Schulenberg’s Page: Magic and Realism

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March, 1973: The US was in recession and President Nixon had put price controls on oil and gas. The Watergate Investigation was ongoing and we found out later that early in March Nixon had invited a Greek-American businessman to visit The Oval Office. The man, Thomas Pappas, had provided money to buy the silence of the Watergate burglars!

Meanwhile I had gone with my Persian cat Tybalt and Bill Rilling and Gary Van Kirk to the tenant house we had rented at Greentrees, Connie Bartel’s 68-acre farm near Phillipsburg, New Jersey on the Delaware River.

The first thing we always did on arriving was go for provisions to Falk’s, a store in Phillipsburg that sold almost everything. The townspeople were preparing for Mardi Gras but Connie had invited us to go with her to visit Sandy and Ray Kinney.

Sandy and Ray were a young couple with two children. They were natives of the area and were fascinated by Connie’s worldliness. She had been an advertising copy writer, the editor-in-chief of a major fashion magazine and was currently writing a novel. She, in turn, liked their creativity, youth and enthusiasm. And being obviously admired by them certainly added to the mix!

Ray was very interested in interior decorating and had turned their house into an unexpectedly sophisticated home. There were a lot of interesting old pieces of furniture from local barn sales and antique shops and it all came together in an appropriately pretty and unselfconscious way.

Back in town I visited Ray Smith in his apartment on the West Side at 86th and Columbus Avenue. The area was continuing its growing popularity as a neighborhood for shopping and nightlife. Ray wanted to talk about making a movie! Not a documentary, but an idea he had for a short film; and he asked if I’d be interested in being the cinematographer. I said of course and suggested we do it at the farm.

We spent the afternoon planning.

At the time I was doing a record cover for Columbia Records — Sir Thomas Beecham — and having a very good time with it.

I also had a meeting at Money magazine to talk about a project.

I was still thrilled thinking that I was being well paid to have fun doing what I’d normally be doing anyway!

On the 21st, John Dean told President Nixon that there was a cancer growing on the presidency!

Things in Washington were heating up!

Ray and I met for lunch to talk about the movie. This time, we met on the East Side at Dorrian’s Red Hand near my apartment.

A few days later I went to see a play called Ubu Roi (oo-boo-rwah). It’s a pretty nonsensical play by 21-year-old French writer Alfred Jarry and I’d always assumed it had been written during the irreverent experimental ’20s. Not too long ago I was stunned to find out that it was written during the final years of the 19th century and first performed in 1896!

In Great Britain, Victoria was queen!

Programme from the première of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in Paris on December 10, 1896.
Photographs of the marionette of Ubu.

Jarry died at the age of 34 and he and a friend had originally written it as students in a satirical spoof of a detested professor Héber whose nickname was “Hé Bé,” hence Ubu! In French the “h” is silent (pron. ay bay).

It’s considered to be the great antecedent to DADA, Theater of the Absurd and Surrealism and has been translated and performed all over the world and several times has been transformed into an opera or some other theatrical form. Somehow it was even made into a movie!

Two days earlier John Lennon was ordered to finally leave the US within 60 days while Yoko Ono was allowed to remain indefinitely!

On March 25th, groundbreaking photographer Edward Steichen (born in 1879) died. And the next day, playwright Noel Coward died.

So much was happening!

Earlier, there had been another unusual play with outrageous characters and plot at La Mama theater: The Magic Show of Doctor Dr. Ma-gico.

Production photograph of The Magic Show of Dr. Ma-gico presented by the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, and produced at La MaMa in 1973

One of the performers called herself “Sierra Bandit” but was in reality Lucy Pecheur, the wife of popular Ford model and Warhol actor (“Trash”) Bruce Pecheur.

All of New York was shocked and horrified to wake up in August to read:

It seems that while they were sleeping, a burglar had entered the Pecheur’s apartment downtown in the meatmarket neighborhood (which had not yet been gentrified). He’d tied up Bruce at knifepoint. Eventually Bruce worked his way loose and, finding his registered gun, shot the burglar just as he himself was stabbed in the heart! They both died on the spot!

I wonder if the unreal happenings in Washington and the world had given rise to an unbelievable zeitgeist and a preponderance of indecipherable work in the arts.

Everything certainly seemed to be much more difficult to understand!

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