METROFOCUS: NOVEMBER 27, 2019

As you go to the polls on this Election Day, we profile the life and legacy of Bella Abzug, a New York political icon who inspired a generation of women and change. We’ll talk with four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein about becoming Bella in his new one-person show. Bella’s daughter Liz tells us how she’s continuing her mother’s legacy and shaping a new generation of women leaders through the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute.

Aired on November 5, 2019 and November 27, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> TONIGHT ON 'METROFOCUS.'

AS NEW YORKERS GO TO THE POLLS, WE PROFILE THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF A POLITICAL ICON WHO INSPIRED A JEN RACE OF WOMEN, BELLA ABZUG.

IN A 'METROFOCUS' SPECIAL REPORT, WE'LL TALK WITH FOUR-TIME TONY AWARD WINNER HARVEY FIERSTEIN ABOUT BECOMING BELLA IN HIS ONE-PERSON SHOW.

HE'LL SHARE THE INSPIRATION FOR HIS TRANSFORMATION INTO THE POPULAR PROGRESSIVE ICON.

SHE DECIDED TO GO FROM CONGRESS TO SENATE, AND SHE WAS WINNING, AND THE PARTY, THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, CAME IN AND UNDERCUT HER.

AND I SAID, THIS IS INTERESTING.

THEN BELLA'S DAUGHTER LIZ TELLS US HOW SHE'S CONTINUING HER MOTHER'S VISION AND GIVES US A BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT THE LIFE OF THE POLITICAL FIREBRAND WHOSE LEGACY CONTINUES TO INSPIRE A NEW GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN LEADERS.

WE BRING TOGETHER LEADERSHIP SKILLS, SELF-ESTEEM EMPOWERMENT, CIVILE EDADVOCACY, AND DEBATE.

THOSE STORIES AND MORE AS 'METROFOCUS' STARTS RIGHT NOW.

THIS IS 'METROFOCUS.'

WTH RAFAEL PI ROMAN, JACK FORD, AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY JAMES AND MERRILL TISCH.

SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III.

THE SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B.

ENDOWMENT TO MIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG.

AND BY --

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

FOUR-TIME TONY AWARD WINNER HARVEY FIERSTEIN IS BACK WHERE AUDIENCES LOVE HIM MOST, ON THE STAGE.

THE NEW YORK THEATER LEGEND WHOSE CREDITS INCLUDE 'TORCH SONG TRILOGY,' 'HAIRSPRAY,' 'KINKY BOOTS,' NEVER SHIED AWAY FROM A CHALLENGING ROLE OR A POLITICAL ONE.

HE'S TAKING ON BOTH IN 'BELLA BELLA' WRITTEN BY AND STARRING HARVEY FIERSTEIN.

THE PLAY TELLS THE STORY OF FIREBRAND NEW YORK POLITICIAN BELLA ABZUG, THE TRAIL BLAZING SOCIAL ACTIVIST WHOSE CAREER IN CONGRESS ENDED WITH AN UNSUCCESSFUL RUN FOR SENATE IN 1976, BUT WHOSE LEGACY HAS INSPIRED A GENERATION OF WOMEN ENTERING POLITICS, TAKE A LOOK.

ME, I WAS BORN HERE.

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.

I LOOKED LIKE THEM, I SOUNDED LIKE THEM.

AS I PREDICTED, THE PRECEDES WAS INTRIGUED.

SHE HAS THE SHOULDERS OF A STEAM PIPE FITTER AND THE STRUT OF A PLAINCLOTHES COP.

SHE'LL GIVE YOU A CHOP IN THE RIBS AND POWDER HER NOSE WHILE YOU SINK TO THE GROUND.

SEXIST?

OH YEAH.

ALSO THE STUFF OF WHICH LEGENDS ARE MADE.

FAR BETTER THAT THAN THE WAY 'THE NEW YORK TIMES' ENDORSED ME.

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT SHE'LL SAY THE RIGHT THING.

JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT HIS ONE-PERSON SHOW 'BELLA BELLA,' WHAT INSPIRED IT AS WELL AS TO REFLECT ON HIS OWN TRAIL BLAZING CAREER IN THEATER AS ACTOR, MAY WRIGHT, AND BROADWAY LEGEND, HARVEY FIERSTEIN, NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

LOVELY TO SEE YOU AGAIN, WE'VE DONE THIS BEFORE, NOT STRANGERS.

ALWAYS NICE TO DO IT AGAIN.

I'M SURE AS A WRITER THIS IS SOMETHING YOU'RE ASKED OFTEN BUT TO ME THE MOST CURIOUS QUESTION, INSPIRATION ARE ALL THE THINGS YOU COULD WRITE ABOUT, ALL THE THING YOU'VE WRITTEN IN THE PAST, WHAT WAS THAT IT MADE YOU SAY, THIS IS THE NEXT THING I WANT TO DO, NEXT THING I WANT TO WRITE?

