Thursday, December 29, 2016

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part XCII

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

Paul Bartel made a deal
with a US Office of Information for Fred Wellington and me to accompany him to the International Expo in Montreal, Canada so he could film promotional footage for their office. Fred would be filming and I was just there for laughs — and a free trip to Canada and Expo!

One of the first things we saw were Czech animated films in the Czechoslovakia Pavilion. Paul had as enthusiastic an interest in animated films as I did! One of the things that solidified our friendship was knowing that even before he'd come from New Jersey to UCLA he'd already made a short animated film to the music of "Camel Rock," a popular recording from the 1950s.
He had spent a summer interning and observing at the animation studio, UPA, a studio whose films, "GERALD McBOING-BOING" and "THE NEARSIGHTED MR. McGOO" were giving the Disney Studios a run for their money! The UPA films had a style that had a relationship to contemporary graphics rather than Disney's stylized version of the real world and the UPA innovations were being widely appreciated and influential. With help from one of the directors Paul had used their facility to make his film!
The Czech films we saw were even a step beyond UPA and utilized collage and experimental techniques that amazed us. They were without spoken dialogue and utilized funny sound effects for the same effect as dialogue since using the Czech language would've limited their distribution!

It reminded me of my Dutch friends who were fluent in French, German and English explaining to me that since they were citizens of a smaller country with close visiting neighbors who on occasion had invaded them, they were obliged to be multilingual!

It had also explained to me why the United States, being so large, its citizens only spoke English — and even then, some of them were barely understandable!

I again noticed that people on subways everywhere don't look much different than the New York subway riders!
The United States Pavilion was spectacular with a very long escalator leading to an enormous geodesic dome which led to endless speculation by the press about what would be the urban future. Would cities be enclosed by domes leading to climate control?

There was also a system of elevated monorail trains running around and through the pavilion — even more prophesies that that would be the future of public transportation. So far its only use has been by the Disney Corporation!
I learned something in Canada — it was that I couldn't begin to understand Canadian French which was so different than Parisian French. There were even words that existed in Canadian French that didn't exist in the French language I was accustomed to. To not look foolish I had to pretend that I didn't speak French!

When I was living in Paris and visiting friends in London I'd had to even pretend I didn't speak English when dealing with some salespeople with regional accents! I couldn't understand much of what they said either!
Fred Wellington changing film in the changing bag.
Finally, we returned to New York.
After catching up with work deadlines I met with Carole Gister for coffee and told her about our Canadian adventure at Expo.
The next day I took Amy Vane to Ron Dahlman's apartment where we watched Zero Mostel on television.
After, we had to make an obligatory stop at Blum's for ice cream!
A few days later I had a German dinner with friends at the Cafe Hindenburg where I paid with a check — this is before there were credit cards — and I was surprised when a man came to our table from the kitchen to tell me that he'd worked in the Schulenbergs' stables as a young man before the Nazis came into power. (A "von der Schulenburg" had been a very prominent member of President von Hindenburg's Weimar government and toward the end of WW II had been a collaborator in the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler in the bunker!)

It had been explained to me a long time ago by my grandfather that the suffix, "-berg" in a family name indicated that that family branch's property and origin was mountainous whereas "-burg" was indicative of an urban location! His mother, my great grandmother, was born in Germany and my grandfather's first language was German. She was born Johanna von Nieberg but arriving in 19th century Ohio became "Jane Nieberg" or "Nyberg." I don't know when we dropped the "von der" part of our name and my grandfather avoided the subject.
My great grandmother's family Wappen or crest/coat of arms.
Even though our Schulenberg branch had emigrated in the very late 18th and early 19th century, in Yorkville it was assumed I had a more immediate connection to those other Schulenbergs/-burgs.

I assume that's why so many 86th Street Yorkville merchants had so readily accepted my checks!
I was invited to a surprise birthday party given for my friend Tom Krumwiede by his wife Dale at their apartment not far from mine. Their reticent neighbor (Nell) Harper Lee, who lived across the hall, even made a brief appearance!
The apartment's living room walls were painted a deep color — almost aubergine/eggplant and Tom had explained that they'd kept extra cans of the paint because having two young sons it was easier to just repaint a marked up area rather than try to clean it.

