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Art Shay: That Was Then, Part Two

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I can't remain serious in the face of blame or praise. I was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad. I wish I could be more serious. My pictures mirror my personality. Irreverent, shocking, uncaring about most consequences, invasion of everyone's privacy, especially because everyone, including me, is so defensive about their privacy. I truly, truly can't take myself, my fame or even my innate modesty seriously.

Somehow, my restless brain always comes up with a punchline or punch picture that, for me (and for many of my collectors) puts my point of view into the perspective of my world view - which is really an inquisitive and amused glare at all the pretensions most of us live by. I'd be content to be a .285 hitter all my life, but fortune and skill have conspired me to hit .325 as I passed 80. A few critics who've reassessed me, put me over .400. I bless them for the attention, but I don't believe I'm that good. It's fun, sometimes, to be wrong about something like this.

What keeps me from being impossible to live with? I think it's my basic modesty... but I open your question to my wife, Florence. b*tch - you answer the nice lady...

Florence: Very funny. I'm not saying a thing. She asked a good question, though.

You see? You learn how to shut up people who might embarrass you... Florence thought my line: "b*tch, why don't you, etc..." was very funny. That's how we stay together - knowing what we each regard as funny and non-threatening.

You've been married only slightly less than forever. Anything to share on how to make it work?

We love, respect and admire each other's various achievements and attractiveness to other people and vice versa. The key to marital longevity is not to hold grudges longer than a few minutes and pave over the emotional rough spots on the marital road. Of course, the luck of good health is important. I've had three surgeries this year [but] my hand-eye coordination has been gratifyingly better than that of some players half my age. I've written eight books on racquetball and coached perhaps ten relatives - including grandchildren and friends. I do enjoy myself and take delight in my children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews, most of whom are great achievers and enjoy collecting my pictures for their walls.

You've achieved an additional modicum of fame for composing effective personal ad copy. Would you care to share that story with our readers?

I know a dear classy lady who collected my pictures when they were $350 each. We usually had lunch every two weeks. There came a lunch when she looked unkempt and stricken. "My husband died," she explained. "What would you do if Florence died?" I told her, I'd write the following ad in the NY Review of Books. "Newly widowed, athletic author-photographer of repute, would like to meet smart lady."

"I couldn't write an ad," she said. I wrote one for her on a napkin. Something like: "Stately, independent widow, usually well Lord & Taylored, would like to meet interesting man - object friendship." She thus "met" a world-class paleontologist. A year later, they were married. At the wedding, the lady told the above story and three ladies came up to ask me to help them write ads. I especially liked the groom's comment when I asked him how he felt: "As if I had just won the lottery." The four of us have been dining together at the Tomato about once a month.

You seem to really enjoy yourself. It's lovely. Do you anticipate ever slowing down?

No, mutatis mutandis. I play life the way I played racquetball until I got my national ranking at 60, and won two Illinois state senior titles a year or so later - full out. Life is like flying. You slow down, you fall. It was my mother, Molly, who really initiated the well-meaning WW2 phrase to me, her Jewish son, in flying school... I had it on a Bronx postcard to San Marcos, TX. "Fly slow, Artie, until you get used to it and stay close to the ground. Don't rush everything like you always do."

Well, you've certainly crammed a lot into one lifetime, Art. It's been a great pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much. And, for our readers, a few more of Art's shots with a little commentary. Enjoy!

Shay Sampler

After Adam Gopnik, of the New Yorker, [January 28, 2008] referred to my picture as causing a moral commotion in France. But he lumped Algren's treatment of Simone with Sarkosy's treatment of his nude model wife, implying that Nelson had ordered up a picture of de Beauvoir. "Pooh! Nelson would rather have died than asked for a souvenir nude picture of a girl friend."

It was an old-fashioned Life Magazine "sneak picture." I would ultimately do perhaps 100 "sneak" pictures for Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated, many involving the Mafias in 10 different states. The Paris Foto Show, at the Louvre several weeks ago, (Daiter Gallery's exhibit) hung both Simone nudes, and the older dorsal one was sold to the print acquirer of the Smithsonian, possibly for his own collection. The Sun-Times quoted me, "My de Beauvoirs hung at the Louvre one floor below da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It took Leonardo 400 years to hang in the Louvre and I did it in a mere 88."

Betsy Noxon, Joni Dobson, Libby Hurley, Hope Martin and Nancy Hurst.

This is a summer 2010 picture for an upcoming book jacket showing a group of North Shore tri-athletes, most in their forties, and their techniques for staying fit.

Betsy Noxon adds: Tri The Journey, a women's inspirational guide to becoming a triathlete in 12 weeks. It features women's stories of how they began training, overcame obstacles, and completed a tri - transforming their lives. It's also a how-to book with a training guide - for all ages! Book available Jan 15.

Nelson Algren is shown, center, playing poker with the St. Louis junkie-dealer he used as a model for Frankie Machine [as played by Frank Sinatra] in The Man with the Golden Arm. Algren was a compulsive poker player. In a basement room of a junkie hangout bar at Damen and Division.

The "Backyard Olympics" was shot in the early sixties for, of all people, Forbes Magazine doing a story on the underside of Chicago. It also ran as a two-page cover on a Blue Cross publication, and in several photo magazines, and sells nicely in the galleries. Collectors like the upbeat feeling in it. In January 2011, a French publisher doing a translation of Algren's novella, Entrapment, will use it as the book jacket. The book features two of my nudes as well as a brilliant forward by me.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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Part two is even better than part one. This is a ... by Michael Collins on Thursday, Jan 6, 2011 at 9:47:56 AM
He was an easy interview - stories up the wazoo! T... by Joan Brunwasser on Thursday, Jan 6, 2011 at 10:16:00 AM
Well done.... by Laura Roberts on Thursday, Jan 6, 2011 at 3:41:33 PM
he's a fun guy who's packed a lot in his life. we ... by Joan Brunwasser on Thursday, Jan 6, 2011 at 4:06:17 PM