaper when he was eight years old. My goodness and and how did that get distributed? In the neighborhood. Then his father was hired in Toronto of all places to uh start a music school there. And they lived in a residential hotel in Toronto and Eric published a newspaper in the hotel put it under the doors of all the residents there. And you know Mrs. Jones had a baby last week, Mr. Smith got a new job you know. So he always did that never never deviated from that at all. So
that's another aspect of your history that shared you both were in Toronto. Very much so but we weren't there at the same time, and we weren't the same age. He was a great deal older than I was, but he was close in age to my mother. They went to the same school yeah. They didn't they didn't know
each other I guess? No no. Eric is amazing Eric was about 10 when he lived in Toronto and his father was a very difficult man loving father and husband but a very difficult man. And he wasn't rehired after the first two years in Toronto. Really. So they went back to New York, and that's where he stayed until he joined the army during the second world war.
Where did he serve? In Germany and England. I see. He took the officer candidate training school program. He had a classmate by the name of Clark Gable. Another person a few folks know. Right and he was an officer right from the very beginning. Yes. He was shot out of a plane in Germany and
parachuted into a tree they never found the pilot. Oh my goodness. He was writing Eric was writing for the um air force newspaper, he was in the air force, and he was writing for their newspaper. But he was shot out of a plane he had offered to apply this mission to report on it to write about it. He was shot out he parachuted and got caught in a tree, and there was a password for the allies, if you were an ally. And the password was hither and fither because Germans can't pronounce "th" at all. Really yeah. So hither and fither is not something any German could possibly have
used. And that's the password that he used when he saw an allied troop come along. And they got him down from the tree, and took him. They had just blown up a railroad station and sent him out with the stretcher to bring the dead bodies back. Oh and he told me that never ever again did he realize how heavy a dead body was to carry. Yeah a tough lesson to learn. He wrote a book about it called Fighters Up it's a very interesting book it's about that mission, and about having gotten a shot out of the plane and that whole story. He stayed in the reserves
Mike until he was 65 which is a wonderful move, he was a very practical man and he got marvelous benefits. From that and the first job he had after that was as a freelance journalist, and then after that he got a job as the advanced man for the freedom train. So tell me tell me about that train because that's a part of American history that I'm not very familiar with. It was a train that carried all of the documents or U.S. American documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, all of the official documents were on this train. It stopped at every town throughout the south. So
this was during the civil rights movement this was in the mid 60s? No this would have been in the 50s late 40s and early 50s. The war was over in 1945, so he probably was working for the freedom train two or three years later than that. And he was struck by the injustice of the freedom train. Because the appointments were made in every town for the white population to come on at a certain time on a certain day, and the black population to come at a different time on a different day.
So he often said to me the worst thing that can happen to you is to be born black in this country. Yeah it made a very very terrible impression on him that that happened. It's so impressive that he was a strong voice for that in equity so early in in our country's life. He really was he was just struck by that and never got over it because he said it often during the late years that we were together. Yes do you think that it influenced his writing or his his publications in any way? I don't think so no I don't think so. He was strictly you know
a an industry a travel industry writer and that's what he did. He founded the Society of American Travel Writers SATW, he was on the advisory board of the president of the United States' caucus on tourism that's really what he did and he traveled and that's what he did. And it was competitive and he had you know he had to be very very watchful, somebody set a fire in his office one time. Really and why was that? One of the competitors he's pretty sure or it was an inside job. It comes back to your your comment that he was a real scrappy guy. He was a scrappy guy, but a very
but a very fair guy and and a very decent man. You know but he had this low down journalist streak you know where he would walk over the dead bodies to get the story. With everything absolutely everything. And the journalists that worked for him the ones that walked over the dead bodies after the assassination were the ones that he liked and hired too. Yeah because that's what makes a journalist. Absolutely. Right so then a couple of years after that he found out that a magazine called Travel Agent was for sale, and it had been started in the 40s and this was 1951 and he decided to try to buy that magazine.
Okay good. And he had no money he bought it with other people's money, but he did buy it and turned it around and made it you know wonderfully successful for many many many years until abc capital cities bought it in the late 90s. Oh my goodness so he he published that magazine for many decades? Yes he did from 1951 until I mean he was still the editor in chief when he was dying. Oh bless him. So he had sold it and the an abc capital cities took it down the tubes. So they hired a consultant at $50,000 to tell them what to do,
and the consultant studied the situation and told them to get free time back running the magazine. So $50,000 later they hired Eric back the editor-in-chief, and the magazine was up and running again. What a fantastic story that is just terrific. It really is and it was a wonderful magazine, but there was competition. He and the main his main competitor had a falling out, didn't speak, and this was difficult because they ended up at the same dinners every night you know the travel industry is a very big entertainment industry. They didn't speak a word they were seated together all the time, but they never spoke a word.
