Belle
Belle
Went over to 623 East 68th Street, the building in which Lucy and Ricky Ricardo used to rent an apartment from Fred and Ethel Mertz but which now houses Belle's Broadway Bookshop. How nice that after Belle married the Beast -- whoops, the Prince formerly known as Beast -- he enthusiastically backed her dream of opening a Broadway book store. "I'd be a Beast if I hadn't," he said with a smile. "No, seriously: Belle has always wanted to start a bookshop ever since she was a teen, when the bookseller in her small, provincial town gave her a book that he knew she loved because she'd already read it twice."

Belle came over after she'd finished waiting on Miss Adelaide (who'd just bought a copy of What to Do After He's Finally Married You, But Now Resents It). How angelic she looked as she fondly reminisced, "Oh, that lovely bookseller, and that lovely book! It was about far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, and a prince in disguise -- but the heroine didn't discover that it was him till Chapter Three. Once the Bookseller gave me that book, I realized I wanted to spend my life doing something similar for others."

So now, Belle's Broadway Bookshop has become the in-spot for show people. Benjamin Stone was there, intent on adding a volume or two to his shelves of the World's Best Books. So was Sally Bowles, looking for Clifford Bradshaw's new novel. "Hey," she said, "I once spent a lot of time with this guy," she said, "and I never found out if he was any good as a writer." Guido Contini was skimming through a book on Casanova for a movie he's making, while Lorelei Lee was asking for "that book by Mr. Gideon." Henry Higgins hunted for a tome about the struggles that were going on in Spain in the 14th century, found one, but felt that it was published too long ago. Said he to Belle, "I'd prefer a new edition of The Spanish Inquisition."

What I love about Belle's Broadway Bookshop is the sense of community. Georg Nowack -- there to find a new copy of Anna Karenina (in which he planned to place a rose) for his wife Amalia's birthday -- ran into ol' pal Ilona Ritter. "Well, well, well, well, well, well, well, well, well, well!" he said in surprise. She told him she was there to get a copy of Erewhon. "After my husband the optometrist read me The Way of All Flesh," she explained, "I started reading all of Samuel Butler's books." Just then, Marian (the Librarian) Paroo Hill happened to find it on a shelf near her. "Here it is," she said sotte voce (an occupational hazard). Ilona smiled, winked, and joked, "Now don't you go tearing a page out of it!"

Gypsy Rose Lee came in and announced to everyone, "My mother keeps criticizing me because I read book reviews as if they were books, so I guess I've got to start reading the real things. Any suggestions for something really good?" I was surprised that Mark Anthony (really Mark Philip Lawrence Tabori) mentioned a '50s potboiler, but he said he could still remember when he was "locked in the bathroom with Peyton Place." Gypsy shook her head. "No, nothing dirty. Something you wouldn't expect a stripper to read. Frederick Egerman said, "There isn't much blue in The Red and the Black," before George Nowack asked, "By the way -- have you read War and Peace?" -- to which Annie Oakley, behind him, said, "Yes." It's amazing how far that woman has come in her reading, given that we can all remember when she would say things like, "You don't have to know how to read and write."

But I haven't told you the real reason we were all there. Every week, Belle sponsors a book signing. Last week, Prettybelle Sweet was autographing her memoir, Manic Depressives Don't Do Rewrites. Next week, Mame Dennis will be there to inscribe her long awaited autobiography (as told to Agnes Gooch), and the week after, Stine's going to autograph all his Stone books. But as for today, there was Ruth Sherwood, signing copies of 100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man. Miss Mona and Irma La Douce were first in line. "It's no Moby Dick, which is really worth picking up again," Ruth kept assuring them, but all of us congratulated her for getting it done, including Mary Flynn, who still hasn't finished writing her book. Well, almost everyone congratulated her. Joey Evans sneered, "If they asked me, I could write a book." With an attitude like that, no wonder no one has ever asked him.

Rod and Nicky
Rod and Nicky
Then Rod came in, and weren't we all impressed that he came all the way from Avenue Q. I was sure that he so enjoyed The Broadway Musicals of the 1940s -- better known as Ethan Mordden's excellent Beautiful Mornin' -- he was there to get Mordden's equally excellent books on The Broadway Musicals of the 1920s (Make Believe), the 1950s (Coming Up Roses), 1960s (Open a New Window), 1970s (One More Kiss), and to place an order for Mordden's upcoming Broadway Musicals of the Last Quarter Century (entitled, perversely enough, The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen). As it turned out, I was right -- Rod was there to get all the other volumes.

"My goodness," said Belle, eyes widening. "You must have come into a small fortune." Rod looked a little embarrassed. "Well, I was hoping to get a credit for all the books I bought last month that I'd now like to bring back. I -- I didn't even get the chance to open them." And who walked in right then but his partner Nicky, weighed down from carrying a slew of travel books: Fodor's Guide to Indianapolis, Fodor's Guide to Dayton, Fodor's Guide to Houston, plenty of Fodor guides for many other cities, too. At that precise moment, Rod noticed that everyone in the store was listening to him. "I thought I was going to need them, but now I -- I find I don't," he said, licking his lips in nervousness. "But I do need Fodor's Guide to Las Vegas. Hey?! Why is everyone looking at me like that?"

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]