May, 1974: Impeachment hearings against Nixon had begun and gossipy theories were everywhere!
For me, life continued like it always had. I was getting work with regularity and it was all good and well placed in prominent publications so it was still giving me exposure which was essential for professional reasons.
However, advertising was changing since President Nixon had declared his own War On the Media for reporting the problems of his presidency (and his personality)! Clients had become more conservative as prices for publication had become more expensive with restrictions from the Nixon White House!
Instead of the playful decorative lighthearted feelings of advertising from the ’60s, agencies had traded in the soft sell approach for a more representational photographic hard sell approach! The old advertising maxim of “selling the sizzle and not the steak” was being supplanted with photographically selling the steak!
Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, which radio comic Fred Allen said “sounded like a trunk falling down a flight of stairs,” was one of the most prominent advertising agencies in the world and was always a plummy commission to hope for. That’s why I was so pleased to know that the great art director Bernie Owett wanted me to come talk about doing a campaign.
So off I went.
It was explained to me that the job was for an elite liquor with an illustrious history. The idea was to have a series of memorable celebrations where the drink was enjoyed and the series would be portrayed as just after the end of Prohibition during the 1930s! The copy would read something like: “You are at the 19,36 ****** horse show and so was ****** liquor!”
Something like that.
So I quickly started doing research and came up with this.
Bernie Owett loved it, the client loved it, and I loved it.
The next one was going to be the opening night at the Booth Theater of the 1936 play, “You Can’t Take It With You” by George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart. I was thrilled and immediately made a trip to the Picture Collection of the NY Public Library to start gathering research references.
A few days later Bernie Owett called me again and told me that the client had changed his mind and now just wanted to use a photograph.
Budget constraints? My version too subtle? Who knows?
I went to the West Side to visit Bobby Waddell on Riverside Drive.
She told me that the next day she was going to become a cab driver — a taxicab driver! I couldn’t think of a question to ask but she was very enthusiastic and thought it would be a marvelous adventure!
If she didn’t get robbed or killed!
I’d had a previous experience with a very attractive blonde cabdriver. She had taken me to my destination and after having an interesting conversation we kept talking while double parked. Finally she told me that she had weekend Sunday at homes and invited me to come the following Sunday.
She gave me her calling card with an address on East 62nd Street. I arrived at the appointed time and entered her beautiful small penthouse with a plant-filled terrace and met her friends who were mostly writers.
Manhattan was full of surprises so I could hope that Bobby’s experiences driving a cab would be as interesting!
I met Mary Milton for dinner at Martell’s on Third Avenue but had to return home after to finish a job for Harper’s magazine because I had to get things together for a quick trip over the weekend to Buffalo where I’d been invited to speak in conjunction with the Buffalo Art Directors Show.
I was flying out the next afternoon on Allegheny Airlines and was excited by the whole thing.
When I got there there was also a convention of the Jaycees. I got a good look at Middle America, probably the people Nixon had called his Silent Majority!
Buffalo was different from Manhattan — that, I expected. But the devil was in the details!
I was also asked to be a judge. It really was a good feeling to know that they thought of me as a known illustrator. Working by myself (except for my Persian cat Tybalt) it was a kind of relief to think that they did know my work. Artists rarely get feedback about what they do. It’s why performers like applause so much — there’s even a musical with the word as its title!
A few days later, back in Manhattan, I went with Paul Bartel to the 8th Street Cinema in Greenwich Village for a screening of an independent film about which I remember nothing (but the illustration proves I was there!)
Afterwards we went to the terrace of the Riviera Cafe in Sheridan Square.
There were some Swedish guys there getting drunk and it was amusing until for some reason things escalated and a fight broke out! We scattered along with most everyone else on the terrace until the police came. We never knew the details but it didn’t matter much.
When it calmed down, we went back in and ordered ice cream.
A few days later I took a cab to 30th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.
I had been invited to a small cocktail party hosted by illustrator David Byrd.
David and Richard Amsel were the only Illustrators I knew. Vanity Fair has more recently described David’s work through his posters as illustrations that defined the look of Rock!
Aside from Rock posters others are familiar, too.
David is also very witty.
After a while the conversation changed to places and things and it was decided that going to check out le Jardin disco would be a good idea.
I always loved the opportunity to use a discotheque as a way to have free models for quick sketches! If it was good enough for Lautrec, it was good enough for me!