The Naked Truth
Chapter 1: 1973

On March 18th of 1973, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle presented me with an award for Distinguished Costume Design at General Lee’s Restaurant in Chinatown.  My fortune cookie said nothing about this, so I was totally shocked when my name was announced because I had been competing with productions that were Broadway road shows, and I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of winning.  It was for the West Coast premiere of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade

The title of the play alone should have been awarded something, simply for its extended title.  As was befitting the modern convention of shortening everything and coining nicknames, it was more often referred to as Marat/Sade.

Upon this rather auspicious occasion I rescinded the promise I had made two years earlier, that if I didn’t get a break in Hollywood within five years I was going back to Europe.  As I had no inclination of selling myself in any carnal manner, it hadn’t been an easy pledge to fulfill.

It would be difficult to ever forget this honor since I was presented with a newspaper printer’s tablet of lead with a raised inscription.  And it was absurdly heavy.  But I was extremely proud to receive it, and I held it high, although not for long.

I stood about six feet high in my very au courant Cuban-heeled shoes, and weighed no more than a 135 pounds at best.  In retrospect, sporting longish strawberry-blond tousled locks that gave me the appearance of a twelve-year old, and dressed in a newly tailored cobalt blue, dupioni silk suit with silver studs, that I had designed, sewn, and punched for the occasion, I must have appeared like a child at Christmas. 

The LADCC awards were not restricted to one winner per category, but to several depending on their merit.  And Florence Klotz, who wasn’t present, was additionally honored for her designs for Follies, a stupendous musical I had seen a year before in New York.

I had felt thrilled enough to be nominated, and to be in such company was enormously honoring, but to prevail was euphoric.  However, I had no speech prepared.  I fumbled through an acceptance, saying something inane about design being my whole life, before uncontrollable tears burst forth, much to my embarrassment.  So I wrapped it up and left the podium. 

By the time all the awards had been given out and the after party began, I was still in a daze.  Trying to locate my date, Maria Arnold, I turned about when a small, frail-looking woman touched my arm. 

Monsieur Dorléac?” she questioned in perfect French.

Oui?”

Bon soir.  I’m Viola Hegyi Swisher.  I want to congratulate you on your truly imaginative creations, and your heartfelt acceptance.”

I was confused for a second because she pronounced her first name, not like the musical instrument, but Latin for ‘violet,’ “vee-oh-luh.” Instantly it dawned on me that she was the West Coat Contributing Editor for the well-known magazine After Dark, in addition to being a theater and ballet critic for various Los Angeles entertainment publications. I had read her contributions for several years because I liked her writing style that was explicit and witty. It bubbled like effervescent spring water and flowed smoothly with an arc and finish.

But I was not prepared to meet such a wisp of a woman, who was small in stature with enormous, deep-set lemur-like eyes and a rather asthmatic wheeze in her delivery.

 “Merci,” I answered, kissing her extended hand.  Since she had singled out my work in a review for Marat/Sade that pleased me immensely, I should have kissed her feet.  Reining in my elation, I picked up my manners and said, “Je suis heureux de vous rencontrer.  Thank you for your kind words.”

“They weren’t kind,” she replied, pausing to take a deep breath.  “I’m never kind.  I am always very direct.  You well deserved the award.  There is a great deal of storytelling in your work, which is unusual to find.  Most of the costumes I see stand out like sore thumbs.”  She took another deep breath and smiled.  “I should like to interview you in the future.  Do you have a card?”

No, I didn’t, and I realized that I had better resolve that problem soon.  “Unfortunately, I’ve given out the last one,” I fibbed, quickly grabbing a discarded program on a table and taking out my pen. “Here, I’ll give you my number.”

“And this is my card,” she whispered politely, handing me one.

“Thank you,” I replied, handing her the program.  “I’m leaving for New York at the end of the week.   But I’ll give you a call when I return.”

Je serai impatient de vous entendre. Encore une fois, felicitations!

Upon her departure, I turned to curvacious Maria, now standing next to a gentleman on the other side of the table.

“Sweetie,” she purred when I approached, batting her long lacquered lashes at me, “this is Nehemiah Persoff.  You remember him from Some Like It Hot, don’t you?  He can’t get over this,” she whispered beguilingly, slowly stroking her index finger over a concoction of crystral shards hanging from a chain about her neck.

“Hello,” Mr. Persoff stated, hardly glancing at me.  His eyes were glued to Maria’s décolletage.  “What is that?”

“It’s dangerous,” she cooed, pursing her vermilion lips and leisurly licking them.

To describe Maria as a woman who was sensationally sexual would be unjust.  She was totally unparalleled with a perfect hour glass figure where the sand had gotten stuck at the top.  Upon entering the restaurant earlier, she had shaken back her wavy auburn hair, and then wiggled down several stairs in a strapless emerald green gown I had thrown together from left over sequined jersey.  Men had turned to ogle her, bumping into each other, and waiters had knocked over chairs.

Illusion is a major part of a creation.  Maria had pure magic that totally pulled it off.  She was a vibrant New York Italian girl, née Arnoldi, who was also a somewhat well-known porn star.  She wasn’t Linda Lovelace or Marilyn Chambers but she had done quite a few films.  Surprisingly, no one ever approached her when we went out in public, so I thought that I, and maybe three hundred other ambiguous men who sit in dark porn theaters were the only people who knew her profession.  But I was also pretty sure that there were other individuals, such as Mr. Persoff, who recognized Maria’s many attributes without ever having seen one of her oeuvres. 

Tops among her credits, was the popular tacky and wacky spoof Flesh Gordon, (with a voice over by Craig T. Nelson) in which she, billed as “Maria Aronoff,” played the handmaiden to the evil Princess of Magic, Amora.  Much like the original pre-feature series, the Princess wore a crystal stone on her forehead that with a touch, made her disappear.  For reasons I don’t remember, as I only saw it once at its Westwood Village premiere, accompanying “the handmaiden” herself, Emperor Wang the Perverted, hid the gem in her vagina for safekeeping.  Upon the discovery of its location, Flesh Gordon and Dr. Flexi Jerkoff lifted her up, spread eagle to the camera, revealing a superb wax job, while they shook her up and down until the jewel dropped out.

Maria had several lines thereafter, but for the life of me I can’t remember what she said.  I was simply staggered by her heretofore unknown talents.  I now believe it was a truly cinematic moment.  The concentration and control she maintained to keep the stone secured under such rigorous conditions, far surpassed many professional actors I had known, who could hardly focus on a line.

Awed by another side of the profession I had never journeyed into, we became great friends within a year, so I was thrilled when she accompanied me to this event. 

They may not remember my name, but they will remember the jewel I came with.

“You look like you could use another drink,” chuckled Maria to Mr. Persoff, before giving me a smiling glance. “And darling, can I get you something while we’re there?”

“A white wine, please,” I replied, looking in the direction of a bespectacled man, engaged in a conversation with several others, who had sat next to me at the dinner table during the evening.  “I’ll be over there,” I stated, indicating the group, as Maria, arm in arm with Mr. Persoff, strolled away. 

