Betsy and Bubbles
John Marshall Mantel/The New York Times (Sills pic only)
"Man plans and God laughs." Beverly Sills
"What??" my sister Betsy
Today is my sister's birthday. I'll tell you why that's relevant to the sad news of Beverly Sills' death.
In every society, there are people who stand out. Some legendary, many referred to as "characters," they're invariably the source of great inside stories.
My sister Betsy is definitely a character. By all accounts, Bubbles was too.
Beverly Sills was a celebrated public figure for over 50 years, an opera star, director, fundraiser, impresario. Internationally recognized and applauded for her dazzling operatic performances and major contributions to the world of arts and culture.
Bubbles was 'the people's diva,' earthy and approachable, mindful of her humble roots no matter her eventual wealth, tough but gracious, facing tribulations and celebrations with equal guts and gusto.
Betsy, though considerably younger, has already led a fast track life as a high-powered sports attorney. She's worked with the biggest and best--she is one of the biggest and best--in the business. First a pioneer, she's now a university professor of sports law, management, broadcasting and contracts negotiation.
No matter how accomplished and experienced, Betsy is also a people person. But maybe a little too earthy. In fact, she inevitably stumbles though life stepping on toes and creating situations from which legendary stories are born. I'll share more another time.
It's somehow fitting that Beverly Sills, a player in one of our many "Betsy Stories" should take her final curtain call on Betsy's birthday.
Their lives intersected only once, but once was enough.
The Betsy/Bubbles vignette took place about 25 years ago in Manhattan's famous Russian Tea Room. Betsy arrived to meet some friends and noticed the large, prominently placed Sills party.
Ah ha! Opportunity! She went directly to Beverly Sills, extended her hand and said --essentially-- I'm sorry to interrupt but I know how close you are to my parents (mentioning their names). I wanted to tell them I saw you and said hello.
Bubbles didn't miss a beat. She smiled charmingly, shook Betsy's hand and said --essentially-- Oh yes, so kind of you to introduce yourself. Please give them my best. It was lovely to meet you.
Betsy headed back to the bar, feeling proud of the unusually graceful way in which she'd handled the brief meeting. As she took her first few steps away, she heard Ms. Sills whisper to the table, "Does anyone know that woman's parents?"
What?? Betsy's brain went into overdrive... opera... okay, Sills... no, wait... Beverly... no, wait... not Beverly... who?? who?? oh, NO! Roberta...
The light dawned. Not Beverly Sills. Roberta Peters!
Sills' fellow Metropolitan Opera star, international diva Roberta Peters and her husband Bert Fields have been close friends with our parents for years.
They didn't know Beverly Sills and her husband at all.
Maybe it was Bubbles' training and wisdom that helped her handle Betsy's gaffe so well.
None of us are under any illusions Betsy will ever be able to do the same.
No matter, she's ours and we love her. Happy Birthday, Bets!
And Rest in Peace, Bubbles.