Edward Burns, Author
Francie Lyshak: Okay, this is Francie Lyshak speaking with Ed burns. Today is December 10, 2021, and we’re here to talk about a variety of things–of course, Bill Rice and of course, The Bar. And I’m particularly interested in community. It was an amazing community and I think if there’s anything to draw out of this study, it would be to understand how this community was influenced, how it was helped, how it was benefited, how it was hurt by external influences and the people involved. That’s all. Something like that. Okay, so yes, Eddie, wherever you want to start, I’m totally interested.
Ed Burns: Sometime, it was either in December 1964 or January 65, I moved to an apartment. I’d left my parents’ home in Brooklyn. I was 20 years old, going on 21, and I found the apartment at 416 Lafayette Street in the East Village.
Francie Lyshak: And where did you live before that?
Ed Burns: In Brooklyn with my mother, my sister, and my stepfather, next door to my grandparents. Then I moved out on my own. It was late ’64 in December or January ‘65. Somehow I found a tiny apartment at 460 Lafayette Street, a studio apartment. It was on the fourth floor. It looked out to an outdoor garage. It was $120 a month. Now, that was expensive. It was an elevator building. It had an air conditioner in the living room and it had an incinerator. I had looked at a number of apartments. In those days you either got the Village Voice, whenever it came out on Tuesday night, or you went to Emmanual Turk on 14th Street. He was the real estate agent. He had apartments. I remember looking at apartments on Tompkins Square South–thirty-eight dollars a month for a studio with a bathtub in the kitchen. I said I wasn’t used to that. I was used to a bathroom. Eventually, I took the apartment across the street from what’s now The Public Theater. It had not yet become The Public Theater. It was still the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS. It was just about to become the Public Theater. And there was nothing on the block. Further down there was The Colonnade buildings, in which there was one bar. The two men who owned it were alcoholics and if they were drunk, they didn’t open it. When I moved to the apartment, I began wandering around the neighborhood and I’d like to think the first bar that I went into was Phoebe’s.
It was very close to Fourth Street and Lafayette. So you just walked in. I was wandering around the neighborhood. At that point, in 1964/1965, lower Broadway (from Eighth Street down to Housten Street) was light manufacturing, needlework with “needle workers needed” signs. So by five o’clock they pulled the street up. There was no activity. There were no bars and no restaurants on Broadway. On Lafayette Street at Astor Place on the corner was the National Bookstore. They had another little bookstore on Waverly and Broadway: It was run by a mother a father and a son. Next to them was Astor Wine and Liquor. But on Lafayette, from Astor Place to Fourth Street, there was nothing. Now there are several restaurants on each side; but then it was completely deserted. And somehow I made my way to Phoebe’s. I didn’t know anything about Phoebe’s. It was just there. This was before there was the terrace on the street and before they opened it up. Then there was a single door on the Bowery. It was an L shaped room. And there were a couple of little tables. And there was one window that faced out onto the Bowery. I must have gone in not knowing what were the hours. I’d never been in bars. I just didn’t know anything about bars. I remember sitting in the corner. I felt I didn’t want to have people on either side of me because I didn’t know anything. (Probably it was not the first time I was at Phoebe’s). Shortly after that, I came in and there was a gentleman, a little older than I am now, who was sitting there. I sat down and he began talking. He turned out to be a composer, John Herbert McDowell. John MacDowell was probably born in the late 20’s or 30’s. He died in about 1988 of emphysema. He lived in a loft on 14th Street between Second and Third Avenues on the south side. There were two movie theaters on 14th Street between Second and Third Avenue. One was the Metropolitan, and one was the Jefferson. The Jefferson was a Spanish language movie theater. The Metropolitan was porno, a gay movie theater.
Another person that was very early on there was Gabriel Ocean. Gabriel Ocean lived on the block where the Third Street Music School is now. He was a dancer and an actor. And he eventually performed at the Guggenheim. They had a performance of moving sculptures of Dubuffet and he did a play. He was the first person who got Bill Rice to do a play. He’s still alive, I think. I haven’t seen him in many years.
