Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Remembering Richard Barr" by Robert Heide

 (Richard Barr in the Village)

Westview News
December 2013

By Robert Heide

A new book has arrived entitled Richard Barr – the Playwrights Producer written by David Crespy, a Professor of Theater at the University of Missouri and published by Southern Illinois University Press. His previous book Off-Off Broadway Explosion was a study of off-off coffee house theater including the Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street that served coffee and canolies to patrons who were also invited to watch new American plays by the likes of Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, and John Guare. In the East Village it was Café La Mama where playwrights like Rochelle Owens, Paul Foster, Leonard Melfi, and the director Tom O’Horgan reigned. On the back cover of this new tome, John Guare thanks author Crespy for turning a brilliant and long overdue spotlight on the life and career of Richard Barr whom Guare calls one of the seminal figures of twentieth century theater. Crespy’s book also offers a forward and afterward about Barr by Edward Albee.

Though it was ‘Richard Barr’ whose name was listed over the title of the plays he produced, to friends and colleagues he was always ‘Dick Barr.’ I first met Dick in the Village through my good friend playwright Edward Albee. By that time, he was the producer of Edward’s first play The Zoo Story starring the dynamic George Maharis; this play was on a double bill with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape with Donald Davis playing the singular character of the banana-starved Krapp, to great acclaim. With director Alan Schneider at the helm and Richard Barr producing, all hell broke loose when these two plays opened at the Provincetown Theater on MacDougal Street in l959.

Richard Barr was just 20 years old when he graduated from Princeton in l938 and in an inspired moment and in need of a job, he wrote to John Houseman who with the young enfant terrible actor-director Orson Welles, created in New York in l938 the Mercury Theater. Barr first performed as a radio actor in the sensational War of the Worlds broadcast adapted by Orson Welles from the novel by H. G. Wells. Heard over the airwaves Hallowe’en eve 1938, many Americans were in a real state of panic believing that monsters from planet Mars were actually invading and about to take over planet Earth first landing in the township of Grover’s Mill, near Princeton, New Jersey. Dick became a member of the Mercury Theater, eventually becoming Welles’ assistant and later became an associate producer on the RKO film Citizen Kane. In the dramatic opening scene of this iconic movie you see the profile of Barr shouting out “Rosebud? What’s Rosebud?” referring to the mysterious childhood sled that haunted the mind of the megalomaniac Kane right up to the moment of his death. From 1941 through l945 he went to war as Army Air Corps Lieutenant Richard Barr.

One afternoon in Richard Barr’s Village apartment at 26 West 8th Street, handing me a large tumbler filled to the brim with Club Bourbon with one ice cube floating on top, he told me about the time when he first met Edward Albee. He said he felt in that meeting he had discovered his own Charles Foster Kane. He also proudly announced to me that he had a whole stable full of new playwrights just ready to let loose on the public. With Edward and also Clinton Wilder, he formed a playwrights unit at the Van Dam Theater on Charlton Street in the South Village where he produced plays by Terrence McNally and LeRoi Jones. I was happy to be brought into an arena where playwrights were offered real support by the team of Barr/Wilder/Albee. Dick had great charm and wit – After seeing a production of Jack Gelber’s play The Apple at the Living Theater on 14th Street, he declared ecstatically to me in the lobby, “The avant garde is now rear-guard but they don’t know it.” He was often to be found at the Caffe Cino watching my own plays, The Bed and Moon, in addition to those of Robert Patrick, William M. Hoffman, Claris Nelson, H. M Koutoukas, Doric Wilson, Jeff Weiss, Michael Smith and John Guare among others.

A vibrant, fun-loving guy, I remember great parties that Dick had at 10 MacDougal Alley and at his later digs on 8th Street. A lot of hard drinking went on with the bourbon and scotch flowing. Sometimes there would be spontaneous bacchanalian dances by the likes of Joe Cino himself and one of Barr’s favorite companions Charles Loubier. At one of his bachelor soirees which took place on 8th Street on New Year’s Eve at around the time Tiny Alice opened on Broadway, John Gilman and I were introduced by Barr to Noel Coward and John Gielgud. My partner John was thrilled to converse with and to be seated between these two knighted gentlemen.

