Tuesday, October 14, 2008


George Bartenieff fled Nazi Germany with his dancer parents in 1939. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, Bartenieff joined the Judson Poets Theater in 1962 and founded the Theater for the New City, which got it’s start in Westbeth in 1970. Bartenieff’s most recent project is a one-man show of Victor Klemperer’s Holocaust diary, “I Will Bear Witness,” written by his partner, the playwright Karen Malpede.

When I was 11, my mother took me to see a play of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I turned to her and said, “This is what I want to do.” When I was 14, I got a role in a Broadway play directed by Harold Clurman called “The Whole World Over.” I was disillusioned with Broadway right away. I thought of becoming a cabinetmaker, a shoemaker or a tailor. I wanted to do something with my hands. I thought acting was stupid and silly, but at the same time I had a great Shakespeare passion. I went to London and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I returned to New York in 1955 and did off-Broadway and regional theater.

In 1962, I bumped into a beat poet I knew on the street. He told me about Judson Poets Theater at Judson Church. I thought it was incredible. All the actors around me were poets, writers, composers. They were all brilliant. Between the 1960s to the 1970s, it was an incredible explosion and synthesis of the arts. Judson became a focal point where all the arts came together. Dance became a generator of a lot of other interactions. The visual arts were mixed with poetry and theater. To me, it was heaven. I threw everything out the window. We were paid nothing. It was like we’d all been released from prison.

I had been part of all these theater companies that had great hopes and desires. These companies did not deliver on these wonderful ideas. With my then-partner Crystal Field, Larry Kornfeld and Theo Barnes, we said, “Let’s stop complaining and open a theater.” We wanted to create a theater that would not bullshit, that would only deliver what it said it would deliver. I wanted to continue the synthesis of the art disciplines. We were not to be a theater that happened to be in Greenwich village. We had to be the theater of Greenwich Village.

We got the space in Westbeth. It was a raw space that hadn’t been used since Bell Labs abandoned it. We had “beer and apple” painting parties. Sweat equity means “for nothing.” We got all our seating off the street, from churches throwing out these wonderful seating units. We started with one space, then two, then three. We had the whole building.

There was a big drama. We got the place rent-free for the first 18 months. The Westbeth tenants went through the roof, because they had been promised that the rent from our building would subsidize their rents. They said, “You’ve got to kick them out immediately.” Mrs. Kaplan, who had given us the space, told us, “You’ve got to leave.” I said, “Yeah, but we ain’t got no place to go and we’ve got a lease.” They left us alone. We later moved to the ballroom in an old Swedish officers’ club on Jane Street. It is a story fit for a musical.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Harriet Sohmers Zwerling has been an editor, a teacher, a nude model and a writer. She has also been a one-woman sexual revolution, whose lovers included Susan Sontag, the playwright Irene Fornes and editor Bill Ward. Raised on the Upper West Side and educated at Berkeley, Black Mountain College and NYU, Zwerling lives in Stuyvesantown. She is the author of “Notes of a Nude Model.”

I’m in this documentary called “Still Doing It,” about the sex lives of older women. People stop me on the street. I’m really becoming famous. I’ve been around a long time. I’m 77. It blows my mind.

When I got to Paris in 1950, I had $200 in my pocket. You could live on $50 a month. I was supposedly studying at the Sorbonne. I lived with this Swedish guy in the old bohemian Paris. We had no running water, no heat or electricity. It was primitive and great.

In 1959, I went to Provincetown. I met Bill Ward and he invited me to move in with him. He had a magazine called the “Provincetown Review.” I became the assistant editor. I started modeling in Provincetown, It was easy and my mind was free. Back in New York, the Cedar Bar was in full bloom. It was really alive. We all smoked pot. We had these big bashes to raise money for the magazine. We had the Hubert Selby scandal. We published his short story “Tra-La-La” and had an obscenity trial in Provincetown. I was banned from the town.

Bill and I were both screwing around. Those were the days. I was with the artist Emilio Cruz in the Cedar Bar one night. I went to the john and this drunk out of his mind, handsome guy came over and asked Emilio how much money it would take for me to go back to his hotel with him. I came back, Emilio and I laughed about it and we decided on 30 dollars. I went back to his hotel room. He was bombed, so nothing happened. That was Louie Zwerling, the man I married.

