One one side of the room: interior designer Muriel Rudolph, a beautiful, sophisticated drama-major graduate from the University of Miami who had become an influential interior designer in Miami Beach.
On the other, entertainer Jackie Gleason. “To the moon, Alice!” his hot-headed Honeymooners character would bellow at his TV wife whenever he got angry — which was basically every episode of the classic 1950s sitcom. The real Gleason, well, he fit the role.
The two sized each other up.
“I’m a guy from Brooklyn who likes to go first class,” he commanded.
Rudolph, by that time in 1971, was already a seminal figure on the Beach. During the boom of high-rise construction along the Gold Coast, she designed many of the model apartments that showcased these skyscrapers. She took Gleason ‘to the moon.’
Rudolph died April 20 at 91. Her son Douglas Rudolph, who opened the first Wendy’s restaurant in Miami-Dade in 1977 with his late father Sidney and later founded the Rudy’s burger chain, remembers his mother’s influence, poise and dedication to her craft.
“I was a kid and Jackie Gleason was coming to mom to decorate his house and I remember going there one time. He was rather bombastically putting on a show for everybody, even at his home. But she handled him and when he dealt with her he was different,” he said. “She could light up a room.”
By the late 1960s, she had formed The Rudolph Collection, a custom handmade furniture and accessory company, with her daughter Judi Male. Gleason wanted Rudolph to design the furnishings for a 12,000-square-foot home he was building in Inverrary in Lauderhill to share with his second wife, Beverly. The property was 10 times the size of the average two-bedroom home. The billiards room alone could accommodate eight full-sized pool tables, Rudolph estimated.
“They have very definite ideas about how they want their home to look. And they are articulate in expressing their likes and dislikes,” Rudolph said in an April 1971 Miami Herald article.
Two years earlier, the Chicago-born and Miami Beach-bred Rudolph, a graduate from Miami Beach High School, had jetted to Geneva to decorate a new villa for the president of the Hemispheres Development Corp. In 1978, she told a Miami Herald Home & Design columnist that she and daughter Judi were manufacturing “the antiques of the future.”
Jo Werne, the Herald’s design critic at the time, opined: “If fastidious manufacturing is one criteria for longevity, the furniture and accessories created by The Rudolph Collection may last centuries.”
Said Male: “She had this innate ability to be kind and sort of prodding at the same time. She made us all think we could really do anything and she had this innate creativity that came out in everything she did.”
Rudolph, a founding member of the National Society of Interior Decorators (later American Society of Interior Designers), never stopped. Even from her hospital bed.
“My son Alex and I are doing a new restaurant concept called Tap 42 and we want to start one in Coral Gables. She would want to see the renderings on my iPad,” Douglas Rudolph said. He was deciding between a garage door entrance or an open front.
“She said, ‘I think the garage doors would be better. I’m thinking how they would look against the walls.’ She was a decorator-designer to the end and that typified who she was. She was thinking how to make it better for her grandson.”
Douglas Rudolph’s wife, Nina, is sister to CBS4 entertainment reporter Lisa Petrillo, who called Rudolph “the epitome of cool. She always had a smile on her face, a kind word and was the most stylish person I have ever met. She was also extremely charitable and a lot of fun to be with.”
Rudolph, grandmother to Bridesmaids actress Maya Rudolph, whose mother, the late R&B star Minnie Riperton, was married to her son, Lovin’ You songwriter Richard Rudolph, was equally passionate about her philanthropic efforts.
Rudolph was an active member of Mount Sinai’s Founders Club and she supported the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged.
“She was an incredibly caring person,” said son Douglas. “All three of us talk about what a tough act she is to follow.”
When Male co-founded the Community Alliance Against AIDS in 1987, “Mom was so helpful and instrumental and ahead of her time in her acceptance and strong-arming people to pay attention. She lost a lot of friends and she was aware. For a woman of her age, this spoke to her character.”
In addition to her three children, Rudolph is survived by grandchildren Marc, Maya, Alex and Sabrina Rudolph, John Male and Lauren Crandall, and eight great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Temple Israel, 137 NE 19th Ave., Miami.
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