It was the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” and living in Hollywood during the late sixties felt like it was just the right place and time for “the Fool” collective. Simon and I immediately started to create more artwork in our a large studio upstairs in the Shoreham Drive house while our manager Ben Stagg did the rounds finding interested art and fashion buyers so we could pay the rent of $350 per month while also trying to promote “The Fool” album with interviews by DJ’s such as Mitchell Reed, “The Beamer”, on KFWB station and “The Rabbit” in San Diego.
“The San Fernando Valley Scene” and “Talk of the Town” magazines did an article on us but success was not easily obtained in Hollywood. We had to sell the cosmic Bentley to make ends meet and after producing two more singles to fulfill our contract; “Rainbow Man/Lay it Down” and “Shining Light/We are One”, “Mercury Records” dropped us. Nowadays “The Fool” LP is still obscurely produced as a CD and LP, available on the Internet as a collector’s item.
We made a lot of new friends, all of whom played a big role in our life henceforward. Graham Nash had moved in with Joni Mitchell in Laurel Canyon and our old friend Peter Bergman who we knew in Amsterdam, lived not far away on “The Farm”, off Barham Blvd., where he and the other “Firesign Theater” members rented a cottage from Cyrus Faryar, the occupant of the main house. Cyrus was the founder and producer of “The Modern Folk Quartet” which included the soon to be world famous photographer Henry Diltz. Cyrus’s gorgeous girlfriend Renais would do a lot of modeling for us.
When Barry and Yosha announced that they expected their first child in August of 1969, it put extra pressure on us all to come up with a new “Grand Project” that would keep us afloat. Having seen the tribal musical “HAIR” in New York, we knew it had just started its run in Los Angeles at the “Aquarius Theater” and we had already met the producer, Michael Butler, at a party. Michael was an extremely handsome and interesting guy, the second son of a wealthy family based in Illinois, who made their fortune in paper and aviation. He was a close friend of important personages on the international high society and political scene, an avid polo player and the Tribal Elder of the HAIR crowd with a progressive mindset.
Eureka!!! It suddenly occurred to us that the big white walls of the “Aquarius Theater” were just begging to have a mural that would be outstanding eye catching advertisement for the show. Since the Zeitgeist of “HAIR” was synonymous with the “Age of Aquarius” new age momentum it was all falling into place. The marquee of the theater was ideal for a depiction of the astrological sign for Aquarius, the Waterman, surrounded by the signs of the Zodiac and its attending influences represented by the four “fixed” zodiacal signs and the four elements: Taurus-Bull-Earth, Aquarius-Man-Air, Scorpio-Eagle-Water and Leo-Lion-Fire.
I put sketches together and Ben Stagg made an appointment with Michael Butler to set up a presentation. Michael thoughtfully perused the portfolio and revealed that he had a partner in the production; Tommy Smothers (of “The Smothers Brothers” comedy team fame), who would have to be consulted as well. He promised to show Tommy the renderings and discuss the proposal. A few weeks went by and then by way of introduction, we were invited to a pool party at Tommy’s house. There were quite a few guests and we had a good time splashing around. In Esther Williams’ style I made several impressive backward somersaults off the diving board to the delight of the guests…
After drinks and tasting the goodies at the buffet, Tommy brought up the mural idea himself and asked if he could have his portrait as the face of the “Waterman” on the marquee and looking at his crew cut, I said: “of course, but you’ll have to have a lot of long hair!” Thus the project went forward. Ben, Simon and Barry figured out the cost and acquisition of the materials; paints, brushes and scaffolding etcetera…The Fool was to receive a monthly stipend to cover their living expenses and Michael supplied us with a cool convertible Mustang to get around.
I proposed that the 70 foot high North wall, facing Sunset Boulevard, should have miscellaneous life size theatrical characters such as Acrobats, a Ballerina, a Juggler, Hamlet (with Michael’s face), Jimi Hendrix, a Fire-eater, Harlequin and a Belly dancer on varied background colors. Everyone agreed so I drew the larger than life size so called “cartoons” on paper to be transferred to the primed wall via the charcoal pounding method. Below the figures a continuum of the rainbow spectrum extended across the 100 foot long wall.
