Thursday, April 28, 2016

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part LVII

Subway; February, 10, 1966.
Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

New York, 1966. I was busy running around town showing my portfolio and getting work.
I got to do an LP cover for Columbia Records. My retro-'20s/'30s style was getting noticed.
I was also continuing to meet interesting people. Richard Lamparski had a radio show on WBAI that dealt with the lives of celebrities after they were no longer working. Later, he expanded the subject into a series of "Whatever Became Of" books. It was one of the earliest of the books that looked to the past now that so many lifestyles were in the process of major changes.
And Ben Bagley had been only 21 when he produced "the Shoestring Revue" that became a hit. He was the youngest ever Broadway producer and was now producing a series of records featuring songs by major composers — Rodgers & Hart, George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and others — little known songs that had been cut from major Broadway musicals. He called his company "Painted Smiles" and employed tried and true musical stars, Charlotte Rae, Tammy Grimes, Elaine Stritch and many others with surprise performances from people not connected to musicals like Tony Perkins, Rex Reed, Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. His "Revisited" LP covers were designed by Harvey Schmidt who'd been one of my favorite Illustrators while I was at UCLA.
After the success of "The FANTASTICKS" for which he composed the music, Schmidt went on to become a successful Broadway composer himself!
I'd known Ben from my earliest days in New York and had introduced him to Barbra Streisand when, pre-Broadway, she was still singing at the Bon Soir. He never forgave her for not working with him and carried a grudge against her for the rest of his life!

Barbra had become so much in demand so quickly that she was never available to do anything for Ben. He never understood that.

He had just had success with a stage piece he'd developed from the record series. It was "The Rise and Fall of the Whole World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter Revisited" starring Kaye Ballard and I went to see it on the night of my birthday.
Baird Searles was another person who was a regular host on WBAI radio shows, mostly dealing with theater, although I think he was one of the first to touch on LGBT politics.

At this time, WBAI-FM was becoming a powerful means of spreading the word about what was really happening in the new culture that was developing. It was and is still the New York City branch of the listener supported Pacifia Network and was at the heart of everything that was or was about to be current, new and radical!

It was the first radio station to have Bob Dylan appear as a guest and the first time anyone outside of a Village club got to hear him perform his songs! Arlo Guthrie performed "Alice's Restaurant" on Bob Fass' show before he recorded it and the Democratic Convention demonstrations of 1968 were largely organized on WBAI air time!

They were on top of everything, doing in-depth reporting on the important subjects that the main stream commercial media avoided or ignored!
Having begun to work steadily, WBAI was my lifeline to what was going on and helped me get the full background story of events that the media skimmed over; with that information one would've had to be totally unfeeling not to be sympathetic with the Leftist political climate that was developing against the Vietnam War, President Johnson and Washington in general!
Meanwhile ...
Dale was married to Tom Krumwiede, an advertising art director who'd been one of my first close friends at the ad agency when I'd arrived in New York. Dale was from Alabama and with her I was able to share reminiscences of my days in Alabama at Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal.
She and Tom lived a block away from me on 82nd Street and they had two young sons, Adam and Mark.
Early one evening I was invited over for drinks before we were going on to dinner. A neighbor of theirs, a friend living in the same building was another woman from Alabama, Nelle Harper Lee, and our conversation centered around the South and the situations developing there.
There was a lot of wine consumed and around 10:00 p.m. it was decided we'd go to dinner at Elaine's, which was just up Second Avenue at 88th Street.

Dale decided to stay with Mark and Adam so it was only Nelle, Tom and me. I'd not been there before and Tom told the story about how one night, after having a few drinks too many, he'd fallen through Elaine's front plate glass window. He was not hurt but seeing Elaine rushing toward him, was worried she'd make him pay for her expensive window! She was so relieved to not be threatened with a lawsuit somehow that it all ended nicely and we were welcomed in and placed in a table toward the rear.
I remember that there was a very Parisian feel to the place. There were even recordings by the owner of chic New Jimmy's in Paris, Regine.

I recall little else about the evening and because of all the wine, was beginning to feel queasy and in fact, became somehow unobtrusively "sick" in the dark corner next to where I was sitting.

Thank god I was with Harper Lee!

It was my first time at Elaine's — but not the last.
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