After a few years they were at a luncheon and Eric turned to Robbie Robinson and said would you mind telling me why we're not speaking? Could you would you mind telling me? And Robinson said I'm damned if I can remember. And then they became very good friends and we saw a lot of them in Florida. They eventually moved to Florida. Oh that's terrific. Yes and his magazine was Travel Weekly which was another very very successful magazine. Yeah yeah yeah what a great story. But of course
he isn't with it anymore. Yeah and Eric his wife died his first wife died quite young, and one of the people he dated was a movie star named Piper Laurie. Yes sure very famous. She was in a movie or two with Paul Newman, and after we got married she called him she didn't realize he was married. She lived in California, but she spent a lot of time in New York. So she didn't realize he was married and she called and I answered the phone and said you know is Eric there? I said yes who's calling she said this is Piper Laurie. So I put my hand over the phone I said Eric Eric it's Piper Laurie the movie star, invite her over invite her over.
And so he got on the phone and talked to her she was calling to tell him that she had a new grandchild, and she was going to be in New York, and could they get together and so forth. And he told her that he was married and she wished them well, but he didn't invite her over. No and I never forgave him for that. Well I'm sure poor Piper Laurie would have been brokenhearted to realize the competition to which she lost. Right I think she would have handled it very very well. So in in your relationship with Eric did your work as a travel writer was that an important part of y'all's relationship since you both really were in the same industry? Eric was terrified of being accused of nepotism. Oh yeah so he would never give me an assignment ever. I had to go behind his back and deal with the different editors, the Europe editor the Caribbean editor you know, and I would ask them for assignments. And I was very good at what I did and I loved it.
And they always gave me assignments, but he never did. As he got older and sicker I didn't want to leave him, and I kept getting assignments to places like China, India, Africa and these were long trips. Yes. Many press trips are just a few days you know four or five days, but those were because of the distances those were much farther and difficult to be in touch with him. I mentioned you know I don't want to do this I don't want to be in China, and he said oh but you have to. I said no why? Because think how I would feel if you didn't go, if I were to deny that trip, think how I would feel how guilty, I would feel. And he did this all the time. A very selfless man in that regard. I'd say to him as long as you make
sure that you have flowers waiting for me when I get back. And for the rest of his life he did, every time I went on a press trip and came back there were flowers. That is so sweet. Tell me a little bit while we're on the topic of you and your international travel
do you have memories or trips that were particularly formative for you? Memories that you still treasure? Very much so China of course was like no other trip right because it's like no other place in the world. I was there at the time that they were just finishing up the dam, and they were relocating all the people from the ancient villages across the river across the yangtze to these awful cookie-cutter apartments it was very very sad. Very poignant. Then Eric and I had a cruise on the Amur river which Russia from Mongolia I think. That was a cruise from hell Eric told me his first life, but it was very very interesting because it was the Russian far east and nobody had ever been there. All had there were war monuments, so that was a very interesting trip as well. This was during the Cold War then?
No this was no no this wasn't your yeah i guess it was this was in the 90s. All of these trips were in the 90s. I understand yeah that's that's much later on then. Yeah and then I mean we were always traveling always he would get up in the morning and say let's go to w]Washington for lunch and we did. Another memorable trip was we went we went to London often because that was Eric's hometown, and we booked a tour of Buckingham Palace because it had not been available for tours it had been closed to people. But it opened and so Eric was
very keen to see it. Of course. So we booked a tour and we were getting up in the morning to take the tour when the phone rang at 6:30 a.m in our hotel room, and it was Buckingham Palace to tell us that the tourists had been cancelled because Princess Diana had been killed the night before. How horrible. And so that was memorable. yes yes. Eric said let's get out of London, I said well where will we go? I don't know we'll go to the train station and we'll see where where they're going. So we went to the train station there was a train leaving for Brighton and we went to Brighton, which was a marvelous place. We saw Lawrence Olivier's home there, there's the big this big huge building there, and it's it's very beachy and very lively we had a wonderful day there. It must have been marvelous traveling with
Eric the two of you knew so much about about foreign countries and foreign culture. Yeah yeah well he was, but but travel industry people are not interested in the destination at all. The destination has no interest for them it is the logistics of moving the bodies back and forth that interests them. The train schedules, the bus schedules, the flights that's what interests them. Did you take many cruises with Eric? No he hated cruising.
Really? He hated it his friends said Gaffin whom you know [very well] Sid loved cruises he was a big shot on Holland America and he was always cruising he was always begging us to go on a cruise. So Eric finally capitulated for Alaska the inside passage and we went there, but he didn't do any of the excursions he didn't like being confined in a cruise ship. In in your stories you frequently mentioned trains, and train station, and train travel was that a favorite form of travel for Eric? Yes he was fascinated with trains and schedules train schedules. I might have told you the story of our honeymoon where we were at the Savoy hotel? No no you haven't told me please do. We got there and we unpacked we flew the concord
because he was always upgraded. And we got there after a long lunch- two and a half three hours- and he said let's go somewhere. I said what we just got here. He said well let's take a boat somewhere. And I said where he said I don't know we'll go down to the thames and we'll see where they're going. So we went down to the thames and there was a boat going to Greenwich.