For the even longer West wall I envisioned the Nine Muses of Greek mythology (like I did for Brian Epstein’s “Saville Theater” program) since they represent the several aspects of cultural activities so timelessly. The figures were to float over a fantastical landscape that Simon had some great ideas for like the Three Faced Mountain and the Trumpets announcing the New Age. The whole panorama would drip down over the rainbow spectrum extending along the length of the whole building at its base.
It was an enormous job. First I had to draw the 20 larger than life size figures on paper after which we rolled a rotating perforation tool along the lines so that once the drawings had been tacked to the wall we could pound charcoal contained in a cheesecloth bag through the holes, doing one figure at a time. Then I had to paint the outlines in black before coloring in the characters afterwards, like a coloring book.
It was a cold and windy morning…I was standing with Simon on the highest tier of the wobbly scaffolding planks at the West wall’s far left corner. I looked to the right across a seemingly endless intimidating expanse of over a hundred feet of white wall and thought: “what have I got myself in for now”!
But when you’ve said A you have to say B and I had an instant inspiration and said: “ Simon, why don’t we paint a bucket of paint tilted over that spills multicolored paint out in this corner to start the painting?” This was an “apropos” idea and he was all for it, so we were out the starting gate and off to the races …
Since Yosha was well advanced in her pregnancy, after she painted a small section on the wall, we insisted she stop, it was too dangerous on the scaffolding and she had already suffered a miscarriage in New York earlier. It was unfortunate because she could have contributed a lot to the painting.
We could not have done it without help from our friends, in particular Lee Kiefer and Pepe Serna (now a highly acclaimed actor) who helped us all the way through and are both good painters in their own right. They did a lot of the details in the landscapes.
Barry got quite proficient helping Simon to paint the many graduating rainbow panels, columns and skirt around the base of the building. Lastly we painted the best poetic line Barry ever wrote along the top of the West wall: “EACH HEART A DIFFERENT ANSWER, EACH SOUL A DIFFERENT NAME, LIFE’S IMAGES ARE MANY BUT THE SOURCE REMAINS THE SAME”
Some much appreciated art students would appear and made some contributions as well but Simon and I kept a close eye on them so that it would not get out of hand. Dear Elle Elliott brought us home made enchiladas and many friends, including Raquel Welch, passers by and onlookers brought us encouragements and goodies of all kinds.
The completion of the mural was celebrated with a high voltage “vernisage” party with Mama Cass, the Fool and members of the HAIR cast making music and all our friends singing along, clapping and dancing in the parking lot, dressed in their colorful tribal “Fool” gear. Today, a monstrous skyscraper occupies that same parking lot.
The “Aquarius Theater” painting may have been the largest existing mural in the world at the time. It took two months to complete, painting every day from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening and I was bone tired and aching all over when I fell into bed at night.
Simon and I consequently painted several more HAIR theaters; the “Geary Theater” in San Francisco, (assisted by Lee Kiefer) and the “Shubert” theater in Chicago and had local artists copy our designs for the “Moore” theater in Seattle.
After those commissions I was asked by Michael Butler to create a HAIR poster for the “Shaftsbury Theatre” in London as well as artwork for a HAIR comic book that at the end of the day never materialized in print.
Our close friend Maurice Hoogenboom, a Dutch photographer of Indonesian descent, had connections at Vogue magazine and they published his photo of Simon and me in front of the finished “Aquarius Theater” with an article entitled “JOY to paint the world with rainbows”. The theater murals for HAIR were finished but our involvement with Michael Butler would continue with a different project.
It was to be a parting of the ways for The Fool though…while remaining close friends, we split up as a unit at that point with Yosha & Barry starting their family. They would open a beautiful new boutique, called “The Chariot”, on popular Melrose Avenue later in the year.
During 2018 Film director Quentin Tarantino was working on his movie “Once upon a time in Hollywood” and wanted to reproduce the north wall of the “Aquarius Theater”. The art director approached me for a consultation and asked for pictures. In due time the mural copy was rendered by studio backdrop painters but once I saw them up close, I was frankly appalled by their execution, especially the grotesque facial features of the figures. Neither did they bother to reproduce the graduated rainbow spectrum lower section and just painted straight colored lines. In the end it was not even shown in the film but it is still on Sunset Boulevard for the whole world to see to this day…
To be continued…