Billy Roses’ Dandelion, 1960
Not For Sale. Oil on Canvas. 76.5 x 75
Insurance Appraisal, Private collection.
Meyer Berger (1898-1959), was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, well known for his column “About New York” which loving detailed snapshots of ordinary life in the New York Times. In his 1959 obit, the Times hailed Berger as a master of the color story, the descriptive narrative of sights and sounds-of a parade, an eclipse, a homicidal maniac running amok…. or just a thunderstorm that broke a heat wave.
Phillip Hamburger of the New Yorker told us “Dip into Meyer Burger’s New York, at any point, and you will find things you never knew or dreamed of knowing….. It has a heart, a soul, and a beauty of its own.”
In 1958, Berger wrote about Flushing Meadows nineteen years after the 1939 New York Wold’s Fair. The fair where the 1939 Red Bugatti, Delahaye Type 165 Cabriolet, (body by Figoni et Falaschi) was shown.
I have photos of my young father and mother there. My father an honors NYU graduate scares a statue.
I grew up in Long Beach, a beach town suburb of the City. My grandmother & cousins lived in the Bronx. Dad worked in Manhattan, read Frank O’Hara, Salinger, Kerouac. In the 50’s & early 60’s Long Beach’s boardwalk flourished with a bouquet of arcade games, cotton candy, Izzy’s knishes, fudgesicle & fireworks every summer Sunday. Even before I could walk, Mom strolled her carriage containing precociously babbling baby the boardwalk’s length and back. Dad snapped photos of me on carousels & ferris wheels, & dripping fudgesicles. He always liked the one’s I didn’t.
Meyer Burger: “At dawn, now, blue herons flap over the marshes to feed the waters on Grover Whalen’s World of Tomorrow on Flushing Meadow. Pheasants light in tall, swaying meadow grasses to hunt for weed seeds and for insects. Cottontails break from brush, show their white flags in hoppity brush……
A few weeks ago majestic swans sailed down from the April skies to light in Flushing Creek. Wee things creep in the grass. Wild things whistle and flute in the old Fair-ground trees….
Fishermen plod the meadows to dangle bait in the creek,…. in the old Fountain Lake and Willow Lake just beyond the stretch where the Amusement Center made brazen clamor nineteen years ago. The anglers catch carp, catfish and sunnies. In twilight frogs swell their throats in batrachian (amphibian) chorus.
From early morning until early evening, from fifty to sixty old men and women come each day to the Meadow with burlap bags slung from their shoulders to search in dandelion-starred greensward for dandelion greens and for button mushrooms. They look like Millet’s rustics-figures in “The Gleaners and “The Angelus.”
The New World’s Fair in Brussels seems to have made people think of yesterday’s World of Tomorrow. They wander in the Meadow in vain searching for the buildings that wrote lambent loveliness against the sky there in 1939 and 1940. Only two structures still stand-The Building of the City of New York and Billy Rose’s Arquade.”
Michael Goldberg (1924-2007) & Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) were fast friends then when poetry and experimental art were so inter-connected, which is not a new idea. The paradox is that the connection, more ancient than Lascaux, creates new details from the world around time.
Flushing Meadows was also the 1964 site of the New York World’s Fair. Dominick Tucci, age 12, ran away for a week there. “The fair is best remembered as a showcase of Mid-20th-Century American culture and technology,” with a theme of “Peace Through Understanding,” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” I’m told the Unisphere and water pools remain, again among dandelions and new construction.
Broadway impresario Billy Rose, born William Samuel Rosenberg on September 9, 1899, in The Bronx, New York. Known as “The Little Napoleon of Showmanship,” the petite Rose was a legendary producer, writer, lyricist, composer, director and theatre owner/operator. Rose married “Funny Girl,” Fanny Brice, and she appeared in his Crazy Quilt Revue. Billy Rose also co-wrote a song with Mort Dixon: If I had a Girl Like You: I’ll tell each dandelion and daffodil and daisy….
Berger goes on to say: No other green spot so close to granite-towered Manhattan has quite the sylvan lure of the old fair grounds. It is a place to dream on a spring or summer day-among the grasses, besides the creek, or on lake banks with bird music pulsing all about. The El train rumbles… but only after wide silences….
This work by Goldberg talks to me about 1960, when the New York avant-garde had the energy and promise of Fourth of July Fireworks; between wars, between fairs, between the high-steps of Billy Rose dancers, and dandelions; between the cracks. Dip into the strong brush strokes and colors of the painting and you will glean things you never knew or dreamed of knowing about New York in 1960….. It has a heart, a soul, and a beauty of its own, and important splashes of yellow, among the jazzy spectrum of energy and space.
And at a time when color field paintings were the hot thing! It says everything if we listen, & is Roses’ a misspelling?
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Why I am Not a Painter
Frank O’Hara, 1957
I am not a painter. I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. the painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a colour: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
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87.5″ x 66″
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson,
Martha Jackson Memorial Collection