Robin Williams once uttered these profound words: “If you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.”
He was absolutely dead wrong, at least in my case. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Manhattan was the progressive and creative center of the universe. Culture was exploding: pop and modern art, jazz and folk music, new forms of prose and poetry, free love, a new consciousness of political freedom, funky Greenwich Village coffee houses, music in the streets and in parks and the evolving popularity of “mind expanding” drugs; those years were a time to cut loose and have fun.
Working as an aspiring photographer and cinematographer, New York, N.Y. was my place to be and my time to rock.
To give you an idea of what was happening on a very very small scale, in a slice of time in the microcosm of the apartment building I happened to be living in, I’ll recall with a certain degree of accuracy, a series of events that happened within the walls of 41 West 72ndStreet, just two doors down from the infamous Dakota Apartments at 1 West 72nd Street.
The Dakota was, and still is, a most exquisite and historic mash-up of Victorian and Gothic architecture, where the movie “Rosemary’s Baby” was filmed, where Lauren Bacall, actor John Voight (Angelina Jolie’s father), and John Lennon lived and sadly died.
Did I ever run into or see John and Yoko? Yes, from time to time…but more on that later.
I was lucky enough to have scored a rare rent controlled one-bedroom apartment for $125 a month through a musician friend who had a friend who knew a friend.
Note: I have changed some of the names in this account, some of whom you may recognize, to protect them from the embarrassment, anger and the wrath of their current partners or spouses.
The apartment building was a patchwork of different, colorful and eccentric people; writers, aspiring actors and fashion models (more like waiters and waitresses), an eccentric TV director, an even more eccentric TV producer, the musician who got me the apartment and an ongoing, never ending, dope infused outrageous party (much more about that party later).
At the helm of my apartment building was Harry the doorman. In addition to doing what doormen do, he was rumored to make available recreational drugs, take bets on horse races and was the “man-in-the know” who somehow knew who amongst the tenants were having inter-apartment affairs. As a matter of fact, he suggested I get to know a young lady on the first floor. He even arranged the introduction. When I would visit her, we could hear Harry listening outside the door. However, he neglected to advise me of the lady’s very very jealous ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t a pretty situation.
My building was a complete social event without ever leaving it.
As a new tenant, eager to make my new digs into a personal statement, I decided it needed a new paint job. I came to know a fellow in the building whose father was a paint chemist and worked at one of the major paint manufacturers. Because I was somewhat short of cash, I asked him if he could get me some bright blue/purple paint at a low cost from his dad. He soon came through with a few gallons of the brightest neon blue/purple you could imagine. Hey, it was the psychedelic Sixties, so what the hell.
I should mention here that graffiti was the art form of the day in New York City. It was everywhere; on walls, sidewalks, store windows…. in fact, most every subway car was covered with bright neon colored graffiti creations. Graffiti was the scourge of the city government (personally I thought it was great) and was determined to eradicate it if possible.
Now, back to my paint job. In one day, my new place was totally electric neon blue/purple. But in a short time I realized there was a big, no gigantic, problem…the paint wouldn’t dry! Not even after a week.
As it happened, my friend didn’t get the whole story from his chemist father, who had been developing a new formulae of anti-graffiti electric neon colors to go into spray cans that could be easily washed off with water, designed to foil the graffiti artists. But the formulae hadn’t been fully perfected.
Hey buddy, thanks for the free paint.
Then there was the telephone incident. Around that time, the New York City telephone service was in shambles. Home phones would suddenly not work and the New York Tel repair service was almost non-existent. Of particular bother was that many public phone booths were “out of order” with broken dials, receivers or just plain stealing your dime (pay phones were cheap then…when they worked). Many phone booths were used as public lavatories as well, which was especially problematic in summer.
As I was self-employed, I required a telephone message answering service to collect client calls, especially for new jobs (no mobile phones then). As I was mostly on location or visiting clients, I’d rely on public telephone booths to retrieve my messages. And, like I said, most public pay phones were many times out of order or too smelly to use.
In protest to this abysmal telephone service, I’d written a script about the poor telephone service in New York and how it drove a fictional character, Mr. Booth, slowly insane in his attempt to call his answering service (really an auto-biography elevated to the state of absurdity). I eventually made this idea into a short film.
