Schulenberg’s Page: Commedia dell’arte

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June, 1972. A rainy Manhattan.

On the Upper East Side on Park Avenue at 95th Street in the apartment of Edgar Lansbury there was a reading of David Chimay and John Adamo’s proposed musical, Commedia, in front of a group of people that they hoped would invest in the project.

My old friend, Stu Duncan and Edgar Lansbury had opened a production office as their show GODSPELL had become a hit!

Having introduced Chimay and Adamo to Stu Duncan, and Stu taking the idea to his associate Edgar Lansbury, I now realize that I was responsible for the evening even happening. At the time I don’t recall giving myself much credit but just being happy to have been invited!

I was still thinking about Bette Midler appearing in Carnegie Hall a few days previously and wondering how far her career would go and where it would take her.

New York was such an amazing place for talent.  I was thinking of Barbra’s beginnings by winning a talent show in a small Greenwich Village gay bar, Barry Dennen and me taking her to an audition for the Bon Soir nightclub in the Village; and now in 1972 she was already becoming an international legend by starring on Broadway, recording albums and starring in movies!

All in ten short years!

And Bette similarly starting to be noticed by singing in a gay bathhouse while it was actively in business!  And now she had performed in Carnegie Hall!

I can’t think of one single instance where anything remotely like these beginnings could have happened in Hollywood, the so-called pinnacle of entertainment!  A bathhouse would have more likely been closed by the vice squad rather than attracting LA’s elite to hear an unknown but talked-about singing performer!

But nevertheless, here we were. And for Bette there was no turning back!

So it was hoped that something even somewhat similar could happen if money could be raised to produce the Chimay/Adamo/Lansbury/Duncan project, Commedia!

Song: Commedia, “A Friend is a Friend is a Friend …”

I was surprised to see my friend John French there and wondered who we knew in common since I knew John from a totally different world and situation.  I didn’t get to ask him and am still wondering about it to this day!

Flora Lewis was a very prominent journalist and in 1972 was named the foreign and diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. 

She had graduated from UCLA summa cum laude at the age of 18 after graduating high school at 15 and was the first woman to be given her own column on the Times op-Ed page.

Genevieve St. George, a Guggenheim family member, invited Mary Milton and me to the Harry Guggenheim home to meet Lewis who had just been the subject of a lot of publicity on account of having been named on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List!  She was fascinating, something that was no surprise, but made so clear a case against the Nixon Administration that there was no doubt how she ended up on the list!

A few days later I was with Mary as she finished taking care of myriad details in her office before she would be flying to Europe.

Finally Mary was off to France.

And I was busy with work.  On the bus as I was coming from an ad agency meeting there was a model similarly returning from a meeting and I wondered if hers had been editorial or advertising  — but I didn’t ask, I just drew!

I was a friend of the singer Margaret Whiting and I got a call from her telling me that her daughter Debby and her son-in-law Douglas Gervasi had just moved to Manhattan and were living very close to me.  Douglas was an illustrator and Margaret thought we should meet.

Like me, Doug had graduated from UCLA and was quite talented.  He and Debby and I became friends.  He made connections quickly and was soon working regularly.

Later that week, David Chimay and John Adamo invited me and my white Persian cat companion Tybalt to come with them to spend the weekend at Genevieve St. George’s house on Nantucket.  Although it wasn’t mentioned I’m sure it was to thank me for the help with Commedia, their musical.

Tybalt in my old bedroom during a visit to my mother in Fresno.

So Tybalt and I found ourselves at Genevieve St. George’s pretty house at Sconset on Nantucket.  Tybalt was such a serene traveler that airline stewardesses always assumed he was tranquilized.  He wasn’t.  Just mellow and serene.

Genevieve had two dogs, Zippity and Daphnis, but Tybalt stayed in the bedroom so he never met them.

David Chimay napping with Zippity and Daphnis.

It was a calm, relaxing and slow weekend and I became very aware of the phrase “rose-covered cottage” as there were so many of them in Sconset; beautiful roses everywhere.

The only activity was a quiet game or two.

Armin St. George, Genevieve’s teenage son.

Finally we took the ferry leaving Nantucket for Boston.

We checked into the then Ritz Hotel and I was nervous that there might be a problem with Tybalt.  However, the person showing me to my room gathered my luggage and gently picked up Tybalt in his (obvious) carrier and I suddenly realized that I hadn’t sufficiently prepared for a portable litter box.  After settling into the room I found a cardboard box and discreetly borrowed sand from a very large porcelain container in the hallway serving as a large cigarette ashtray!

Problem solved and I assumed the cleaning people would know what to do with it after we left!

The venerable old hotel reminded me of The Town House Hotel in Los Angeles where my brother and I lived with my mother when our house, having been sold, was going through escrow.

The old Town House on Lafayette Park in Los Angeles.

Then we joined my father who was already living in our new house in Fresno.  My brother and I had lived in the swimming pool at The Town House and we amused ourselves with the underwater viewing room.

While in Boston we visited the very old historic Faneuil Hall, which as I recall was at the time in question (1972) as to what its future use would be.

Faneuil Hall as it appeared before the building was enlarged to its current size in 1805. Courtesy the Library of Congress

We met Ric Hardman and Royal Cloyd of the Boston Center for the Arts.

They gave us a tour and filled in all the details of what was being debated and also a quick history.  The Hall was originally built in 1743 and played such a large role in the War for Independence from Great Britain that it is frequently called “the cradle of Liberty!”

We checked out of the hotel and were only gone from Manhattan for a long weekend but it felt like we were gone for a month.

But here we were. Back in Old New York!

Manhattan also had a rich history, but WOW what a present it was having!

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