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Archive for the ‘Winnie and Louis’ Category

Louie (stage name, “James Oliver”) left New York City and Tuckahoe for LA. On March 8, 1964, I wrote in my diary:

“Lou did not get married. Susan, his girlfriend decided to go back to California the day before the wedding. Lou was distraught. He decided to return to California also. Not to follow her he says, but because New York has suddenly become lifeless for him. He said he needed a new life.”

And so he left a week or two later and that was the last I ever saw of him. Years later he ended up living as an artist in Taos. I located him through Facebook as I was troling for new friends and was exploring Facebook members connected with Tuckahoe, NY where Louie and I grew up. I sent him an invitation to contact me. I received no reply. Soon thereafter his site was removed.

A reporter for the local Taos newspaper recently wrote of him:

“James Louie Oliver is one of the most fascinating people you might ever meet. He’s an artist, a former stage and screen actor, builder of model airplanes and one helluva storyteller. You’ll see what we mean when Oliver makes an appearance Friday (March 30), 7 p.m., at Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado.

Oliver will read from his writings, ‘Howie’s Chair’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe and the the Shoeshine Boy,’ and he will also display his intricately detailed assemblages and handcrafted model airplanes.

Oliver was born Dec. 17, 1937, in a coldwater flat on the Bronx-Mount Vernon border in New York. Growing up, he says one of his first jobs was as a shoeshine boy, something he told us about in a story we did on him in April of 2011. He also worked in his grandfather’s barbershop, sweeping up hair and doing anything that was needed. His face goes dark, though, when he talks about the abuse he suffered as a child, but he doesn’t dwell on it.

I grew up old, but I’m younger now,’ he says with a touch of humor.

He studied for and did quite a bit of stage work in New York. This also led to film work in Hollywood.

Cover of "Hells Angels on Wheels"

Cover of Hells Angels on Wheels

My first movie was ‘Hells Angels on Wheels’ (1967) and I played a guy named ‘Gypsy.’ And Adam Roarke was in it, he passed away, and Jack Nicholson too. It’s an underground film. Then I did a TV show where I met Johnny Barrymore. We became very good friends before he passed away. That was another motorcycle TV thing that starred Ben Gazzara called ‘Run for Your Life.’’ ”

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I have taken most of the following from one of two diaries that have survived the many disruptions and along with copies of “The Fred Harris for President Handbook” that I wrote for that ill-fated quixotic campaign in the 1970s and my daughters PhD thesis from Harvard have lain mostly unopened and unread, a few feet from the many beds I have occupied over the past 40 years. I was prompted to open them after writing the previous post about Louie, who I have not seen since 1964, in response to discovering on Facebook that Louie was living apparently happily as an artist in Taos, New Mexico.

Thursday, February 20, 1964.

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. ...

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. KOUTOUKAS, ROSALYN DREXLER, IRENE FORNES, LEONARD MELFI, TOM EYEN, PAUL FOSTER, 1966, photo by GLOAGUEN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tonight was very interesting. Lou called and invited me to see his new apartment in the Village. I went there. It is a hovel. He told me all about how nicely he intended to fix it up.

An interesting young man named Leonard Melfi arrived. He is a young playwright, currently writing plays for Cafe La Mama.

We spent the next several hours drinking and talking. Lou described at some length his overactive sex life, including his current affair with a young actress and also the four other women he had gotten pregnant.

Leonard and I then went off on a discussion about the Janet Wylie murder that occupied the headlines of the NY newspapers for almost a year. We both closely followed the news reports about the killing. He had known Janet and appeared to have additional information not reported in the papers. We decided that the murderer was most likely the third roommate. The police, however did not consider her a suspect.

He and I discussed our fascination with murders and the process of identifying the murderer. Much more exciting than solving other types of puzzles we agreed.”

Monday, April 27, 1964, I wrote:

“This weekend the police produced a suspect in the Janet Wylie murder. His arrest upended all the theories Leonard and I had developed. He was the only remaining option unaccounted for in our theories. The murder was a completely random event. The suspect was someone who just wandered in and surprised the girls. Although when we were developing our theories we touched on this possibility, we rejected it as just too far-fetched.”

