May 6, 1974: the World Trade Center had celebrated its first birthday a month and two days before. It was open for business (more than 430 companies!) on April 4, 1973 to mixed reviews. Some criticized its “purposeless gigantism” (Lewis Mumford in The Pentagon of Power) and as simply “glass and metal filing cabinets” (ibid.) And my favorite critical comment was that they resembled the boxes that The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building came in!
I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the towers but it had been called Radio Row due to its multiplicity of small electronic businesses, industries and roughly 100 residents.
There was such a human scale to the neighborhood that I’m sorry I never went that far downtown to visit it. There would have been so much to draw. With “gigantism” there’s already so much there’s virtually nothing to draw!
During the summer the city was urging New Yorkers to go easy on the electricity and I noticed that all the lights on the towers were on all night!
I was so annoyed that I wrote a note to Mayor Koch’s office to complain. I received a note signed by him explaining that turning them off and then turning them back on would be so much more wasteful that it was more practical to simply leave them on!
I had illustrated a cover for Juris Doctor but frankly haven’t any memory of what it might have been. My representative appeared to be giving me any assignment that nobody else would do. It might have been complimentary to think that she valued my versatility, but I was really wishing that she’d sell me for the ads that had a more distinctive look to them.
At my recommendation, Richard Amsel was also represented by her and he’d put his foot down refusing to do anything but movie posters and TV Guide covers! He didn’t need her representation for those as he’d had success on his own without a rep!
After discussing the project with the Art Director I decided to stop for coffee before going back to work.
Wherever I went I saw that people were reading The Nixon Transcripts of the secret tape recordings from Nixon’s Oval Office. His so-called Silent Majority supporters were even more silent now.
There appeared to be fewer — except in the GOP!
That evening there was a small party for a friend who was moving to France but afterwards I didn’t want to go back to work again. Even though it was for a cover, Juris Doctor wasn’t as thrilling as other jobs I’d had! So I persuaded Rachael Waters to go with me to Willie’s on Third Avenue near my apartment.
A few days later, I went downtown to a daytime screening of a film from one of the underground film groups.
Richard Amsel had told me there was a screening of the 1970 French 1930s gangster film, Borsalino, with Lean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon who’d also produced it. Paramount had released it hoping that it would launch Delon into the American market and make him an international superstar!
In spite of meticulous reconstruction of the period with sets and costumes, it didn’t get very good reviews and disappeared rather quickly. Richard and I loved the period (he’d designed The Sting poster) and so we went to see it. In spite of the museum-like representation we had to agree with the critics. After some of the Parisian scandalous gossip about Delon I was beginning to worry and suspect that a gangster role was a little too easy for him!
Richard was a friend of the young singer Marc Allen Trujillo and we were invited to his apartment after. He was going to be appearing at The Grand Finale which was exciting to see cabarets moving farther uptown.
I don’t mean to sound too critical but the subway trip was more interesting than the screening. I keep hoping someone will turn out to be a young and inexperienced Scorsese or De Palma like just a few years previously when I’d had a two-second moment with Robert De Niro in Brian De Palma’s second feature, Greetings!
No such luck this time.
So it wouldn’t be a total loss, and since I was downtown, I saw Jim DeWoody at the gym and persuaded him to come for coffee again at David’s Potbelly Stove.
That made the trip worthwhile.
Meanwhile the House Judiciary Committee had opened hearings on whether to recommend the impeachment of President Nixon. Things were speeding up and we were becoming almost immune to excitement!
The following Sunday was an island of calm as I was invited to a leisurely brunch.
There was some conversation about Nixon but not much because everyone there thought he should be impeached!
Brunch had stretched on so long that we decided to go straight to The Grand Finale.
Amsel was already there and the show started with Joy Garrett who’d acted in experimental plays downtown at La MaMa.
Later, during the ’80s and early ’90s she’d be a regular on Days of Our Lives. She died in California at 47 in 1993!
But that was the future.
Way in the future!
Then came Marc Allen Trujillo.
He would also go on to become a well-known pop singer.
And women found him to be very attractive.
I went with Richard Amsel two nights later, so grateful that cabaret was appearing to be making a strong comeback!
