Schulenberg’s Page: Halston, Joel Schumacher, Katharine Graham, Sharon Powers and more …

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July, 1972: Five days before I met with Sassy Johnson, George McGovern had won the Democratic nomination for president.  The Society of Illustrators had organized an art auction to benefit McGovern and I and many illustrators had donated art to be auctioned.  I bought a drawing of Mayor Ed Koch by David Levine.

McGovern had pledged an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam and this was a very popular concept for those of us who’d participated in the auction.

So, these five days later I had had an appointment midtown. And as I was going toward Third Avenue to catch a bus home there was a sudden downpour so I ran into Macy’s to stay dry. I walked by a table that was stacked with beautiful yellow men’s cardigan sweaters.  I had to stop and look and to my shock they were, as I recall, only $11.00!

This was before the development of debit bank cards and I didn’t have a checkbook with me.  I checked to see how much cash I had and found that I only had twenty dollars. Nevertheless, I had to have one of the sweaters(!) so I bought one and wore it out of the store.

Victor Hugo.

The rain had stopped and I took the subway uptown. But deciding that it had turned out to be a beautiful bright day I got off and, deciding to window shop, I ended up on Madison Avenue in the seventies.  Coming down the sidewalk I noticed Victor Hugo, Halston’s boyfriend and window display guy.

He was Venezuelan and there were any number of descriptions and explanations of who and what he was.  There were stories of epic orgies he had arranged and staged at Halston’s residence along with copious quantities of drugs offered to guests and friends.  The most neutral and generous thing that was said of him was that he was devilishly and promiscuously decadent!

I arrived just as Sassy, who was involved with Halston’s couture business, had finished with Katharine Graham who ran her family’s newspaper, The Washington Post.

The paper was currently investigating the growing Watergate scandal that would eventually lead to Nixon resigning the presidency. And when Mrs. Graham saw me she said, “Oh!  I saw you on the street wearing that divine sweater!” and I smiled and thanked her.

After she left, I told Sassy the story of the sweater.  I was thinking that my sweater had cost $11.00 and Heaven knows what her made-to-order Halston creation would cost!

I wished I’d had more cash with me, I would have bought six of them!  They were on sale and wouldn’t be there tomorrow so it was just too bad.

On leaving, I found myself sharing the elevator with Halston himself and Joel Schumacher, who, at that time was himself a clothing designer, and later became a successful movie director (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, etc.)

Halston silently stared at me with no expression as Schumacher was quietly speaking to him. Finally he stopped talking and also just stared at me.  Halston had just won a Coty Award and to fill the interminable silent staring I said, “Congratulations on the Coty Award.“

There was no comment from either one — just silence and the stare.

Finally we made it to the ground floor and I escaped.

“What a jerk” I couldn’t help thinking. Both of them!

[And I remembered my horrible summer of 1967 on Fire Island where Schumacher, living next door, was said to be overcoming a drug dependency!]

August 1, I invited my friend from Los Angeles, Sharon Powers, to dinner at Elaine’s.  I’d known her older sister, Patricia, in the UCLA Art Department where she was also a student. Her little sister Sharon would sometimes come visit as we painted in the studios. And now Sharon had graduated UCLA and come to New York to be an actress.

Sharon had also graduated from UCLA and after working with the prominent Los Angeles decorator, James Pendleton, and then my idol, Tony Duquette, she finally made the break and moved East with the hope of a career in theater.

We had spent the afternoon looking for some articles of clothing that would make a statement that might be helpful in an audition.  If it were not effective for a producer, it would at least help to lend some confidence to Sharon during an audition.

We weren’t totally successful but we’d made a start.  At Elaine’s she was getting a peek at another kind of show; there was always Theater at Elaine’s!

There was a hairstyle that was beginning to be seen around town. In her magazine, HAIR TRENDS, Connie Bartel had named it “The Washerwoman” as it resembled the hairstyle of the laundresses painted by Degas.

These women at Elaine’s, however, were not washerwomen.

Even though Sharon had been living in the city for a while I thought that she had now seen a situation unique to Manhattan!  She had, in a sense, graduated!  Whether it would be aspirational, inspirational or depressing would be beyond my control!

Living in Manhattan she was on her own!

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