Back to John Herbert McDowell: There were two people who meant something in my life, who changed my life. One was John Herbert McDowell and the other was Bill Rice. Now John Herbert McDowell was a composer. He had studied music at Columbia University under Otto Leuning and John Herbert McDowell composed music. It was said at the time that he had done more music for dance companies than anyone else. People would come in and they’d say to John Herbert, “We’re doing a dance. We need music.” He either composed it, or he did a taped assemblage. For instance, he did music for Paul Taylor, who was just starting out. He did a ballet. He did the cutting and splicing of the music for a Paul Taylor ballet called Cloven Kingdom, which had music by Henry Cowel and other people. He did hundreds.
Looking back now at Phoebe’s in those days, it was the most extraordinary place for community. Yes, there was La Mama at the end of the block. So, thinking about it now, it was the most open. It was gay friendly. It was a gay bar. I mean, it wasn’t a “gay” bar. But it was a ‘gay’ bar. It was one of the few bars that accepted Black and Hispanic people and drag queens and lesbians. And then there were straight people. Even straight people could go into Phoebe’s. But looking back now and having gone into many bars, one always had a sense of distance for black and Hispanic people in the 60s, like you were invading a white space and gay people.
You know, the opposite bar would be McSorley’s on Seventh Street, before they allowed women. They used to allow women only in the early afternoon before they opened. Because Dorothy Kirwin was a woman, the owner, and next door to her was Barbara Sham, who had a leather store. (Eventually she moved to Fourth Street between Second and Third Avenue. She made almost all my belts that I still have and there were shoes that she made. She made leather bags. When our dear friend Veronica Sadler died. She had a red leather bag that Barbara Sham had made for her.) But if you think about McSorley’s, first no women were allowed. That was a traditional Irish bar. You couldn’t be gay and go into McSorley’s. And there were no black or brown people there. The only thing they had was a good cheese plate with a hot mustard and crackers.
So Phoebe’s was this extraordinary place because there were black and brown people. There were gay people; and because Lamama was at the corner, there were theater people. And because John Herbert McDowell was there, there were dancers. And so you had people. Everyone came to see John Herbert. Every dancer came to see him there. It’s where I met Eddie Barton, (Edward Q. Barton was a black dancer who picked me up in the street.) and Jimmy Waring, (probably now somewhat forgotten) who was a great choreographer. He was part of the Judson Dance Theater, but he was on his own. He had his own dance company. Also Carolyn Lord, Katie Litz, all of these people that were in the 60s (either part of Judson Dance Theater, or part of the community, or part of Jimmy Waring) would eventually wind up in Phoebe’s.
It’s there through John Herbert that I met Charles Stanley. Charles Stanley died in I think in ‘73. He was in British Vancouver, working in the summer on a farm. He was on a bus going to the airport and the bus was in an accident. He was killed. I was in Paris and when I came home, waiting for me at Lafayette Street was George from the Paper Bag Players to tell me that Charles had died. Charles was a dancer. Charles was an actor and he was stage person. In Glasgow, Scotland, he did Sandy Lanford Wilson’s play, The Madness of Lady Bright, which was the first great hit of the Cafe Chino that made Off- Broadway.
The other thing, thinking about the kind of community that came into Phoebe’s, a lot of the gay people were married–the older ones (for instance, Neil Flanagan, who was an actor, long dead, and director.) He was supposed to direct Madness of Lady Bright, and then he decided he wanted to play this drag character himself. He was married, but he was gay. The great lighting designer, Johnny Dodd, was married with a daughter but gay. There was that world that was there.
A lot of those people became close friends. I mean, Charles Stanley was a very close friend. And I helped him put on some dance recitals. He did a dance recital, Highways and Byways of America. He danced with the construction company Dance Company. And then one day, Charles said to me, “You’ve been giving me all this money.” Also, I’d pay when we’d eat it at Phoebe’s. (Phoebe’s was a long room, and then there was the backroom where you could eat. It was like an L shape). Charles didn’t have any money but I was helping him put on the dance recitals. And then one day a waitress said to me,”You know, he steals the tips.” I said, “What?” She said, “He takes the tips.” And I said, “Don’t say anything.” And so I always left a tip so that Charles could take the tip. Then I gave the waitress separately or the waiter separately. Then one day Charles came to see me on Lafayette Street and he said, “I have something.” He said, “I’m coming with something”. It was a huge painting. It was a Julian Beck painting. Julian Beck was the founder of The Living theater. It was a huge painting. I was then living in a two-story apartment on Lafayette Street on the second floor with a staircase. That painting sat in the closet of an apartment on Tenth Street because there was no room for it at my place. One day a French curator was doing a show on the Beat generation and was here visiting me and I showed him the painting. He said, “Would you lend it for the exhibition?” And I said yes. And then I eventually said, “Do you want to keep it for the collection?” Now it’s in the Pompidou Center.