In a nutshell: Mr. Booth, after a dozen or so attempts to call his message service and experiencing out of order phones (I even went so far as to have a human dressed in all black posing as a pay phone, complete with chest mounted dial and receiver in the crook of the shoulder. When Mr. Booth inserted his dime in the phone’s mouth, it smirked mockingly, swallowed his dime and gave him an “out of order” message), Mr. Booth, driven to madness, proceeded to have a nervous breakdown on the steps of the New York City Public Library.
On to the next level: now in a state of insanity and possessed by the “mean telephone god,” in a Fellini-esque sequence on a beach, Mr. Booth drags a telephone into the surf and vehemently thrashes it to death. Outraged, the “mean telephone god” indicts Mr. Booth for his crime and brings him to trial in telephone court, before a telephone as judge on a high pedestal and assorted phones cast as jury and spectators.
However, the problem was that I needed some telephones as props for the drowning and court sequences, and telephones were the private property of the evil New York Telephone Company.
In a stroke of luck, while in lower Manhattan one day, I came across a building that was either being demolished or renovated. And there, on the sidewalk, amongst desks and filing cabinets, was a mountain of used office telephones, apparently waiting for pick-up by the phone company.
Seizing the opportunity, I hailed a cab and crammed its trunk and back seat chock-full with those telephones and headed home to West 72nd Street.
Upon arriving, doorman Harry (bookie, escort service provider, etc.) without moving as much as an inch, watched with detachment as I unload several dozen phones from the cab into the lobby and then into the elevator. He never was the least bit curious as to why I had these telephones going to my apartment. Kind of strange, but a lot of strange things happened within 41 W 72nd Street.
My ten minute film was eventually completed and shown in a few “art cinemas” in Greenwich Village prior to the main feature. Soon, a radio talk-show personality, after seeing the film, called me with praise and that he had set up a screening with some important people. Would I go to a certain address on a certain day at a certain time to screen the film?
Hey, my big break had finally arrived. Maybe I was about to be discovered by some major Hollywood film producers.
I did as instructed and arrived for my moment of triumph and success. Little did I suspect or even notice the sign in front of the building I entered until it was too late. Waiting for me in an elegant wood paneled meeting room were the board of directors of the N.Y. Telephone Company.
I screened the film. They were not pleased with what they saw.
What added insult to injury, and really pissed them off, was this little song at the end of my 10 minute film:
The telephone company, a business made to serve.
The telephone company, has a hell of a nerve.
I’d take my business elsewhere and put an end to it,
But the telephone company is a legal monopoly,
And they just don’t give a shit.
They threatened me with a lawsuit for not only stealing their property but also for destroying it. They also didn’t warm to the fact that I used their telephones as judge and jury in a kangaroo telephone court. And they were especially upset when the telephone judge and telephone jury found my character, Mr. Booth, “guilty and out of order.”
With a batch of very upset men in blue suits glowering at me, I countered with a threat to film a sequel, grabbed my film reel and ran out of the building.
When I got back to 72nd Street, safe and sound in my apartment, I discovered that my phone had been disconnected.
Then there was Irv, the wealthy thirty-something entrepreneur who lived on one of the upper floors of my building. I met him during a doorman’s strike when we both worked shifts acting as tenant doormen for our building. Nobody was quite sure what exactly Irv did to allow him such a grand lifestyle (a fat roll of currency in his pocket, fancy clothes, a large apartment and a car). One day, while visiting him in his recently redecorated, refurnished and repainted apartment, I remarked on his art collection. He mentioned that he collected up-and-coming artists. I advised him of my current lady-friend, an artist by the name of Colette, who was considered by many a critic to be one of the bright new artists of the late Sixties. Naturally, Irv wanted to see her work so I arranged a meeting at Colette’s lower Greenwich Village (Soho) loft.
I had, of course, spoken highly of Colette’s work and provided him with reviews of her shows and all sorts of publicity that had made Colette’s work well known. Irv came with his checkbook, prepared to spend.
For some reason, Colette was immediately uncomfortable with Irv. I suspect she thought him as some sort of corporate “fat cat” with no artistic taste who was there to exploit her. As it happened, Irv chose a lovely large abstract piece. Colette priced the painting at over $6,000 (you could live on that for a year!) on a whim to probably insult Irv. Nevertheless, he opened his checkbook and started to write a cheque. And while doing so, he commented that the texture and colors of the piece would fit nicely into his newly redecorated apartment’s color scheme.
Colette exploded, saying, “forget it, I won’t sell it to you. You want it for the wrong reason!” I choked! Irv never spoke to me again.
