October 2012


Bond & Kennedy: 17 Days in October



One was a fictional. The other real.

Both were charismatic and charming. And decisive men of action. And had an eye for the ladies.

Both had ice water in their veins when the moment called for it.

Both were on the scene fifty years ago this month, trying to thwart the fiendish plans of the bad guy. One in “reel life”…the other in real life.

On October 5, 1962, we were introduced to “Bond. James Bond.” He was portrayed by Sean Connery, an unknown actor at the time, who possessed an almost preternatural masculinity. The film was Dr. No, based on the novel by Ian Fleming.

Starting with the opening credits— with its unique graphic treatment, accompanied by an tantalizing piece of music that had you by the seventh note— right on through to the introductions of Connery with cigarette dangling from the lip, and Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in white bikini and a knife at her hip, this movie had a different feel to it. It was “edgy.” Though that was not a term we used in those days.

Fifty years later, I could not tell you the plot other than it had something to do with obliterating something that was critical to our national security. Which at the time, was beside the point as far as I was concerned. For me, the enjoyment of the film was one of style over substance. So upon Googling to refresh my memory, here’s the gist of it:

“Bond discovers that Dr. No is also working with the Russians and has built an elaborate underground facility from which he can sabotage American missile tests at nearby Cape Canaveral.” (Wikipedia)

It is a cliché to say that life imitates art. Yet just 17 days later, the Russians and Cape Canaveral would be mentioned again. This time for real.

On October 22, 1962, John F. Kennedy sat behind his desk in the oval office, to speak to the nation about a danger that had been exposed as a result of some photographs taken by U.S. secret agents. Though he tried to assure us that everything would be done to avert a war of cataclysmic proportions, all the same, we stood ready to confront it if it came to that. Welcome to The Cuban Missile Crisis.

Whereas Bond was a man of few words, Kennedy was a man of many carefully chosen ones on that night.



“Bond. James Bond.”

“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”


October 5, 1962
October 22, 1962


JFK briefed the nation in details positively chilling. Soviet missiles— poised just ninety miles off the coast of Florida— were capable of striking Washington and any other cities in the southeastern part of the United States. And yes, Cape Canaveral, which was the base for our project Mercury manned space program at the time, was specified as being one of the potential targeted areas.

These things only happened in the movies, no? Yet, this wasn’t James Bond vs. Dr. No... this was John Kennedy vs. Nikita Khrushchev. And as we stood in front of the TV, stood not sat, we wondered what was next? What was to become of us? We were all in uncharted waters here. This was not WWII or the Korean War, this was close to home. Too close.

To date, this was to be as near as the world might be to a nuclear war. And while the crisis was resolved through our forceful insistence that those missiles be removed from Cuba, things would never really be the same again.

For the first time in modern times, we realized how easily all that we had taken for granted, could be turned on its head in an instant. JFK’s assassination a year later would illustrate that point in spades, adding a dramatic chapter to our history —the real story.

As for how the fictional one played out, Bond of course saved the day and eliminated Dr. No by pushing him into a chemical vat, boiling him to death. (“Shocking.”) And that was to be the birth of a franchise worth over five billion dollars spanning 22 films these past five decades. The 23rd, Skyfall starring Daniel Craig, will premiere next month on November 9th.

While seven different actors have portrayed what has become a classic character, for those of us of a certain age, there will always be but one James Bond: Sean Connery. Now 82 and retired, and though having starred in six films in the series, he was once quoted as saying “I’m fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.” Apparently, its audience is not. And the beat goes on.






Quote of the Month




                King Wladyslaw Jagiello sculpture; Central Park; photo by Ron Vazzano©













Regarding Warhol



Last month a major exhibition entitled, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The goal here was to demonstrate Warhol’s profound influence on contemporary art. While the show got mixed reviews, the Met essentially made good on its promise. His influence is clearly in evidence.

What is never in evidence though, here or anywhere else for that matter, is the man himself. Yet this eccentric rather pasty figure, has imbedded himself in our pop culture, not for fifteen minutes, but in perpetuity. Can you ever look at a can of Campbell’s soup without him coming to mind? But what was on his mind?

Given his seemingly benign public image, you can’t help but wonder: did he just stumble into this whole new pop art movement and his resultant superstardom? Or did he bring to it at the outset, a clear vision and a sense of where he wanted to take it? Was this all by design?

In particular, this quote by Gore Vidal seems to capture the enigma that is Warhol:

Andy Warhol is the only genius with an I.Q. of 60 that I have ever known.

