Monday, July 25, 2016

PORTRAIT of a NEIGHBORHOOD… 1962


In 1962 my husband, our three children and I were living on West End Avenue in NY City. Our 12th floor bedroom windows overlooked a seedy apartment building ... The Whitehall. It was just around the corner from where we lived and had a lot to do with our decision to move. A few years later I joined a Writer's Workshop and this was my memory of that time.

                                                  The Whitehall, 1962

To me, “off-Broadway” is not a theater production but a massive, out-dated hotel for transients on New York City’s upper West side. Hanging from the marquee is a grimy cloth banner that proclaims this to be “THE WHITEHALL”.

Although it's just four doors from the respectability of West End Avenue all shades of humanity pass through the filth-infested hallways of this building. Three slovenly dressed men in wheelchairs sit deceptively still in the sunlight. Then a pedestrian walks by and they spiel off obscenities from mouths twisted with hatred.

A maroon convertible purrs to a stop in front of the hotel. Five girls and the driver, a handsome black man decked out in pink, pile out of the car and stand around cracking jokes with the men. “Big Boy, you sure can peddle them white gals”, says one of them.

Suddenly a police siren pierces the air. The group fades silently into the building and the street is still. Only the men remain, their faces closed as they watch the squad car approach. The police rush into the building and the men place bets on who they’ll pick up this time. They all lose.

It’s just a family quarrel and the police are still breaking it up as they drag the couple to the squad car. The man holds his arm, blood seeping through the dirty towel that he’s twisted around it. “She used a bottle on him”, say the men knowingly.

And so it goes at THE WHITEHALL, the transient hotel where only vice and corruption find a permanent home.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Stand up and be heard...Dick, 1960


The main reason I started my blog in 2006 was to chronicle the memories of my life and to compile them into a book for my three children. I wanted them to be intimately connected to their past and to have some wonderful remembrances of their dad who passed away in 1990. This is one of those instances:

In the years 1958 through 1962 my husband Richard and I lived and worked in New York City. Dick was a free lance photographer and he collected a large amount of parking tickets due to double parking while delivering photos to clients.

When he was summoned to court to pay these tickets he had no idea that they would not accept a check. They demanded cash and, when he didn't have this on him, they threw him into a tiny holding area. The place was filthy … vermin on the walls, a strong smell of urine and close proximity to criminals in shackles. Dick was a Type 1 diabetic and almost went into insulin shock because they would not give him anything to eat. (he was to die at the age of 59 because of this disease.), After many hours he was finally allowed one phone call and he was released after a good friend brought in the cash.

Dick was furious and he got in touch with the New York branch of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). They asked him to document his ordeal and he did this in writing as well as in photos that he took of the holding area. It was the start of a good relationship and a few years later one of the ACLU officers called Dick and invited him to lunch. He congratulated him about his diligence in documenting his treatment and said that the rules had been changed, thanks to Dick and others like him. No longer would a person be subjected to such treatment for a misdemeanor.

Friday, July 15, 2016

1959 … The cocktail party, a NY City “must”


In 1959 my husband was launching his free lance photography business. We lived in New York City and attended many a cocktail party. We'd bought into the myth that you had to be part of the “scene” if you wanted to succeed.

What a sham those evenings were. The people attending the parties were much more interested in being seen than in actually listening to what was said. Dick and I soon learned that the best way to survive those events was with a sense of humor. This came to the fore one Spring evening when we were at a posh, and very large, cocktail party on Central Park West.

We were part of a very dull conversation with an aspiring actress who kept looking around the room to see who she could impress. I decided to spark it up a bit and I told her that I was 6 months pregnant and really concerned about the upcoming birth. That did seem to get some attention so I went on to say that many of the children in my immediate family had been born with six digits on each foot and I was worried it would happen to us. Without batting an eye Dick chimed in with “but we’re not really worried, since most of the children on my side of the family have had just four toes on each foot, so it should even out.”

It was all that Dick and I could do to keep a straight face, but it didn’t really matter. The would-be actress wasn’t listening anyway. She dismissed us with a wave of her hand and melted into the crowd.

Ah, yes…the cocktail party…an American institution.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Wes … 1958, NY City


The two years that my husband Dick spent at “LIFE” magazine put him in contact with many people that he would never have met otherwise. One of them was Byron who, when he saw some of Dick's photos, hired him to take his portrait. They hit it off and we would often meet him and his partner, Wes, for an impromptu drink or meal.

One of my favorite memories of that time came about when Dick and I were invited for dinner at their apartment on Riverside Drive. I was excited about it because I'd always wanted to see the inside of those lovely buildings. I wasn't disappointed.