The gentleman, whose name I couldn’t remember, had encouraged me during the evening, and I wanted to thank him.

“Excuse me,” I said, following a gap in the conversation.  “I would like to thank you for the kind advice you gave me at the table.”

“Oh, you’re more than welcome,” he smiled, extending a hand.  “I’m Dale Olson.”

I shook his hand firmly. “I was very nervous up there.”

He chuckled.  “It didn’t show.  You were very bright and amusing, and apparently very sincere when it comes to your work.”

“And very charming,” piped in a lovely strawberry blonde woman who appeared beside him.  “Hello,” she said melodically, extending a hand, “I’m June Lockhart.” 

“Enchanté,” I replied in great awe, recognizing the youthful actress at once.  She had been in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Second Wife,” a favorite episode of mine, and in the sci-fi series Lost in Space.

Once she shook my hand, she turned to Dale Olson and gave him a peck on the cheek.  “How lovely to see you, Dale.  Wasn’t this a joyous evening?”

“June,” he responded harmoniously, “I saw you earlier but didn’t get a chance to get over to you.”  Turning to me, he said, “I was caught up by this young man’s tales.  You would howl with delight at some of his adventures.”

“Do you also design for personal appearances?” June queried with a beguiling smile.

“Oh, sure, if it’s not expected for free,” I replied with a short laugh.  “I’ve done theatrical costumes, as well as couture, in addition to the screen and theater work I do.”

“Then let’s exchange numbers,” June chuckled, opening her bag to extract a pad of paper.  “Here’s mine … and write yours on the next sheet, which I’ll keep.”  Passing me her number and the pad, she added, “I’m always needing something, and this could be so much fun.”

“Great,” I exclaimed withdrawing a pen and writing.  Then, passing the paper back to her, I added.  “I’d love to show you my couture sketches.”

“Well,” Dale chuckled, “this has been a rather fortuitous meeting for the both of you, it seems.”  Extracting a card from his jacket pocket, he gave it to me. “And if things go as I expect they will for you, give me a call if you’re looking for a little PR.  Maybe I could help you out, too.”

His name abruptly rang a bell.  He was one of the big time, but true public relations people in the business, and all through dinner I had sat, telling him about the perils and pitfalls of being a designer.  Fortunately, I had not related anything too personal about anyone of great renown, as you never know where it will end up.

Bussing June on the cheek, he smiled.  “It’s always a joy to see you, June.  I must be off.  Good night.”

“And, I’ve got to get going, too,” she chortled, turning to me.  “Give me a call, or I’ll call you.”

“I’m going to New York for several days.  I’ll ring you when I get back.” 

“That sounds perfect.  Good-bye!”  She extended her hand again and I shook it in farewell.

A month prior to the LA Drama Critics ceremonies, I had made plans to go to Houston, and then New York on business.  I had been saving up the money for over six months from the various jobs I had come by. 

To make ends meet, I had worked as a chef for a catering company for a while, a fashion consultant in display for Joseph Magnin’s for a year, a short stint of three months as a ready-to-wear designer in the Los Angeles garment district, and quite often, in between, as a house sitter and fashion consultant.  Plus, I was writing articles for any magazine that was interested in how to tie an obi, tea-smoke a duck in a brown paper bag, or why men’s shirts button on the right.  And I had a somewhat steady flow of private customers who wanted wedding dresses, seasonal gowns, and variety costumes of all types for numerous occasions.  This, more than any of my other jobs, required plenty of patience and earnest listening to make everyone happy.  But since I was personally cutting, sewing, and adorning these creations, I knew how to charge accordingly and henceforth everyone was content, which led to a glowing reputation.  However, occasionally there were requests, that no matter how much I put into it, I couldn’t handle.  Like the time I was asked to disguise a wheelchair in tulle to resemble a gargantuan floor-length ball gown.  Visualizing the fabric getting caught in the wheels and tipping over its disabled occupant, the thought alone of the ensuing law suits that would probably follow, left me anxious at best.

Years before I had learned that if you wanted someone to notice you, it was best to strike while the iron was hot, and I couldn’t have asked for a more fortuitous circumstance.  Therefore, my winning of the LADCC award created new prospects for my trip east.  I called up every connection I had made in the past in New York and arranged interviews.         

Hal Prince would see me on April 10th at 2:45 in the afternoon.  So would major agent, Shirley Bernstein, sister of Leonard Bernstein, at a later time the same day.

Only David Merrick’s assistant sent me a letter turning down any possible interview, declaring he wasn’t allowed to use the New York Paramount offices, even for conferences.  I couldn’t understand what that had to do with a short meeting, not a twelve-person seminar, and always thought it was the dumbest denial I ever received.

Additionally, during the flurry of correspondences and telephone calls, Annette Meyers, assistant to Mr. Prince, arranged house seats for me to a Tuesday performance of A Little Night Music. She even graciously called to confirm my appointment with Mr. Prince before I left Los Angeles.

I feel polished business behavior is an indication of how honestly people conduct themselves.

Having only two friends in the city – Dionne Chilgren, an accompanist for the New York City Ballet who had been a friend for years, and author Jimmy Kirkwood whom I had been introduced to by a friend at a party–I gave them a call.

James Kirkwood was my favorite author.  His first book, There Must Be A Pony, was published in 1960 to moderate success, although it became my most loved novel instantly  upon reading it.

I have never cared for comparisons, but it captured the same spirit of The Catcher In The Rye, while on another level it was very similar to a part of my upbringing.  It had touched a profound place within me, about a boy lost in the chaotic show business surroundings of a sudden and mysterious death.

Kirkwood followed it with a play on Broadway starring Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall, bearing the strange title of U.T.B.U. (Unhealthy To Be Unpleasant).  In 1969 another novel, Good Times, Bad Times, about male bonding at a private boy’s school, caused a great deal of controversy in the media, because of its supposed veiled homosexual love story which was a subject still only whispered about at the time. 

Shortly thereafter, the style of reality writing came into vogue when Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood.  So in 1970, in an attempt at narrative history capturing the same atmosphere, Kirkwood investigated the Harrison-Clay conspiracy trials in New Orleans regarding John F. Kennedy’s assassination in a thick non-fiction book entitled American Grotesque.   Soon to follow, in 1972, was a wonderful novel P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, that forthwith became a stage production.  It too, was a delightfully offbeat account, this time about a guy falling in love with a gay burglar robbing his New York apartment on New Year’s Eve.

Through an acquaintance from Marat/Sade, I had been invited to a small party in the Hollywood Hills at Christmas time the year before, where, in the course of the evening, I met the famous Mr. Kirkwood.  He was very attractive with a thin frame, and exceedingly charming, gimlet eyes.

During my experiences, I had met several novelists, but none I had admired as I did him and his writings.  I had read them all, some more than twice.  I could almost recite passages verbatim, but I refrained from doing so to keep from appearing hideous. 

