The Bride Who Cut Off Her Nose
I have known those who have traded their lives for less. Being reasonable, they have assigned themselves a modest place. They won’t be hurt by dreams not coming true. They are realists; they have no illusions: they are neither beautiful nor exceptional. If Fate gives them a nudge, they excuse themselves. It’s foolish to risk failing.
Our friend Judy focuses on practical assurances. The odds are against one’s aspirations. Be reasonable.
I suppose Judy has looked at my journey as confirmation to that point of view, but our friend Luke has a more gracious grasp on life. When I tell him that I won’t be a star, he offers: “Richard, you are a star in my eyes.”
Still, I doubt if any of my friends understand when I paint them they are going public. Everybody speaks in clichés as being immortalized in a painting, but do they truly comprehend they are also in my story? I think Larry did. That seems to offend Judy when I send her a copy of Artforum with his two portraits across a spread of pages.
She never replies, never again sends me, as is her custom, Christmas cards of herself as she sits dressed in taffeta, surrounded by her kitties and her stuffed teddy bears filling up the available space of the colored photographs which Larry will help take of her when he is alive. Besides her friends, she sends it out to the many people that she knows in the theatre.
Judy, as Alan Jay Lerner’s girl Friday and confident to some of the greatest legends of Broadway musical theatre, is already a fixture in that world when my brother’s friends from Carnegie Tech Drama move to New York to start their careers. She has known my sister-in-law Regina Ress before everybody, and it is Judy’s wide connections that lead Bob from pursuing a career in the theatre and into television as designer for the Mike Douglas Show then produced in Philadelphia.
Bob will remain with the Douglas show for over a decade before moving to LA to become art director for the Miss Universe Pageant. So on my return from France, I assume a place among these friends in the theatre whose walls of my paintings form the revolving backdrop to their lives.
Judy’s tiny apartment on Cornelia Street is too small, and her salary too modest to collect paintings. She knows everybody and can find possible entrée for others, but Judy will not leave the theatre. She remains safely in the background; it affords her the freedom to stay herself in its whacky Bohemia- an intrepid, no nonsense personality in jeans and baseball cap administrating to the dysfunctional Lerner. She loves running the show outside the limelight. It would never occur to her to write a book.
Could one speak of the time that Leonard Bernstein, in a fit of exasperation with Lerner, throws a lamp through the window of Lerner’s office to the sidewalk on Madison Avenue below. Can you imagine the consequences to his majestic standing if someone would have been killed! Or the time Katherine Hepburn, in a pique over Judy’s refusal to leave Lerner and join her staff in LA, careens with her in a blind rage knocking Judy off the stage and into the orchestra pit! No one else would have been reconciled to the note of apology sent to her hospital room with a bouquet of roses.
Early on Judy had been jilted. She speaks with candor, puzzled how it is that men will be so passionate one moment and then abruptly turn cold and indifferent. She has built walls to protect herself. Her appraisal concludes that she is hardly a beauty. By the time I return from Paris, she has made her most serious corrections. They are startling to me for I remember her from before.
Back in Pittsburgh, long before I go to France, I paint Judy when she visits the Ress household. Her large, ethnic nose fits well with her broad, full face, making a striking persona of earthy, sexual attraction. Not the ideal of middle-America, so she erases its rich authentic beauty by having the hated nose clipped off to that of a pug.
I had called her first portrait The Jewish Bride. One of Regina’s cousins buys the painting. Years later in Luke’s kitchen I will paint another. But it is unconvincing. Like its model, something essential is absent.
I can only assume from Judy’s silence that she sees my placing Larry’s portraits in Artforum from the perspective of her own self-denial; that I have used some reserved precinct of Larry’s private life. I had sent it for remembrance, and I believe Larry understood. To me, the two portraits on those pages allow him a place amongst the living. The paintings he poses for become his gift.
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