I sold a lot of Neiman’s stuff, saw him several times … Maybe I outta tell a story or two:
I’m in LeRoy’s studio, Broadway, upper-60s. LeRoy is ripping open a huge crate, evidently not knowing who had sent him what, or why. It’s a painting, a Neiman full size portrait of Julian Bond, standing, a tall guy anyway. Yet the canvas and stretcher and frame allowed extra canvas. Dig it? a big painting! Bond’s afro would have seemed an extreme when portrayed, but in these mid-1970s just looked out of date.
“Wow! Look at that! Isn’t that great!” exclaimed LeRoy.
I mutter something about
“Um, didn’t you offer me a glass of wine, LeRoy?”
A couple of years before, early 1974 or late 1973, having taken a sales position in Circle Gallery in preference to starving to death with fewer than three people in the world having a clue what Ivan Illich and I had tried to do (with deschooling, with the Free Learning Exchange), I’d sold the new big Circle’s first couple of Neimans: also the gallery’s first mid-three figure sales, first four figure sale … first double Neiman sale, first double Rockwell sale … But the kid who wrapped the parcels whispered aside to me, “The color overload makes me feel like I’m in the soap aisle in the supermarket.”
Circle put me over on Madison Avenue, made me the boss, left me alone. (The other salesmen hated me, had sabotaged me, some of their sabotage backfiring.) But I couldn’t mess with price. My friends though, a couple of dykes in a gallery around the corner, bought Circle publications: and anybody could bargain with them! If I couldn’t close a Neiman sale at $600, I’d send the prospect to my friends: they’d sell for $500 and throw me $50! I made more money working around Circle than I made working for Circle! (I had gotten a 10% commission: $60: but hard times cancelled that: therefore I made Circle’s pathetic salary plus the girls’ $50!)
The Neimans were easier to sell than most things despite the price averaging mid-three figures. But they changed when Felice and Circle went to war, and Circle jacked their prices way up. The Neimans sold at $350, several still sold at $500, sometimes a few would still move at $750, but sales ground below a couple, to zero, at $1,000. Ah: so next price list Circle made the retail $1,200! No sales! then $1,500, then $2,000! Suddenly, you couldn’t hold onto one for five hours. And I couldn’t send anyone to the dykes’: because no one came in! Everyone went straight to the dykes’!
Same with the Rockwells! People were buy two, three, of a particular title, and not even taking them home! consigning them straight back to the gallery!
Cheese, those dykes had those New Jersey dentists lined around the block!
One day a really vulgar broad came into my Madison Avenue Circle, a real skank. She bent over, her tits fell out, she bent again, I could see her twat, bent and twisted, I could count the hairs in her ass … She was rubbing up against the Neimans like a cat: told me she worked for him, mixed his paints, blew his whistle …
I’ve known a lot of people, but never met anyone who was bigger for blow jobs than LeRoy.
My girl friend would go to him, begging to buy stuff from his infinite collection of artist proofs: if the edition size was 350, figure there were 1,000 APs! She’d flash LeRoy the cash. LeRoy would say, “You people don’t understand me. You don’t know what makes me tick. You think I’m interested in money! No! I like to go down on it a little bit, but mostly I like to get blown!”
Martha never told me how many times she gave him both the cash and the whistle stop.
Mrs. Neiman stayed silent: in public.
My buddy, the chromist, Ido Ben Porrat, was the first to calculate aloud for me what LeRoy’s serigraphs had to add up to, retail: $34 million! 1976ish. Of course the retail gets shared several ways. That’s still plenty of spending power for LeRoy! But LeRoy was unbelievably cheap. I once saw him try to bargain with a taxi driver: LeRoy offered him a serigraph of his Trotters: then retailed at $1,200. The taxi ride might have come to what, $20? No, no: the cabbie wanted green! just plain money.
One evening at an opening I stood next to LeRoy. That afternoon a customer who had sort of adopted me said, “Oh, I love your suit! It’s so casual! In fact it looks like you slept in it!” I assured this Wall Street Wow that that was exactly right: I had slept in it! LeRoy was less in love. “He looks like a beach boy,” LeRoy said to someone he didn’t want listening to me.
“Oh, Mr. N-Eye-man,” someone squealed, pronouncing it “eye.”
“No, no,” LeRpy corrected: “N-Ee-man. Like with “E.” My brother is N-Eye-man: he sells to Christians; I sell to Jews: I’m N-Ee-man.”
You know, remembering that moment, I love LeRoy!
The day arrived for Martha’s gallery opening. LeRoy was there, but so was Harvey Kurtzman! LeRoy introduced me!
God, I’d been such a Mad comix fan!
LeRoy is telling everybody that Harvey is a genius! Harvey smiles like he’s licking Jane Fonda’s rump. (His Playboy cartoons were very oral!)
It blunted my brag to LeRoy, “LeRoy, LeRoy! This morning! I went four for four at softball! And scored!”
