Looking back at the early 1970’s Watergate Scandal while we are living with the current Coronavirus pandemic now seems almost quaint. That situation had national relevance dealing with the corruption around and inside the Nixon administration while our current climate is international in scope and a possible jumping off spot for a total change in civilization!
We are even hearing talk of a replay of the 1920s-30s Great Depression!
From the current information that would not appear to be too dramatic and frightening a statement.
So I’m going back to that time that was difficult and traumatic, but a time when we were living with a problem that didn’t appear to be insurmountable — just a question of who did what when?
So back in the month of May in 1974, my friend Joyce Burrell-MacDowell came to Manhattan on another of her buying trips for I. Magnin in San Francisco where she lived and was a buyer for the store. Magnin was a high end store not unlike Bergdorf Goodman, so Joyce had access to all the collections. And while San Francisco was still experiencing its hippie identity, Joyce dressed like the old San Francisco, which before the 1960s had taken its chic very seriously and tended to look down on the rest of the West Coast.
The only time I ever saw a man wearing a bowler/derby hat was on a busy San Francisco street!
This young woman was in a similar field and the conversation centered on the fashion industry and conjecture on what effect the Washington political situation might have on business.
There was talk of impeachment hearings of Nixon; and five days later it happened.
And there were still anti-war demonstrations, riots and bombings. One of the young women mentioned that she had a friend who had become so disturbed by all of the disruption and violence that she had a manic episode and had subsequently been diagnosed as bipolar.
This took me back to the previous year when Lee, an old friend I’d known since I was at UCLA, came to New York for a visit and a chance to catch up on the current crop of Broadway theater.
We met for dinner and afterwards over coffee continued our visit in my apartment. With all the political intrigue and scandal the conversation veered onto the subject of assassination and how so much had changed since the first — the JFK assassination. Lee was living in Washington and was saying how difficult it was living there.
I was saying that I imagined that it was and he became insistent!
“No,” he said. “You don’t understand! It’s very very difficult! The JFK assassination? My middle name is Harvey!”
“Does that make a difference?” I asked.
In an agitated voice, he said, “Lee Harvey! I’m a suspect!”
I tried to reassure him that his fears were not really believable and that Oswald was dead, which only made him even more upset.
“Don’t you see? That makes it even worse! With Oswald dead — that leaves only me!”
I realized that something was terribly wrong. He had changed so quickly!
He finally left and I tried to figure out what had happened. It turned out that he had a manic episode and was, in fact, suffering from a bipolar situation.
He didn’t call me that next day but I later received an apologetic note from him saying that he had ignored his medication and had exchanged his Plaza Hotel room for a large suite and ordered two tailored suits from Brooks Brothers! There was also luggage ordered from Mark Cross!
He was being sued for a lot of money!
A few days later Paul Bartel had gotten a hold of some movies and invited a few of us over to watch. There was The Belle of New York and Singin’ in the Rain.
There had been another kind of drama also going on.
My illustration (representative) had had a serious car crash near her country house in the Catskills and was hospitalized. Her husband was filling in for her even though he’d had no experience in the field or even working with artists. My good friend and neighbor Richard Amsel had a limited arrangement with her. He would keep his movie clients with whom he already had a working relationship but she would handle any advertising or publishing jobs for him. She had taken care of everything for me and together we had done quite well!
There were several other artists who were represented by her. After her accident, we had a meeting and vowed to stay and work with her husband who was a rabid supporter of President Nixon and Vice President Agnew.
As I said, he knew nothing about the business. And I mean nothing. Or working with artists!
One big job he got for me was a campaign for a chemical company that was involved in everything from paint to makeup and they wanted a series of paintings showing cutaway images of the products in their containers!
Paint cans were easy to imagine and so were aerosol containers. But a tube of lipstick? Who knows what the mechanism of a lipstick tube looks like in a cutaway?
I called the husband to ask if he could find me someone, a prop maker or stylist, who could do a real cutaway of a lipstick tube.
In a very stern voice he told me that it was part of the illustrator’s job to do that! I was stunned by this and spent a day on the phone looking for a prop maker who could surgically cut open a lipstick tube, but I had no luck!
The next day he called and asked for the day’s deadline project. I informed him that since I’d spent the time looking for a prop maker or stylist who could do the job I would be a day late with the other project.
He was not happy — but neither was I.
Another job was so badly explained to me that after painting several versions of what he’d told me I finally met with the agency art director and asked him to describe what was needed! It was so simple that I painted it quickly and it received a small award in a Society of Illustrators show!
To my disgust, the chemical project with the lipstick tube also won something! Of course I was pleased but disgusted with the thought that he’d take credit for it!
When his wife got out of the hospital and started working again I was surprised that I was not getting the work that I’d become accustomed to. I called her and asked why I wasn’t getting assignments and she said that she’d heard that I didn’t want to work that much!
I was speechless and then furious! She had no idea that we had all been enduring her husband’s misrepresentation and inadequate work and I started to say something when she said, “If you’d like to come for your portfolio …”
And I stormed over to her apartment two blocks away, got my samples and never saw her or spoke to her again!
During the next few days, Richard Amsel and every other artist but one left her!
In the meantime, I was being courted by two women who’d gone into business as art reps. They’d printed a beautiful mailer with color reproductions of some of my work and I went down the street to Amsel’s apartment to show him.
I thought he might be interested in having them represent him but he’d decided to stick to his TV Guide covers and movie posters! No more reps for him!
Who was it who said, “don’t get mad get even”?