LIZ ABZUG, ONE OF BELLA'S DAUGHTERS, HAD BEEN HAWKING ME FOR YEARS TO WRITE ABOUT ONE OF HER PARENTS.

SHE WANTED A MUSICAL.

♪ MARTIN MARTIN BELLA BELLA PY SEE IT.

I'D READ A LOT OF THE MATERIAL AND PUT IT ASIDE.

WHEN HILLARY LOST THE ELECTION, SOME OF THE STUFF I HEARD SOUNDED VERY FAMILIAR.

LIKE THE ANTI-ISRAEL STUFF.

A WHOLE BUDGE OF THOSE DIVISIVE ARGUMENTS.

THAT I SAID, THIS SOUNDS LIKE -- I PULLED OUT THE BELLA STUFF AND THERE IT WAS.

OH MY GOD, IT'S THE SAME PLAYBOOK BEING USED.

AND I GOT INTERESTED IN IT AGAIN.

SO I LOOKED AT BELLA'S CAREER AND SAW THIS MOMENT WHERE SHE DECIDED TO GO FROM CONGRESS TO SENATE.

AND SHE WAS WINNING.

AND SHE WAS WINNING.

AND SHE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN TO BE THE NOMINEE.

THE FIRST WOMAN SENATOR FROM NEW YORK STATE EVER.

AND THE PARTY, THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, CAME IN AND UNDERCUT HER.

AND I SAID, THIS IS INTERESTING.

THERE'S THE STORY.

AND THEN, AND THEN AS I DID MORE AND MORE RESEARCH, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT POPPED OUT AT ME, WHICH I THINK IS VERY MUCH IN THE PLAY, IS THAT WOMEN ARE NOT THE MINORITY IN THIS COUNTRY, THEY ARE THE MAJORITY, WHICH WE NEVER THINK ABOUT.

AND THEY COULD HAVE IT ANY WAY THEY WANT.

AND STILL THEY HAND THE POWER OVER.

YOU TALK ABOUT IT.

MORE WOMEN THAN MEN, AND WHAT DO THEY DO, THEY SAY, ALL RIGHT, I'LL VOTE WITH HIM.

I'LL VOTE THE -- WELL, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

SO I HAD A LINE IN THE PLAY WHERE I SAID, THE IRISH WILL VOTE THIS WAY, THE INDEPENDENTS WILL VOTE THIS WAY.

WHICH BRINGS US TO WOMEN, WHO WILL VOTE THE WAY MEN TELL THEM TO DO.

I'M DOING THE REHEARSAL AND GLORIA STEINEM, THE BLESSED GLORIA STEINEM IS WATCH.

VERY GOOD FRIEND OF BELLA'S, WAS A WONDERFUL FRIEND TO US, HELPING US IN THESE WAYS.

SHE'S WATCHING AND SHE STANDS UP AND GOES, NO, NO, YOU'VE GOT TO CHANGE THAT.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

SHE SAID, NOT WOMEN, WHITE WOMEN.

SHE SAID, LOOK AT THE LAST ELECTION, IT WAS WHITE WOMEN THAT PUT TRUMP IN.

IT WAS WHITE WOMEN WHO DIDN'T VOTE FOR OBAMA.

AND SO I REWROTE THE LINE.

AND WOMEN WILL VOTE, AND THEN I SAID -- NO, MORE ACCURATELY, WHITE WOMEN WILL VOTE, WHO COULD JOIN THE MINORITY SISTERS AND ELECT ANYONE THEY WANT, ANYONE THEY WANT, BUT WHO WILL, HISTORY SHOWS US, VOTE THE INTERESTS OF THE MEN WHO SUPPORT THEM.

AND THE AUDIENCE GOES -- OH.

VERY POWERFUL, VERY POWERFUL.

AND I COVER IT WITH FACTS, I'M JUST TALKING FACTS, AND I GO OELTH ON WITH THE PLAY.

I SAW IT AND IT WAS MARVELOUS.

I HAD MET BELLA BEFORE.

TO SEE IT AND HAVING LIVED THROUGH THAT ERA.

BUT SO YOU HAVE THIS IDEA.

IT STARTS TO COME TO FRUITION.

YOU TOLD ME ORIGINALLY WHAT YOU WROTE WAS 2 1/2 HOURS.

WANTED TO GET IT DOWN TO 84 MINUTES OR SO.

I FELT BAD FOR THE WOMAN WHO WAS GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY IT.

UH-HUH.

HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

YEAH.

SO WHEN YOU WENT INTO THIS, SIDED TO WRITE IT, HAD YOU INITIALLY SAID -- NOT ONLY AM I GOING TO WRITE IT, I'M GOING TO ACT IT?

HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

I ALMOST NEVER WRITE ANYTHING FOR MYSELF.

WHY NOT?

I DID WHEN I WAS A KID, YOU KNOW.

YOU OUTLIVE THAT PART OF YOUR EGO.

I'M MUCH MORE INTERESTED IN WRITING THAN ACTING.

THOUGH I ENJOY ACTING AND I LOVE BEING ON STAGE, BUT YOU SEE HOW MANY MOVIES AND TV SHOWS I'M IN.

DOESN'T INTEREST ME THAT MUCH.

I MEAN, PLAYING OTHER PEOPLE IS A GOOD WAY TO GET OUT OF YOURSELF, BUT IF YOU'RE WRITING -- YOU'D PLAY IT, YOU KNOW -- I SORT OF HOPED BETTE MIDLER WOULD DO IT, ANYWAY.

BUT THEN YOU WRITE, THEN YOU GO OUT -- WE DID A READING WITH PATTY LA POEN, SHE WAS WONDERFUL TO DO THAT FOR US, BUT EVEN SHE SAID, I THINK YOU SHOULD PLAY IT.

LEAVE ME ALONE.

THEN WE DID A COUPLE OTHER READINGS AND I SPOKE TO SOME OF THE ACTRESSES WITH DIFFERENT RESULTS.

THEN THE THING CAME TO ME, THIS -- THIS FEMINIST IDEA CAME TO ME, THAT I'M NOT -- I'M STILL ARGUING ABOUT.

AS A MAN, PLAYWRIGHT, AND I'M WRITING A ROLE FOR A WOMAN, AND EVEN IF I'M EMPOWERING HER IN THAT ROLE, AREN'T I STILL A MAN PUTTING WORDS IN A WOMAN'S MOUTH?

AREN'T I STILL MAKING HER A PUPPET OF MY BRAIN?

AND WHEN YOU'RE IN BELLA'S, AND THINKING ABOUT THAT STUFF HARD, IT SOUNDED WRONG TO ME.

AND I SAID, I DON'T WANT TO DO THAT TO A WOMAN.

I'LL BE VERY HAPPY WHEN WOMEN PLAY THE ROLE, BUT TO FIRST LAUNCH IT, DON'T I HAVE TO BE HONEST ENOUGH TO SAY I'M WILLING TO STAND UP THERE AND SAY THESE IDEAS MYSELF?

AND AS SOON AS I DECIDED THAT I SAID, NO DRAG.

I HAVE TO DO IT -- IF IT'S GOING TO BE HONEST, IT'S GOING TO BE HONEST.

I'M GOING TO STAND THERE AS HARVEY.

I WILL HAVE THE AFFECTATIONS OF BELLA, WHATEVER, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO DO DRAG, I'M NOT GOING TO WEAR A WIG OR DRESS.

I'M GOING TO PRESENT THESE IDEAS.

HERE ARE THE IDEAS.

AND I THINK THERE'S AN HONESTY TO IT.

THERE IS. Y THIS AS A COMPLIMENT.

YOU GET INTO IT AND YOU'RE NOT THINKING, THIS IS HARVEY PLAYING BELLA.

RIGHT.

YOU JUST -- YOU'RE SEEING BELLA'S STORY.

WHICH I THINK IS KIND OF FASCINATING.

TO ME IT'S FASCINATING.

YOU'RE ON STAGE LIKE THIS.

BLACK SHIRT ON, BLACK JEANS.

YOU SHOW UP, THE FIRST SCENE -- AFTER THAT IT'S JUST A PROP.

I TELL YOU, MARLOWE THOMAS, WHO IS ONE OF BELLA'S CLOSEST FRIENDS, I HAD SENT HER THE SCRIPT, AS I DID WITH LILY TOMLIN, SHIRLEY MACLAINE, A LOT OF HER FRIENDS, TO SEE -- GET THEIR INPUT, ALL THAT.

MARLOWE DIDN'T ANSWER ME AS TO WHAT SHE THOUGHT OF THE SCRIPT.

I SENT IT AGAIN, NO ANSWER.

SENT IT AGAIN.

SHE SAID, PHIL ISN'T FEELING WELL, I HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO READ IT.

I NEVER GOT AN ANSWER.

SHE SHOWS UP IN MY DRESSING ROOM LAST WEEK.

SHE SAID, I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH, I RESPECT YOU AS AN ARTIST TOO MUCH TO BE NEGATIVE, SO I JUST SAID, LET HIM DO IT, I'LL JUST STAY AWAY.

SHE SAID, THEN I HEARD DIFFERENT AND I CAME TO SEE IT, AND TWO MINUTES INTO THE PLAY I WAS WITH BELLA.

I WAS WITH BELLA.

I THOUGHT THE SAME THING.

HER PRESS SECRETARY SAID TO ME, IT'S LIKE SPENDING A NIGHT WITH BELLA AGAIN, EXCEPT MY TEETH AREN'T GRITTED.

SHE PUT HIM THROUGH IT.

IT'S INTERESTING HOW THIS SHOWS HOW POWERFUL THE HUMOR CAN BE WHEN YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES.

YOU KNOW, I'M TRYING TO -- I'M WATCHING THIS, TRYING TO MEMORIZE SOME OF THE LINES SO WHEN WE TALK I COULD TOSS THEM OUT.

THERE'S SO MANY GOOD ONES.

I THINK IT'S ONE OF THE GRIT THINGS ABOUT THEATER IS THAT -- AND WHAT THIS MAKES YOU DO, EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE '70s, IT MAKES YOU THINK AND MAKES YOU THINK ABOUT TODAY.

SO GOING INTO IT DID YOU SAY, HERE'S A STORY I'M GOING TO TELL BECAUSE I WANT PEOPLE TO USE THIS AS A PRISM FOR TODAY?

OR IS IT JUST THAT IT JUST HAPPENS?

I THINK IT JUST HAPPENS.

BUT I ALSO DID OBVIOUSLY SEE IT FOR TODAY.

LIKE I SAID, IT WAS SORT OF INSPIRED BY HILLARY, WHO SAW IT THE OTHER NIGHT.

SHE DID?

YEAH, SHE SENT ME HER BOOK AND SAID, I'M NOW A FAN.

LOVELY.

YEAH, GREAT.

THE PRESIDENT AND SHE WERE THERE ON OPENING NIGHT.

WE'VE HAD A LOT -- CAROL MALONEY, RUTH MESSENGER, A LOT OF NEW YORK POLITICIANS HAVE BEEN THERE, WHICH IS WONDERFUL.

YOU GO INTO THIS STUFF BEING TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER.

ALWAYS TRY TO BE TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER.

BUT WHEN YOU'RE READING HER NOTES AND IT SAYS, HARRY TRUMAN, A MAN WHO IS SO THIN-SKINNED HE DEMANDED A LOYALTY OATH FROM EVERYONE WHO WORKED FOR HIM.

WAIT, THIS SOUNDS A LITTLE FAMILIAR.

YEAH, HAVE WE HEARD THIS BEFORE?

OR ABOUT GERALD FORD PARDONING NIXON.

AND SHE SAYS, THANKS TO YOU EVERYONE NOW KNOWS AS LONG AS YOU HAVE POWERFUL FRIENDS, YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING.

THE GREAT THING IS THESE THINGS RESONATE TODAY WITH US.

A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING ABOUT HER.

AGAIN, I WAS SURPRISED WHEN I WAS DOING SOME OF THE RESEARCH HERE TO REMEMBER, SHE WAS ONLY IN THE HOUSE FOR SIX YEARS.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

BECAME ENORMOUSLY POWERFUL IN SIX YEARS.

RUNS FOR SENATE.

THE STORY TAKES PLACE IN THE HOTEL THE NIGHT OF THE BALLOTING.

AND BASICALLY IT TAKES PLACE IN ONE ROOM, THE BATHROOM IN THE HOTEL SUITE.

BUT YOU LOOK BACK AND YOU THINK, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FOR HER?

COULD SHE HAVE BEEN THE PRESIDENT?

SHIRLEY MACLAINE, WHO OF COURSE BELIEVED IN HER LIKE NOBODY'S BUSINESS, THEY WERE BEST FRIENDS.

SHIRLEY SAID TO ME, IF SHE HAD ONLY STAYED, IF SHE'D JUST STAYED TEN YEARS, SHE COULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT.

I WRITE THE PLAY.

I SORT OF HAVE THAT IN THE PLAY A LITTLE BIT.

BUT I'M NOT REALLY -- I GO TO HAROLD HOLZER, HER PRESS SECRETARY, AND I SAID, HAROLD, I NEED YOUR COMMENT, COULD SHE HAVE BEEN PRESIDENT?

HE LOOKED AT ME, ARE YOU KIDDING?

SHE WAS TOO RADICAL, SHE GOT ALONG WITH NO ONE, SHE FOUGHT WITH EVERYBODY, HER IDEAS WERE HER IDEAS, AND SHE KEPT THEM.

SHE WAS MUCH TOO STRONG, MUCH TOO HARD TO NEGOTIATE WITH.

ISN'T THAT INTERESTING THAT THAT WOULD BE A DISQUALIFIER THAT YOU'RE TOO STRONG, YOU BELIEVE TOO FERVENTLY IN YOUR IDEAS TO BEND --

LOOK WHAT WE DID TO HILLARY.

WE MADE HER LOWER HER VOICE.