Funny thing, I hadn’t been with Martha! I’d been with Ginny! Without Ginny I wouldn’t have known about the game!
Just remember: in Playboy, all those pixie-sized girls in black net stockings dipping their bare quim in martini? Remember: they’re all Neiman drawings!
Here’s a different gallery opening memory: LeRoy had a show at Hammer Galleries, 57 Street. Yeah, Armand Hammer, the wheat salesman: the guy who took Rothe from me and Ed Weston. Just coming into the door I see a guy I’ve talked Neimans to: Austin Speed, one time Olympic skier: didn’t he get a bronze or silver medal once? Well Speed is in his absurd yachtsman’s outfit (tells people, “You can’t miss which boat is mine: it’s the biggest one.”) (His shoes make military spit and polish people look slovenly!) (Once I didn’t have a Neiman he wanted, I sent him to Martha, next thing I know she’s a front in his Diversified company!) Anyway, Speed got all excited as I offered to introduce him to LeRoy. I got up to LeRoy, Speed in tow: “LeRoy, allow me to introduce you to a man who owns 1,000 LeRoy Neimans.”
LeRoy went crazy, raved: “1,000 Neimans! 1,000 Neimans!”
No, wait, I guess I gotta tell one more: how Circle came by their cash cow:
Neiman, everyone knows, was a clothes horse.
(So was Dali! And so was Circle’s Larry Ettinger.) (I think Larry’s capital came from auctioning graphics at Temples: mutual competitor Ed Weston the same)
LeRoy went to Felice’s boutique. He marvels at all the Dali art she’s got on the walls, he comments. Felice explains: “Dali buys his clothes from me. I like his work. Sometimes he pays at least part in art.”
“Hey, I’m an artist. I’ll trade you some paintings!”
Larry walks in, sees all the Dali, sees all the color overload, the soapbox esthetic of the Neimans!
“Hey, those would make good serigraphs!”
“Serigraph,” Felice says. What’s a serigraph?”
And so was born an industry.
(If Larry had said “those would make good silkscreens, then maybe Felice and LeRoy (and a lot of others. including artists!) wouldn’t have been so confused.) (Once you learn it then your diction is one up on the squares.)
PS Pixies are one thing, but real girls better not dip their nether-lips in martini: or any alcohol.
James Dean, Nathalie Wood, and Dennis Hopper loved their stardom from Rebel, wanted to do something decadent:
thanx joe baltake
James Dean is not in this pic, but you get the idea.
The three decided to fill the tub with champagne and skinny-bathe together.
They ordered cases and cases of champagne, they filled the hotel’s huge tub. Natalie stipped and got in first. The boys never followed: the cutest girl in decades was screaming too loud!
Ugh, the Hammer opening reminds me: I gulped down the champagne that evening, then drove the Scirocco to Long Beach, stopped in Dirty Dick’s and swilled down the bourbon. In the morning there was a woman in my bed I had no idea how she got there. Then her boyfriend showed up and he kind of wanted her to come back to him!
In retrospect, maybe that was a good thing: it was in one of those years that I realized that drinking was not a healthy activity.
LeRoy wasn’t kidding about Harvey’s talents: look at this cartoon!
If LeRoy spread bare-butted pixies dipping their female spirits in cocktail glasses into millions of teenaged bedrooms, who better had put the female essence vividly into a previous generation’s teen bedrooms? (Mine, for example!)
I was mad for Mad, from 1954; never ever once bought a damn Playboy! By the time the first issue of Playboy came out I was already taking Esquire smut down from my walls: calendar art: a lotta butt, a lotta boob.
So: I was very grateful to Martha, and to LeRoy, for introducing me to Kurztman: but: I was very disappointed in Harvey himself!
He founded Mad with Bill Gaines. EC was the publisher. My friend lent me all EC publications once he’d memorized them (took Rudy all of an hour or two: I think I developed my own photographic memory thanx to Rudy’s example!) An anarchist even then I applauded Gaines for cracking wise against some Senate committee: don’t ever forget: this was McCarthy America! (Good gosh, I just discovered that my office of the late 1970s was in the same building as Mad! 225 Lafayette Street!) The senators had shown Gaines a Horror cover of a severed head. Gaines was bullied by these Nazis as to whether the image wasn’t excessive for children. Gaines said, No, he’d already toned it down: it had had blood and flesh spewing from the severed neck! Bravo, chortles the anarchist: the Nazis have no sense of honor, no sense of irony, no humor of sarcasm, no intelligence … I served this memory up to Kurtzman expecting him to hit a home run with it like I had never seen. No. Harvey hemmed and hawed, then said something secularly sacrosanct. Coward? Hypocrite? Of course he didn’t know who he was meeting! pk, the deschooler, pk, disciple of Ivan Illich: Christian convivial brotherhood, liberty before all. Who knows what he would really have said had he felt safe?