Tag Archives: NYC

CELEBRITY RECALLS

Long before it became a song or included in quizzes, “Do you know who you are?” was one of those instantaneous, absurd (yet common) questions most starstruck fans would ask a celebrity encountered on the streets of New York City. Not that I knew it in March of 1973 and not that I’ve made a fool of myself by uttering the question ever again. In fact, I was embarrassed and surprised I did the one time.Scan 2019-3-12 15.14.08

But we were young and giddy and on our way to Julius’ in the West Village to celebrate our anniversary with out-of-town friends when I spotted Lily Tomlin walking towards us on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village.

“Do you know who you are?” The words just gushed out.

“Gee, I think so,” was Lily’s reply, and “sure” to my request to take her photo. The shorter girl with blonde hair accompanying her hurried back out of frame range and, even though I waved her back in, she’d have nothing to do with the invite.

Apparently gaydar was down that day because none of us picked up on the other as being a couple. Or maybe an over abundance of happiness was drowning the frequency out? Because they would have been enjoying their first year together around then to our third. Which means this must be their 47th anniversary year to our 49th.

Oh happy daze!

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I rode in my first limousine on New Year’s Eve, 1973. Our friend, Tom Dale, was a market research specialist and producer of television commercials who lived in a penthouse on East 48th Street and needed to be seen on the town with arm candy as a guise for his closeted true self. Elizabeth and I were his go-to-gal-pals and happily so. It afforded us the luxury to eat at the most trendy restaurants, attend posh events, and always have third row orchestra seats on the aisle at Broadway shows. That New Year’s Eve we’d seen Pippin’ at The Music Box Theater on West 45th Street.

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The show let out to throngs of partygoers who had already gathered in Times Square and beyond anticipating the ball dropping at midnight to welcome the start of 1974. At some point the limo needed to cross Broadway to the east side. When the police separated the crowds enough for traffic from the theater district to pass through, the people began to touch the darkened windows, hoping to get a glimpse of a celebrity hidden inside.

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At that moment I realized how much more we identified with those oozing joy on the outside of the limo freezing in the streets than we’d ever be like those presumed to be riding within. I’ve never ceased wondering who’s hidden behind the tinted windows of limousines — but I stopped assuming it was anyone famous long, long ago.

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Three weeks later, after attending Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden, we joined Tom’s chum, Ted, for dinner at his private table in Ted Hook’s Backstage Restaurant next door to the Martin Beck Theater. Besides being a former hoofer in the chorus of more than 400 movies, Ted served as Talulah Bankhead’s personal secretary for five years and regularly entertained friends and customers with intimate stories of the star.

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Seated next to my Liz and directly across from me was Wayland Flowers of Wayland & Madam fame. Madam was a pink wood head-to-waist puppet that looked like the exaggerated character portrayed by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

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Unlike our friend Tom, Wayland Flowers was unabashedly gay and out about it. His act, like his performance at the dinner table with Madam seated to his left, was bewitching. But when dinner was served he stuck Madam head first into a brown paper bag, as if she wasn’t alive to the rest of us. (Oddly enough, I never quite came to terms with that.)

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Wayland Parrott Flowers was a creative genius of natural quick wit. He died October 11, 1988 of AIDS at age 48.

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Ted Hook was a sparking personality who was the personification of instant entertainment. He died July 19, 1995 of AIDS at age 65.

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Thomas Bryon Dale died in 2007. He was 76. I don’t know exactly when, or of what. No notice was placed on his behalf, nor acknowledgement made of his passing. It wasn’t until the publication of his brother’s obituary many years later that Tom was mentioned as having preceded him in death.

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Lisa Minnelli’s show closed after a 20 day run.

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I’ve never been attracted to men but I have always been egocentric about their attraction to me to.

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One afternoon while returning to my job on Fifth Avenue a strikingly handsome man walked by. Certain I knew him, I turned my head after passing, only to spot him looking back at me. We smiled, waved, and continued on.

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Hours later, while scanning books at Barnes & Noble we encountered each other again, both of us demonstratively delighted to see each other.

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“I think we might have gone to school together,” I said, shaking his hand while introducing myself.

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“That’s must be it!” he grinned back. “I’m Hugh O’Brian.”

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Hugh O’Brian (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) was born in Rochester, New York, 1925. I was born twenty-one years later in Michigan. It was an honest mistake, given the circumstances. After all, at nine years old and for three years thereafter, his was my favorite black and white television western.

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I first met Walter Leyden Brown while temporarily bunking at my brother Michael’s 49 Prince Street, New York City fifty dollar a month, three room with a water closet, 6th floor tenement walk-up. It was one of two such roach infested apartments per floor. Walter lived across the hall. Michael was a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London at the time. I lasted just four terrifying weeks there before finding an apartment and moving uptown.

