A potpourri of musings

After your kind comments and questions during the past month:

JUNK MAIL: Aptly described, coming all too frequently and in every possible size, with envelope art cleverly designed by experts to lure you into opening them up. Many are crammed with useless gifts nail files, return address stamps, even a few coins. All scream “Emergency; open at once!”

As with unwanted rotophone calls, the daily repetition wipes out your initial pity; your guilt for not replying vanishes, and as frustration sets in you trash them and return instead to the local charities you know to be valid.

Well, there’s a plus: such junk mail keeps the mailmen in business, and the huge stack you toss unopened is welcome at the transfer station.

15 MINUTES OF FAME: Decades ago, when I spent 3 happy years in Gotham like so many other young hopefuls seeking fame and fortune, in my case by writing TV scripts and a novel about the bombing of Hiroshima, I lived frugally in a cold water walk-up near the UN building, living by photographing other hopefuls for their career “composites.” Dancers, models, actors, singers – a great time to meet interesting people and get paid for it.

A rare experience came when I was asked to photograph a classical Indian dancer, in her apartment in Greenwich Village. She put on the heavy make-up, was sewn into her costume, while I (with my usual bag of lights, tripod & camera) cleared a space for her posing. For music a great surprise: the famed tabla player Chatur Lal was in town recording some ragas with Ravi Shankar (yes, the famous sitar player) and came down to visit his friend, agreeing to play on his tabla (Indian drum) while she danced and I shot. And he continued to play even after the dancer left to change – one throbbing rhythm after another. I was spellbound. Lal kept asking, “What time, please?” eventually admitting that he had to meet Yehudi Menuin – yes, THAT violinist – to record at Carnegie Hall (about a half hour subway ride away). Eventually, he left with about 10-minutes to recording time.

Some years later, still enamored by Indian ragas, I found an album recorded at Carnegie Hall with Shankar and narrated by -you guessed it – Maestro Menuin himself. I bought and wore out that LP after years of memories that still remain from that mystical experience.

Success stories among the arriving hopefuls in Gotham are rare. One immensely talented classical guitarist hung on for years by faking a hillbilly folk singer with “gittar” but never made the big time.

I recall photographing one very talented budding actress from Madison, Wisconsin. As she played coyly with a string of pearls around her face while I photographed, I knew that she could become famous providing talent was the only criterion. She did get an offer to play in a drama with a well known (but unpleasant) actor in a two person show and refused when she learned that it included sharing a bed with him. Another actor agreed to “sell his soul” to a producer in hopes of making it big. He never did.

Nice success story: I met a young Pat Carrol, (yes, THAT comedienne) playing off Broadway, hating it & saying she never wanted to make a career of it – only to hit it big in a long TV sitcom, then star in a one-woman role on Broadway and continue to act for 49-some years later. Stories like that were prolific, and, I’m sure, still go on today.

I attended the opening off-Broadway start of “Man of LaMancha” – and then by serendipity met its creator Dale Wasserman and hit off a friendship that lasted for decades until his death at 94 in a ritzy gated park in Phoenix. His Spanish wife, the world, and I still mourn the loss.

While I’m name dropping, one more thrill: I developed the habit of regularly visiting the movie theatre in MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) which daily showed old classics. Rumor had it that Gretta Garbo would attend whenever one of her early films was shown, but as a true recluse, would sit in the projection booth to see it. I turned and looked; there she was, a familiar silhouette in the booth window. Ecstatic from being in her proximity, I left after the movie and started down Fifth Avenue for home, carrying the thrill with me, when suddenly I saw HER, in cloche hat & heavy black coat, walking toward me! As she grew closer, she looked up at my astonished face and without any change in expression or missing a step, drew her collar gently over her face and continue past within inches of me. There remain many more reminiscences, but that was a crowning NYC memory.

AN OBSERVATION: Katharine Hepburn has been oft quoted as saying that getting old is “no damn fun.” On the other hand, author Edith Wharton once said, “In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”

As the Arabs say, “Allah mah-ek” (Go in peace.)