Yeah sure. So we went to Greenwich remember we had just arrived in London we hadn't even really unpacked yet. You must have been jet lagged out of your socks well not really because the concord is very easy. Oh you said the concord of course yeah. It's a day flight and it's very short.
It's interesting because you go through the sound barrier you break the sound barrier. What was that experience like were you aware of it on the plane? Yeah because you had a television set that showed you the atmosphere it was very very interesting. Yeah yeah yeah and only about a three-hour flight back then? Yes right. Amazing. It was wonderful. It was too expensive to maintain, and so it eventually folded. People couldn't afford it and British Airways and Air France couldn't really afford to sustain these aircraft you know so it did fold. Then the next day we
got up and we had breakfast and Eric said let's go to Edinburgh i've never been to Edinburgh. So he went to London, but didn't go to London he went everywhere but London. So I said well we just got to London why don't we spend a few days in London? No I really would like to go. I said why? He said because there's a wonderful new train there called the Royal Scotsman and it does Edinburgh in five hours or six hours and it's supposed to be a wonderful ride. All right I said well how long will we stay in Edinburgh? He said one night. And I said Eric I don't think I want to ride 12 hours in a train for one night. He said okay we'll fly one way.
So it's just as you said, he cared as much about the travel and logistics as he did about the destination. Logistics he was really not interested in Edinburgh, but in that Royal Scotsman. And we did the same thing in the islands. We took a train through the highlands it was just wonderful. It's a beautiful part of every town it's gorgeous. And every town is more gorgeous than the last one, and that was really quite wonderful. Then of course we went to all the SAT conventions all the travel industry conventions. We went to Cairo, and we went to Taipei, I'm one of the few people Rachel knows here who's been to Taiwan.
That's fantastic yeah what an exotic life you've lived. Yeah it was fine I have no complaints absolutely none none whatsoever it was it was a magical life. We are. In ways it still is. Well and we are delighted to have you with us to help us with all the work that we do and to hear these marvelous stories, but we're also honored to have this institute named for your husband.
I'm so grateful for that and to Sid Geffen and Hal Herman and you. I'm so grateful for that it would have been so meaningful to him mike because travel and tourism was his entire life. Yes Edith tell me what it's like to play on stage at Carnegie Hall? It's very scary it's very scary.
What was it a full public recital? Was it a part of a public? It was a two-piano recital I had a two-piano team and it was a two-piano recital and the problem with performing Mike in Carnegie Hall or anywhere else is memory. Pianists are the only people who have to memorize the music. And you have no idea how scary that is because you trust something that's called muscle memory which doesn't exist. It really doesn't. You inevitably are going to have a memory lapse. Yeah. Nobody doesn't, everybody does. Yeah but that knowledge is just enough to paralyze you. And yet you had a career and yet you were successful in that regard that's fantastic. Well because I loved what I was doing and I loved teaching I loved teaching. That was I was I felt
so lucky to have done that all my life and I was so good at it you know I was a very very can you good teacher. Can you tell us a little bit about that because you did teaching one-on-one with students in New York, and then you went to Cleveland and you were on faculty. Right right that was one-on-one too yeah. I taught piano and chamber music,
and I loved it I never lost a student. And I taught everybody from the age of about six to eighty. My goodness. You know I would have an adult student who asked me one day when can I play the rock modern off concerto? And I said how's never it's never good for you.
I teased them a lot you know and it worked. I was I was a very happy teacher. Well you must have been patient if you taught people at such extreme ages. I wasn't patient at all I would say to them hey it seems like i'm doing all the work here.
This is a partnership you know. Before we go you've been an educator, you've been a travel writer, you've been involved in the industry at the very highest levels. I wonder what advice would you have for our students in our college. What what would you recommend to them? You mean in tourism travel hospitality? exactly. I don't know as I would have any advice. I would say to them you are the luckiest person alive because you are studying and preparing for the most fascinating field. There is nothing but nothing more all embracing, more global, than
this field. It's wonderful and i really feel that it's a privilege to be able to work in it. And there are so many different aspects and so many different opportunities. And you just have to choose one, and I mean that for me it was travel writing I loved it. And I didn't choose it, it chose me really. But I think hotel management, I think hospitality is
wonderful. I think cruising would be wonderful now especially yes because as you know the cruise ships are in deep trouble, and now they're doing cruises to Singapore and cruises you know unusual ones and I think it's a good time to be in that business. Very good. Watch, you'll see it's changing drastically. Few people have led such interesting lives and have such wonderful stories to tell. Thank you so much Edith. It's a pleasure. And for me a pleasure great pleasure Mike.