Thursday, February 22, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CXLVIII

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

1968. The end of a tumultuous year! A year full of dissent, assassinations, war and certainly protest!  It was frequently being said that there hadn’t been as much violent dissent since the Civil War. There had been a lot during the Depression but it was being said that this was worse!

Johnny Meyer decided to end the miserable year with music and had a sort of New Year’s Eve open house party at his family’s large Park Avenue apartment.

There was a beautiful large grand piano with Johnny accompanying the guests who were singers and other pianists taking turns.
While enjoying the whole experience, an in-home cabaret, I sat reflecting on what 1968 had been like for me.  I’d had a professional year to be proud of.  I’d worked constantly with first rate advertising agencies with first class accounts and I’d worked for every magazine with whom I’d ever dreamed of working.

Late in the year I’d gotten a call from Fortune magazine to come in and talk about doing illustrations for a long feature story on the famously elegant and very exclusive and very expensive 21 Club!  
Getting acquainted with the situation and the ambiance I went to 21 for lunch with the magazine’s art director Walter Allner and the art buyer Jane Mull.
One evening, while dining (and drawing) in a dining room, at an adjoining table there was a party of six among whom was Aristotle Onassis.

I was fascinated to see an attractive young woman sitting across from him with an expression I could only think of as rapt attraction;  indeed, he had an almost electric animal magnetism about him — a quality I’d never read or heard mentioned. So, I wasn’t that shocked when Jackie Kennedy married him.

In retrospect now, I think that she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the assassination and also saw in Onassis a means of protection for herself and her children!

My friend Gary Van Kirk was working as a decorator with Stephane Boudin and Maison Jansen who had decorated the White House during the Kennedy administration.
Jackie Kennedy had continued working with Boudin as a private client and Gary told me that if Jackie attended the theater or any event, her secretary would first call and ask if there were gun shots during the performance.  If there was anything remotely like that she would abstain from attending!

A little earlier, during the late summer/early autumn, Paul Bartel and I made another short film. Enough time had passed since we’d made The Secret Cinema and Paul felt that he should keep up his visibility as a filmmaker.  He had an idea to attract more notice by adding a bit of lurid sexuality and wrote a perverse script for a short film called Naughty Nurse!

I was too busy with my own assignments to do anything other than be the Art Director supervising the visual aspects. Paul cast Valorie Armstrong as the naughty nurse and Alix Elias as the other nurse.
"Naughty nurses" Valorie Armstrong and Alix Elias.
Paul again pulled favors from film friends one of whom, playing the small cameo of the manager of a sleazy hotel was Bob Downey, Sr., who would later be the father of Robert Downey, Jr.!

He’d made the popular underground hit, Putney Swope!  Anti-establishment feelings were everywhere!
But I digress ... Listening to the music in Johnny Meyer’s living room I was getting nostalgic thinking about a party with Antonella di Montezemolo, who was visiting New York from Venice, Italy. She told me how much I’d enjoy living in Venice!
I told her that I didn’t doubt it for a moment; that living in an ancient city floating on an even more storied sea, a city that seemingly existed on fantasy would so captivate me that no one whom I’d previously known would ever see me again. For that reason I’d never dared to go near Venice!

Having gone to Paris for a month as a tourist not speaking French and two years later returning to the US barely able to speak English, I was leery of visiting romantically fanciful cities!

To even visit a city where the aesthetic spirit was so strong that Carnevale was such a priority would surely seduce me into a life of unabashed and unapologetic (but splendid) absurdity!
For an American who’d come of age during the 1950s, who’d graduated from UCLA (yet!), the idea was unimaginable and too risky to think about lightly!
The world of Tiepolo where commedia dell'arte was alive and flourishing!
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, A Dance in the Country, ca. 1755
Carnevale is for me Michael Powell’s great film of The Tales of Hoffman come to vivid life with no buffering!
I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed in Venice for even an hour!

Antonella was telling me that she loved the sad Winter as her slowly drowning city lay (without tourists) sleeping before awakening to the ancient Carnevale! Meanwhile, as I was being lulled into an almost hypnotic Venetian fantasy the party swirled around us!

1968 had been a very complex and complicated year!  I was hoping for a better, calmer 1969.  If things got worse, maybe Antonella could or would lend me a room in her palazzo.

I could at least try and deal with it!
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