She who must be obeyed

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Q

The building at 124 East 55th Street in Manhattan has signs that say ELEANOR'S BUILDING and SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED. Who is Eleanor, and why must we obey her?—David Graves, Park Slope

A

The enigmatic Eleanor is no dictator; she’s the wife of Donald Taffner, the owner of the television production and distribution company DLT Entertainment, which was once housed in this Upper East Side building. The sign references one of Donald’s favorite shows distributed by the company, Rumpole of the Bailey. The program’s main character, a judge, refers to his wife, Hilda, as “she who must be obeyed,” explains Jeff Cotugno, DLT’s chief operating officer. Cotugno calls the signage “a loving recognition of their marriage.”

Donald mounted the sign in 1983, when he brought the company from England to New York. Eleanor wasn’t the first woman to be immortalized on the site; it is known as the Mary Hale Cunningham House, after the widow who commissioned the building, which is now a city landmark. The company moved several years ago, bringing new versions of the signs to East 55th Street; the writer of Rumpole of the Bailey, John Mortimer, even came to New York City for the unveiling of the homage. Cotugno often finds tourists taking photos of the sign at his office. “If I’m coming out of the building, people will ask me about it,” he says. “Even though it’s up a little high, somehow people notice it.”

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