Francie Lyshak: And Eddie, how were you supporting yourself?
Ed Burns: I was teaching school. I had not finished Brooklyn College. I had two more courses to take. So in 1965 I had a job in the music industry in a music licensing agency. I’d come back in the summer of ‘64 from civil rights work in the south. I was teaching people to read there, so they could pass literacy tests in Mississippi. I was working for an organization run by a woman named Fannie Lou Hamer who was a famous civil rights activist. She kept calling me up and she said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m working in the music industry.” She said, “But you’re a teacher. You’re a born teacher.” Then eventually, I went and taught for a few years in a junior high school in Canarsie taking the goddamn L train to the end, and then getting the bus. Later I taught in a high school. And while I was teaching in the high school, I went and got a doctorate at night, in English Literature at the Graduate Center of CUNY, so that I’d have more free time. Eventually I got a job teaching at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Someone said to me, “Why did you become a teacher?” There are two reasons: July and August. Why did you become a college teacher? Three and a half reasons: May, June and July. I like teaching. I love teaching. I went and got the doctorate at night at the Graduate Center at CUNY. Someone would cover my last class in high school. I was at the High School for the Humanities, Charles Evans’ High School on 18th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. I had a regular taxi pick me up to take me to 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue where the Graduate Center of CUNY was, while a friend, Lynn Sayla, taught my last class. Then I’d go and take two classes on Wednesday night. So I didn’t have much time to go out drinking in those days.
But slowly you know, you begin to meet people. John Herbert introduced me to a lot of people at Phoebe’s. For almost two decades. People went to other bars. There were people who were in the Lionshead in the West Village, or the Fifty-Five. There were little bars along the Bowery. There were little bars on Third Street, going towards the theater, where they would let you do theater pieces. But Phoebe’s was like, if you were working at La MaMa you stopped in at Phoebe’s. There were people from La MaMa. There was a young man named Kenn Hill. He was a bartender, but he also worked at La MaMa. And he died tragically in a fire in the Everart Bathhouse, which was on 27th Street. And Ellen Stewart had to go and identify the body; because he had his LaMama employee card when they found the body and he’d worked at Phoebe’s. Whatever anyone says about Ellen Stewart (and she could be a difficult person and she had her set opinions about things) but she went and identified this body and she paid for the funeral.
Then slowly there was this strange man who looked like Samuel Beckett who would be sitting near John Herbert and me in Phoebe’s. One day John Herbert says to me, “I want you to meet me at my office.” Now he had a loft on 14th Street, second floor. (Two buildings down was the playwright, Arthur Williams and Diana Deprima. That end of 1964 was very difficult for a lot of these people, because a young actor and writer Freddy Hurco had committed suicide on the roof of Johnny Dodds apartment, on Cornelia Street. Diane Deprima did a book called The Freddie Poems.) So John Herbert says to me one day, “I want you to meet me in my office.” I said, Where’s your office John Herbert?” He said, “Come to Luchow’s on 14th Street at 4:30.” I said, “What do you mean your office?” So I’d go to Luchow’s, (which isn’t there anymore. Then it became PC Richards. They tore that down. Now it’s a New York City training building.) But Luchow’s had Christmas decorations all year. So why was it his office? He said, “Come to the bar?” It was a German restaurant and at about 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock, they started bringing out into the bar and putting on tables a buffet for the Con Ed executives. So if you were at the bar and you were drinking a beer you got dinner. So then John Herbert said, “Don’t tell anybody.” When John Herbert was very ill with emphysema, (and eventually had to move back to what I think was Westchester with his mother) and he couldn’t breathe (he was on breathing machines) dancers from every dance company came and the men would strip naked and blow balloons to let him see the bodies blowing balloons. And they did it because it was John Herbert.
