The last days of July, 1973 was a Sunday and I met Eric Spilker for lunch at the YMCA Cafeteria. I have no memory of why we met there but it was, as usual, a good place to draw.
And while the Nixon Administration tried to do everything and anything to avoid turning over to the Watergate committee the secretly recorded White House tapes, we lunched and I drew.
John Ehrlichman, one of President Nixon’s aides, had appeared before the Senate Watergate Committee and declared that many of the activities being investigated were within the powers of the president according to the Constitution. However, a much wider range of activities were being disclosed and things were getting intense!
I was still working on the Soybean Project for FORTUNE magazine and it had been expanding in imagery to the point that I was wondering why the FORTUNE art director felt that this was an appropriate assignment for me!It didn’t have any of the elements that I thought were uniquely my own but was closer to an adjunct to a scholarly article — which it just might have been.
As a somewhat versatile illustrator I read many articles on various unrelated subjects just to figure out how to make them a little more accessible visually — or something! I knew that my agent Pema used my versatility to score jobs that others might have wanted, but it wasn’t helping my professional image to have so many diverse styles and approaches. I sometimes felt like agencies might have thought I was a studio employing several artists!
But I was getting paid — and Pema was getting rich! She and her husband Perry bought a country house in the Catskills!
The following Tuesday, July 31st I went to the offices of PENTHOUSE magazine where I was commissioned to do a painting of the Presidential Seal shattered into pieces. And it had to be shown in foreshortened perspective!
It was another unusual visual problem to solve!
Leaving PENTHOUSE I stopped at Zum Zum for a quick lunch and a chance to think about how in the world I was going to paint a realistic foreshortened picture of the Presidential Seal. My concentration was interrupted by a frantic older man using the nearby public pay telephone.
I can’t really call it a conversation. It was more like something Neil Simon might have written. In an ironic turn of events, there was Muzak playing the happy-happy feel good song, “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen,” a song totally inappropriate for the pay phone drama all of us at Zum Zum were hearing.
« I don’t ho’it you — you ho’it me!
When I say I wanna see your face — you should kiss the ground that I walk in — but I still love you an’ I wanna see you for the last time an’ I wanna get you somethin’ — love is like an apple — when it’s sweet an’ good, it’s good! You don’t throw it away …
Wait a minute — I’ve got another nickel —
Nobody takes advantage of me — nobody steps on my foot.
A po’ison like you — you never think of anyone else!
There’s nothing wrong with your heart.
You — you can go fuck yourself!! Yah, yah! You can wo’ik!
You can geddout an’ see what th’ wo’ild is like — you don’ know what the hell you’re talkin’ about!
Hello — Hello — Hello — yeah!
Can I see you t’morrow? I think I was nice to you.
I love you more than her! I bought you everything you want and took you to — yeah, yeah! I wanna kiss your feet! Plenty o’ married men go out wit’ single go’ils! Right away you – you – you — right away!
Oh stop it! Everybody’s had a hard time. Oh, you’re not well. Can I see you once more? Please? Please? »
And that was it.
Every time you turn around in Manhattan there’s a one act play! Sometimes a drama, sometimes a comedy! Sometimes a mixture of both. And one person’s drama may be someone else’s comedy! Unfortunately there’s never a second act!
Nor do we know what the resolution might be!
I met with Marilyn Sokol late on Thursday afternoon at my apartment and we went on a shopping spree for jewelry accessories — at hardware stores!
I bought Marilyn some brass wire and some silver-colored wire which made very smart looking bracelets! So many fashion collections were showing masses of gold chain necklaces and here in the hardware store were miles of them — and at much more reasonable prices!
After our shopping we met Bob Stone and Barbara Minty for dinner at La Résidence. Marilyn looked quite elegant in her wireware!
Barbara was Bob Stone’s girlfriend and would later marry iconic movie star Steve McQueen. And after his death, she would write a book, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile.
A few days later I had a surprise visit from an old friend, Lee Clark.
I’d known Lee since I was a graduate student at UCLA working part time with him at Duncan Vail Art Supplies on Beverly Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills where I sold art equipment to Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, Dinah Shore (my favorite), and even became friendly with “Harpo” Adolph Marks, with whom I spent part of Saturdays teaching watercolor.
We did more talking than painting and people ask me if “Harpo” really spoke! Harpo really did and the surprising thing about him was how very untheatrical he was. The only time I remember him really referring to his stage persona was his recounting his brief acquaintance with Salvador Dali, who was evidently fascinated by him! Harpo actually resembled a CPA more than a legendarily famous movie star/personality!
He told me that Dali had painted him with a giraffe on fire in a famous portrait painting and when he asked why the flaming giraffe, Dali informed him that the giraffe is the only animal that doesn’t make a sound! He said that after Dali had sent him a gift harp hung with strings of barbed wire.
Harpo said, “That Dali was a weird guy!”
This, from a man who became legendary for wearing a blonde curly wig while playing the harp and being mute except for an occasional exclamatory honk from a horn as he chased pretty girls!
He unconsciously out-Dali’d Dali!
So Lee Clark had come to New York for a visit.
I had drawn a picture of Lee back before I moved to New York when he had shared an apartment in Los Angeles with Paul Bartel.
He gave me this copy of the drawing which he had also sent to a friend named Bill Graham.
As we were talking in my apartment after having gone to dinner, Lee started talking about the JFK assassination and his concerns about it.
I asked him about his “concerns” and he said that since his middle name was Harvey and his first name was Lee, he worried that people would suspect him, LEE HARVEY, of being affiliated with Lee Harvey Oswald!
He went on and on becoming more insistent and in fact, irrational. I was unable to dissuade him of whatever connection he was making and as he became even more insistent I told him that I really was sorry but I had to start working on my soybean project for FORTUNE and would have to call it an evening.
It turned out that Lee was a semi-undiagnosed manic depressive and that he was having a manic episode! He had checked into a large suite at the Plaza Hotel after ordering several tailored suits at Brooks Brothers!
All of this he wrote me later after being diagnosed and under treatment.
He also said that he had run up a bill of close to forty thousand dollars!
As I’ve said previously, Manhattan: a thousand dramas daily!