Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New York Minute

Lured by the photo of the young Stanley Kubrick in The New York Times, leaner than when I first knew him, his dark, hooded gaze caught in a mirror as he photographed a showgirl for Look, I made my way to the exhibition of that magazine's photographs at the City of New York Museum. It was a circuitous path, as I thought the exhibition was at the New York Historical Society so planned to combine it with Mimi's grooming, just a few blocks away, only to discover at arriving at the desk I was at the wrong museum. Fortunately there was a young woman from New Jersey, of Asian extraction, who had made the same mistake. We called the other museum to make sure it was there and took a taxi over together, she and I and her boyfriend, a Colombian composer who had arrived in the US before 9/11 so they let him in. She is an artist, living in Miami, where she had been promised a growing colony of artists but can find none, so wants very much to move to New York, where she is sure she can find one. I wish her Good Luck with her quest, trying not to edge my good wishes with irony, as I have several times moved back here with the same hope/aspiration/longing, only to find myself more isolated than I felt in LA.
My Inner Sardonic was tempered by the fact that I had had lunch with Annie Navasky, as smart as she is amiable, who a while ago codified New York for me when I was in one of my struggles to belong somewhere, and had told Jules Feiffer that I was looking for my community. Jules said "Do your work and your community will find you," Annie amended "He forgot to say 'Provided you are wildly successful.'" I cited Jules to Annie at lunch as one of the two members of the Literary community who is a whole person, the other one being her husband Victor,long-time publisher of The Nation Magazine, new grand-father, and recent minister, an addition to his impressive CV acquired over the Internet, so he was able to perform the wedding ceremony of his daughter, though he is not permitted to do circumcisions. But whole as Jules Feiffer may be, and usually captious, Annie's take on the scene here is more acute than his. Success is the doorway, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free being a long time away and ago and New Yorkers in general being, in Annie's words, 'overcommitted.'
So it was with some sad amusement I viewed the quote on the wall that is the keynote for the Look exhibition, E.B.White's. "No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky." The reverse also obtains. And even more naive and touching was the one on the wall from Moss Hart who wrote in Act One "The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream." Yeah, right.
Still, entering the exhibition, pegged on Stanley's having become such an icon that an event can be hung on his star, I did truly enjoy what was on those walls: old black and white photos of who mattered when, Sherman Billingsley,the owner of the Stork Club, Elsa Maxwell, the hostess with the mostess, in true disheveled disarray, not that her array when sheveled was much better, Fleur and Gardner Cowles, (he started the magazine), the 23 year-old Marlon Brando having just taken the town with 'Streetcar,' already uncomfortable in his own skin. Then, the center of the exhibit, Stanley's photos, an extensive array of a Copacabana girl, not particularly pretty, except for a dimple in her right cheek, and terrific shots of Rocky Graziano, who had six-pack abs probably with a bourbon first. Another of those pronunciamentos on the wall says Kubrick shows "the glamor New York promises to the lucky masks a world of physical brutality and emotional degradation." Well, I wouldn't have gone that far, but it can be a disappointment.
On the way out of the museum, beyond First Rate as most New York museums are, offering histories of the town as it made its way to super-city, as Stanley made his way to superstar, there was a salute to Black Style-- I do think they dared to label it that, no 'African-American' cloak- with stunning gowns on mannequins. And on a poster, a quote from Maya Angelou: "We have survived, flourished, and thrived, with passion, compassion, humor and style." She forgot to add in her particular case, Bullshit.
Oh, I know I'm not supposed to say that, as it will keep me from being on Oprah, Maya is more than revered, and as an editor of mine once said "A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do." But as I knew her, and well, in Paris when I was 20, so understand much of her pseudo-biography, and have observed her grande-dame-ing over the years, watched her orating her 'Good Morning' poem at Clinton's inauguration, while on the line with my musician friend Bob Dorough who played for her and with her at the Mars Club in Paris. When her inaugural performance ended, I said into the silence on the phone "What do you think?" And Bobby drawled, in his Mississippi way: "We-llllllllllllllll. She got the gig."
Indeed she did. And so did Stanley.