I don’t know what stroke of good fortune directed me to Joe Dever. I still strongly believe, even after all these years that a guardian angel has been sitting on my shoulder during my solitary travels. The night I met Joseph X. Dever that certainly must have been the case.
Up until I met Joe I had been sharing a cheap second floor walk-up apartment on 59th Street, between 3rd Avenue and the 59th Street Bridge, made world famous by the singer-songwriting team of Simon and Garfunkel. The location of the flat was, in my view, perfect. Half a block from Third Avenue, it was a street boasting literally dozens of junk shops, many of them set behind drab facades, broken shutters and dirty windows. Once inside, however, their dusty interiors revealed bargains galore for an insatiable collector like me. Strolling through them on a lazy Saturday afternoon was my idea of heaven.
The other advantages of living near Third Avenue was that I was close enough to
Bloomingdales to make sure I never ran out of cheap underwear, close enough to Howard Johnson’s to satisfy my daily craving for any one of their 37 flavours of ice cream. And close enough to P.J. Clarkes, the famous Irish-style pub, to arrange meetings with friends after work in a relaxed environment. Not that I drank in those days. I remained a teetotaller until I was 39.
My flatmate was another English girl, Ming Gellatly. I had met Ming at school in Switzerland and, after school was over, we hung out together in London. Ming was not beautiful in the accepted sense but she was definitely very striking. She had deep olive skin, almond shaped grey eyes, and shoulder length reddish brown glossy hair. She was quick witted, generous and had an infectious sense of humour. There was no doubt she was extremely appealing to men. I had been aware of this fact from our first skiing lesson together in Gstaad when our tanned young ski instructor had taken a little more trouble teaching her how to snowplough to a dignified halt than he had the rest of us.
Ming had preceded me to New York, writing copious letters begging me to join her. These letters were filled with gossip mainly about men and how crazy they were for English girls and how easy it was for girls with English accents to get laid and to obtain jobs. In fact I needed little encouragement. New York sounded vast, cosmopolitan and enticing. Although, in those days, it was London that was considered by the world’s youth to be “swinging”, to me it seemed dull, insular and parochial in comparison.
Now, finally, here I was in the Big Apple. While I was hunting around for a job I enrolled at the Art Students League and attended classes three times a week. As with many art establishments, the school had its share of dilettantes but the majority of the students were
serious and the standard was pretty high. Too high, I decided, for my limited talents. I realized pretty soon that I was never going to be an artist. So most of the time I offered to model for the portrait classes in order to avoid the embarrassment of showing up my lack of draftsmanship and being kicked out of school.
The face peering out of the finished portraits, particularly those produced by the male students, seemed to belong more to Jean Shrimpton than to me. “The Shrimp”, at that time, was at the height of her modelling career. If the words ‘international supermodel’ had been coined then, she would certainly have merited it. I was flattered, of course, that my classmates thought I resembled her since I considered, somewhat naively, that her large blue eyes, her porcelain skin and her mane of tumbling honey-coloured
hair were all the attributes needed to be classified as a beautiful, seductive and desirable woman. I wondered, was it wishful thinking on the men’s part – or did I, perhaps, have all these things?
Many of the boys, excited by a fresh face from “Swinging London”, invited me out on dates but I resisted. Ming said she had other plans for me. She had been in New York for some time before I arrived on the scene and was determined to guide me around and introduce me to her wide circle of friends. Ming was a party animal and she was keen to convert me to the pleasures, both social and sexual, that New York offered.
“No beatnik art students for you, my girl!” she giggled, “I’ve got other ideas!”
Ming’s boyfriend at the time was an ardent young television executive, Rupert Hitzig. Pleasant looking and fun-loving he was fairly short in height but, as Ming confided to me in his presence,
“What he lacks in height, darling, he makes up for in size! He’s coming over this evening, Caroline” she winked, “and he’s bringing his friend, Manny. We can all go out together. Rupert’s told him about you. He’s looking forward to meeting you.”
It was obvious the pair were hatching a plan.
