Bohemian dreaming 


By Jerry Tallmer

The ’60s. You remember the ’60s. And if you don’t, there’s a fellow named Fred McDarrah whose evocative, time-binding photographs of hundreds of artists, writers, and other hell-raisers of the New York scene in the 1960s — actually from the late ’50s into the ’70s — will, at this guess, set you aching to have once been part of that scene yourself.

Let us walk around with Fred and his wife Gloria as he and she survey the exhibit of four decades of his work — to be exact, a tasty sampling of it in 120 prints out of a lifetime total of some, it is said, 200,000 — on the walls of the Steven Kasher Gallery, far west on 23rd Street, through January 6, 2007.

Hey, Fred, have you really taken as many as 200,000 pictures?

“Yeah.” Suppressed grin. “I’ve been busy … and Jerry, I’ve got news for you. I remember every photograph, every single picture, I took in my entire life.”

What about this one — a famous shot of Bob Dylan staring straight into the camera, his right hand delivering a sharp, horizontal-fingered military salute?  Taken January 22, 1965, when Dylan was 23, four years after the unknown kid from Minnesota’s arrival in New York City.

“That was taken in that little [triangular] park in Sheridan Square. There was snow all around. Dylan was extremely gracious, absolutely cooperative. I can’t remember why he saluted. One of my famous pictures; an icon. It’s on the cover of ‘Bob Dylan’s Scrapbook’ that’s just out. I went to a lot of his concerts and took a lot of pictures of him. In those days I used to go to five or more events a day; they’d all be on one contact sheet.”

And this one? — Andy Warhol standing stiff and upright, almost rigid, amidst a bunch of his Brillo boxes, April 24, 1964.

 “That was at the Stable Gallery, Uptown. His second major show in New York. I took hundreds of pictures of him [over the years], have a whole boxful of them. Andy was the nicest guy you’d ever meet in your life, a sweet kid, not a bad bone in his body. He was not one of those who sought publicity. That was not his style. And people gravitated to him.”

This one? — Jack Kerouac in a plaid wool shirt, on a stage, arms extended, February 15, 1959.

“That was when he was reading from ‘On the Road’ at a poetry gig on East 2nd Street. This was the first time I shot him. One of my great photos.”

You know, Fred — said this journalist — I interviewed him around that time. He talked about sex and the publicity rat race and stuff. He’d been exhausted by New York. I think he was wearing the same plaid shirt.

“Hey, Gloria, you hear that! Jerry Tallmer says Kerouac was wearing the same plaid shirt when he interviewed him.”

How about this one? — Willem de Kooning.

“That was in his Broadway studio before he went out to Long Island. I photographed him when he was dabbling around at his paints but not painting. He was very cooperative, and though he was very American, I sometimes could not understand his Dutch accent. My last photos of him were taken in his studio in East Hampton. Then I went to his funeral.”

McDarrah points to another photo in the vicinity of the de Kooning. It shows a young man, another painter, brush in hand, reaching out, tilting on a ladder far to his and the viewer’s left. Looks like the painter and his ladder might all go ass over teakettle any second.

“My favorite photo,” said Fred. “That’s a painter named Norman Bruhl [American Abstractionist, 1921-1999]. The picture was so good, I put it on the cover of ‘The Artist’s World’ [one of many books of photographs by Fred McDarrah, texts by Gloria Schoffel McDarrah]. I gravitated toward all these people [painters, poets, composers, musicians, playwrights, novelists]. It was just in the air.”

McDarrah took a very large percentage of these pictures, virtually all of them, as lead photographer and picture editor of The Village Voice in the 1960s and ’70s — the then young weekly newspaper where he had started out as an advertising salesman in the late 1950s.

He was born November 5, 1926, in Brooklyn, the son of a man “who did nothing, never worked, a manic-depressive who used to sit by the window and just stare out. We used to live on Home Relief. My brother and I” — David, two years older, who died this year ­— “went begging for food.”

It was in the paratroopers in Occupied Japan in 1945-46 that McDarrah first picked up a camera. “When I got to Japan, it was still flat from all the bombing.” On his return from service he found a place to live in a railroad apartment at 61 West 87th Street, Manhattan, in which building there also lived the Dan Wolf who in 1955 would become the first and greatest editor of The Village Voice.