REMEMBER THERE WAS HILLARY CLINTON, THERE WAS HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, THE CANDIDATE.

SHE HAD A DIFFERENT SOUND TO HER VOICE AND EVERYTHING.

WHAT WE DO TO WOMEN.

IT'S AMAZING.

IT'S INTERESTING.

JUST AS AN ASIDE, I HAD A WOMAN ON WHO WROTE A BOOK ABOUT HOW YOU CAN HELP TO INSTRUCT WOMEN TO RUN FOR OFFICE.

ONE OF THE FIRST CHAPTERS SHE TALKS ABOUT, WHY IS IT THAT MEN, EVEN IF THEY'RE COMPLETELY UNQUALIFIED, SAY, YEAH, I CAN WIN THAT OFFICE.

AND WOMEN, EVEN IF THEY'RE COMPLETELY QUALIFIED, SAY, I DON'T KNOW IF I COULD WIN THAT OFFICE.

EXACTLY.

THAT'S ONE OF THE OPENING LINES OF THE PLAY.

RIGHT.

SHE SAYS, THEY HANDED ME A SURVEY, WOULD YOU VOTE FOR A WOMAN IF SHE WAS QUALIFIED?

SHE SAYS, WHY DOES A WOMAN HAVE TO BE QUALIFIED WHEN A MAN JUST HAS TO BE A MAN?

SAME THEORY.

YEAH.

LET ME JUMP A LITTLE BIT --

IT'S SHOCKING THAT WE HAVEN'T MOVED BEYOND THAT, ISN'T IT?

LOOK HOW WE'RE LOOKING AT THE FEMALE CANDIDATES RIGHT NOW, HOW WE PICK THEM APART.

VERY DIFFERENT.

LET ME TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT -- I JUST WANT TO GIVE FOLKS A SENSE OF YOUR OWN HISTORY.

AND I REMEMBER READING SOME STUFF ON YOU, SEEING THAT YOU TALKED ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE 10 YEARS OLD GOING TO SEE 'FIDDLER,' HOW IT WAS KIND OF A REVELATION FOR YOU IN A LOT OF WAYS.

IS THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT YOU THINK PUSHED YOU IN THE DIRECTION, THIS JOURNEY INTO THEATER AND WRITING?

NO -- YOU KNOW, ALL DAY LONG PEOPLE ARE ASKING YOU THINGS, 99% OF THE TIME WE'RE TOO TIRED, WE'RE BUSY, WE HAVE OTHER PLANS, WHATEVER.

LIFE DOESN'T GET BETTER WHEN YOU SAY NO.

IT DOESN'T NECESSARILY GET BETTER WHEN YOU SAY YES.

BUT THERE'S THAT CHANCE, THERE'S THAT CHANCE THINGS WILL CHANGE WHEN YOU SAY YES.

WHEN YOU SAY NO, NOTHING CHANGES.

WHEN I WAS A KID, I WAS AN ART STUDENT AT THE HIGH SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN, 57th AND SECOND AVENUE.

A KID IN MY CLASS'S MOTHER WAS STARTING A COMMUNITY THEATER GROUP.

SHE SAID, YOU WANT TO MAKE POSTERS?

WE WENT TO MAKE POSTERS.

I'M NOW A LEGEND.

YOU ARE INDEED.

BUT ISN'T IT INTERESTING HOW YOUR LIFE CAN TURN ON AN EVENT?

ABSOLUTELY, ABSOLUTELY.

BUT ONLY IF YOU'RE WILLING TO TURN WITH IT.

AND TO SAY YES.

YOU HAVE TO SAY YES.

YOU MENTIONED BEFORE, JUST A COUPLE MORE QUICK QUESTIONS BEFORE I LET YOU GO.

IN TALKING ABOUT THE NOTION OF HOW --

I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO DO A NUMBER FROM 'FIDDLER.'

WE CAN DO THAT.

'LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.'

ALL SORTS OF NUMBERS, SOME OF MY FAVORITES.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE WRITING?

AS I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION, YOUR FANS LOVE TO SEE YOU ON STAGE.

YOU'VE HAD SO MANY GREAT AND VERY DIFFERENT ROLES.

AND TO HAVE THAT KIND OF ADULATION.

LOOK, I'VE NEVER BEEN AN ACTOR.

BUT I'VE BEEN TO SHOWS THINKING, WHAT A GREAT FEELING THAT MUST BE, TO STAND ON A STAGE AT THE END OF A PERFORMANCE AND HAVE EVERYBODY BASICALLY SAYING, THANK YOU, THAT WAS WONDERFUL.

YEAH, THERE IS, THERE IS A GREATNESS TO THAT.

YET WRITING, I DON'T PRETEND -- I'VE WRITTEN THREE NOVELS AND IT'S HARD.

