October, 1973: My friend Craig Simpson had come to New York for a visit. He’d lived in New York earlier working as an assistant to various photographers but had moved back to the Bay Area where he was working photographing catalogs for the very hip Joseph Magnin store. It was Craig with whom I arranged to have Barbra photographed when she was 18 and just beginning her career starting at The Bon Soir on Eighth Street in Greenwich Village back in early 1961.
He was such a good photographer I was sorry he hadn’t stayed in New York! I had “redesigned” Barbra’s appearance and drawn a portrait of her that she had used as a publicity mailer when she started working.
But I was realizing that she would need photographs of her New Look. The old 8×10 that she had been using wasn’t flattering and was no longer relevant.
She was so extremely intelligent and original with an inexhaustible informed curiosity about a bigger world that I imagined her as potentially one of the timeless goddess-like divas destined for much bigger things! Richard Avedon had produced a book with Truman Capote around 1958-59 called OBSERVATIONS.
I’d been following and admiring Avedon’s photography in Harper’s Bazaar (originally) and when the book came out I jumped on it and analytically studied every image.
I shared the photos with my best friend and fraternity brother, Bob Stone and we started taking photos trying to emulate some of the charismatic appeal of Avedon‘s work.
I was designing a cabaret revue for Alan Sues who later became a regular character on the television show Laugh-In. In the show was Merlene Marrow, a beautiful model who she said was the only working model that Eileen Ford of the prestigious Ford Model Agency had told to gain weight!
Bob and I invited Merlene to be photographed and took her, wearing a long gown, to an alley in Venice Beach. Bob had put together a huge scrim that we used to soften the bright Pacific sunshine and we placed her against a decaying brick wall surrounded by out of sight trash. In those days Venice was still almost a filthy slum and I thought the contrast was a somewhat tip of the hat to Avedon.
When I first met Craig I told him about my fascination with Avedon and similarly, my fascination with Barbra. Since Craig was interested in building a portfolio of samples and since he had access to a studio I suggested we have a session with Barbra.
He agreed to it and over coffee I sketched out ideas of what I thought might be useful and fun for all of us!
I was thinking of Barbra isolated with a large black something filling the negative space.
And certainly utilizing her collection of beautiful antique clothing. She had her wonderful $12.00 1920s caracul and Fox fur coat (that years later she had designer Irene Sharaff copy for the first scene of Funny Girl) and a beautiful delicate pale lavender-colored feather peignoir (which she accurately translated and called a combing jacket!) As I’d mentioned, even then, at 18 and 19 she was startlingly intelligent with an original style and ingrained sophistication!
She was just 18 when we did the photos.
I also liked the idea of her being isolated in a field of white fabric which I thought could be drop cloths. Getting them got to be expensive and complicated and we dropped that idea. Funny, decades later there was a cover photo of Sister Parish on the cover of House & Garden and she was sitting in a chair in the midst of a sea of drop cloths!
It was during this session that Craig shot a photo that has become iconic and was prominently featured in James Spada’s book on Barbra imagery!
Barbra loved the photos and it helped her to believe her new image.
She kept saying that when she got rich she’d get a nose job since she’d felt sensitive about a lot of people commenting about it and stupidly calling her ugly.
I kept dissuading her and even showing her photographs of Jacqueline, Vicomtesse de Ribes by Avedon — again in the book, OBSERVATIONS.
Truman Capote had named the iconic women in the book “Swans” and the name stuck! I told her if she had a nose job neither Avedon or my other favorite, Cecil Beaton, would never find her interesting enough to photograph! Before, I’d had to tell Barbra that a nose job would change her voice and that finally did it!
No more nose job talk.
Ironically, both Beaton and Avedon did some of her most beautiful photographs!
I wonder if she thought of me!
But getting back to Craig, to give him a big dose of what he was missing in Manhattan we spent the evening at Elaine’s and met again the next day for dinner at The Ginger Man.
I’d heard that there was yet another new discotheque that had opened in June and to top off the evening and see what was going on there I decided we’d go take a look. It was called Le Jardin and was located on West 43rd Street in the basement of The Hotel Diplomat. There were tables with bowls of fruit and cheeses and waiters on roller skates.
Again, it was a good place to draw — quick action drawings as people danced. Not much to brag about but good training.
We finally finished the evening in the early morning at The Brasserie.
Craig had planned to leave the next day but moved his departure a day later so he’d have a day to recover. He was out of practice.
I still had deadlines but on November 1st I met Paul at Dorrian’s Red Hand just around the corner from my apartment.
So much had happened in a very short time. Nixon had been ordered by Judge Sirica to turn over the secret tapes that had been recorded in the Oval Office and Nixon had refused. Things appeared to be heating up in Washington.