William Randolph Hearst ~ Boulevardier of the Year

by Kim Steele

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WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, your readers might like it. ~WRH

 

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Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

One of the most telling descriptions, for better or worse, is the fact that his Senator father, George Hearst, willed his entire fortune upon his death in 1895 to his wife, Phoebe, stating that his only son, William, was a “hopeless spendthrift.” He was not entirely wrong. He in fact assumed the control of his mother’s property in Pleasanton, California in the same year, to begin his first major construction project, the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona. He was twenty-seven at the time and building his career in newspapers, radio and film. She “re-possessed” it from him soon there after.

William (WRH) was born into wealth. His father was a gold miner, U.S. Senator and engineer. His great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to South Carolina to acquire a land grant. He was properly reared at the best of schools, St. Paul’s in New Hampshire and then Harvard College. He was expelled for sending chamber pots painted with his instructor’s faces inside, and sponsoring beer hashes in Harvard Yard. He floundered for an occupation, and landed on publishing. His father owned the San Francisco Examiner, which he gained in exchange for a gambling debt. He poured money into modern equipment and had the good sense to hire some of the best writers of the time, including Mark Twain and Jack London. He succeeded in dominating the market.

The Examiner printing exhibit, at San Francisco's 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition

The Examiner printing exhibit, at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition

Although William Randolph Hearst already owned the San Francisco Examiner, inherited from his father, he was intent on tackling New York. With $7.5 million from sale of Anaconda Copper stock, he purchased the New York Morning Journal. Sold for a penny a sheet, therefore called a ‘penny paper.’ Hearst tackled the challenge with his usual zeal –  competing head-on with Joseph Pulitzer, owner and publisher of the New York World, from whom he “stole” Richard F. Outcault, the inventor of color comics, and all of Pulitzer’s Sunday staff as well. (The Press: The King Is Dead, Time, August 20, 1951)

There were sixteen competing papers in New York at the time. Hearst succeeded in trumping the others by his generous pay scale, providing bylines for the writers for the first time, and maintaining a dignified manner.

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The art of the deal, William Randolph Hearst, Winston Churchill, Louis B. Meyer, Boulevardiers and Freemasons, 1930

Hearst changed the face of journalism. He created ‘yellow journalism’ which denotes scandalous headlines, spurious sources and lavish illustrations to capture the readers’ imagination. The name was derived from a cartoon starring bald babies in yellow nightshirts, titled Hogan’s Alley. Circulation peaked at 150,000. His sensationalism reached the height of audacity by allegedly starting the Spanish American War, when after receiving a telegram from the artist Fredric Remington claiming there was no war in Cuba, he responded: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Hearst even sailed there to report on the mistreatment of Cubans by the Spanish in an exemplary manner.

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It was at this time that Hearst dove into Democratic politics. He ran for mayor, Senate (even backed by Tammany Hall), Governor of New York, and even President. He did succeed to hold two terms as a Congressman from New York’s 11th district. His empire grew to Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, and Seattle with the ownership of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. By mid 1920s he had twenty-eight publications under his leadership. In 1924 he opened the New York Daily Mirror, a racy tabloid boldly imitating the New York Daily News, Among his other holdings were two news services, Universal News and International News Service, or INS, the latter of which he founded in 1909. He also owned INS companion radio station WINS in New York; King Features Syndicate, which still owns the copyrights of a number of popular comics characters; a film company, Cosmopolitan Productions; extensive New York City real estate; and thousands of acres of land in California and Mexico, along with timber and mining interests. (Wikipedia) The Hearst empire still owns a popular magazine, Cosmopolitan, and created a now dead publication Connoisseur in which this author published an article on the famed Aubusson tapestry.

Hearst did return in frustration in 1919 to the West Coast, and began to expand his empire in Los Angeles as well, with a Julia Morgan designed Examiner Building there. This began his life-long relationship with Ms. Morgan as his lead designer, culminating in the tour de force of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, along the central coast of California on a ranch his father had acquired years before. He was a very mercurial and demanding client. The project began in 1920, and was never really ‘finished’ but work was halted in 1938. Hearst left there in ill health to reside in Los Angeles, and sadly never returned to his beloved residence. Morgan visited almost every weekend, a distance of two hundred miles from San Francisco by train and car. She returned by night train on Sundays and appeared devotedly to her office every Monday morning. Her engineer was not as stout. William was eventually forced to move to Los Angeles by his health.