IT TAKES A LOT OF TIME.

IT'S A LOT OF WORK.

2 1/2 HOURS.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE WRITING THAT YOU FIND MAKES YOU SAY, LOOK, I ENJOY IT ALL, BUT THIS IS THE THING?

YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT LIFE THROUGH BOTH.

YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT CHARACTERS THROUGH BOTH, PEOPLE, TRY TO UNDERSTAND.

BOTH OF THEM DO THAT, GIVE YOU THAT CHALLENGE.

BUT WRITING ACTUALLY USES EVERYTHING YOU KNOW RIGHT UP TO THAT MOMENT.

YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT WHEN YOU'RE WRITING A NOVEL.

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.

THE CAKE RECIPE THAT CAME IN THIS MORNING, THE NEWSPAPER THAT YOU READ, EVERYTHING YOU KNOW GOES INTO YOUR MIND, GETS MUSHED UP AND COMES OUT IN THE WRITING.

NOT EVERYTHING IS USABLE IN ACTING, THOUGH WHEN YOU GET A GREAT ROLE LIKE 'FIDDLER,' 'HAIRSPRAY,' 'BELLA,' A LOT DOES COME OUT.

IN 'BELLA' I'M ABLE TO -- I DON'T WANT TO GET EMOTIONAL.

I SEE MY MOTHER.

ALL THE TIME.

BECAUSE SHE WAS A BELLA-ITE.

SHE WORE A HAT WHEN SHE WAS PRESIDENT OF HER GROUP IN BENSONHURST, BROOKLYN, SHE WORE A HAT.

IT BRINGS IT BACK.

ONE NIGHT I LOOKED IN THE AUDIENCE AND I SWORE THAT WAS MY MOTHER SITTING THERE.

I MEAN, I KNEW IT WASN'T.

RIGHT.

IT COULD HAVE BEEN.

SO WHEN YOU PLAY A ROLE THAT BRINGS ALL OF THAT, ALL THOSE WOMEN FROM MY CHILDHOOD, ALL THOSE MEN FROM MY CHILDHOOD BACK.

WHEN I TALK ABOUT GOING TO TEMPLE AND ALL THAT.

IT'S BELLA'S LIFE, BUT I GET TO LIVE IT.

SO IT'S WONDERFUL.

BUT WRITING IS -- YOU'RE CREATING SOMETHING -- I DON'T KNOW THAT BOTH THINGS WILL NEVER EXIST WITHOUT THAT MOMENT.

THAT'S WHAT ART IS, RIGHT?

YOU CREATE IN THAT MOMENT, AND IT WILL NEVER EXIST ANY OTHER MOMENT.

BUT ACTING IS MORE THAT, I DON'T KNOW.

BUT YOU DO NOTICE I DON'T DO A LOT OF TV AND MOVIES.

I KNOW.

THAT BORES ME.

I LOVE THE STAGE.

AND IT'S OBVIOUS WHEN WE SEE YOU.

IT'S 'BELLA BELLA.'

I SAID BEFORE, IT IS GREAT THEATER BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU JUST SAID, IT MAKES YOU THINK.

IT MAKES YOU GASP SOMETIMES.

WE'RE GETTING LETTERS FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN THE SHOW THREE TIMES ALREADY.

A PLAY, NOT A MUSICAL.

IT'S TOUCHING PEOPLE IN SOME SORT OF MAGIC WAY, AND I'M THRILLED.

YOU SHOULD BE.

YOU'RE A MAGICIAN.

AND IT'S SO DELIGHTFUL TO SPEND SOME TIME TALKING.

A GREAT SHOW.

PEOPLE SEE IT.

WE'LL LOOK FORWARD TO WHATEVER THAT NEXT PROJECT IS.

THANKS, HARVEY, GOOD SEEING YOU.

> BATTLING BELLA ABZUG WAS A NEW YORK POLITICAL ICON IN THE '70s WHO IN HER POLITICAL CAREER AS MEMBER OF CONGRESS, AS WELL AS IN HER PERSONAL LIFE, WAS A PIONEER WHO FOUGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION TO TAKE UP LEADERSHIP ROLES.

20 YEARS AFTER BELLA ABZUG PASSING, HER LAWYER LIZ HAS CONTINUED HER VISION THROUGH HER NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION, THE BELLA ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE WHERE YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS GO THROUGH FREE COURSES, WORKSHOPS, AND TRAINING IN PREPARATION FOR BECOMING FUTURE LEADERS.

JOINING ME TO TALK ABOUT HER ORGANIZATION, HER MISSION, AND HER MOTHER'S LEGACY, IS FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BELLA ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE, LIZ ABZUG.

NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

NICE TO BE HERE.

AS I SAID, I HAD INTERVIEWED 84 MOM YEARS AND YEARS AGO.