Then slowly and it’s hard to know when, there was this strange man (who looked like Samuel Beckett) and gradually I met Bill Rice. Nobody knew that then that he was a painter (this is maybe 1965-66.) What I know about Bill was that he would come in and stay late. He always had young black or brown friends around him and he lived on Third Street. Third Street had a lot of painters. On Third Street was Paul Tech, who became one of my closest friends, an intimate friend. Paul was in New York (because his boyfriend was Peter Hujar). Some early Susan Sontag books are dedicated to Peter and Paul. And they were the couple. Charles Stanley lived on Third Street. Paul Tech lived on Third Street. He lived in a building where Shayla Baykal lived. Paul used to come and see me in Paris, if he was doing projects in Belgium (he died of AIDS). It was Sheyla who called me in Paris. (I guess she got from Bill, how to reach me in Paris.) She said, “Paul is dying.” (He had been in a monastery in Vermont and they threw him out.) He came to New York and so Sheyla took him to Lenox Hill Hospital. She said, “I’m his wife.” Of course, she wasn’t his wife. Because otherwise you couldn’t……. In those days in 1987 with AIDS, you had to mask up and do full hazmat gear. I paid for some private nurses, because the nurses in the hospital wouldn’t bathe him or bring him his food. I remember one day, David Wojnarowicz, who was also ill with AIDS, came to the hospital to see him because David had become a boyfriend of Peter Hujar’s.
Francie Lyshak: What year so are we talking about now?
Ed Burns: ‘87-’88, Paul’s last paintings were small paintings on newspaper: “Susan reads Nietzsche” or “Susan lectures.” It was a crying out to Susan Sontag to renew their friendship. George Ashley, who was with the Bread and Puppet Theater, went and found Susan. Susan came and spent the last two weeks of Paul’s life with me, 24 hours a day reading to him and things.
So then there’s Bill Rice. You sit there and you talk to Bill Rice. And you talk about books. And he’s read things but I didn’t know what he did. Then I find out, he was working in some hospital sending out bills to cancer patients. You know, I mean, this is it’s a pure Beckett. It’s pure Samuel Beckett. Bill was living with a black man who was not a boyfriend. (And I can’t think of his name. He had three names. His daughter was Nonna Fey and she lived with her mother. And I forget what he did. His name will come to me). But he was living on Third Street. And he said once, “Why don’t you come around.” I went around and there were some paintings. So probably I looked at something, a drawing, a wash drawing of a male figure, a black figure. It’s hanging on the wall, near my bathroom, okay, and it’s from 1967. So that was probably the first time that I ever knew that Bill was a painter and he gave this drawing to me. And by then we’d become friends. And we’d see Bill all the time. Gabrielle got him to do a play with him. And once Bill did a play, the world opened.
Francie Lyshak: Was this in Bill’s studio, his apartment?
Ed Burns: I forget where Gabriel did the first play. Later on, Bill was in his garden with the garden players, with Gary Indiana. This play was before that, yes, very early. This is about ’67-‘68.
Francie Lyshak: You said everything opened up. What did you mean?
Ed Burns: Well for Bill, he found that he liked being in theater.
Then there were boyfriends. Right behind you there’s a gouache: I think it says, “Bringing Richie Home.” Richie was a boyfriend who died of AIDS.
Francie Lyshak: Yes. I have a portrait of Richie, a beautiful man.
Ed Burns: I bought it when Bill had an exhibition at Mitchell Algus Gallery.
It’s funny when I think about it, I had more relationships with people in the theater than painters. But it was through Bill that I met Richard Morrison and Larry Mitchell. Most of the arrangement of the paintings in the room where we’re sitting in now was done by Richard Morrison, when I moved here. I have only a few things of Richard’s. They lived in a building before Ageloff Towers. They lived in a building on 12th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenue.
I do have one work right above your head. That’s the photographs that I bought. It was part of an exhibition. If you take it off the wall, I don’t know if it says the name of the gallery anymore on the back. It was Annina Nosei Gallery. So I bought that at Annina Nosei. You know, they weren’t expensive. Years later I was at a dinner and Nina was there and I mentioned it. She had no memory of that show. But it was a group show. I would see him occasionally (it was later when they were living in Ageloff Tower). And I’d go up there. The few things that I have of Richard’s–like that one that we just looked at–if I would gravitate to something, shortly thereafter Rick would deliver it to me as a gift. On the wall there, below that yellow and orange one, that’s a Rick Morrison. It always reminded me of German Expressionism–like an Altdorfer. It’s just a gorgeous piece. Then on the wall here are two things by Richard–photographs taken from television. There’s the Two Men Carrying a Stretcher. Then there’s a small, little abstract, multicolored abstract on the wall there.