In 1903, Hearst married Millicent Veronica Willson (1882–1974), a 21-year-old chorus girl, in New York City. He envisioned a place where his family of five sons could enjoy the great outdoors. This was his greatest enterprise, and remains to this day one of the magnificent homes in the U.S. His propensity was for frequent mind changes, often to aggrandize the properties, sometimes lacking the necessary immediate funds. WRH collected antiquities voraciously his entire life, concentrating on Medieval Spanish design which formed the core of San Simeon. Most notable in his collection were his Greek vases, Spanish and Italian furniture, Oriental carpets, Renaissance vestments, an extensive library with many books signed by their authors, and paintings and statues from all over the globe. He took frequent trips to Europe to acquire his beloved objects, sometimes beyond his means.

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Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hearst Castle pool, San Simeon, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearst holdings included a million acres in Mexico, the Babicora Ranch. Hearst’s father, U.S. Senator George Hearst, had acquired land in the Mexican state of Chihuahua after receiving advance notice that Geronimo – who had terrorized settlers in the region – had surrendered. His mother expanded the holding as early as 1886. He wrote to his mother,  “I really don’t see what is to prevent us from owning all Mexico and running it to suit ourselves.” (David Nasaw, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph, Hearst, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001)

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The Hearst Building, San Francisco, CA

The Hearst news empire reached a circulation and revenue peak about 1928, but the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the vast over-extension of his empire cost him control of his holdings. He never recovered nor did his holdings. He carried on as Publisher even visiting Berlin to interview Adolf Hitler. When Hitler asked why he was so misunderstood by the American press, Hearst retorted, “Because Americans believe in democracy, and are averse to dictatorship.” Hearst’s Sunday papers ran columns without rebuttal by Hermann Göring and Dr. Alfred Rosenberg.

Meanwhile Hearst had purchased the Welsh Vale of Glamorgan property, St. Donat’s Castle, and revitalized it in 1925 as a love gift to Marion Davies, the Hollywood comedic actress who became his life long mistress. This included building thirty-nine green and white marble bathrooms. Hearst and Davies spent much of their time entertaining and held a number of lavish parties, the guests at which included Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Winston Churchill, and a young John F. Kennedy. Upon visiting St. Donat’s, George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying: “This is what God would have built if he had had the money.” Hearst’s wife never visited the castle.

Late in his life, WRH planned another project, originally the Milpitas Ranch near the Mission of San Antonio de Padua, to be an elaborate hunting lodge to accommodate his romantic idea of guests riding on horseback, about thirty miles inland to Jolan. Today, it’s located inside Fort Hunter-Liggett and operated as a hotel. It was a great concrete reinforced Mission style hacienda complete with massive columns. The apartments linked to a grand dining room and a spectacular second floor domed receiving room.

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The Hacienda, Milpitas, CA

 

 

 

Morgan continued to work for the family after his death, including for son George, who requested her to rework the Hillsborough home just south of San Francisco. But her most memorial work for him, aside from the Castle, was the corporate headquarters of Hearst Publications in San Francisco which begun in 1937 and stands to this day on a prominent intersection.  His spirit  lives on to this day with twenty-nine titles, including the important imprints of  Esquire and Town & Country, receiving nine nominations for the National Magazine Awards in 2015.

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Marion Davies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 In suggesting gifts: Money is appropriate, and one size fits all. ~WRH

 

William Randolph Hearst was a Boulevardier in the truest sense of the word. He followed his beliefs, creatively shaped an industry and exhibited gorgeous taste while leaving behind a legacy that lives to this day. His eccentric tastes included a world renowned armor collection housed at his residence at 137 Riverside Drive, just up the street from this publisher’s NY home. The stately mansion, titled The Clarendon, had a Mansard top floor to present the pieces which he eventually bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum which displays them dramatically today.

William Randolph Hearst… a legend, and an inspiration to us Boulevardiers…

How to be Successful in the Arts 101… Shear Madness

by Sally Steele

 

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“I’ll never forget my first words in the theatre. Peanuts. Popcorn.”

Henny Youngman

 

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What happens when 2 actors from upstate New York decide to pursue their dreams, buy the rights to a murder-mystery written in German, by Swiss playwright Paul Portner for $50,000, turn it into a comedy, and spend another $60,000 to stage the play in Boston … well, actually, 35 years of creativity, delighting audiences, highs, lows, learning, a lot of hard work and money in the bank.

The Boulevardiers were on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and out for a day trip of snorkeling and reveling in the surrounding beauty. With one Boulevardier in the water, and one on deck, a chance meeting with a brand new, petite, funny, successful, artistic Boulevardier has resulted in a fabulous new friendship, and the telling of the following tale.

 

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Marilyn Abrams, “Greenie”, and Bruce Jordan are the sole partners in the creative giant that has become the longest running play in the U.S., Shear Madness. Marilyn (MA): “I decided I was going to be an actress when I saw Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun…shooting out light bulbs while spinning around on a roulette wheel.  Never got to do that.”

