October/November 1975. My cousin June Hibdon and her husband Milton had moved to Montreal, Canada from Honolulu, Hawai’i during a Canadian winter. She told me that, living in Honolulu, it was impossible to buy any appropriate warm clothes and she was forced to layer muumuus and coats to insulate her against the cold on her initial Canadian arrival!
Milt had been given the job of running the new Come By Chance oil refinery in Newfoundland. It was quite a big deal and I’d understood that it was going to revitalize a whole part of the country. At least that was the idea — and the hope.
This was a plan and investment by John Shaheen, a prominent businessman who’d owned the radio station that Milt had managed in Honolulu. He’d seen Milt as an affable person with a magnetic outgoing personality and very capable of having a much larger career. It didn’t hurt that my cousin June was movie star beautiful. Her mother, married to my father’s brother, had been offered a movie contract in the 1930s The Golden Age of Movies; and her cousin Fay Webb, a well known beauty, had been married to Rudy Vallee. My “Aunt Betty” had been persuaded by my Uncle Harold to remain a supportive housewife and the matter was dismissed and forgotten.
Years later, when I was a child we had a beach house in Santa Monica and Rudy Vallee was appearing at a club on the amusement pier and Aunt Betty decided to drop in and say hello. In those days, Rudy Vallee was a very popular radio star and even appeared with Charlie McCarthy so I was a fan.
I went with Aunt Betty to the Casino Gardens on the pier and strangely enough I don’t remember anyone going with us. I must have expressed an extremely persuasive need to go see Rudy Vallee with her.
After his performance we went backstage and Aunt Betty became an incarnation of a glamorous film noir heroine throatily saying, “Hello, Rudy.” And he replied, “Hello, Betty — I saw you in the audience. How are you?”
I was thrilled.
So June and Milt were installed in an apartment in Montreal and supplied with a live-in Chinese cook!
To promote the opening of the refinery two invitational cruises were arranged and the QE II was chartered!
June and Milt had accompanied both cruises as kind of hosts and June told me that the guest list included prominent politicians (Republican) — but was secret. I was able to learn that Henry Kissinger had been on board for one of them.
As it finally occurred, some years after its inception the refinery went belly up, purportedly the largest bankruptcy in Canadian history!
So Milt and June moved to Manhattan and joined with Shaheen in other ventures. They moved into a new apartment building directly across the street from my apartment and I was looking forward to many happy events with them. However, there was so much security that it was very difficult to get to them. So we were close, but at the same time very distant!
But in October of 1975 my mother came East and we went to Montreal.
It’s strange that I don’t have much of a memory of what we did or where we went. I do remember June being cautiously suspicious that the Chinese cook might have been a CIA plant hired to secretly check on them!
June had told me about evenings spent socializing with high level — but unnamed — government insiders. I couldn’t think of any appropriate questions so couldn’t get any appropriate answers so the whole visit had a somewhat discreet but furtive air about it. June seemed to know more than she felt it was prudent to say. That feeling of an unspoken tension may be the reason for my lack of memory. I do remember that whenever I complimented the cook on something she’d made for me she’d make more and I felt obliged to eat more of it!
Back in New York … Joining the gym that I had decided on became a very wise choice. It was in Greenwich Village right on Sheridan Square and as members, attracted artists and writers. I developed friendships with guys with very similar interests and after workouts we began socializing. It was another typical Manhattan situation of people finding a sort of pseudo “family”!
One of them, who’d become a particular friend, was an artist/teacher named Jim DeWoody. One day we were meeting for lunch and Jim was looking at drawings in my sketchbook. There was a drawing I hadn’t been able to complete. It was just an eye. Beth Rudin’s eye. But Beth had moved on before I could continue and that was all there was.
Jim had stopped and was studying the eye. He asked who it was and I told him it was my friend Beth. “Whoever she is, I’m in love with her,” he said.
Another day he came uptown to my apartment and saw a colored photo on top of a cabinet. I had a lot of 1930s mirrored furniture and Jim was fascinated by it. He’d been admiring the cabinet and spotted the photo.
“Who is this?” he asked.
I told him it was my friend, Beth Rudin.
“The one with the eye?” he asked.
He again said, I’m in love with her!”
Some days later, we were walking in the Village and ran into Beth. She was with David Columbia and Tim Anderson, who worked at Whipsnade’s, David’s store in Pound Ridge. I introduced Jim to them and afterwards Jim said, “That’s the Beth, isn’t it? I am in love with her!”
They began seeing each other and not too long after, Jim asked her to marry him — and she did!
I was involved with a design project with a college friend of Beth’s, Ric Mendez, who was a genius at sewing. Beth decided that I should design and Ric should make her wedding dress. We did and they were married in a very elaborate wedding and then a reception at the Rainbow Room. Even Mayor Beame was there since Beth’s father, Lew Rudin, had been one of the city’s most faithful and valued citizens!
