Schulenberg’s Page: A run-in with Harpo

Featured image

March 12, 1975: with an evening at the apartment of Arnaud and Marie Christine d’Usseau where the conversation was energetically centered around the ongoing illegalities of the crowd surrounding recently resigned President Nixon. Just that day, former Nixon cabinet member Maurice Stans was found guilty of violating three counts of the reporting sections of the Federal Elections Campaign Act and two counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions.

People were wondering if even more corruption stories would emerge.

Marie Christine d’Usseau.

Arnaud was particularly annoyed as he’d been a successful Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted during the Senator Joseph McCarthy/House Un-American Activities Committee’s infamous investigations of undesirable political activities during the 1950s. Arnaud had moved to Europe and met Marie Christine, my (unofficially “adopted”) French “Sister”!

When I moved to France, Marie Christine’s Parisienne sister Katia, whom I’d known since my UCLA days when her then-husband was a graduate film student (as was I) introduced me to her family. And since Katia and I had as a joke pretended to be brother and sister back at school, somehow our “joke” stuck and her whole family “adopted” me!

The next evening I went to dinner at Uncle Charlie’s with David Columbia who’d come to town from Stamford, Connecticut where he had his successful Pound Ridge store, Whipsnade’s!




This is an ad I did for the store. It appeared in The Nutmegger magazine.

The next day I had a surprise visit from another old friend Lee Clark, who I’d met as a graduate student at UCLA. I’d had a part time job at an art store, Duncan Vail on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, and Lee was a full time employee. We had many celebrities as customers since a lot of actors like to try their hand at painting.

Kim Novak and Rock Hudson were regulars but my favorite was Dinah Shore who was at that time hosting one of the most popular television shows!

Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Marx.

One day a very beautiful mature woman came in and asked me a lot of questions about materials. Her husband Adolph Marx, she said, had had a heart attack and thought that it’d be a good idea to try painting as he recovered.“

I showed her gouache (opaque) water colors that were like a very refined poster paint and explained they were easier than transparent water colors or oil paint.

She bought a lot of paint along with brushes and pads of watercolor paper and then paused — and looking at me asked if I would teach her husband how to use everything? She was so special I said I’d do it and it was agreed that I would come to their home on Saturday afternoons. She was thrilled and thanking me said that her son, Bill Marx, would come and pick up everything when it was ready.

A little later, a young man came in and asked for me. I met him and he said, “I’m here for the things for Harpo!”

“Harpo?” I asked?

“Adolph Marx,” he said.

“Oh, yes — Harpo!”

So that’s how I started spending some afternoons with Harpo Marx.


Harpo Marx with his son, Bill.

We didn’t get much painting done but did have a lot of conversations.

I was curious about Salvador Dali’s friendship with him and the painting Dalí did of Harpo playing the harp while a giraffe with flames flying off of it is running in the background.

Harpo said, “Dalí told me that the giraffe is the only animal that doesn’t make a sound!”
Dalí thought that Harpo was the ultimate surrealist object. Harpo liked him but thought Dalí was “a nut!” He sent Harpo a full-sized harp strung with barbed wire and Harpo wrote him a thank you and enclosed a photo of himself with bandaged fingers!


Harpo Marx with the surrealist harp sent to him by Salvador Dalí.

So my old friend Lee Clark and I went a block from my apartment to Martell’s on Third Avenue and reminisced about the old Duncan Vail days on Beverly Drive next door to Nate & Al’s, the now legendary delicatessen where virtually every afternoon when we’d go get a coffee we would see Leonore (Mrs. Ira) Gershwin sitting at the counter gossiping with the owner! That was old Beverly Hills as a neighborhood before it became the iconic ➡️BEVERLY HILLS ⬅️!




As a side note, I discovered years later that the beautiful Mrs. Marx had, in fact, been a Ziegfeld Girl. No coincidence she’d been so magnetically attractive!



The following Sunday I’d read that the 1950 French film La Ronde was playing at the Carnegie Hall Cinema in a double bill with Smiles of a Summer Night.  I had seen La Ronde while at UCLA and loved it!  With an amazing cast of many of France’s most legendary actors — including Anton Walbrook who’d been the impresario Lermontov in probably my favorite film, The Red Shoes — and directed by Marcel Ophuls, one of the greatest of all time French directors, I didn’t want to miss it!  And Smiles of a Summer Night was the film that made Ingmar Bergman an international treasure so it was a double-barrelled treat of an afternoon!

Years later, of course, Stephen Sondheim adapted Smiles into the musical, A Little Night Music.



I found myself trying to take notes in the dark on La Ronde with its gorgeous art direction’s depiction of a romantic 1900 Vienna and its magical synthesis of fantasy and a subjective reality! Pure magic!




My friend John Wallowitch was performing at the cabaret/bar Brothers and Sisters, the club where Barbara Cook made her comeback.




Around this time I’d photographed John and since he was usually accompanying someone I was looking forward to seeing what he’d be doing as a solo act!  He was so elegantly and urbanely clever with lyrics it was easy to be reminded of a world in which Noel Coward might still be working in his prime!


The photograph I took of John Wallowitch.


Afterwards we went to Joe Allen’s for a late supper.

Cabaret was alive and vitally functioning in Manhattan!


Recent Posts

Subscribe

FOLLOW US