This was going to be a special night. Richard was fond of inviting people to his apartment where he projected Classic 35mm films that he owned. He found out that most of his favorite films were unavailable on 16mm and this was many years before video or CD copies were available.
Richard discovered that there was a somewhat illicit (illegal!) market for 35mm films, the kind of prints shown only in movie theaters. So he began buying them starting with Disney favorites!
He bought a 35mm professional theater movie projector and had a hole made in a bedroom wall so that he could project movies into his living room.
Since these prints were normally projected at some distance in a theater, projecting it as close as a living room wall made the movies amazingly sharp!
He had a perfect print of Disney’s Pinocchio and it was so extremely sharp that it was possible at times to see a dim reflection of the animation camera lens on the glass covering the art!
He also had a perfect print of Gone With the Wind that was so clean and sharp that one could see the lace on the false sideburns, beards and even wigs! Did you know that the actress who played (Vivian Leigh) Scarlett’s mother (Barbara O’Neill) had a bad complexion? You could see it on Richard’s print.
What was particularly interesting to us both were the technical details. There’s a moment when Scarlett/Vivian is talking to the Tarleton twins, (George Reeves — TV Superman — and later radio star Fred Crane) and the camera is tracking her on a dolly with a scrim over a spotlight to soften the light on her face. The light is evidently mounted on the camera dolly as it’s noticeable that the scrim vibrates and moves just a bit as they cross the porch! There’s also a tiny makeup-covered boo boo on Vivian’s forehead that comes and goes so you can imagine which scenes were shot when!
For an audience it might ruin a film but for a filmmaker it’s priceless information!
So back to The Grand Finale. Alaina Reed was appearing and she’d been a regular at Richard‘s movie nights so of course we went to see and support her at the club.
Alaina went on to play Olivia on 59 episodes of Sesame Street and also to continue in film and television before she died in Santa Monica of breast cancer in 2009 at the age of 63.
Another friend of Amsel’s was Vito Russo, illustrated below with Bruce Parker.
Vito Russo was a noted film historian and in 1981 would publish a book, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, which The New York Times called “an essential reference book” on homosexuality in the US film industry! In 1974, he was traveling and delivering a live lecture presentation with film clips at universities, colleges and small theaters.
Obviously, it was inevitable that he and Richard would meet so he was also frequently at Richard’s movie nights.
One night Richard called me and asked if I could come over. Bette Midler had asked if she could come see Disney’s Alice in Wonderland after attending an Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performance. He didn’t know when she’d be coming and since I only lived a few doors away he asked if I could come visit while he waited.
So I went over and while waiting for Bette we again watched with wonder Pinocchio, which we both thought was the height of animation perfection!
Finally, after midnight Bette arrived. And she’d brought Alvin Ailey himself and his star, Judith Jamison! Judith and Bette were carrying loads of red roses which had been thrown to Judith as she took her bows after her star turn in the dance, Wade in the Water!
There were so many roses that we filled the bathtub with water for them and even put some in the toilet’s tank. Richard had ordered a large pizza and we started watching Alice in Wonderland after which Judith asked if we could see Fantasia (my favorite of them all!)
While Richard was getting the projector loaded we were eating pizza and I remember Bette saying what a noble time it was when Victoria was the Queen!
“Everyone was so polite and courteously formal,” she said. And I smiled to myself — thinking that this was the same woman who a short time before was singing in a gay sexual bathhouse/club to a mixed audience of bourgeois New York couples and half nude gay guys while wrapped in only a towel (like the guys) and throwing amyl nitrate poppers to the audience.
By the way, Barry Manilow was her pianist.
So we watched Fantasia.
Afterwards, Judith had a dreamy smile on her face when someone asked her what she was thinking. She gave a little laugh and then a bigger one and said that she always thought the demon in Night On Bald Mountain was the hottest guy she’d ever seen!
“What a body!” she kept saying!
So this was Manhattan in early 1974!. Thinking about it, I can’t help but notice a mix of libertine hilarity with a continual vibration of potential sadness and loss.
An impending impeachment, a future catastrophic disaster, a future pandemic, future premature endings of comparatively young lives and yet the continuing reinventing of a society.
And yet an unknown and unexpected something less hilarious.