Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
I went to California Institute of the Arts. It’s an experience I can’t believe I survived. They really didn’t care what anyone did as long as no one got killed.
My friend Diane Buckler was a raving beauty and inveterate people collector. (Also a damn fine photographer and barrel of fun. She once dragged me to a Holiday Inn disco in King of Prussia, which we turned inside out. They never recovered.)
One of Diane’s gazillion friends was kin of Groucho Marx — I forget which one, probably his grandnephew Gregg Marx (Gummo’s singer/actor grandson, he starred in “As The World Turns”).
One day this fella took Diane with him to visit Groucho. Old and sick by then, he was still a card-carrying letch. She was shocked when Groucho leered at her and wheezed, “Hey, little girl! Want a CHEESE SANDWICH?” But she laughed so hard about it later, his deathless invitation became her personal catchphrase.
Children of the Corn
I had the dubious honor of knowing too many children and siblings of famous people. Most were needy, narcissistic whiners accepted by the school because their parents paid cash. You could ignore them, but at your own peril.
Case in point: I was once the object of a masterful defamation campaign orchestrated by the otherwise talent-free spawn of an Oscar winner. Why? Because I made a funny joke about her friend/my roommate who always blabbed nonstop about sex (and was standing right there, btw, blabbing about sex). The joke? It was about how she was always blabbing about sex. Neither they nor any of their zombie pals ever spoke to me again, which was perfect.
Another one of “them” was autistic. By which I mean seriously-fucked-up-Adam-Lanza-autistic. Never spoke to anyone, ever. Except for that one time when a cadre of pompous Disney suits arrived to steal free ideas for DisneyWorld. They called a student assembly and they talked and begged, very self-importantly, to the sound of crickets. Until the autistic guy started yelling every word of the script of Escape to Witch Mountain.
Chris Lemmon was not one of “them.” He was fairly low-key about his lineage. You either knew who he was or you didn’t; Chris never shoved his genealogy in anyone’s face. He was sweet, cute, and unpretentious — all Oh, it’s time to toilet paper the provost’s car? Let’s go! And he could play a piano like he was born doing it.
We had a totally unlicensed bar on campus, Cafe Musique, where he would play and (yes!) read poetry with us generic types.
“We used to do all sorts of illicit things there, not the least of which was my piano playing and incessant yodeling and mauling of perfectly good music,” Chris recalls fondly.
One of Chris’ Cafe Musique partners in crime was my friend Tom Knechtel’s friend Jane Koch Gagle (she runs the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre now). Tom often created crazyass costumes to use on his art models; he says that one day “I burst into Jane’s dorm room to show her an outfit I’d made,” and unexpectedly found Chris and a stranger standing there. All Tom saw of the stranger was his back, but he panicked. He knew it was Jack Lemmon, and Tom was dressed like a monk, so he fled.
Tom Knechtel became a celebrated West Coast painter and professor at Art Center College of Design. The L.A. Times said he commands “the draftsmanship of the Renaissance masters.” An understatement, IMHO. His wonderful work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.
Chris Lemmon eventually went into the family business, even though he majored in classical music. It was preordained, I guess, considering he grew up all Hollywoody. I loved his TV show “Duet.” He’s been in tons of movies and TV shows, plus a stage production that he wrote (and composed the piano score for!) called A Twist of Lemmon. It’s based on his literary memoir about his father. Opening in London’s West End soon, too.
Good guys. Good stuff.
The Fabulous Stains
My dorm suitemate was Megan Anderson, an actor (I think). Megan was constantly screaming at someone, “Don’t call me Meg-un! It’s Meeg-an!”
Don’t-Call-Me-Meg-un had a large collection of Jacques Brel records (quel bore) and a best friend, Randall Edwards (she’s a girl). Randall’s very good friend was Ed Harris (definitely not a girl).
Randall was a crazed Bruce Lee fan. She would frequently explode into my room, ranting passionate declarations of love for Bruce, who alas was unavailable. She was inconsolable when he died without her permission. I finally had to move out of the dorm. Randall became a soap star. Megan’s probably on a street corner, yelling at people.
But back to Ed. He and Randall had no place to go to run lines or whatever, so they often used Megan’s room that adjoined my bathroom, a raging vortex of inappropriate sounds. Ed was no Bruce Lee, but he was certainly one superfine hunk of manflesh. There must’ve been some chopsocky cosplay going on. A lot of weird noises emanated from that place. Also a lot of used condoms.
What’s That Smell?
