Monday, March 14, 2011

Daylight Savings Time

Bus stop. 3:10 PM. Photo: JH.
March 14, 2011. Daylight Savings Time. Warmish sunny Sunday in New York. The news from Japan over the past four days has been so horrendous that it is difficult to think of anything that’s not. Libya comes to mind. And the rest of the ME. “Mother Earth is angry,” a friend wrote to me last night.

The week just passed was a busy one in New York.
High on the calendar was the Public Prep Network’s first fundraiser which was held at the Monkey Bar with Caroline Kennedy as the guest speaker last Wednesday. Joel Klein made the introductory remarks. Also among the guests were Joan Ganz Cooney (founder of Sesame Street), Majora Carter, Liz Abzug, Boykin Curry, Laura Weil, and Holly Peterson.

Public Prep is a non-profit organization that develops single-sex elementary and middle public schools. Currently they are operating three single-sex schools here in New York – Girls Prep Bronx, Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School, and Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School – the first all-girls charter school in New York.
Caroline Kennedy at Public Prep Network’s first fundraiser.
Charter schools are controversial at this time and I am not knowledgeable enough to make a judgment. However, I have heard both sides of the argument, albeit superficially, and it seems that, like so many other issues in the forum these days, there are two distinct wavelengths, among other things, to keep us from progressing.

Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago my friend Christy Ferer invited me to a screening at Soho House of The Lottery, a docu-film about a charter school in Manhattan called the Harlem Success School. The screening was presented by Coralie Charriol and Dennis Paul, a married couple who have decided to make it their (non-profit) business of informing the public on serious, pertinent public issues by screening documentaries that can tell the story effectively on a subject.

That last sentence might sound like a perfect reason for a snooze, I know. Partly because we’re not very good at paying attention in a world that already knows it all. However, The Lottery, while a documentary, was for me the real life version of Chariots of Fire, the 1981 award winning film about the determination of the human condition. It was deeply engaging, emotional and promising.

The Lottery is enormously inspiring for those of us who truly hope for a better world for our children and their children. That’s a tall hope at this moment, I realize.

I left the Soho House that night thankful for those people (and my friend Ferer) who have been working to create charter schools which are providing better and more effective education than a lot of the public schools in the system here in New York. That thought does not in any way diminish my respect for public school teachers and challenges they face daily.

I went home thinking of all those dear little children who were earnestly working with their parents to prepare themselves in case they won the lottery for a place in the Harlem Success School. This is a School. This is where life should begin. See the film, see for yourself.

The core of the matter is what is complicated. I went to public schools growing up in Massachusetts. My eldest sister went to public schools here in New York in the 1930s. My mother always used to refer to the high quality of New York public school education back then. Everybody could read and write. And did. This simple matter is no longer so, however. My own public school education was very good, even compared to what private school education offers today. And – comma – I was a middling to failing student much of the time, right through college. I learned eventually (years later), however, how to learn.

Today’s curriculum has changed, but so have the attendees, and the families they are brought up in.

Caroline Kennedy has a child who went to Brearley, which is just across the street from my apartment building. I used to see her many a morning, walking her daughter to school. Two things come to mind: she always looked like she’d just rolled out of bed herself and barely brushed her hair (and didn’t particularly care); she also looked like she preferred that nobody look at her, and notice – which is hard to do simply because she is who she is.

What impressed me, however, was that her priority was getting her kid to school safely. That impressed me. I have no idea what kind of student her child was, but I do know the mother was deeply interested in her daughter’s progress. I have no doubt her daughter knew that too. These are the important matters. That morning walk had all those messages for me. Her speech before the luncheon reflected that.

Afterward 25 third grade students from the Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School sang in English and in French and then presented Mrs. Kennedy with a gift they made for her.

The people I’ve met who are working to build, support and promote charter schools education are simply looking for a solution and believe they have found one – at least a temporary one. We should all pay close attention because they have their eye on the ball. There are solutions. This country was built on solutions. Maybe it’s in our DNA. In the meantime it’s good for a heated discussion and possibly taking responsibility, that lovely old phrase; and praise the children for our future.

To Learn more about Public Prep Network go to: www.publicprep.org.

A friend called me on Saturday to tell me that Sam Green had died. No news as to what happened. Sam Green was a bold-faced name in the Warhol/Studio 54 era, a New York character, a player in the mise-en-scene of the 1960s, 1970s New York. He was known as an art director and/or art dealer when they needed to assign something to his name in the press. He did make a living making deals of that sort and making connections. But really he was one of those New Yorkers whose business was their Life.