The scene changed. It got tame. My son Milo was born in ‘63 and that cramped my style. I still was having a lot of affairs. Having a husband that was a merchant seaman was great.

I became a schoolteacher in ‘68. I taught for 28 years in Greenpoint, an ugly, racist Polish and Irish neighborhood. I am financially secure. It was completely by accident.

People don’t know what the term “bohemian” means nowadays. To me, it is very important but it doesn’t exist anymore. First, a bohemian is a person who doesn’t give a fuck about money. Second, a bohemian doesn’t give a fuck about the majority way of living. I take these classes at the New School with these young kids. They are worried about everything. “How could you go to Paris by yourself with no money?’” The young people are not the way we used to be. They don’t fuck. Where is the adventure? We didn’t care about money. We didn’t care about real estate. The kids today only care about real estate.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Harvey Perr has written more than 16 plays, including “Rosebloom,” “Afternoon Tea” and “The Night Little Girl Blue Made Her Social Debut.” He has acted in off-off-Broadway shows and movies such as “Stranger than Paradise.”

I lived most of my childhood in Flatbush and East Flatbush, Brooklyn. My father was in prison from the time I was a year old, so I had a lot to write about. In 1955, I went to London and saw a production of “Waiting for Godot,” which really changed my life. I went to the New School for Social Research. I wrote a play about being a working-class Jew, and it was about my own life. It was called “Upstairs, Sleeping.”

Edward Albee was conducting a workshop at the Circle in the Square. I was about 23. When Albee started the Playwrights’ Unit, he asked me to join and that started my career.

In 1965, I was asked to go to Universal Studios for a screenwriting seminar. I went out there for two weeks. I came back to New York. They called and asked me if I wanted to come out there on a one-year contract. I had no choice. At the time, I had a wife and small daughter. We were poor. I was working in the credit office of a trucking company that had just gone bankrupt. I said, “Of course.” It was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt it was a mistake, but I went anyway. The only thing of mine that wound up on the screen was “Tobruk,” this terrible war movie with Rock Hudson. It was incoherent. I was called to rewrite some of that stuff.

When my career as a screenwriter went out the window after a year, I didn’t have enough money to take my family back to New York. I really became a playwright in Los Angeles. I was stuck there. I started doing my plays at the Mark Taper Forum. To make a living, I worked in the music business.

Ed Field thinks of me as a bohemian because he loves my writing and I’ve never made a penny. I have never compromised and I have never given it up. I never thought of myself as a bohemian. I thought of myself as a survivor. Maybe they are one and the same thing. I never knew where I fit in. I have been produced commercially, but I have never had a commercial success. It is no longer important to me if I become successful or accepted. I think it’s been a good life. I’ve written things that I wanted to write.

I didn’t really become politicized until the 1980s. The director Joe Chaikin really politicized me. He made me look at the world in a different way. I’m sort of sorry that I’ve become so political because it makes living in the world so difficult. I’ve been on this earth 67 years and there is a lot in America that I am unhappy with, but I could always live here. I now find it impossible to live here.


Barton Benes’ infatuation with relics started in 1961 when he went to the Catacombs in Rome and stole a monk’s bone out of a crypt. His controversial career has included relics incorporating a straw used by Monica Lewinsky and making AIDS ribbons out of human ashes. His exhibit “Lethal Weapons,” made from various items like a water pistol or a perfume atomizer filled with his own blood, was almost banned in Sweden. Finally, Swedish authorities allowed the exhibit, but only after the artworks were heated to destroy any germs or viruses in the blood. Benes’ brilliant relics have been collected in his book “Curiosa: Celebrity Relics, Historical Fossils and Other Metamorphic Rubbish.”

When I die, I am willing my entire apartment to a museum in North Dakota. They are going to rebuild it exactly as it is. They have photographed it and will catalogue it. My ashes are going to stay in the apartment, in a pillow on the bed.

Diane Arbus lived down the hall from me. I remember when they took her body out. She died in the bathtub. She slit her wrists.

In 1969, my boyfriend lived near Gay and Waverly. On the night of the Stonewall riots, I heard this great racket. I thought “What is that?” I didn’t participate. Instead I went to the local Howard Johnson’s. They had a wild tea room (public toilet). When all the action was going on, I was in the tearoom.