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Several months later, Walter began the staging of a three night production of his play, No Way In, at the La Mama Theater. The day before opening night the actress cast as Character Number One got a paying role elsewhere and quit Walter’s show. Desperate, he asked me to take over the non-speaking role of the pole-swirling-woman. I was a student at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts then so eagerly accepted.

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Although he directed (and we’d rehearsed) a one circle spin with cry of a lady in distress, on opening night I swung wide and long screaming like a banshee. A critic for The Village Voice was in the audience. The next day his review panned the director, the play and the cast except for my performance which he applauded for scaring the bejesus out of him.

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Because his only child was starring in the play, Claude Rains (The Invisible Man, Casablanca, Notorious, Mr. Skeffington) was in the audience with his friends, Roscoe Lee Brown (The Cowboys, Uptown Saturday Night, Jumping’ Jack Flash), and Butterfly McQueen, (Gone With The Wind, Duel In The Sun). He motioned me over for introductions and they graciously complimented me on my performance.

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The next night the audience was given notice that Character Number One would be played by an understudy.

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Walter Leyden Brown, 49, of 49 Prince Street, New York City died August 23, 1988. Before returning to his family home during his final days he’d confided to friends he had AIDS.

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Prior to being cast in No Way In, I’d worked as a volunteer at the lower east side off-off Broadway La Mama Theater. One grease-grill-hot summer day I helped remove, drag, and reinstall chairs from the old location to the new one. It left me conspicuously grimy, unkempt and eager to catch subway connections to my upper west side apartment.

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While crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into a rush hour crowd on a street corner waiting for the WALK sign to free us, I spotted a limousine with a swarm of people catty-corner from me. Turning my head to see if the woman on my right noticed the commotion, I was so stupefied by her beauty that I could barely mumble to the man on my left, “That’s Elizabeth Taylor next to me.”

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He leaned discreetly forward to check. “Why yes,” said Richard Burton. “Yes it is.”

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Alice Demovic was the sister of a good friend who (like me) was living foot-loose-and-fancy-free in Manhattan, albeit she resided in a tonier upper east side neighborhood and hobnobbed with a much more affluent crowd. Nevertheless, I was her instant late-late night wing-woman when absolutely no one else was available and she needed a person to go on the blind side of a double date with her and her current love-interest.

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One morning just at after midnight I was awakened and told a limo was waiting for me downstairs in front of my apartment on West 85th Street and to chop-chop.

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“How shall I dress?” I asked.

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“Cute and quickly.”

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I cannot remember the name of her dinner companion, nor the occasion, but we were all seated stage-side to catch the last set at Rodney (“I don’t get no respect.”) Dangerfield’s. Afterward, Rodney joined us at his table for a late night supper. He was exactly the same person as the characters he played in Caddyshack and Easy Money.

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Jacob Rodney Cohen (Rodney Dangerfield) was born on the same date as my not-yet-met sweetheart’s father, Rufus, and he died on the date of my long-gone father, LaVerne.

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During the 1960’s and early 1970’s I was street-treated as an attractive young executive working in the 666 Fifth Avenue building bordering New York City’s historic 21 Club. Over the years I’d pivoted heads of Frank Sinatra (heavier set, mid-50’s, and balding Ol’ Blue Eyes period), George Hamilton (By Love Possessed, Zorro, The Godfather III, and easily twenty times better looking in person than portrayed on the silver screen), John Lindsey (NYC Mayor photographed kissing me on Page 2 of  the New York Post during a campaign re-election rally), and others.

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One day while on my way to lunch with my assistant, Scott, who was obsessed with men’s fashion, said (way too loudly) about the diminutive fellow walking a mere foot in front of us, “That man’s suit is so wrinkled it looks like he sleeps in the cargo holds of planes.”

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Aristotle Onassis’ head turned back to glare at us. While they kept walking I ground to a halt, grateful to lose them in the passing of pedestrians.

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Later that same week I was within inches of Onassis again. I’d been visiting Terry, the wife of Michael at their exquisite Madison Avenue store, M. Comer of London Antiques, when Onassis entered and zeroed in on the small table situated next to me.

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“How much is this?” he inquired of Michael.

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“Three thousand dollars.”

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“Not expensive enough,” he waved off.

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I’ve often wondered, if Michael had answered “thirty thousand dollars,” would Onassis have bought the table, regardless of the actual value?

