Schulenberg’s Page: To the Moon in ’72

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1972: Apollo 16 had taken off for the moon on April 16th and landed on April 20th!  The next day the Lunar Rover #2 explored the moon’s surface returning April 27th.

John W. Young on the Moon during Apollo 16 mission, photographed by Charles M. Duke Jr. The LM Orion is on the left. April 21, 1972.

Later that night, I met friends at P. J. Clarke’s on the 26th.

I was shocked to hear of the suicide the day before of movie actor George Sanders, who was a close friend of Lady Sylvia Ashley — who was the aunt of my own close friend, Lauretta Bleck.  Sylvia had been married to two English lords, two movie legends, (Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable), and finally a Russian prince!  She was a real life Auntie Mame!

L. to r.: Lady Sylvia Ashley by Dorothy Wilding, 1932; Wedding of Lord and Lady Ashley; With husband #4, Clark Gable.

The first time I met Sanders I was picking up Lauretta to go to a costume party at my UCLA fraternity.  She was staying at Sylvia’s house in Brentwood and I’d been so busy decorating the fraternity house for the party that I realized I hadn’t planned on a costume!

A classic costume — Sanders as Captain Billy Leech in The Black Swan (1942).

Desperate for an idea I decided that I’d go as a tree as a big eucalyptus tree had been trimmed and there were a lot of branches on the back patio.  I wrapped myself in chicken wire and hastily pushed eucalyptus branches into it and jumped into my MG to go fetch Lauretta.

Arriving at Sylvia’s house, I rang the doorbell.

George Sanders opened the door and started to speak but stopped short and laughing, said “come in!  They have to see this!”  Sylvia’s two big dogs, a giant black poodle and a collie started barking furiously and Sanders led me to the dining room where a dinner party was just finishing over coffee.  In passing through the house, my branches had collected several calla lilies from a pretty arrangement in the hall so my entrance was somewhat of a surprise.

George Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972.

It did get a big laugh and it was explained to me that “George” — as I then knew him — had planned to surprise me by appropriating one of the spooky villain characters he’d frequently played, and attempting to sort of freak me out as I arrived.

However, I beat him to it and freaked him and everyone out!

The second time I met him was again an evening at Sylvia’s.  As it got later, “Syl’” (her nickname) reminded George that he had an early call at the studio the next morning. She suggested he leave to get some rest and he shrugged and said he’d sleep in his dressing room as they were setting up and the script was so dumb he needn’t prepare for it!

He’d won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1950’s All About Eve playing the acerbic theater critic, Addison DeWitt; but this picture would evidently not be one that the Academy members would be considering for any award!

As to his suicide, he’d left a note that he was simply “bored” with life!

Sanders as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve.

He was actually suffering from declining health, but when I read about his death I could only think about his disdain that evening for the seemingly mediocre projects he had been working on.

At P. J. Clarke’s my friends had mentioned his death so I told them the story!

The following Friday I had lunch with friends at Yellowfingers.  The weekend was coming up and I didn’t have a work deadline so it was a pleasant way to end the week.

I came back to the city from the farm earlier on Sunday because my friend Claire Burns had invited me to go with her to see the Alvin Ailey Company at the City Center, a company I had never seen before. I was mesmerized — especially with their chef d’œuvre, Wade In the Water with the beautiful and electric Judith Jamison.

I was hooked and subsequently saw performances as frequently as I could.

I had an appointment to do another LP for Columbia Records. After the meeting, I stopped in midtown for something to eat.  Paul Bartel was starting to shoot a small promotional film for someone and I sent him celebratory flowers “from Dick and Jane” — shades of The Secret Cinema!

The view from Columbia Records’ art director, John Berg’s office.

On Tuesday, May 2nd, While doing laundry at the laundromat on Second Avenue near my apartment I learned that J. Edgar Hoover had died in Washington!  The country was shocked and President Nixon ordered government flags to be flown at half mast.  Among the protestors and radical students, emotions were varied.  In fact, there were even some celebrations!

As time has passed, many things about Hoover are being questioned and re-evaluated.  At least it must be admitted that he was quite a complicated person.

Later that night, I went to dinner with friends at The Gay Vienna on East 86th Street!

With the death of Hoover, what would happen next? Would there be as much surveillance and violence against the protesters?

The accordionist at The Gay Vienna.

How many times would I hear people quote the supposed Chinese curse: ”May you live in interesting times.”

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