For the six people who don’t already know, CalArts was the brainchild of Walt Disney. Walt, of course, was the Disney family’s visionary; his brother Roy, not so much, and he’s the one everyone got stuck with after Walt died in 1966. There was a terrifying rumor that Roy wanted to monetize CalArts by charging visitors to ride around in trams and watch the artists at work. And if that didn’t pay off, Plan B was to turn the campus into a shopping mall.
The territory was a sump of rich mythology. Like the Mickey Mouse pornos allegedly drawn by Walt himself (which turned out to be real; I saw them). The Holy Grail of CalArts myths, though, is also the creepiest, and in hindsight maybe the easiest to understand. It was rumored that Walt was cryonically preserved when he died, so that he could be revived in the future when a cure for cancer was found. We were always looking around for him. Where better to stash a body than a remote desert locale?
Officially there’s no forensic evidence that Walt’s on ice somewhere. However, there’s this…
CalArtian Mark Edward is a professional mentalist, seance performer, and popular television consultant. He says that before Walt died, “there was a lot of conjecture among fans and my fellow magicians about why it was taking so long for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion to be completed. [Twelve years to design, six more years to build.]
“I was going out with a girl whose father owned a top-of-the-line refrigeration company with a lot of government and scientific contracts. One night, when I was at dinner at their house, he took me into another room where he rolled open a blueprint of The Haunted Mansion. He pointed out an area that was curiously set aside from the rest of the ride and marked with a large X. He asked me what I thought of that. He further told me that this particular ‘room’ had its own independent self-sufficient power supply, so that even if the entire city of Anaheim’s power was cut off, this one room would continue to operate.
“Odd, to say the least. It was his job to deliver the tons of high-tech equipment to this site the next day. In one of the strangest dreamlike events I can remember in my ’60s experience, he asked me, ‘Why do you think they need this equipment I’m selling them?’
“I didn’t have a clue, other than maybe it was ‘cold spot’ technology to ‘haunt’ the house. Only years later did I learn from CalArts sources the myth about Walt being frozen. One wag said when I told him, ‘Why not? Walt Disney certainly had the money and the will to do it.'”
CalArts rents itself out to a lot of TV shows and movies as a set. Officially the reason is to impart firsthand knowledge to students about TV/film production, but really the school just wants money. One of the shows that shot there was “The Invisible Man” starring David McCallum.
Let me just say this: I adore David McCallum. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is one of my all-time favorite TV shows (I own the entire boxed set), and I never miss “NCIS.” I watch The Great Escape every time it’s on TV. I’ll even watch that one “Sex And The City” with him in it. Love love loves me some David McCallum!
But back to CalArts. While the alleged purpose of whoring itself out to Hollywood is to provide students with filmcraft knowledge, we were nevertheless banned from “Invisible Man” sets. I guess they were trying to protect their super secret technology from people who were about to make Star Wars: Episode IV and “Star Trek: TNG.” Or maybe McCallum had suffered more than enough frothing teens during his U.N.C.L.E. tenure. Whatever. We never even saw him just walking around the place. I mean, everybody goes to the can sometime, right?
Anyway, one day I learned McCallum was secretly stashed in an empty conference room, secretly waiting to go onto his secret set.
A guerrilla paparazza even back then, I barged in with my Instamatic.
I was shocked to find McCallum alone in the room, sitting quietly in an old lounge chair, wearing the show’s “secret technology” — a Chromakey mummy suit. Basically the same “secret technology” that suffocated original Invisible Man Claude Rains in 1933.
I clicked away at my hapless idol. And then my mummy, David McCallum, spoke to me.
“Your pictures won’t come out without a flash.”
I was ecstatic! And then I fled before someone could throw me out. (And yes, my pictures came out black.)
Bonus points: I also got to meet the legendary Jackie Cooper, who was just walking around the place like a regular person. He played Walter Carlson on the show before Peter Gunn took over the role. Cooper was very kind and nice, although he did have a deer-in-the-headlights look, probably because everyone else wanted to meet him, too, all at the same time. Who wouldn’t?
Above: David McCallum in “The Invisible Man.” Copyright © 1975 Dynamite Magazine
Go to the Head of the Class
New York painter Miriam Schapiro was a cofounder of the CalArts art school and its groundbreaking Feminist Art Program. She’s been called a figurehead of the art world, a feminist pioneer. Actually, her greatest talent was self-promotion.
Mimi definitely was a lot of things, but feminist wasn’t one of them. She was petty and vindictive, and wore her contempt like a mink stole. Her favorite students had parents rich enough to buy her paintings. She was cruel to others entrusted to her tutelage.
Part of her feminist art curriculum was something she called “consciousness raising groups.” In practice they were bully sessions during which entitled girls (they did a lot of self-portraits) brutalized less advantaged ones. Participants would break down in tears while Mimi sat there impassively.