I once had an original Picasso lithograph. I say “once” because one night when I was a little high, I thought I was being very clever and scribbled on the lithograph. When I came to, I freaked and realized I had destroyed my Picasso. Then, either inspiration or desperation made me put it into a blender and grind it up. I got some cocaine bottles and filled them with the Picasso, telling people I was selling Picasso by the gram.

Editor’s note: “1 gram of Picasso” first sold at $300 a piece. The price is now more than $3000 per piece.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Edward Field was raised on Long Island and came to New York City after serving as a navigator in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He has published eight books of poetry, including “Frieze for a Temple of Love” and “Counting Myself Lucky.”

“Bohemian” was an adjective, not a noun in the 1950s. It was people working on creative things, who wanted to fulfill themselves and fuck bourgeoisie ambition, and not to follow the standard course laid out for you by conventional society. Success was not your goal. If it happened, you tried to keep your integrity. One of the main principles of bohemian culture was sexual liberation.

I had poems published from the 1940s, but I didn’t get a book published until 1963. I never had money success, unless money success was having enough money to live on, which I did. That is remarkable in itself.

The main thing was that you had to earn money for your analyst. Whatever it was, it was more than I could afford. If it was $25 a session, it was a week’s salary.

Bohemian life in the West Village ended in the mid-1970s with gentrification. The Village became unlivable. The whole tradition grounded in one area became unavailable to young artists. In a sense, when the mother country died, it was a diaspora. Sexual freedom had already spread around the country, even gay liberation. The one thing that didn’t spread was the leftist political radicalism.

I came to Westbeth in 1971. Neil moved in in 1976. At the beginning, Westbeth was open to the world. Now it is an island in the West Village. There are still all the old lefties here. The young people and the old people have very little to do with each other. The young people in Westbeth just see it as housing. They are not from the old Village. They are trying to make it.


Raised in Manhattan, Ira Cohen lived in Tangier, hanging out with Jane and Paul Bowles, and sojourned in Katmandu. Cohen still holds court from his Upper West Side apartment.

I’ve had a series of small strokes, so I haven’t been writing very much. It is good to get something down in my notebook, no matter what. Before being interviewed by Dylan Foley on bohemians, I write, where has it gone? What was it? Having fun without money, red wine, free lust, sparkling conversation, unpretentiousness, spaghetti dinners without selling out, not being part of the herd morality of the mainstream, a touch of the gypsy in the Village or the Lower East Side? Perhaps it was a trip to Paris, are you getting what I am saying, right? Perhaps going to Tangier or Katmandu, to discover what life is about without the gray flannel fakery of the time. It wasn’t political, racist, dogmatic or anti-romantic. It was a serious struggle to maintain a meaningful life without deceit, perpetual discovery, having gay friends and going for the real thing. If you have a beret and throw it up in the air and it doesn’t land on your head, what should you expect? Maybe the bohemian has been replaced by the serial killer. Neither is in the mainstream. Both are interested in fun, each in his own way.

When I went to Morocco, I was still quite young. I was 26, married with two kids. I went to Tangier because there was a Yugoslavian freighter going there. Jack Kerouac took the same freighter I took maybe a year before. 1961? The Hravatska. I sold books I had for $90. For $90, the freighter dropped me off in Tangier. We had a lot of stuffed cabbage for 12 days. We wound up in Casablanca. The boat continued up to Tangier.

I was in Tangier ‘til ‘66. , then I came back here and published the “Hashish Cookbook,” based on the idea of hash candy. You can also make grass into tea.

How am I getting by now? Don’t ask me. In my pocket, I have a check for $1600 out of the $3600 spent by someone who bought three of my beautiful mylar prints of Jimi Hendrix. I did some of the greatest photography of the period. The Whitney came by and picked out two prints they wanted. They really wanted the work I’ve done in the past two years. I don’t have any prints from now. I have my film developed into 4” by 6” prints by two men from Odessa. Do you want to do a show of 4” by 6” prints and include me? Great. For me, it’s only 40 years too late.

I am trying to get my new book, “A Dissolute Life Spent in the Service of Allah” published. If I had to rest on my laurels on what John Ashberry has written as a poet, I’d jump out a window. My poems are great. Nobody speaks with my voice. I don’t think there is a better poet on the planet than me. That may be an exaggeration. There may be some weird guy in Africa or China who’d blow my mind. I’m probably the best-kept secret of the American avant garde culture. You won’t find a book of mine on the bookshelves.