Schulenberg’s Page, New York: Barbra’s Beginning, Part II

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Riding the subway, 8/15/1961.

After Barbra‘s audition for The Bon Soir, she, Barre and I went back to the Pam Pam where Barre gave her notes, comments on her performance — the pluses and minuses. I was sitting, reliving the experience — my mind going a mile a minute!

Barbra, 12/8/61.

A little backstory: I’d studied classical piano most of my life with the thought of performing as a career. That all changed when as a finalist in a piano competition at San Francisco’s Steinway Hall, I was beaten by a young woman who, we learned later, had studied with one of the judges! Coincidentally. Of course.

My teacher Noah Steinberg, who’d been a friend of Schnabel and had himself retired from concertizing fatigued from the politics involved, just smiled — and I got his meaning.

So back to the Pam Pam with me remembering Barbra’s amazing instinctual musicianship … Barbra turned to me and asked, “so what did you think?” I tried to speak but I couldn’t produce a sound. Instead, my mouth opened wide and I felt tears welling and running down my cheek.

Barbra looked a bit alarmed and a bit embarrassed and went back to cross examining Barre for more advice — discreetly checking from time to time to see if I were alright.

Meanwhile, my life went on, exploring New York by subway and bus, which was just beginning a period of development not seen since the 1920s!

And Village coffee houses …

And bars, which was startling to my parents who entertained with liquor from the bar in our den only.

These were faces like none I’d seen in Los Angeles!

I decided it was time to really concentrate on building a visual personality for Barbra that would demonstrate how amazingly special she was. She was so self-conscious about her nose, really didn’t like it, and declared that as soon as she made enough money, she’d do something about it!

I hated the idea and told her that if she had a nose job, she’d need a bit of chin augmentation to balance, but would then look like everybody else! (“in Beverly Hills,” I was thinking).

But she was adamant!

I told her that if she had a nose job, neither Richard Avedon nor Cecil Beaton would ever be interested in photographing her. I proceeded to show her photographs by Avedon of some of the beauties Truman Capote had named “Swans.”

Jacqueline, la Vicomtesse de Ribes.
Marella Agnelli, an Italian princess and the wife of FIAT’s Gianni Agnelli.

She liked the idea and the comparisons, but still — “AND IT WILL, of course, CHANGE YOUR VOICE!” I added.

That did it.

So she said, “what if the tip could be narrowed? Just the tiniest bit?”

“Maybe,” I said.

For Part I, click here.

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