March, 1975. Tim Anderson came into Manhattan from where he was living in Connecticut. There was going to be a television show dealing with ongoing questions about the assassination of President Kennedy. Geraldo Rivera at the peak of his popularity was having Mark Lane as a star guest on Good Night, America.
Lane had gained prominence himself as an assassination investigator questioning The Warren Commission’s findings.
Tim and I had had long conversations about the assassination and when I told him I was going to be in the audience of the show he decided to come into town and attend it also. Since the call time for the audience was late afternoon the following day he came and stayed in my “guest apartment” across the hall from my working/living apartment.
We went to dinner and sketched out our plans. There was also a lot of speculative conversation about the whole topic of assassination!
The next day we arrived at ABC-Television Studios for the taping. There was a feeling of excited expectation from the audience members as they found their seats!
Mark Lane was a lawyer involved in politically progressive causes. He had worked for civil rights and with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy had been elected to the New York Legislature while also managing the New York City area’s campaign for JFK’s 1960 presidential bid.
Shortly after the Kennedy assassination Lane started to question the finding of The Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald was “the lone gunman”! He felt that many witnesses were ignored and that it was pre-decided that Oswald had done it.
He wrote a book about his criticisms and questions called Rush to Judgement.
It was fascinating. Lane brought up facts that nobody had previously mentioned. He also mentioned the fact that several of the names of people involved in the Watergate break in turned up in his investigation of the Dallas assassination! He provided testimony to The Warren Commission but Earl Warren thought he was a publicity seeker and discounted his testimony.
He wrote another book, A Citizen’s Dissent, and never stopped believing that the CIA and possibly other government agents had been involved.
There was a lot to think about and as time has passed people are still thinking about it!
The next day I went down to Wooster Street for a screening of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), a film I was very familiar with but hadn’t seen for a few years.
The imagery of the film is inspirational and when you consider the limitations imposed on the 1946 production made so soon after the end of the Second World War (and probably begun before the end of the war), it demonstrates what is possible to be done if one has enough imagination and skill even without a lavish abundance of materials or financing!
I’d found a copy of Cocteau’s Diary of a Film in which he describes in great detail a day by day journal of the making of the film.
It’s fascinating reading and reawakened my wish to be involved in movie making! It had been nine years since Paul Bartel and I had made our short feature, The Secret Cinema. And even though it was at times exhausting it was also stimulating and thrilling when it was noticed and, better yet, appreciated by film festivals and other young filmmakers!
Cocteau deserved every syllable of the praise he received for making his film!
I decompressed at David’s Potbelly Stove in the Village!
On the following Saturday there was something called Psychic Cinema at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church but I have no memory of what it was.
In any event, it appears that I went to Brew & Burger afterward.
And the next week, Ray Smith and I went for brunch with Don Chase at his apartment.
Don was a writer and had recently been a script reader in Hollywood. His job consisted of reading scripts that had been submitted for possible filming consideration.
He kept saying that he was currently experiencing writer’s block and wasn’t feeling able to write anything.
I asked him if he thought that there might be a connection with his reading so many scripts. There were probably so many stories in those scripts that it made sense to me to think that he may have had some variation of content overload. I asked him if he thought that might be a possibility?
He thought about it and finally agreed that it might have had something to do with it.
I was also telling them about the ABC-TV experience with Mark Lane and Geraldo Rivera. Ray, who worked at NBC on the TODAY SHOW, shared some Geraldo Rivera behind-the-scenes stories. There were a lot of them going around!
I was meeting Mary Milton later for dinner and Mary suggested that Ray join us. So we ended up at a new Chinese-fusion restaurant.
Ray was trying to decide whether to go to Hunter College to finish getting his Bachelor of Arts degree. It was bothering him so much that he spoke with a therapist about it. He was afraid he’d be too old going back to school. He told the therapist that he’d be 33 by the time he would get his B.A.
He laughed and told us that the therapist had said “but you’ll be 33 anyway and without a B.A.!” So he was going to go to Hunter in the fall!
A few days later I had a surprise visit from one of my oldest Manhattan friends Butch Clancy, whom I’d met shortly after moving to Greenwich Village upon my arrival from Los Angeles. Back then, there was a group of guys in the Village who recently graduated from college or had finished their mandatory draft obligation. All of us were approximately the same age so it made the Village more neighborly and Manhattan less forbidding! Butch had moved back to Oregon and was traveling with his friend Luther White showing Luther where he’d lived and whom he’d known when he was living in New York.
We met at Yellowfingers as I thought it’d be a good starting point for people-watching and a tour of trendy boutiques on East 60th Street.
We then took Luther on a tour of Bloomingdale’s, which had become such a beacon of sociability that TIME magazine had featured a cover story on the store as something much more than a purveyor of merchandise and symptomatic of a whole new young sophisticated lifestyle — a place to meet with friends and hang out and even just possibly do some shopping!
The store’s display windows had a different theme each week. Little dramas going on with mannequins’ interrelationships! Sometimes a group gossiping about another mannequin and one particularly memorable series of fashionably dressed mannequins being harassed by any number of rowdy toys from the Toy Department! One window had hapless mannequins stuck in the middle of a GI Joe war games exercise trying to avoid the toy tanks and some shielding themselves from low flying helicopters while another window had elegantly dressed mannequins with their hands in the air as police toys were arresting them for shoplifting!
I remember “Break Through with Christian Dior Shoes!” and a Louis XVI elegantly furnished foyer with a Dior shoe-wearing mannequin crashing through the ceiling with clouds of broken plaster (strung on invisible fishing line) flying everywhere! The opposite window had “Break Through with Christian Dior Gloves!” and another elegant Louis XVI foyer with a slim arm wearing an opera-length black velvet glove crashing through an elaborately panel’d wall with again, plaster flying everywhere!
Certainly, the stores in Oregon weren’t like Bloomingdale’s!
The next evening S. J. Mendelson was singing at Gypsie’s on First Avenue at 58th Street.
Gypsy (James ‘Gypsy’ Haake) was the host as well as the namesake for the club. As a young man he had been a dancer, a chorus boy, or a gypsy as performers who frequently go on the road are called. He was one — and the name stuck. He was outrageously funny making fun of everything … including himself!
Dressed in drag he was quite a legend in the Manhattan world of cabaret!
Years later he would move to the West Coast and become the host at the Beverly Hills nightclub, La Cage aux Folles, and perform before an A-list audience. Finally, when that club closed he moved to Palm Springs.
And tonight he was introducing S. J.
As has been frequently stated, this could only be happening in New York!
Endnote: As far as I know, Gypsy, who is now 88 years old, is still going strong — proclaiming the title of “the world’s oldest working drag queen.” A few years ago, he appeared in the music video for Miley Cyrus’ “Younger Now,” and even took to the stage to perform live with Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards!