June, 1975: So the Vietnam War was officially over, Saigon had become Ho Chi Minh City, and the last events of the Watergate scandal seemed to have occurred with John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General, behind bars along with very highly placed officials Haldeman and Ehrlichman!
Heads kept rolling although the commission investigating the CIA and FBI claimed to have found nothing incriminating. The Manhattan public, however, was suspicious of almost everything!
We’d been through a lot and had become pretty cynical.
I’d received a commission from Esquire Magazine to do a piece called “The Worst Party in the World” which was itself pretty cynical. It’s premise was that you, the public — Aka me the artist — had been invited to a party at which you (Aka me) are the only civilian. Not a celebrity.
The problem is that these celebrities are known for behavioral traits that are less than civil, more than narcissistic or just plain boring!
I didn’t write the commentary and had no opinion about anyone’s behavior or reputation but I did have a good time putting it together. For the setting, it was also an opportunity to indulge my interest in 1930’s Moderne style which still held some fascination for readers.
These two were a double page spread — one large illustration.
I received a lot of positive feedback, which was unusual. Working alone I was never able to ascertain if anyone saw what I was doing or even cared if they did see it. It didn’t much matter because the work was usually so much fun and so like something I’d always done that ideally I’d be doing something similar even if it weren’t a career choice. And I was getting paid to do it!
And I had been talking with Rick Horton in Raleigh, North Carolina who was working with the State Supreme Court. He was in charge of having a photograph made of the justices in the courtroom with all of the oil portraits of the past justices featured prominently. It was to be in a publication celebrating the North Carolina Supreme Court’s 1976 bicentennial. The problem was that all the photographers who were approached were unable to photograph the room with the portraits because the electronic lighting equipment was overpowering the subtle tones of the portraits. Also the walls being wood panelling were reflecting the flash!
Rick was getting worried that it couldn’t be done. We had had so many conversations about photography and movie lighting that he was asking if I had any ideas about a solution. I asked if he had access to a theater that had theatrical spotlights and he said he would check and get back to me. He called back and told me that yes, he’d found a group that had equipment that was available so I told him that if he could help me it’d be fun to do it.
The plan was to light each painting and justice with a spotlight (Hollywood-Golden Age Style) and adjust the room light around it! No light would bounce off the walls but the justices past and present would be highlighted!
So a plane ticket was arranged for me and I was off to North Carolina.
I arrived and was greeted by Rick and the Supreme Court Clerk, Raymond Taylor, Rick’s boss at whose home I’d be staying. I met his wife Rachel and their teenage daughter and I was taken on a tour of the courts.
Those dark squares on the drawings are “non-yellowing” Scotch Tape. The non-yellowing claim is true. As it ages the tape turns light brown not yellow! For some now forgotten reason I drew the judges on smaller pads of paper and afterwards taped them into my sketchbook.
The next day, all the spotlights were delivered and Rick and I worked well into the night rigging the lights for the next day’s shoot. When we finished it was beautiful and when the judges were ushered in, there was an awed reverential appreciative silence as they took their seats.
We were using an 8X10 camera for greater clarity but before the judges arrival we were visited by those same photographers who had said it couldn’t be done.
Surprise! It was being done!
And it did have more than a touch of magic as the historic judges from the past shared the space with the living judges. They seemed to come to life!
Much later I was told that a special fund was established to install permanent spotlights on the portraits so I guess it was a success!
After lunch with Rick and the Taylors I took a plane to Washington D.C. where Craig Caswell had gone back to Georgetown University to finish his undergraduate requirements and finally graduate. Since I was in the South I thought it would be a good time to go.
He picked me up at the airport and after I checked into the Hay Adams Hotel we went on a ride through Virginia after which, back in Washington, we went to a Thai Restaurant.
Craig told me about how he felt being back in school. He said that he really did feel so much older than the other students although he was only in his late 20s! However, he’d done a lot of living since his earlier time at Georgetown.
I received a fortune cookie and the fortune gave me a lot to think about!
Back in Manhattan I was happy to be reunited with my Prince of Cats, Tybalt, who my upstairs neighbor and dear friend Eileen had been babysitting for me. He did seem to have missed me.
I visited Jim DeWoody at his loft downtown and told him about my adventures in the South. He had also known Rick Horton and we talked about his background and amazing ambition and achievements.
Although he didn’t begin to look like it, he’d come from what was seemingly a very needy and extremely dysfunctional family. He’d shared with me stories about growing food to survive and his parents’ violently emotional situations. He’d also told me that as he’d watched television commercials he saw that what was considered every-day-common was so much more lavish than his family’s grim, grey life. I guess that might make anyone ambitious for something better. But his ability to make things happen was remarkable.
We wondered how his life would progress …
A few nights later Bobby Waddell invited me to dinner at her apartment overlooking the Hudson River. Her little cat (helping her cook) would sometime later fall out of a window falling many stories. Amazingly, he survived although the next time I saw him he was covered in plaster casts as he recovered with so many injuries and broken bones!
Bobby was telling me that she thought it would be interesting to become a taxicab driver. Although she was a writer this seemed to me to be an extreme way to experience the city! I could offer no opinion.
The following weekend I went to David Columbia’s in Connecticut. It was a welcome contrast to be in the country with wildly untamed plants growing. David was becoming interested in gardening which was one of my passions.
But it was over too soon and Tuesday I was back in the concrete jungle.