Sunday, April 13, 2014

From Conway to Broadway

Town Clock in my hometown South Carolina with the exact time that I arrived in NY
Happy Sunday!

It is a gorgeous day here in New York. Cherish these moments. They are fleeting.

I've written several blogs about the events leading up to my coming to New York in 1979. New York was a much different animal in 1979.

I can't imagine what it would be like now for an 18 year old to come to New York. Except for the expense, I would believe that it would be incredibly difficult for someone to transport from a small town to New York in today's world.

When I arrived in New York City on August 5th 1979, the Bronx was burning. New York City barely escaped bankruptcy and before the Internet.
Once-imposing and elegant buildings were derelict; the streets were dirty; parks were semi-abandoned and decrepit-looking schools evoked a culture different and separate  from mainstream America.
Abandoned buildings decayed. packs of dogs moved in and trees spontaneously took root and grew on their roofs. They removed boards from the windows to allow for light and ventilation, transforming empty buildings into homes for the homeless, places to sell drugs or serve as “shooting galleries."
Believe it or not, it added a character to New York that I miss.
The New York I imagined was the New York of movies like Sunday in New York and Breakfast at Tiffany's. I don't know if that world ever really existed!
The world I came into was the gritty world of Cruising and Taxi.When I see those films, I actually get nostalgic for that time frame in my life!
 Actually, Cruising was filming shortly after I arrived in New York. I knew NOTHING of that world or that that world even existed at that time.
 Terrence McNally has a new show on Broadway called Mothers and Sons starring Tyne Daly.
At turns funny and powerful, MOTHERS AND SONS portrays a woman who pays an unexpected visit to the New York apartment of her late son's partner, who is now married to another man and has a young son. Challenged to face how society has changed around her, generations collide as she revisits the past and begins to see the life her son might have led.
There is a funny line in which Tyne's character is having a conversation with her now departed son (from

AIDS) in which she says he was not gay when he arrived in New York years before.
The same could be said of me. I mean I didn't know!

Poorly reviewed by critics, Cruising was a modest financial success, though the filming and promotion were
dogged by gay rights protesters.

The title is a play on words with a dual meaning, as "cruising" can describe police officers on patrol and also cruising for sex.

According to Wikipedia, Philip D'Antoni, who had produced Friedkin's 1971 film The French Connection, approached Friedkin with the idea of directing a film based on New York Times reporter Gerald Walker's 1970 novel Cruising, about a serial killer targeting New York City's gay community.
Friedkin was not particularly interested in the project. D'Antoni tried to attach Steven Spielberg, but they were not able to interest a studio.
A few years later Jerry Weintraub brought the idea back to Friedkin, who was still not interested. Friedkin changed his mind following a series of unsolved killings in gay leather bars in the early 1970s and the articles written about the murders by Village Voice journalist Arthur Bell. Friedkin also knew a police officer named Randy Jurgenson who had gone into the same sort of deep cover that Pacino's Steve Burns did to investigate an earlier series of gay murders, and Paul Bateson, a doctor's assistant who had appeared in Friedkin's 1973 film The Exorcist, who had confessed to some of those murders. All of these factors gave Friedkin the angle he wanted to pursue in making the film. Jurgenson and Bateson served as film consultants, as did Sonny Grosso, who had earlier  consulted with Friedkin on The
French Connection.

Jurgenson and Grosso appear in bit parts in the film.
 In his research, Friedkin worked with members of the Mafia, who at the time owned many of the city's gay bars.Al Pacino was not Friedkin's first choice for the lead; Richard Gere had expressed a strong interest in the part, and Friedkin had opened negotiations with Gere's agent.
Gere was Friedkin's choice because he believed that Gere would bring an androgynous quality to the role that Pacino could not.(Source Wikipedia
I remember all the controversy surrounding that film. THAT was not a world I was not interested in or knew anything about. Growing up in South Carolina, I knew no gay people...at least it wasn't until MANY years later that I knew they were gay.
I now know that my roommates were gay. I didn't know then.I was probably the most asexual person in the world. I didn't have boyfriends OR girlfriends in school. I never even went to a prom! I've written before that I grew up in a very small town in South Carolina which was, for the most part, isolated from the rest of the world in  Horry County (Conway, South Carolina).
I also didn't know anything about the new room mates I was about to encounter.

I have written in the past about the events leading up to my coming to New York. David, was referred to me by my third grade teacher Mrs. Ray at the annual Christmas Parade in Conway, South Carolina in 1978.
When I told her of my intentions to go to New York when I graduated from High School in the spring to pursue my career as an actor, she suggested I get in touch with David,
South Carolina State Flag
also from my home town.
I only knew of him vaguely. Once I found a way to contact him, I wrote him a letter of my aspirations.

Of course, this was in the days before the Internet. I waited patiently for a response that never came.

On my eighteenth birthday in February, I called him.