“60” classifies you as a moron, or to be kind, one with a moderate disability.

Ed Ruscha, an artist represented in this exhibition, speaks to the same point from a different angle. He has said that he admires Warhol for being…

…the only artist he knew who was for everything and nothing at the same time.

Warhol himself said in effect, there’s no “there” there.

If you want to know Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.


I am a deeply superficial person.

And he seems to demonstrate the truth of that, time and again in his own The Andy Warhol Diaries (Edited by Pat Hackett, 1989).


In search of Warhol, one comes away from this 800 page tome, having been made privy to an unending river of gossip and a social butterfly lifestyle, characterized by celebrity hobknobbing on an almost daily basis. Which could often turn catty. (“Halston gave me a whole box of ugly shoes for my birthday.”)

For added flavor, the reader is offered a running detailed account of what he sees as possible tax deductable expenditures. (“…ice cream cones $.75 x 4 and $.90 cookies from Greenberg’s…Big Macs $8.52”).

Admittedly, much of all this is quite entertaining, though often unintentionally so. But he offers no insights as to his talents nor the artistic process through which they were expressed.

From a distance, that process seems to have involved a good deal of “manufacturing” as much as anything else. And after all, he did call his studio the Factory; a cluttered place buzzing in worker bee frenzy what all that silk screening, painting, snap shot taking, film making, sculpturing, performance art creating and the publishing of a magazine called Interview.

One wonders what it was like to have been at the Factory and around Warhol in those salad days. One wonders what sort of guy he was while away from the paparazzi and the tabloids and in his domain. Was he meek and eccentric? Or egocentric? Nice guy? Or was he, as an old uncle used to say, a “back-number?”

Curious for some sort of insider perspective, I checked in with a friend who knew him well. How well? Well enough to be mentioned a few times in those diaries, in words at times not so flattering, at other times much more so:

“…Marjorie the Czechoslovak madam from Pittsburgh…”

She’s light, her hair was in pigtails and she took them
out and it went down to her ass, she’d just washed it
and it smelled good. We had lunch…She was nice

Well enough to have had him do a portrait of her.


Portrait of Marjorie Copley

(Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas)

This is not to suggest that Marjorie’s take is by any means the definitive word on the real Warhol, but I found her up close observations to be interesting to say the least. Not only was Warhol superficial, but she found him to be “dull as dishwater.” (In the future, everyone will be as dull as dishwater for 15 minutes).

She goes on to say that from her first encounter, it seemed that “there was something mentally wrong with him.” Was it drugs she wondered? And for all his celebrated friends and associates, he was terribly ill at ease socially.

You could not converse with him as “he had nothing to say and no real interest or passion about anything.” At least one assumes, other than in his art, of which he never spoke. This distancing of himself seemed to carry over into his intimate relations as well. How she came to know this, I’ll leave right there.

When he did speak, he was given to colossal exaggeration. Marjorie pointed out for example, that a $10,000 necklace she wore at her wedding party — a present from her husband who was a highly successful artist in his own right at the time — translated into his diaries as:

“I was jealous of the bride because she had on a $145,000 string of pearls from Tiffany’s.

That Vidal quote on the moronic/genius dichotomy, might have been very much on the mark. She certainly would vouch for the moronic part. She would leave it to others to vouch for the genius part. And that of course is the part that can stir one’s imagination and passions.

My own were stirred beginning with a pencil drawing of the actress Virna Lisi, that I did in ’67. Then thirty years later when the PC had become part of our lives, and inspired by the repetition of imagery that is a signature of Warhol’s work, I tried my own variations on a theme.


I know, “Go back to the drawing board.” But the point is, anyone can be inspired to tap into any “Warhol as genius” impulses that might lie within. You don’t need to be a museum-worthy artist to do so. But as for Andy Warhol the person? Him, I’d rather not try to emulate, all jet-set lifestyle aside.






Sentence of the Month



In reading a critique of the “Regarding Warhol” exhibition by Peter Schjeldahl, an award winning art critic for The New Yorker, this labyrinth of a declarative sentence caught my eye.

He triumphed by adapting the formal syntax of Abstract Expressionist painting as a chassis for vernacular imagery, first with the burlesques of spontaneous drawing and brushwork, and then, definitively, in 1962, with a medium that was at once impersonal and susceptible to infinite nuance: silk screen, done cunningly fast and loose.

Uh…yes, of course, how obvious.

A prize to anyone who can translate that into English and tell us what it means. This is the sort of thing that gives elitism a bad name.





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