MY TIME IN THE BIG EASY FILMING “THE BUTLER” PART 2

I didn’t work on Tuesday so, with the help of my sweet and knowledgable driver, Melanie, I took advantage of the free time to explore places I ‘m interested in. As those if you who follow my blog know, I love Cemeteries–old, colorful ones especially. New Orleans has great ones. I think because there’s water close to the surface of the land, the graves are all above ground, which is what makes it so interesting. The port city of Buenos Aires in Argentina has a cemetery like this as well.

I wanted to see what the Superdome looked like now.

Several months after the Katrina disaster, V-Day, Eve Ensler’s global organization to stop violence against women and girls, took over New Orleans’ Superdome where people had taken shelter when their homes were destroyed and where so many women were abused, raped and otherwise traumatized. V-Day wanted to ‘cleanse’ and de-traumatize the Dome. We had performances of all kinds, poetry, dance, gospel singing, speeches, an original play, “Swimming Upstream”, which evolved from stories and interviews Eve did with women who ‘d been through the storm. On the Dome’s 2nd floor, Donna Karan set up all sorts of healing therapies –massage, acupuncture, psychological therapy, story telling—for the women, many of whom came back from far away places they ‘d fled to and entered the Dome for the first time since the violence. It was intense and, ultimately healing. Money that was raised went to local efforts run by and for women in New Orleans. As you can see, the exterior of the Dome has been redone and it’s renamed the Mercedes Superdome.

From there, I went through the colorful, bustling French Quarter.

Then I had Melanie drive to the Lower Ninth Ward. The Superdome may have been refurbished, but not the Lower Ninth. I visited there with Donna Karan after our events in the Dome post-Katrina. We talked to many people then who had stayed after the flood. It seemed quite clear that, except for efforts by various non -profit groups, there would be little help coming either from city, state or federal agencies. It seemed the powers that be wanted to force people out. A few told us that they were expected to pay large fines–hundreds of dollars– if they neglected to mow their yards! The folks in the Lower Ninth owned their homes–many of which had been in families for generations. They had no insurance. Their homes were their only assets. There are still so many ruins, empty lots, foundations with nothing on them. People may want to come back, but they’ve started new lives elsewhere and there’s no incentive to come back.

But, then there are the homes that Brad Pitt has built through his non-profit “Make It Right.” They are all solar, hence less expensive to maintain, sustainable, built to last. And these are not cookie-cutter Homes. Each is different, with it’s own personality. It is moving to see what his efforts are doing–I say “doing” because they’re still building. There are workmen, tractors, bulldozers everywhere. People i ran into there seemed very happy. That morning there was a news story about Angelina Jolie –in her capacity as special envoy for the UN High Commission on Refugees– visiting refugee camps in Jordan filled with Syrians who have fled the violence there. And I thought how much good this remarkable couple does locally and globally.

Since the workday began late on Wednesday, I arranged a meeting with Carol Bebelle, co-founder and executive director of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center which i had become familiar with during the post-Katrina events in the Super Dome. Carol is a true leader, fierce,smart,articulate. The Center creates and supports all kinds of artistic activities and projects that give life, cohesion, identity and work to the diverse population in the “hood” of New Orleans. It has become a template, showing how–through art– you can turn a community around, which is why it is supported by major foundations such as Kellogg, Cox, Open Society, Nathan Cummings.

I had hoped Carol could come visit “The Butler” set (i wanted her to meet Oprah) but she was super busy and had to pass.

At an auction supporting Morehouse School of Medicine I donated “A Day On The Set With” (me). Ted’s wonderful daughter, Laura Turner Seydel, won the bid and was there to fulfill the pledge. Laura brought me a copy of “Seasons” a major Atlanta magazine with Ted on the cover and a big article inside that gave a nice plug to my Oct 4th annual fundraiser for G-CAPP that Ted will be a major part of: we will dialogue together about our respective work with women and girls and I’ll present him with the first Annual Big Thinker Award. More info on the event can be found at: www.gcapp.org/empower . Laura also has an article she wrote in the magazine. Like her father, she is a major environmental activist, writing and speaking far and wide.

Joining Laura as an auction winner was John Archer Lundgren and his daughter. John bid last fall at the “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” fundraiser in Atlanta. I sent the 3 of them to the landmark Commander’s Palace for lunch while I got into wig and makeup and then they came to the set and watched us film the State dinner with Oprah, and all the other stars.

We had an Hour during the 10pm “lunch break” so I rushed my guests back to Sylvain, the French Quarter restaurant I went to with Hilary to have the Brussels sprouts salad again. Yum. I also had delicious fried eggplant.

Now I”m back in LA with fond memories of my NOLA experience–all of it: the actors, the crew, Lee Daniels, Hilary Shor, the food, the vibe…I could live there easily (if I was 30 years younger!)

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13 Comments
  1. New Orleans is a fascinating city. It has such character and history. I love cemeteries too. They tend to be peaceful, yet can tell you so much about different time periods of a community. And New Orleans most definitely has some of the most unique cementaries. Beautiful and spooky all rolled into one. 🙂
    My heart breaks every time I think of Katrina and it’s impact on so many people who were just getting by day by day. I am glad good work is being done by Brad Pitt and others. So much work still to be done, though.
    Thank you for sharing the pictures. I love the little tours of different cities I get when I read your blogs.

  2. Jane… I’m sorry, I know that you are committed to being respectful to all people. I do see the value of that, and I do admire that about you, but I just have to say that seeing you (one of my favorite of all peoples on the planet) made up to look like Nancy Regan (one of my least favorite of all people on the planet) … well… I found I just couldn’t look at it too long for fear it would fritz out some wires in my brain!! Her husband’s administration was the genesis of this Ayn Randian nightmare we are all living today.
    Much Love (unconditionally) to you,
    Edward

  3. This is so great. I love cemeteries as well. New Orleans seems to be such a great city. I hope I’ll get there myself once.