He apologized profusely for not getting back to me, telling me that he had lost my number. By the end of the call, I had a place to stay and a job! THAT one call opened every door I needed to continue my pursuit to New York.
Times Square as it looked on August 6th, 1979...the first day I experienced it

I have already written about all of the events that led up to my departure date (August 5th, 1979) and will not repeat those here.
I will tell you this. I had never felt so much heat and humidity as that Sunday afternoon when I arrived in New York.
I found out before leaving South Carolina that David was not going to be able to meet me at the airport (due to other circumstances that
New York Skyline 1979
came up).
There were so many red flags swirling around me but I ignored them all. I was determined that I would arrive in New York on August 5th, 1879 and I did!

When I told our neighbors that David was not going to be able to pick me up and that I was going to have to take a cab, they were more alarmed, knowing me, than I was.

I had never been away from home before, I had never flown before, I certainly had never dealt with a New York cabbie before.

Gracie's Corner diner, on First Avenue and 86th Street just around the corner from where I lived when I first arrived in New York. The entire neighborhood pretty much looked like this.
Our neighbor, as I've written before,was a cab driver from Washington DC. He saw this "green" kid fresh off the farm with eyes as big as saucers arriving in New York. Both he and his wife both suggested that I take an "airport limo" from Laguardia to my destination (86th and 2nd). They, of course, were referring to a shuttle service. I, however, got in the wrong line and ordered a stretch limousine. THAT is how I arrived in New York.
When I arrived at my destination, I encountered my first 5 story walk up.
City 1979. Aerial Cityscape, Midtown Manhattan, Empire State Building, Bank of America, Hudson River New York City
The apartment was on the top floor. I had one large suitcase, a briefcase (to make me look officious), and a large black umbrella (a gift from Sylvia Reddick, former director and friend from The Theatre of the Republic).
I buzzed up and David came down to get me. Boy, was he surprised to see me arrive by limousine!
The cost was $60.00 by the way AND that included the tip!
We trudged up the five flights to the apartment, a pre- war railroad flat. Railroad apartments are configured so that one room leads directly into another with no connecting hallways. When you walked into the apartment, you walked right into a bedroom.Then you made a left into the living room which is where I went to park my bags and catch my breath.
This was to be my bedroom even though there wasn't a bed for me. The stench of marijuana pervaded the apartment. It was also obvious that he had not been out of the apartment at all that day.

Angel of the Waters, in Bethesda Fountain (sculpted 1873)
The bottom line is that although I had never been to New York before, he was too lazy to meet me at the airport. We exchanged chit chat about home (South Carolina) and my plans. Then, he wanted to give me a tour of the "neighborhood".
First stop, Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Remember, this was a hot summer day when I was first arriving in New York. The city was bustling with people. Bethesda Fountain was very different from what it is today.
It was covered in graffiti and was a big drug hangout. David even bought pot while we were there! (Perhaps his real reason for wanting to go there!). Next stop The Rambles, a main feature of Central Park. Since at least the early 20th century, the seclusion of the Ramble has been used for private homosexual encounters. In the 1920s, the lawn at the north end was referred to as the "fruited plain" and in the 1950s and 1960s the Ramble was feared by many as a haven for "anti-social persons".In the early 1960s, under Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., the parks department proposed building a senior center in the Ramble with the hope of curbing gay encounters and anti-gay assaults.Today, the Ramble's strong reputation for cruising for sex has given way somewhat to nature walks and environmentalism. However, some in the gay community still consider the Ramble to be "ground zero for outdoor gay sex", enjoying the "retro feel" of sneaking off into the woods.
A tradition much older than Christopher Street and Fire Island, the Ramble continues to be a gay icon even in the more open environment of modern New York. (Source: Wikipedia)
It was a little too much for this kid from South Carolina. Luckily, for me at the time, we just passed through. Then we walked back to the apartment.
Once we got there, David said, "Let's just sit down and talk." He told me that he liked his drugs and
The Subway as it looked in 1979
wanted my thoughts on that.
I told him I didn't care what he did as long as he didn't try to enforce anything on me.
I felt like I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire having lived with an alcoholic father for the past 18 years. He then went on to inform me that he was staying with a friend that night (my first night in New York) and that I had the place to myself. He also told me that I would be meeting Brad and Lisa the next day.
Who were Brad and Lisa? They were his roommates that he had conveniently not mentioned in the past 8 months of correspondence. I asked them if they knew anything about me.
He told me
Taken in or around Macy's 34th Street in Manhattan, NYC, just before Christmas in 1979
they would the next day and he left. I was alone. Really alone.
There was nothing in the refrigerator except a jar of honey and some wheat bread.
I didn't even have the knowledge or sense to order a pizza or Chines food. Believe it or not, I had never had Pizza


... of a decidedly grittier depiction of New York City. The picture below was snapped on the northeast corner of St. Mark's Place and Third Avenue in 1979.
(other than Pizza Hut) and, certainly not Chinese food at this point in my life. Even if I ordered, I don't think I
Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesIn 1979, a gas line formed at the Hess station at 44th Street and 10th Avenue. There were lines there again – for more than a week – after Hurricane Sandy struck.
would have been able to tell them how to get to the apartment. I certainly wasn't going to go out of the apartment. I would probably be mugged or killed. So, I hunkered down for my first, frightening, night in New York.
I got into my pajamas, turned on the TV, and cried my hungry self to sleep. 