Beth and Jim moved into a large loft downtown where some friends dropped by for a casual afternoon.
Rich Little was another friend from the gym.
The next day was a Sunday and Ki and Carl Hribar gave a luncheon party for Sue Turner and Steve Warm, who were soon having their own wedding ceremony.
And a few days later there was a small cocktail party for Sue and Steve at the East 71st Street apartment of Harriet and Axel Schupf.
And finally, after Sue Turner did become Mrs. Steven Warm, Buzzie King invited some of us to his apartment for a post-wedding get together.
Vic Tom, another of the gym-buddies, was hospitalized for a minor operation so a few days later I went to visit him at The French Hospital.
Katrina “Muffin” Wood had been very enthusiastic about the project I previously mentioned that I was doing with Ric Mendez.
The project had started when I saw an object that gave me an idea: it was a sort of decorative bagel-shape made of fabric. I thought it would be a fun fashion accessory for Streisand if it were made of a common bandanna and worn as a bracelet!
Barbra and I always liked the look of high/low. When she was just 20 she’d had a 1930’s slip copied and wore it as a short evening dress while performing at The Bon Soir. Some years later the look was not unusual, but in early 1962 it was … unusual!
I thought it’d be even better if the bandanna bracelet were entirely covered in bugle beads! High and low!
I’d told Muffin about the idea and told her that I’d persuaded Ric Mendez to make the basic bagel for me. I thought I’d figure out how to sew beads to decorate it.
Being a successful traditional but creative jewelry designer she was curious and wanted to see it. I showed it to her and she loved it!
She wanted me to meet her representative to evaluate the commercial possibilities of such a thing.
I was excited and told my “sister” Katia about it over dinner at Elaine’s the following evening. I brought the sample to show her and Katia loved it and said she’d wear something like that and thought that other fashion interested women would, too. That cinched it for me. I could see that illustration was being used less for advertising in lieu of more hard sell photography and I was wondering if I could expand into other design applications!
Muffin took me to meet her rep’ Magda and I showed her my little fabric “bagel.” She liked it and thought it had possibilities. She suggested I produce a line of product to get an idea of how it might be marketed.
So I went back to Ric Mendez and persuaded him to make a set of them in inexpensive China silk in what I called “crayola colors”! Ric was sewing silk tubes and using a chopstick, stuffing them with cotton! This was painstakingly slow and impractical but good for making a sample line to show to Magda. If we were able to market them we’d figure out a better way! At this point, Ric became my business partner!
He was young and studying dance at Martha Graham’s, but the idea that he might be able to make some money doing something that was so easy for him became a not unattractive idea!
I went back to see Magda and showed her the expanded line of bagel jewelry. She liked it a lot and said she would think about representing it for the summer season!
I left her and I was full of enthusiasm. But I was very aware that the second a new idea was mentioned in Manhattan, everyone became aware of it and I realized I couldn’t wait for Magda! Muffin was researching machinery used to stuff toy animals with the idea that it might facilitate the filling of tubes! But every machine that she saw was enormous and we laughed ourselves silly imagining installing something like that in one of our small apartments — to say nothing of the noise that a huge industrial machine would make!
while I was downtown looking for interesting fabrics I saw the cording used by upholsterers and I felt so foolish! There was our solution. Cording in sizes from super thin to grossly fat and everything in between!
I met Ric for coffee and told him we were saved — and possibly in business!
I met Tito Gerassi and his friend Janice Fanelli at The Peacock Coffee House. Tito knew so much about so many diverse things that I asked him if he knew anything about promoting fashion.
He didn’t — other than liking the way that women looked wearing stuff.
I met my old friend Mara at Willie’s on Third Avenue and told her about the new project. She was also enthusiastic and asked if there were anything she might do to help! A good sign.
Talking with her I suddenly remembered that Ki Hackney-Hribar worked at Women’s Wear Daily and if there was anyone who knew more than Ki I couldn’t imagine whom it might be!
I called Ki and asked if I could pick her brain and she generously agreed. So with a tape recorder I met with her and received an instantaneous lesson in fashion promotion.
First, she informed me that Women’s Wear Daily wants any news of any trends in women’s fashion! Of course!
Makes sense to me.
She recommended I drop off a sample with an explanatory note to Andre Leon Talley who wrote about accessories. I did it and to my amazement found that Talley not only mentioned it, he wrote a whole article about it with an accompanying illustration of the sample — a blue and white gingham “bagel” knotted with a napkin-ring seashell! He said it wasn’t just jewelry and not just an accessory scarf, but both. And he named it “Fabric Jewelry.” The hottest new accessory!“
I was suddenly besieged with magazines and newspapers wanting to talk about it! Ki recommended I get a sales rep. I called Laura Kruger who represented Mary McFadden and several other well known jewelry designers. I told her my name and started to tell her about my stuff and she interrupted me saying that she already knew about it and would be interested in working with me!
We were in business! For real!
Streisand might have to buy her bracelet!