Life Beyond the Pines
A new series by the author of "Two
Years Beneath the Pines"
After leaving Bowdoin in June '57 and enrolling at Columbia
University that fall, it came as something of a surprise to discover that
there was life beyond the pines as it were.
Intending to get a Master's degree in comparative literature
I, soon, however made another discovery, namely that the best-laid plans
of mice and men can easily go wrong.
Having chosen Columbia less for its academic reputation
than because it was located in New York, the most exciting city in the
world as far as I was concerned, I was ill-prepared for the sheer size
and impersonal atmosphere of the Columbia campus in upper Manhattan.
Walking 'round campus didn't feel any different from walking
down Fifth Avenue at lunchtime, a locality I, at any rate, soon came to
Conveniently enough there was a bus stop just outside International
House up on Riverside Drive where I then lived, that would take me all
the way down Fifth Avenue as far as Washington Square. One of my favorite
haunts soon became the Museum of Modern Art on 52nd Street, just off Fifth.
One of the which left leaving an indelible impression was
Picasso's Guernica, since returned to Madrid, which depicted the horrors
caused by the Luftwaffe's sneak attack on the Basque town of that name
during the Spanish Civil War.
Of course it was merely a ploy to make my acquaintance.
The strange little man in elegant dark suit introduced himself as Fred
Stern, a doctor, he said, with a practice on upper Fifth Avenue not far
from the Metropolitan.
Among Dr. Stern's clientele were well-to-do Jewish families
and people in show business. However, he told me, he treated 'struggling
young artists' free, hoping they'd repay him one day when they became
successful. Like James Dean whom he'd found sleeping on a park bench near
his office one day. Fred claimed to had taken him in to launch him on
his meteoric career.
As doctor to the casts of Broadway hits like My Fair Lady
the good Samaritan got to know stars, whose signed photos adorned the
walls of his office. Those of lesser luminaries he kept in a desk drawer,
to show to promising 'young things', while offering to arrange a meeting.
It was then I met one of the top male models in New York
at the time, a handsome Italian called Bruno, with shortish hair dyed
blond to give him the required collegiate look for modeling campus wear.
Bruno in turn introduced me to a photographer who took trial
pictures of me, but apparently wanted something in return I wasn't prepared
to give, which was the end of my modeling career before it had even started.
Truth to tell charming old Fred, a family man by the way,
was a bit of a pimp, offering his services not for money but merely for
a bit of reciprocal indulgence in physical pleasures. To be fair to him,
he was genuinely interested in helping young people, and probably saved
my life during my first few months in New York, spent mostly on the Manhattan
Having come down with what I thought was a protracted cold,
I went to see Dr. Stern who after taking a urine sample and looking at
my eyes, which had gone alarmingly yellow, diagnosed infectious hepatitis
and immediately called a taxi to dispatch me to Columbia University Infirmary.
If not treated right away hepatitis victims have been known to lapse into
I was to spend some six weeks in hospital. But thanks to
penicillin, and excellent care from an attractive young black nurse, I
was soon over the worst and beginning to have a wonderful time, with my
room full of visitors every afternoon including members of the cast of
My Fair Lady.
My most regular visitor was someone whom I'd only recently
met on the cocktail circuit, called Harry Grier, the assistant curator
at the Frick Collection. Harry brought me books and drawing materials.
Not having done any drawing before, I first tried my hand
at doing a portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson, the new Senate Majority Leader,
from a photo on the cover of Time, and actually managed to produce a reasonable
likeness of LBJ's craggy features.
Among the books Harry brought me was Hadrian's Memoirs by
Marguerite Yourcenar, who incidentally lived on Monhegan Island. Perhaps
Harry already saw me as his Antoninous, the Emperor Hadrian's young lover.
A big fellow, with wavy blond hair and bushy eyebrows Harry
looked more like a Hollywood actor than a Princeton-educated art historian.
Before coming to New York, he'd been director of the Fine Arts Museum
in Minneapolis, where Leonard Bernstein had been chief conductor of the
Minneapolis Symphony at the time. Harry promised to introduce me to Lenny,
who was, at the time, chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
Discharged at last, I gladly accepted an invitation to stay
at Harry's East Side apartment while recuperating. Among etchings on his
wall was an original Picasso, well worth coming up to see. Another attraction
was the singer Pat Boone, who lived across the hall.
Six months later, declared 100% fit again, I was drafted.