I was born a very ordinary child. I was neither exceptionally smart nor exceptionally talented. The possible exception was that I learned to read a little earlier than most and I read voraciously. This did not make me the head of the class, though at one point I skipped half a grade. I was not the tallest or the shortest. I was not the most athletic, de-spite the fact that both my parents had been athletes. At the same time, legend has it that I stood on my hands unaided at two and a half years old.
I did not find myself exceptionally interesting, nor did others. At the same time, I did not lack for friends and playmates. It seemed to me that I grew more interesting as I grew older. Part of that may be my own prejudice. Still there were things in my life that brought some public attention. I had certain artistic predilections.
My Father started me in dance classes. My father was a Phys Ed teacher, and he special-ized in gymnastics and dance. For whatever reason, when I was eight, he elected to take me to a “free” lesson on the May Company roof in downtown Los Angeles. Subsequently I was enrolled in Mr. Carpenter's School of Dance above an automobile showroom on Sunset Boulevard. There for three or four hours each Saturday, over the next three years, I studied a potpourri of tap, acrobatic, ballroom and ballet.
The tap and acrobatic were taught by Mr. Jack, a dapper man in his early thirties who sported a small dark mustache. Mr. Carpenter taught the ballroom and the ballet. To my eight year old eyes, he was ancient, though not as ancient as I am now. He was 72, neat, small and slender, with thin white strands of hair combed forward from the back of his head. Mr. Carpenter was kindly and he was remote. I gave my first public performance in his studio showcase there, mangling a waltz clog and turning it into a buck and wing when I went blank.
I remember the mats for the acrobatics, at the far end of the studio by the north windows and I remember the bodies that struggled there. I remember the perfumed and powdered smells of the older girls who intrigued my father.
After two or three years dad transferred me in another school. This time it was Edith Jane's school on Highland avenue above Hollywood Blvd. Her last name was Platt, but she didn't use it. She was always “Miss Jane.” I was eleven or twelve by then.
Miss Jane was short, florid and fleshy. She had a tight nose, a ready smile and bobbed hair. Her face and body could be spotted half hidden among the leotards, smocks and tights of the grouped members of several ballet companies in the black and white photos framed on the walls,
She was warm, bemused and supportive, and I labored at her barre for five years, never developing a decent technique, but still managing to get through the basic vocabulary of ballet. Through sheer will I could do double tour en l'air, entrechat six, pirouettes, etc. I took tap lessons from her too. She taught these in her usual black smock, black underpants and bare legs. But for tap, she wore silver shoes with silver taps, tied with silver ribbons. Eventually she gave me a working scholarship There was a family feeling at the school.
The other part of that family was Miss Jane's partner, Ralph Faulkner. He had been on an Olympic saber fencing team. He was a teacher of fencing, an actor, a choreographer of movie sword fights and duels, and a stand-in for stars such as Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Errol Flynn. .He was also the school's general factotum.
I studied fencing with him for a while, but it didn't take. I liked the pageantry but not the actual fighting. I also had no particular gift for it. I lacked the speed, quickness of reflex and killer instinct. I was not the natural that some of his students were. His classes were large; The big studio was filled with white suited, knickerbocker clad figures, faces obscured by screened face masks with canvas neck protectors. They were there with their flexible foils taped at the points at all angles in their hands, or flexed against the floor. You heard cries of, En garde! Advance!. Retreat, Lunge! Repost! Faulkner stood erect behind his quilted chest protector, directing and controlling the scene.
He was a dashing figure when I knew him, lean and gauntly handsome. He resembled the bird that the dance school came to be known by, The Falcon Studios. He stood six foot tall (my father was only five foot seven) and he had a powerful body. I have seen him drop to the floor and do thirty immaculate full pushups at an unfaltering fast pace. Ralph's upper lip sported a Ronald Colman mustache His exact relationship to Miss Jane was unclear, but they were very comfortable with each other.
One of his jobs at school performances was stage manager and prop man. In a memorable show at the Wilshire Ebell he overloaded the flash pot on the top of my box as the Russian doll in La Boutique Fantasque. The curtain behind it went up in flames as I danced blithely on, unaware of the danger. The fire was put out and I received rousing applause for my non existent bravery, focus and showmanship.
The performance was memorable for another reason. I was thirteen then, and was sitting in the darkness of the orchestra seats waiting. Next to me was one of the older girls. She ,must have been at least fifteen. At that age the difference seemed enormous. She took my hand and held it. I stopped breathing and I was smitten. I was in love. I walked miles to buy her a small yellow blown glass horse that I never had the courage to give her. She also never held my hand again.
Shortly before I changed dance schools, I had been overtaken by a passion for drawing that surprised me. One of our family pleasures was going to the movies together. Admission was ten cents in those days.
Overtaken by my obsession, I rejected the movie and remained behind to draw a meticulous copy of the three Wise Men with their camels. This was not only fascination with the art of drawing but a foretaste of preoccupations that would mature many years later. At the time, I was focused on the act of drawing, not the content.
When I entered Junior High School, I met the first of my mentors in the arts. Her name was Frances Roberts Nugent. It was a name with a rich rhythmic ring to it. She was an Art teacher, new to teaching and new to the state. She was a large fat woman and singularly unattractive, except to me. A few stray hairs grew from a mole on her cheek. She was skilled and she was still enthusiastic.
How the bonding took place I am not sure, but it did. It was she who gave me a copy of Bridgeman's Anatomy, and it was she who launched me into the craft of drawing.
My father had started me off in gymnastics as well as dancing. Gradually it too became part of my passion. From time to time I would find myself obsessed with certain things. I was obsessed with drawing, with anatomy. I was obsessed with learning certain dance steps and certain gymnastic moves..
We lived in Silver Lake with a playground nearby, a playground well supplied with kids and staff personnel. The playground possessed rings, a high bar and parallel bars in a sawdust pit. Its recreation center had color by number mimeographed sheets, and blank clay tiles to paint. There were dances in the gym, sports in the field. It was a rich environment, in a casual lazy kind of way.
At dance school Miss Jane had links to the concert world as well as the movies. She brought in guest teachers who were well known and recognized in their particular specialties. Sometimes it was a Spanish dancer like Frederico Rey, Adolph Bolm, a special tap teacher or a former Ballet star. I was still fourteen when she sent me to audition for Madame Nijinska, the fabled Nijinsky's sister. Madame accepted me for her performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
Her audition was a class, held at Nico Charisse's studio on Highland Blvd. Nico was a small, dark, over friendly man. I was acutely aware of the difference in atmospheres between his studio and ours, ours meaning Miss Jane's. Nico's place reeked of commercialism. His wife, Cyd Charisse, or Tulea, was dancing the leads for Madame. She was a gazelle slender, sullen girl of seventeen at the time.
Madame Nijinska was squat. She was Slavic, inscrutable and middle aged. She invariably dressed in loose dark blue pajamas, and smoked cigarettes planted in a long cigarette holder. She was inevitably accompanied by her husband, who was her gofer and ranslator. He always started off his translations with: Madame says. She inhabited her private world as she set her Bolero, the Chopiniana, and other works on us for the performance. The Tallchief girls, Maria and Marjorie, were also among the performers. They were relative babies at the time, closely guarded by their mother, but straining with nubile energies.