I didn’t buy enough art. The David Wojnarowicz I have from when Bill Rice did an exhibition in his gallery. Everyone was there and Richard helped organize it. Richard is the one who said to me, “It’s $100 for a David Wojnarowicz. It’s the jar with the ants.”
Francie Lyshak: It might have been the Salon/Saloon show.
Ed Burns: Yes it was, yes. And I was trying to think why I didn’t buy more art. And it’s because I went to Paris at Christmas time, New Year, Easter and sometimes for Thanksgiving. And for two months or three months in May, June, July. And I went every year. I lived there in 1968. I was there for the whole year and in ‘73.
So I needed money to travel, to be there and stay in hotels. I didn’t have enough money to buy as much art as I should. Rick Morrison tried to get me to buy Barbara Ess and I regret to this day that I didn’t buy a Barbara Ess. But you know in my bedroom I have two others by Richard. Above us here is a Richard Morrison portrait of Bill Rice–a photograph. He’s at the window. They’re in Mexico. In the bedroom are two Richard Morrison’s done in Mexico. They used to go every year, to the same hotel.
Francie Lyshak: They found some places they kept returning to. One was in Isla Mujures where they went every year. Then they found another place in Merida I think.
Ed Burns: But these were all people who are friends and supported one another. It’s funny when I think about that sudden blossoming of the East Village art gallery scene. I’d known Richard Milazzo when I was in graduate school at CUNY. He’d said to me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Reading other people’s mail;” because my doctoral dissertation was in the study of letters. Richard was then married to Tricia Collins. I would always get invitations to their openings. I have all the catalogs. A lot of it I couldn’t understand. A lot of the art I liked. I couldn’t understand a lot of their texts. Lugubrious at times. But it was exciting and whether you went to Patty Hearn, the Fun Gallery, International With Monument, there was something exciting happening.
You asked about community. I said there were three people: John Herbert was one, because he was the first one who validated me. If you knew John Herbert, then you were okay. And then Bill Rice. And then always, always Jeff Weiss. Oh, God, he and Carlos, oh, Jeff Weiss. He’s alive. I think he’s in a nursing home in Allentown. You and I were together when he came back to New York to say farewell to Carlos, at his memorial–the last time that Jeff Weiss performed. Long before that I saw him at midnight at the Cafe Chino. He did plays. It was at the Tenth Street Theater. In the basement of the building where they lived on 10th Street, east of Second Avenue, they had a little theater, a basement space. It wasn’t really a theater. There were some chairs and word would go out. I’ve got a folder that eventually I’ll give to the The Howl. If they do something for Bill, then I’ll give them my Jeff Weiss folder (including Carlos’ petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to bring Ellen Stewart up for charges.) But eventually, word would come out in Phoebe’s, and maybe other places, that Jeff Weiss was going to perform on say Saturday night on 10th Street. Sometimes it was one of Carlos’ plays, The Life and Times of Luis Bimbo. The word would go out and people would line up. You were watching sheer genius. They would take a little bit of money. I remember one night, there was a line and they took your money. And then they did a procession chorus to Second Avenue to a convenience store to buy food so that they could feed you. And then he’d do plays at La Mama. It was like there was a drum beating: ‘Jeff Weiss is going to perform Saturday night.’ Whatever else you’d planned you went: People who were in plays, didn’t perform. I remember being there one night, and there was Susan Sontag, who eventually becomes a great friend of mine because of Paul Tech. But Jeff Weiss was not a bar person. Carlos didn’t let him go to bars. He would come to a bar if he needed to see someone. He would come to Phoebe’s.