Then there was Mrs. Walker, my neighbor who lived adjacent to the elevator and a few doors down the hall from my apartment. One day, as I stood waiting for the elevator, she opened her door, looked me over and said, “Hey you, come over here. You look like you haven’t had a good home cooked meal in a year. Get in here – I’m going to feed you.” And she did. And she continued to serve me dinner several nights a week for over a year.
Don’t misunderstand. She was a happily married lady whose husband traveled frequently and her son, a college student, was also away most of the time. She was lonely and valued the company of a dinner guest. I filled the bill.
One early a.m. she frantically banged on my door. She had gotten a call that her husband had suffered a heart attack while on one of his business trips and died. Poor Mrs. W. (my name for her) was distraught and happened not to have enough cash to make the trip out of town to settle the sad affair. I lent her some cash and she departed in the middle of the night to recover her husband’s body.
After the funeral, I spent much time with Mrs. W. Of course she fed me and I reciprocated when I could. But I saw her through some sad times and was a true friend when she needed one. Mrs. W was a great lady.
One night, a lady friend and I planned to spend the night at my apartment. However, at the time she was living at home with her parents and was expected home after our “date.” My lady friend didn’t quite know how to get around the problem and to explain to her mother that she was staying the night with a man. By then it was getting towards 11 pm. How to solve the problem?
Easy, we asked Mrs. W. for her advice on the matter and, in her wisdom, presented a sound solution. She called up the my date’s mother and explained that she was Larry’s neighbor, a mother and a recent widow, and she feared it was too late for my date to safely take a cab home to Brooklyn. And further, as a gesture of motherly concern and protection, Mrs. W would have my date sleep at her apartment – safe and sound under her jurisdiction. Mrs. W. should have been on the stage, for her acting was overwhelmingly convincing. My date’s mother thanked Mrs. W. profusely.
My date and I quickly repaired to my apartment to enjoy our freedom. But a few minutes later there was a knock at the door. It was Mrs. W. with a bottle of champagne for us! Dear Mrs. W, dear friend, partner in crime and one hell of a cook.
I’ll never forget her.
Then there was the phone call at 3 am, a female caller asking if Angelo was there. I said the caller had the wrong number, hung up and went back to sleep. The phone rang again a few moments later. The caller said, “Look, I have the right number; may I speak to Angelo!” The female voice on the other end became aggressive, and I reiterated that she had the wrong number and no Angelo was here…goodnight!”
The phone rang yet again (I should have left the receiver off the hook, but I figured that was the end of the calls) and the voice was now pretty bitter and screamed, “Damn it, I know he’s there, you can’t fool me. Put him on the phone and stop covering for him.” I shot back, “Lady, my name is Larry, I’m here alone and there isn’t any Angelo here, period!” She said, “I know he has a friend in lower Manhattan and I know he’s there.” I said, now getting really pissed off, “this isn’t lower Manhattan. I live on West 72nd Street.”
There was a pregnant pause on the line, then she said, in a new and more relaxed tone, “72nd Street? What number?” Vehemently, I shot back, “Number 41!” “You won’t believe it,” she said, “ but next week I’m moving into the apartment building right across the street.”
Then both our moods changed. It turned out that she was a graduating student living in New Jersey and about to move into the city to work at a new job.
Bottom line: We met up that next week. She was quite lovely. I took her to the party, which I will describe in the next few paragraphs.
PS: I never found out how she got my number instead of Angelo’s friend’s downtown.
Then there was Alan Godfrey, an eccentric and extravagant freelance television director who had an apartment in the same building as mine, filled to the brim with exotic antiques. He always wanted people to visit his place, to impress them and to attract them to attend his frequent parties, which he would host almost any night, providing people would be willing to show up. Alan would lure friends and acquaintances with good food, drinks and lots of pot. Why? Believe it or not, because he was in competition with Danny Calderone, another tenant in the building and a very successful TV producer, who had a better party going on in his apartment, day and night! (I will explain in detail later).
What a scene…two amazing parties in the same building!
Godfrey was jealous of Danny Calderone, a very high profile executive producer with a major television network. The fact was that Alan couldn’t compete with Danny’s charisma and charm. Danny would somehow attract all the people to his party and not to Alan’s (when I say all the people, I’m talking about TV personalities, musicians, artists, writers, a “Playboy Bunny” or two, …all very interesting types to not only to smoke, drink and be stupid ((but sometimes very much so)), but to have meaningful discussions and lots of musical jams). Therefore, but grudgingly, Alan would drop in at Danny’s parties but would resent that Danny always had people partying at his place.