A list of all the plays Richard Barr produced on Broadway or off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane and elsewhere are too numerous to list, but among the top Broadway productions in my opinion are Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance (both Albee); Boys in the Band (Mart Crowley); and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street starring the great Angela Lansbury. It was said that whenever Richard Barr arrived always making a grand entrance at Sardi’s to hold court at the bar there, it was as if a red carpet had been rolled out. I can never forget Dick’s smile and the raucous laughter he brought about in the telling of his stories. Broadway was his beat but I believe his heart was downtown at the Cherry Lane and in the Village, where he liked to live and loved to play. Producing the Theater of the Absurd plays of early Ionesco, Albee, de Gelderode, Beckett or Ugo Betti were his real joy. A serious thinker, Richard read and studied Friedrich Nietzsche and the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre. He often repeated his favorite Nietzsche quote, “The wonder of being alive at this moment now.” Richard Barr had H.I.V. and he died of liver failure on January 9, 1989. The author attributes this to his years of drinking. To learn more about the career of the legendary Richard Barr read this book.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

SAUL LISHINSKY, painter, age 83 (in 2005)

Early in 2008, Saul Lishinsky was too infirm to live by himself. He was put in a nursing home and his nephew had his live/work studio cleaned out, getting rid of thousands of drawings and paintings. The paintings wound up at the Chelsea flea market and have been purchased by strangers. There has been some buzz on the Internet about him.

Saul Lishinsky’s 800-square-foot studio is crammed with 60 years worth of painting, sculptures and a printing press. Lishinsky offers his only chair, a plastic folding one to the interviewer, saying that he would prefer to stand.

Saul Lishinsky was raised in the Bronx. After serving during World War II, he returned to New York and started painting.

When I am asked, I say I am 39. I’m really 83. I have no plans to pass away. I’ve lived in Westbeth since 1974. That year, I got divorced. I had a little brownstone on Manhattan Avenue. The whole top floor was my studio.

I had a cousin, Abe Lishinsky, who was a WPA painter. He encouraged me. He said, “Draw whatever you see a lot.” I’ve done that all my life. He said, “Don’t go to the National Academy.” He did that and he felt it crippled him as a painter.

(Lushinsky in the 1940s)

I had a studio off Times Square. At the beginning, I got by doing commercial work. The pay was only $20 to $30 a week, but that was enough. My rent was only $24.50 a month.

I go for particular artists. Very early, I saw Rembrandt at the Metropolitan. I looked up art books and the way he used to draw. That was my studying, not art school. I’m loaded with art books. Besides Rembrandt, Papa Cezanne was important to me. Cezanne had a fierceness to his work. Early in Cezanne’s career, he did a painting on a murder. I identified with that fierceness. I was struggling what I was doing with color. Color has a structure. The feeling of it is very important.

When I was 24, I had my first show at the 44th Street gallery. My wife and I were in Provincetown for the summer from 1946 to ‘48. We rented a shack behind a chicken coop.

People in New York City were struggling to make money. I was just satisfied with the money I was making part time so I could exist and keep painting. In order to get a teaching job, you had to have some shows. I had some shows. You had to have write ups and a point of view. The point of view was cheapening, limiting the expression. You had to give it a name and the name was not enough. That’s what happens to artists. It is not a matter of talent. It is the struggle to get along, the doggedness, sticking to the most intense expression you can get. The struggle to get along and be recognized is what really deflates the spirit.

Gaining acceptability as an artist is mechanical. It is dead. To live, you have to sell your art, but merchandising is cheapening. Merchandising eliminates art that is unpleasant. Unpleasantness is part of life and it has to be shown with what is beautiful. I sell art when I can, but people don’t want to pay. There was this guy, a scenic designer for Balanchine. I made sketches of him. I started a painting of him. He wanted the painting and we agreed to $1000. I reworked the painting and a year passed. He said that he couldn’t afford a thousand dollars. He only wanted to pay $500. That is why I don’t sell.

