Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Magic /
Tru Magik: Celebrity Disguises, for Example
A few personal illustrations:
|1) Artist Gail Bruce and I are stopped at a red light going north on Park Avenue, high up above the street in the front seats of the VW bus I’d converted to my PK Fine Arts-Mobile. “Look,” she says, “It’s Tom Wolfe.” Some artists see the world’s surface, some see beneath, some see only the front of their own eyeball. I see mostly only the inside of my own head. It can take a good knock to jar me into the present (a place I visit as seldom as possible). With Gail I routinely made an effort not to be too far away. Still, this film-lover who has to have Hitchcock’s cameos pointed out to him (I’m following the mythic layer, not the surface) took a second to see … what anybody else would have seen instantaneously. A light double-breasted suit (in a single breasted age), maroon socks matching the flamboyant maroon breast-pocket handkerchief, the socks extra visible because the pants, like the sleeves, were cut way short, showing the flashy cuffs over the twig-like wrists, the brazen socks covering the twig-like ankles, the neck coming out of the tailored collar like a knitting needle used to score a quoit … Who is this fruit? No one could look like that if they had a clue … No: this “fruit” is Tom Wolfe. He knows exactly what he looks like: One of the great contemporary minds: an anthropologist disguised as a journalist, a Martian intellect disguised as a human moron: a consciousness like Lem’s; only tied to the details, the nitty-gritty. Tom Wolfe passed below my windshield. He knew what he looked like: he was broadcasting it. He may even have known that there inevitably would be a pair of eyes or two in the crowd on whom only a face like Lillian Gish, or an ass like a Maillol, or a boob like a shelf would have registered. He was smiling beatifically. Perhaps he was even aware that a pair of eyes (savagely satiric but) tuned only to the ass had been altered by a pair of playfully satiric eyes.|
|2) Now, in contrast: Gail and I are stopped at a light where all the streets tangle at Sheridan Square. “It’s Diane Keaton,” Gail announced. But I don’t think many fans would have recognized Keaton. She crossed the narrow Village street like a gray ghost: a street lady, a rag picker. Then I realized her dress of gray rags was probably uniquely designed and hand-made: to all but Gail, she was invisible. To those not quite ensorcelled enough, to those who saw her at all, she look old: best to leave her alone. It now occurs to me that Keaton could well have learned the trick from Woody Allen. Except with Woody the trick doesn’t really work. You want to know what Mailer looked like in the morning light of Third Avenue outside the gallery? Almost? Look at Woody when the camera finds him at a Knicks game. But not really, because Woody has never quite disappeared: even I would see him all over New York: the Village, Madison Avenue … day or night.|
|3) Much of Hollywood must know some version of the magic. Standing near a Rockwell lithograph in a Studio 53, once it had moved to Park Avenue, artist Robert Vickrey nudged me, nodded, directing his eyebrows, and whispered. “Faye Dunaway.” Some artists see the surface and see more than the surface. Dunaway, like Keaton, had made herself look gray and old.|
|4. John Huston was a big dude. Remember Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs’ panhandling from him in Treasure of the Sierra Madre? Dobbs hardly came up much above the Huston character’s belt buckle. The scene looked like Gracie Allen’s joke about bruising her gardenia while dancing with Gary Cooper.
One day I, as director of the Madison Avenue Circle Gallery, had put a just published Milton Greene serigraph of Marilyn Monroe in the window, cheek-by-jowl with an even more famous graphic by Bert Stern. My desk was below street level where I could look up at the window-shoppers. A non-descript guy is standing there, looking. He starts to smile. John Huston’s disguise fell away. He could have stood there for three hours without my recognizing him, if the sights of Marilyn hadn’t taken him out of himself. Don’t forget: the great man used Marilyn in her first and last films! I grinned and waved at him. His grin broadened as he waved back. As he walked away, it was John Huston walking; not the guy who’d arrived.
This writing occasions another thought: one related to an idea that could have come to warrant a module of its own if I lived long enough to write another hundred more important ones first. But here it is: a note toward that future secondary module:
These stories have Diane Keaton making herself look old and plain circa 1974 and Faye Dunaway doing the same circa 1979. It also would have been 1974 when John Huston made himself invisible and then visible before me. Perhaps they all studied under whoever did Margaret Hamilton’s makeup for 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. What’s the connection? Margaret Hamilton played the nasty lady on the bicycle as well as the Wicked Witch of the West. Born in 1902, she would have been around thirty-seven when she played the witch that instantly became the Platonic Original ugly old woman for the second half of the Twentieth Century. Uh, folks: she’d already made twenty-six films before that one. Do you think Hollywood had used her that many times because she was old and ugly? No, they chose a beauty to play ugliness: just a veteran beauty. Huston’s Fred C. Dobbs is an ugly character: but Bogart went to Hollywood as a Broadway matinee idol. It all reminds me of the play by the mid-century French playwright, Annouih or Giraudoux — Amphitryon perhaps, one of those, in which the citizens of some antique country want to impress their gods, so when the gods visit, the town fathers haul out the best athletes and say “These are our cripples.” They haul out the healthiest, best looking people and say, “These are our lepers, and our beggars.” Pardon me if I have the details slightly cockeyed: it’s been four decades since I’ve read it.
Go back to Tru Magik.
Why in the world would Vickrey and I have been in Studio 53 together let alone standing by a Rockwell? (No original graphics of his yet existed to sell.) Because: I wanted to show him the work of Ido Ben Porat, the chromist I’d engaged to do the chrome work for The Visitor at Eleanor Ettinger’s atelier. I now believe that I was probably mistaken. Ido did some Rockwells, but not that one. The qualities of shading I was demonstrating were misdirected: much to our future cost. That “magic” of illusion was unintentional, believe me.