April 1974. Carly Billings came into Manhattan from Sag Harbor again and we went for lunch at Daly’s Dandelion.
Patricia, or “Patty” Hearst as the press was now calling her, had robbed a bank along with the Symbionese Liberation Army and Hearst was photographed holding a rifle while shouting orders at terrified bank customers!
She was also identifying herself as “Tania” and describing herself as “an urban guerrilla!”
Needless to say, Carly was stupefied by what was happening. She was acquainted with the Hearst family and even though she was as liberal as the university students who’d seized control of Columbia University, this was more than even she could’ve imagined.
She wasn’t alone. Although the public had been so zonked out trying to wrap their heads around the ongoing heated Watergate Scandal and the evidence of guilty actions that appeared to most Manhattan residents to involve the president, the idea of a beautiful young heiress robbing a bank and being wanted by the FBI was too much to process — let alone digest!
After all, her grandfather William Randolph Hearst had been called “the richest man in the world,” was the head of a vast publishing empire, and was even more or less fictionalized by Orson Welles in his classic film, Citizen Kane.
Hearst had been enraged by this and especially since the centerpiece of the film was a beloved childhood treasure of the young Kane, a sled named “Rosebud”!
It’s not known whether or not Hearst had a beloved sled but he did have a beloved movie star paramour, Marion Davies, and it’s been said that was his very intimate nickname for her before the time of the #metoo movement and less discreet public sexual conversation!
In brief, the Hearst family was in no way a typical American family, but in the world of American myth it was a family that American parents could more or less identify with. Their own children were wearing clothing that was non-traditional to put it mildly, listening to incomprehensible music by performers who were just as bewildering and speaking about drugs!
Somehow that generation of parents were unaware that drugs were not something that was new to the culture but were clandestine pleasures during the Jazz Age! Whatever did they think Cole Porter’s lyric “I get no kick from cocaine” was about?
As a matter of fact, I can’t recall reading about this but I do know that opium was very popular among the privileged at the end of the 19th century, the same time that Art Nouveau with its hallucinated plant form curves and whirls became very chic!
I wonder if Art Nouveau itself was not originally inspired by hallucinogens.
And is it just a coincidence that with the open conversation and possible use of LSD there was a modern revival of Art Nouveau which, like Art Deco, would appear to be more trendy and popular and longer lasting than it was during its first time around?
There were quite a few appropriations of Mucha and other artists’ work.
“Appropriation” is the current Art Speak for what previously might have come close to being called plagiarism! Thank you, Andy Warhol!
Now all you Warhol collectors, fans and admirers, raise your hands and tell me who is the photographer who initially took the photo that Andy Warhol copi- er — appropriated! I have no idea and you can clue me in!
But in the late 1960s and ’70s we were inundated with imagery that was so drug-laden that it was possibly the first time in history you could be reading a printed page and get a contact high!
Was it like that in th class-divided world of the 1890s to 1900s or did democracy after two world wars level the playing field? Also the Jet Age ushered in a more energetically zippy version of Art Nouveau.
Mucha’s relaxed (possibly stoned/who knows?) Belle Epoch woman had been supplanted by her great great granddaughter who was a bit more energized.
Everyone was a bit more energized. Just look at Patty Hearst!
What had begun as a spiritual investigation and quest had become a decadently banal party time bacchanalian orgy and Manhattan was beginning to seem like Party-Central! It made me wonder if there weren’t a war what would there be? Parties don’t last forever and frequently end with a hangover! A whole culture with a hangover could lead to very serious problems. Like rich heiresses robbing banks!
Nothing was making any sense!
I had dinner with Bill Rilling at Ruskay’s. It had become a restful but stimulating haven with its mirrored tables, dark walls and candles! There was even live music quietly and soothingly playing Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Irving Berlin. If there’d been more room I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers! Like I said, Manhattan was still Art Deco happy and so was I!
Bill had moved to a new apartment and he invited me to come by for drinks the next day and have a look at it.
Bill had all of his houseplants thriving near the wide windows.
And finally I got to meet Bill’s oldest friend Rick about whom I’d heard a hundred stories about their adventures going as far back as high school.
How funny it was that even though Manhattan was one of the most populous cities in the world it was still a city of neighborhoods — and Rick lived in Brooklyn which felt to me like it was hundreds of miles away. I remember when I was living in Paris and went up to Montmartre which is after all, a steep hill. In a cafe I met a very old woman who told me that she’d never in her long life gone down the hill into Paris! Thinking about it, Manhattan was kind of like that.
At least the artist Saul Steinberg thought so!
The next evening I was invited to a fund raising to help the Shoshone Indians who were going through a rough time in Nevada.
This involved a disagreement between traditional Shoshone members and a group formed by the US government involving land. In 1974, the Traditionalists did not feel adequately represented and were attempting to form The Sacred Lands Association. They would continue to plead their case until 1979 when it was decided that they had lost title to their land. The dispute continued.
It was a melancholy contrast; we were meeting in a large comfortable apartment on Central Park West and we were hearing stories about needy impoverished American Indians trying to hold onto a little bit of land in Nevada when their ancestors had possessed all of it!
And even as we sat listening and even writing checks, all around us were people celebrating one thing or another — or even nothing. Just celebrating, not necessarily joyfully, but just for the hell of it!