Please take a look at my "Curious Post-Westbeth Life of Saul Lishinsky's Art" post:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anita Steckel Photo Collage

When I last interviewed Anita Steckel in 2008, four years before she died, she gave me a copy of her latest photo collage, which was her comment on the horrible reign of President George W. Bush. Here it is:

Another Lilly Lamont photo

This is actually a Lilly Lamont poster, the great burlesque queen, who career was cut short when burlesque was banned in New York City.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New York Times' profile on the Painter Jane Freilicher, May 25, 2013

Big City

A Painter Amid Friends

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Jane Freilicher, 88, who was part of a postwar bohemian circle in Greenwich Village, at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
  • In the summer of 1949, John Ashbery, unleashed to the world from Harvard, arrived in New York to begin his long and productive creative life in a small loft building on Third Avenue near 16th Street. Mr. Ashbery was to spend the season in the apartment of his college friend Kenneth Koch, who was visiting his parents in Cincinnati, and he was to pick up the key from a woman, Jane Freilicher, who lived one floor up. The consequence of this quotidian exchange was a deeply connected friendship now in its sixth decade, nourished by the bohemian reverie that characterized Greenwich Village for so much of the 20th century and migrated to the east end of Long Island with the arrival of Memorial Day.

John Gruen
Jane Freilicher, front right, with her friends in the Hamptons in the 1950s.

This relationship, and the others that grew from it, are the subject of “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets,” an exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in Midtown, a show that places Ms. Freilicher’s work in the context of her exalted status among the poets of the New York School — Mr. Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler — to whom she was muse, confidante, beloved brain. “One doesn’t stay friends with somebody for 40 years unless they have a lot of nice qualities, such as brilliance,” Mr. Ashbery wrote two decades ago. “Jane Freilicher is also the wittiest person I have ever known.” 

By implication, the show is an exercise in anthropology as well, an exploration of an ever-receding way of social life among successful creative people in the city, one in which the friendships built and circles configured seemed more firmly rooted in genuine affection, in affinity, in shared notions of whimsy, than in the prospect of mutual professional advantage. 

This is a view at once surely too cynical and too naïve, and yet it is an impression that is hard to shake from a glimpse into Ms. Freilicher’s enviable world. The painter, now 88, and her friends — among them also, the artists Grace Hartigan, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers — spent an enormous amount of time in one another’s company and a great deal of energy communicating with one another when they were not. A 1956 letter written by Ms. Freilicher to Frank O’Hara, who celebrated her in his acclaimed “Jane” poems, initiated various plans to get together, beginning: “Dear Frankie, I was utterly delighted to get your cuddlesome letter. Perhaps you don’t know how much I’m missing you but it is quite a tel’ble lot. It is a terrible thing being the Adlai Stevenson of the art world without a Young Democrat like you by my side.” 

It is very hard to imagine an artist like Rachel Feinstein today coming forth, from her lavishly appointed home, with a similarly toned (similarly adorable) e-mail to her friends Tom Ford or Marc Jacobs (and not just because she is a Republican who has decried the left). Noting the shift to our modern corporate art world, observers often mourn the lost chaos of a previous time, but it seems equally worth mourning a lost sincerity, the premium placed on companionship. 

Ms. Freilicher, a student of Hans Hofmann’s, came of age as a painter during the high moment of the Abstract Expressionists, but she forged a visual language that was very different, creating loosely figurative paintings that were quieter, more domestic, absent the sense of combat. The show at Tibor de Nagy is, among other things, a fitting augury of summer. Much of Ms. Freilicher’s work depicts the pastoral world beyond the window of her Long Island summer house on Mecox Bay in Water Mill, which she and her husband Joe Hazan began building in 1960, five years before she gave birth to their only child, Elizabeth, at age 41. 

East Hampton had the madness of the art world then, but also the comparative languor, which is what Ms. Freilicher, who never achieved the sweeping fame of her contemporaries despite her renown in her own universe, chose to capture. But the extremism of the era touched her, too. A portrait by Fairfield Porter of Larry Rivers depicts its subject in wrist bandages. As the story goes, Mr. Rivers was moved to cut himself when he learned, in the ’50s, that Ms. Freilicher was going to marry. “He was a skirt chaser, among other things,” Ms. Freilicher said, laughing off the episode recently, refusing to imbue it with the self-importance others might have. 