We talked about various plays, and how much I had enjoyed a person I had met recently that we both knew mutually.   I tried to think of anything to say, to keep from gushing forth with outlandish accolades about his books and plays.  Eventually we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers.  Becoming bold, despite my efforts to appear nonchalant, I asked him if he would consider signing a first edition of There Must Be A Pony that I owned, if I mailed it to him? 

“Certainly,” he assured me, putting a hand on my arm.  “Although, where you ever found a first edition is beyond me.  I’ve been looking for one, for years.  But don’t trust the U.S. Postal Service. Bring it with you when you’re in New York next time, and we’ll get together and do it in person.”

Goodnight … and what a night!

Three days following the awards, I pawed through my portfolio to create an impressive presentation.  It took time to select 20 illustrations representing period, contemporary and fantasy, from the more than three hundred I had.  Finally I culled ten that represented the past three centuries, five that were contemporary, and five that were distinctively futuristic. 

Few of them had been made into costumes though.  Some were ink and watercolor illustrations I had done for a graphic arts agency representing me in Paris for the past five years.  They sold them to department stores, magazines, comic books, and pattern catalogues to use in their advertisements or commercial venues.  Now and then, the agency even found me work sketching a dress or suit in a series of poses for newspaper ads.  It was a major source of my income while learning, and it had also been pocket money that had kept me afloat during the recent times.

Drawing was second nature to me.  I had been making extremely detailed sketches since I was six, with hairdos, expressions, jewelry, costumes, shoes, bag, and in several cases, fingers and thumbs on the hands, all noticeably detailed.  A cowgirl, complete with a ten-gallon hat, boots and gun, pushing open a saloon door, even had raggedy edges on her sleeves and at the bottom of her skirt.  Hello, Calamity Jane!

I had also fallen in love with neoclassic art at the museums when I was very young.  Most of my favorite books that I was drawn to over and over again were of this period.  Later, the works of artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema especially entranced me.  I practiced feverishly to duplicate the fluidity in the draped togas and natural poses of his subjects.  Feeling somewhat accomplished with those things, I moved on to stances and postures, head placement, detailed shadowing, and a comprehensive study of hands and bare feet in particular, that helped me explicate a character completely.  The costume almost became incidental, for after all, it was the character’s presence that was most important.

Additionally, there was the actual manufacturing to take into account, so every thing I drew had to be practical and something I knew how to cut and construct.

Wrapping up the final selections I had decided upon for the presentations, along with some matching photographs for comparison, I added the new pictures I had finally received from the West Coast Production's office of Marat/Sade.  Although it had been two years since the play had closed, it had taken receiving The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award before I could get the producer to sell me four copies of the only production photos existing.

Confident of my presentation, I finally called Jimmy to inform him of my recent good fortune and award, along with the news of my upcoming trip, and who I was meeting.  At the end, I casually related to him that I had house seats for A Little Night Music, and wondered if he would be free to join me.

“Would I?” he exclaimed vociferously.  “I would kill for tickets to see it. But they are impossible to obtain.  How did you get them?”

“Mr. Prince’s assistant arranged them for me.  I told her that I liked his work and was thrilled that I was going to meet him, and was it possible to see the show?  That’s all.”

He laughed.  “From the mouths of babes!  I’ll pick you up and we’ll go have drinks first.  Where are you staying?”

“At the Sherry-Netherland.”

He laughed.  “You’ll only be around the corner from me.  I’m across the park on West 72nd.  How exciting this is! I can hardly wait.  Call me the minute you’re free.”  He almost hung up, but then added, “And bring your book!”

I next called Dionne and asked her to dinner on Wednesday night.  She was delighted and told me to pick her up at Carnegie Hall, following my meeting with Hal Prince, which was within walking distance of Rockerfeller Center.

Three days later I was in the middle of Manhattan, caught in the evening rush hour.  Several times, during past visits, I had tried to navigate its labyrinth, but I had always felt that it was somewhat akin to Oz, especially during the taxi ride from the airport.  All the looming buildings of glass and cement, and crowds of people almost everywhere, not to mention the noise, left me claustrophobic.

Throwing caution to the wind, I jumped into the crowd when the taxi deposited me in front of the Sherry-Netherland, and checked in.          

The next morning, I showered, shaved, and dressed quickly to leave the hotel by noon.  Walking north on 5th Avenue, I found an interesting side street, and turned into it, whereupon I soon discovered a small café where I ordered something to eat.

Following my little breakfast, I walked down more streets, looking at everything, until noon when I returned to the hotel, freshened up, and changed into a black suit, blue shirt and gray necktie. 

With my portfolio under my arm, I then headed for One Rockerfeller Plaza where Hal Prince had an office on the 17th Floor.  Arriving five minutes early, I entered a small waiting area with an open hallway where people hurried to and fro to the incessant ringing of many phones.  Giving the receptionist my name, I took a seat and watched the amazing spectacle that paraded past all the posters that lined the walls of productions Mr. Prince had directed. 

At exactly 2:50 I was escorted into a large room where Hal Prince stood to greet me with a welcoming smile.  We conversed for a short time before I opened my folder to show my presentation.  While he contemplated each one, he asked me questions about the various costumes regarding fabrics and accessoris, and what my future plans were.  I told him I was currently busy in Los Angeles, but I was hoping to branch out to New York, and had therefore scheduled a meeting with Shirley Bernstein later that afternoon regarding representation.  

Twenty-five minutes later, he shook my hand and congratulated me once more, saying if something came up, and if Flossie Klotz weren’t available, he would certainly keep me in mind.

I thanked him again for the tickets to the evening’s performance, and mentioned I would be there with James Kirkwood.  He smiled, and said to give him his best.

I really didn’t need to take the elevator down, as I’m sure I could have floated instead

It had been an exhilarating experience to meet with the greatest director of the musical theater and to have him spend a half an hour of his time looking at my work.

Shirley Bernstein’s address was across the street from the Russian Tea Room, several blocks away, so with time to kill, I window-shopped at several famous establishments in the vicinity, and even dared to enter Tiffany’s in spite of the fact that there was little in the store I could ever afford.

Reaching my destination as the clock struck 4:30, I met Miss Bernstein’s receptionist, in a very quiet, dignified office, and told her of my appointment.  There were no bright posters or pictures of actors she represented, only copies of the daily trades on a glass coffee table located between two dark leather sofas.  Following a telephone buzz the receptionist picked up, I was shown into the inner sanctum.

Shirley Bernstein was an elegant woman of impeccable taste.  Everything she wore looked expensive, and although I wasn’t into contemporary fashion and trends, I’m sure all her garments and accessories carried expensive designer labels.

We had a friendly chat during which I tap-danced through my illustrations once more, and told her some amusing anecdotes about several encounters with mutual friends, mentioning Jimmy’s name.

I somewhat knew at the time that these meetings would probably never come to anything, but both she and Mr. Prince were quite gracious in giving me their time and expressing their interest.  For me it was a priceless experience.

