Monday, January 18, 2010

"Dear Kitty"

I am reminded of that old joke which has been around for decades. I've heard it attached to various young starlets, but the one which sticks concerns Pia Zadora. She was an astoundingly talentless young woman who, back in the 80s, married an older, wealthy man and attempted to create an acting career on the back of his millions. He produced a vanity production of The Diary of Ann Frank, with pitiful Pia in the title role. Her performance was atrocious: when the Nazis appeared in Act Two, audience members stood up and shouted, "She's in the attic!"

You gotta love that story, though it's myth. Until Wendy Kesselman's new adaptation appeared in 2001, there were no soldiers in the cast of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Here's someone who never shouted, "She's in the attic":



She was born in Austria, but immigrated to Holland in 1922 to escape food shortages. In 1933, she took a job as a secretary in the spice firm of Otto Frank in Amsterdam, a gig which would make her quite famous. During the Nazi occupation , she helped hide the Frank family and four other Jews in the warehouse attic; for over 2 years, Gies and four other employees brought food, books, and other necessities to the hideaways. Her husband Jan obtained ration cards from the underground resistance movement, and Gies exchanged them for food by bicycling all over Amsterdam to different grocers to allay suspicion.

Historians still do not know who furnished the Nazis with the tip which brought them to the hideout; the Frank family was shipped to Auschwitz, then Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen, where they contracted typhus and died only a few weeks before the camp was liberated. Gies and her husband escaped prosecution, but two of their co-conspirators were arrested and sent to labor camps (they both survived the war). After the Franks were removed from the warehouse, Gies collected their personal papers, which included Anne's diary, and hid them from the authorities. She never read Anne's journal, claiming later that even a teen-aged girl deserved privacy. She restored the papers to lone survivor Otto Frank after the war, who ultimately published Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl.

Miep Gies died last week just shy of her 101st birthday.