Beard and the Breasts … Love, Via Philip Roth

Beard and the Breasts

When Peter Beard photographed the bare-chested, 17-year-old Fayel Tall near Lake Rudolph in Kenya in 1987, the young African woman says she thought no one would ever see the portrait. Ten years later, in November 1997, while she was working in a boutique in Los Angeles in between modeling jobs and acting classes, Ms. Tall got a call from a friend in New York who had seen a poster-size version of the picture hanging in the window of The Time Is Now gallery in SoHo. Ms. Tall went to see for herself. “The little picture I had seen was huge, in the window,” she said. “My heart stopped, I had to catch my breath.”

In November 1998, she filed a complaint, citing “unfair competition” and violation of her civil rights, against Mr. Beard, the gallery and the gallery’s owner, Peter Tunney, at Federal District Court in Manhattan. “It’s not about money really,” said Ms. Tall, who is working as a hostess at Scharmann’s restaurant on West Broadway. “There are certain things you don’t do. It’s my name, my body.”

The case has yet to come to court, but on Nov. 16, the lawyers for Ms. Tall, Mr. Beard and Mr. Tunney sat down for a conference in the chambers of Magistrate Henry B. Pitman in Federal District Court. According to Robert Hantman, one of Ms. Tall’s lawyers, a trial is set for Jan. 31.

He said Ms. Tall is asking for 15 to 25 percent of what Mr. Beard has earned, and will earn in the future, from selling prints of the photograph, and $50,000 for her time. Ms. Tall claims Mr. Beard and Mr. Tunney made $100,000 from selling the prints. She also says she can’t get work as a model in New York because of Mr. Beard’s influence.

Mr. Beard called the $100,000 figure “total bullshit.” “I’m afraid she totally lied,” he told The Observer . Mr. Tunney said he and Mr. Beard earned between $50,000 and $80,000 from selling 14 prints of the photograph. “Not only did we not make money, we spent money,” he said. Mr. Beard maintains that Ms. Tall has never had much of a career except for his pictures. “I never worked so slavishly for anyone but Fayel,” Mr. Beard said. “I’m the only person who has helped her. She has a kid, she’s lost her looks–she’s desperate.”

“I’m asking him to be fair with me, not to treat me as if I was an uneducated and ungrateful African,” said Ms. Tall.

The blow-up poster in the gallery window was not the first time Ms. Tall saw the image. About three weeks after the Lake Rudolph photo was taken, she said, the mutual friend who had first brought Ms. Tall to Mr. Beard’s Kenyan ranch showed her the picture. She says the picture made her nervous, but that she didn’t tell Mr. Beard.

Ms. Tall, who was born in Paris and grew up in Kenya, never signed a release form, and claims that she didn’t know of Mr. Beard’s intent to sell the photograph or display it. “I’ve known my rights all of my life because of my father’s position,” said Ms. Tall. Her father is a veterinarian and a diplomat to the Organization of African Unity at the International Bureau of Animal Resources. Her uncle, Maki Tall, was a Malian ambassador in Washington, D.C., in the 80′s. She went to a private French school in Kenya, holds a diplomatic passport and attended (but did not graduate from) Salford University in Manchester, England.

“Beard never imagined that a girl who was 17 in the wilds of Africa would come to New York and see herself exposed on Broome Street,” said, Mr. Hantman. “It’s outrageous that the person who built a career on Africa is now doing this. He’s trying to exploit the women who represent the female embodiment of Africa, and he’s not paying for it.”

“We tried to help her. I feel bad for her, she’s desperate,” said Mr. Tunney. “Peter never gets forms signed. He’s standing in a skirt in some crocodile-infested swamp. Do you think he has a release form?”

“I’ve never gotten a release from any person. I’m not a businessman, I’m on the side of common sense,” Mr. Beard told The Observer . “Releases ruin the atmosphere of photography.”

The poster did land Ms. Tall a contact with the Elite Modeling Agency. When she got mad about the gallery window in 1997, Ms. Tall said, Mr. Beard set her up with Monique Pillard, president of Elite, and invited her to his Thanksgiving dinner–which she attended. “Elite signed me, but sent me to L.A., because I was talking about suing Peter Beard,” Ms. Tall said.

“Fayel didn’t stop being represented by Elite,” Ms. Pillard told The Observer . “If I had a job for her, I could call her. I think Beard’s picture of her is very beautiful. I put it on her composite, but I wasn’t very successful.”

Ms. Tall claims Ms. Pillard did not ask her permission to use the Lake Rudolph photograph on her composite. Ms. Pillard disagrees. “I got the photograph from Fayel and Peter Beard,” Ms. Pillard said. “She was right there when we chose it. Who the fuck does she think she is? She’s dragging me into a lawsuit which I know nothing about. She’s being totally ridiculous!”

“I don’t have to ask her permission, I paid for the composite, ” added Ms. Pillard. She said the Lake Rudolph picture was in Ms. Tall’s modeling portfolio. “Why would she have the picture in her book if one couldn’t use it on her composite card?”

Interestingly, Ms. Tall and Mr. Beard maintained a cordial relationship over the years, at least until she filed her court papers last year. “Peter Beard always kept an eye on me,” said Ms. Tall. In 1992, he took head shots of her in Montauk, L.I., and gave them to her for free. Mr. Tunney said Mr. Beard brought Ms. Tall to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fashion Ball in December 1997. This would have been a month after Ms. Tall’s “heart stopped” after she saw the blow-up poster of herself. Ms. Tall replied that she attended the ball for professional reasons. “Even if I was upset, I was saying to myself I shouldn’t complain,” she said. At that point Ms. Tall had not sought legal advice. “I didn’t want to annoy anyone,” she said. “They said we would talk about it, that everything would be taken care of … I was waiting for them to approach me, which was very naïve.”