“Let’s see if I can find something for you.  I know of several productions coming up, where I could put in a good word.  And now that you’ve met Hal, I’ll talk to him again about you.”  She jotted a quick note on a pad.  “Could you return to New York quickly, if I found something prospective?”

“That’s not a problem,” I smiled, stretching the truth with a grin.  “I have a place in Gramercy Park I can use.”

“Then feel free to call me whenever you hear of anything, too.”  She extended a hand.  “And I’ll do the same.  It was such a pleasure to meet you.  Your work really needs to be seen, especially here with your background and the fact that you’re a natual-born citizen.  Keep in touch.”

Once again, I was jubilant as I returned to the hotel where I speedily called Jimmy from my room.

“Yes?” he answered, sounding very much like Tallulah Bankhead, whom he had worked with for many years.

“Hi!  I’m through with all the meetings.”

“Are you at the Sherry-Netherland?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Be downstairs, outside, in five minutes.  I’ve made some fun plans for drinks before the show.”

“I’ll be there.”

Jimmy was five feet, ten inches tall, and had curly dark hair.  His heritage was British, giving him twinkling blue eyes that always sparkled mischievously.  He wore a close cut beard and moustache that was in vogue, something I was not personally drawn to in men, but nevertheless I found rather enchanting on him.  His charm was in his personality and his spoken word that dripped with clever and very funny honey-coated vitriolic barbs.

We went to King Cole Bar at the baroque St. Regis Hotel on East 55th Street.  Entering its foyer with inlaid octagonal and square shaped marble flooring was mesmerizing, and to sit in the gold leather stylized Directoire chairs in the Black and Red bar, and be captivated by the huge, 24 foot mural of “King Cole’s Court” by Maxfield Parrish … well, I was at a loss for words.

“My God,” he explained when we sat down in a booth.  “I hope you have an I.D.  You look younger than when I met you.  What do you do?  Sleep in a refrigerator?”

When a waiter approached, I flashed him my driver’s license, while Jimmy ordered a Tanqueray martini nonchalantly.  I ordered a Singapore Sling made with Cherry Heering, a special liqueur I adored.

“Wow,” Jimmy exclaimed with a laugh, “you sure know your liqueurs.  And you don’t even look old enough to drink.”

I smiled.  “I’ve tried to pick up things here and there.”

“Well, you’re doing an amazing job.”

When a waiter came to take our order and then left, Jimmy leaned closer and conspiratorially asked, “So, how did things go?  Did anyone chase you around their desk?”

“No,” I giggled.  “I was thrilled with meeting Mr. Prince.  Not that I think he will ever hire me.  It was just nice.”

“Do you have anything lined up in Los Angeles?”

“No.  No immediate job.  But I’m hoping things will pick up with this award.  I’ve been asked to do an interview for After Dark when I get back.”  I smiled, looking directly at him.  “And you, what are you doing?”

“I usually don’t talk about projects, but I’ll tell you that I’ve been secretly working on a new musical with Michael Bennett, who will direct and choreograph.  It’s about dancers auditioning for a new show’s chorus line.”

“That sounds innovative.  Every dancer I’ve known was rather quirky, so there must be a million stories to tell.  And few are encouraged to become professionals, as it’s such an iffy occupation, where at best, going in, you’re only good for several years.  Look at poor Nijinsky; his career was over at twenty-nine.”

“You’re quite amazing,” Jimmy said, as the waiter delivered his drink to the table.  “You speak like you write in your letters. I like that.  It shows how honest you are.”

“Then, may I ask you a personal question, without seeming too intrusive?”

He threw back his head and laughed loudly.  “Yes, you can ask me anything you like.  But, never, promise me, never again, preface a question with that phrase.  Nothing in this business is truly personal.  We all suffer equally in different ways.”

“I’ve read that you worked with Tallulah Bankhead.  Was she as eccentric as they say?”

“Oh, yes,” he laughed loudly, “and more so.”

“Yet it sounds like you liked her very much.”

“In the long run, despite all our wars, I adored her.  She was very entertaining, and you were never bored for a moment in her company. That is something I very rarely ever find today amongst the many people I meet.  Most of them are trying to be copies of icons, not anything original.”

“I loved Lifeboat,” I interjected.  “It’s a great Hitchcock film but rarely ever mentioned amongst his masterpieces, or in Bankhead’s credits.”

He chuckled again, and took a long sip of his martini, looking me with a mischievous smile.  “I guess you’ve heard the behind-the-scenes scenario that went on between Miss Bankhead and Hitch during the filming, haven’t you?”

“No,” I confessed.  “I’m sure it couldn’t have been the best of conditions considering they were in a boat.  What happened?”

“This is a hoary chestnut.  I’m surprised you, even in your tender years, haven’t heard it.”  Rubbing his chin, he smiled.  “You see, Miss Bankhead was infamously known for disliking underwear.  She didn’t go without panties and bras to attract attention, she just did it to feel less constricted.  So, during the shooting of a scene in the film, in which she had to move about in the cramped lifeboat, she lifted her dress to step over the slat seats, causing Hitchcock to yell, ‘Cut!’  He rearranged the camera position and resumed the shot, only to scratch it again.  Taking Miss Bankhead aside, he bluntly said, ‘My dear, we have a dilemma when we shoot up at you, and I’m not sure how to address it.’ Pausing, he looked away. ‘I’m not certain whether this is a problem for camera, lighting, wardrobe, or for your personal hair-dresser.’”

I grinned, and then started laughing rather loudly as the whole picture sunk in. 

That’s what I loved about Jimmy’s humor.

We talked for almost an hour more, mostly regarding his work as a stage entertainer with comic partner Lee Goodman, and then we went outside to locate a taxi to take us to the Shubert Theatre. 

“Are you having fun?” Jimmy asked softly as I marveled at the rainbow of colored lights in the twilit, profuse along each sides of the street when the traffic came to a stand still.

“Oh, yes!” I replied joyously.  “I loved the St. Regis, and the albacore tuna was scrumptious.”  It was obvious that I was somewhat high from the Singapore Sling, and I’m sure the cause was the powerful Cherry Heering from Sweden that was 24% alcohol.

“Good,” Jimmy exclaimed jubilantly.  “I want you to remember everything.  It’s been a wonderful night for me, too.”

Opportunely, the traffic wasn’t too heavy, and we got to the theater soon thereafter where we were shown to exceptional center seats in the twelfth row.  When the orchestra started and the curtain rose, an absolutely dazzling set in cream-on-white came to life with a quintet of characters singing the overture. And then the entire company came on, joining in and dancing to “Night Waltz” in fin-de-siécle costumes.

Although I was young, I had already been working in the entertainment industry for over a decade, and had been involved in or had seen close to a hundred stage productions, but nothing before had ever mesmerized me as the wonderful contemporary operetta that was unfolding onstage.  By the time Hermione Gingold appeared and sang “The Glamorous Life,” I was totally enthralled.  Jimmy could see I was enchanted and nudged my knee a couple of times.  By the time the first act curtains came down following “A Weekend in the Country,” I simply sat in my seat, physically exhausted.