It is fashionable now to carry a nostalgia for the New York of the 1970s, but in those years, it was the way of the artistic to lament the disappearance of the ’50s. In a 1979 story for New York magazine, Larry Rivers suggested that the art world lost its purity when its marriage to the poets, whose work was not easily made into a commodity, wound down. 

I asked Ms. Freilicher, who still paints from her apartment and studio on lower Fifth Avenue, if she was soon headed to another summer on Long Island. She was not sure. There were so few friends left. 

E-mail: bigcity@nytimes.com

Monday, April 8, 2013


In the late 1940s, Judith Malina and her late husband Julian Beck founded the Living Theatre. The influential, avant garde company toured the world, put nudity on the stage and advocated for world peace. Malina herself was arrested in more than 12 different countries, including Sweden. Malina and her husband, the director and actor Hanon Reznikov, set up a new theater on the Lower East Side in 2007. Hanon died in 2008. After some great theater projects and serious financial problems, the new theater closed in 2013.

There has always been an avant garde, there has always been a bohemia. I don’t think 20 years pass, whether it is Athens, Vienna or Paris, various places where there hasn’t been a hot place. I don’t think there is a big city in the world that hasn’t always had a bohemia. We are everywhere, we are eternal and infinite. As long as there are human beings, there will be someone finding where the next step is. The people who are curious about that represent the avant garde. The people who are curious about how to live in the world and not be prisoners. of its customs are the bohemians. We’ve always been around.

The 1940s and ‘50s was a germination period. What was about to happen was the sixties. In the 1950s, we were consciously interested in being an artistic community. This is missing for me today. There are a lot of great things happening in New York, but there isn’t a conscious artistic community. Artists were interested in each others’ work, respectful of each others’ work. The solidarity was strong because we were all concerned with peace. We were interested in each others’ activities, whether it was different disciplines, Gestalt therapy, spiritual movements and physical experimentations of the body, or various kinds of sexual arrangements.

The ‘40s and ‘50s was a time of breaking limits, opening up, finding your anarchistic, libertarian, open ways of doing anything--art, life, politics.

I’ve run out of money everyday of my life. We always struggled financially. Money gets in the way. I try to raise enough money to keep the theater going. We were always interested in how far we could advance the ideas that could lead to the beautiful, nonviolent revolution. Nothing else interested us.

The theaters became dependent on funding and they took it away. The reason the Living Theatre has survived for 50 years was we never had any funding, so they could never take it away from us. Sometimes I do some movies, solely to support the Living Theatre. Sometimes I do things I love, like “Enemies: A Love Story” or “Dog Day Afternoon.” Sometimes I do an homage to stupidity like “The Addams Family.” I supported the Living Theatre on that for three years. It’s worth it.

What I am searching for is the next thing. I am waiting for you to tell me what are the new styles of dance, painting and Theatre, the new kinds of poetry. I’m waiting for the beautiful, nonviolent anarchist revolution. I’m having trouble gathering critical mass.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bohemian Slugfest: Maxwell Bodenheim v. Joe Gould

(Bodenheim and his doomed wife Ruth Fagin)

After a horrible dress rehearsal of the Brecht play He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No, the founders of the Living Theatre Julian Beck and Judith Malina went to the San Remo. A ragged drunk approached their table and to a startled Beck said, “I’m Max Bodenheim, the idiotic poet,” as he tried to offer up a poem for drinks.

The playwright and Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht, author of The Front Page and an old friend of Bodenheim’s from the 1920s, once described the poet as “a gaunt, shabby looking man...the albino face with the look of frostbite on the skin...a jack o’lantern smile distends his mouth, exposing a number of missing teeth.”

