Schulenberg’s Page: Reality, Seen and Unseen

Featured image

February, 1976: The Vietnam War was officially over and it wasn’t publicly announced who won, but most of the people I knew were positive that it wasn’t us. There were still protests and demonstrations but not about simply ending the war.

On the 27th of February, disgraced ex-President Nixon had his final meeting with Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-tung and It indicated that he was still an international player! As time went by his experience as a negotiator and adviser improved a bit but he was still perceived to basically be “a crook” in spite of his famous speech denying it!

What would post-Vietnam life in Manhattan be like? President Gerald Ford didn’t really appear to play a prominent social role, but possibly the country was war-weary and also certainly Nixon-weary!

Small theater groups were still popping up downtown and in Hell’s Kitchen midtown. Austin Pendleton was appearing in a play at St. Clement’s Church called The Sorrows of Frederick and Pendleton was the titular Frederick the Great.

I’d met Austin and his Greek wife Katina one evening at my illustration representative’s apartment and more recently at a small evening party at the apartment of Jane Oliver and Val Sherry. In those days Manhattan felt a bit like a smaller town where everyone knew each other!

And going to the theater in small out-of-the-way places and performance spaces was a bit of an adventure watching unknown performers grow in their careers to become household names! After all, Streisand began her career by winning a talent show in a small gay bar on 9th Street in Greenwich Village! I’d just arrived in town from Los Angeles and wasn’t aware of any gay bars in LA let alone the fact that there might be any talent show in one — a talent show that would be a quick stepping stone to a world famous career! And there was more than a little unrecognized talent in Los Angeles then! There was just no environment to show it!

Austin Pendelton as Frederick the Great.

And even if there were, so what? Movies were the only game in town during the late 1950s and early ’60s! Even variety television was mainly in Manhattan with all the media support systems to amplify and spread the word!

More recently, Bette Midler had made a splash by singing in a gay bathhouse on the Upper West Side! Later, her accompanist struck out on his own in the same venue, Barry Manilow! New York had become like a major Hollywood studio during the movies’ Golden Age with magazine and newspaper editors and public relations people hyping careers by planting photos and articles about up-and-coming nobodies on the way to becoming somebodies!

Jeff Aquilon by Bruce Weber, 1978.

I remember that photographer Bruce Weber had found Jeff Aquilon, a very handsome student from Pepperdine University in Malibu, and moved him to Manhattan featuring him in a double-page underwear spread in a smaller downtown paper and at the same time an editorial spread in The Village Voice. Over night Aquilon became the most recognized and in demand model in the world!

Only possible in New York!

I’d learned early in my time in Manhattan that it wasn’t enough to “build a better mousetrap.” Instead, it was necessary to sell that better mousetrap. And as Stephen Sondheim’s lyric in Gypsy boldly states, “You gotta have a gimmick if you wanna get ahead!”

You also need an audience to notice or be persuaded to notice the gimmick — and it better be good! New Yorkers were primed and ready for any new diversion from their common enemy: the continual pressures and problems accompanying the joys of living in Manhattan!

My new gimmick was my fabric jewelry and it kept me jumping. So far it was working. I’d done some accessories for a Bill Haire Ready-to-Wear collection and VOGUE had asked me to do fabric jewelry for an editorial shoot!

I met David Columbia for a quick lunch at O’Melia’s near my apartment.

He was having success with his business in Pound Ridge — the gimmick of which was selling designer Ready-to-Wear at discount prices!

His clientele, the Connecticut women of Greenwich and nearby, were not used to discount stores. But who could resist a Bill Blass suit for a price substantially lower than the price quoted in the New York Times ad?

I loved doing the ads for his store!

In the meantime, I was meeting a whole new group of fashion editors and boutique owners.

Sharon Bovaird was the first boutique that gave me a substantial order of bracelets and necklaces.

In the midst of a busy day I took time to meet Jane Hawkins at Wild Mushrooms. Since Jane was Muffin’s business partner and Muffin had been the very first person to see the possibilities of my jewelry idea, I wanted to brag a bit to Jane about what was going on!

It was all happening so quickly!

At the end of the day I was still running around but also aware that I had a deadline for a spot drawing for New York Magazine!

I was also thinking about the time for making the jewelry that had been ordered!

I’d hoped to segue from illustration to a more lucrative design area but found myself doing more illustration to pay for the accessories supplies!

Marianne Harrison certainly knew a lot about fashion and fashion merchandising and we met for lunch as I told her what I was doing. She gave me some recommendations about which boutiques might be the most advantageous and was very encouraging.

The next day I had lunch with Ellen Bilgore who lived near me. She told me which were her favorite places for accessories and then I had to rush back to work!

Things were looking good and even though it was exhausting it was also exciting! I got a call from an accessories editor at Bazaar and dashed over with more samples!

I left the sample bracelets and necklaces and went downtown to do more shopping! I hoped that the jewelry would be photographed for the magazine again.

And I was still attending the Kabbalah class at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine which could not have been more different than Harper’s Bazaar. It was a fascinating contrast though and a realization that there were unfathomable wonders in the world.

Rabi’a was a fascinating teacher and a woman of such depth that I wished I could know her better. I had a million unformed questions. Her lectures were mesmerizing and indicative of an invisible logic underlying all of creation, but how could you formulate a question to make anything more understandable?

Recent Posts