Good idea!
Dale and Tom had been so helpful during our shooting of THE SECRET CINEMA! I'd shot additional closeups in their apartment when I realized that our disco shots from Arthur discotheque didn't have enough examples of glamorous and beautiful people to make the point that "Jane" (Amy) didn't fit in with the "In Crowd."
Dale Krumwiede is in the background (extreme left) wearing her sparkly sequined dress! We needed more than just this in the film!
Dale and Tom had even patiently sewn 6000+ large sequins onto a Donald Brooks cocktail dress and it didn't even show up in the "Arthur/Raided Premise" disco sequence.

Borrowing Fred Wellington's camera I shot a tight closeup of Dale dancing in the dress with the sequins sparkling — just to establish the context of an exclusive, glamorous club populated by the exclusive, glamorous "In Crowd!"
There were the glamorous people's reaction closeup shots of "Jane's" humiliation using Dale, Fred's wife Margo Wellington, and my friend Gary Van Kirk!

For added glitz, after applying false eyelashes to Margo and Dale, I glued silver metallic foil to their eyelids, a trick I'd been using since designing shows at UCLA and that Barbra and I'd played with years before she used it on a TV Special!
The party was a success! Tom was surprised and didn't suspect a thing!

The next night being Saturday, Paul, Amy and I ended up at Max's Kansas City. It was a way of highlighting an evening and was becoming a habit.
We were ushered into the back room.
The place was jammed and at every table there was a one-act play!
Some were dramas — most were comedies!
Some would become tragi-comedies and some, just tragedies!
A man, seeing me drawing, came to our table and sat down next to me. We were in a booth and not knowing what to do, I kept drawing while he made light conversation. I didn't know what to say and frankly, wondered if he was coming on to me!

Then he said, "people say I look like Mel Brooks!"

Paul kept quietly talking with Amy.

"Do YOU think I look like Mel Brooks?" he asked.

I said that I didn't know what Mel Brooks looked like.

Paul kept talking to Amy.

(Mel Brooks and the as yet not famous Dick Cavett had a radio advertising campaign for beer and Mel Brooks was the 2000 year old brewmeister. It was a very funny campaign with improvised dialogue that occasionally broke up Dick Cavett, the straight man and I loved it.)
When the man asked again if I thought he looked like Mel Brooks I finally said "you sound like Mel Brooks" — Paul still quietly talking with Amy.

"I AM MEL BROOKS!" the man exclaimed and whipped out his driver's license showing me his name.

Paul stopped talking.

Brooks asked what Amy's name was and after being told, pointed at my drawing and said, "I'm in like with Amy Vane!"

Paul suddenly found a lot to tell this visitor, that Amy had been the star of our movie, that it was about a secret underground movie group and on and on until finally he mentioned that he was shopping for a distributor.

Brooks gave Paul his card with his business number and told Paul to call him the next Monday before returning to his table.
Paul was elated with this unexpected possibility with Mel.

Cut to several decades later — to West Hollywood and a restaurant/cabaret where I am having dinner with my friend Sandy Ruben, whose ex-husband Aaron had been the producer of "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW" among many others.

We were at the club to hear Estelle Reiner (wife of Carl) sing; she performed frequently and was always appreciated by her audience!

She's best remembered for her one line in her son Rob's movie, "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY" — "I'll have what she's having!"
Sandy celebrating her 93rd birthday at the Bel Air Hotel.
Estelle was one of Sandy's best and closest friends and Sandy had encouraged her to perform in public and even gone with her for support at clubs all over the L.A. basin and even the San Fernando Valley and Pasadena!

I'd gotten to know Estelle too and knew that Mel and his wife Anne Bancroft were also usually there to hear Estelle.

I had a plan: I made a large print of the drawing of Amy with Mel's inscription on it. I assumed he'd have no memory of the evening at Max's and as we entered the club, we passed the Brooks' table where they had just ordered dinner. We said hello and to Mel I said, "this is for you!" and handed him the print.

Sandy and I had just ordered our dinner and as the waiter left, Mel hurried to our table. "Please come to our table," he pleaded — "and tell Anne whatever about this drawing!" I excused myself, followed Mel, and finally said to Anne: "Check the date! It was a very long time ago!"

So back to 1967: Paul called Mel's office, BROOKSFILM, and when I asked him what Mel's reaction was, Paul sighed.

"He said it was too short for a feature and too long for a short!"

As Paul might've said:

"Blackout — Curtain!"
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