Bodenheim was mocked by Time magazine in February 1952 in an article titled “The Literary Life” for being arrested for sleeping in the subway with seven other vagrants. The magazine quoted Bodenheim bashing Greenwich Village, saying, “The Village used to have the spirit of Bohemia, gaiety, sadness, beauty, poetry. Now it’s just a geographical location.” As one of Bodenheim’s biographers noted, the old bohemian poet sometimes stood on Village street corners with a sign saying “I am blind.”

At the Remo after his arrest, Bodenheim confided in Judith Malina that he was going to sue Time. “A recent benefit for him [was] given by some Villagers to put him in some possession of some money,” wrote Malina in her diaries, “so he bought me beer, and gin for himself, and quickly became incomprehensible.”

According to Allen Ginsberg, Bodenheim literally pissed away his own career as a poet. Ginsberg’s father Louis was a small-time poet from New Jersey, and was present on the night the 1930s when Bodenheim was thrown out of the Academy of American Poets in Manhattan for relieving himself in front of the assembled poets.

(Joe Gould)

Other dregs of the earlier bohemian eras haunted the Village. The homeless Harvard graduate and failed historian Joe Gould would hit the Remo and the Minetta Tavern to cadge money for his Oral History of the World. The fragments of Joe Gould’s oral history that were found after his death turned out to be horrible. Izzy Young, the man who ran the Folklore Center, a Village store where you could buy sandals or bongo drums, and make the vital connections to join the surging folk scene on MacDougal Street, discovered a cache of the books. “They stank,” said the former Village Voice columnist Howard Smith of Gould’s notebooks. “Izzy found tons of notebooks. This is what they said: ‘Overheard woman in the next booth ordering shrimp marinara. Her boyfriend said, ‘Want another cigarette?’ She said ‘No.’ People in the booth in front of me ordered another bottle of wine. Can’t make out what they are talking about.’” John Tytell, an early biographer of the Living Theatre and the Beats, said that Gould’s indiscriminate writing down of everything he heard could be called “the original tape recorder.” Seymour Krim noted that both Bodenheim and Gould “were clowns in a certain way. I mean bitter clowns to make a buck.”

Bodenheim and Gould couldn’t stand each other. In one battle, Gould told Bodenheim “You are slipping. You were a better poet 25 years ago than you are now, and you weren’t any good then.” Another time, Gould told Bodenheim that “You are an artsy-crafty poet...a niminy-piminy poet...And you are frightfully uneducated.” Despite being perpetually homeless, Gould was still a Harvard man (Class of 1911). Bodenheim slashed back at Gould, mocking his nearly nonexistent Oral History of the World, and the numerous notebooks full of rewrites about the death of his father, with the withering line, “Don’t tell me you are still trying to bury your father.”

(Alice Neel’s 1933 painting of Joe Gould with three penises)

Bodenheim and Gould’s vicious fights were Village events, often held at Goody’s, a bar of West 10th Street and 6th Avenue, named after the owner, a man named Goodman. The bar was described by Joseph Mitchell, as being, “Like most of the barrooms on Sixth Avenue in the Village, it was long and narrow and murky, a blind tunnel of place, a burrow, a bat’s cave, a bear’s den. I learned later that many of the men and women who frequent it had been bohemians in the early days of the Village and had been renowned for their rollicking exploits and now were middle-aged or elderly and in advanced stages of alcoholism.” In this bar of bohemian wrecks, the owner used to give food and drink to the two down-and-out writers so they would fight for the entertainment of the customers.

When the Remo and other bars had closed, Bodenheim would wander back to the grim Waldorf Cafeteria on Eighth Street, drinking a dinner of tomato soup made out of ketchup and “would sit like a cadaver under the sickly, yellow-green light that gave the Waldorf its other name, ‘the Waxworks.’”

Bodenheim, who was often homeless, was killed under gruesome circumstances in February 1954. The poet and his third wife Ruth Fagin, who the writer Milton Klonsky said Bodenheim occasionally pimped out, accepted a place to stay on Third Avenue from a deranged dishwasher named Max Weinstein. After Bodenheim went to bed, the dishwasher proceeded to either rape or have consensual sex with Bodenheim’s wife. When Bodenheim awoke, Weinstein shot him with a rifle and stabbed the screaming Fagin to death.