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Years later, as an animal lover en route to becoming an animal activist, I was walking behind a woman wearing (what appeared to be) genuine leather pants. I was focused so intently on determining the fabric and planning a reprimand that I didn’t noticed she’d stopped — causing me to bump into her and knock her off her feet.

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“Oh!, excuse me, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Kennedy!” I rattled, mortified, as private security agents rushed to her rescue.

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She was married to Onassis at the time.

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This post represents an excerpt from

Seriously, Mom, you didn’t Know? by Marguerite Quantaine Copyright © 2019

due for release on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle, April 13, 2019.

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MY DAY OF DALI-ING

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I’m sitting in my office at Fuller & Smith & Ross on the 36th floor of a forty story Fifth Avenue Manhattan skyscraper known as the Top of the Sixes. It’s the summer of 1967, shortly before our advertising agency’s media acumen is chosen to put Richard Nixon in the White House. I’ve been working here since 1965 when I was hired as a lowly media clerk for several months before skyrocketing up the ladder to become the Manager of Purchasing, Interiors,  & In-House Printing.

I’m listed as a corporate executive because this is FSR’s corporate headquarters, with branch offices in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. That sounds like I should be sophisticated, but I’m not, not by any stretch of my imagination no matter how well I dress. Instead, I am 21 going on 33 professionally, but privately naive.

I’ve met every person on the two floors occupied by FSR because they’ve all been in need of office necessities in the course of doing their jobs and I’ve made a protocol of personal delivery. That is, except for Mr. Mahoney, the Senior Vice-President Creative Director whom I’ve only seen in passing (once) as he exited an elevator, leaving a waft of Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage in his wake. We’ve not yet met because he’s never requested anything.

Until  this morning. He has summoned me to bring him a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil.

I suspect it’s a ploy to get me behind closed doors.

My wonder is, why?

Mr. Mahoney is as dapper as Cary Grant, almost as tall, but not nearly as handsome. He has thick, perfectly styled and parted silver, Vitalis laden hair and meticulously manicured hands. He’s old money schooled and bred; a gentleman who, although married with children, is rumored to be light in the loafers. He’s a nasal sounding enunciator and an elitist. The remarks made behind his back aren’t crude, rude, or meant to be mean, though unnecessary in pointing out the obvious.

His office is locked behind perpetually closed doors on the south side of the building with windows that would have overlooked East 52nd Avenue and Schraft’s Restaurant if he hadn’t had them paneled over to create a chamber of solitude and quietude.

“Come in,” he answers to my almost inaudible tap, “and close the door behind you.”

I do and am abruptly taken aback.

The room is pitch black except for Mr. Mahoney sitting in a George Mulhauser Mr. Series molded chair behind a twelve foot long, custom made, Giuseppe Scapinelli Jacaranda wood desk I recognize from admiring examples of them in catalogs and at trade shows.

But it is the painting illuminated on the wall, inches above him and behind him that renders me mute and motionless. It measures exactly as long as the desk, by maybe four feet high — a cropped variant of St. John of the Cross that ends just below St. John’s bowed head, and just above his spiked hands, framed by the very edge of the wood cross blending into the painting’s narrow slat frame.

Except it isn’t St. John of the Cross I see, but the spiked, bleeding crown of (I presume) Jesus Christ, with the head of Christ in the painting centered perfectly above that of Mr. Mahoney’s.

“What do you think?” a voice from the darkness asks.

“I’m not sure,” I stammer. “It’s like my eyes  are glued to it. I can’t seem to move.”

I realize I gasped and finally exhale.

“You were right,” comes the voice.

“You can go now,” says Mr. Mahoney.

In pivoting to leave I see the faint outline of a man in a cauliflower white vested suit and Havana hat sitting with his legs crossed on a couch against the back wall. He’s otherwise invisible, until I open the door to light streaming in from the hallway. I glance over to notice how pale his face is, and how pretentious his long, skinny, black waxed and twisted upwards mustache appears. He is eerily exotic.

I will never see the painting, either in a photograph, or coffee table book, or art catalog, or hanging anywhere ever again.

But I do see the man in the cauliflower suit later that day. He’s standing alone in Paley Park, admiring the water fall. I am planning to buy a cup of coffee from the small concession there, but instead I spend my time leaning against a honey locust tree, watching the man watching the water.

