West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 5 | July 4 - 10, 2007


Floating above hotel’s drama, till the sharks came

By Jerry Tallmer

Oh, the shark, has pretty teeth, dear …

There are sharks all over. There always have been. They ravage monarchies, democracies, monopolies, factories, businesses, movie studios, railroad stations, bus stops, department stores, publishing houses, newspapers, universities, hospitals, hotels …

The Plaza. The Mayflower. The dear, dissolute, nonconformist Chelsea, where Stanley Bard, the most unstarched of managers, has just been ousted — devoured by sharks — after 40-something years behind that desk in that pint-sized art museum of a lobby.

I used to live in one lonely room or another at the Chelsea, between marriages. Several marriages. On H-Hour of D-Day I would go out on the street, find a phone booth, reach for a nickel or a dime — remember? — and call Stanley. “I don’t think we have anything open,” he’d say. “Wait a minute. Well, come on over.”

Somehow those stays at the Chelsea often coincided with my assignments as fill-in television critic whenever Bob Williams, the regular guy, was off on vacation or on sick call or something. The idiotic job nearly did me in; made a drinking-alone alcoholic (me) out of an alcoholic (me). I felt just like Miss Lonelyhearts in the novel by Nathaniel West, and it was in the manner of Miss Lonelyhearts that I wrote a savage short piece (for The Voice, not The Post) on the night of the death of John F. Kennedy. It was from one of those rooms in the Chelsea that, a day or two later, I watched John-John salute the flag on his father’s caisson, and some time after that — there, alone in that room — heard the bugler crack on the high note of taps, thereby giving me not just the lede of my next day’s TV report but a metaphor for that death — that worldwide convulsion — for the rest of all our lives.

But this is a story about Stanley Bard, not J.F.K. — Stanley Bard, hotelkeeper, humanist, diplomat. He was standing behind the desk, managing his own business, on the day I came downstairs and saw Arthur Miller standing there, asking for his mail, the playwright whose “After the Fall” was about to open as a Lincoln Center production in a tent theater on the south side of Washington Square. I went up to him and said, or started to say: “Mr. Miller, my newspaper, The New York Post, has been trying to reach you … ” when the creator of “Death of a Salesman” turned lobster red, drew himself up to what seemed to me his stiff-backed, 8-foot height, and started yelling apoplectically at the top of his lungs: “You! You violated my privacy! You invaded my life! You violated me!” and so on and so forth.

Stanley Bard, behind the counter, turned his back to all this and fingered the mail slots, saying nothing.

I tried to say: “Mr. Miller, it wasn’t I who called you,” but he kept right on shouting about violation. I thought he was insane. I still do, all the more so because in later years Mr. Miller and I would have two or three perfectly agreeable uneventful interview sessions without one shred of this incident in the Chelsea ever coming up.

Get this: Here in the Chelsea in 1964 is an Arthur Miller who is about to lay bare to all the world a drama he has written traducing his own real, recently dead ex-wife. Marilyn Monroe, as portrayed by astonishing MM look-alike (in a blonde wig) Barbara Loden, girlfriend of director Elia Kazan, namer of names, who also has slept with Marilyn Monroe, and now also traduces her.

So whose privacy is being violated?

Stanley Bard, who has seen privacy of all kinds violated, even the privacy of people with names like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan and Andy Warhol and Viva and Edie Sedgwick and Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and Virgil Thomson being violated, says nothing. He sorts the mail and looks off into space.

That would have been in January 1964. Along about March I am still in the Chelsea but I have found a new girlfriend of my own. She lives uptown, and that’s O.K., but there comes a time when I think it would be nice if she came down and spent a night with yours truly in the historic Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street, under the imprimatur of, oh, Brendan Behan.

Now get this. I cannot explain it, except to say my face turns as red as Arthur Miller’s, just thinking about it. Red with embarrassment, not anger. It is 1964. I am no spring chicken. I have by then been twice married and am the father of 4-year-old twins. I have had a number of other girlfriends, sometimes more than one at once.

And yet. And yet I go to Stanley Bard, and I wait until there’s no one else in the vicinity of the desk, and I say, or sort of gulp: “Uh, Mr. Bard, I’ve got this girlfriend, would it be all right, do you think, if she stayed over with me one night?”

And Stanley Bard says, gravely, judiciously, somberly: “Oh no, that can’t be done.”

And that is why I would like to thrust an oar in the gaped jaws of the shark or sharks that have ripped Stanley Bard out of his — and my — and yours — and our — beloved, hallowed Hotel Chelsea.

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