As a teenager in the mid l950s when I lived with my family in the township of Irvington, New Jersey, I picked up a copy of Confidential, the well-known shock-and celebrity gossip magazine at my corner candy-newspaper-store and soda fountain. I avidly read an article with pictures of Marlon Brando living in a seedy, messy, bohemian pad in Greenwich Village with the weird comedian Wally Cox of TV fame. Cox played a character called Mr. Peepers. I had been a fan of Brando after seeing him in The Wild One, Streetcar Named Desire, and On the Waterfront. I also identified with his real life rebel the-hell-with-it-all-antics I read about in the movie magazines. Like that other rebel actor James Dean who drove fast cars and died young, these were the guys I somehow wanted to emulate. I particularly idolized Brando and his intense method acting style and I learned from the same article that Marlon had studied with Stella Adler in New York – and that really got me going. In my mixed-up teenage mind, I decided my goal in life would be to move to Greenwich Village to live the Bohemian Life and to study with the great teacher Stella Adler. None of this came to pass right away since I first had to finish high school after which I also went to Northwestern University where I studied – what else? – Theater.
Eventually, by the early 60s, I was ensconced in a two-room-kitchenette apartment on Christopher Street in the Village studying acting with Adler and living the wild life one could live in those days. Rents in the Village were under $100 meaning that one could, as Joe Cino of the Caffe Cino used to say, ‘Do your own thing!’ and also ‘Do what you have to do!’ A line from a lyric of the song Bleecker Street played on the jukeboxes stated “…thirty dollars pays your rent on Bleecker Street.” I started hanging out at a cellar joint on 10th Street called Lenny’s Hideaway (now Small’s Jazz Club) where I first met Edward Albee, the composers William Flanagan and Ned Rorem, novelist Glenway Westcott, Jerry Herman of Hello Dolly! fame, Tom Eyen who wrote Dreamgirls, and the colorful madcap playwright H. M. Koutoukas who lived right across the street. A character named Ian Orlando MacBeth, a relative of Cecil Beaton, who wore Elizabethan garb and sported pink hair regularly held court at Lenny’s.
At The Hideaway, I also met Jimmy Spicer who was then the general manager at the Living Theater. He introduced me to Judith Malina and Julian Beck the legendary avant-garde-theater artists who were presenting great works at their 14th Street loft such as Jack Gelber’s jazz-junkie play The Connection that had audiences reeling and Bertolt Brecht’s In the Jungle of Cities. Judith looked me straight in the eye and told me to go home and write a play which I did. The play, which I called Hector, is about a teacher, and I modeled the character after the dynamic Professor Alvina Krause who taught acting at Northwestern. In the play, she is dying and sometimes talking to a large plaster-of-Paris Amusement Park dog statue named Hector and sometimes addressing the audience as if they were her students. The Living Theater presented it as a part of their Monday Nite series at the Cherry Lane Theater on a bill with a play by poet Kenneth Koch called Pericles and one by Jean Cocteau – Marriage on the Eiffel Tower.
Following this was an off-Broadway production at New Playwrights on 3rd Street in which Lee Paton, later known as Lee Nagrin presented Hector along with a new play I wrote titled West of the Moon, and with an anti-war play called The Blood Bugle by Harry Tierney, Jr., whose father wrote the Broadway musical Rio Rita.
Everywhere around us in the Village everything seemed to be happening at the same time. It was, to be sure, a cultural revolution of some kind. Coffee houses like the Rienzi on MacDougal Street found people not staring at computers or talking on cell phones but reading Existential philosophy books like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. People spoke of the Village as the new Left Bank. There were poetry readings in the all-night cafes. Beat poets like Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Taylor Mead, Gregory Corso, Jack Michelline, Ted Jones, and Diana Di Prima were reading at the Gaslight Café. New rock and roll groups like The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Mamas and the Papas appeared at a place on 3rd Street called the Nite Owl. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground performed at The Café Bizarre also on 3rd Street where they were discovered by Andy Warhol. Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and yes, Tiny Tim, played at The Café Wha? on MacDougal Street.
Folk joints featured start-up newcomers Tom Paxton, Dave Von Ronk. Eric Anderson, Judy Collins, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. There were Happenings and dance theater at Judson Church. Producer Richard Barr opened Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story at the Provincetown Theater to great acclaim. Joe Cino invited me to write plays for his intimate Caffe Cino Coffeehouse Theater on Cornelia Street. I wrote The Bed a play about two desperate men drugging and drinking in the Village (could I have been thinking of Marlon Brando and Wally Cox?) and a play called Moon which was about a post-beatnik couple, another deranged Warhol like Ingrid Superstar and leather man couple and a confused but Christ-like artist who lives ‘upstairs’ where he bakes bread and paints ‘circles.’ That character was played by John Gilman whom I met through Joe Cino. The Cino roster of playwrights I’ve mentioned in other articles include Sam Shepard, John Guare, Lanford Wilson, Robert Patrick, William M. Hoffman, and of course H. M. Koutoukas who was tagged the quintessential and most outrageous of the Cino playwrights by Village Voice critic Michael Smith who also wrote plays for the Cino and after Joe Cino’s suicide took over running the place for a period of time.
At one point early in the explosive l960s, I was introduced to Andy Warhol by the photographer Edward Wallowitch. Warhol was just then painting his Campbell Soup cans and he gave Wallowitch a large silver silk-screen he had done of a newspaper clipping about two housewives who were both poisoned after eating a sandwich made with tainted A&P canned tuna. Andy came to the Cino to see The Bed and later filmed it (his first split screen) and showed it at the 41st Street Theater Cinemateque under the aegis of Jonas Meekas of the Film Anthology. I hung out at Warhol’s Silver Factory and acted in two of his films Camp and Dracula/Batman both featuring the great Jack Smith of Flaming Creatures fame. Artists, actors, writers, dancers, folksingers, rock n’rollers were all over the Village in those heady days. The death of Marilyn Monroe, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy and the shooting of Andy Warhol by Valerie Solanis were a part of the chaos that dominated the decade. Sometimes violent Vietnam war street protesters were the order of the day.
What we (those of us who were under 30) wanted was a revolution based on love. The actress Lucy Silvay appearing in a play by Paul Foster called Tom Paine walked off stage at one point and kissed a young man in the audience she thought was Jim Morrison. “Why did you do that?” I asked and she responded, “It’s love, Bob. You just don’t understand. LOVE. That’s what it’s all about.” The Beatles had told us “All you need is love” or “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” but the Stones said, “I can’t get no satisfaction”. It sure was a crazy mix and that included speed, pot, L.S.D. and dancers like Freddy Herko doing a ballet leap from a 5th floor window on Cornelia Street. The long hair flower-power revolutionary Hippie musical Hair arrived on Broadway announcing “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” and in these troubled times the world is still waiting for it to happen. Yeah! The 60s was a real blast almost akin to the drunken days of the roaring ‘20s. Stay tuned in for a Memory Lane Run on the 1970s.