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Mardi Gras with the Stars

Medallion man ... Herb Hahn is the proud owner of an Endymion necklace

Mardi Gras is a festival and celebration amongst Catholics, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the Lent Season and involves fasting of certain foods, which culminates in Easter.So what was a nice Jewish boy, Herb Hahn, and his wife Lenore doing in New Orleans at that time of year in the winter of 1977? We were invited by Ed Munez to be his guest at Mardi Gras known as Carnival in other parts of the world. Ed was a business associate. He was, and still is the Commander of the largest social club and marching Krewe of Endymion, the Token Of Youth, which is a large parade participating in the Mardi Gras On the flight from New York, I saw the singer and bandleader Phil Harris. He was a guest of a different Krewe. In case his name does not ring a bell, you may remember he was married to the Hollywood actress Alice Faye.

When we landed we were greeted by a jazz band. I thought it was for us. It was not. It was to welcome the parents of the television star Henry Winkler, known as the Fonz, star of the TV comedy series Happy Days. He was the guest of still another Krewe. Lenore and I were hustled to a private limo with a red flashing light on top and driven to the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street. There we met the other guests of Endymion, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, stars of the LaVerne and Shirley television comedy show, the singer Vikki Carr, DJ Wolfman Jack, bandleader Doc Severensen, and the 1977 Grand Marshal, Canadian rock singer Gino Vanelli.

On the first night, we were all driven to the port and boarded the Steamboat Natchez for a Black Tie cocktail party, dancing, and a short ride up the Mississippi River. That was followed by a drive to the upscale Garden District and a Cajun dinner at the famous restaurant Commander's Palace. Ed Munez's business partner was married to the owner's wife, one of the Brennan sisters. Another Brennan sister owns the French Quarter restaurant, Brennan's, famous for Sunday brunch and Bananas Foster. You guessed it, we had Sunday brunch there and we were joined by Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams and Vikki Carr. But I am getting ahead of my story.

The next day, we were on our own and hung out at the Royal Sonesta in the Endymion hospitality suite overlooking Bourbon Street. More drinking and eating. The crowds below were yelling "Throw me something, mister" - trinkets, doubloons, plastic bead necklaces, anything. The movie actor Robert Cummings and his fourth wife, Gina Fong, joined the party. Bourbon Street was shoulder to shoulder people by now. They came to see the annual Gay Costume Parade. What a spectacle. People spend months preparing costumes. At the end of a daylong parade, the winning costume is given an award.

Tuesday's highlight was the evening parade of horse-drawn floats down Canal Street into the Rivergate Convention Center. Each Krewe had reserved tables. The dress was black tie. They served Po'boy baguettes. Po'boys are stuffed with whatever you like, a New Orleans favorite. Doc Severensen and his big band entertained, Gino Vanelli sang, Vikki Carr sang. The Rivergate is now long gone but has since been replaced by the Superdome.

Wednesday was cleanup day for the Department of Sanitation. What a mess but they do it year after year.

In our free time, we shopped at the nearby French Market, walked the waterfront boardwalk, had chicory coffee and French Crullers, listened to Dixieland Jazz at Preservation Hall, heard Pete Fountain play clarinet at his restaurant, went to the aquarium, and more.

My hat is off to Ed Munez who built one of the three leading Krewes in New Orleans from nothing. He did not come from the Garden District and was not one of the "blue bloods", but a "Johny-come-lately" and has earned the respect of the "elites". Endymion gives a lot back to New Orleans in the way of charity to the needy and they are still at it today. Last but not least, Ed Munez made me an Honorary Member of the Krewe Of Endymion. 



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