The comedy opens in the hair salon, with the owner, Tony giving a haircut to Mike, an undercover police officer. The rest of the cast is introduced in witty one-liners. Each member of the cast complains about the mean-spirited second-floor tenant, an old concert pianist. The first act closes with her murder. This is where things get unusually interesting; the audience becomes the audience and actors in the play by asking questions of the four suspects. The cast keeps the dialogue ever-lively with wit creatively colored by humor of the day which is rewritten every day before the performance and specific to the city or country where the performance is happening.

 

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Shear Madness breaks down the traditional “fourth wall” in theater. The “fourth wall” is a theatre term referring to the imaginary line, or wall, between the actors on the stage, and the audience.

 

Why is Shear Madness different?

MA: “Shear Madness was literally, the first time that the fourth wall ever came down. What happened when we were in the play, at that point in the second act was the house lights went on, the audience became unexpected actors, and there was an audible gasp from everyone.”

“It isn’t the same now, people are so much more used to being a part of the show. I never say audience participation because if I read that I would never buy a ticket!”

 

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“You enter the Shear Madness salon, but you enter it today. It takes place in whatever city you see it in, local humor, national humor. The structure of the play unfolds as the daily activities in the salon, then the murder is committed, and BANGO, in come the cops. The audience then needs to reconstruct the crime. And that‘s where all the laughs come in. You see how eyewitness perceptions are so wrong…how people are right and wrong in how they perceive the crime.”

“During intermission, the audience can ask questions of the detective. The interesting thing about the end is that it gets fairly dramatic. There was a theatrical producer who desperately wanted the show, she said, ‘the ending of it is like the coda to a musical piece because it becomes so different at the end.’ “

 

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“Every night we change the clues, people come back to see Shear Madness many times, all the time. Whatever is current that day in that location is going to be in the play that night. It makes the show ever-green, Shear Madness is never going to become a has-been, it is of the minute. When the actors come in every night they say, ‘what happened today, where can we put this, how can we make this happen?’ “Shear Madness has a beginning, a middle and an end and each changes every day…that in itself makes it very unusual.”

“Being our own bosses has made us able to do so many things, so many firsts. Bruce and I are the creators and the investors; we didn’t have to consult with anybody along the way. When we opened in Boston we had a handful of people in the audience, and we were in the play. We knew they were loving it. We said, we gotta spread the word of mouth! Having the luxury of losing all the money we were losing, we took everything in hand, followed nothing standard, we just did what we thought was common sense.”

 

What was your most unanswerable question?

MA: “OMG, what if nobody in the audience asks a question…the answer is that never happens.”

“Barcelona came to us. That was our first international production of Shear Madness, Bruce & I went to Barcelona, they came to Chicago to train with us. They said, ‘this will never work in Spain, these people are used to the Franco regime, they’re never going to question the police.’  “Well, the Spanish audience leapt out of their seats, yelling, screaming, and having fun!”

“We’ve had very good runs in Spain despite Franco.”

“Our Paris production just won the Moliere Award, the equivalent to an American Tony Award. I think in Europe it’s even more popular now than in the US. They’ve never seen audience involvement, whereas in the US that’s a little more common.”

 

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How did you get audiences into an unscripted play with no stars?

MA: “Our 35th anniversary is January 29, 2015, in Boston, our original intention was to stay open for 8 weeks. My indentured servitude! We’d make $100 per week, lose $200 a week, we never opened on a shoestring. We have always had first class actors, a beautiful set, the best publicist, and the best advertising agency.  When we use our trained actors, we liked to use the experienced head cop and the flamboyant hairdresser.”

“Our advertising agency in Boston said after we had run for a few months, ‘you guys have given this your all, but we think you should call it quits.  Summer’s coming and all of the Boston theaters shut down.’ ”  Bruce and I simultaneously said,”great we’ll stay open and be the only show in town.  That turned the corner for us.”

“We realized that we needed the groups to buy tickets. We hired an outside group sales agency. Annie was playing at that time and all the calls were for Annie. We had mixed reviews but no acting star. We realized early on that we had to take groups in house, that was a huge, huge thing to do. But first we had to find the groups. Then we made the decision that we were never going to try to sell them. We begged and borrowed to get the group leaders in, and then would follow up, and say, how’d you like it. Every single one loved it and they all booked & booked & booked. That was the modus operandi we’ve used in every one of our group sales locations.”

“Now everybody has this. It was revolutionary back then. We had so many things happen because we did everything ourselves. I would poll them next morning from my office/bedroom, ‘well I know you were at the show last night how’d you like it.”