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.
Copyright © August 21, 2017
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ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

sequoiaSome stories never get old, such as the one told to me about my Aunt Betty being a Michigan gun moll during the rum running 1920’s when the vast majority of illegal liquor was smuggled into the United States on boats crossing the Detroit River from Canada. As a child, I didn’t know what a gun moll was, and since my ostensible relative was long gone before my birth, she remains somewhat of  a  mystery, similar to Cassandra’s friendship that Elizabeth and I made much later on.
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The thing is, we didn’t know Cassie was married to a goodfella until after we’d accepted her invitation to be part of the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration of vessels gathering in New York Harbor on July 4th, 1986.
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Granted, we should have suspected it when the wives arrived decked out in their patriotic best for the occasion of a lifetime, while their husbands donned those homogeneous black Robert Hall suits, black Wembley skinny ties, black Hanover oxfords, and black Dobb’s Fedoras contrasted by crisp white shirts and matching white socks for partying under a midsummer sky.
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But it wasn’t until the custom-made 44’ Cabin Super Cruiser (with it’s master stateroom, two guest bedrooms, three heads, dual galleys, a dining room, and helm reception area) had cast off  from it’s Long Island berth and began racing down the Sound to group-greet the largest assembly of international Tall Ships and an American Armada did his capo status become evident.
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That’s when Cassie’s husband, Carmine, appeared on a flybridge far above the main deck where we happily clasped our umbrella drinks while lounging in the open console on cushioned deck chairs. We looked up to see a long line of his soldiers on the steps to his tower, waiting for an individual audience, each honoring him by kissing the ring on his extended hand.
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“Doesn’t that look just like a scene from The Godfather,” Liz whispered.
“It does indeed,” I agreed.
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Wiser women might have jumped ship, but we had no wish to swim with the fishes. And besides, I couldn’t swim. So instead, I chose to acquiesce by placing my brand new Canon SureShot on a table with all the other cameras voluntarily surrendered, and drank up.
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The boat ride into Manhattan was otherwise unremarkable, but our arrival was exhilarating as we joined 30,000 spectator crafts gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lady Liberty. What’s more, setting anchor alongside the U.S.S. Sequoia Presidential Yacht seemed momentous.
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I’d only ever seen the Sequoia in photographs before then. Built in 1925 as a rich man’s cruiser, it was purchased by our government in 1931 as a decoy to patrol the harbor during Prohibition when black market booze was supplied to boaters trolling the bay. Any bootlegger rowing over to sell liquor to the Sequoia was immediately arrested.
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But during his final two years as president, Herbert Hoover began borrowing the Sequoia from the Commerce Department to utilize it as the Presidential Yacht for fishing trips. It quickly became a floating White House. Over subsequent years, every other POTUS found both political and pleasurable uses for it until Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia as part of a cost-cutting campaign promise. Nonetheless, just knowing the history (coupled with our being up close and personal to it) felt daunting.
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That is, until we became sitting ducks when our yacht’s anchor couldn’t be raised. While all other vessels cleared the lane, we sat alone, moored to the river bottom, in the direct path of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier three football fields long, 192 feet high, 300 feet wide, and weighing more than 82,000 tons that began five-blasting it’s horn in an effort to make us move-move-move-move-move out of harm’s way as it barreled down on us.
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Let me say, not one of the 5,000 seamen standing at attention in their service dress whites on the carrier deck flinched while Carmine struggled with the controls to avoid our being sliced and diced. The other thirty-one of us strapped on lifejackets and remained calm, fixated on the humongous ship targeted to hit us, awaiting our fate.
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In retrospect, we might have been in shock, since I can’t remember any details of how Carmine got the anchor up. But I do recall the yacht rocking quite a bit from the bow waves hitting our accelerating stern, and the quiet that blanketed us as we gradually recovered from the close encounter.
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One thing is for certain, nobody made light of the incident, and during the following 4 years of our mostly-holidays friendship with Cassie before we moved to Florida, the Centennial trip was never mentioned again.
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Upon our midnight return to port, I went to retrieve my SureShot and discovered someone had poured saltwater over it before removing the film.
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A week later I received a package in the mail containing photographs of me and mine relaxing in lounge chairs aboard Cassandra and Carmine’s yacht. There was no return address on the envelope, no note enclosed, and no mention of my camera.
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Today I sent my brothers and sister each an email, asking what more they could add to the story of our mysterious Aunt Betty being a Detroit gun moll.
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While none of them claimed knowledge of the gun moll variation, there was talk of my grandfather being a Chicago gambler who was widowed with three very young daughters — one of them named Betty. To rectify his situation, he placed a mail order bride advertisement in the Tribune wherein he claimed to be single and childless. Receiving a reply, he promptly abandoned the three little girls to a Catholic orphanage on the way to marrying my grandmother, without revealing the truth to her, or ever returning to retrieve his children.
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So, technically, Betty was only my half-aunt — whom my sister remembers as being a paramour of a Chicago mayor, but my brother says was the mistress of the mayor of Detroit.
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It never gets old.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her book, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
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I’m all eyes and heart.
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