I did another performance that summer for Adolph Bolm. Since Mr. Bolm taught at Miss Jane's school, becoming part of his company for his Bowl performance was easy. He was staging L'Oiseau de Feu, the Fire Bird. He had chosen the dark and lovely Nana Gollner and a tall, capable and indolent Tommy Ladd to dance his leads.
Mr. Bolm was nut brown. He looked as if he lived unsheltered under a tropical sun. He was a smallish man with dark hair wild on the sides of his semi bald head. His face was thin and lined. His lips protruded. In class he seemed gangly, awkward and preoccupied. He taught more in casual gestures than in steps.
Mr. Bolm had been a member of the famous Diaghleff Ballet and created several roles in the company: he was the original chief Polovetzian dancer and the Moor in Petrushka. He had his students and Miss Jane had hers. While I occasionally took his class, I did not become one of “his” students.
That summer, though I loved dance, I was uncomfortable with the gay dancers who were part of Nijinska's productions, and of his. I was from a relatively common, rough and tumble world of playgrounds, football, baseball and basketball. What I enjoyed the most were gymnastics, my drawing and my painting. I had only one gay friend that I knew of, and he was an anomaly in my everyday world of school, and after-school.
Because of this I made fast friends with Bolm's son Olaf, who was working in the production, but not their kind. He was friendly, “regular” and non effete. There was a reassuring normality about him. He seemed to come from a world that I was more familiar with. Both of us did some acrobatics, so we entered stage right doing back handsprings to the Dum, tim, dum dum, Te duuum phrase of the Danse Infernale of King Katsche. We were part of his henchmen. We wore straw headdresses that had been scavenged from the packaging for champagne bottles.
Mischa Auer, a well known movie comedian, obviously Russian, played the King whose soul was hidden in an egg.. He was borne in on a platform carried by other dancers. From there he gesticulated menacingly, but did little else. Stravinsky, with his bountifully bodied wife or mistress, would show up at rehearsals and bang away heroically at the piano. I had no idea of how privileged I was to be in that presence, but there is a picture to prove it.
There had been hints earlier that I was destined for the arts, if I had had the perception to see them. In Grammar School I had fallen in love with a Japanese girl named Mary, because of her beautiful handwriting and because she drew so well. Also on our strange cross country trip at nine years old to Philadelphia to visit our grandparents, aunts and uncles, I was struck by the beauty of certain mountains and sky scenes and would suggest we stop the family Studebaker and take a picture with the family Brownie. Sometimes we did.
Micheltorena, my grammar school in Los Angeles, was across the street from the hill of cement steps where Laurel and Hardy had lugged and pushed a piano laboriously upward in one of their films. This was the grammar school that I left, with its triangular lower playground, and neighborhood candy store across the street where we spent our pennies. I graduated clad in an old suit of my father's, several sizes too large for me. I was not alone in outsized suits. It was the depression, and one boy came to school in bare feet.
I began attending Thomas Starr King, the Junior High School where my father taught. It was here I was diagnosed by its apparently Jungian principal, Alice Ball Struthers, as an introvert. I have looked within before and looked within since, with much happiness and many rewards.
It was true that I had a paucity of social skills and interests, and a surfeit of dislike for the world's ways. Still, my misanthropy has been mitigated by a love for all whenever the soul's insight and light have chosen to overwhelm me .
I didn't so much go to junior high school as I went to art school. Whatever projects there were in other classes I did with drawings of one sort or another. I did portraits of scientists, world figures and athletes. My work books were filled with sketches of other kids and my teachers
I drew constantly, at school and at home. I fashioned an ear out of red plasticine that I carried around to learn how to draw its intricate forms and curves. I learned to cut linoleum blocks. I poured over and copied Michelangelo and Rembrandt. I even learned to letter after a fashion. Under Miss Nugent's tutelage my art skills developed rapidly.
I loved the human body, and through art I touched it with my eyes, my mind and my pencil. Miss Nugent was the first of several relationships that brought me love and close attunement during what are called the formative years. I treasured my relationship to her. She took me to my first life class and I drew my first female nude at L.A. City College when I was 15. There I discovered to my bewilderment that my erotic response was overwhelmed by my interest and involvement in the form and line before me on the paper.
It never occurred to me until much later, that Miss Nugent, who lived with another woman and German shepherd, might be a lesbian. Whatever she was, I loved her and was deeply indebted to her.
As must be evident, I was a creature of impressionability and passions, inclined to the arts. Even my choice of gymnastics was a choice where the esthetic and the athletic came together. At the same time I was not alienated from the ordinary play of the neighborhood kids.
A lot of kids around my age met at the playground. We could check out all kinds of equipment: baseballs and bats, basketballs. There was a basketball court with an iron hoop. There was a baseball diamond. There was soccer net. There was ping pong, caroms, and badminton. The gym setup in a sawdust pit was made of smooth pipe and iron that got hot under the sun.
There were dances. I learned the Lindy and the Shag, even the Shorty George. I had the pleasure of holding girls in my arms. We danced to records of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Bennie Goodman. I loved Caravan, Twilight in Turkey, Katchiturian's Saber Dance.
An ex professional harmonica player worked at the recreation center, a small dark Armenian looking man, and he taught me how to play a chromatic harmonica called a Chromonica. He had once played with Borah Minnevitch. Another man who worked there had been in radio and gave us drama lessons. I did portraits of them.
I was intuitive and instinctual. I experienced strong feelings about people. I had intense likes and dislikes. I was completely malleable and responsive when I liked my teachers. I was uncooperative and dense if I did not. In High School I would do two semesters work in Latin for a teacher at A level, right after I had gotten a D in Spanish from a woman who repulsed me. I felt. I reacted. I struggled with the curse of adolescence, My life proceeded.
I had been on the gym team at High School for three years, and was reasonably competent on most of the apparatus that was used at that time. I worked the rings, parallel bar and high bar. I did free exercise. I tumbled and I swung Indian clubs. In the course of all this I built a strong body out the pudgy little boy that I had been. I could press to a handstand from lying flat on the floor. I could lower myself to the chest and press myself up in a hand stand ten times without stopping on a yellow rough painted bench at lunch time. I had muscles.
My father was part of this side of my life. He had started me off. Family legend has it that I did my first handstand at two and a half at a class he taught in Van Nuys. At the beach, where we went religiously every Sunday in the season, we would do things like lying on his back and supporting me in a shoulder stand.
He judged gymnastics at various venues in the city, and was often at my High School meets as well .He was careful to judge me less than fairly. He would come with his gray flannel trousers that he used for teaching and his light blue oxford cloth button down shirt. He had wavy reddish hair combed straight back and a short broad pointy nose that had been broken and lost its sense of smell. His lips were abnormally dry and cracked from all his exposure to the sun. He was freckled, stocky, and had light blue eyes.
I favored my mother who had dark hair and olive skin. I favored her as far as coloring was concerned. But my proportions were more like his. She had the long and powerful arms of the Olympic marathon swimmer she had been. They were powerful enough to break a hairbrush on my back side once.