“I have a fond memory of a group leader from the GenRad company who I called the morning after .  He loved Shear Madness and said he would like 200 tickets.  I almost fainted but regaining my aplomb I told him I would check our availability.   Availability?  We had nothing BUT tickets!”

“We called Harvard Business School, and asked them if they would like to do a study on targeted advertising. The Professor brought his graduate class to the play, he said, ‘we can’t figure it out because everybody loves it.’ Every concierge in every hotel was in our network and sent us tons of business. We would ride our bikes around Boston to deliver the flyers. The concierges all knew us. We never waited for the phone to ring, we followed up. No play owners ever belonged to a convention bureau, we did. Eventually we didn’t have to sell Shear Madness, we just had to get the people there.”

 

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Do you ever call what you have accomplished “redefining” what a play is?

MA: “Redefining is an interesting word. This summer I was speaking to a young fellow in his 20’s. He said, ‘I love Shear Madness and want to bring all of my company to see it, we are a tech company, we are disruptors, you’re a disruptor too.’ “  “How do you like that? What is it, a disruptor? It’s a brand new word, somebody who takes an existing business and goes about it in a different way. I realize that’s what Bruce & I have done, we had no previous knowledge of what to do, we just did what made sense to us. It was our money and we were committed to making it a success! We did so many new things, it was like opening a store, every time we opened a new Shear Madness we considered it opening a new company store.”

“We had computers very early on, we never used ticket agencies. Our own systems told us who bought tickets, how many, what class of tickets, that was another first. Everybody else used ticket agencies. A few places we can’t do this, like Kennedy Center. We were our own entrepreneurs. We had this wonderful freedom to try these things. Someone said, ‘you have to get all the hairdressers in.’ We did get all the hairdressers in.  We thought it was a great idea.  It never sold a ticket. We didn’t even get a free haircut. Not everything thing we did was pure genius.”

 

Did you ever see yourself taking as the one to take on the business side of Shear Madness? Did you ever get jealous because Bruce was doing the creative part?

MA: “Never, Bruce is a fabulous director, I was never a director. We’ve had a fantastic relationship because we both picked up what had to be done. I didn’t know I was going to do this money in the bank side of the business. I was the one who talked to the customers. I loved it because I absolutely LOVE the customers.  When Bruce and I did all these other jobs we still played eight shows a week for years and years and years. Bruce & I always jointly handled the PR.”

“When we saw the airlines were doing advance sales, we thought, we can do this! If it works for the airlines maybe it will work for us. It’s a lot of fun thinking about the things you can possibly do. When we learned more, we realized we couldn’t rely on local groups, we had to branch out to national and then international tour & travel operators. This is a big part of our business. You just kind of fall into these things somehow.”

 

When did Cranberry Productions come about? MA: “When we opened Boston.”

Why is it called Cranberry Production? MA: “What else do you put on a turkey?”

MA: “Another non-standard thing we did was that, we never had a general manager. We still do that out of our home base in Albany, NY, and all the accounting we do ourselves. It’s a lot to learn. We have a foreign language agent for international productions.”

 

What keeps you and Bruce creatively in control?

MA: “We insist that every adapter & director come to train in Boston or Washington, DC with Bruce & his assistant director. Also all licensed companies in the U.S. do this too. In the US & Canada, we also send our own directors. It’s very hard to keep Shear Madness artistically the way we want it.”

“Many years ago Mike Nichols & Buck Henry came to see the play, I had dinner with them, poor Bruce had to act in the second show. They loved it. Mike said, ‘pick up that little theatre and take it all over the country, the biggest challenge you will have is how it how to keep it artistically the way you want it.’ We learned early on that artistically you have to keep control.”

 

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How do feel when you sit in the theatre and watch Shear Madness today?

MA: “Well I love it, if it’s something I’ve never heard. Bruce & I don’t understand the foreign language but we always know how it’s going because we know where the laughs should go.”

“We’ve had terrific actors over the years who have invented many things. The challenge to Bruce is how to recreate the things that happen in the world that are so great for Shear Madness.”

“Sometimes the audience comes up with things that are really funny, and we think how do we put this in?  That’s why we like to use our trained actors, particularly the head cop Nick, he knows how get the audience involved and try to recreate the things that happened before that are so funny.”

“Sometimes I feel great and sometimes I say OMG does this show need work!”

 

Is there anything you would want to say to Boulevardiers everywhere? How do you inspire artists in an age where it is so hard to be an artist?

MA: “It’s hard to answer because everybody is different. If you want to do it and you love doing it and it’s something that you have a passion for and you’re always thinking about it, then do it. Particularly for actors I understand how incredibly difficult it is. There are so many more actors than jobs. It’s an unanswerable question really. Everybody has to find an answer for themselves. My husband and I have 4 kids and not one a serial killer. They’ve taken pride in the fact that their mother is an actress and not home a lot. Artistic ventures are not steady incomes. Ask yourself, how happy are you doing what you are doing? I have a very supportive husband. He always encouraged me.”

