For the majority of my formative years, Taffy was always noticeable by her attire. Except for parties, shows and airplanes, Taffy wore jumpsuits like they were a uniform. One or two piece, usually purple, but always with the same ankle socks and Rebook sneakers. The shoes were black or white, and they had to be the ones without the seam by the knuckle of her big toe. I remember the day she complained about Rebook changing their style and how she had to find a new style (she did, don’t worry).
More than her clothes, Taffy makes a grand impression on people by the sheer force of her personality. She described herself to me once as a ballsy old broad, and I can’t contradict that. Never afraid to make a bold statement, Taffy can bring the curtain down on any act at any family get-together, and she’s not afraid to tell you! On top of that, she’s a looker, and I’m actually glad to know that as I get older, I’ll look like her.
When you combine all of that, it becomes hard to know how to prep your friends when introducing them to Taffy. You don’t want to make them afraid of her, because there’s nothing to fear. On the other hand, if you’re not ready for a forthright woman who speaks her mind, you can find yourself flatfooted.
Art Stone told me that he considers Taffy to be one of the best ever, and related the time he first met her:
I remember the first time I met Taffy (it was right after the Civil War!). I had just started my costume company in New York, and I shared the office with my father, Jules Stone.
Taffy came to visit and I remember feeling as if I had met the head of Saks or Bergdorf Goodman’s. She was so striking and such a commanding presence that all I could think was WOW! So that’s what a successful business woman looks like!
It didn’t take long for me to realize that as wonderful as she appeared, she was as down to earth and normal as anyone could be. (Normal, considering the business we are in, means “God knows what” in real life!
She is still the best!
In 1999, I brought my girlfriend to Cleveland to meet Taffy. We knew we’d be getting in a day ahead of my younger brother and my father, so I thought it would be the perfect way to break her into the family. After all, I knew if she could survive Taffy, the rest of the Clan Epstein is cake.
You have to remember that her own grandmother doesn’t even say ‘heck’ because it comes from ‘hell’ and that’s bad language. So there we are, on the plane, and I’m reminding her she can say whatever she wants in front of Taffy, as it won’t bother anyone. We get in and, since it’s late in the evening, take a taxi over to the apartment. I have my own security key, so we waltz right in and head up to the second floor. J.R. the dog greeted us with barks and yaps, per usual, while Blackjack the cat is nowhere to be seen.
I greet Taffy with the traditional, “Hey, Taffy, we’re here!” and she comes out of her room to bestow welcomes. Right away, Taffy leads us to the kitchen, where my favorite chicken drummetes are lined up on the stove, waiting to be devoured. I wasted no time in jumping in, and got drinks for everyone. I leave my girlfriend talking to Taffy, being her most polite Southern girl she can be, going so far as to call Taffy ma’am.
Quickly, Taffy tells her to call her Taffy, or Taf, like everyone else in the known world, and then launches into saying we’re going to go shopping at Russos tomorrow to get food for my brother and father. It’s at this point that Taffy explains what she’s already purchased, and that she’s had some trouble finding some of the food items my father has requested. This litany is capped by the final line, “And my fucking son says he wants ‘unfiltered’ apple juice. I don’t even know what that is!”
While I assure Taffy that the natural style juice she got was fine, my girlfriend is trying to hold back laughter and delight. Later that evening, she informs me that I was right, Taffy totally is a foul mouthed old bird, and she sees why I love her.
Nancy Stone (wife of Art), was so stuck by Taffy’s ability to have it all together, that she knew right away she wanted to be just like her.
I had just married Arthur, moved to New York, begun to work in a business that I knew nothing about and was about to attend my first UDMA meeting which I knew even less about. Sitting several rows toward the back hoping that I would not be noticed, I watched and waited for all the “big dogs” in the dance business to arrive. Through the doors and a little late, came the most striking woman dressed in a business suit (mustard brown in color), wearing heels that needless to say were a perfect match to her purse and carrying a leather attaché case came Taffy.
I was so impressed with my first meeting with Taffy that I went out and purchased an attaché case to carry to the next UDMA meeting!! Do you think that I wanted to be like her? You are absolutely right and by the way, I still do want to be like her!!!
After years of calling Taffy my friend, I know that what she looked like that day was only a wrapping for the beautiful person she is on the inside. As a side note, no holiday would be complete without our conversation with Taffy.