In the fall of 1971 I was still in college and working part-time as a go-fer at Castelli Graphics. This place sold the prints of the artists showing with the Leo Castelli Gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Leo was the biggest art dealer of the time showing the blue chip artists of modern art. Rauschenberg, Johns, Twombly, Stella, Serra, Lichtenstein and Warhol were a few.
One afternoon two young men walked into the gallery. They were dressed exactly alike: denim shirts, denim pants and denim jackets. Both had crew cuts. An unusual hairstyle in the city at the time.
The taller one came up to me. Very excited, slightly sweaty. Breathless and twitchy. My college education stood me in good stead as I thought ”Amphetamines”.
“If you get any mail for Jack Curtis, forward it to my new address. I’m no longer Jackie Curtis. I’m James Dean. Remember: James Dean. From now on, forward all my mail to the James Dean Memorial Foundation.”
I had seen maybe two Warhol films by this time and even though this person in front of me was dressed as a man , I did recognize Jackie Curtis, one of the transvestites from Warhol’s Factory crowd.
A celebrity sighting. One of my first. Summoning up what I thought was my best imitation of “weary urban sophistication”, I said, “Yeah, OK. Sure.”
But I was thinking: “Is this guy nuts? We’ve never got a letter for him here? Why would anybody send him a letter here? I hope this doesn’t get too weird.”
But that was it. It was over in a couple of minutes and definitely something memorable.
About a year later I was listening to the radio and heard Lou Reed’s voice and he was singing:.
“Jackie is just speeding away
Thought he was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would’ve helped that bash.
Take a walk on the wild side.
Take a walk on the wild side.”
What a kick. I remembered the day and thought how cool it was that I was there for that. Not very sophisticated, I know, but it’s still makes me smile to this day.
Charles Yoder is a painter still living and working in New York City.