Monday, July 16, 2012

My Life in Art: The Army

The summer after college graduation I applied to Yale Drama School to study set design.  And was accepted. 

That summer I was invited to do sets at a summer theater on Long Island, the Gateway Theater.  It was a theater in a barn and a theater-in-the-round.  Not too many sets needed for that type of staging.  I did do some props when needed and also played a few bit parts. I was a clown in the “Little Prince”, and played a dual role in the “Mad Woman of  Chaillot.”  I was a rag picker and a baron, roles that required costume changes between the acts.  As a baron I needed to be serious while Robert Duvall, a fledging actor playing the part of a poor man, offered me all his money.  He was hilarious.  I don’t understand why he has never played a humorous role during his illustrious career.

When I got home at the end of the summer I received a notice that I had been drafted.  The Korean War still needed recruits.  Of course Yale had to be put off.  I don’t imagine they ever missed me.

I passed the physical and was put on a train to Fort Belvedere in Maryland, and then another to Fort Knox Kentucky, the home of the Third Armored Division, General Patton’s group.  But it was my misfortune to be placed in infantry basic training.  I was placed in an eight week training program.  They asked if anyone wanted to attend Officer’s Candidate School and if course I applied.  Thus, after three weeks of training I was transferred to a sixteen week training program.  This meant, of course, that it would take nineteen weeks to complete basic training.  That included two weeks on the rifle range with our M1A1’s, bivouacking in January, many hikes with our equipment on our backs, and other treats. 

At the end of basic, I was assigned to an eight week leadership school, in a holding pattern, until a decision was made on whether I was officer material. It turned out, I wasn’t.  But somehow the fact that I had had art training was known to those who ran the school and there was an opening in the Training Aids Unit. Thus, after completing the program, I was kept there, as permanent party, instead of being sent off to the front lines in Korea. 

For this I must thank Sgt. Jerry Allison, who was in charge of the unit. He would have a great influence on me.  He had studied with Frank Riley at the Art Students League and was an accomplished illustrator. Seeing his work, I began to think I would rather do that than make a career of  the theater.  I had taken a leave in New York City to see my friend Jon Jostyn and had visited a Mrs. Kelley, who produced shows at the Roxie and convinced me that to become a set designer was not an easy road.  My goal was changing.

 I was to remain in training aids  for the next year doing training aids charts, names on helmet liners, fancy desk plates for officers, and signs that said “Keep off the Grass”

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