NEW YORK – There are moments when we come across a remarkable story that reveals yet another remarkable story. When Stella Pavlides, Founder and President of the American Vitiligo Research Foundation (AVRF) a 501(c)(3) charity based in Clearwater, FL, spoke with The National Herald about her life and her efforts to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for the acquired skin disorder that affects over 75 million people of all ethnicities worldwide, she also spoke about her family background, her mother from Smyrna and father from Pontus. Pavlides shared further details with TNH about her father Gregory’s extraordinary journey from Pontus to the United States and his years at the legendary Stork Club.
Stella Pavlides’ recollections follow:
My father, Gregory Pavlides, was born in Pontus on October 20, 1906. As a young child, my father along with my grandfather would bury the dead Armenians whom the Turks had brutally murdered by cutting their throats and cutting pregnant women’s stomachs open so their unborn children would fall to the ground. One day while my father was burying these poor, innocent Armenians, he came home wearing a red jacket that he had taken from one of the dead people. He was 8 years old at the time and not knowing right from wrong, he was told by his mother, my grandmother, to quickly return the jacket and he did.
My father very rarely talked about his youth since it was an extremely sad time in his life. His grandmother, my great-grandmother was crossing over the mountains in the winter and was devoured by wolves. My father’s mother, my grandmother, died from a disease due to the conditions back then. All of his siblings died of starvation and this was one topic my father hardly ever talked about due to the sorrow it inflicted on him.
I remember one time where he sat at the dinner table and cried saying that he could have helped each of them now because of his finances, but he did not have that opportunity at that time due to poverty. My father’s father John (my grandfather) remarried and had another family of wonderful people, whom I did meet and spent time with in Greece with my father and mother, but at that time my father missed his natural mother and siblings more than one could comprehend having left home as a teen and his final destination was New York City.
My father married my mother Demetra Dellis on June 28, 1936 in New York.
He started working at Stork Club as a bus boy a few days after it opened. He worked very faithfully and had become the maitre’d of the most famous night clubs ever worldwide and remained in that position until the Stork Club closed. He closed it with Sherman Billingsley, the owner. My father was loyal to the very end.
One day, my father saw that Mr. Billingsley had left a pile of $5,000 behind. Mr. B acted surprised when my father called his attention to this, but my father felt he was being tested for his honesty and from then on held a special place with the owner of the Stork Club and thus my father Gregory became known as the shadow. He was a favorite of Billingsley’s for his loyalty and devotion.
My father was in charge of the “Gold Chain” [the Stork Club’s version of the velvet rope]. He was the one who decided who was to come in and who was turned away.
In 1951, the renowned African-American performer Josephine Baker went to the Stork Club and my father being at the Gold Chain recognized her, confirmed the reservation, and led her and her party to the Cub Room [the Stork’s VIP room]. This did not go over too big with the owner and he asked, “Who the f— let them in?” You guessed correctly, it was my father and he was not praised for his decision. I remember him telling me about how he almost lost his job, but he was going to do what he believed was the right thing to do no matter what. [At the time, African-Americans were still barred from some establishments and though segregation was not de jure in New York, it was still de facto in many areas.]
The Kennedys often spent time in the Cub Room at the Stork Club. At certain instances my father had to escort Jack’s female companion, Marilyn Monroe, out through the kitchen when his wife Jackie would unexpectedly visit the Stork Club.
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation was founded on December 15, 1946 by journalist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell where Mr. Runyon [sportswriter and journalist who passed away from throat cancer on December 10, 1946] and Mr. Winchell often shared a table at the Stork Club. Daddy and I attended the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s 25-year anniversary on May 7, 1971 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. All I remember is how many people came up to my father, shook his hand and spoke with him with smiles on their faces. What a legacy this man has left me. He taught me that no matter who you are, how much money you have, you respect and treat all people the same. He showed me unconditional love and that we are all created equal! I still have the beautiful paperweight that was gifted to each attendee during that memorable event at the Waldorf in 1971.
On November 20, 1966, Walter Winchell, the famous columnist wrote a letter to my father and made the following statement in closing: “You are a rare type of man. Your kindness and goodness show in your face.” How joyful I am when reading such statements!
My father met and befriended hundreds of famous people during that era. To name a few: Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemmingway, the Kennedys, Conrad Hilton, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Eileen Ford. Mr. Winchell was a very dear friend of my father’s who would call our home regularly. Anyone who was anyone during that time would visit the Stork Club and they all loved Gregory and he also loved them. I am stating this, because I have numerous letters that were written to my father saying how much they loved him. Also, there are pictures signed to my father by celebrities.
He died in New York City on October 16, 1983 while my mother and he had gone to New York to attend my mother’s brother’s funeral and where my father also passed suddenly after having a complete physical before leaving Florida for their trip and was told he was in great health. The cause of death was acute heart failure.
One thing that will never leave me was my father’s advice to me. He told me to treat everyone with respect no matter what their position was, or how much money they had, since he believed everyone was created equal and this I will never forget. I love and miss my father with all of my heart. Not one bad memory do I have when I think of him.
You were truly my hero and the BEST father God could ever gift to a child. You never said a harsh word about anyone. You are truly my greatest role model. I love you, miss you, and I am so proud to be your child.
The New-York Historical Society held an exhibition May 2-October 1, 2000 on the Stork Club. At the entrance, a large cut-out of my father stood holding the Gold Chain.
It should be noted that following the death of Gregory Pavlides, journalist Jack O’Brian wrote an article titled The Shadow of the Stork Club pointing out that Pavlides “was in his 70s when he died but never looked his age. When young he looked older; old, he maintained the same ageless visage, aspect, niceness, courtly behavior as the well-mannered perambulating centerpole of the most famous Manhattan nightclub in the histories of status, snobbism, glamor; the real not the false tinsel.”
O’Brian also noted that “the handsome little Greek emigre already had Sherman’s trust and confidence and for decades trailed several feet behind Sherman, fulfilling instructions by secret signals,” and later on, “he tried living again in his native Greece but that was too far from his beloved Stork Club. When the Stork was torn down, CBS czar Bill Paley built the tiny park where the Stork once reigned. Gregory visited there every afternoon, sat and ruminated his decades-long career as Sherman’s ‘Shadow.’”
More information about the Stork Club is available in the book Stork Club: America’s Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Cafe Society by Ralph Blumenthal.
More information about the American Vitiligo Research Foundation is available online: avrf.org.