 

What keeps you interested in the 21st century?

MA: “I’m interested in your online artistic presence, The Boulevardiers. That’s a whole new world that we are becoming more acquainted with. People are turning more & more online. I see how differently the actors are prepared in such a new way, everybody comes in with instant videos, and what they need to sell themselves.”

 

What you have done embraces every day. The business of what you do is very strong. You & Bruce have been able to combine the extemporaneousness of art with a business model that you invested in built & enjoy. What do you say to young Boulevardiers?

MA: “You can’t let fear overtake you. I remember when Bruce & I first saw our theatre at the Kennedy Center, and we said this 300 seat black box would be perfect. It took us about a year to get Kennedy Center to come see Shear Madness and then say ‘Go.’ They said go and we panicked, how can we do this, it’s such a big place, we don’t know how it going to work. Buyer’s remorse. I was driving to NY, and I stopped at a payphone, I told Bruce we ain’t gonna sit on the porch of an old folks someday home wondering what we would have done if we went to the Kennedy Center.”

“I have a very rare partner, when we rarely disagree we say, how important is that to you? Be brave, and do it! The only things I’m sorry about are the acting opportunities I did not accept, those are the things I didn’t go for.”

 

You’re still laughing, smiling, and so humble. I guess that’s part of the joy of your success. You have a very true appreciation of what makes you & Bruce different, what you didn’t think you were going to do. It has been a labor of love, of bravery, common sense and reading the tea leaves. When you had the big gulp moments, you said we’ll make it work. You’ve controlled your beginnings & endings; you knew how to undo something that wasn’t to your standards. Is this how you see yourselves?

MA: “The decisions…that’s the big thing. Sometimes were not all that smart. We always get down to the basic things, we say, ok if you had nothing else to consider, if it had nothing to do with money, what do you really want…and you take it from there, scale it back, and sometimes it works! It’s pretty simplistic.”

“Who doesn’t love a happy ending? Isn’t it great to be an artistic inspiration rather than a disruptor?”

 

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Boulevardiering — the verb

by Sally Steele

 

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The Boulevardiers are proud of and bemused by the mileage and velocity we are encouraging via our use of the term Boulevardiering (our Twitter name). We are Boulevardiers, indeed Chesterfieldian, flâneurs, fops, walking-stick nuts, so are most of our friends, and garnering that curiosity and energy is the reason we started this publication over 2 years ago. We are in world-class company here: Irving Mansfield, John Garfield, Leo Lindy, Walter Winchell, even Ethel Merman. As our readership grows, and our reach extends internationally, we are humbled and empowered by the statement we make.  We encourage all to Promenade through life, from the Great Promenade in Central Park to the various promenades along the water fronts world-wide, Cannes come to mind.  A tradition hundreds of years old in Europe, and we have experienced it.  Sit and watch the strollers go by in the hour before dinner, then join them while others watch.  This occurs even in the small towns, like Lucca, Italy.

 

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Some recent Boulevardiering references we have seen, human, animal, and worldwide…for your reading pleasure.

 

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T. G. Lewis, Book of Extremes: Why the 21st Century Isn’t Like the 20th Century, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, 2014: “Boulevardiering is one of the most endearing customs of urban Italians–parading up and down major thoroughfares of Rome and other Italian cities in one’s finest clothing. It is largely and extrovert’s sport played by social animals with an abundance of self-confidence. Boulevardiering regularly breaks out among the Neapolitan natives near the Castel Nuovo off Via Nuovo Marina Boulevard or most anywhere the stylishly dressed Italians happen to go in the cool evening after siesta and before dinner at 9pm. Italians love to be spontaneous, but with style. The fondly call these spontaneous exhibitionists, “Boulevard Animali”–parading animals.”  The term has been elevated to an adjective in a New York Times article describing a new bistro in Manhattan, Buvette, as a “flaneur-magnet.”

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Boulevardiering has spread to other, more uptight countries like the USA. Southern Methodist University students in Dallas Texas have been doing it for years. Typically the SMU Mustangs parade around campus prior to a big game against the rebel Black Bears of the University of Mississippi. It started in 2000 as a kind of extemporaneous celebration in honor to the new Gerald J. Ford Stadium. SMU needed something bigger and better than the Black Bear tailgating parties in Mississippi. So they turned “boulevard” into a verb–an act of one-upmanship over the University of Mississippi. It must have worked, because SMU students have been boulevardiering ever since.

