Thursday, January 4, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CXLI

Young men burn their draft cards in New York City on April 15, 1967, at Sheep Meadow, Central Park.
Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

Late autumn, 1968 and we, as a country, had gone literally through hell and back!
After a long turbulent winter, a spring that suffered two momentous assassinations; that of Robert Kennedy who, it was hoped, was sure to be elected President in the November election, and Martin Luther King a short time earlier, we had also endured and barely survived the violence of the Democratic National Convention — a convention marked by what would ultimately be called “a police riot”!

The radical young political group, the Yippies had staged demonstrations and hundreds were either arrested or beaten so badly they ended up hospitalized!
Earlier, during a NYC Labor Day Parade, where Hubert Humphrey (who’d inherited the presidential nomination after the killing of Robert Kennedy) was introduced as The Candidate to a less than thrilled public, the newly strengthened Women’s Liberation Organization demonstrated by burning their brassieres subsequently and pejoratively being called “bra burners.”

Young men of draft age (for the Vietnam War) were burning their draft cards and now young women (mostly) were burning their brassieres!
Then in October, the more «refined» element of traditional society was shocked when Jacqueline Kennedy, the epitome of feminine strength, courage and out and out class married the very rich Aristotle Onassis!

More recently, it’s been suggested that Jackie Kennedy never believed The Warren Report but believed that LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover, and Allen Dulles’ CIA colluded to stage a coup d’état to destroy her late husband’s government and her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy’s chance of a presidential reopening of an assassination investigation! Onassis would’ve guaranteed a certain measure of protection for her and her family!
Then Senator Kennedy and CIA Director Allen Dulles.
But in 1968, the culture was suffering from a sort of shell-shock and finally, Richard Nixon was elected to the presidency! Contrasting with the dynamic creativity of the earlier 1960s, along with the abusive use of drugs, the assassinations and violent political climate the Culture, like unrefrigerated fish was beginning to go bad!

I’d gotten a call to meet with the producers of an off off-Broadway show, a satirical 1930s musical called Dames at Sea!  They needed an illustration to advertise their show and I had been doing Art Deco-inspired illustrations for New York magazine and some others and my friend, “Army” David Roggensak, working in Public Relations, recommended me!

With a starring character named “Ruby” as in Keeler there was no hesitation in my mind as to what kind of image a 1930's-pastiche musical would need. I started doodling one idea.
The producers liked my idea and I went on to do a finish.  The show opened with a young actress named Bernadette Peters as “Ruby” and was a tremendous success, becoming a Columbia LP Original Cast Album. Bernadette Peters became a star! 
The show has been frequently revived and was recently produced in a Broadway version, which to me seems counterintuitive as the whole joke of the original was six performers on a tiny stage emulating the grandiose movie musicals of the 1930s where battalions of dancers choreographed by Busby Berkeley performed on gigantic sets.

The show was so minutely compact that the very first place in which it was performed was the caffe Cino in the Village!
Busby Berkeley.
DAMES was even adapted to a television special with Ann Miller which I would imagine totally denied the whole premise. I can’t really say because I haven’t seen it!
Around this time, Ann Rieger was staying in my other apartment across the hall from my original one. She was between apartments and I had room. And my friend Craig Caswell moved to New York from Georgetown, Washington. We were suddenly a kind of family!
My upstairs neighbor, Eileen (Not-The-Actress) Brennan was a frequent visitor making everything feel even more like a small town neighborhood!

Life became calmer, which was good as the world seemed to be falling apart all around us!
The next night I was invited to a Happening to celebrate a visiting Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama!
Yayoi Kusama’s New York studio, 1968. Image: © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.. © Yayoi Kusama.
Today she is considered one of Japan’s most famous artists, called a living legend  — but in 1968 few people had heard of her!  Craig and I went downtown where Kusama was painting people’s bodies.  The Happening, a term used for impromptu somewhat art-oriented activity was at my friend Fred McKechnie’s studio and somehow got out of hand enough that the police arrived in a kind of mini-raid while people covered in painted designs were scrambling for their clothes.
Kusama's Body Festival at Central Park's Alice in Wonderland Statue, New York, 1968.
Craig got an immediate dose of life in the big city as Kusama in her almost unintelligible english kept assuring the harried guests attempting to flee from the police: “ No to worry! No to worry!”
As we rode home uptown on the subway after having successfully eluded the police, I looked at the that Kusama had painted on Craig’s cheek and said to him that Kusama had shown she liked him and he should be proud!

As time has passed and Kusama has become amazingly successful with her work commanding astronomical prices, I cannot help but wonder how much that X on Craig’s cheek would be worth today!
Contact Bob here.
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