“Come!” Jimmy insisted. “You look drained.  Let’s have a drink at the bar, but we’ve got to hurry to beat the crowd.”

We wandered into the lobby, where the outside doors had been opened for those who smoked, and everyone, everywhere, was gloriously declaring what a masterpiece they had witnessed.

“Jimmy, dear boy,” a voice fluttered, as a small hand touched his arm.  “I thought I saw you earlier.”

“Estelle, my darling” Jimmy exclaimed, bending to embrace, and then kiss, a diminutive lady at his side.  “How wonderful to see you.” He turned to me.  “This is my dearest friend, Estelle Winwood, whom I’ve known for years.”

“I think you mean decades, dear boy,” she giggled, pursing her lips before she gave a little smile.

“Well, for a very long time, let’s say.  How are you?” Jimmy posed, touching her affectionately.

She rolled her enormous tarsier eyes, as though she were inspecting the ceiling, and twittered, “I’ve never been better, or busier, really.”

“I should guess not, after The Producers my dearest,” he smiled, stroking her hand. “Tallulah would undoubtedly be ecstatic for you.”  Kirkwood turned back to me.  “This is my dear friend, Jean-Pierre Dorléac, who’s an award winning costume designer.”

“Delighted, I’m sure,” Miss Winwood chirped before directing her wavering eyes back to Jimmy.  “What do you think of the show?  I adore it.  And, I think it’s one of the best things Herman has ever done.”

“She’s referring to Hermione,” Jimmy whispered in my ear.

“And of course, it’s been a real strain for her, working with that Johns girl again,” she tittered, “after the nasty row they had on Around the World in Eighty Days.  Herman’s had to spend terribly long hours putting up with her very rude behavior, once more.”  Estelle shifted her big eyes heavenward and sighed.  “She told me that Glynnis took forever, keeping the entire cast waiting during dress rehearsal, while she insisted a mirror in her dressing room, that was missing a screw, be hung correctly so she could get her make-up on straight.” 

As Jimmy and I chuckled, she stretched upward and gave his cheek another peck, then extended a hand towards me, murmuring, “How very nice it was to meet you.  I hope the two of you enjoy the remainder of the show. I must get back to my friend.  Call me Jimmy and we’ll have lunch.”

“My God,” I all but cried when Winwood had moved far enough away not to hear me, “that was the ‘hold me, touch me’ lady.”

“And a great many other roles, I’m sure you’ll remember.  What a truly wonderful friend.” 

A chime was sounded, indicating the end of intermission. “Well,” Jimmy sighed, “I think we’ll have to forgo the wine and find our seats.”

Although the second act of the show was as amazing as the first, I watched Glynnis Johns more acutely.   Still, the outstanding song of the production, “Send In the Clowns,” is such an amazing piece of orchestration, I think even a sick horse could deliver it well.

Maybe it was the musical’s title, or the excitement, or possibly the sensational time I was having with Jimmy, but once we left the Shubert I found the night air exhilarating.  He hailed a taxi, took me to Le Cirque for an extraordinary dinner, and then walked me back to my hotel, making plans along the way for a visit to his apartment on West 47th Street the following day, where he would sign my first edition of There Must Be A Pony.

Punctually at 11:00 the next morning, I climbed the stoop to his brownstone, book in hand, and rang the bell.  It was opened almost at once.

“Come in, come in,” Jimmy beckoned in jeans and a light blue cashmere sweater, opening the door wide.  “Did you have lunch yet?”

“No.  I slept late and skipped breakfast.”

“Ooh, that’s not good for you,” he murmured, leading me into the living room where large windows showed a small backyard area beyond, ending with the brick wall of another building at its rear.  “Well it’s good that I arranged something then. Let’s go in here,” he directed, stepping into a small room off the hall where a small table had been spread with white linen, centered by a bouquet of dark red primroses in a crystal vase.  “I thought we could eat here and talk.  It’s quite cozy.  Do you like quiche Lorraine?”

“Oh, yes.  It’s one of my favorites.”

“Good!  Well, you sit there, where you can look out the windows at that fascinating wall, and I’ll go get us some bottled water, and a little salad I put together.”

“You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.  I thought I was going to pop in quickly, so I wouldn’t disturb you.”

“Nonsense!  I had a delightful time with you, and wanted to thank you for taking me.”

Looking at the various photographs and mementos displayed in the room, I asked,  “You’ve been in the business since you were a child, haven’t you?”

“Since the earth started cooling,” he chuckled returning to the room and placing a beautifully constructed salad before me.  “From all you told me last night, it seems like we’ve been down the same paths at various times.  I, like you, have never understood why I’ve stayed with it through with all the crap.  I think persistence is what keeps me going.  I gave up thinking a long time ago I’d be working with brilliant people.”

“That’s sad to hear, but I too, feel the same.  There are so many morons working in every field of entertainment.  I used to think that once you reached the higher ranks, you’d only be with the best.  Why?  Because the cream always rises to the top.”

“So do turds,” Jimmy mused, picking up his glass in a salute.  “Here’s to all the turds one meets in life.  Inevitably though, because they are so full of themselves, they also sink.”  He laughed out loud.  “In the research I’m doing for this project, I’ve been talking to oodles of dancers, actors, and singers.  One was this girl, the daughter of a well-known director, who claimed to be an actress, but has only worked in her father’s productions.  No one else ever hires her, mainly because she has but one expression, that of a startled deer in the headlights.  And she uses it for all her responses, whether in shock, grief or joy.  Yet she thinks she’s a very gifted person because of her privileged connections!”

I nodded before answering,  “I’ve met the progeny of the famous many times.  It would be great not have to deal with them, if it were possible, which it isn’t.”

“Plus, she had a brother who wrote,” he moaned with an exasperated shake of his head.  “I ran into them several months ago at the Four Seasons bar while waiting for my date to show up.  He had an even bigger ego than his sister’s, and could only talk about a play he had written and was trying to produce.  But his bewildering narrative was scattered, the scenario made no sense, and the hero turns into a defeatist at the end.  I made an excuse when he was through, and left saying nothing but good-bye.  I had been so affected by their bombastic personalities, I didn’t know what else to do.”

“He was probably jealous of your success,” I commented between mouthfuls, “and your sound experience.”

“He had no idea what I had done, nor did I care.”  Jimmy wiped his mouth with a napkin and then picked up his empty salad plate, before reaching for mine.  “I’m sure you know from experience, but they are nothing more than strange extras in the background, in the long run.”

“Hopefully, as long as they stay there,” I added, and then jokingly said, “Until someone demands one to ‘send in the clown.’”

I returned to the hotel just before 2:00 with my signed book, changed clothes and packed up everything except for what I would need for the next day.  Then I checked out the New York City map once more, to make certain I would be heading in the right direction to find Carnegie Hall quickly.