The next morning, a Monday, I was going to start my life officially working in David's office! This was a
Page by Florian Satzinger - New York City, 1979
promise made to me back in February, on my birthday, when we first spoke.
I got up to go to the bathroom and walked through what was Brad and Lisa's bedroom AND they were there doing what comes naturally! Brad looked up and me and said, Well, hello!" Lisa also looked up and yelled, "Who the f!@# are you?" I told her that I was David's new roommate. She said, "Over my dead body."
Brad told her to calm down. I went into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bathtub shaking all over. What had I gotten myself into. I started a bath and soaked for a half hour trying to get my thoughts in order.
New York City. 1979. Surrounded by New York City Police and the Secret Service, Pope John Paul II's motorcade makes its way through the streets
When I emerged, I apologized to both and explained my entire situation. When I told her that I was going to be working in David's office, she laughed. She told me he was a temp! Brad told me not to worry, everything would work out, and that evening we could discuss our future.

I called David about meeting him "in his office." I was told how to take a bus and took my first NYC transit ride down to the Village.He took me to lunch and I told him about the unfortunate morning that I had experienced. He told me not to worry about it, that Lisa was very "hot headed". As Brad had said to me, everything would work itself out. David then told me that he had lost his job several months prior and that there was no job for me.
New York City Photography by Dez Santana | Collection: NYC "Then & Now" | Houston Street & West Broadway, 1979
David suggested that I pick up The Village Voice and go through the want ads for a job. Let's face it, I was fresh out of high school and there weren't many options a head of me. However, as I was going through the want ads, I saw a listing for a job as a messenger, six dollars an hour, in the Wall Street Area. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY! It was also at 55 Water Street. 5 has always been my lucky number. I went to the nearest payphone and called them. They asked if I could come right down for an interview and if they accepted me, I could start work the next day. I found out how to get there and went. They were impressed with the fact that I had just arrived in New York the day before. I got the job! As excited as I was, I still didn't know what to expect when I got back to the apartment.
When I came in, Lisa apologized for her behavior citing that she was startled to find a "strange man" in her apartment.
I told her I understood and shared my good news. It was decided that I could stay in the apartment as long as I handled a few chores. I essentially became a "house boy" taking up the responsibility of everyone else. As frustrating as it was, at least I had a place to stay and a job in New York.
Working as a messenger in New York upon arriving got me to learn about New York very fast. Every day seemed to be major learning curves learning more about what I knew and didn't.I liked the people I was working with and meeting on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I always felt like I was walking around on egg
Carly Simon, Steven Tyler, NYC 1979
shells as far as Lisa was concerned.
I was there four days when I came home after my first "audition" to find Brad and David exactly as I had found Brad and Lisa that first full day in New York! No wonder Brad and David wanted me there and Lisa didn't! I was growing up very fast in a short amount of time!
My first "audition" in New York was for Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (not named when I went to my first cattle call) on August 9th, 4 days after arriving in New York.  I didn't get the film but I met my first die-hard friend in New York, Millie Brown. I called her the unsinkable Millie Brown.
Me as I looked when I arrived in New York with Millicent (Millie) Brown
We were standing next to each other in line. She was probably one of the most eccentric people I had ever met. She was wearing a mou mou, outlandish sunglasses, and was right out of a Fellini movie. We gravitated towards each other. She, too, was fascinated by the fact that I had literally just fallen off of the turnip truck and into the lap of New York. This cattle call was held at a disco just around the corner from which The American Bible Society stands at 1865 Broadway. After going in and dropping off a picture and resume, we decided to go for a bite to eat.
At that time, there were these fast food healthy restaurants all over New York called Amy's. I had my first falafel. We exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch. It was a fated (for many reasons) meeting. Millie became my first real friend in New York. She was my sounding board. She was my friend when I felt I didn't have another friend in the world. She literally became my Auntie Mame introducing me New York. We got together every Sunday and went to a different landmark in New York. She also introduced me to pastrami sandwiches, egg creams, and hot dogs and Chinese food and the most eccentric people. I was in
Bohemia!
I became a member of the Episcopal Actor's Guild AND The Catholic Actor's Guild because of Millie. There used to be a Wednesday afternoon tea in which old Ziegfeld Girls would get together at the Piccadilly Hotel (now gone).
It was a sad day for me when the wrecking ball came down on that hotel. I was actually in the picket line along with Colleen Dewhurst  and many other great actors. Ah...the memories...and the losses!

Let's start celebrating each other again rather than tearing them down.


Thank you ALL I have met on my journey to this point for the gifts you have given to me and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,





A Testimonial from Richard Skipper's most recent event

Richard - What a wonderful experience it was working with you at Pier 701 Saturday night (4/5/14)!
It was a remarkable, successful evening!  I thought the show was terrific, the cast was amazing and the flow was perfect!  Not to mention your natural talent to keep the audience completely captivated for the entire show from start to finish!
Bravo, I look forward to working with you again soon!
Tim McGrathhttp://www.neilberg.com (Richard Skipper.com Guestbook)
1979, http://www.michaelfedor.com/bio.html
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TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY


 
The Subway, 1979







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