Sunday, August 25, 2013


Look at this woman.

She was beautiful when she was young.  But she had a haunting, defiant beauty when she was old.

She always did, always could, look a person in the eye.

She went to New Mexico, to the desert. She bought a house in 1940 and lived there until she died at 98, in 1986.

She had that essential rarefied beauty of the bleached skulls she loved to paint.

It doesn’t matter what you think of her paintings.  She was an artist in a man's world.  She did what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it.  That was character.

I'd like to have a face with that rugged simplicity in my very old age. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Top Hat and Tails

In 1982, New York City put on an event called "Night of 100 Stars." It was a benefit, and it was held at Radio City Music Hall. I was living in New York at the time.

Yes, there were 100 stars—and more.

A day or so before the event, I was walking west on 52nd street toward Madison Avenue when, about fifty yards ahead of me, I saw a slim figure of a man get out of a limousine.  He was frail-looking, moved a bit unsteadily.  He was walking toward a small hotel near Park Avenue. Someone was by his side helping him.

There were people who had been waiting for him, it appeared, a group of bystanders.  When they saw him emerge from the car, they began applauding.  Not shouting or screaming, applauding.  I realized he must be someone famous. 

He turned to them and smiled, waving a little shakily.  That smile.  I realized who it was.

It was Fred Astaire.

My first reaction was one of absolute, narcotic joy.  There he was! Astaire!  You couldn't mistake him.  He was smaller than I imagined.  He was never tall—only 5'8" in his dancing prime—but now, in old age, he surely had lost a few of those inches.  In 1982, he would have been eighty-three.

In my mind, of course, I—like everyone else—have the picture of this incredibly elegant dancer, the man who the great ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov called "a genius," and—well, what can I tell you about Fred Astaire that you don’t already know?  And haven’t seen him do so wonderfully, particularly with Ginger Rogers, in his films again and again?

He looked, as I said, unsteady, as if he might fall.  He took his steps slowly.

Can you imagine?  Fred Astaire taking his steps slowly, cautiously?

And that's the point, isn't it?  It's unimaginable.  And unfair.  And wrong.  Yet, there it is.

But, like most of us, I'll always see him as the marvel he was.  And, as he sang so well, they can't take that away from me.