Boulevardiering holds wonderful nuances . As the day wind dies down, and the Italian sky turns august, people turn out gradually at first, and then in droves – linked arm in arm, all ages and sexes. When dinnertime arrives the crowd fades just as orderly and smoothly as it gathered. Whether parading around in one’s fashionable attire in Italy or baseball cap and war paint in Texas, the ritual is a predictable one–smooth and rhythmic as one would expect from a civilized and sophisticated people.

 

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Forest and Stream, Volume 83, By Charles Hallock, William A. Bruette: “Nor were these the only feathered people that come to our cabin. One spectacular being clothed like a boulevardiering cavalier and having the mein if a finished chesterfieldian gentleman was noted seated in an oak near the cabin one day. It did not take more than one sweep of the eye to place him. I smiled grimly and called Fred’s attention to him.”

 

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A Review of, A Flâneur for All Seasons, by James Guida: “Of all the instances in literature of direct advice, there can be few to rival Peter Altenberg’s: “Get thee to the coffeehouse!” This is the fin-de-siècle Austrian writer’s prescription for a host of life’s ills. You’re broke, there’s a rip in your boots, you have a fickle lover or no lover at all, you want to do yourself in, or you just “loathe and revile people and yet can’t live without them”? Altenberg is unswerving: to the coffeehouse. Rilke might impress on us the urgency of changing one’s whole life for the better—some excellent self-help, provided it can be glimpsed how. While waiting for enlightenment to take hold, Altenberg is your man.”

“Peter Altenberg, or “P.A.” for short, was the pen name of Richard Engländer, born in Vienna in 1859 to a well-to-do merchant family, and a Jewish convert to Christianity, Engländer walked out of courses in law, botany, and medicine before, in his thirties, giving himself over to a life of thorough and eccentric bohemianism. He is reputed to have spent most of his adult waking hours in coffeehouses, and the sleeping ones in a hotel that was little more than a brothel. As for writing, his chosen medium was a feuilleton-style prose poem of anywhere from a sentence to a few pages in length, and he did wonders with it. Though far from the only painter of modern life, Altenberg seems singular even when compared to his nearest literary kin: less austere and allegorical than Baudelaire, and more involved with society than Robert Walser, his short prose approaches form in ways that are uncannily relevant now.”

“Altenberg was central in his time: a friend of Berg, Klimt, and Loos, he had a large audience of female readers and a roll call of admirers that included Kafka, Kraus, Mann, Musil, and, yes, Rilke. Even the writers who quarrelled with him were ready to contribute funds when he was in trouble. Perhaps alone among authors who answer to the description of “walking-stick nut” and who sell their own handmade jewelry in cafés, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize.”

 

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Dancing at Ciro’s: A Family’s Love, Loss, and Scandal on the Sunset Strip, by Sheila Weller “Helen’s antic childhood friend Irvie Mandelbaum was now Broadway’s “boy genius” publicist. Borrowing a page from John Garfield (nee Garfinckle) and Ethel Merman (nee Zimmerman), Irvie had renamed himself Irving Mansfield, and he was living, like Herman, in a Broadway hotel, boulevardiering with all-the-rage bandleader Richard Himber and stopping in at Leo Lindy’s with Walter Winchell and Dave’s Blue Room to jostle the showgirls, many of whom Herman directed.”

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Time Out, 1000 Great Holiday Ideas, edited by Chris Moss: “It’s almost unbelievable anyone still flies or ferries to France, when you can go by Eurostar for less that 60 quid. For that quick romantic getaway, a weekend in the city of love, especially in spring or autumn, still delivers in terms of candlelit bistros, afternoon in cafes, and boulevardiering in the Marais. Get yourself in the mood by having some bubbly on board the train.”

 

A review of The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, by Edmund White: “White’s Paris is seen on foot, as a flâneur, a stroller who aimlessly loses himself in a crowd, going wherever curiosity leads him and collecting impressions along the way. Paris is the perfect city for the flâneur, as every quartier is beautiful and full of rich and surprising delights. But this is no typical tour of monuments and museums; it is much more intimate and surprising. As a flâneur of Paris for 16 years, White knows where to find the very best of everything–silver, sheets, plum slivovitz. He can tell you where to get Tex-Mex surrounded by a dance rehearsal hall, where to rent an entire castle for a party, or even where to get Skippy peanut butter. He eschews the pearl-gray city built by Napoleon and roams the places where the real vitality lives, the teaming quartiers inhabited by Arabs and Asians and Africans, the strange corners, the markets where you can find absolutely anything in this city that accommodates all tastes. White’s Paris is a place rich in history with a passion for novelty and distractions.”

