MIA: Thank You Notes


Behind The Headlines With May Okon
East Hampton Independent News
By Debbie Tuma

Sitting in her country kitchen in Water Mill, May Okon took a pack of letters and newspaper clips and spread them out on her table cloth. Typewritten or handwritten in different colored inks, were letters from numerous celebrities, including Bette Midler, Beverly Sills, Bess Myerson, Wayne Newton, Mike Wallace, Sal Mineo, and Hedda Hopper. Each one expressed thanks to Okon for her accurate stories, which appeared weekly in the features section of the New York Daily News, where she worked for 30 years.

From April 4, 1944, to April 4, 1974, Okon was a celebrity feature writer for the News, when it was formerly located at its East 42nd Street offices. The roster of famous names she met and interviewed during that time, reads like a “Who’s Who” list — from Woody Allen, to Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Julie Andrews, Clint Eastwood, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover, Patty Duke, Johnny Cash, Robert Redford, Tony Bennett, Rock Hudson, Louie Armstrong, and Vivien Leigh. Some she interviewed in their homes, or in restaurants, like the star-studded Sardi’s and the former Russian Tea Room, and many she took into the special interview room at the Daily News.

“Back then, many of these celebrities took the time to write me a note of appreciation for their article,” said Okon, who grew up in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn. She always admired opera star Beverly Sills, of nearby Seagate, Brooklyn, so she was thrilled when Sills wrote, in 1968, “For two little Coney Island kids, we didn’t do too badly.”

In 1954, after Okon wrote an in-house story about social columnist Hopper and her famous hats, Hopper wrote, “Other New York columnists are gnashing their teeth because of my spread. But maybe they don’t wear as many hats as I do.”

Some celebrities, like Midler (in 1973) and Ann Miller, sent personalized notes with little pictures of them drawn on the stationery. Newton, a rising young singer in 1966, wrote that he was nervous because he had never been interviewed by a woman before, and he said, “proverbial butterflies were flying around in my stomach during the interview.”

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