To compensate, Godfrey would always brag to us about the great TV shows that he was directing. When he landed the job directing the live TV broadcast of the Miss America Beauty Pageant, we thought we’d never hear the end of it.
During the pre-production, Alan was so very cavalier and professional, reminding us of how cool he was. When we watched the actual live broadcast, we were all impressed with his directing skill and savvy. But Alan had made a small error in the overall timing of the broadcast. The live Miss America Pageant show ran short by a few minutes – leaving a blank TV screen at the end of the show for millions of Americans to enjoy!
Alan Godfrey was not able to find work for several years after that one.
Now, as pre-mentioned, Danny Calderone, with the big party in his apartment, was quite an experience. When on my way up the elevator to my apartment one evening, I was caught in a wave of people on their way to Danny’s. “Hey, come along to the party,” they said. So I just fell in with the flow of people and ended up at Danny’s. I knew something was quite out of the ordinary when a well muscled body-builder black man by the name of Adrian, in a tank top with a bicycle slung over his shoulder, answered the door. That was the beginning of one of the wildest adventures of parties and people that I’ve ever experienced.
Danny was the son of a famous World War II news columnist and writer, who wrote a classic novel about the Japanese POW prisons. It was an amazing book and was also made into a motion picture. Danny inherited all his father’s talent and then some. Although not particularly handsome, he could talk almost any female into his bed (remember it was during the Sixties). He also had a great, but unpolished, musical talent. In fact, he was an amazing guitar player and one could always grab one of a plethora of available acoustic guitars for a jam session. His other creativity was channeled to the television business. He had a way of choosing potential scripts and program pilots that would be successful on television. He was considered the “brainchild” of that national TV network as well as their “enfant terrible.”
However talented, eloquent and successful Danny was, he had some insecurities and compensated with his magnanimous personality and constant parties – literally all the time, 24 hours a day, week and month. When he had to go to work, he would simply get dressed and leave the party. After work he would return to the party. There were always people partying, no matter if he was there or at work. The party people would evolve, revolve and devolve. They were mostly artistic types; writers, musicians, advertising types, artists, models and “off the street” people who Danny would virtually pick up and invite to the party if he found them interesting. Somehow, a well-known rock star ended up at he party. The ensuing jam was unforgettable. And, by the way, Danny always had an abundance of food, drink and recreational drugs available. Hard to believe, but true.
And that’s where I met Nigel McGuire, a kindred spirit, a sometime photographer and full-time cameraman for another national TV network. It turned out that Nigel had actually won an “Emmy,” award for outstanding TV videography. But here’s the very interesting part…he won it by accident! Now, I must apologize to the reader that I can’t remember his specific artistic accomplishment, but I do remember how he did it.
While doing his assigned job, composing and videoing the subject that I have forgotten, he took a momentary break to light a cigarette. However, he forgot to turn off the camera so it was still rolling while he lit up…and that’s when it happened. Nigel had absolutely no knowledge what was caught on video until he was notified by his producer of his cunning eye and creative brilliance! Voila, an Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts for distinguished videography.
Back to Danny Calderone: he was married at the time. His wife Fran, exquisite looking, a college graduate, very much in love with Danny, an aspiring writer and very much a part of the party scene. They were a dynamic couple, intellectually engaging and very entertaining. They differed in one small respect however – Danny wanted to continue to have multiple sexual partners, and his wife, somewhat old fashioned, didn’t want him sleeping with other women. Of course, Danny handled this disagreement with utter fairness – he insisted that she also have multiple sexual partners so the relationship wouldn’t be one-sided. Fran of course, refused, and in fairness, Danny felt obligated to try to remain monogamous.
However, Danny kept pushing the issue, insisting that Fran find a lover so he could enjoy multiple partners with abandon. She considered his reasoning ridiculous, but Danny continued to believe that the only way he could justify his desires was for her to have a lover.
Then one day in Central Park, Danny met an interesting fellow, a musical and intellectual type, and invited him to his ongoing party. He and Danny had some great jam sessions at the apartment – they were both great guitar players. They quickly became good buddies. The new guitarist, Glen, eventually became a permanent party person and rarely left the apartment.
Then Danny got the bright idea that Glen would make the perfect lover for his wife. Fran utterly despised the notion – they actually had fights over the issue. Danny couldn’t make any headway with Fran on the plan. In the meantime, Danny and Glen continued to share music, intellectual thoughts and partied their brains out.