Sam Green with Christine Biddle and Heather Cohane.
I met him years ago at one of Judy Green’s famous cocktail parties. He was already well known to those of us in the cognescenti (self-styled) as a member of the Warhol click (not clique). He was a very charming fellow, a fellow New Englander (he grew up outside of Hartford, in Wethersfield, Connecticut in a house that had been in the family since the 18th century).

He was always nicely dressed, usually in jacket and tie, when I knew him (by then in his 50s) – tending to portly as time marched on. He had blondish grey hair and a matching neatly trimmed beard. He was a pleasantly friendly fellow – slightly avant in look – courteous, although you knew he was probably up to something, working the room. You knew that because of what he might tell you something naughty or bawdy – unsolicited – about someone passing by.

Our conversations, however, were mainly about mutual friends – he knew a wide variety of people and vice versa. He was good looking as a young man so it could be assumed he had a sexual history slaked with variety since we’re talking about the 60s and 70s in New York. That might have been a major asset in obtaining all the tickets to the fair that he did.

He had several places including a small apartment over Mortimers (now part of the Orsay restaurant) where he often lunched, dined and finished the night if he were in town. Because he was in the “art” business, he knew a lot. He had interesting things to say about what he’d learned, or heard or observed. He had a group of cottages on Fire Island in Oakleyville where it is said the ashes of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe were spread about the land. The cottages all had names. One of them was named Garbo after his longtime friend who one day cut him off with never a word uttered again. It happened after she learned that for years he had been recording their phone conversations and later playing them back for some people. That was Sam, and that was Garbo.

Sam died a few days ago and Hugo Vickers, the great biographer of Cecil Beaton et al, wrote the following obit for the Times of London, about Sam.

Obituary for Sam Green -- Art world socialite whose friendships with Warhol, Lennon, Beaton and Garbo put him at the heart of New York’s 1960s scene
Sam Green portrait by Cecil Beaton, courtesy of Sotheby's.
Sam Green was an art director and man about town of whom Andy Warhol wrote: “Sam Green was in everybody’s life, such a big part — he’s had Yoko Ono and John Lennon and Cecil Beaton and Greta Garbo and me.”

Green was certainly ubiquitous. He was variously an art director, adviser and friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, early promoter of Warhol, travelling companion of Beaton, and confidant of Garbo. One of the bright sparks of the 1960s, he was a pivotal figure at the heart of the explosion of modern art in the US, the Warhol phenomenon and beyond.

Samuel Adams Green was born in Boston in 1940, the son of “nouveau pauvre” academics. He claimed to be a cousin of Henry McIllhenny, the Philadelphia art collector. After art school he gravitated to New York and from 1962 worked at the Green Gallery, where he did not contradict the assumption that he was the Mr. Green of that gallery.
Andy Warhol.
One day an unprepossessing man came in and announced himself as Andy Warhol. He asked if they might be interested in showing his work. Green empathised with Warhol, claiming that the chief trait they had in common was social climbing — a wish to meet everyone important.

It was a wish that both more than fulfilled. Green included some of Warhol’s work in an exhibition principally dedicated to Roy Lichtenstein. One summer he and Warhol filmed naked models in New York bathrooms.

From 1964 to 1968 Green was director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. In 1965 he arranged a sensational retrospective exhibition of Warhol’s work. At the press preview TV lights fell on to the pictures and they realised that for the private view it was too risky to display the pictures. It did not matter. Green invited 3,000 people and the evening became a mob, with people clamouring for Warhol as if he were a pop star. The doomed socialite Edie Sedgwick called out into a microphone: “Oh I’m so glad you all came tonight, aren’t we all having a wonderful time? And isn’t Andy Warhol the most wonderful artist?” Crowds outside chanted: “Edie and Andy! Andy and Edie!”
Cecil Beaton, courtesy of Sotheby's.
Green became a friend of Cecil Beaton — “a guide for Cecil’s prowls through the avant-garde” — and in one afternoon he introduced Beaton, Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland and Cécile de Rothschild to all the gallery owners with whom he did business. He staged exhibitions for Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, James Rosenquist, of Pop Art, Tony Smith and Barnett Newman’s monumental sculpture. He brought Agnes Martin out of permanent retirement to paint again.