What the two of them saw in each other was difficult for me to see. At twelve I had announced that they were incompatible, and it was true. They stayed together they said, for our sake. My brother was the physical anomaly in the family. I fudged my height as five foot ten. He was six foot five. My father, my mother and I had large heads. He was built like a dinosaur. a tiny head balanced on his great height. At the age of twelve he had been six foot two.
My father and I did things together. My mother and my brother did things together. He was dyslexic before they had a name for it, and she labored to get him through school. He not only got through, he taught astronomy at a college.
One favorite thing for my dad and I to do was to go to the library. My father did a lot of reading. He would sit reading at the breakfast table, morning or evening, and drink his coffee and eat his bread and honey. I was even more voracious a reader.
My father taught me phonetics and by four I was reading. At that mysterious museum of men's thoughts and creativity called a library I would check out the maximum amount of books each week and finish them before they were due a week later.
Early on, I was fascinated by fairy tales. There were several that spoke to me. In one a young artist was creating a perfect portrait of a young lady that was supposed to come to life. But it didn't, until he put in one final freckle. There was Baba the Russian grandmother who taught me that the morning is wiser than the evening. That was a great solace for giving up on my homework in the evening. The phrase East of the sun and West of the moon haunted me. These tales were a world of fantasy and archetypal thought that attracted me strongly.
The summer I was thirteen promised to be the happiest time of my life. My dad and I were going to a summer camp that a fellow coach, Paul Hunt, ran with his wife. It was in Oregon. To go with him, I felt particularly loved and honored. We drove up to the very top of California and over into the wilds of Oregon, singing and playing “states.” After the free ways we drove down dirt roads into a overhung trail through a forest to where it ended in a group of cabins.The series of cabins were where Paul and his wife had homesteaded. There were streams where we bathed and fished. The forest was all around, and there were outhouses with an indescribable stench.
Paul had two girls, one my age and the other a little older. There were six or seven guys in camp, and the girls aroused some interest. The summer passed fairly rapidly, and I had a few adventures. Once I came upon the girls naked at the stream. They promptly turned their backs to me and declared that everyone had a backside.
The other big adventure was coming across a coiled rattlesnake in a hillock baking in the sun. He was minding his own business, but I didn't mind mine. I picked up a tock and threw it at him. He immediately streaked toward me with a speed I couldn't believe. I ran in terror back toward camp hoping against hope that I would make it. I totally panicked.
The tall gaunt woodsmanly Paul Hunt went after him . He came back after a time with the dead snake dangling in his hand. He cut off the thirteen rattles and presented them to me. That night we ate rattlesnake meat for dinner.
The summer seemed neither good nor bad, until the end. I wasn't much for baiting hooks with live grasshoppers or worms, or for hiking, but I didn't carry on about it either. I got along reasonably well with the others, and quite well with the girls. The day before my dad and I were set to drive home, the girls told me that my father had apologized for me to everyone when we had arrived. They told me they didn't understand why, and saw no reason for it
This was my first crucial disillusionment, and while I continued to care about my father, this modified the relationship, and helped loosen the bond of family and of family drama. Loosening the bond is always a good thing. Establishing an independent one of our own is even better.
In high school I acquired a girl friend, or rather she acquired me. Harriette was less than a year younger. At fifteen and sixteen, we became involved. Her mouth was querulous and her eyebrows were quizzical. I remember the warmth that came from her body. I remember her breath. I remember having had the certain conviction that she belonged to me, or. at the least, she belonged with me. This was another delusion.
We had met first in the school play. It was our senior play, Winter's Tale. Why Mrs.. Cochrane chose me to play Leontes, I can not imagine. Why she chose Harriette to play Paulina, was obvious. She was an actress. She was actress of sensitivity, intelligence, and power with a kind of musical vocal control. She had a voice that carried images and emotions in it, as well as tone in a subtle vibrato. She awed me.
Harriette studied drama with Max Reinhardt, as well as at school, and her Maedchen in Uniform she did for him left me in a trance for hours after the performance. I was transported by her. She danced, not badly but not at the same exquisite level.
Some people believe in the power of the word and some believe in the power of movement. Her power was more in the word. Mine tended more toward the non verbal and movement.
After graduation from John Marshall High School I was at loose ends, and it was decided, since I would necessarily have to make a living (a bizarre concept to me) that I would go to UCLA and get a degree in physical education. It was either that or Commercial Art, and I had no taste for that. In my mind, my art was fine art.
The problem with a PE major was that it was assumed you were dumb and that you would take the easy courses.. I set out on a different and more stupid track, to prove that I wasn't. So I signed up for chemistry, physics, Latin and public speaking. I managed straight Cs in all of them. I was totally unprepared for the indifference and the demands of college work. The reality was that I was not a scholar, and far from as bright as I thought I was.
I did see the older girl there who had once held my hand, Frances Rafferty. She was still popular, still beautiful and still far beyond my reach.. The campus felt immense to me, and I was only comfortable in the gym.
I went out for the Freshman gymnastics team. Cece Hollingsworth was the coach. Here again I developed rapidly. I made certain friends, and I also made a remarkable total of points at the gym meets that first season. I amassed 115 points. Only 15 were needed to get a letter. The highest score next to mine was 85. This was the equivalent of two letters less.
Next came another of my disillusionments. At the end of the season, an honorary captain of the gym team was traditionally chosen. I wasn't chosen. My nearest competitor was. I had nothing against him. He was pleasant enough, but to me, it should not have been a popularity contest. My contribution, skill and performance had been far above anyone else's. It was Hollingworth's choice, and it shook me. In my mind, a moral law had been violated
Still I went back in the fall. In public speaking I gave speeches about my experiences earlier, of dancing at the Bowl and meeting Madame Nijinska and Igor Stravinsky. I got my usual C. Then I gave a canned speech, that is, I did research about something I knew nothing about. I recited it. I got an A.
I quit. I left UCLA in midseason. To be rewarded for drudgery without thought violated my sense of what was right. I said goodbye to the Hollingsworths of the world, who reward mediocrity. I entered limbo.
That was when Harriette called inviting me to watch her and her sister take a dance class. We were no longer together, but we were still friends. Now I can say in hindsight, that a destiny does shape our ends Up those steps, I entered the field of consciousness of a man light years beyond anyone I had known or have known since. I went up the red tile stairs beside the Spanish Kitchen into a new life.
The studio I walked into on this day of great change was Lester Horton's. One is seldom aware of the world changing events in one's life, until after they have happened. I was quite unaware that my existence had been altered. It happened gradually.
What I saw in class was the ideal combination of athleticism and art. It synthesized my two enthusiams. I saw bodies moving with power and flexibility. I saw an approach to movement that was vital and virile. I saw beauty and excitement that bowled me over. Some of the members of Lester's dance group were in the class. These were the elite of the school., and their skills were on a level that exalted them, and diminished the others around them.
I had never seen Modern Dance before. The control and demand upon the body were unique to me. It was mind boggling to my limited kinesthetic experience. One woman moved with an icy exacting passionate perfection. One of the men moved with a cold precise strength. His body was an anatomy student's dream, particularly his legs where each group of muscles were clearly defined. His head was small and chiseled, like some minor copy of a Greek statue.