Manny turned out to have a more serious nature than his friend, Rupert. Although entirely
different both in looks and character, they appeared to be inseparable. While Rupert, like a budding TV executive, was always clean shaven, manicured and elegantly dressed in spotless shirt, sombre tie and well pressed suit, Manny was content to shuffle around in a long dark trenchcoat, his fair, wavy hair constantly ruffled, a frown perched across his dark eyes creating a brooding, anxious look. I found out a few days into our affair that Manny had been fucking or, as Rupert so quaintly put it, “doing it to” Ming’s previous flatmate, Daphne, who had moved out of the apartment the day I moved in. Daphne and I had met briefly on the doorstep heading in opposite directions. I imagined it must have been a source of unparalleled amusement to both Rupert and Ming that Manny managed to “do it” to me without the least resistance on my part and within a day of Daphne’s departure.
“Hell, don’t you know, Caroline? It’s always the strong silent types you girls gotta beware of!” Rupert joked when I spluttered something about how he and Ming should have warned me that Manny was probably just in it for the sex.
“Fuck the strong silent types!” I retorted, somewhat irritated by his obvious enjoyment of the situation. “That’s the last one for me!” I stormed out of the living room into my adjoining bedroom where Manny was curled up in bed chuckling away to himself as my indignant reaction penetrated through the flimsy plasterboard walls. He patted the mattress beside him. “It’s warm here, my love, why don’t you join me?” Being a creature of little resistance and a temper that tends to subside as soon as it erupts, I needed no second bidding. I realize, even today, that I never have quite got over my penchant for strong silent types.
Probably the four of us would have continued our respective affairs had I not been introduced to Caterine Milinaire. Caterine, the stunning, raven-haired daughter of the Duchess of Bedford, was the junior editor at Vogue magazine and she introduced me to the New York fashion scene. In no time at all, it seemed, I had been photographed by Richard Avedon, attended several fashion shows and got my first job making decorative Indian-style belts for a recently opened boutique named Paraphernalia. Paraphernalia was owned by a passionate Anglophile, Raybelle, and was fashioned on the many little boutiques that she had seen on a TV documentary about London’s King’s Road.
The shop sold everything from Tiffany lamps to the newly designed Rudi Gernreich topless bathing suits to the latest Rolling Stones records. Raybelle’s little emporium sold it all. I spent my days tapping my fingers to “I Wanna Be Your Man”, Raybelle’s favourite record, and describing to her, again and again, what it felt like to actually live in “Swinging London”, to see the Rolling Stones in the flesh, to shop in Carnaby Street, to drive around in a mini and to have a haircut by Vidal Sassoon. The fact that I was not currently living in London, that I hadn’t yet met any of the Rolling Stones, that I had only ever shopped in Carnaby Street occasionally, that I had never been the proud owner of a mini and that I was not a fan of Vidal Sassoon haircuts did not seem to deter her in the least. I made it all up and she lapped it all up. Without ever having set foot across the ocean, Raybelle was a mad afficionado of everything that Sixties London represented and, for the time being, I was its emissary.
Raybelle’s miniskirt raised many eyebrows, particularly among the male clients and she
revelled in their admiring glances. It was shocking pink, no larger than a table napkin and hardly covered the tops of her thighs. And her enviable long skinny legs were habitually covered in paisley patterned tights and patent leather thigh length boots. It was what she called her “English look”. She professed to adore my English accent and she dubbed the contents of my Biba and Ossie Clarke wardrobe as “Divine, darling, simply divine!” It took her no time at all to hire me. She wanted, as she said, “a real live English doll” as a full time member of her staff.
But life at Paraphernalia where, other than making belts, I was simply a glorified salesgirl, was destined not to last long. At a party one night I bumped into another Anglophile, Sandy Lesberg and his wife, Betty. Sandy was a big, bearded redhead with ambition. His wife was a pretty blonde dominated by her husband’s huge personality. Sandy took me aside and, with a self-important air, told me, “I need to talk to you Caroline – seriously.”
“Yes? What about?” I asked. I had a horrible feeling he might divulge the terrible state of his marriage, in my experience a ploy often used by men prior to seduction. Happily though it seemed his marriage was still very much intact.
“I have been offered to front a six hour programme every night on 1010 WINS New York. I’m looking for a team to help put it together. Would you be interested?”
I didn’t want to sound too eager but it was hard to disguise the excitement I felt. This might offer the chance to fulfill my journalistic ambitions while, at the same time, getting me out from under Raybelle’s shocking pink miniskirt.