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In Praise of the Flâneur, Paris Review, by Bijan Stephen: “The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: “[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,” as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like.”

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Arnold Newman – Master Class in Portraiture

by Kim Steele

Photography of Photographers

 

Portraiture is about revelations.  Either for the subject or the artist.  So often in painting, El Greco, or Singer Sargent – exemplified by his most famous portrait, Madam X, the subject is somewhat incidental, especially out of the cultural context of the era.  But in photography, the subject is paramount.  Some portraitist assume the highest position, as with Annie Leibowitz, most are circumspect.  There is a grand tradition of portraits in photography; in fact it was the ‘studio’ portrait that gave most credence to the burgeoning art form in the mid-nineteenth century.

Due to the limitations of materials and equipment, the subject remained static for minutes at a time, and it required elaborate developing processes.  Now especially with the digital age, the process has been stripped away entirely, and only the subject and artist are revealed to the viewer.  In the other direction, the celebrity images in Vanity Fair and T Magazine are stuffed with ornate details and references, to the point of distraction.

In this powerful exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the mastery of Newman is keenly evident.  I took a workshop from Newman in the seventies, after which he offered me an assistant position, for meager $50 a week which I could not afford in New York City, but thankful none-the-less.

What is unique in this retrospective, rich with gorgeous silver prints, was in the inclusion of portraits of many photographers of the day.  Here you have an interesting confluence, a master portrait photographer capturing a master perceptor of visual content – namely themselves.  I can speak for myself, having shot many portraits for Time and Forbes, as well as corporate subjects, that an experienced photographer can ‘visualize’ themselves in a the portrait.  Cartier-Bresson claimed the ‘decisive moment’ term but also ‘pre-visualization,’ along with Minor White.  It is evident here that the subjects are very keenly aware of their own presentation, and stage themselves accordingly.

So my focus here is on the image resulting from the collaboration of Newman with famous photographers.  His Stravinsky portrait is his most famous, but his images of photographers are a less known oeuvre.

 

 Arnold Newman, Sir Cecil Beaton, photographer and designer, Broadchalke, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, 1978.

Arnold Newman, Sir Cecil Beaton, photographer and designer, Broadchalke, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, 1978

 

Starting at the most self-conscience, is the dramatic theatrical master, Cecil Beaton.  Like Dali, his close friend, he was intimate with the power of the ’set,’ which he used here to full advantage, with propping of a cane, hat and sumptuous surroundings, he presents himself to the viewer as he intends.  There is little hand of Newman here to be seen, except for the rich lighting.

 

Arnold Newman, Ansel Adams, photographer and teacher, Carmel, California, 1976

Arnold Newman, Ansel Adams, photographer and teacher, Carmel, California, 1976

 

Ansel Adams poised approachably in his Yosemite studio, is surrounded with his trademark Natural elements.  Newman has always employed environmental elements (but disdained his characterization as the father of environmental portraiture).

“For me the professional studio is a sterile world,” said Newman in a 1991 interview. “I need to get out: Be with people where they’re at home. I can’t photograph ‘the soul,’ but I can show and tell you something fundamental about them.” (Museum press release)

So Adams seems right at home here, a collaborative venture.  This contracts dramatically to his two contemporaries, Avedon and Penn who trusted the studio to lay bare the innards of the subject which employes their own artifice.

 

Arnold Newman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer, New York, 1947

Arnold Newman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer, New York, 1947

 

Cartier-Bresson’s portrait is unique in that little is revealed about him as he glances away from the camera, while being flanked by a large negative space of emptiness.  Camera in hand, and an intense gaze that seems to be his shaping up a decisive movement, he could be anyone of that era.  This seems candid, especially in the oeuvre of Newman’s work, very casual, though the clothing is very revealing – like Man Ray painting in a suit.

 

Arnold Newman, Brassai, photographer, on his studio roof of 39 West 67th, New York, 1976

Arnold Newman, Brassai, photographer, on his studio roof of 39 West 67th, New York, 1976

 

Brassaï, original name Gyula Halász, from Romania, whose images of the night scene in Paris are captivating and passionate.  I once had the honor of entering a room at night in the San Remo overlooking Central Park where the room was entirely lined with the jewel-like prints of his of Paris nightlife.  Unforgettable.  Here he is almost asserting his right over Newman on how to be memorialized.  He is unshakably self-confident in his persona, and giving Newman the eyeball as to how he should be rendered – clearly on his own terms. The gesture of his hand over his heart is revealing as to his intention.  There is a famous quotation from Bernard Shaw when he was sitting for a portrait.  He asserted that “one should present one’s most important asset forward.”  For him, it was his forehead.  Here for Brassaï, it was his heart.

