Wineka column: A New York trip always qualified for ‘What They’re Doing’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SALISBURY — Before the days of Facebook, many of the items you see posted today on social media found their way into the society pages of hometown newspapers.

Salisbury was no different. The Salisbury Evening and Sunday Post collected the news of people’s trips, visits by out-of-towners, parties, teas, fashion shows and the like under a column it simply called “What They’re Doing.”

Hap Roberts recently sent along a gem of a What They’re Doing dispatch he found from the Oct. 24, 1976, edition of the Salisbury Sunday Post.

Under the headline of “Party, Theatre Spark New York Trip,” the What They’re Doing social column offered this report:

MRS. GLENN KETNER JR., MRS. BRITT SNIDER, MRS. THOMAS BORLAND, MRS. H.H. NEWMAN, MRS. LEO WALLACE, MRS. EDWARD NORVELL, MRS. JAMES WHITTON, MRS. WILLIAM KLUTTZ, MRS. RALPH WAGONER, MRS. NANCY HART, MRS. ROBERT TANNEHILL and MRS. CHARLES SOWERS have returned from a four-day trip to New York City, where they were joined by MISS KAY SNIDER of Washington, D.C., daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Snider of N. Fulton St.

Tuesday evening they were entertained at a party given in their honor by MR. AND MRS. JULIAN ROBERTSON before going to see “The Oldest Living Graduate.” Ralph Roberts, a former Salisburian who plays in it, introduced them to members of the cast backstage after the play. His role called for a tattooed arm which read, “Salisbury is best.”

MARY ELLIOTT of Elliott, Hayden and Haspel Interiors of New York arranged a tour of several decorator showrooms of antiques, rugs and fabrics. (Mrs. Elliott is a business partner of Rachel Oestreicher Haspel.)

Their dinner reservation at Sardis coincided with the opening night of “Poor Murderer.” Here, the actors gather to await the reviews.

Other highlights of the trip were the play “The Wiz” and dinner at Tavern on the Green, a restaurant that has just opened in Central Park.

This small article holds a lot of information and shows how much things have changed — and maybe not changed — in 40 years.

You can’t help but notice that this Who’s Who of Salisbury women who went to New York were still identified by their husbands’ names. That seems archaic and a little insulting now.

It’s interesting the women were entertained by the Robertsons. Julian Robertson, a Salisbury native, no doubt was already on his way to becoming one of the giant investment managers of his day.

The women made sure to call on two other Salisburians who were living and working in New York — Ralph Roberts and Rachel Oestreicher Haspel, now Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim.

It’s also fascinating that Tavern on the Green, which seems like a New York institution today, had only recently opened in 1976.

All in all, the group from Salisbury must have had a pretty incredible trip.

Hap Roberts said his actor uncle, Ralph Roberts, graciously welcomed visitors from his hometown in North Carolina. “He was always happy to meet with them and take them backstage, Roberts says.

Hap’s own visits to New York as a boy to see his Uncle Ralph remain treasured memories. When he was about 9 years old, Hap went backstage of one of Ralph Roberts’ plays and he met singer/actor Dean Martin.

Ralph Roberts owned a 1957 Corvette, and one day in New York he crammed Hap and his parents into the sports car, put the top down and drove over to the New York apartment of Imogene Coca.

Hap still remembers the two standard-sized poodles the comedienne owned.

After Hap Roberts married and he was working with Food Town in Salisbury, he and his wife, Annette, often would tie in Hap’s trips to the Security and Exchange conference with visits to see Ralph.

Hap says his uncle would always get them two tickets to a Broadway play and meet them for dinner at Sardis afterward. Years later, Hap and Annette would take their daughter, Heather, with them, and they would meet Ralph Roberts at the Oak Bar in The Plaza.

“As I’ve said many times,” Hap says, “he was a neat uncle — the kind of uncle everyone would like to have.”

On one New York visit , Ralph Roberts took Hap to the spacious New York apartment of Lee Strasberg, who lived in the Dakota, where John Lennon was killed a year later. Actor Al Pacino was in Strasberg’s apartment that day, and Pacino was complaining about a movie role he didn’t like.

“He was sort of crying on Lee Strasberg’s shoulder,” Hap Roberts says. The Strasberg residence also held a white baby grand piano that had once belonged to Marilyn Monroe.

Through much of his life, Ralph Roberts seemed consistently drawn to famous or soon-to-be-famous people, through a combined career of acting and massaging. Marilyn Monroe was his most famous connection.

After distinguished service as an Army officer in World War II, Roberts pursued an acting career in New York.

At one point in the 1950s, he attended the method acting school of Strasberg (the Actors’ Studio) with fellow students such as James Dean, Shelley Winters and Marlon Brando.

To supplement his acting income, Roberts trained at the Swedish Massage Institute in New York, and he quickly became known among Broadway actors, film and television stars as the man who could help them relax before or in between performances.

The clients he would help over three decades, mostly in New York, included Coca, Lauren Bacall, Richard Burton, Natalie Wood, Judy Holliday, Milton Berle, Red Buttons and Ellen Burstyn.

And Marilyn Monroe.

For the last three-plus years of Monroe’s life, Roberts served as her personal masseur and, probably, closest friend. By most accounts, Roberts was the last person Monroe tried to contact the night she died in 1962 of a drug overdose in Los Angeles.

In 1996, Ralph Roberts returned to Salisbury for the last three years of his life. He lived in a small house off Parkview Circle that was close to his nephew Hap’s Statewide Title office.

About every afternoon, Ralph would stop in to see Hap, and the pair would talk for 30 to 40 minutes. Every Sunday, Ralph Roberts liked to go to the Harris Teeter to pick up a Sunday New York Times. Around 5 p.m., he would travel over to Hap and Annette’s house to share the paper and have some cocktails.

Hap says he remembers seeing a limousine parked outside his uncle’s Salisbury house one day and learned later Susan Strasberg had stopped to see Ralph on her way from the Charlotte airport to Duke University Medical Center.

As a boy in the spring of 1960, Hap Roberts wrote to his Uncle Ralph after hearing he had a part in the movie “The Misfits.”  Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe were the stars.

Hap asked whether Ralph could have Monroe autograph a picture to him and also one to his 9-year-old girlfriend, Kay Snider.

This is the same Kay Snider who was part of the 1976 trip to New York.

A month later, the pictures came in the mail. His said simply, “To Hap, Marilyn Monroe,” but she also had signed the cover of a Life magazine with her and actor Ives Montand.

Hap Roberts still has it.

It’s the kind of thing you might post today on Facebook, or it at least deserves a mention in What They’re Doing.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or