The walk was simple, but once there, finding Dionne Chilgren became another adventure.  An assistant was called and I was led through a mammoth building filled with hallways.  Finally we reached a large studio where members of the New York City Ballet were rehearsing.  Sitting at a piano in the corner playing for them was Dionne.  Soon she took a break from the Prokofiev prelude she performed, and gave me a little wave, before pushing back her unruly light brown hair, and starting the section once more.

There were a dozen dancers in attendance but only a few performed.  Most of them stood around watching, to memorize the movements.  Of them, I recognized Patricia McBride and John Clifford, from photographs I had seen in magazines.  He waltzed about with a girl who wasn’t a principle dancer, at the beginning and then separately went into a choreographed part that was exceedingly challenging.  Yet he accomplished it magnificently.

When the last rehearsal was over at six, Dionne came and greeted me, before introducing me to various dancers, including Clifford.  We talked briefly, during which he told me that he would soon move to Los Angeles to open a ballet there.  I asked him not to forget me.

I thought John was one of the most brilliant dancers I had ever seen, and this was only a rehearsal.  Plus he was exceedingly handsome with his dark unkempt hair and piercing brown eyes.  He reminded me of a young Vaslav Nijinsky in the novels I had read about his early years.

“Come on.  Let’s go so we won’t be late,” Dionne exclaimed interrupting our conversation.  “I made reservations at a great restaurant not far from here. It will be crowded, as everyone tries to have something to eat before the theater.”

“Here’s my number and address,” I said passing John one of my newly acquired business cards.  “If I can help you out in Los Angeles, give me a call.  It was nice to meet you.”

Dionne and I walked to a lovely Italian restaurant, where we ordered a bottle of Soave, salads, and grilled fish.  Over a glass of wine, I quickly brought her up to date on my meetings and how thrilled I had been.

She was truly a sweet person with bright inquisitive eyes and a smile that rarely disappeared.  I had met her in San Francisco in the late 60’s when she was studying with the famous Hungarian pianist, Sari Biro, who had also taught the brilliant André Watts.  Several times I had seen Biro in recital, and she was equally as exciting to listen to and watch as Watts.

The dinner and exchange was wonderful, but by 9:00 I was exhausted.  So, I hailed a taxi for her, thanked her again with a kiss to the cheek, and then walked back to the Sherry-Netherland, feeling that I really needed the fresh air, what little there was of it in the city.

The flight home was a blur.  I was too thrilled to think about anything except the encounters I had experienced for my birthday.

 Nothing could have made me happier though, than to return home to sleep in my own bed.  And waking up to the find the sun in its proper place.  It made me realize that sometimes the things we take for granted, truly give us our greatest solace. 

I lived and worked out of a Swiss chalet house that had been built in the early twenties by a set designer.  It sat at the very back of a long lot on Harper Avenue, off Santa Monica Boulevard.  Twenty years following its construction the owner built a duplex in front, closer to the street.  The best entry to my place was through a gate that was in the wall off the alley that ran parallel to Santa Monica Boulevard.  At times though, the area could be rather weird as there was The Witches Shop on the boulevard whose back door was directly opposite my gate.  The comings and goings of their clientele, in every costume imaginable, was an ongoing bizarre parade that sometimes became more than horrifying after nightfall.

The mystique of the little chalet was its greatest charm.  It had high, 45 degree slanted ceilings, platform landing stairs and a balcony that ran half the length of the place, all done in black stained, hand finished mahogany.  Big windows to the right of the entrance let in wonderful afternoon light, while the small master bedroom on the second floor, with a tiny adjoining dressing room, caught the rising sun.  With all the diffused light, it truly seemed magical at times.

I called Viola the following day and left a message on her answering machine, asking her to tea.

Next, I called June Lockhart who wanted to hear everything about my wondrous New York adventures, so I told tell her about all the interesting people I had encountered.  We laughed at similar things we mutually found ridiculous and outrageous, while trying to figure out who the siblings were Jimmy Kirkwood had mentioned.  But neither of us could arrive at an answer.

Soon, telephone calls between us became a regular occurrence, especially when we had silly stories or ribald jokes to share. She had a passion for detection that was infectious, so there was always plenty to second-guess in our conversations.

June could never be mistaken for being conservative.  Often, as a profound answer she would reply to a question with a colorful four-letter word, totally disarming everyone.  But her delivery was never coarse, only extremely funny, and well timed.  And true to her word, I started designing things for her.  At first they were copies of outfits she owned and liked because they flattered her so well.  She wanted them remade in similar but different fabrics.  Then I created a diaphanous floral patterned chiffon gown of my own design in soft shades of pink, lavender and light grays that she needed for an appearance. 

Due to an emergency, she couldn’t make the final fitting, so she showed up 20 minutes early for the occasion, put it on, and without any hesitation declared, “This is beautiful.  And it fits perfectly.”  Turning about in my atelier she added, “Maybe a small safety pin, that I have right here, to secure the waistline a bit tighter, and it will be just right.  You know I always carry a little container of these,” she stated, laughing with that merry tinkle in her voice, “specifically for such an occasion.”

Also during this timeI was most fortunate to meet a lovely enchanting actress, Ahna Capri, who lived within walking distance of my house.  She had been a child star who had grown into a fantastic, bombshell blonde making headlines in Enter the Dragon and a recent independent film, Payday with Rip Torn.

“How sweet of you to come and see me,” she purred when I visited her French Quarter apartment in West Hollywood as she cradled her Maltese named Garbo in her lap. “I need something to wear to a party for the Hollywood Foreign Press,” she added, stroking the dog’s silky hair and tossing her own about. “I don’t have enough to have you design something for me, but I was hoping you could go shopping with me on Sunset Strip, and pick out something becoming.  I’ll pay you fifty dollars an hour and take you to dinner.”

I stared in fascination as she readjusted her crossed legs and tilted her curvaceous structure slightly with great aplomb.  Sitting next to her was like being with “the Girl” from The Seven Year Itch.

On the following weekend, she picked me up in her sporty Mercedes and we spent three hours visiting all the boutiques at Sunset Plaza.  Ultimately, we returned to Holly’s Harp where we had started, and selected an eggshell silk jersey goddess gown that the shop altered here and there to emphasize her curvature.  Throughout the fitting, Ahna kept asking my opinion on how much more flattering I could make it look.

Our fun afternoon ended with an early dinner, filled with loads of laughter, at an outside street restaurant that reminded me of being on the Via Veneto.   In between giggles she confessed to not having a companion for the next day’s event and asked if I would like to accompany her.

I, of course, was delighted by her proposal, but I didn’t want to appear too anxious, so I asked her to let me think about it.

Well, Ahna couldn’t stand being put off, so she mentioned the limo that was picking her up, and the many producers who would be there, to whom she would introduce me, along with all the press from various countries that would photograph us together.  And lastly she exclaimed, she didn’t have to go to the special screening of the film, but only to the party afterwards.