 

Arnold Newman, Robert Doisneau, photographer, New York, 1981

Arnold Newman, Robert Doisneau, photographer, New York, 1981

 

In complete contrast, Robert Doisneau, who has captured two for the most memorable images of the twentieth century (later disputed to be ‘staged’).  His portrait here is the most contrived of the bunch.  There is no apparent reason or rhyme for his peering around the edge of a sheet of seamless paper in Newman’s studio above the Café Des Artist Restaurant in New York.  Unless one interpreted that seeking a street spontaneous image is like peaking into the world around a corner is the portrait here, but that is a stretch. His face is intently focused on the camera.  He is a handsome man but no revelations are offered here.

Several of his other portraits of photographers range from brilliant, Edward Steichen whose environments says as much about his curatorial role as his photographic one; to the ordinary, as with the first Modernist photographer Paul Strand, with his wife standing just so.  It is difficult to judge some of these, in an era of overkill of images from Instagram and Facebook.  Clean, sparse and direct, they sometimes lack a certain hutzpah. William Eggerton poises with head and equipment, Manuel Bravo flirts with shadows reminiscent of his stark images of nudes, and Aaron Siskind sits before his signatory peeling painted walls.   Sometimes the contrivance of the subject is unresolved, Bill Brandt’s decompositions, JP Witkin’s curious eyes, and Eugene Smith’s portraits seems to miss the mark entirely.

Newman set the bar very high for portraiture, especially the incorporation of the setting and props.  There is still a very strong tradition of portraits, mostly now in the celebrities arena, led by the likes from Josef Karsh to contemporary Mark Seliger. With the death of some of the greatest image makers, Avedon, Penn and Newman, we are in a more disposable era. Are selfies the new portrait? I understand now that photographers must complete a hundred page contract before the sitting to restrict most aspects of the portrait session, and the usage of the resulting imagery.  Media representatives hovering around the session does not a candid portrait make.  But the honesty of Newman’s imagery is a breath of fresh air and well worth the visit to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, I heartily recommend it, especially for those of us who can remember who these artist were and their importance in our culture.

 

ARNOLD NEWMAN – Master Class, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, on view until February 1, 2015

 

 

 

The Era of AREA ~ New York’s most revered club

October 31, 2014

AREA partygoers, from Photos from Area--1983-1987, by Eric Goode and Jennifer Goode, Abrams Books, photograph by

In 1983 a nightclub opened in Manhattan unlike any before it. Minimally named “AREA,” the club would set a new precedent not only in the nightlife world, but also in the art world. More precisely, during its relatively short reign from 1983-1987, AREA represented a heady commingling of these two worlds. While its chronological precedent […]

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“Nothing should be noticed.”

October 12, 2014

Marella Agnelli, Truman Capote, and Bunny Mellon, with unidentified man, lunching at Lafayette the day after Capote's Black and White ball

“I don’t know what I’ve done that has made people so interested in me, more than anyone else.” Imagine being Bunny Mellon. From Listerine heiress, to Paul Mellon’s wife, to designer of the White House Rose Garden, to age 103 and upon her death 1000+ items from her collection donated to the National Gallery of […]

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Elwood Smith – Today’s Dagwood

September 28, 2014

elwoodsworld

    Elwood H. Smith is an illustrator who speaks a language that appeals to various strata of readers.  I can remember my father laughing out loud at the comics. I have read The New York Times for thirty-five years, and they deign to include the ‘comics’ for it’s low brow aesthetic.  That is fine […]

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Italy: Non abbastanza monete nella fontana…

September 11, 2014

La Dolce Vita, and the Trevi Fountain

  Non abbastanza monete nella fontana…not enough coins in the fountain! Italy has the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, currently 75. In a country which bleeds culture, history is an irreplaceable natural resource. We have seen first-hand that Italy is crumbling. To the rescue come some legendary names in fashion […]

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Portrait of a Photographer as a Young Man

August 26, 2014

Self-Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah
1958, Photograph by Ansel Adams, Collection Center for Creative Photography, © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

  ANSEL ADAMS FORMATIVE YEARS     Born at the turn of the century, Adams grew up in the hinterlands of dunes and beaches of the City of San Francisco.  Descending from Maine stock, originally from Northern Ireland, the Adams Family created a niche in the physical and social scene of San Francisco.  Ansel could […]

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Comic CONsciousness

August 10, 2014

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“The great thing about the comics industry is that it’s driven by passion …it isn’t driven by money.” Royden Lepp, graphic novelist, The New York Times, 7/28/14 The New York Times: Armed Animals Don’t Invent Themselves ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Character Creators Fight for Cash and Credit “Like millions of moviegoers over the weekend, Bill […]

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