When Mr. Tunney and Mr. Beard came to Los Angeles in March 1998 for a show of Mr. Beard’s work at the David Fahey-Klein gallery, Ms Tall says she was upset that her friends in Los Angeles saw the Lake Rudolph photograph. “I was never approached by anyone to ask permission to use the photograph in the show,” she said. “I was treated as if I was not the person on the photograph.”

Mr. Tunney replied that in fact he did Ms. Tall a favor, with her permission, by sending out 500 cards, at his expense, to announce the Los Angeles exhibit.

Ms. Tall said she thinks much of her trouble with Mr. Beard can be traced to his being trampled by an elephant in Africa in December 1996. “He must have gone out of his mind since the incident with the elephant,” she said.

(On Nov. 15, Ms. Tall informed The Observer that she was switching lawyers, saying she was upset that Mr. Hantman was talking to people about her suit against Mr. Beard. She said she would now be represented by Joseph Tandet, of A. Joseph Tandet law firm. “It’s news to me,” Mr. Hantman told The Observer when he was told of Ms. Tall’s plan to change lawyers. “It’s absurd.”)

–Deborah Schoeneman

Love, Via Philip Roth

It’s not every day that an actor gets coached by novelist Philip Roth, but Tony Goldwyn can now claim that privilege. On Nov. 13, Mr. Goldwyn, clad in a cream suit and indigo blue shirt, sat on a stool on stage at the 92nd Street Y and channeled the famously tormented and riotously horny Alexander Portnoy for an audience of 500 people, most of them looking like they had come of age in the 1960′s. The occasion was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint .

“I was surprised they wanted me,” said Mr. Goldwyn, standing after the show on the Y’s front steps. Joel Grey had been scheduled to perform that evening, but a conflict arose. “I was pleased,” said Mr. Goldwyn, who has appeared in such movies as Ghost and The Substance of Fire . He last appeared on the stage in Craig Lucas’ The Dying Gaul , in June 1998. Alice Gordon, who adapted Portnoy’s Complaint for the stage in 1994, found Mr. Goldwyn with the help of a New York casting agent. Mr. Roth gave the final O.K.

What is the author like as a director? “He directed in the most thoroughly challenging way,” said Mr. Goldwyn. “He was very specific. He was adjusting the choices I was making.” One example, he said, was a scene between Alex Portnoy and Naomi, whom Mr. Roth describes in the book as “the Jewish Pumpkin, the Heroine, that hardy, redheaded, freckled, ideological hunk of a girl.”

“When he says, ‘I love you,’ my interpretation was that he was in love with her,” said Mr. Goldwyn. Mr. Roth’s stage direction: “No–it’s aggressive, hostile, base, dark.”

“I said, ‘Really?’” said Mr. Goldwyn.

Mr. Roth, he said, replied, “It’s an act of anger.”

Mr. Roth’s only appearance that evening was when he walked on stage after the performance and shook Mr. Goldwyn’s hand. Then he bowed a few times and disappeared.

–Elizabeth Manus

Burned-Out Beatnik

Cool cat composer David Amram has such an upbeat, sunny disposition that it’s almost a crime against nature that his house burned down. But on Oct. 18 at 5 P.M., a (probably) electrical fire broke out on the second floor of his Putnam Valley farmhouse. Mr. Amram, 68, had just finished cleaning up his 20 acres after Hurricane Floyd. He and his old lady were taking it easy.

“We were very fortunate to be there; no one got hurt,” he said. The volunteer firemen got there fast, but most of the family’s possessions were lost. Mr. Amram did manage to retrieve his letters from Jack Kerouac, Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller. His playwright wife’s computer was “fried,” but she got her disks out. At one point Mr. Amram, ignoring a firefighter who said he would arrest him, rushed back onto the burning house to save a flute concerto.

The home was uninsured, but the Amrams are cool with that because they’re counting on hepcats, like folk singer-activist Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi, to help rebuild. The Seegers are sending out a fund-raising letter, and local musicians are talking about a benefit. Mr. Amram said that while the fire was “devastating,” it’s been a “wonderful experience” because of the response from friends. For now, he’s staying in a garage above a body shop. “It’s kind of like being back in New York City again, in the morning when I hear all the noise,” he said. His wife and teenage son are renting a place nearby.

The scorching hasn’t slowed Mr. Amram down. Since the fire, Mr. Amram said, he’s played music at the New-York Historical Society, at the Guggenheim Museum and at the Kerouac House in Orlando, Fla. He also conducted a symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and played a concert in Wisconsin, where he showed up in sneakers and jeans from Wal-Mart–all his clothes had burned.

–George Gurley

The Transom Also Hears …

Page Morton Black is sounding a little froggy, and it ain’t because she’s been to France. Ms. Morton Black, the chairman of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and a voice of the Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee jingle, is feeling a lot better since she set out on Oct. 26 for her organization’s gala dinner and ended up in the Mt. Sinai hospital emergency room in her evening gown and diamond necklace. Ms. Morton Black told The Transom that doctors told her she had not suffered a heart attack, but that there did seem to be “a weakness in part of my heart.” After a day and a half in the hospital, she returned home, and when we called her she said, “The medication they gave me has made me hoarse.” She sang a few lines of “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” to prove it. Ms. Morton Black said she hoped to get the problem fixed or “get used to it.” Until then, she could always bill herself as the thin Rosemary Clooney.

Frank DiGiacomo is on vacation.