By Eileen Katz
Steve Guttenberg is one of those rare talents who can charm audiences in theaters, on Broadway and on television. He has starred in some of the most successful blockbuster movies and sequels of all time: “Police Academy”, “Three Men and a Baby” and “Cocoon” among them. If you haven’t had the chance to run in to him and his new fiancé walking around the neighborhood, you can catch Steve on Amazon in the new web series: “The Other F Word”.
The Upper West Side wasn’t always your home. What other addresses have you had?
I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Flushing, Queens, then Massapequa for my middle and high school years. But about 11 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and she started having more complications from it. So I started making more trips here from California where I had moved to almost 40 years ago. But when my mom got sick, I started coming out here about every three weeks and then it just made sense to start living here. I’ve got two sisters here too so I was happy to come back to New York.
But you could’ve chosen any part of the city…here’s the big question: Why the West Side??
One day I went around with a realtor, saw five different neighborhoods, saw an apartment I really liked here, so I took it! It confirms my belief that a lot of life is divinely guided and you’re lucky or not lucky. I got lucky! Great apartment, great building. You make your own luck. You gotta get up and get out and engage the world. And then you’ll see there’s a ton possible! Resilience and fortitude is a big part of it too.
So what is it that you like about living up here?
The people here on the West side are friendly, they’re family-oriented, they’re arts-oriented. You’ve got Lincoln Center right here and I use it all the time. You can walk to the theater district easily. There’s theaters up here, there’s comedy clubs up here. There are great restaurants, like West Side Restaurant, the diner we’re in right now, great museums. You can walk up to the Museum of Natural History, which I do quite often or over to The Met. I love Riverside Park. Last year I played in Henry the IV Part I in Riverside Park.
I just said The West Side Restaurant because you are all always so nice to me! Didn’t I just say that?!
(Me) Yes! I swear, he just said that! You’ll read it when this is printed I promise!
Anyway, back to the West side…there’s so much available to you here. I mean you just have to get out of your apartment! Dancing at Lincoln Center in the summer, movies at the Pier in Riverside Park, skating at Wollman Rink. So much going on! And the Beacon Theater of course too!
How would you compare your life in LA to your life here?
This is going to surprise you, but my life is the same! I have the same family, the same friends, I eat the same food. For me, I’ve found that if you live by certain values, or certain principles, or level of integrity, that whereever you live, it’s going to be pretty much the same. That goes for The Upper West Side vs. LA or Dublin vs. Beijing. It’s all about your rituals.
Ok! What are your rituals?
My rituals are that I wake up early, I’m a 5:30 am kinda guy, I have a nice cup of hot water. I live with a wonderful woman who indulges my earliness and we have a great breakfast, look at the news then go out for a walk, come back and the day gets going. Ten minutes a day is set aside for my meditation and my goal-oriented intentions: what do I want to accomplish today? What do I want to think about today? And I do that no matter what city I’m in.
It’s probably a lot easier to get up at 5:30 am in LA in January than it is in New York.
It’s cold. I’ll give you that, but it’s what you do! And as an actor, it’s really important to be engaged with the work and overcome this illusion that the press and social media perpetuate about actors being “larger than life”. Being in this neighborhood is a great balance for that. The real challenge up here is patience. If you live with patience up here and consideration for others, you’ll do great.
Do you mean like when you’re in Fairway?
Exactly! Fairway, Trader Joe’s… it’s all about tolerance and patience. There’s a lot of people that want the same things or services as you but stay cool…you’ll get it. You can be stressed or just wait your turn. And maybe that’s the real lesson to be learned about living up here. Learn to wait your turn! You may be a very important guy on Wall Street or in the medical world but when you want a cup of coffee, you’re just like everyone else. Learn to wait your turn! It’s a great humanizer. This is one of the few places where a billionaire and a student can both be trying to hail the same cab! And you know who gets it? Whoever was there first! Learn to wait your turn.
Oh, and another challenge is trying to explain to tourists where Amsterdam stops and where it starts. And how does it swap places with Broadway below 72nd St.?
You were very clear about this being one of your favorite places but are there others?
I love The Smith…I love that whole row of restaurants across from Lincoln Center, The Atlantic…let me get my list…
You made a list for this interview?!? The West Side Rag is flattered and humbled.
Of course I made a list! This is important. Ok. The Meatball Shop on 81st, Sugar & Plumm for dessert, Fiorello’s, Ed’s Chowder House, Tavern on the Green, Isabella’s, Bar Boulud. And Upper Upper West Side, I like The Red Rooster. Back down here, I love Shun Lee too! Oh, and the restaurants at Time Warner Center! And of course, Zabars.
Thank you for the segue! If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one things from Zabar’s, what would it be?
Oh that’s easy. The gefilte fish loaf. Very finely chopped. Maybe a little Gold’s red horseradish with it but would that count as two things even though it’s only a condiment?
For you we can make an exception! If you could change something about this neighborhood what would it be?
That people become a little more trusting, a little more considerate. Which breeds less fear and makes for stronger communities. Now I know this is a broad idea. I could’ve said something, I don’t know, like fix the potholes but I’m aiming high. I get it’s a big city and you have to be savvy but wouldn’t that be great? But there’s still really nice people up here and that’s where it begins. One nice Upper West Sider at a time!
Have you ever experienced a quintessential Upper West Side moment? Something that you saw or experienced that could only happen here?
Often with the elderly up here. I do see people give respect to the elderly up here. I mean I know it happens other places too, but there’s this senior center that I walk by every so often and the elderly in New York are city elderly so you still see them walking on the street, however slow, crossing the street, however slow, whatever they’ve got going on they get up and go. It can be really cold or really hot but they are out there. And people look out for them. “Can I help you cross?” “Can I carry that for you?”
And I like to see that in this neighborhood.
Is there a season you like best up here?
Like Frank Sinatra said in his song: “Autumn In New York”! I love that right after the Jewish holidays usually, when it starts getting crisp out and you can just wear a sports coat and both parks are washed in incredible colors as the leaves change. I love that.
Now if they were going to name a street after you up here, which one would it be and why?
Don’t want it!
Because anyone who has a street named after them is dead. I’m not dying! I’m sticking around!
When “Steve Guttenberg Day” is declared on the Upper West Side how would you like people to celebrate?
That’s easy! Pizza and ice cream! Pizza from Francesco’s and my homemade ice cream!
All your talents plus you make your own ice cream?!
I do! I’ll make enough for everyone and the party will be at the New York Lawn Bowling Club field, of which I am a member of, in Central Park.
To read all of our “Why the West Side” columns, click here.