IT'S A NICE CLOSING OF THE CIRCLE TO CHAT WITH YOU ALSO.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE INSTITUTE.

WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND IT?

I WANTED TO MAKE A LIVING LEGACY, FIRST OF ALL, TO MY MOTHER'S LIFE AND HER WORK AS A CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER, AS A POLITICIAN, AS A CONGRESSWOMAN, AND ONE OF THE LEADING FEMINISTS OF THE 20th CENTURY LEADERS.

ALSO MY OWN WORK AS A LAWYER, PROFESSOR, FEMINIST ACTIVIST IN ALL MY ADULT LIFE.

I WANTED TO SAY, WE NEED TO PASS THIS ON TO THE CURRENT AND NEXT GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS SO THAT THEY CAN GRAB THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP AND FINISH THE UNFINISHED BUSINESS TO ACHIEVE FULL GENDER EQUALITY.

THIS MIGHT SOUND A FAIRLY SIMPLICITY QUESTION, AND I DON'T KNOW IF THERE'S A SIMPLE ANSWER.

OFTENTIMES PEOPLE SAY, WOMEN OUTNUMBER MEN IN COLLEGES NOW, YET WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE LEADERSHIP ROLES YOU'RE NOT SEEING THAT SAME TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP.

WHY?

THE DISPARITY IS REALLY GREAT.

WHAT I FEEL IS THAT -- AND THAT'S WHY WE FORMED THE BELLA AN ZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE, WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS FEEL SO CULTURALLY STEREOTYPED THAT THEY HAVE TO NOT BE AGGRESSIVE, NOT BE AMBITIOUS, NOT GO TO THE TOP, NOT SIT AT THE CENTRAL PARTS OF THE TABLE.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO, THERE'S REALLY A PROBLEM IN THE FACT THAT THERE'S STILL A SELF-ESTEEM PROBLEM, THERE'S STILL A FAILURE TO SAY, BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE, BASED ON MY TALENT, I CAN GET AND ASSUME THE TOP LEADERSHIP POSITIONS IN EVERY SECTOR.

SO THEREFORE WHY WOULD THAT BE, WHEN YOU HAVE SOME OF THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED WOMEN, NOT ONLY IN MEDICAL SCHOOL, LAW SCHOOL, MORE THAN MEN IN LAW SCHOOL.

THE ONLY AREA WE'RE FLAGGING A LITTLE BEHIND IS IN ENGINEERING.

WHY WOULD THAT BE, THEN?

THAT'S BECAUSE THERE'S STILL THIS STEREOTYPE OF THE WAY SOCIETY VIEWS YOUNG WOMEN AGAINST YOUNG MEN, AND THAT YOUNG WOMEN HAVE INCORPORATED THAT INTO THEIR PSYCHES AGAINST THEIR BEST INTERESTS.

AND SO WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS UNWIND THAT.

AS A FATHER OF A DAUGHTER, AND WE'VE TALKED BEFORE, MY DAUGHTER FORTUNATELY HAS DONE MARVELOUSLY.

CANCER SURGEON, ATHLETE IN COLLEGE.

I WOULD SEE GIRLS AROUND HER THINKING, YOU'RE SMART, YOU'RE TALENTED, WHY WOULDN'T YOU STEP UP ALSO?

WHAT DO YOU DO NOW AT THE INSTITUTE THAT HELPS YOUNG WOMEN TO DO THAT?

FIRST I WANT TO SAY ONE THING ABOUT THAT.

I'M A PROFESSOR AT BARNARD COLLEGE, A WOMEN'S COLLEGE AND COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, URBAN STUDIES.

IN ALL THE YEARS I'VE BEEN TEACHING I WILL HAVE GIRLS RAISE THEIR HANDS AND APOLOGIZE FOR ASKING QUESTIONS, RIT PALLIZED APOLOGY.

BOYS WILL NEVER DO THAT, I HAVE YET TO SEE A GUY DO THAT.

AT THE INSTITUTE WHAT WE DO IS WE -- COMBINATION OF LEADERSHIP SKILLS.

HOW TO MAKE A PUBLIC SPEECH.

HOW TO DEBATE.

WE ARE AN UNUSUAL ORGANIZATION IN THIS COUNTRY, WE BRING TOGETHER LEADERSHIP SKILLS, SELF-ESTEEM, ADVOCACY, DEBATE.

WE SHOWGIRLS WHO HAVE NEVER DEBATED, WHO WHO WERE ON DEBATE TEAMS, MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, FROM THE TRI-STATE AREA AND ACROSS IS COUNTRY, HOW YOU GRAB THESE TECHNIQUES SO THAT ANY KID, YOUNG WOMAN GOING FORWARD, WHETHER HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, REALLY FEELS A SENSE OF STRENGTH AND EMPOWERMENT.