One evening, several weeks after Glen had been invited to the party, when Danny returned from work, he found Fran and Glen in bed together. Danny went crazy – but he got what he deserved.
Danny became so distraught that Fran and Glen were sleeping together that he had an actual physical fight with Glen. Fran managed to break up the brawl and promptly moved out of their marriage bedroom and into the second bedroom…with Glen. This act drove Danny to great depths of depression.
This chain of events prompted Danny to call his best friend and old high-school buddy, Donny, for consolation.
Donny was working and living in New Jersey at the time, but left his job and apartment to come and stay with his best friend Danny in order to help him get through the hard times.
Donny moved into the third bedroom of the apartment and spent a great deal of time consoling Danny and, he too, becomes part of the party scene. In the course of several weeks, Donny met a girl who had drifted into the party; fell in love with her and they both took up residence in that third bedroom. Danny became insanely distraught.
Let’s review the situation – Danny’s wife Fran and her lover Glen in one bedroom, Donny and new girlfriend in the other bedroom and Danny…alone in the master bedroom. This wasn’t the exact script Danny had planned. And, due to the reality of the situation, Danny wasn’t exactly in the mood to pursue, romance and sleep with all the lovers he had imagined.
But there’s more to the story. At the time, I had been living with a lady named Deena, several floors below Danny in my by then non-neon blue apartment. I had been considering spending some time in Canada, visiting my parents and doing post-production on some of my film projects. At the time, film production costs were very high in New York City and very reasonable in Canada. I planned to spend several weeks away in Canada and didn’t particularly trust Deena in my place with all my photo equipment and a 1956 Fender Stratocaster guitar (current value $50,000 plus…too bad it was subsequently stolen a few years later). Therefore I thought it best to terminate my relationship with dear Deena. I had a perfect idea… I suggested that she move in upstairs to Danny’s and sleep on the couch, hoping that she would click with Danny, since his bedroom was half-empty. Deena wasn’t exactly wild about the idea but I eventually convinced her.
When I returned from Canada, she advised me that Danny had been actively pursuing her with all his finesse and charm. She finally relented and moved into his bedroom.
So, let’s revue the accommodations at this point: There was Danny and Deena in one bedroom, Danny’s wife and Glen in the other and Donny and his lady in the third bedroom. A perfect model of peaceful domesticity…for a while.
Epilogue: Eventually Danny’s’ wife Fran and my ex, Deena, became good friends. In fact, very good friends. So much so that in a short time Fran kicked Glen out of her bedroom and Deena moved in.
So there was poor Danny, back alone in his bedroom again… inconsolable.
I guess one could say that he got what he deserved, not what he desired.
Epilogue: The Party finally ended: I eventually moved to Canada. For a while I stayed in touch with Nigel McGuire, the Emmy Award winner. He advised that Danny eventually moved to Los Angeles, achieved incredible success as a producer with all the major national TV networks, producing TV films with actors including Louis Gossett Jr., Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Susan Sarandon and John Travolta.
Alan Godfrey contacted me soon after I moved to Toronto. He was directing a film on location outside of Toronto. The film never was released. I never heard anything about Alan or of the nameless but interesting and talented faces that passed through Danny’s doors. The famous rock star that came to the party has sadly deceased.
My artist friend, Colette, went on to become an internationally collected artist with one-woman exhibits in high-end galleries throughout the United States and Europe. I spoke with her several years ago and we agreed to meet up when I was next in New York, but it never happened. However, she’s still in her same loft in Soho. I recently Googled her and found out that the New York art scene considers her the prototype that both Madonna and Lady Gaga used to format their image and careers. I have written “My Colette Experience,” a photo-story about our times together in the nurturing New York art scene of the Sixties.
My musician friend, who had a friend, who helped me get the rent controlled apartment in the apartment building, went on to become a star in his own right, composing soundtracks for major Hollywood films, writing songs for many well known artists and much more.
So, did I ever run into my neighbours John and Yoko. Yes, on the street (but they weren’t that recognizable for obvious reasons) and I simply gave a respectful nod and received one back. I also ran into them at a local modern dance recital. John and Yoko just slid in and melded in with the rest of us. What was very cool was that nobody made a fuss over them and gave them the respect of privacy without disrupting the dance performance.
John and Yoko were both elegant and egalitarian, playing their part, with the rest of us, in the social and artistic fabric that was happening on West 72nd Street, New York, N.Y.
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