Schulenberg’s Page: A visit from Mother

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1975. September 27th was Mary Milton’s birthday and John “Tito” Gerassi and I took her to Daly’s Dandelion to celebrate — even though she hadn’t yet decided on an “appropriate” age.

And being discreet, Tito and I didn’t ask.

John “Tito” Gerassi.

I’d met him through Mary and as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Tito was as impressive and as intelligent a person as I’ve ever known!

Actually, as anyone has ever known.

For starters, his godparents were Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. His mother had been a close friend of de Beauvoir since childhood and had introduced her and Sartre to each other!

He’d also been a friend of Che Guevara and had written many books dealing with international politics. He was also employed as a commentator by Time Magazine!

Our conversation careened from analyses of hippie culture and fashion to backstairs gossip about the recently collapsed Nixon administration and what the lasting international implications would be.

Tito was fluent and knowledgable about almost any subject and yet modestly unassuming!  Afterwards we returned to Mary’s apartment for coffee and more conversation.

The next night I took Mary to dinner at Elaine’s for an encore celebration!

On Friday at noon I went to Princeton where I’d been invited to attend a masked ball.  I was invited to stay at Stuart and Petie Duncan’s beautiful house on Elm Street which had recently been decorated by Mario Buatta.

Petie Duncan.

Staying there was not unlike staying at a five-star boutique hotel.

In the guest bedroom there was a bedside table on which were several recently published books, a crystal carafe with water and a crystal glass, a small box of Teuscher champagne truffles, and a bowl of fruit. I would’ve stayed for a month!

The next morning, a maid knocked on the door with a tray of toast, jam and coffee in a silver pitcher and the Herald Tribune.

In the afternoon we went for drinks to Claire Burns’ house.  The next day I had to be back in Manhattan early as my mother was arriving from California.

I took the Dinky Train from Princeton Junction and then back into the city where my mother arrived and checked in to the Stanhope Hotel across from the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue; just a few blocks from my apartment.

She’d recently had what she called “a mind altering solo trip to Japan” and said that if she were younger she’d have considered moving there for a while!

She had wonderful tales of adventures and beautiful sites and landscapes — particularly the integration of architecture and plant life.


We met with Channing Chase at Charley’s where my mother told us about some of the things she did — like participating in a religious ceremony (and meeting a handsome man from Palm Beach)!

She loved traveling and before getting married went to New York by boat!

The next day we met with another friend — and I heard more stories.  She was a good story-teller and I began to think that she could have had a career as a professional travel writer.

And there was O’Neal’s!

My mother had little interest in being a tourist but wanted to do whatever she might do if she lived in Manhattan. That was easy for me as I simply carried on with my life without changing anything.  She became one of the gang and was such a good sport — never once complaining about all the walking that a New Yorker takes for granted but that’s alien to Californians who have to drive to go anywhere!

Now on to some showbiz. Valentine Sherry was married to the artists’ manager, Jane Oliver. Jane had been one of many actors’ agents in a large office and realized that there were actor clients with potential who weren’t being adequately represented. So she quit and become a manager with three particular clients she felt she could help: Perry King, Chris Sarandon, and a young Italian named Sylvester Stallone, who had written a film script about a boxer named Rocky!

I don’t remember what business Val had been in but he seemed to know everybody who was anybody!  He invited us to a Szechuan restaurant and totally charmed my mother!

My mother became familiar with New York coffee breaks and quickie meals in neighborhood bar/restaurants like Willie’s and O’Melia’s in my neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

My mother had gone to Long Island to stay for a while with a cousin with whom she shared a birthday while I was working on a project for DASH laundry detergent. It was not going well.  The art director was vague about what was needed and it was an important print campaign running concurrently with a television ad campaign.

That’s exactly what I felt like doing!

There was an actress/spokesperson dashing around in a mobile laundromat van washing “dirty loads” from men working in nasty jobs that would make for very dirty clothes!

I had to portray her in a comic strip style that was going to be placed in just about every US Sunday comic strip section.  The art director felt I’d made her too much of a caricature and the account executive was called in to give an opinion and he felt that she was too realistic and not caricatured enough!  They even called in the actress to be photographed by a photographer for more stills for me to use as a reference!

I didn’t change a thing for the next meeting and the art director and account executive agreed that YES!  Now it was much better!

But the art director still couldn’t make up his mind.  My rep/agent was now Linda Gould (who’d developed the career of jewelry designer Barry Kieselstein) and she decided that I would set up a kind of studio inside the agency. She would also be there and every minor change would be — KA-CHING!! — another $250!  Finally the art director was replaced with another and we sailed through with no more complications for the rest of the campaign.

It was a nightmare job really; the worst one I ever had. But was finally very profitable!  My mother picked a good time to go to Long Island!

I was relieved when I was invited to a party with actors!

Paul Bartel was thinking about another project, a feature film, and he’d been discussing business aspects of it with Burt Bluestein who’d been so helpful with The Secret Cinema. I spoke with Val and Jane Oliver about it since she and Val were helping Stallone with Rocky!

They also owned the rights to Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy, a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer; and The Tenant, a very spooky story by Roland Topor.

At dinner with them one evening they asked me who I thought might be interested in these properties as a movie. I knew the Topor story and without hesitation said Roman Polanski for The Tenant and Streisand for Yentl. They said that was also what they were thinking, and a few years later that’s what happened with both Polanski and Barbra directing and playing the main character!

Jane and Val agreed to meet with Burt and talk about Paul’s proposed project.

Burt Bluestein.

Leaving Val and Jane’s apartment on the Upper West Side I took the crosstown bus stopping at Lenox Hill Hospital to visit “Howdy” Hoeffding who had a light case of hepatitis —  just as I’d had in 1970!  I also visited my old nurses who’d made my Lenox Hill stay less tedious!  Howdy appeared to be in similar good spirits!

That evening, Sassy Johnson invited Mary and me to a small cocktail party for Sue Turner who was going to marry Steve Warm.

It had been a busy time with a lot of stuff. My mother was coming back to Manhattan because we were going to visit my cousin June Hibdon and her husband Milton in Montreal where Milt had taken the job of running the Come By Chance oil refinery.

Thank heaven I’d finished the DASH campaign and it had finally been approved; and we’d been paid!

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