Gradually, I think what happened in Phoebe’s was this. When I first went to Phoebe’s, Kenneth Brown wasn’t the manager. (Ken Brown wrote an extraordinary play called The Brig, which was done by The Living Theater. Then, Jonas and Adolphus Mekes, the filmmakers, wanted to do a documentary of it. It was being performed in a theater and they wouldn’t let them in the theater. They broke into the theater and the Mekes brothers filmed it–except half the film wasn’t good. This shortened version, went to the Venice Film Festival and won an award as the best documentary.) Ken Brown eventually went and managed Phoebe’s. Other people that were there were John Vacarro from The Theatre of the Ridiculous. This was their office. You got full drinks. You paid money. This is in Phoebe’s. Then Lester, who owned Phoebe’s, died. I never was privileged to have a charge account; but people had charge accounts at Phoebe’s. Then they ended the charge accounts and then people, you know, were dying. So people went to The Bar on the 4th street. That was the migration.
Now there’s a painting of Bill Rice’s here in a gray frame. The frame was painted by him. That’s across the street from The Bar on Second Avenue. On the corner there was an old refrigerator and stove store. That’s the store in a painting done from Bill’s memory. A lot of Bill’s paintings were done through windows. There’s a big painting on the wall of a guy in a bicycle. And it’s the blinds of a bar, of Dick’s bar.
Before my dissertation, I worked on a book of the letters of Alice Toklas and I asked Bill if he had some free time. I was living on Lafayette Street in the two-story apartment and Bill would come to help. I bought him an entry pass to the NYU library so he could do research and he would do typing. He worked with me and he was part of the group of people that helped me index the book. I was sitting upstairs and I was going through it. There were about six people, including Bill and they had index cards—A, B, C, D, E, F, G… So I’d say, for example, ‘Francie Lyshak, 67’, like it was bingo. So then they had to do ‘Lyshak, Francie, page 67’. And that’s how I did the index for the book. Bill worked on other projects. For better or for worse, I’m the one who introduced Bill to Ulla Dydo. Ulla was my teacher at Brooklyn College. She was my teacher of American literature. She taught Gertrude Stein. She went off to Africa with her husband at the time, John Dydo. He was an economist. He had a Ford Foundation grant. They went to Nigeria, to Legos, during the middle of the Civil War. Her son, Malcolm, was born there. John was a good photographer. When I did a show at the LaMama gallery, I included some of John Dydo’s photographs. He was very good. That’s how Bill met Ulla, through me. Let me tell you, she latched onto Bill. Ulla adored Bill. She didn’t like most men. Oh god, she could be brutally hostile.
Francie Lyshak: Well, I know she didn’t like me that much.
Ed Burns: She didn’t like anyone who interrupted her relationship with certain men, like Larry Mitchell. She had the keys to Larry’s apartment at Ageloff Towers. Ulla and Larry were very close. So you came between her and Larry and Rick.
So then suddenly I met Ondine, who was a Warhol superstar. I know exactly how I met Ondine, but I’m not telling that one. In the apartment on Lafayette Street, he used to store Chelsea Girls, and he made his money by going out and showing at colleges. Andy let him do it. He had a boyfriend, Roger Jacoby, who was an avant garde filmmaker. Ondine was in the films. Roger Jacoby’s aunt was an art dealer, Rose Fried. She’s a famous art dealer. She had given Warhol his first show. So Ondine and I became very close friends. Until he died I think we spoke almost every day. Even when I was in Europe, he would call me or I would call him. We never had sex. Then I met Jimmy Camichia and met The Hot Peaches and Ian Mackay– and learned about complicated relationships. Ondine performed with Jimmy. I went from Paris to Amsterdam to see them. I lived on a houseboat and it was through Jimmy that we met Bloolips. I went to that first show. You know, word came out. It’s just like the beating of the tom-toms: ‘Jeff Weiss is going to perform.’ Here was a beating of the tom-tom’s again: ‘Something special has come from England.’ Jimmy let people know. It was the beating of the tom-toms. I don’t remember whose apartment it was in. It was a loft in the West Village. And there were The Bloolips. Nothing was the same after that. It was complete madness. There was Betty Borne and Paul Shaw and Lavinia Coop, just the most wonderful people. You couldn’t find nicer people. It was the sense that one group of friends led you to another and you felt so sure of them. No matter what happened, you felt very sure. Then you saw them perform–Paul with the big earrings and things and Betty. That was all because of Jimmy. Bloolips had seen Hot Peaches.
