1969. My brother Richard was back in New York again and working out of Columbia Record’s offices. He had been in town during the summer and with me watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon!
A few weeks later on August 9th we took Paul Bartel to a late birthday dinner at the Cafe Nicholson. His birthday was August 6th but this was a more convenient date!
Jane Fonda and her husband, French movie director Roger Vadim, were in town and making headlines and causing gossip — a lotta very juicy gossip! Extremely juicy even for the 1960s!
There was talk about both of them having surprising sexy flings with — people of both sexes. I’d been introduced to Vadim at a movie studio in Paris and was shocked when he gave me a provocative up and mostly down once over!
Leaving the studio I asked the friend who’d brought (and introduced) me “about“ Vadim and his personal life! She’d known him since he’d begun his career and just smiled at me, a young naïf American.
“Oh yes,” she indulged me. “He was always like that! Il fait n’importe quoi!” (He does whatever!)
So I was inclined to believe her! It was Paris! And I was inclined then to believe the Manhattan gossip! It was said that Vadim was spending time with Eric Emerson, who was the openly bisexual manager of Max’s Kansas City on Lower Park Avenue, and Fonda was friendly with an unnamed waitress. Debbie Harry was a waitress at Max’s then, so who knows!
But I’d received a call earlier on the ninth from my friend Don Chase, who told me there was going to be a kind of celebration/get together at Max’s that night for Vadim and Fonda and it’d be worth checking it out!
I thought it would be fun for my brother to see Max’s in full super star fettle and suggested we go there after dinner at Cafe Nicholson.
At dinner, the restaurant was empty except for one other group; and we were surprised to see Vadim, Fonda, Eric Emerson and the beautiful model, Deborah Dixon!
I smiled to myself thinking that they didn’t know that they might be seeing us later downtown.
We finally got to Max’s and the place was on overdrive! Everyone was doing a number trying to outshine each other until Andrea “Whips” Feldman took her familiar place on a table top and shouted her all-too-familiar, “SHOW TIME!!,” and started a rickety progress across the table top toward Vadim and Fonda who were seated directly in front of her!
We were seated right in front of them about eight feet away and were the only people there who looked uptown — that is, wearing a coat and tie!
Feldman’s table finally tipped delivering her directly on top of Fonda with her hand provocatively groping for an entrance to Fonda’s blouse as Fonda smiled grimly desperately trying to restrain the progress of Feldman’s hand! During this she had covertly recognized us from the Cafe Nicholson which must have made it even worse for her!
At that point Vadim said, “this is boring — let’s go!” And they left. As did we!
The next day my brother and I were checking out the hippy, New Age clothing shops on Lexington Avenue. In one, they had a radio playing a news program with a news flash:
“Massacre in Hollywood!” an excited reporter exclaimed. Richard and I started paying attention as the news continued. “Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and …” etc. and I felt my knees go limp as the news continued and my brother grabbed to keep me from falling!
I’d had a long friendship with Roman Polanski from his first days out of Poland and a short but intense friendship with Sharon Tate! The last time I’d seen her was when she invited me to come to the Dakota while they were shooting the exteriors for Rosemary’s Baby. And now this!
So back to thinking about the night before, while the whole seedy performance was occurring with shabby, drug-infused narcissists imagining they were glamorous competing for attention … Sharon and her guests were being slaughtered in Benedict Canyon, one canyon away from where my brother’s wife and young child were living. Alone!
In years following, after Fonda divorced Vadim, I wondered (and still do) if that superficially indulgent evening compared to the horror of Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon had anything to do with the way she has lived the rest of her life; her strong commitment to the rights and safety of people during war and peacetime!
After August 9, 1969 houses all over the hills and canyons of Los Angeles immediately became fitted with security walls and gates!
In December 1969, Charles Manson and his so called Family members were arrested and in police custody.
In January 1970, my brother was back in New York and we went to dinner at Elaine’s. Elaine was fond of him because he had helped her very close friend and ex bartender Jack Allen open his restaurant, The Four Oaks in Bel Air right across from my brother’s house.
Elaine sat with us and Richard told her all the latest news about the restaurant which had become very popular with an especially elegant Sunday brunch in the garden serenaded by a harpist!
A few days later, we visited Paul Bartel in his apartment.
We talked a bit about Sharon and the Manson group having been caught; and even the night at Max’s. Flash-forward: On August 8th, 1972, Andrea Feldman jumped from a 14th floor window of her uncle’s Fifth Avenue apartment having invited all of her boyfriends to wait for her outside on the sidewalk! She was only 24 years old.
We took the subway and went to the Little Carnegie Theater where we saw FANTASIA, a movie we’d go to as kids and which we’d sit through every time it played — a whole afternoon’s worth!
We weren’t able to stay for multiple viewings at The Little Carnegie!
Another day Paul had me come over to meet yet another cinematographer. He felt that if he kept moving forward it would keep the energy up and just possibly attract financing for a feature film. So far, there were no takers!
Paul would always ask me what I thought of them and I had to keep reminding him that these people were only doing documentaries because they didn’t have backing for a feature film either! It’s one thing to set up a shot with whatever’s in front of you and adjust for the available light, but when you start working on a soundstage with nothing and have to light it — it’s quite a different thing!
I found myself yearning again to make a movie.
In the meantime, I was invited to dinner in Brooklyn.
Everything around me started looking like a movie.
But a movie has to have a plot. And I didn’t have a plot!