There were only 8 of us for dinner and it was a diversified and lively group. When I commented about the wonderful smell coming from the kitchen Wes grabbed my arm and steered me that way. He was excited and kept telling me what fun he'd had putting the dinner together. As soon as we got to the kitchen I saw why. Wes had prepared a rack of lamb … a rib for each person.


But the exciting and fun part was how he had decorated the lamb. He had painstakingly fashioned paper “hats” for each chop with the person's name attached. It was amazing. I can't recall what mine was but I do remember there was a camera for Dick's and someone else was a turkey !
Wes was a set director for CBS and, over the years, he would go on to win 4 Emmy's. We lost touch with him but about 8 years ago I met up with him again in Palm Springs. He was a mutual friend to the ones I was visiting and, although years had taken their toll on both of us we had great fun reminiscing.
Wes passed away in March of this year. I'm glad I took this picture of him. We were at the art museum where he volunteered ... his expertise as a set director being very apparent with the displays behind him.
  


Friday, July 08, 2016

So incredibly sad ... the Dallas killings


I just sent this email to my children:...

What an incredibly sad night but one that didn’t  surprise me at all.  The hatred that has been brewing had to erupt into violence at some point and this is the start.  I dread to think of where it will go until it is over but, in all  honesty, I can’t blame the blacks for fighting back.  Minnesota’s governor had the guts to say that the recent killing in his state probably wouldn’t have happened if the man had been white! 
 We MUST learn to live with each other … no matter skin color or ethnicity.  Will our country ever learn that greed, fear and hatred are nothing to be proud of ?  It’s time to grow up … before we lose it all.    So sad.   Mom

Addendum:  my daughter seemed to feel I condoned the shootings with what I wrote.  I certainly do not but I feel that, given the feelings of hatred that are simmering just barely under the surface, this was bound to happen.



Sunday, July 03, 2016

Popsy … (Contiuued … 1958 in NY City)


Popsy had been the band boy for Benny Goodman for years until the demise of the Big Band era and when that happened Benny didn't leave Popsy high and dry. He presented him with a small photography studio in the Theater District of NY City and told him to try his hand at taking pictures … a dream that Popsy had talked about for years.

My husband Dick, an accomplished photographer, promised to teach Popsy all he knew in exchange for his being able to use the studio and dark room at his convenience. It was a good partnership and they became fast friends.

One night we received a frantic call from Popsy. He had just spoken with Benny who was wrapping up a European tour with a 10-piece ensemble. They were on the way to New York where Benny was still a great box office draw and had been booked at “Basin Street East” for a 3 night gig. He was offering Popsy the chance to take all the publicity photos.

Popsy was fit to be tied. He didn't want to let Benny down but he had no idea how to take candid shots of that sort. I knew why he had called Dick because this was his expertise. We told Popsy to calm down and we rushed over and formulated a plan.

On the opening night we arrived early and Dick set up his big strobe lights. We were seated at a large table right in front of the stage and Popsy met us there. The plan was for Dick to take the pictures but Popsy would take some too, making sure that Benny would see him do that. I couldn’t believe how well it worked.

When Benny came on stage with his ensemble the crowd went wild, the strobe lights went on and Dick and Popsy did their thing. When the night was over we couldn’t wait to get back to the studio and get the film developed and print the pictures. They were very good ...even some of the ones that Popsy took.

Benny was very happy with the results, Popsy was vindicated and me?...I was just thrilled to be part of it all...especially since Benny & his 10 musicians sat at our table between sets!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

1958...NY memories continued ... POPSY

When I met Dick in NY City he was in the throes of beginning his own free lance photography business. The two years that he'd spent as an assistant photographer at “LIFE” magazine opened many doors for him and he took advantage of that.


One acquaintance was a big Greek man named Popsy who had been the band boy for Benny Goodman. When the “Big Band Era” came to an end Benny asked Popsy what his plans were for the future. Popsy told him that his dream had always been to be a photographer so Benny set him up with a small studio in the NY City Theater District

Popsy would be the first to tell you that he was no artist when it came to taking pictures but he had the basics and the actors and actresses flocked to his studio. It was close to their work and they were also lured to Popsy because of his proximity to famous musicians. 

When Dick went out on his own he couldn't afford a studio so it was a win-win situation when he teamed up with Popsy. Dick would have use of his studio and darkroom and, in return, he would teach Popsy some of the finer points of photography. I have fond memories of the many times I would meet them after work at the studio. It was usually for Chinese take-out and a recap of the day.
In my next blog entry I will tell you about a once-in-a-lifetime experience that could only have come true through our friendship with Popsy.