Schulenberg’s Page: New York in Disguise

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1972, November: After my trip to Washington for Fortune magazine; and feeling even more like professional, I was back in Manhattan for Thanksgiving.

I had a quick lunch date at Daley’s Dandelion and had to get ready for the evening.

Mary Milton and I were invited to Richard Falcon’s for a holiday party.

It was a small party with omnipresent Buzzy King and a beautiful woman named Kim Kristerson whom we’d not previously met.

Richard’s gourmet chef skills were at their most enviably delicious and the conversation bubbled from Richard Nixon’s very recent landslide election (even though it was the lowest voter turnout since 1948) to the recent previous discovery of recombinant DNA and the operation of HBO as a pay TV service. The Vietnam War seemed no better and just as impossible and just as unjustified as ever and so we didn’t have much new to say about it. Richard Falcon was a very bright autodidact and capable of effortlessly guiding a conversation in so many directions with so many ideas that the evening quickly and deliciously passed.

The next few days were a return to my reality of deadlines with an occasional coming up for air during which at one, I saw at a nearby table at le Mistral a daytime radio pioneer legend named Ed Fitzgerald of the classic old “Ed & Pegeen” morning radio show on the old WOR (AM) —before it was taken over by conservative opinion.

Ed and Pegeen Fitzgerald broadcast over WOR radio at breakfast from their home on East 36th Street.

One of the more charming aspects of their conversation was when they spoke of their kitten, Caboodle!

Get it?

Kitten, Caboodle!

In spite of their homeyness, there was an echo of pre-WWII (and just after) New York sophistication.

In those days just after the day almost mythical Mary Margaret McBride had hung up her homespun microphone, WOR was also the home of Arlene Frances; and Michael Jackson who led us into a glamorous Manhattan that even as they lived it and shared it was changing under them!

As there was a similarity to my neighborhood, Yorkville changing from vaguely mittel Europäisch to Yuppie Central so WOR went from a gentle family of bright Manhattanites to jingoistic purveyors of Conservative opinion!  What was subtly happening to the city?

And we started seeing graffiti in the subway.

Times Square had not changed too much — yet. There were still cheap movie theaters where some people went to sleep and where somehow even the litter in the street seemed pornographic.

Nathan’s Coney Island hot dog emporium, however, still reigned over a corner giving a sense of old Manhattan New Yorkness to the decomposing neighborhood.

I had left my California-ness behind and evidently had become an actual New Yorker if I was spending any time thinking about the New York that used to be.

And just to remind me of that, I met with Michael Weil from Fresno, California who had moved to New York, a place to which by temperament and interests he was ideally suited.  My mother and his parents were good friends and so I included him into my life whenever I could.

So there we were at Nathan’s.  It was like throwing a novice into a pool to sink or swim!  Michael turned out to be a very good swimmer!

And soon it was Saturday again and time for Mary and my wandering.

Mary was wearing the men’s hat that we’d bought for a dollar, the hat that Billy Cunningham had photographed her wearing for The New York Times, and we were walking down Fifth Avenue until we arrived at Bonwit Teller, the store demolished and replaced by Trump Tower.

As we were walking toward the elevators Mary saw an ash blonde almost platinum wig in a blunt pageboy style. We stopped as she was telling me that that was the unusual shade of blonde that would look natural on her.

Her own hair was a rich chestnut brown and as a painter I went into a long explanation of how women never seem to realize that their complexion is an important determinant of their hair color!

She said that she understood but nevertheless her complexion wouldn’t conflict with just that exact shade of blonde.  Again, I said that I doubted it and with that, she took off the dollar hat, reached for the blonde wig and put it on!


She was correct and the saleswoman behind the counter and I both gasped as Mary was transformed into Hollywood/Vogue/Bazaar gorgeous!

As we were gasping and exclaiming, a curious man walked slowly by to see who was causing the excitement. A celebrity? A star?

Noticing him, Mary became self conscious and whipped off the wig at which point the man instantly and automatically said, “put it back on!”

I agreed and she did.  I was a little stupefied by the transformation and immediately bought the wig.  It was really like having two girlfriends for the price of one!

Male chauvinism? Probably.

She didn’t pull the hat down as far as previously because she felt too confined but I persuaded her to wear it for the rest of the day! We were going to be meeting her friend Sassy and her then husband Jody Johnson for dinner at The Palm and I said, “Let’s surprise them!” Sassy and Mary had been friends since college and pretty much knew everything about each other.

We arrived at The Palm just a bit earlier than they did and when they walked through the door I rose to meet them saying, “Mary couldn’t make it but I brought my friend, Chloe.”

They looked over at our table and seeing “Chloe” Sassy started to say, “Oh — she’s very beauti-” … then stopped and calling across the room said, “Mary Milton!! Is that you?”

Later that evening we stopped at Reno Sweeney where Jimmy Daniel was doing a set. I hadn’t seen him since 1960 when he was the host and MC of The Bon Soir downtown and used to introduce Barbra.

Here’s a photograph I took of Phyllis Diller and Barbra Streisand backstage in the tiny dressing room at The Bon Soir.

He seemed to be very impressed that I was with a gorgeous and very glamorous blonde, Mary Milton.

Heavily disguised.

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