Hell’s Kitchen actor, singer, composer, director and teacher Anita Hollander lost her leg to cancer in 1982 and moved to NYC the following year — where she has made it her goal to promote greater inclusion, accessibility and employment in the entertainment industry, and is currently carrying on the fight on the SAG-AFTRA picket line. Anita has lived in Manhattan Plaza for 40 years, this is her West Side Story.

Anita has lived at Manhattan Plaza since 1988. Photo: Naty Caez

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I came here in 1983 (exactly 40 years ago this month!). First lived in the Village. Moved into Hell’s Kitchen — Manhattan Plaza in 1988.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job was teaching voice to acting students at NYU Experimental Theatre Wing. I’m an actor, singer, composer, director and teacher. 

To promote greater inclusion, accessibility and employment in all media of our industry, I’ve worked with SAG-AFTRA, Actors Equity, the Writers, Directors, Producers & Dramatists Guilds, Casting Society, Broadway League, Hollywood producers and the ReelAbilities International Film Festival, just to name a few! We aim for greater access to auditions, authenticity in casting, accessibility on sets, studios and stages and accuracy of writing and portrayals. 

The strike effects our disability community in a number of ways, including paying for rent, food and bills, but perhaps the greatest hardship is losing health insurance due to work stoppage. For disabled folks, that’s essential to survival. But these hardships are the very things we are fighting for, and when we win, we will ALL benefit. One of the beautiful things I’ve seen on the picket line is our agents and casting directors picketing WITH us. We’ve had so much support from the whole industry community, from Times Square to Hudson Yards to Rockefeller Center. Hell’s Kitchen is surrounded by activists to improve the lives of our own residents. Isn’t that something!

Anita at a SAG-AFTRA rally. Photo supplied.

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
My daughter, when she was five, dropping to her knees on our block shouting “I LOVE MANHADDAN!”

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Diversity, community, magical place to raise kids. A real neighborhood where we know and support one another. Manhattan Plaza is an oasis and kind of the hub of the hood! My daughter met all kinds of people and had all kinds of experiences and opportunities growing up here, which gave her a broad perspective, an open mind and compassion for everyone. 

Anita with her husband, daughter and son-in-law at West Bank Cafe. Photo supplied.

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
In addition to doing Tai Chi on one leg, I’d say encouraging people, especially kids (writing songs for them.) My daughter calls me a vessel. I’ve served as a disability advocate for over four decades, especially as National Chair of SAG-AFTRA Performers With Disabilities Committee.

What else should we know about you?
In 1982 I opened in a show in Boston four weeks after losing a leg to cancer and moved to NYC the following year. I wrote two original solo musicals which I’ve performed on 42nd Street as well as the Kennedy Center, the White House and as far off as South Korea. In the 80s and 90s I sang at The Original Improvisation on 44th Street, opening for Robin Williams and others. Taught music at 43rd St Kids Preschool and have directed the Village Temple Children’s Choir for 27 years. I’ve also sung at Carnegie Hall.

Anita’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

West Bank Cafe — 407 W42nd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Owner Steve Olsen is the Saint of Hell’s Kitchen. Don’t know what we’d do without him. He treats everyone like family. The food is fantastic and the ambiance is so beautiful and comfortable.

Little Pie Company — 424 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Arnold Wilkerson is our very own Manhattan Plaza success story. Not only are the pies and cakes incredible, but he’s created a charming patio to meet friends and catch up right on our block. 

Anita with Arnold, owner of Little Pie Company. Photo: Naty Caez

Theatre Breaking Through Barriers — 410 W42nd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
This Off-Broadway Equity theatre company has survived over four decades in NYC and has its home right on W42nd Street in the Theatre Row building. I’ve done so many wonderful plays with them, both here and in Japan, Zagreb and at the UN in Geneva. The barriers it has broken internationally for performers with disabilities in our industry cannot be overstated. The company blends the best of disabled and non-disabled professionals. During the pandemic it went virtual, employing actors, directors and playwrights from all over the world. Artistic Director Nicholas Viselli was just proclaimed a Legend of Off-Broadway this year.

Manhattan Plaza Health Club — 482 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
The pool is simply my sanity (after all, as a one-legged swimmer, I am a mermaid.) The Pilates classes keep me fit, strong and literally able to walk. The teachers and staff are the best.

Anita says the pool at Manhattan Plaza Health Club is her sanity. Photo: Naty Caez

Amy’s Bread — 672 9th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
Where can you get a fresh challah on Shabbat in Hell’s Kitchen? Amy’s Bread of course! Whenever my Mom comes in from Ohio she heads straight there first! It’s a neighborhood staple. 

Poseidon Bakery — 629 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
A family owned business that’s outlived so many local spots, the spanakopita is famous! Truly kind people (and I taught two of their kids music in preschool, though they’re now adults!).

43rd Street Physical Medicine — 311 W43rd Street #206 (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Dr Mark Yaiser, chiropractor and wizard, has saved my body maybe 100 times or more in the decades he’s been on 43rd Street. We live in a city where we walk everywhere, and this man is a spine-saver from all the wear and tear. Plus the whole staff is delightful. Physical Therapist Philip is amazing. MaryBeth and Zoby and all the other professionals are fabulous. We’re so lucky they’re here.

Schmackary’s — 362 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
How do you say no to a gluten-free cookie that tastes like heaven? You just don’t. Thank goodness for me they have a basket of discount day-olds if you get there early enough. Nice reward after auditions and rehearsals too. And I ship maple bacon cookies to my sister out-of-town on holidays!

Flowers on the Park — 444 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Robert makes our block so classy with his gorgeous flowers and arrangements. One Mother’s Day I just bought myself some tulips cuz they were so beautiful. It really does make me happy to walk by such beauty every day. And our lobbies have amazing arrangements from them on holidays as well.

Anita at Flowers on the Park. Photo: Naty Caez

Stony Hill Gardens Farmers Market — W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
A reason my husband and I look forward to Saturday mornings: the freshest produce brought straight from the farm in NJ. They’ve gotten to know us so well, they remember what we like and make sure it’s there for us. Carol and Corey and the gang treat our community like family. And if you’re on our block (or Schmooze Alley as I call it) on Sat morning you can see that we really are!

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
We’ve been through a lot in the decades I’ve lived in Hell’s Kitchen, and what I noticed most after 9/11 and during the pandemic is that we come together to help each other. We celebrate what is good about life and community here. And by the way, we also have Councilman Erik Bottcher, Dr Jason Kindt at the Samuel Friedman Clinic, the Entertainment Community Fund, some amazing schools and teachers, including Chuck Vassallo at Professional Performing Arts School, and block and tenants associations run by remarkable women. Plus a population throughout Hell’s Kitchen of artists and creative people who are true pioneers of culture. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it.

You can follow Anita on Instagram @anitahollander. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations

You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.

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