Note:

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonard Melfi was one of the most important American playwrights of the 1960s when experimental theater was the rage. His works were originally performed at Ellen Stewart‘s La Mama. He became a raging alcoholic and died alone in a SRO hotel on NY’s Broadway and 93rd Street on October 24, 2001.

Janet Wylie and her roommate, Emily Hoffert, two young professionals, were murdered in their Upper East Side apartment by an intruder on August 28, 1963, in what the press called The Career Girls Murders. The suspect taken into custody referred to above was a black man, George Whitmore. It later turned out, investigators erroneously arrested and forced a false confession from Whitmore. Richard Robles a young white man was ultimately apprehended in 1965 and charged with the crime. Nevertheless, Whitmore was imprisoned for many years until he was eventually released. Robles, now 68, was convicted and remains in prison.

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English: Westchester County, NY map from 1839.

English: Westchester County, NY map from 1839. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LOUIS

From when I was about 8 years old until I was in my early 20s I had a close friend named Louis (pronounced in the French manner Louie), Louis Maiello. Both he and I lived in Tuckahoe N. Y. at the time. Tuckahoe was a small village nestled between the toney Westchester County suburbs of Bronxville, Eastchester, Scarsdale and Pelham. Most of the people who lived in Tuckahoe were Italians or Afro-Americans who for the most part were dependent on the wealthier suburbs for their sustenance. A few Jews and wealthier Italians lived within the village closest to its borders  because most of those up scale addresses had restrictions at the time, prohibiting Jews, Italians, and blacks from living within their jurisdictions. So, living just across the town boundaries was as close as they got to their idea of suburban heaven.

Where Winnie (Winston Churchill who appeared in “Papa Joes Tales” a few weeks back) was destined for success based on name, ancestry, looks, capability, wealth and a host of other things, Louis definitely was not. It was not just the name and family background that separated them.

Where Winnie was tall, athletic, manly looking and white, Louis was small, smaller than I was, skinny and pretty, almost effeminate looking with long eyelashes and coal-black eyes. He also definitely was not blessed with that chalky pink tinged alabaster complexion and throbbing blue veins that marked one as a member of the “white” race at that time. (The white race then usually being limited to Anglo-Germanic-Nordic ancestry. Celts had been recently admitted to the club and Slavs confused things. Jews were not really white, they were after all Jews.  They along with Southern Europeans, Turks, arabs and others had just begun knocking at the door clamoring for membership.) Louie was that deep dark dusky color with a flash of gold buried deeply beneath the dirt that ranked us at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, along with blacks, Puerto Ricans and Sephardim (Mexicans were not an obsession at the time where I lived on the East coast).

As an aside: As a child the white pink, blue-veined people who lived in up scale suburbs of Westchester County, NY frightened me. Those blue veins throbbing beneath that dead looking white skin always made me think of zombies or vampires. I wonder if those nordic masters of the universe had or have now any idea of how ugly they appeared to many of us. Ironically the worst and most frightening of them was an Italian. He ran the Italian operation of one of the American clients I represented when I lived in Rome. He was a Colonna; a member of the Colonna family who along with the even older Orsini family had run Rome and the Papacy for 1200 years. My client was the first person from either family in those 1200 years to take a job. “Just like one of those upstart Colonnas,” an Orsini was rumored to have sniffed. Anyway, I guess as a side effect of a millennium of inbreeding, all color had left his face leaving only a deathly pasty white pallor. Those ghastly throbbing blue veins remained. He resembled a cadaver more than something living. He was also one of the most despicable human beings I have ever met. That also has something to do with breeding, I guess.

Anyway, Louis was not pre-destined for success. At 8 he was thrown out of his house by his sadistic father and forced to live on the streets or on the largess of relatives and friends. For some reason, many of the adults I knew would warn me to stay away from him because he was a bad influence. I did not understand that. He wasn’t mean or violent, in fact just the opposite. Not that he was a do-gooder or anything like that. He preferred leaving people alone, just as he preferred for them to leave him alone.

