January, 1975: Gerald Ford was now the President after Nixon’s resignation. He was an unknown quantity to most of us and we could only hope that the mood of the country would be less stressful. The Vietnam War was continuing and a big question was how would Ford be dealing with it?
On a Saturday I invited Mary Milton to come with me to Wooster Street in Soho. There was a screening of Jean Cocteau’s stunning early 1930 film, Blood of a Poet. It was an early indication of what he could do — and years later did do with his gorgeously conceived and filmed version of Beauty and the Beast, which was the inspiration for the Disney version!
Blood of a Poet was made so early in the period of sound films and even though filmmaking was not Cocteau’s primary métier he appears to have known all the trickery of which a movie camera is capable!
The film is a nonlinear “telling” of the states of mind (I guess you’d say) of a poet during which he awakens a statue (above) personified by American fashion model Lee Miller, later a WWII photojournalist/photographer who was ultimately married to Roland Penrose. Many members of Parisian society and the arts communities participated in the film.
A memorable post WWII photo is Lee Miller taking a bath in Hitler’s bathtub. She said that she had later slept in Hitler’s bed!
After the screening, since we were already downtown Mary and I went to The Spring Street Bar.
We decided to take the subway back uptown.
A few days later I met Bill Rilling and photographer Paul Rackley at David’s Pot Belly Stove.
Paul would go on to do campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Valentino and many others.
Although Bill had an important position in the promotion department of Alexander’s Department Store, he and his physical proportions had been noticed and drafted by the powers at Bugle Boy Menswear to be their fitting model! I used to tease him that all of his clothing (by Bugle Boy at least) was tailor-made for him!
The next day, I met Chandler Warren for lunch at Charlie’s and afterward went to another screening of a film by Cocteau which I’d never seen, Le Testament d’Orphée. I was hoping for Cocteau Magic and amazing imagery but I was a bit disappointed! I also realized that the accompanying musical score was by George Auric, who’d also done the music for Beauty and the Beast.
I’d met Auric and his wife Nora while I was living in Paris. Although I knew the films, I didn’t put them together with Auric and I was kicking myself for the missed opportunity to talk about those films with him! That happened to me quite a few times while I was living there.
For example, my first week in France while I was staying at Cap d’Antibes I was invited to spend an afternoon and dinner in Nice with new friends, one of whom was an artist. Actually even like me, an illustrator! I didn’t put two and two together until years later I realized he was one of my favorite ’20s Vogue cover artists! I guess I’d thought that that Vogue artist would be long dead — but in reality he was probably only in his mid-50s!
Another time: I was invited to spend an afternoon in the country at La Faisanderie, home of Cosette Vogel. She had been the first editor of French Vogue and her brother Jean de Brunhoff had created and written the Babar the Elephant books! She was very kind to me and we spent a quiet afternoon in conversation. What didn’t occur to me to even ask was that she had been a great friend of Paul Poiret, “the King of Fashion,” before being unseated by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel!
Even more important, she and her husband Lucien Vogel conceived and published Le Gazette du Bon Ton, a publication featuring fashion illustrated by the major artist illustrators of the period!
Even now, pages from the Gazette are sought after and collected! I even own a framed illustrated page from the Gazette! Again, I could have had an even more interesting conversation with Madame Vogel had I really thought about it and put the pieces together!
She also planned with Poiret his legendary 1002nd Night Party at which he launched the Diaghilev Ballets Russes-inspired lampshade dress that popularized the fashion of Orientalisme!
I’m sure she would’ve enjoyed reminiscing about it! Who wouldn’t?
But getting back to my day-to-day Manhattan life, Jim DeWoody was uptown for a change and stayed for a coffee break with Richard Amsel and me. We went to Willie’s on Third Avenue near my apartment.
That evening I went to The Speakeasy where S.J. Mendelson was singing.
I was glad to see that she was performing a lot and being appreciated.
The next night I went to the Metropolitan Opera for a performance of Don Giovanni with sets by one of my favorite designers, Eugene Bergman.
His work has a consistent kind of romantic surrealism but not like traditional surrealism — if surrealism can ever be considered traditional. Bergman’s architectural landscapes have an airless dream quality about them. And it’s a dream that at any second could become nightmarish!
Then it was the weekend and time to go to the Port Authority Bus Terminal with Tybalt in his wicker carrier and catch the bus for New Jersey and the haven of the farm!
My upstairs neighbor, Eileen (not the actress) Brennan, was coming and Bill Rilling was already there. And immediately we went down to Connie Bartel’s house for dinner and a lot of conversation!
Another weekend a world away from Manhattan. A weekend of cooking, reading and lots of conversation! Thank heaven for the farm!