The woman was equally defined, but more Mediterranean in appearance. Her eyes were dark, narrow and focused. Her eyebrows were semi shaved. she had a beauty all her own and a hardness that seemed impenetrable. She was glorious to watch as she moved. The man was fine but somehow held back at the same time as he fulfilled movements I had never seen before.
I hardly noticed Lester. He was a benign presence, seated with a tambour and a beater in his hand, calling out the exercises hoarsely while he beat the stretched drum head. In class I was focused on the performers and not the master. Harriette, who was there with her sister was fairly invisible beside the Group members. The class moved from floor exercises to diagonal progressions across the mirrorless studio. On the progressions class became more like dance. I moved subconsciously with them, awe struck by the beauty and pleasure potential I sensed in what was being done.
I thanked Harriette after class. I told her that I didn't like it, I loved it! She encouraged me to speak to Mr. Horton. He was standing when I reached him and was taller than I had taken him to be.
He had twinkling animal sad brown eyes, full close cropped wavy dark hair with just a touch of gray at the temples. He had great lobed ears like those on a Chinese statue, and a sparse indication of where his beard would be . He held his back and neck unusually straight. To me his face could have been a young Rembrandt self portrait.
I stammered out my admiration about the class and with an easy graciousness and warmth, he invited me to take one. That was our initial meeting.
All the gymnastics I had been doing had given me a powerful body. During this last summer vacation I had worked at the Hollywood Bowl, where I had danced with Bolm and Nijinska previously. My father had arranged the job through someone he knew.
I was part of the cleanup and work crew there, and I spent the summer shirtless in the hot sun, cleaning and raking the paths and the seat areas after performances. I did that and whatever else needed doing. The first day I had spent painting chairs. I was tanned a deep, deep brown from the shirtless days, and I had thick black black hair. It was months before the people around the studio realized that I was not really Mexican.
I took the proffered class with him and was enraptured. Still I went to Miss Jane and asked if it was all right to study with Lester. With her permission, I apprenticed myself.
I had spent a year and half trying to find a life direction. Now I recognized that this was it. I loved the work and its difficulty. I forced my body happily through what were alien exercises at first. I was filled with admiration and my focus shifted gradually toward Mr. Horton as the source of what I admired from the dancers who were able to do what he wanted. I hungered and thirsted for the work. At times I even skated the eight miles to the studio and back so that I could take lessons.
Lester was even handed and showed no overt preference. He was a benign quietly demanding presence. After six month's he invited me to join his concert group. This was against Group policy, which required a year's training and observation at a minimum. Again I rose rapidly, to depart even more rapidly less than two years later.
The Group as it was known, consisted of four boys and four girls. It was intensely hierarchical and complex. I was to discover that they treated Lester as a kind of idiot savant. They saw him as having no practical sense, but granting him creative genius. I found him more and more an ideal, and I became fiercely protective.
The Horton technique could not be learned over night It was more than a series of steps. It was a way of moving and of approaching movement. Intensely approached, one might have a fair working knowledge and level of skill in two to three years. Its basic premises were two. Movement began at the center of the body and moved from that center to the periphery. The other was based upon the idea of contraction and release. These approaches lent themselves to rhythmic centered flowing movement. Lester was devoted to what he called isolations. These were isolations of various muscle groups and parts. He also used a principle of the Bauhaus: form follows function. Movement was created for the function of the dance. This was the opposite of ballet where set movements were adapted to the context of the dance. Out of his isolations he made extraordinary coordinations.
Another emphasis was upon off balance turns and positions, and descents and rises from the floor. His classes were designed to facilitate these movement processes. He generated his own movement vocabulary. I bent, twisted, rose and fell, squatted, inverted and coordinated as best I could. I endured endless repetitions, building the peculiar strengths and flexibility that his work demanded. I became part of the studio scene. I became familiar with its inhabitants, their hierarchy and their peculiarities.
Bella Lewitsky. the woman I had seen in the class I first watched and Jim Mitchell, stood at the pinnacle of the performing hierarchy. Then there was Herman, a tall gangly, friendly, boyish man. There was Paul Steffen who like the biblical Saul had changed his name, from Leon Rappaport. Paul was more overtly gay, prissy and Jewish. Herman was German, and his last name was Bodendorfer. He shortened that to Boden.
Herman revealed that he was one of Jim Mitchell's discarded and unhappy lovers. This haven of virile and powerful dance was a nest of male homosexuality. Newell was the fourth member of the Group, and the only straight one in it. He was engaged to Bella at the time,. He was also retiring from the Group.
Besides Bella, there were Jerry Faubian, May Zweig and the very earthy Eleanor Brooks There was something almost fecal about her heavy skills and body. Jerry was married. So was May. Jerry was well shaped but had a certain dryness about her and a pale fuzz on the pale skin of her face. She was given to peach wrap around skirts for class over a pale blue leotard. Others preferred black. May was solidly built and small, and not as much in attendance as the others. They all honored and tolerated Lester in their own peculiar way.
Lester's companion was Bill Bowne. He and Lester lived down the back stairs in the basement below the studio. Bill was equal equally as tall Lester, but Lester's proportions may have made him seem shorter. His torso was long and his head was large.
Bill was brown haired and soft. His body lacked tone. I liked Bill. He taught art at UCLA. He was not obviously gay. Lester was, but it didn't bother me.
In time Bill would teach me two important things: how to paint in egg tempera with a splayed brush, and how to sweep and mop the studio. Since each of the three classes or more a day was spent partially on the floor, this had to be done dailyy. We did floor exercises, and we did descents to floor, and we rose from the floor.
The splayed brush was magical. I could produce ten or twenty fine pigment laden lines in one stroke that allowed some of the background color to show through . This made for easier and more interesting transitions than mixing the intermediate colors did, though this could be done as well.
In its way sweeping and mopping the studio was a pleasure. We would take a handful of oiled sawdust from the barrel and make a mounded line of it across the horizontal width of the studio. Then we would push it progressively in front of us in modest increments, and gather the soiled debris in a dustpan. At each push there would be a beating motion on the floor to shake off whatever had caught in the fibers of the broom. The mopping was even more fun, though it lacked the sweet smell of oiled sawdust compound.
Bill taught me to move backward from the wall with the sudsy mop, making elongated figure eights, so that what might have been missed by one stroke was caught by the sweep of the next. The upstairs was always clean. The basement was a mess. It was more workshop than anything else, despite its two unmade beds.
Bill had several paintings downstairs, on or around an easel. The paintings that I saw were skillful. They were very skillful, but they lacked the feeling and identification with the subject that I responded to. They felt empty. Lester's paintings were not nearly as skilled, but they had content.
I came to know Lester as a mysterious, benevolent, mostly silent man, a man who lived in a more or less ongoing meditative state. He seemed to know everything, and to know it without studying or researching. From what I could see, he was the essence of kindness, tolerance and generosity, and able to do anything.
As I said, he was not a painter, but he painted and designed. He sewed and made the patterns for the group's costumes. He designed his stationary. On it, his name was printed in lower case umber letters against a grayish blue stock. He did all this in addition to his
choreography and the creation of what came to be known as The Horton Technique, while apparently living on a diet of coffee and cigarettes.