    Have you heard about the news on Kathy Bates? I was really shocked to hear that but I’m also very proud of you ladies who beat breast cancer. Ms Kathy told me once that you two worked together and that it was firecrackers but I cannot find what that great experience must have been (gosh, if I was able to see you two and Great Glenn in one movie, I would get crazy). Did she mean The Morning After? But she only had one scene in it and that was with Jeff Bridges.

    • No, Daniel, we did a staged reading in NY some years ago of Eve Ensler’s play, “Necessary Targets.”

  4. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures of New Orleans and especially the ones of the cemeteries. Those graves are really impressive. In the Netherlands we do not know those kind of graves but we saw some in Paris and I think London has them as well.

    I am really looking forward to your acting in the Butler, will also be great to see Ophrah acting again. I recently saw Georgia Rule again and I so love the part you are playing there.Although I still need to
    see Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, but I cannot find it anywhere. How is it possible that I missed it or has it not been released in Europe?

    Thanks again for sharing so much,

    Regards,
    Nancy

  5. DEAR JANE, AFTER MONTHS, I FINALY GOT BACK MY PASSWORD,LOST IN MY OLD COMPUTER DESTROYED BY A FALL.EVERYTHING MEMORIZED IN THAT COMPUTER WAS LOST!I´VE BEEN TRYING,BETWEEN MY WORK, AND TRAVELS,(I WAS IN NYC.FOR 3 MONTHS) AND FINALY TODAY, THEY GAVE ME A NEW PASSWORD, SO HERE I AM, THE ONLY BRAZILIAN IN YOUR “FAMILY BLOG”! LAST TIME WE “TALKED” YOU TOLD ME THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO CAME TO BRAZIL TO VISIT BAHIA, AND I TOLD YOU I WOULD TALK TO SOME PEOPLE TO MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO CAME AS A ESPECIAL GUEST,WITH ALL THE BEST YOU DESERVE,REMEMBER??? YOU ALSO INVITED ME TO WRITE A HEALTH BRAZILIAN FOOD RECIPE, FOR A FUTURE BOOK, WITH FOOD FROM OTHERS COUNTRIES,AND I AM STILL WORKING ON IT, AS MOST OF THE DELICIOUS BRAZILIAN FOOD ARE NOT VERY “LIGHT!I KEPT READING THE BLOG, BUT VERY ANGRY I COULD NOT COMMENT,AND GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU.UNFORTUNATELLY, MOST OF YOUR TV MOVIES AND SHOWS ARE NOT AVAILABLE HERE IN BRAZIL TV YET.AS WE SPOKE ONE DAY ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL BRAZILIAN MUSIC, I WOULD LIKE TO SEND YOU SOME CDS. FROM OUR BEST AND MOST FAMOUS SINGERS(I AM SURE RICHARD KNOWS THEM)SO YOU CAN LEARN A BIT ABOUT IT…SEND ME AN ADRESS WHERE I CAN SEND IT TO YOU BOTH. BEST REGARDS FROM BRAZIL! YOU ARE ADORED HERE.

    • Thank you, Yone. I am coming to Sao Paulo and Rio to speak and promote my book about aging successfully, “Prime Time,” from Nov 26th through the 30th. Unfortunately there won’t be time to visit Bahia. Best, Jane

      • Howdy! Thinking about Daniel’s comment about seeing you and Kathy Bates working together, I was wondering if there is anyone (living) you are still hoping to have the chance to work with, and I must say, you’ve worked with most in your amazing time, even with your self imposed (or as you put it, “When you are married to Ted Turner . . .”) hiatus. Blanchett and Winslow come to my mind. Love ya!

  6. Wonderful photographs Jane, they evoke deep memories of my time in both Paris and NOLA. You can feel the influence of Paris in that city, which has not lost the touch of old Paris. Wish the rebuilding could go faster, but the neighborhoods that bind together will bounce back faster by seeing their identity as “family”. They are still very old world in many ways, having been told myself, “You’re smart and you’re a woman…that’s two strikes against you in this town.” Living someplace and visiting are two very different experiences. Glad I got to know both of them in NOLA.

  7. Hi Jane,

    Do I recall correctly that you filmed “Walk on the Wild Side” in New Orleans with Laurence Harvey in the spring of 1961? Have you visited any of the places you were at 51 years ago? Best wishes.

  8. Visiting the cemetery always think about the Eternal…
    Dead give Rest. Alive should live,though.

  9. Hi Jane, May 22, 2015
    I am just a two week member and reading all your previous blogs and have just reading about how you like to go to interesting cemetaries. I can’t believe you have never been to the cemetery in St. Tropez. My BFF and I were there years ago, me on a fashion trip. We sneaked over a wall and there it was….the most beautiful cemetery with above ground covered stone shaped coffins with headstones that displayed elegant picture frames with the photograph of the deceased. Most of the graves had porcelain flower arrangements. We were told when we got back to the hotel Byblos that Edith Piaff was buried there. By the way we sneaked in because the day we were there it was closed and came upon it by surprise driving around and being curious as always. We both made a pact that day to be buried there, but to be honest never followed up, maybe now I will. I wrote this because I know you would have mentioned it if you saw it which was hard to believe because you lived there and have been back many times.
    I loved reading and looking at the photo’s of Vanessa’s wedding. I hope you get back to visit it,.
    Thai you for sharing so many moments in your life that makes me feel like I am reading a book of prise winning short stories. I even learned about Prairie Dogs. You are a terrific human being that CARES …….. [email protected]
    http://Www.lawrenceessentials.com
    Fondly,
    Barbara

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