“One day in 1954 or ’55 when I was crossing Sheridan Square I ran into Dan and Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer. They said: ‘We’re starting a new newspaper, would you like to join us?’ But I was afraid if I took a non-paying job I would starve.” [The present writer was part of the birth of that newspaper in a non-paying job, and somehow survived starvation.]

On another day, another street crossing, McDarrah bumped again into Ed Fancher, publisher of the new newspaper. “He said: ‘Freddie, come to The Voice and sell ads,’ which I did for quite a while.” The paper at that time had a number of poets and playwrights also selling — more exactly, trying to sell — ads.

The first photograph McDarrah ever had in The Voice was of the artist Bill Gambini, to go with an item in “The Village Square,” John Wilcock’s weekly chitchat column.

“John Wilcock knew that I was on the scene; we were fellow travelers at art shows. By the way, I never got anything [else] about an artist into The Voice unless the artist had died.”

Fred’s memory of each and every photograph he has ever taken has stood him in good stead. “If I see an unauthorized reproduction of one of my things, I can say: ‘That’s my photo.’ ”

And you’re pretty tough on cracking down.

“Fuckin’ A,” McDarrah said in World War II lingo. “If you don’t protect your work you’re up the creek.”

Gloria, the girl from the Bronx and then Lebanon, Pennsylvania, said nothing, because nothing needed to be said. They’d gone out together for seven years before they got married in 1960, on Fred’s birthday, and have now been wed as long as almost any couple I know. They’ve got two grown sons and three grandchildren.

Back to the pictures on those walls:

“Here’s Charlotte Moorman” — the cellist (1932-1991) who frequently made headlines by giving concerts bare-breasted. The photo’s dated February 9, 1967. “She called me up and said: ‘Freddie, come on over. I’m going to be naked.’ The performance was across from Carnegie Hall on 57th Street. The cops got excited and arrested her.

“And here’s the great Carolee Schneeman [“Meat Joy” performance artist] with her titties hanging out. This was when she was emoting at East Hampton” — where Fred and Gloria have a summer place. “The East Hampton Guild Hall refused to exhibit this picture. I don’t know why.

“Here’s Elvis [June 9, 1972], during his first visit ever to New York. It’s a picture I love.”

Did he talk to you?

 “Elvis? No, he doesn’t talk to anybody.”

A few steps farther along: “Here’s Alice Neel” — the dynamic, candid, gutsy painter and feminist, an East Hampton summertime neighbor of the McDarrahs and one of his favorite subjects. “It’s a photo of her in front of her painting of Andy Warhol’s scar after Andy got shot by Valerie Solanis. I feel that Gloria and I made Alice Neel famous. Nobody had ever heard of her” [before his photographic attentions].

Gloria McD. pointed to the photo right above the Alice Neel photo. “There’s the woman who shot Andy Warhol.” Sure enough, it was good old Society for Cutting Up Men Valerie Solanis, in heavy fleece-collar jacket and man’s cap, tight-faced, in front of the offices of The Village Voice.

“She came to the paper to promote her book.” The date was February 17, 1967, some 15 months before Solanis would go to The Factory and shoot Warhol, only to have that shocker blanketed out of the news by Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert F. Kennedy the next night.

“Here’s Robert Frank” — a photographer touched with greatness — “at a demonstration in Central Park. He doesn’t talk to anybody either.

“Here’s Susan Sontag [another favorite McDarrah subject] being arrested during a demonstration [December 5, 1967] in front of the Recruiting Station down on Whitehall Street.

“Here’s Maria Irene Fornes,” the dark-haired, beautiful, irreverent, influential playwright and teacher whom quite a few men and no few women were in love with.

And here — oh here! — is Allen Ginsberg in full regalia, heavy black Karl Marx beard, bushy black head of hair, topped by Uncle Sam’s Stars & Stripes stovepipe hat – “my most-loved picture by the public” — at a peace demonstration, March 26, 1966, in Central Park.

Dear reader, you want the ‘60s? There they are.