Smooth Operators

By | Mar 12, 2021 | No Comments

For years, Sam Cohn was one of the most powerful Hollywood agents with an endless list of A-list celebrities that included Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams, Liza Minnelli, Hume Cronyn, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, Bob Fosse, Arthur Miller, and E. L. Doctorow among sundry others. Many of them dined at Trattoria Dell’Arte, and I can wager that Sam had recommended a good number to us since he maintained a regular table at our place, much as he did across the street at the Russian Tea Room for years. Without agents like Cohn, Hollywood would be a vast wasteland of unemployed actors because he knew how to make things happen. Like the famous E.F. Hutton commercial of yesteryear, when Sam Cohn talked, people listened.

Sam Cohn
Sam Cohn

Most agents would dine during lunch with their clients to discuss projects, and we began seeing more of Cohn. As the Power Lunch that had accreted for years at the nearby Russian Tea Room started waning, we began seeing more prominent players migrating over to us, making our restaurant the new Mecca for the daily Power Lunch.

But Cohn wasn’t a lone ranger. There were other influential agents and publicists with their bevy of big-name stars who came to Dell’Arte hoping to sit at the same table Cohn had claimed each day. So, anyone running the seating chart had to be highly skilled at this daily dance of musical chairs because major egos were involved. 

Enter Sandra Scandiber. Sandra was a product of one of the most famous New York City restaurants, namely The Four Seasons on 52nd Street between Park & Lexington Avenue, which was designed by architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson and run by Joe Baum of Restaurant Associates until Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi acquired it. In their hands, The Four Seasons became the restaurant that we all speak of in reverence and hyperbole today.

When Sandra moved over to Dell’Arte, she was already very familiar with many of the movers and shakers that would eventually be dining at her new digs. I think this was one of the major factors that led owner Shelly Fireman to anoint her to run his door. All of us who worked at Dell’Arte were essentially taking a page from her.

Aside from Cohn, the other big agents, and publicists who were expecting one of only two tables that really mattered (#51 & #52) were Leslee Dart, Lois Smith, Boaty Boatwright, and Harvey Litwin. These tables were in the center of the room and were coveted because, essentially, to be was to be seen. So, how were we to please all of them at the same time if they all showed up expecting the same two tables? Well, that was Sandra’s gift, which I do not understand to this day. I won’t lie to you, it was hard to please everyone, and our seating on some days could be less than ideal. In other words, there were mistakes, but for the most part, it ran as smoothly as a baby’s ass.

One way of looking at it is that many of these influential people had clients sucking up to them to get leading roles in pictures. Now they had to treat Sandra the same way to gain access to her kingdom. If you were nice to Sandra, she gave you the world; if not, then you might be pan-handling for a meal at Port Authority.

When the subject of Dell’Arte ever comes up these days, the only name I ever hear mentioned is “Sandra,” not the restaurant owner. Now that’s power!