I have always loved animals and tend to have cats as they don’t need to be walked early in the morning — especially on cold icy winter mornings. My grandmother on my father’s side had a grey cat named Mercy, a duck named Lucky, a desert tortoise named Ichabod, and a dog named Skabooch (after a popular USC football player!) I have no idea how that name is spelled as I never saw it written out! She also had a lot of canaries and the house was full of the sound of their singing. Everyone got along, including my grandparents, and I loved visiting them.
In 1968, my rep called me and asked if I would like to have a pedigreed Persian kitten! It seems they’d wanted their two-year-old son to have a pet but his hyper-energized, boisterous play was too much for the kitten and the poor baby was terrified and living under a couch.
I was thrilled and the kitten was beautiful! His mother had been a champion winner in an important cat show and he had a title and an official registered name.
I took him home and changed his name from Shalimar to Shakespeare’s name for Juliet’s brother — Tybalt, “Prince of Cats” — from Romeo and Juliet! As he matured he lived up to his name and showed no signs of neurosis from his early infancy experiences!
We bonded beautifully and he was so well behaved that whenever we’d fly to California the flight attendants would let him sit on my lap.
There is one occurrence that still amazes me to this day. In Manhattan, one of my neighbors, seeing Tybalt with me as we were getting the mail, told me that her tiny Yorkshire Terrier loved cats and she wanted him to meet Tybalt. I said “great,” and she went to get her dog.
Just as she left I got an important long distance phone call and when she returned I was in the middle of the conversation but let her and the dog into my living room. The tiny Yorkie saw Tybalt and Tybalt saw the tiny Yorkie and Tybalt gave a yowl and a hiss that I’d never imagined him capable of — but then he’d never seen a dog before.
Actually, he’d never seen any animal before!
My friend pantomimed an apologetic goodbye, scooped up her little dog and left as my phone conversation continued. Later that night, sitting at my drawing table I was thinking about the call. It was from Rick Horton in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he was working with the state Supreme Court. He was given the project of having the justices photographed in the beautiful panelled court room with the historic oil portraits of every Chief Justice since the court’s inception. The problem was no photographer could shoot it!
When they tried a test shot, the electronic flash reflected off the panelled walls eclipsing the portraits! They were saying it couldn’t be done and Rick was becoming very nervous. The photograph was to be used in conjunction with 1976 North Carolina Bicentennial celebrations! He was asking if I had any thoughts about it and if I could, in fact, shoot it?
I asked if he had access to theatrical spotlights. He said that he thought so and would check to make sure.
I was at my table working on another deadline and eventually started thinking about Tybalt meeting the tiny Yorkie … and I slipped off into an Alpha brain state reverie. Tybalt was sleeping on a couch near me and in my “dream,” when I got to the moment of the dog making a move, Tybalt woke up, looked startled and emitted that same yowl and hiss!
We were obviously sharing the same dream!
I quickly went to him and reassured him that the tiny dog was gone! More recently I’ve heard NPR discussions on animal communication and I can attest to the fact that inter-species psychic sharing is possible!
At least between cats and their owners!
Some cats and some owners!
I.E. Tybalt and me!
Bill Rilling had moved to Brooklyn and he told me that he’d covered his kitchen’s woodwork in sheets of copper and I wanted to see It! It was spectacular. And even though the kitchen was small, the copper sheets gave it an extravagant luxurious look!
It had been decided that the following Friday a group of us — Buzzy King, Ron West, Sara Holland and Sassy Johnson — were getting together for a pre-Christmas celebration at the Soho Charcuterie. I had met everyone through Buzzy — even Mary Milton.
Not to leave out Frances Hershkowitz, Joe Philips, and Mary while Sassy did a little sketch of me (I’d grown a beard, because why not!)
Coincidentally, decades later, after I’d moved back to Los Angeles, I was introduced to, and became a very close friend of, one of the most interesting persons I’ve ever known.
Sandy Ruben had been married to television producer Aaron Ruben (The Andy Griffith Show) and her cousin Nat Hiken (whom she actually thought of as “a brother”) was a legendary comedy writer having invented Sergeant Bilko, Car 54, Where Are You? and others. He had also been the head writer for Fred Allen and his radio show.
Sandy was a marvelous story teller with a wealth of stories about when she’d been a very young dancer in vaudeville, a story editor (along with Nathanael West) at a movie studio before WWII, and how she’d acted as a beard when her great friend Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors was going steady with Rock Hudson. When I mentioned my fondness and admiration for the writer John Collier, the author of Evening Primrose — the haunting story of a man living in a large department store where after hours the display mannequins come to life — Sandy told me she’d been his literary agent!
But getting back to Fred Allen, Sandy was a good friend of his and it turns out that his sister was Frances’ mother. Not knowing that I knew Frances, she told me an amusing story about him. Leaving the Hershkowitz apartment, he got into the elevator and at the last minute was joined by two lititle girls who had been visiting Frances. The girls were staring at him and one of them whispered to the other, “Do you know who that is?” (and he was feeling proud that he had very young fans).
“No” said the other. “Who is it?”
“It’s Frances Hershkowitz’s uncle!”
So much for celebrity!
I wish I were still in touch with Frances to tell her this story! Maybe she’ll see it!
And so, back to the following week, Ric Mendez and I were in business making and selling fabric jewelry. Laura Kruger, who was now representing us, was getting us a lot of orders but it meant that we had more than a lot of work turning them out by hand!
Ric had a young friend named Sharon Lamoreau, another dancer, and Sharon joined us. The following season we were shown in a fashion spread in Harper’s Bazaar.
With what I was noticing about less use of illustration in advertising and an illustration decline in general, I was hoping that fashion design would open up new opportunities with advantageous financial rewards. As it was turning out I had to keep illustrating to pay for fabric, other supplies and sharing with Ric and Sharon!
Then one day, walking up Madison Avenue, I saw that a new boutique had opened and a sign was posted saying that the boutique was looking for designers who were not yet household names … or even names known to Women’s Wear Daily. It sounded like it might be worth investigating.
To be continued! In the meantime, Happy New Year and stay safe!