Friday, August 31, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CLXXIV

by Bob Schulenberg

Summer of '70.
I had gotten a commission to illustrate all of the programs for the NBC Fall Television schedule.  My rep Pema Browne told me that they had wanted different illustrators to do the different types of shows — situation comedy, variety, drama, etc. but she had shown my samples and persuaded them that I should do it all!

Great news and the best commercial job I’d gotten so far!  It meant that my work would appear every day in every newspaper in every town or city that had a television station!
Even Fresno, California’s Fresno Bee!  My mother was thrilled and proud and brought copies of my work to show at every luncheon, card party, club meeting or charity event she attended!  My parents had never shown it but I’m sure they were concerned about my future as a UCLA Art Major specializing in Painting!  

My father and uncle were lawyers.

I had been spending the weekend at the little house Bill Rilling, Gary Van Kirk and I had rented on Connie Bartel’s 68-acre property that she had decided to turn into a Christmas tree farm and I’d decided to stay over for an extra day.  I was sitting on the front porch looking out over a green late spring landscape of distant tree-filled hills rolling down to our Creek Road leading to the Delaware River next to which was the creek itself.  Our house was at the top of another gentle slope and perfectly situated to take it all in!

It was a perfect day filled with the sound of celebrating birds, buzzing bees and the distant happy humming of the creek itself.  I was admiring our newly planted garden where we’d put in a dozen tomato plants never realizing how many tomatoes just one plant produced. We had twelve and they were all flourishing — and as I enjoyed the whole situation and congratulated myself on the decision to spend weekends like this, the telephone rang.
It was Pema telling me that I’d gotten the job!

How perfect was it!  And could it have possibly gotten any better!  I was at my weekend farm talking to my agent in Manhattan about a dream-of-a-job!  Being a Child-of-Hollywood I felt like someone in a 1940's classic movie!

Some of the drawings were better than others but there were so many it didn’t matter!  If you asked me today who some of the actors are and what the show was about I couldn’t tell you — but in all honesty, even back then I couldn’t have told you because I never watched television!

One day as I was getting everything together so I could start working later,  I got a phone call from the art director, Mike Mohammed.  He said that the recent packet of reference photographs of Peggy Lee weren’t meant for me but were meant for Richard Amsel, the artist doing the drawings for the same campaign but for TV Guide.  He then asked if I could drop them off to Amsel.

Since I had so much work and such tight deadlines I was a little annoyed and as I paused, thinking of how to respond, Mohammed laughed and said that Richard Amsel lived just a few doors away from me!

I was at 310; Richard was at 353!
I went to Richard’s building, a newer, bland one with a short “drop-off-passengers” driveway and small plot of flowers on the northeast corner of 83rd Street at First Avenue. The doorman announced me and I took the elevator to the tenth floor and Richard’s apartment.

I was thinking it was such an unusually bourgeois faceless building for an artist — more appropriate for an optometrist or dentist!  Something!  But not an artist.

When he opened the door I was startled at how young he appeared!
He was quite young!

I wasn’t familiar with his work;  he’d done the poster for Barbra’s Hello Dolly when he was still in school in Pennsylvania! 
He told me that when he was working on a deadline his mother would call the school to tell them he was sick!  With his work appearing nationally and with his growing professional reputation I wondered how his illustration art teachers felt since they were all totally unknown!

Richard had the most easygoing and funny sense of humor and as we talked, I found out we had so many shared interests!
Amsel became famous for this 1972 illustration of Bette Midler's first album: The Divine Miss M.
He had a passion for classic Disney animation and finding it impossible to buy 16 millimeter prints of films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia or even the great short cartoons, he bought a 35 millimeter projector and had a hole cut in his bedroom wall that he might project 35 millimeter films through onto the living room wall!

I told him I’d made an animated film at UCLA for a Master’s Degree equivalence and we talked until evening when we went to dinner at Martell’s on Third Avenue!  Then we had to cut it short to work on our separate next day’s deadline!
We became fast friends! 

About a week later we met for lunch at the Bethesda Fountain Restaurant in Central Park.  I met his good friend from school, Gary Bralow, who was also an illustrator.
At a table not too far away, an attractive woman was lunching with two men, one of whom was Clay Felker, the then editor of New York Magazine with whom I’d been working pretty regularly.
At New York magazine I had become a sort of surrogate expert in Japanese art as I think that Design Director Milton Glaser and Art Director Walter Bernard thought my linear work was influenced by Japanese art whereas it was actually influenced by my huge archive of 1920's illustration art.  That art actually was greatly influenced early on by Japanese art so I’d received it in a somewhat distilled form.

The magazine had received a manuscript from a Japanese woman who’d moved to New York with her family.  She’d written an essay on how much she enjoyed living in New York. It was written in Japanese as she didn’t speak English but her daughter had translated it into English.  

Although the daughter’s mastery of English was a bit sketchy, the editors felt it had such a charming authenticity that they published it — Milton and Walter thought it would be appropriate for me to paint Japanese-infused illustrations to accompany the text.

This is how it turned out:
Mrs. Kuroda described the New York subways and I visualized her text.
She also described shopping in Forest Hills.
And shopping by telephone.
And during their stay there was a snow storm!
All of the figures I used were adapted from classic Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints which were made by the masters who influenced the french Impressionists - Hokusai, Utamaro and others.  It was an enjoyable learning experience for me.

Can you imagine how enjoyable it was to have a career that involved doing something that you loved doing more than anything!

And getting paid for it!
Contact Bob here.
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