Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CLI

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

What an amazing decade — the '60s.  And how amazing to be living in New York during the '60s!  When I arrived in New York in 1960 Eisenhower was for a few more months still President.

 "I Like Ike."
I took so much for granted but didn’t think that much about any of it.  I was excited to feel that I’d finally found a professional direction to my life.  Anything and everything seemed to be possible at that time.  New York was a big city but there was a logic to its Bigness!  

Uptown was uptown and downtown was downtown.  Fifth Avenue was the marker between the East Side and the West Side!  It was all very left brain and logical — until you got to the Village!  That was totally right brain and creativity oriented.  West 4th Street even crossed West 12th Street!  It was no coincidence that Greenwich Village was the oven where the '60s culture was cooked up!

Los Angeles, where I’d come from, was also a big city but it was also a vast city with a lot of dispersed creativity all over the area!  It was difficult to discern any trend or movement in LA during the 1950s and even the earliest part of the '60s.

In a sense, everyone lived in their own private world shared with their own group of friends. I’d found it very difficult to make any career progress or even to feel that I was building a career!  I felt that the town was one huge uncentered suburb.  Suburbs don’t tend to have movements or trends!  Los Angeles was amazingly creative but nothing coalesced into a movement!  It was a right-brain city — creating but not organizing!
Moving to New York was an eye-opener!  Meeting Barbra Streisand a few hours after I arrived and watching her, as a teenager in 1960, winning a talent show in a gay bar in Greenwich Village was a such a thrill! And only a year later, she would become a well known singer and a featured player in a Broadway musical!  It could have only happened in New York City with its logical organization as contrasted with the indecipherable mystery of becoming a success in Los Angeles!  I suddenly knew what I had to do with my own life!
Barbra at the Blue Angel, 1961.
And just like that, with the election of John F. Kennedy, everything changed! Everything seemed to become creative!  Jackie Kennedy had been inspired by the Marquise de Pompadour, favorite of Louis XV, the great 18th century patron of the arts and literature, who was singlehandedly responsible for making France the center of art and culture!
François Boucher, Marquise de Pompadour, 1756.
With her position as First Lady, Kennedy commissioned the redecoration and restoration of the White House which until then, had hardly appeared to be representative of the residence of the Most Powerful Man in the World!  In 1961, Pablo Casals, lauded as the world’s greatest cellist, performed after a state dinner!
Pablo Casals bows to the First Lady, November 13, 1961.
True to her inspiration, Jackie Kennedy made Americans aware of the arts and the value of a cultural life in general. I became acutely aware of how the attitude of the Administration would become the attitude of the country!  This spirit and the Kennedy Administration’s promotion of Idealistic Youth fueled the decade!

I’d been living away from the West Coast for almost a decade and was now a New Yorker with a flourishing career.  I was thinking about all of this and sharing future hopes and plans with Annie Rieger back at my old haunt in Times Square, Hector’s Cafeteria!

I think it was my mother’s recent visit to New York and the revival of memories as we sat in the seedy ambiance of Hector’s that put me in a reflective mood.
Dick and Bobby Waddell invited me again to another dinner party.  It was always fun and there were always interesting people. With Dick having The Waddell Gallery there was an interesting mix of artists and collectors!
This evening was a dinner for the visiting famous English cartoonist/illustrator Gerald Scarfe, whose work I had admired.
And there was young Karen Waddell.
But there was a problem.  I had been working on a big deadline for two days solid with no sleep for two nights and during dinner I experienced the embarrassment of repeatedly and uncontrollably losing consciousness for a few seconds.  I’m sure that everyone must have thought that I was having some sort of drug experience!  At a certain point I had to excuse myself and leave.
A few days later I was invited to the opening of another club, Rake’s, and it was quite a glamorous affair!  There was Clovis Ruffin, a clothing designer who in a few years would become the youngest designer to win a Coty Award! 
More spectacularly present was (Prince) Egon von Furstenberg, who had been tearing up New York with his wife Diane and gaining publicity ever since their arrival!
His cousin Delfina Rattazzi had told me what a wildly romantic and seductive guy he was. She didn’t know or was being discreet to not mention that he was also wildly bisexual! Along with talk in society columns was talk of his seductive visits to gay clubs in the Village!

Arnold “Arnie” Copper was also there; he wrote a book called Psychic Summer, a supposedly true story of a haunted summer house.
And Jose Maldonado, who was from a prominent Puerto Rico family, was also there.  It was one of those evenings that cynics were saying, “these people would go to the opening of a door!”
I left and met Annie Rieger at another club, Three!
The next night, having finished my deadline and having dropped off the work with the doorman at my agent Pema’s apartment building, I met Ray Smith at our local Upper East Side pub, the popular and preppy Mike Malkan’s on East 79th Street.
It was frequented by the young people living in the neighborhood, private school kids, privileged students from Ivy League schools, and there was even a rumor that the Beatles had stopped by!
At a table was a group of waiters jokingly called The Imperial Table, because one member of the party was an Obolensky. It was that kind of local neighborhood bar!
The evening went on and on!
And on!
Finally it was 4:00 a.m., closing time and time to leave.  Someone told Ray and me about a small after hours club called the 1 2 3!  We were told that the party was continuing there — so we went.

The “club” was a dank, dark cellar space with a bare cement floor.  In a shadowy corner there was a DJ spinning records and a few couples were quietly dancing.

As we entered I saw that one of the dancers was Guy Burgos whom I’d known during the very wet and awful Fire Island summer!
He was now divorced from Lady Sarah Churchill and his dance partner was the beautiful Spanish model Nati Abascal, who had been discovered by Richard Avedon and who, with her twin sister, had been featured several times in Harper’s Bazaar.
A few years later she became the Duchess of Feria!
But in that very late night/very early morning she was slow dancing on a bare cement floor in a dank, dark basement room with Guy Burgos!

Guy said “Hi” as they slowly danced by.

And there, sitting on the floor was the Imperial Party!

They waved at us and recognizing us from Malkan’s invited Ray and me to join them. The couple introduced themselves: Curtis Dewitz and Nina “Pudd’n” Dodge, Obolensky, and a woman named Beth Romney.
They were sitting on Nina’s white mink coat. On the cement floor.  There was a little puddle of red wine nearby and they made room for us on the coat — warning us to avoid the red wine puddle.

While we were getting acquainted a few policeman arrived, presumably unexpectedly and certainly not invited.

They told us that the party was over!
So we gathered up our things and prepared to leave.
Curtis and “Pudd’n” were engaged to be married and we’d been told that they were leaving in a few hours for Palm Beach.  As we parted company, Curtis said “why don’t you guys join us?”

The '60s!
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