Meanwhile, for two years he was landlord to Candy Darling, alias “Jimmy” Lawrence Slattery, the transvestite socialite in Warhol’s film Women in Revolt. Candy called Green “a true friend and noble person”.

In 1968 Green rescued Easter Island from being turned into a jet aircraft refuelling station, transferring a moai, one of the island’s typical stone figures, to the Seagram Plaza in New York to attract attention to the island’s plight. In 1969 he embarked on a scheme to help Venice in Peril, working with the World Monuments Fund. This involved artists designing ties and scarves to be sold in aid of Venice. Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Beaton agreed to design, but the project floundered, as Green explained, due to “some greedy intrigue that misfired”.
John and Yoko.
Once he turned the whole of downtown Philadelphia into a huge sculpture site, as a result of which he was invited by Mayor John Lindsay to advise him on culture in New York. He repeated the operation in New York City, and staged the musical Hair! for free in Central Park.

Green lived his life on the edge. At times he was flush, at others he faced near ruin. His art dealing secured him a lovely 16th-century home in Cartagena. His mercurial nature helped him weather many storms. He became closely involved with John Lennon and sold him and Yoko many Egyptian artefacts, not always of great merit. At one time, to his horror, the Lennons announced that they wished to see where these came from, and Green had to arrange a spontaneous dig in the Egyptian desert.

Green viewed Yoko with some misgivings. After Lennon’s death he found himself guardian of Sean, their son.

He became a long-time friend and confidant of Greta Garbo and one of a handful admitted to her private apartment in New York. Meeting him with her friend, Cécile de Rothschild, Garbo said: “Mr Green, I’ve been so looking forward to meeting you. I’m sure we are going to have the most wonderful time together.”
Cecil Beaton and Greta Garbo, 1965.
For about 20 years he travelled with her extensively in Europe and accompanied her on her lonely walks in Central Park. During their friendship, which eventually ended abruptly as always happened with Garbo, he taped many telephone conversations with her, which he placed at Wesleyan University Film Archives in Middletown, Connecticut, and some of which were later put at the disposal of biographers.

Green’s early friendships and romantic liaisons landed him in two films, not always to his liking. He was portrayed by Carey Elwes in Factory Girl, the tragic life of Edie Sedgwick, the Warhol socialite superstar for whom Bob Dylan wrote Just Like a Woman. Elwes shadowed Green for three days in preparation for his role in the film (in which Sienna Miller played Edie and Guy Pearce was Warhol).

Less pleasing to him was his portrayal in Savage Grace (2007), directed by Tom Kalin. It concerned the Baekeland murder. In 1969 Green, aged 29, had a holiday fling with the 47-year-old former model Barbara Daly Baekeland. She became obsessed by him to the point that she once crossed Central Park barefoot and naked under a lynx coat to sit outside his apartment late at night demanding admission. The Baekeland fortune had come from plastics (Bakelite).
Producer Jean Doumanian and Sam Green, 2007.
In November 1972 Barbara was stabbed to death by her deranged son Antony in a penthouse in Cadogan Square, Chelsea. When the police arrived they found Tony on the telephone ordering a Chinese take-away. On release from Broadmoor Tony was sent to live with his grandmother and proceeded to stab her eight times. He was confined to Riker’s Island where, in 1981, he committed suicide by smothering himself in a dry cleaner bag.

Green commented wryly that the book on all this should not have been called Savage Grace but “Plastic to Plastic”. He was extremely displeased to find himself depicted (by Hugh Dancy) as the lover of both mother (played by Julianne Moore) and son (Eddie Redmayne) in the film and entered into litigation with the film company.
Green never fulfilled his early promise, being an inspired instigator but lacking the staying power that might have turned him into an important art director. It was as though many and much passed through his hands, but he failed to capitalise and consolidate. He was a high liver, wildly good company when at his best, but eventually his good living caught up with him and his health suddenly collapsed.

In recent years he was the founder of the Landmarks Foundation, which undertakes projects in Turkey, South and Central America and Cuba. The foundation — motto, “Protecting sacred sites globally” — was the main focus of his last working decade. He relished the restoration work and raising funds for it as a way of doing good, while combining it with his joint loves — exotic travel and elitist social climbing.

Sam Green, art director and socialite, was born on May 20, 1940. He died on March 4, 2011, aged 70.
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