4. Starting out in New York

Dear PrillyCharmin,

I can't believe what I did, actually, I don't know what I did, But I touched something and Two days worth of writing Disappeared! So I'm about to start again! I knew I'd get into trouble if I tried to use more than one finger! From now on I'm keeping my left hand on my lap!

What might really upset you and your readers, is how critical and candid I can be about the faults of Baby Face? I believe the imperfections are in NO way so acute that the elusive spirit of the "Ideal" Baby Face doesn't still Shine through. But if I'm going to tell this, I really want to tell it like it is!

Those who think Baby Face is "perfect," had better stop reading now, for if they continue they will see what I see, and Baby Face may never look quite the same to them again. But they will know why she is what she is, as well as the perhaps subtle, (but not subtle to me, the classic "Virgo" perfectionist) ways she could, and should have been improved!

On the version I lost, I had skipped over many years But after having read your email, I've decided to add a few more lines of background. When Samantha was only a few weeks old, we moved to New York. I planned to get a non art related job and "Paint" the rest of the time. I soon discovered that the only way I was going to be able to make a living was by relying on all my artistic abilities. And got my first, (and only) job as a designer for a display firm, Austin Display. I was required to think up ideas, then make the first samples myself. My prototypes would then go into their showroom and a factory full of craftsmen would reproduce them to fill any orders. My salary was $100. a week.

After a few months the clocks "fell back" And I found myself going to work in the dark, and coming home in the dark. So I asked Mr. Austin if I could work at "home". Home being a huge vacant "Loft" 100'x35', without any dividing partitions, just one big open space. Samantha could ride her bike in it. There was a tin shower and a tin bath tub, which we had to fill with a bucket. Our bed was hidden behind what looked like a pile of boxes, because it was illegal to live in a loft at the time, and we lived in fear of being discovered by the "Fire Inspectors". It was just like "the diary of Ann Frank".

I continued to work at home, for Austin for about a year, working most of the time on a huge line of Mexican Tin Ornaments, candelabras, angels, tin soldiers etc. I created all the patterns and built the prototypes using paper. They were then hand crafted out of tin in Mexico, and returned to me to work out the colors. These were such convincing examples of "Genuine Folk Art" that no one knew or would ever guess, that they were created by a kid in New York. And my designs are still being made in Mexico today by native craftsmen who never heard of Austin Display and the designs have, since, become "Traditional".

In the process, I had gone from a weekly wage to working for a royalty. But in the end, it still worked out to be $100 a week. We then began a little business of our own, which we called "Boutique Fantastique", making "reproductions" of antique toys, that Never Existed in the first place!

Among the things we produced was a line of Miniature Victorian Toy Theaters where Harlequin and Columbine Danced on stage, powered by falling sand. We also made music boxes containing tiny animated Punch and Judy Shows, and larger more complex ones with all the characters of the Commedia del Arte.

This "Theatre Guignole" was one of our more elaborate offerings. It was based on an old French print, which I carefully traced, and had printed in black line, then colored by hand. They came in three variations. Here, "Polichinelle" battles "Le Diable". Piorrot and Piorrette, and Harlequin and Columbine danced in the other two. The articulated figures were animated by a rather expensive and elaborately orchestrated, imported Swiss music movement, which, in this case, played the waltz from Gunod's "Faust".

One of my favorites was a series of music box theaters in the Art Neuveau style of turn of the century Paris, featuring tiny fan dancers with feather fans, who did realistic "bumps and grinds" to Offenbach's Cancan. Eunice and I were making all of these things ourselves, coloring them and cutting them out by hand, We eventually hired three girls who had worked at Austin's to help us. 

The Fan Dancers were very popular: we sold several hundred of them at Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel in Manhattan. They were our best customers. The fan dancers came in three sizes: plump, medium, and thin. Eunice and I cut them out and colored them by hand with stencils, called Pouchoir. and they had all sorts of different fan, box, and curtain colors. I even dyed the feathers myself. Then I would adjust each one so the little paper figure did bumps and kicks etc. The art, which is quite authentic, was adapted from a turn of the century French periodical, called "Le Rire".

By 1967 we managed to luck into a great rent controlled apartment, and I worked in a loft in the adjoining building, which I could get every day by climbing across a neighbors roof and into the window. I had six girls working for me, an accountant, and "reps" in the "Gift Building". And when I figured out all the Expenses for all this Business related stuff, and materials, and deducted it from the "Gross income", I was, in reality, still making about $100 a week.

About this time an article about us appeared in the New York Times, Harry Kislevitz, the inventor and owner of "
Colorforms", read the article and called me up. Thus began an association, first with Harry and then with his sons that has lasted to this day.

Speaking of "this day" It's nearly over, So I'm stopping for now and sending you this as if I don't, I'm afraid that I'll Lose it! Like I did yesterday's efforts. Once again I've gotten carried away, next time I promise to get back on track.

Best Regards and more to follow, Mel

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