It’s funny, when I think now, a lot of my warm friendships were with people in the theater. It was through John Herbert at Phoebe’s that I met Madeline LaRue. Madeline LaRue had been born in Laramie, Wyoming, of South African parents. Her father was on a wool commission. She lived in The Colonnades. She lived in an apartment at 432 Lafayette on the top floor were Sturges Warren now lives. That was Madeline’s apartment. She had a boyfriend, who was bisexual, Lee Kissman, who had been in Sam Shepard plays. He got an Obie Award for The Unseen Hand or Red Cross. Madeline became one of my closest friends. She eventually went back to South Africa where she was murdered. But for a while, anyone from the theater who came from South Africa came to see me on Lafayette Street and stayed with me, and we’re still friendly. When I was ill a year ago, I had dreams about some of them. I reached out to Maggie Suboil, who is involved in film now in California.
But everything really came from that community of people at Phoebe’s. They were all working. They were living in East Village, in very modest circumstances. No one had a lot of money. The other day on the EV Grieve website, there was a story about the old motorcycle clubhouse, the Hells Angels, on Third Street. It was sold. Now it’s been completely renovated. There were two apartments that were being shown there. Are you seated for this? These were ground floor studio apartments, narrow, you know, nice kitchen but narrow. And there was a door that led to the brickyard in the back. They wanted $3,998 a month rent. I can remember looking at apartments for $48. But that was 1960 and people didn’t have money and people relied on other people. You did plays for people. (There were two boys who lived in The Colonnades, Harry and Dan. They started the WPA theater on the Bowery. Eventually they moved to California. I think they opened a limousine service.) But people did plays for no money. You did it for the camaraderie of working with people and things. Madeline was the diva. Madeline Leroux was in Tom Irons’ plays, The White Whore and the Bit Player. Madeline was in Women Behind Bars. There was the theater, which is downstairs and Madeline lived upstairs. Madeline would come with Lee I’d say two, sometimes three times a week. I’d make dinner for them. Madeline was a close friend, but all of it began at Phoebe’s.
What I do regret is not buying more paintings of young people. When Bill did work for me, not a word was said. Once a month. I’d meet him in Phoebe’s or later in The Bar. (I never liked The Boiler Room. Bill divided time, in later years, between The Boiler Room and Dick’s Bar.) But whenever I’d see Bill, I’d give him an envelope with money for the work that he did. We never said how many hours or whatever. It was a set amount of money a month. Bill had a basement space on Seventh Street at the very end. Every so often he’d tell me to me to come to Third Street and he’d give me either a gouache or a painting.
Again, how does community work? One day someone said to me, could you give a party for St. Patrick’s Day? It was in this apartment, for Newla Hann. She’s a Gaelic poet and she was in New York. (She eventually got a teaching job at Boston College) I said yes. I did a big party for Newla. So I called Richard Milazzo and he was then living with or married to Joy Glass. (They were living on Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street and they had invited me to several parties. There used to be a bar and now it’s a restaurant. Richard gave parties in the bar.) I said to Richard, ‘I’m giving a party.” It was a Sunday afternoon, St. Patrick’s Day.” Why don’t you come by?” It was for Nullah. He didn’t know her. Richard came with Joy. He sat on the sofa and he looked around the room and there were Bill Rice paintings sitting next to Picasso prints, and Braque prints. When he left, he said, “How do I get in touch with Bill?” He knew Bill, but he didn’t know how to get in touch with him. I gave him the number. That’s how it was that Richard gave Bill the exhibition at Sydney Janis Gallery.
Then I said to Bill that I was going to Paris. Bill had never been to Paris and he wanted to do new paintings. Bill had some ideas that he wanted to work out in his mind–not that Paris was going to influence the painting, but he was already completely obsessed with Picasso. Bill and I went to Paris together. I bought him the ticket. He stayed in my hotel. We were there for two weeks together, looking at art, meeting people, meeting my friend Joan.
In the Sydney Janis gallery exhibition, for instance, there’s the painting of a boy on the bicycle that you see behind you. That painting was in the Sidney Janis Exhibition and Richard wrote about that painting. Then it didn’t sell. I don’t think anything sold. One day Bill called me to Seventh Street and he said, “You better take this before something happens to it.” And I did. But it’s all I think because there’s a sense of community and that you trust each other in that. By 1989 or 1990 I mean it ended. AIDS ended it.