The studio itself was divided horizontally in two colors. The lower part was Terra Cotta and the upper a Cerulean blue. There was suggestive of earth and the sky. The curtains echoed the color scheme in denim.
Sometimes his sense of design was off the wall, or I should say, on the wall. He had taken halves of egg containers, attached them the walls of the reception area for texture and painted them and the room a light yellow.. This went with yellowish upholstery of the high backed banquette for visitors next to the pay phone.
Ostensibly the group was a cooperative. There were underpinnings of communist thought all around. Some of these, they had, happily, given up. Self criticism meetings were observed only once when I was there.
The Daily Worker would arrive in the mail for Jim under a false name. Bella was a leading communist proselyter. I heard the great cant phrases of the party from her, such as, from each according to his ability to each according to his need.
Jewish intellectuals were a great resource as students, friends and agents. At that time the socialists and the communists presented themselves as the social conscience of the world. They were for the rights of the minorities and against exploitation by the rich and powerful of the poor and the defenseless. What could be wrong with that? What was wrong, I decided, was not the theory. It was the communists themselves.
In spite of their words those that I knew emitted an aura of coldness and self centeredness. The only person I saw with a real social conscience and a universally accepting attitude was Lester. This was not a result of theory or Marx, but of his innate being.
One advantage of being a member of the Group was that they did not pay for classes, though after two months Lester had put me on a working scholarship.
I heard grumbling about my being accepted into their elite structure. Whether there were official bylaws I never learned. But the rule was that a person had to be with the school for a year before he could even be submitted for admission. Still, there was a minor crisis because Newell was leaving, and Maurice was no longer involved. I was the only logical choice. I had dance experience. I worked hard. I loved and respected the work. I loved and respected Lester.
Perhaps more to the point at that time, there was no one among the rank and file students who was as good as I was, however lacking I might be. So, after minor grumbling, I was accepted and began my apprenticeship as a member of the Horton Dance Group.
Harriette left for New York to understudy Geraldine Fitzgerald in a play, she of Dark Victory and Wuthering Heights.
As a member, I not only took two or three classes an evening, I had three or four hours of rehearsal as well. Lester was creating Boogie Bali Woogie and redoing Tierra Y Libertad. He was preparing Jim for the Hoop Dance, I was learning the Drum Dance which had complex rhythms and coordinations, as did Boogie Bali Woogie.
There were no immediate plans for a performance, but I was to discover that the Group performed at Worker's Parties at least once or twice a month. They also performed at our frequent rent parties held in the studio.
The studio was in ongoing financial difficulty, yet, somehow it always worked out and Horton sailed blithely on above the crises, serenely choreographing, teaching and designing, never curtailing his generosity.
At one of the rent parties I social danced with Bella. As a member of the Group she was prestigious and distant, but for a few moments, she was a girl in my arms. There was a subtle shift in our relating that shifted swiftly back.
Bella was High Priestess to Lester's Priest. She took his somewhat unshaped inspirations and turned them into exact forms and counts. She made them into a standard for the rest to strive for. In this sense she was invaluable to Lester. He could certainly have done it, but it would have taken hours if not days. In this sense, her mind and her movement sense were precise, quick and substantive
She was our exemplar where the movement was concerned. She did everything with a passionate cold perfection that none of the rest could approach. Part of this may have been the group mythos, nevertheless, at that time, she had a devastating control of her body and her performance.
She danced with Jim mostly. He was clean, strong and conscientious, if not the master of movement that she was. He was a good if somewhat artificial performer. Jim hated to be seen as less than perfect and would work in private before showing what he was going to do. He was also immaculate about his grooming and clothes, was much more than could be said about his choice of lovers. To see him iron his shirts and trousers was to view obsession.
Bella had a certain inhuman quality about her. Jim did as well, but he was colder and more covered. He had been a drama major at City College, where I had gone to my first life class with Miss Nugent. The College was also near where Harriette, her mother and her sister had lived. Alexis Smith, from MIss Jane's had gone there at the same time as Jim, and they had acted together in The Night of January 14th.
I was ambivalent about Jim. I appreciated his skills and physical beauty, but his cold sadistic side repelled me. He and Bella would sit together on the floor under a barre and smoke during the rest periods. Smoking was in fashion then.
It was about this time that Bill Bowne left the studio. To my surprise, he was getting married. I had accepted him as an indissolvable part of Lester, and as an interested friend. He had encouraged my painting and the use of the techniques he had shown me.
I was spending huge blocks of time at the studio, and when Bill left, Lester invited me to live there. There were no conditions or understandings other than I continue to do what I was doing.
I regarded him as a father figure and had a profound love for his creativity, and who I felt he was. I had met many other talented people and though they were gifted, they did not seem to be other than ordinary people with special gifts.
Lester seemed more than that. He had a gracious, loving, concerned presence about him that I could only describe as a higher presence. There was an indefinable aura that transcended his esthetics. He lived in a private Olympus. There were only the most occasional trips down into personal petulance, childishness and minor cruelty.
Initially I was a little uncomfortable about what people might think about my living with someone gay, but my devotion quickly overcame my resistance. I had no problem with my sexual identity. Women preoccupied my sexual fantasies. My problem was finding a sexual partner to meet my sensual and human needs. After Harriette none were forthcoming.
I was both spoiled and naive I expected to be taken care of as a child is taken care of, and I was. My part of the exchange, in my mind, was to work hard. Lester educated me, fed me and clothed me, while I did what I could to learn and to help.
Since we were doing Boogie Bali Woogie, I learned about the culture of Bali, about the Rangda masks and Barong dances. Because of Tierra Y Libertad I learned about Pre Columbian art and the contemporary painters such as Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Orosco, Frida Kahlo, etc.
I swept the studio. If I worked, I gave whatever I made to Lester. Later on I taught the children's afternoon class for a time. I loved them and I loved doing that. Their private name for me was “Ghost Eyes.”
At some point after I had started with Lester but before I lived with him, Frances Rafferty, she of the glass horse never received and the warm hands, got in touch with me. She was now a contract player at MGM, and they were looking for a dance partner for her. She was a tall girl, though not quite as tall as Alexis Smith who was fully my height.
I went to the lot one morning via several changes of trolley cars and found my way to the immense hangar-like soundstage. There I auditioned, fired with my new technique and approach to dance. Frances was doing a number on point, which made her taller than I was. The husband and wife team who were choreographing decided not to use me as a partner, but to keep me on as a dancer.
The movie was Presenting Lilly Mars, and it introduced me to the tedium and waste that went into making a Hollywood dance number. Frances was still beautiful, still friendly yet distant at the same time. She favored white short shorts and a white semi unbuttoned blouse that were vaguely discomforting for me, as if she were some kind of sexual commodity there. The small yellow blown glass horse that I bought for her was still in a desk drawer in my room at home.
I had a couple of other abortive jobs before I moved in with Lester. For a while I worked at Van de Kamp's bakery. I was so inept I couldn't even dust the lady fingers properly with powdered sugar through the sifter.