“You bet!” I answered, “What would it involve?”
“I need a producer, well, a couple of them actually. It’s a lot of time to fill, six hours a night, six nights a week. All talk. I like your accent too, I can’t deny that. You might come over good on radio. How does that sound?”
That sounded even better. Me on the radio, I definitely liked the sound of that.
“I think I could handle it,” I assured him nonchalantly, “when can we discuss this properly?”
Sandy grabbed my arm, steered me towards Betty and led the two of us out of the room. Outside the building he hailed a cab and we headed off to Sardi’s to discuss the offer “properly”.
By the end of the evening, I was hired. I would work alongside Betty as a producer of “The Sandy Lesberg Night Time Programme”. The job was to start the following week. I was on top of the world. This was giddy stuff for a girl like me. I had only been in New York a couple of months, I had no contacts to speak of and now a top job had simply fallen into my lap. The American Vice Consul was right, it was the English accent again that had clinched it, I was sure. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell the waiting trio.
“Good for you!” Rupert enthused, “Soon you’ll be joining me at CBS!”
“At this rate I could be there next year, who knows?” I joked.
Manny hugged me, “I’m real proud of you. Hey, everyone, my girl’s a radio producer, how about that?”
Raybelle was not quite so pleased when I gave in my notice the next day.
“Honeychile, you might just live to regret it,” she whined like a spoilt child, stamping her patent leather spikes into the hardwood floor.
“I doubt it, Ray. It’s going to be hard work but I’ll love every minute of it. You might even hear me if you tune in to 1010 WINS one night.”
“What am I going to do for belts, honey?” she asked, trying to prick my conscience.
“Well I’m not planning to make any more, if that’s what you want. My fingertips are raw. Sorry Ray but I’ve got to move on. You understand?”
“See if I care, girlfriend,” she retorted, petulantly tossing her long black tresses over her shoulders. “Do what you like, it’s your life. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
What there was to warn me about I wasn’t quite sure. Overworked and underpaid I certainly
was over the next few months. But it was exhilarating. It gave me the opportunity to call people out of the blue – celebrities, politicians, businessmen, artists, actors and writers to invite them on the show. In fact, in a sudden display of Southern hospitality and to prove there were no hard feelings on her part, Raybelle twice invited me to lunch at the United Nations with her “real good and sweet pal” Kurt Waldheim. And, with a little “friendly persuasion” from Raybelle that involved wrapping her paisley-covered thighs around his legs under the table, even Austria’s dour Permanent Representative to the United Nations was tantalized enough to agree to do a radio interview with Sandy Lesberg.
The format for the show included nightly political interviews, round table discussions on current topics, celebrity interviews, music reviews, theatre reviews, film and book reviews, a travel section and poetry reading.
I soon discovered that six hours a night, six nights a week was, as Sandy had warned it would be, a lot of air time to fill but I threw myself into it with enthusiasm and everyday it became a little easier. My daily routine was fairly simple. I arrived at the office at around 12pm, spent most of the afternoon on the telephone booking guests for the coming shows, helped tape interviews for the later half of the programme, stayed on during the evening to receive that night’s guests and then, when the last guest had left around 5am, made my way home. Some nights, when Betty and I hadn’t procured enough guests or guests failed to turn up at the last minute, Sandy interviewed me about subjects as diverse as Swinging London, holiday travel, the New York social scene and contemporary artists. I started receiving fan mail from as far away as Mississippi, Georgia and Delaware from long distance truck drivers who “just loved” my English accent.
During the middle part of 1964 when the New York taxi drivers went on strike I hitched my rides uptown with the early morning laundry cart whose driver, Jimmy, took pity on me one day. In the end it became a regular trip.
”It’s on my way,” Jimmy explained, “and I get to have some company at this hour of the morning.”
“Suits us both then,” I replied, pleased that I would no longer have to pay exorbitant rates for a taxi to take me home every morning.
One Sunday night, my only night off, I made my excuses to Manny, Rupert and Ming and escaped with Caterine and her boyfriend, photographer Maurice Hogenboom, to a dinner party hosted by Olivier Coquelin, the French entrepreneur. I didn’t know it at the time but the dinner party I was about to attend would drastically change my life.