When I was in the Feminist Art Program, I somehow got on Mimi’s shitlist. Without explanation she cut my contribution to the program’s Women’s Art Festival project. The companion book, Anonymous Was a Woman, contains letters from famous artists to Mimi’s students; my name appears in their salutations, otherwise I don’t exist. (The book, which Mimi edited, makes no sense whatsoever. It contains many self-portraits. Also many photographs without captions or proper attribution. Mimi copyrighted everything in her name. At the very end, for any readers still awake, there’s one page perfunctorily thanking everyone who did all the work.)
The project broke to lots of publicity. At the same time, Mimi publicly unveiled a new collection of her own artwork for sale entitled — shocker! — “Anonymous Was a Woman.”
No one would tell me why I was disowned. I did make the mistake — fatal, in retrospect — of mentioning during group that I’d run out of money. Shortly thereafter Mimi saw me returning from a job interview and insulted my clothing. (Conservative skirt, blouse, low-heeled shoes. She called me a whore. WTF?)
Mimi also tried to keep me from graduating. My transcripts from another college mysteriously disappeared from my record file, and two weeks before graduation I was informed that I suddenly didn’t have enough credits.
To Mimi, her inexcusable behavior was normal and acceptable. No one ever interceded. The school’s president was Bob Fitzpatrick, who later mismanaged EuroDisney into bankruptcy; the dean of Mimi’s department was her husband, the abstract expressionist painter Paul Brach, whose lectures were self-aggrandizing extravaganzas of name dropping. Paul and Bob had other fish to fry.
I never complained formally about Mimi. But others did. A groundswell of unhappy campers easily explains her increasingly disturbing behavior.
There were some students who’d transferred to CalArts to study with artist Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program’s original codirector. Chicago had founded the very first Feminist Art Program, a thriving Cal State University enterprise that Mimi hijacked. After enticing Chicago to relocate her program from Fresno to Valencia, Mimi banished Chicago and continued the program solo. Chicago’s students were horrified.
You can read more takes on Mimi’s program here. One student dropped out because “there was too much emphasis placed on group projects and complications. One book was enough.” Another regretted joining because of all the “fights, disagreements, jealousy.” Another learned that “women can be just as exploitative of women as men.” Another said, “we could not get beyond personalities and create a lasting support system.” “It was clear to me,” deadpanned another, “‘artist’ is a dead profession.”
At least 25 percent of the group bailed. One casualty ended up in a sanitarium. Another ended up dead. (Connie Marsh. Google her.) Mimi knew a PR bonanza when she saw one. She invoked Connie’s memory at every opportunity, like a martyred saint. Connie’s photo appeared — right next to Mimi’s — on the cover of Anonymous Was a Woman. Listen, I knew Connie; I liked her. But there were non-dead group members who deserved to be on the cover and weren’t. They found out after the book came back from the printer.
I’m being charitable when I say it’s criminal to subject children to this kind of stress. CalArts must’ve agreed because Mimi and Paul soon hauled ass back to New York.
A couple of years later I ran into Mimi in SoHo. She pretended not to know me. I assumed it was because I wasn’t famous enough to impress her retinue. But later someone in the loop told me I was being punished for daring to quit her worthless program.
Oh. I didn’t reenlist for Part Two of Mimi’s dumb vanity project. Who needs a program about free expression that censors people?
I will say Mimi was a talented artist — also a con artist who hitched her wagon to any horse going in a lucrative direction.
Mimi Schapiro died last year, and some of us didn’t care.
CalArts extra credit points:
🐀 Judy Chicago retaliated by eclipsing the Feminist Art Program with her masterwork The Dinner Party, and redlining Mimi Schapiro out of documentation of their seminal Womanhouse project. Mimi was entirely edited out of the Womanhouse film by Johanna Demetrakas and completely ignored in Molly Haskell’s Village Voice review of it.
🐀 During a graduation party, CalArts president Bob Fitzpatrick was thrown fully clothed into a pool by the CalArts pottery teacher.
🐀 When Roy Disney died in 1971, the CalArts tourist trams and shopping mall mercifully died with him. Walt’s body is still MIA.
🐀 Bacon points! Ed Harris played Paul Brach’s best drunk friend in Pollock.
🐀 CalArts has a bookstore. I asked them to carry my book Dead Spot. Their response: “Fuck no! Please check the box indicating your donation of $50, $500, or $5000.”
🐀 Just before his death, Groucho Marx left instructions that he be buried on top of Marilyn Monroe.
Text Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Zombie art © 2016
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