Famous and Infamous People I’ve Met and Known

Mirah Riben, author and activist
7 min readApr 21, 2023

Recently, I wrote about traumas I survived. But my life has been much more than crises.

My encounters with wonderful, talented and interesting famous and infamous people began as a child at University Settlment House summer camp in Beacon, NY. where Pete Seeger was the song leader and story-teller. An auspicious start. Seeger’s stories and songs lit the fire of social justice deep in my heart and soul that remains seven generations later.

My life went on to include knowing well and partying with the famous and the infamous such as Andy Warhol, Ultra Violet, Richie Havens, and Robert Fried (heir of publishing mogul Moses Annenberg) who was jailed for the death of his girlfriend.

I met Richie Havens while waitressing at the basement coffee houses in The Village in the 60’s The Café Wha and the Why Not. Later, Richie Havens was the opening act at the infamous Woodstock music festival of 1969 which, together with the film by the same name, catapulted him to fame.

Me and Richie early 90’s, State Theater, New Brunswick, NJ.

Richie had the biggest hands I have ever seen.

I hung out with him in his lower East Side apartment with his wife,Nan, two daughters and his bongo playing “brothers” Deano and Natoga. It was like what I have heard Willie Nelson’s tour bus described as. His tub-in-the-kitchen railroad apartment on East 3rd between Aves B & C was always open for people to hang out, get high and listen to him play. Jam. The air was the quality I’d imagine on Willie Nelson’s bus.

I also saw Willie live with Dylan at the Bethel Woods amphitheater. A huge rainbow arched over the entire stage during that show and it was there at Bethel Woods, on Yasgur’s Farm, the site of the 1969 Woodstock music and mud fest, where Richie’s ashes were scattered during a memorial service I attended. We remained friends for decades and I took my 17-year-old son to see him when he played the State Theater New Brunswick. My son’s jaw dropped open when Richie said; “You look just like your mother did at your age” confirming my stories about knowing him were in fact true. My son was stunned.

Back in the 60’s when I met Richie who was playimg “basket houses” where I worked as a waitress, Bob Dylan had recently left the circuit of musicians passing a basket for tips. For a long time I thought the line in Dylan’s “Rolling Stone” about the diplomat who had on his shoulder a Siamese cat was about me ’cause I had a kitten who lived on my shoulder in my Village daze. But I found out it was written in ’65 about Andy Warhol. Later, in 1971 I attended a “happening” at Warhol’s factory in 1971. Ultra Violet was there.

I’ve “seen the needle and the damage done”

I knew and partied with Robert (Bob) Friede, heir of the publishing giant, Moses Annenberg, and his girlfriend Celeste Crenshaw, who was found in the trunk of his car in 1966. The parties at Friede’s parents’ Park Avenue apartment are described in Turned On, by Dick Schaap.

I remember a 6–10 room apartment, each room with people on uppers, downers, or whatever, some making out, some passed out. In the living room a grand piano displaying a veritable, never ending, smorgasbord of drugs of every color and type; bowls of pills like M&Ms; powder on mirrors with straws.

A good likeness of Bob Friede as I knew him in 1965, drawn by Susan Hand for Schaap’s book, Turned On.

Celeste Crenshaw, 19.

From NY Times, Nov. 19, 1970, “Justice Schweitzer Being Investigated by Nicholas Gage tells a tale of wealthy White ‘justice’.”

“Another case involving Jus tice Schweitzer concerns Robert Friede, 25‐year‐old grandson of the late Moses L. Annenberg, former publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer.Friede was arrested Feb. 7, 1966, while sitting in his car in front of 167 East Second Street.

“Policemen asked him for his driver’s license, and when he opened his wallet two packets of heroin fell out. They then searched the car and discovered in the trunk the body of Celeste Crenshaw, 19, who had died from a narcotics injection that Friede later admitted giving her.

“In court the following month, Friede said he did not mean to kill Miss Crenshaw and pleaded guilty to second‐degree manslaughter, possession of narcotics and violation of probation. Second-degree man slaughter is punishable by up to 15 years, but Friede had a previous felony conviction and faced a sentence of up to 30 years.

“On April 15, 1966, Justice Schweitzer gave Friede a suspended sentence of seven and a half years for the man slaughter conviction, a suspended sentence of one year For the narcotics conviction, and a prison sentence of two and a half to five years for violation of probation. Nineteen months later Friede was out on parole.

“Justice Schweitzer’s sentencing of Friede did not end his involvement in the case. Sometime in mid‐1967 Justice Schweitzer met privately with William Jaffe, a prominent lawyer who is Robert Friede’s stepfather, to discuss the young addict.

“In a chauffeured Rolls‐Royce, Mr. Jaffe drove from New York at the invitation of Justice Schweitzer to the justice’s home, which was then at 101 Catherine Avenue, Scarsdale, and talked for more than an hour with him.

“Shortly afterward the late Harris Steinberg, the lawyer who represented Friede, wrote a letter to State Parole Com missioner Russell G. Oswald. He said in the letter that Jus tice Schweitzer felt that, all things being considered, Robert Friede represented a good risk for parole as soon as he became eligible. Friede was paroled on Nov. 13, 1967, and is now living in the State of Washington.”

We partied with these people. Celeste, who was a year younger than me, died because there was no Narcan at the time. I am truly lucky to be alive.

It was in a car rented by Bob Friede (the same car?) that I went on 1965 road trip — and wound up getting married on that wild ride.

The story of Friede and Crenshaw was also told in Eric Ferrara’s A Guide to Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos of New York’s Lower East Side. 2009, p 144–5.

Later, I worked as Associate Editor of three magazines at Volitant/Histrionics Publishing, at 21W 26st Street, where I discovered my love of writing by writing fictional “bios” for sets of nudie photos for MR., Man To Man, and Sir!, three grade C, soft smut, “girlie” rags.

1974 cover

I started as receptionist and before long, I was given “cold” submitted articles to edit and review. To my great surprise, I became the only Associate Editor of three mags with no college education whatsoever. It was absolutely the most fun job ever! I got to make up bios for sets of nudfie photos we bought from photographers. “Dog lover, Casandra is working as model to put herself through law school.”

I lived in Chelsea, the East 20s, and rode my bike to work.

I met and interviewed Harry Chapin. He was charming and very polite despite my being a stumbling “reporter.” Most of the other “interviews” were faked from press releases.

After my divorce in 1989, I legally changed my name to Mirah.

I created a record and movie review column and got every new album released between 1968 and 1974. I also attended many very exciting premieres including Godspell, Jesus Christ Super Star, Hair, and the 1971 benefit Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, put together by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. In press seats, I freaked out as one surprise superstar after another took center stage, inlcuding Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and Banfinger.

And it was through that job and my record and movie review column that I attended a party at Andy Warhol’s The Factory attended by Ultra Violet.