The other job I had lasted a little longer. It was one for which I had more skill. It was in the bizarre world of cartooning at the lowest level possible. I had a job as what was called an in-betweener, There was a hierarchy here too. There were the story men, the directors, the animators the background people and finally the in-betweener. The animator would sketch the broad movements of the characters. The in-betweener would draw three images in between the animators first drawing and his next drawing: ergo, in-betweener. It was a dumb job that required no creativity. These were strange people with odd imaginations. It lasted about a month and a half.
With each job, my work at the studio suffered. But this was finally resolved when Bill left and after I lost, or gave up my jobs.
Lester and I grew closer. It was a closeness not measured by tangible or verbal means. I began to absorb his consciousness. I learned mostly through his silence and through observing him. I was uneducated in the fields that immersed him. I was familiar with classical art, but not Modern Art. I had little musical education and was certainly not familiar with Prokovieff, or Shostakovitch. The only Stravinsky I knew was the Fire Bird I had danced in.
I had no idea of cuisines other than my mother's extraordinarily bad cooking. Everything she cooked was over done. Everything fluid had a skin on it, either that or an unnecessary crust. There was canned corn with a skin, morning cocoa with a skin, hamburger with a crust. The outside of her salmon casserole was almost a quarter of inch thick, and had little bones that annoyed me.
The only thing with a crust I liked was the Russian rye bread that came in great tawny-brown circular mounds. We did have fresh fruit, mostly oranges. While she was a terrible cook, she was very skillful at peeling things. Wisk, wisk, wisk and there was the orange denuded in front of me.
Lester took me to my first Chinese restaurant. He taught me how to use chopsticks. He took me to my first art film house on Fairfax boulevard. He introduced me to Eisenstein's films. We saw the atmosphere laden Port of Shadows with Jean Gabin. I had never seen a foreign film I don't think I knew that they existed.
He introduced me to Henry Moore, to Jean Arp, to Max Ernst, and to Paul Klee, long before he choreographed a piece on him. For me, Lester inhabited new and mysterious worlds.
Harriette Freeman was a friend of his. We went to the Frank Lloyd Wright Freeman house where she lived, just above Highland blvd. We visited Max Steiner the composer. Lester was at home in all this. I was a visitor from another planet. We went to Chinatown, bought Quan Yins and pottery horses. He knew people there. We went to Japan town for fabrics, and he knew people there.
Most days began at the Spanish Kitchen next door; with a plate of huevos rancheros. Edmund Lowe was there once. I recognized him as Chandu the Magician in the series that had had a special fascination for me.
I also came across a cousin of my family there. He had always seemed well off, certainly better off than we were. He was Mr. Woolsey, That's what I called him. He had a very fat ,rotund, tiny, sweet, non Jewish wife, Babe. and they had a son around my age. We would usually visit around Christmas time, and every year beneath their tree, which was a novelty in itself, there would be a bonus envelope from his company containing a hundred dollar bill. This was an indescribable sum to me. His mystique was shattered when he came into the Spanish Kitchen delivering bottled water.
Day followed day. Class followed class. I gained different strengths and flexibility. I lost some of the muscle mass I had built from the gymnastics.
My father must have been an excellent gymnast. There were old photos that showed a well muscled physique. There was picture of him doing a handless head stand. There was one of him doing a handstand on the upper railing of a building's fire escape, one on the chimney. There was a photo of him in full hiking regalia at Yosemite's overhanging rock duplicating Douglas Fairbank's feat in a newsreel; Only dad did it without a safety net. They called him Handstand Abe.
Handstand Abe was a story teller. One of his brothers had been a professional boxer, and he had followed his brother into the ring for a while. He used to tell of getting all dandied up and going through tough Irish neighborhoods. Then when guys would make fun of them, they beat them up.
Another favorite of his was the story about riding on a trolley and giving his seat to an old Jew. His seat was next to a friend of the old man. In Yiddish the one said to the other, What an ugly goy. Of course my father knew Yiddish, but he didn't let on.
There were other stories from his days in the Navy during World War 1. There was the time he was drinking coffee on deck during a gale. The ship pitched and he went overboard, that is except for his one handed grip on the railing.. As he tells it he never lost the coffee cup, and he came back to deck when the ship pitched back.
He had a pair of wooden shoes he had brought back from Holland. He had a folding top hat from I don't know where. I had great fun popping it open and squashing it down.
Shortly after I moved into the studio, I had a singular dream. It was very different from my usual hodgepodge, or dreams of flying. I dreamt I was riding a noble white horse, we were going into deep grayish blue green sea. I had never ridden a horse, certainly not into the sea. The dream had a distinctness and logical quality about it I had never known before. I told Lester about it, and it hung in my consciousness for days.
Classes and rehearsals continued and I gradually became more adept. I no longer felt I was low man on the totem pole. It was no longer a matter of catching up, but of working hard to keep up. Lester was relentlessly fair regardless of my special status of living at the studio.
We were rehearsing Something to Please Everyone. There was a performance coming up at UCLA. I was 18 now. In the dance sketch that revolved around the reading of a will, I was to be a playboy. This involved smacking May on the butt. Female buttocks were so highly eroticized in my mind that it was very difficult to do. I was finally able to touch her tight muscular bottom and get on with it after strong directorial encouragement.
The drum dance was a pleasure to do, once I got the coordinations. It was done with four boys, two in front and two in back. I danced in front with Jim. We were something of a matched pair. We were approximately the same height and we both had dark hair, though his was thinner and higher on his skull. Paul and Herman danced in back. We held long conical drums that we beat in one rhythm while we did other rhythms with the feet. The drums were tossed to the other two alternately, and there was an exceptional passage where one foot beat out a straight six eight rhythm on the floor while the arms and head took accents on the four and the five.
The concert at UCLA passed relatively uneventfully, and the next major concert was in Tucson, Arizona. Here a strange thing happened that was to happen again at a later date. Lester paired me with Jim in the room assignments. It was no secret that we were not fond of each other. I tried to put the best face on it: that Lester had done it for some potential hidden benefit.
Jim was still the leading dancer in the group, and I was a minor member. The trip by bus was exciting and the performance in exotic and a very hot Tucson was exciting. Lester and we were treated like visiting royalty, and every effort was made to make us comfortable. Jim and I kept our distance. We were formal with each other.
We took the night bus home. Out the windows, I had never seen a sky so black. I had never seen stars so incredibly sharply bright and brilliant. In the back seat of the bus near me Lester sang Indian songs in that warm husky voice of his.
We had a new student in the school who made a minor difference in our lives. His name was John Cooke. He had studied with Harald Kreutzberg in Europe and traveled all over the world. John was lean and his body, extraordinarily hairy. He was one of the Hawaiian Cookes, and independently wealthy. He was friendly and enthusiastic, if not particularly talented. He showed a lot of gum along with his teeth when he smiled. He had taken an apartment less than a block from the studio in a stylish building that housed an architect.
When he had studied for about eight months, he was off somewhere else. What happened was that he had leased the apartment for a year, so he invited Lester and me to live there until the lease was up. It was an elegant place, and he had left some of his things around. One of these was a poster of a bull for a bullfight to which he had attached two silver Christmas balls where the testicles would be.
We were very comfortable there, and Lester favored me with his cooking. When the lease was up, we went back to our chaotic basement studio and breakfast at the Spanish Kitchen.