So I agreed hastily, with a big smile.  For after all, wasn’t it all about staying on top by being seen?

The next evening I donned navy trousers and a royal blue double-breasted button blazer with a white shirt and polka-dotted navy bow tie.  I completed it with white rope-platform oxfords of navy linen with white patent cap toes and heel guards, which were the latest style in shoes.  Ahna was only 5’ 6”, so I towered over her in the formidable footwear that required great maneuvering and concentration, lest I trip and break an ankle, or my neck.

Sure enough, the paparazzi descended upon us like vultures on lost lambs once the limousine doors were opened and I stepped out to help Ahna make an entrance that no one would miss.

Camera lights hit us instantly and people suddenly started overpowering us like an oncoming tsunami.  From somewhere, someone with the Hollywood Foreign Press appeared to guide us through doors that were pushed apart.  I became unbalanced in my platforms but Ahna reached out and pulled me close, whispering, “I haven’t any idea in the world who all these people are.  Just smile!” And she did, like the pro she was.

Led by a loud boisterous group, we found ourselves in a large ballroom with numerous bars containing every potable imaginable.  Positioned in between were tables laden with hors d’oeuvre of seafood, fresh fruit, cheese, bread, sandwiches, bagels, lox, and tiny finger desserts.  The spread was a cornucopia of delight that was being vorasiously attacked by hundreds of people.  The majority of them, I quickly realized, were blonde and hennaed bee-hived crones in outdated Evan-Picone suits, toting large bags decorated with bright fake flowers and rhinestones that looked better suited for market shopping.  Behind them scurried ovate, balding men, wiping their brows with soaked handkerchiefs in one hand, while the other pilfered bagels and bread, stuffing them into their stained, tight polyester suit jacket pockets.

“Let’s get some wine,” Ahna mewed, guiding me through the pushing throng as I toddled along.  “I’m totally parched.  How about you?”

“Look, Chaim,” a urinous blonde cackled loudly, pointing a finger at Ahna.  “It’s that slut from the film.”  She edged closer and gave Ahna a once-over.  “My!  Don’t we look all fancy-pants tonight?” she queried loudly, elbowing the man beside her.  She craned forward and in a semi-comical voice, stated, “You were really a tramp, you know?”

“Thank you.  I had good direction,” Ahna replied, pulling me along while she stepped up to the bar.  Paying no attention to the following duo, she asked me if I’d like some wine or champagne.

The intrusive woman reached into her cavernous bag and pulled forth a small recording device, turning it on.  “So, now, sweetie, what’s your name?  Oh, never mind, I’ll look it up in the press release.  Instead … who are you wearing?”

“It’s something my designer, Jean-Pierre Dorléac did for me.”  Ahna smiled at me and kissed my cheek.

“You French?” demanded the woman standing apart from the crowd where I could now see she was wearing a stained lavender double knit polyester pantsuit.  “I hope you’re not from Paris,” she grunted, pushing her recording mechanism closer to us.  “We were in Paris following the war.  I was a stringer for The Tribune.  That’s where we met,” she sighed, elbowing her companion again.  “The Parisians were unhappy with the way things ended, and that all the Jews hadn’t been rounded up, so we left we were so offended.”

“No,” I replied ignoring the slur, “I’m from Toulon.  Dans le sud, près de Marseille.”      The woman heard nothing as she busily put away her machine, before taking a plastic baggie from her carryall and filling it with olives from the adjacent table.  “Get some of the lox and the beef over there,” she instructed Chaim, pulling forth another baggie and handing it to him.

Ahna and I quickly turned away, trying to disappear into the crowd.

“Who are these vulgar people?” I asked, watching people smuggle food and chug-a-lug glasses of cheap champagne taken from trays passed around by waiters.  The breads and the crudités on the tables were disappearing faster than the vegatation in The Naked Jungle that was stripped away by marauding ants.

“These lovely people are friends of the Hollywood Foreign Press who vote yearly for the Golden Globes,” Ahna exclaimed, rather drearily.

“How can that be?” I questioned stupefied, attempting to appear balanced which was hard to do with the information I was digesting.  “Look at them stealing the food. They have no class or taste.  How can they decide on the best of anything?”

Over-looking the garish Fellini-like crowd of misfits, Ahna took a long sip from her wine and said coolly, “It’s all politics, darling, and everyone but the movie-going public knows these affairs are nothing but a pile of horse shit.”  She shifted a hip and smiled.  “But they’re paying me to be here … so here we are.  La dolce vita!

“Ahna Capri,” exclaimed a desiccated, blowsy brunette, taking advantage of the lull in our conversation.  We turned to find a disarrayed, stoned-out woman, wearing makeup that appeared to have been applied while driving in an open-top convertible that was greatly exceeding the speed limit.

“Congratulations,” she gushed through lips crookedly smeared in magenta goo.  “We met before through old Rip,” she grunted, narrowing her kohl outlined eyes.  “Rip Torn!  Or, as I like to call him, ‘Ripped.’”  Slapping Ahna on the arm she screamed, “I’m Sammy, remember?” And then turning to a rather toothy man and his date, she blurted, “This is Tony Fitzmichael.  He’s an agent.”  Clumsily adjusting her stance to put an arm around his shoulders, she then nodded towards a short brown-haired woman next to him, and supplemented, “And that’s Allison Light, who’s a marvelous makeup artist.  She did me tonight.”

“Hello,” Ahna said to the woman, giving her an exquisite smile.  “This is my good friend Jean-Pierre who’s a costume designer.”  Turning around, she showed the gown for all to admire.

“Listen!” Sammy interjected, interrupting the impromptu floorshow.  “Tony’s heard this before, but do you know about the perfect Irish gay couple?”  She tossed back her stringy hair and chortled boisterously.  “Patrick Fitzmichael and Michael Fitzpatrick.”

A silence fell over the group, before someone emitted an embarrassed snigger that sent Sammy who-ever-she-was howling.  “Have fun everyone.  I’ve got to go.  See that bald guy over there?  Well,” she exclaimed joyously, “if I can get him to fuck me tonight, I’ll have enough votes to get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting actress for the film I just did with Newman and Redford.”

As she sauntered off, Allison turned to me, licking her upper lip and announced, “I would kill to be a costume designer like you.”              

“I hope not,” I rejoined facetiously, wondering why as I surveyed the chartreuse and purple striped tunic hanging like a threadbare dishrag from her emaciated frame.

“I love costumes.  Tony always says I have the best taste,” she informed everyone, elbowing his side and almost spilling his drink.

“She does,” he insisted nervously, running fingers over heavy jowl stubble before attacking his tangled gray hair.

I looked from him to the gangling woman without a bra trying to think of something constructive to say, which was next to impossible with all the noise from the clattering trays replacing the food that had now vanished, and that my ankles were giving out on the stilts I’d been maneuvering in for over two hours.

Seeing my dumbfounded look Ahna inserted, “It takes a lot of study and practice, besides having an eye.”