AND THAT THEY CAN'T BE TALKED DOWN TO, AND THAT THEY CAN INTELLECTUALIZE AND ARTICULATE THE SOCIAL MOST CRITICAL ISSUES TODAY.

IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE I'VE SEEN AN EVOLUTION.

MAYBE YOU ARE SEEING ALSO.

I'VE BEEN TEACHING AT YALE, A SEMINAR NOW FOR TEN YEARS, AND I HAVE MARVELOUS STUDENTS.

GREAT KIDS.

I'M SURE YOU SEE THE SAME.

SAME THING.

I'M SEEING, FIRST OF ALL, MORE WOMEN IN MY SEMINAR THAN MEN, ROUTINELY.

THAT'S CORRECT.

150 TO 250 APPLICATIONS EACH YEAR, THEN THERE'S A SELECTION PROCESS.

AND YOU'RE SEEING THE WOMEN MUCH MORE ASSERTIVE I'M SURE THAN YOU SAW IN YOUR TEACHING CAREER EARLIER.

SO HOW ARE YOU THEN SELECTING THE YOUNG WOMEN FOR THE INSTITUTE?

WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING TO FIND THEM?

OKAY, WE TRAIN GIRLS FROM NEW YORK CITY -- WHEN I FORMED B.A.L.I. IT WAS TO TARGET BRILLIANT OR UNDERSERVED, DISADVANTAGED GIRLS, FIRST-GENERATION IMMIGRANTS, YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR, ALL COLORS, OF COURSE.

NOW WE TRAIN IN ALL THE FIVE BOROUGHS PLUS NEW JERSEY, LONG ISLAND, WESTCHESTER, KIDS FROM THE COUNTRY.

THEY APPLY, WE INTERVIEW EVERY APPLICANT, WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON THE AMAZING DIVERSITY NOT ONLY OF OUR KIDS BUT OF THE TRAINERS THAT I HAVE WORKING THERE.

THAT'S IMPORTANT.

IT'S VERY IMPORTANT.

AND FURTHERMORE, WE DO SOMETHING VERY UNIQUE.

BECAUSE I'M A PROFESSOR, I DECIDED TO TRY THIS.

TRAIN MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE TOGETHER IN THE SAME TRAINING CLASS.

WHY TOGETHER?

MOST PEOPLE WOULD THINK, THEY'RE DIFFERENT AGES, DIFFERENT INTERESTS, KEEP THEM APART.

NO, WE TRAIN TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL.

I TELL MY TRAINERS, I TELL MY STAFF.

WHY THAT IS, THE COLLEGE GIRLS MENTOR THE HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS.

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS MENTOR THE GIRLS WHO ARE GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL.

GREAT APPROACH.

THEREFORE IT'S PEER MENTORING.

SO THAT THE ENVIRONMENT IS SAFE AND CHALLENGING AND SELF-ESTEEM BUILDING.

AND SAFE FOR YOUNG WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR CONCERNS, THEIR AGONIES, THEIR ECSTASIES, VIOLENCE MANY EXPERIENCE IN THEIR HOMES, AND WE HELP THEM GET BEYOND IT.

IT SOUNDS LIKE A FABULOUS INSTITUTE, FABULOUS WORK.

I CAN'T IMAGINE A BETTER LEGACY FOR YOUR MOM THAN THE INSTITUTE.

I THANK YOU.

GOOD LUCK AND CONGRATULATIONS.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TAKE CARE.

> BEFORE WE LET YOU GO, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT A WONDERFUL EXTENSION TO 'METROFOCUS.'

OUR NEW TWICE-WEEKLY PODCAST WITH ME AS YOUR HOST.

ON IT WE'LL GET TO EXPLORE IN-DEPTH CONVERSATIONS THAT ARE A LITTLE LESS FILTERED THAN THEY ARE IN TELEVISION AND A LOT MORE INTIMATE.

ON THE PODCAST I'LL TALK TO AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SET OF GUESTS WITH AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ATTITUDE.

THE PRICE OF JOINING THIS PODCAST, COMPLETE WITH NEW YORKERS FROM THE STREETS TO CITY HALL, AND FROM WALL STREET TO BROADWAY, ABSOLUTELY FREE.

SO HEAD ON OVER TO iTUNES OR SOUNDCLOUD TO JOIN ME IN THIS ECLECTIC MIX OF PERSONALITIES AS WE EXPLORE OUR CITY WITH A UNIT 'METROFOCUS.'

FRESH CONTENT EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY.

I'LL SEE YOU THERE.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY JAMES AND MERRILL TISCH.

SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III.

SILL SIA AND SIMON PROGRAM TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BERNARD AND IRENE SCHWARTZ.

BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG.

AND BY --

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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