Nevertheless, many of the bigger boys would bully him mercilessly. He would not often fight back against the bullies, preferring the strategy of avoid and escape to confrontation. I on the other hand always fought back, but usually lost.

Perhaps that is why we became friends. Louie,  was sort of a kindred spirit; befriending him probably filled my need for acceptance. Not that I was ostracized and shunned like him, but I seemed to inhabit the fringes of my childhood social sets and pushing my way into their center required a greater commitment than I thought the rewards warranted.

He was not a thief either. Oh if you left something lying around he might take it, but I saw that as now more than the occasional incidental stealing we all do; sort of like taking pencils from the office where we work.

Although he was pretty looking, he was not effeminate and was of all of us the one who had the earliest and most prolific sexual experiences. He was very successful at it and with that, as he grew older, his reputation among the other neighborhood boys climbed a bit. It was said of him, that Louie could get laid in a nunnery. I on the other hand, much to my chagrin, was truly a late bloomer.

Anyway, in our late teens, I went off to college and law school and Louie, as a lot of the dispossessed people from the East Coast at that time did, decamped for California. He wanted to become and actor.

He returned a year or so later and moved into a basement flat in Greenwich Village; one of those flats common in NY City then; one room below street level, fully exposed toilet sitting in the kitchen area, no hot water, bath tub with a piece of plywood covering it that served as the dinning table and all the rats and cockroaches one could desire.

He was living with a woman who had returned with him from California and who appeared stoned all the time. Actually, I did not know what being stoned all the time ment or looked like since it was still a few years before the rise of hippiedom when we learned all about it. At that time, she seemed to me, seductive. That sort of dreamy look and half-smile that flitted across her face in response to anything I said and the uninhibited movements of her body I interpreted as erotic rather than drug induced lethargy. I spent one night at the apartment. Louie had gone to sleep. I thought for sure I would lose my virginity that night and out of nervousness I talked… and talked until she fell asleep and I had to wait another year or so for that highly anti-climatic event we fortunately experience only once in our lives.

Louie had succeeded in becoming a movie actor of sorts in Hollywood and had appeared in a movie. He told me about what he and other actors had to do to get a part in a movie in Hollywood; how he had to give blow jobs and more to the producers to get the part. While he was telling me this, I noticed that it was the only time I had ever seen Louie angry or ashamed. His eyes filmed over in fear, embarrassment or self-disgust I could not tell. Perhaps he was stoned also.

Nevertheless, I envied him. I had already given up my dreams for a life in theater, unwilling and perhaps frightened that I would be unable to do the things and suffer the humiliations required to even get a chance to perform.

The movie he appeared in was a biker flick that was Jack Nicholson’s first starring role. Louie played a skinny sex-crazed hanger-on. A role he was well suited for.

Anyway, after that I sadly lost touch with Louie. He had taken the stage name of James Oliver. I would periodically search the internet for some information about him, but without luck. I assumed that he must have died of AIDs or some other form of STD.

Last week while obsessing again about why so few people respond to my Facebook posts I decided that I needed tp find more friends. Previously I  had assumed that my posts were simply boring, so I started sharing posts that others had sent  me. I believed that if they received a lot of comments on their posts, by sharing them with my other “friends” I would get a similar response. Alas, no. I thought there were only two reasons for this. The first I refused to contemplate and the second was that I had too few friends. So, I went searching for more friends. I decided to click on the village where I grew up, Tuckahoe, to see if I could find a few members of my old gang who I could, for old times sake, con into reading one or two of my posts.

I was both pleased and surprised to find, James Oliver alive and well living as a 70-year-old artist in Taos New Mexico. According to a news report accompanying his profile, he had continued his “Hollywood” life style becoming one of John Lennon’s favorite carousing pals, and had actually made it into one or two of Lennon’s biographies. Tiring of the bright lights and big city he had moved to Taos to live life as an artist of local renown.

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