“Oh, I’ve had lots of practice,” Allison declared.  “My mother used to work for Giorgio Sant’Angelo and she would bring home bags of old remnants from his workroom.  She used to make all my clothes from them and I learned everything I know from her.”

“What schooling have you had?” I inquired politely, trying to look involved while wobbling in the platforms.

“The best,” she exclaimed.  “I got fabulous grades in Home Ec and Animal Husbandry.”

“Good!  You’ll need them both, especially the latter,” I put in rapidly.

“And then?” Ahna queried, “What did you major in, at a university?”

“Oh, I didn’t waste my time with that boring stuff.  I went to San Francisco State College for a while, but it was a turnoff.  I mean, why should I learn how to draw when someone else can do it for me?”  Allison scratched the back of her left ear and then her neck repeatedly before looking directly at me.  “Listen, can I call you?  I’d like your advice as to what I need to do to get in your business.  I’m sure you know all the shortcuts.”  She stopped scratching and gazed at me solemnly  “You could really help me out, you know?  I might even know some stars who would fancy meeting you for some things.”

I was at a loss for something to say, so I quickly scribbled a number on a damp napkin, making certain the numbers were indecipherable and passed it on with a big grin.

Swiftly taking my arm, Ahna carefully guided me to the other end of the smoky room.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “for taking you away like that, but I thought if we stayed another minute, I’d start itching, too.” With questioning eyes she shuddered.  “I’m almost certain she has fleas in her hair, as Garbo paws about like that when she does.”

Fortunately, we were both able to disappear from the function soon after.  Allison never called, and Ahna and I never experienced any infestations.

June Lockhart lived in a lovely rambling unostentatious house in Bel Air that always had a fire blazing in the fireplace no matter what the season.  The spacious living room had a western exposure through floor to ceiling glass sliding doors, revealing a large flagstone-edged pool framed in stately trees, and a view overlooking a canyon.

Foreign films were always at the top of her list of things to do, and since I relished seeing French films, we attended a multitude of screenings at Los Feliz Theater that only showed foreign fare.  She knew the manager who admitted both of us once she signed her name to a guest list.  Generally, when we went to a late showing, the place was pretty empty, so June would bring thermoses of tea, and apples and nuts for us to snack upon.  We would have a sensational time watching the films, and then discussing their underlying meanings on the way home.

Through June, I met her manager Leonard Grant, who in addition to representing her also handled Kaye Ballard and Rip Taylor amongst many others.  He had, furthermore, created a singing and dancing group of twelve young men and women called The Establishment that played state fairs, conventions, and now and then opened for headliners in Las Vegas.  The assembly was structured so it could be put together at any time, with any singers, so that Leonard wouldn’t have to pay contractual salaries to anyone when there weren’t any bookings.

A week after being introduced to him socially by June, I had an interview at his Sunset Boulevard top floor office looking out at a panoramic western view.  After telling him of my affliation with Shirley Bernstein, he asked me directly if I would like to have him officially represent me in Los Angeles.  He couldn’t promise me anything, he stated, nor get me jobs, as he was a manager, not an agent, but he could open doors to people who would hire me.  And if he were responsible for something coming my way, I would give him fifteen percent of my salary.  I said yes, immediately.

Subsequently, he began by having me refit the costumes for the replacements in The Establishment, as well as designing some new things for them.  He never asked a fee since he was paying me.

I learned, straight away, that Grant was exceedingly well known in the industry.  He looked like a man of letters with a Van Dyke moustache and beard, glasses, and a pipe that was always in the corner of his mouth.  Through his representation, I was invited to many parties where I met numerous celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Paul Winfield, Peggy Lee, George Maharis, Martha Raye, Joan Caulfield, and industry moguls Mike Frankovich, and his wife, actress Billie Barnes, Ross Hunter and Jacques Mapes, and Merv Griffin.

It wasn’t long before more couture requests started coming my way.

And with all the new social connections I was making, I took Dale Olson up on his offer and called him one day, mentioning that I had met Leonard through June Lockhart.

Dale knew Leonard well, and told me how fortunate I was to have joined him, for he was a wonderful connection to have.

I then asked him about public relations, and if he knew anyone who would be interested in a novice client with little money, but some newsworthy patrons.

Dale obligingly came up with the names of a neophyte public relations team, Chicki Kliener and Marcie Rothman, who had lately formed a company and were looking for clients on the rise. 

Before long, Leonard called Chicki and Marcie, and everyone met.  They in turn introduced me to their client Joyce Selznick, another manager, who worked primarily as a casting agent, while also representing several actors and actresses.

This was my first experience in networking.

Selznick had currently been acting as talent consultant on one of MGM’s last productions, The Outfit, starring Robert Ryan, Robert Duvall, Karen Black, and Joe Don Black.  It was Ryan’s last role.

A newly discovered actress, Joanna Cassidy, was playing Robert Ryan’s trophy wife in the story, and the studio decided to promote her as an upcoming star.  Through Selznick, and then Leonard, I was soon hired to design Cassidy a promotional wardrobe that would be featured in national and international magazines, newspapers, etc., to publicize the movie’s release.

Following my presentation to the MGM producing executives, they decided upon three garments, consisting of a casual pants and halter-top ensemble, and two gowns, which would be referred to as “The Outfits.”

When everything was done, several weeks later, the studio organized a photo shoot on location where the three “Outfits” were glamorously captured in color.  The shots were first featured in James Bacon’s column for Parade, a Sunday newspaper supplement distributed throughout the country, which was then followed by a national release.

Because of the feature, Chicki and Marcie convinced Ron Pennington of The Hollywood Reporter to write a feature article, “Jean-Pierre Dorleac Designs Fast Rising Industry Career,” that appeared in the June 8th, 1973 issue.  Furthermore, Variety columnist Army Archerd wrote an extensive feature under “Hollywood Style,” that was illustrated with the three original sketches.  When it came out on June 20th, I was quoted about “The Outfits,” emphasizing details about fabric and the construction that enhanced the actress’ physique.

John Clifford telephoned soon after to invite me to one of his performances with the New York City Ballet at the Greek Theatre for August 13th.  After the performance, I met him backstage to thank him for the magnificent close-up seats.  And before he rushed off to meet other admirers, he told me to keep in touch as he was definitely putting together a ballet company for the city.

By September things advanced with a quote in Women’s Wear Daily, an interview with columnist Joyce Haber of The Hollywood Reporter and a meeting with agent Walter Kohner of the esteemed Kohner Agency, that Leonard arranged.

The last months of the year ended with numerous fittings for small theatrical jobs and my couture clientele, a magazine article about Beau Brummell selling to the men’s wear magazine, Finishing Touches, and trips to file my unemployment forms every other week, often standing in line for over an hour to receive a measly sum. 

It had been a fascinating year, but during the course of it I began to wonder if virtue, honesty, and any innate talent had anything to do with attaining decent recognition in the overall scope of things.