In many ways I was an undoubted pain for him. I have mentioned my puritanical nature. It was my belief, certified by my health conscious parents, that Lester should not continue his habit of smoking. I thought it a filthy habit that left an unpleasant odor. I thought he should not drink. In my opinion people should be warm, and not cold. I thought they should have healthy concerns. I prevailed to a degree. Lester gave up smoking and he gave up his Vermouth Cassis. He was remarkably indulgent with me , but then he was remarkably indulgent with others too. As young as he was when he died, his life may have been lengthened to some extent because of my puritanical demands.
When Ballet Theatre came to town, we went to see a performance. It was the first time I had seen a Tudor Ballet. At that time there was only one choreographer worthy of note for me, and that was Lester. I pronounced Pillar of Fire a bastard mixture of Ballet and Modern. I said it was neither one nor the other. I said while it wasn't bad, it wasn't pure. I thought it was on the turgid side and overly melodramatic.
There was a party after the performance to which Lester was invited, and I went with him to the downtown hotel suite. I met Tudor and Hugh Laing there and was polite and very uncomfortable. Hugh seemed to be Ballet Theatre's Jim Mitchell, or Jim was our Hugh Laing. In later years, as fate would have it, Jim would dance Hugh's roles in the Tudor Ballets.
Seeing the Ballet Theatre performance brought back memories of performances my father had taken me to. I remembered seeing the frisky and dashing Massine in Tricorne, and Gaité Parisian. This was with the Ballet Russe. I remember seeing it from the dizzying heights of the Philharmonic auditorium's gallery. It was so high up and so steep that it felt like a misstep could send you flying down the cavernous space onto the stage.
I remembered seeing another performance there by Ballet Theater. I remembered Jerry Robbins' comic carrying on in Three Virgins and a Devil with Agnes deMille and Lucia Chase. At that same performance I saw a young Michael Kidd in his own charming choreography with a broom.
My dad had taken me to see Ted Shawn's Men's Group with Shawn and Barton Mumaw in 1936. I loved the illustrated program we got at the door and redraw the group's strong curved airborne bodies. Their performance was a minor precursor of Lester's work.
I was fiercely loyal, a true believer and hero worshipper. Not even Lester's occasional pettiness and eventual rejection would shake that. There was an intense fusion between us that had nothing to do with gender preference. I worked. I learned. I grew. I was forming a foundation that would determine much of my future life. The fusion was so strong and I was so stupid that at times I thought I was Lester.
As I was approaching my 19th birthday, Lester signed a contract with Universal Studios. We would perform and he would choreograph. The film was called White Savage. It was a Jon Hall, Maria Montez, Sabu, picture. The director was Arthur Lubin.
Arthur was intelligent, literate and gay. Lester suggested that Jim and I stay at his house while we were rehearsing. He said it would be convenient since it was nearby. It seemed strange at the time, but I was always obedient to Lester's word. In retrospect it seemed like genteel pimping. Jim was agreeable. He said to me, “As long as we stick together, we will be all right.”
So we began our adventure at Lubin's place, up three or four flights of cement steps on a hill near the lot. Arthur had a man servant who handled just about everything. He cooked, took care of Arthur's clothes. He served and was quietly discreet. When we arrived he showed us to a small room with twin beds where we were to sleep.
Jim and I stayed close. Arthur had many stories about show business He also had a cousin, Esther Junger, who had been a well known Modern Dancer and choreographer in the thirties, and was still active.
We had dinner after rehearsal in a dining room larger than the room we slept in. There were linens and napkin rings. There were crystal glasses. china, and much conversation, most of it provided by Arthur.
Arthur taught me that I should not lean my knife on the edge of my dish. He seemed very relaxed and competent as he talked, and as he churned out his B movies. He mocked Maria. I was living in a style to which I was unaccustomed. I was still a lower middle class boy fascinated by esthetics and dance.
Each day we were driven by limousine to the lot that was rather like a sleepy village. Lester hired extra dancers, and we worked with them to give them a semblance of the style. We rehearsed on a mockup of the set. This was a series of giant drums rising in a semi circle. The heads of the drums were 3 or 4 feet across. We danced on them and leaped from drum to drum.
I had lived on the outskirts of Hollywood most of my life. My first experience on a lot had been when I was in High School. A friend of mine whose major achievement was the ability to belch at will took me to a high walled place with a huge gate one day. We climbed up on the wall. Below us there was a Western street. It was flanked by the false fronts of the saloon, the hotel, the smithy, etc. It was bizarre to see behind them to the vacant backsides of the illusions.
On the Universal lot there were certain permanent sets, but our drums were newly built and backed by false foliage. I had one of the most extraordinary days in my life on the set. By other standards it would have amounted to nothing much. It happened on my birthday. We were shooting, and the job was almost over. Each morning we were slathered with native makeup, legs, body and face. In the evening we washed and showered the stuff off. Arthur announced that because it was my birthday, he was going to give me a close up. He did. The camera came in on my grinning dark face as I knelt behind my partner, Jeri, arms outstretched and my body moving from side to side.
When we were out of makeup, there was a birthday cake, soda and gifts. My birthdays at home had been utilitarian, clothes, socks, etc.; whatever had to be gotten anyway. Lester had a present for me. It was wrapped in silver paper with gold cord. Inserted under the cord as decoration were two fine sable brushes. When I opened the package I discovered a copy of The Materials of the Artist.
I was overwhelmed. I was stunned I was in a state of utter disbelief. The beauty of Lester's gift moved me so much I was reluctant to open it, and the gift inside was something I coveted and could use. That I should receive anything from anyone else was totally unexpected. My 19th birthday was glorious and filled with splendors.
One of the boys I had helped coach gave me a richly figured blue and white sweater. He had confided to me that he was a friend of Errol Flynn, and that Flynn was pressuring him to sleep with him.
The following day was the last day on White Savage. Jim and I had remained close together all during our stay at Arthur Lubin's place. That night I stayed with him as long as I could, but he showed no inclination to leave when I went to bed. I have no idea of what happened or didn't happen, but whatever, that was a choice he made.
We returned to Universal shortly after that to do another film called Rhythm of the Islands. It was an Allen Jones film. The experience was different, but interesting in its way. There was no bunking with the new director.
Allan was a kind of anti star. He rode to work on his motorcycle and was as casual and laid back as one could be. Andy Devine was in the film, doing his shtick, and there was a girl named Aquanetta, who later took some classes at Lester's.
For the Horton dancers this seemed to be a period of making up for the dearth. I don't recall getting any money, but that was irrelevant. I had what I needed. I had food, shelter, clothing and all the dance classes and rehearsals I could handle.
When we were doing Tierra y Libertad, I made a mask for Jim who was dancing Quetzicoatl. Quetzacoatl was known as the plumed serpent. My thought was to make the eyebrows as a serpent across the forehead and feather the ends. When Quetzacoatl leaves Mexico, he leaves his mask behind as a promise of his return.
Lester's agents stayed busy. Our next commercial adventure was the Folies Bergere in New York City. Clifford Fischer was the producer and the famous Erté was the designer. The plan was for Lester to go ahead of time to audition chorus girls and to look for a male dancer to replace Herman. He wasn't going and Paul and May weren't either. We already had one male replacement and one female from the school. Lester also needed to consult with the producer and the costume designer.
