Thursday, September 15, 2016

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part LXXVII

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

New York, 1965.
Before we made The Secret Cinema, Paul Bartel and I had become involved with the Underground Filmmakers movement. We were in a group that at the time included Robert Downey (Senior), Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and others who continued with filmmaking in New York. The Cinematheque was just being formed and there were a lot of meetings downtown generating interest.

Film critic Andrew Sarris was very influential in getting things going.
There was an interesting mix of people.
I was still drawing hair styles for Popular Library and taking note of any style that wasn't like the long and straight style worn by folk singers and young people downtown. A coiffed and styled look was deemed to come too close to looking bourgeois, too Establishment and Uptown!
And Yorkville, my neighborhood around East 86th Street still had a strong Mittel-European feel.
I was still visiting West, Weir and Bartel Advertising keeping in touch with friends there and using it as a midtown headquarters as I made the rounds showing my portfolio.
Celanese was a major client of the agency and I did some trade publication illustrations for them.
And Paul and I, involved with The Filmmakers' Underground Collective, were invited to design and shoot titles for Jonas Mekas' film, "Double Barreled Detective Story."
The Animation stand.
Jonas Mekas made films that I guess would be called experimental but I don't remember much about any of them — including "Double Barreled Detective Story," the one for which we'd done the titles.
Mekas was and is still a strong and influential figure in that independent film movement and we were proud to have worked on his film.
Ben Bagley was someone I'd known since my earliest days in New York. He had produced "The Shoestring Revue" (starring then unknown Beatrice Arthur, Dody Goodman and Chita Rivera) at 22 and had become the youngest ever producer of a Broadway or Off-Broadway show.

He later produced shows with the then also unknown Joel Grey, Charlotte Rae and Tammy Grimes.
He was eccentric and a tease, always happy to say something inappropriate for shock value. One of my first theatrical jobs was designing a logo and poster for a small off-Broadway musical he was producing called "Fortuna."

It was supposedly set in Naples and when I showed my design to Ben, he said, "No, no, no! The color scheme is all wrong! A musical must always be in fuchsia!"

I said to him, "Do you know what this dominant color of my design is called?" And he said he didn't, so I told him: "NAPLES yellow!" which shut him up.

You could never tell if he was serious or not.
Nevertheless he was amusing to be with and one day we went to lunch.

Over Chinese food he told me that Andy Warhol had invited him to come by The Factory which was downtown on Union Square. Ben invited me to join him.
I'd given Warhol a nice job, a full back page newspaper ad for Good Housekeeping magazine when I was working at West, Weir & Bartel and I'd drawn an elaborate layout for the look of it. Warhol came to my office, I gave him the layout, and he came back soon after with the finished piece. At that time, 1961, he'd been doing charming illustrations for I. Miller shoes and Harper's Bazaar and that was the look I wanted.
After he left, it occurred to me that he'd just gotten $2000 for one night's work — something that I had virtually done for him — and I was only making $150 a week! That's when I decided that like him, I had to freelance!

I wondered if seeing him at The Factory, he'd remember me or comment about that. So Ben and I went downtown to Union Square and took the old elevator up to Warhol's floor where entering, we saw a guy wearing earphones who was lounging on an old 1930s couch. The walls were covered with aluminum foil and he paid no attention to us so we walked into the next space, a larger one, where a movie camera was set up and presumably a film was being shot.
It was a pretty basic and primitive setup and completely unimpressive.
Warhol himself was fidgeting and doing something against the far wall — and though he saw us, he completely ignored us and continued doing whatever he was doing as if we weren't there.

After an uncomfortable amount of time had passed, Ben and I felt foolish so we left.
We went for coffee at Cobb's Corner coffee shop and talked about Warhol. There wasn't a lot to say; I realized that Warhol had beaten Ben at a game Ben was used to winning!

A few days later I was at the New Yorker theater and so was Warhol.
We didn't speak; what would be the point?
As the woman, Valerie Solanas, who years later shot him, said: "Talking to Andy is like talking to a chair!"
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