The male dancer he chose to go with us was Lou Harrison's boyfriend. Bill. Lou was composing for Lester then, and sometimes he played for class. He was a slender, intense, handsome young man. Bill was by no means ready to perform with us, but he was hard working and friendly. The girl was also not up to Group standards, but she was also hardworking and pleasant. I liked them both.
Lou on the other hand was standoffish and opinionated. One of his opinions at the time was that man is sexual, that he is neither heterosexual nor homosexual. He felt that sexuality was a result of circumstances and choice. He had obviously thought about it, and I had not, still I couldn't see a choice.
Lester left for New York three weeks before we did. The studio was to be left in Sonia Shaw's care, until we returned. In the interim I taught classes and was generally in charge. I, who knew nothing about costume making except what I had observed, took it on my self to design and make costumes in case Erté's didn't work out. Everyone came dutifully for fittings, and I fitted and sewed. God knows what they were like. As I said, at times I thought I was Lester, and this was one of those aberrated times.
On a spring morning we departed from the new Union train station downtown. It was elegant, cavernous and busy. Some years before I had taken art classes from the German who had designed its elegant tiles. He had had an apartment on the far north side of one of the mountains that bordered Silver Lake. The apartment had three stories because of the steepness of the hill. The classes were something that Miss Nugent had arranged. It was not uninteresting , but neither was it deeply involving. The only thing I remember about it was drawing a girl in the class that I found attractive, but doing her as a nude.
All the time I lived at the studio I kept up my painting and drawing. This was why the sable brushes and the Materials of the Artist had been so moving and relevant. I had done a beautiful pencil drawing of Lester that we tacked up in the reception area. I was devastated when it was stolen. I was devastated because it embodied so much of my feelings for him, as well as being a remarkable likeness.
My luggage for New York contained my paints, my paintings and my drawing boards, along with a few clothes. The trip took five grueling, sooty days. We welcomed any stop with relief because we could step down, walk and stretch.
On the fifth day we arrived . I was dressed in the gray suede jacket Lester had bought me. I wore pegged pants like his and huaraches. I was a West Coast sight in New York. Still, there was something about New York that felt instantly and incomprehensibly familiar.
Lester was there to greet us. I got a warm hug, along with everyone else. Then we were off to Hotel Edison, where the Folies were to be staged.
I was rooming with Lester this time around. While I was delighted to be with him again, there seemed to be a difference in how he related to me. At the time I thought it was due to the pressures of preparing the show.. Two things quickly became apparent. He was smoking again and he was having his occasional drink. My puritanical impositions had vanished in the three weeks absence.
Still, things seemed to shift back to normal. In our spare time we went to the Museum of Modern Art, The great Mexican exhibition was showing. There were real Tamayos and Orescos. There was David Siquieros' awesome Echoes of a Scream, beautifully placed. Diego Rivera was represented and the mysterious Frida Kahlo. There were lesser Latin artists as well.
There was also a moving photography exhibition called the Family of Man. There was a Henry Moore sculpture in the museum garden and and a Gaston Lachaise. There was a Hans Arp sculpture too.
Lester took me to the Kamin book store on Columbus circle where he bought two books on Hindu dance. He inscribed them Lober-Horton inside their front covers.
The new boy dancer he hired was a disaster in my eyes. It was bad enough with Lou's boyfriend, but this person was out and out minty. It was hard to believe that in all of New York there was not a better or more masculine dancer.
There was a large group of chorus girls and showgirls. There were the acts to be integrated. There was a Risley act. This is an act where they lie on their backs on special rests and juggle someone else with their feet.. In this case they juggled a girl. Imogene Coco was on the bill. Henny Youngman was too.
The way things had been set up we were to be integrated with the chorus as well as doing our act. There was the usual gender orientation going on: who was attractive. who was not. I liked the girl in the Risley act. Coco was a gamin and moved well, but a little too charming for my tastes. There were a couple of the chorus girls. At this point though, I was in a semi state of grace, and wasn't feeling under any sexual pressure. I was happy to be in New York, happy to be with Lester, and happy to be working again.
In a couple of weeks we were able to leave the dismal sterility of Hotel Edison. Lester found an apartment on 54th street between sixth and seventh. Work was going slowly and a luminous faced chorus girl whom Horton called Greb attached herself to us. She was pleasant, verbal, with a face that was too pretty by our Group standards. She also had amazing legs. Her calves were beautifully developed, because she habitually walked on the balls of her feet.
She was my age, nineteen, too, but there the resemblance ended. She was married and had a young child. She was apparently unhappy in the marriage, Initially she had been attracted to Jim, but quickly understood his preference and backed off. Sometimes she came to the apartment on the lunch break. I did a couple of water colors of her. One was a portrait. One was full figure in a striped blouse and blue slacks lying on her stomach on the floor. Lester seemed to enjoy her company. Her name was Doris, but for some reason he preferred to call her by her last name.
I did watercolors of the building across the way. Our apartment faced the front. Every city has its individual architecture. Across the street were New York's typical brown stones with their bay windows that appealed to me.
Around this time the unthinkable happened. Lester was fired! He disappeared for a night and showed up the next day with two of the showgirls who had consoled him. “They scrambled eggs for me,” he said.. Bella with her typical sardonic humor asked, “Their own?”
Mr. Fischer brought in his own choreographer to finish the show. We were quite prepared to resent and hate him, but he was a pleasant soul, and mechanically efficient. We gradually accepted him and got on with it.
The costumes were another matter. I thought they were ugly and cut badly. The men's pants lacked a crotch gusset so we could move easily. I complained but was told to wear them. When I tried them out I split them. They sewed and reinforced them and I split them again. The next time they put in a gusset.
The dress rehearsal was a brutal all night affair and we had an early call the next day. Greb slept at the apartment because she lived in Queens and it was too late to go home.
We opened the next day All went well except for two events. I stopped to comb my hair and was late for an entrance. Without thinking I made a great leap onto stage into the rest of the Group's slow beginning. To my surprise this was greeted with a round of applause. The other event was during the drum dance when there was unexpected laughter from our New York audience. It seems that one of our movements was a stylized version of a phallic salute. Apparently this gesture was more common on the East coast.
So now our run began for however long the show would last. We did two shows a night, so there was time in between. I usually went back to the apartment, and Greb often went with me. It is said that the serpent force is for the ruin of the many and the salvation of the few. The serpent force is basically reproductive or sexual energy.
As luck or fate would have it. One night we went back to the apartment and Lester was not there. As can be seen from my history a certain aggression on the part of woman was enough to inflame my ardor. I had no particular desire for anyone, but inflame me she did. For the briefest moment I thought, “she's married. She knows what she is doing.” Our kiss ended up horizontally.
I was enraptured, and everything was changed. I was exhilarated, charged with energy, free, and infinitely grateful. We flew back to the club for the second show.
The ruin of the many began. I had no idea of the consequences. I had no idea of Greb's complexity, entanglements, tenacity, and capacity for manipulation. I was nineteen and I had a lover. It seemed simple enough.
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