Carol Leone received her B.A. in Spanish from the University of Rochester in 1964. During her undergraduate years she was active in student theater and was one of three women to travel with the Yellowjackets on their 1963 summer USO tour in Europe. After graduation she moved to New York City and entered the fashion industry. She began as a buyer for Ohrbach’s—later working for Alexander’s and Macy’s—in development, design and sourcing of clothing for retailers and manufacturers.
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MM: Today is October 16, 2014 and I’m talking with Carol Leone here in the Hyatt in Rochester. And I’d like first to thank you very much for sitting down with me to contribute to the Living History Project. And I’d like to start sort of way back at the beginning, almost the pre-beginning. And if you could tell me a little bit about your personal background, where you grew up and how you chose the University of Rochester as a freshman.
CL: I grew up in suburban New Jersey, Westfield, New Jersey, through almost all of fourth grade through high school. A very musically-oriented community. I’ve been singing from the time I was in fourth grade and choirs and groups and things.
How did I choose the University of Rochester? I think it was on the list that my guidance counselor presented and we chose my – my parents and I – my father and I chose the University of Rochester – as I remember he thought it would offer me the greatest opportunity to change and "figure it all out" because I really didn’t know what I wanted to major in, or what I wanted to do. And he thought that a university environment would offer me that opportunity and I’m pretty sure that was the reason why I chose the University of Rochester. There were not other Westfield people at – there were one or two but it wasn’t a big destination school, so to speak, from my community. But that’s how I chose it.
MM: Do you remember where else you looked?
CL: Yeah, sure. Middlebury, William and Mary, Swarthmore, Cornell, a few. A few. In those days it was so different, you know.
CL: Yeah, so it didn’t cost a lot of money to apply and you didn’t have to, you know, write the novellas and all that kind of stuff, so.
MM: So when you arrived at the university you had your freshmen week.
MM: And do you remember what that was like?
CL: Sure. We had beanies and…. which were awful. And we were not allowed on the Quad. We had to use the tunnels to get from place to place so that we would learn the tunnels for the winter. So we all did that. We had big lunches every day.
MM: Where were the lunches?
CL: I think in the women’s dining center. That’s where I remember them. So there were big lunches every day and at the end of the lunches two people came in and ran through the school songs so that we would – by the end of the week learn them. I actually had that job my senior year. And what else do I remember? I remember freshmen camp, which was a lot of fun.
MM: And where was that?
CL: In the Bristol Hills. I can’t remember the name of the camp – if you told me I would say, yes, you’re right. But we all went on a bus and we all had big sisters. There was a big sister program and my big sister, who was a junior at the time, was Kari Fougner and she was playing the lead in the Co-Kast production of Pajama Game. And terrific woman, really terrific woman. And so our big sisters and other, you know, I don’t – I’m not sure if everyone had a big sister – maybe they did.
But any rate, freshmen, juniors, camp. I think it was two days, something like that. And it was just silly stuff, you know… screwing around, having fun, singing. I wrote a script, I remember. When I was a junior, I wrote a script and we did a whole thing, West Side Story takeoff, when I was – it was – just seemed like fun. I still have the script somewhere. And that’s all I remember that freshmen week. I don’t really remember much else. Signing up for class. I guess we signed up for classes freshmen week and that’s pretty much all I can remember. It was a long time ago.
MM: It’s a lot, though. So when you started as a freshman… you have a… your bachelor’s is in Spanish.
MM: Is that right?
CL: Uh huh.
MM: So how did you determine that that was what you wanted your major to be? And what else did you consider? What other courses did you take?
CL: I took – I’m not sure how I chose. I either had to choose the linguistic aspects of Spanish or the literature aspect. And I chose the literature aspect, although I did take linguistic courses. We had a wonderful professor, Dr. Canfield, who was – who was teaching – he was wonderful. And I took – what other courses did I take? I took the, you know, the things we had to take.
MM: And things like?
CL: Well the biology, you know the science that you had to take. I’ll tell what I remember about my first biology lab, which was my first day of classes. I – in the afternoon, I remember walking into the lab and there were two teaching assistants and maybe fifteen, twenty, however many there were. And the first day there was this huge tank in front of the class filled with live jumping frogs and we had to reach into the tank, grab a frog, take it to our station and pith it by banging its head against the edge of the table. So… here you are with your frog by its legs.
I got this huge frog for – just because it was the first one that I, you know. And so you’d swing it and this is not a natural thing to do. And you bang it and needless to say it took several attempts and then when I got the frog pinned down in the petri dish--not a petri dish, the tray that’s filled with – it’s sort of a waxy stuff. Okay, so frog is pinned down. Carol has made the incision. Frog pulls its paws up and starts to hop away. It was not a good moment.
And then I had to re-pith it with his incision open. It was pretty terrible. And so when I went back to the dorm afterwards and everyone who was looking forward to a biology lab later in the week said, "So how was biology lab?" Well I didn’t tell them, I mean, you know, I thought they would never go. So I lied. I said, "Oh, it was fine." It was pretty…. They did it as a shock tactic, obviously, to, you know. Not that anything else that came after that was terrible. That was, you know, everything else was already dead. The fetal pigs were dead, so. But yeah, that was my first day of class at the U of R.
MM: So if you had any aspirations to medical school they were gone.
CL: Yeah, kill a frog. That’s how I started.
MM: So you mentioned Professor Canfield, do you remember him? Do you have anything? Any particular memories of him?
CL: I, no… except that he was just a very kind, funny, kind of man. He had a great sense of humor. And we had classes. We were not at the top of the rung in terms of classroom space. And we had classes in Fauver that were, you know, challenging to say the least, in terms of the academic aspect of the environment, so he taught there. And he was just – he was just a lovely man. A lovely man who enjoyed his students – that’s what I remember about him.
MM: So when you say you weren’t at the top of the rung academically for that particular… for that particular class?
CL: No, I think that language majors were not the focus at Rochester. That’s really what I meant. It was kind of an odd choice – the school was kind of an odd choice for me. If I knew that I were going to stay on that path… and Middlebury, for example, was the school that was known at the time to be a very strong language-oriented school. So it probably would have been a better choice in terms of where I ended up, but it was okay, it worked out.
MM: So what other classes did you take? Were there classes that you took and said, "I just want to take this because I think it would be fun."
CL: I took some Russian classes. My roommate and I, who is here this weekend, both took Russian. She’s a French major and we both took Russian. We had an 8:00 Russian class on Saturday morning. And we had a wonderful teacher who was a physics professor and he taught these language courses for fun. Don’t remember his name. He was Russian.
MM: Was it Wieber?
CL: It could be, it could be.
MM: He’s still around.
CL: Is he? And what I remember is Marcia and I had not remembered very well to learn our vocabulary. And I do remember that the night before our final we stayed up all night trying to learn, I don’t know, four hundred Russian vocabulary words. Even for two gifted language people, this was a downhill slide. So we went the next day to take the class and I don’t think Marcia would mind my telling this.
About a third of the way into the test she walked out. She just was so overwhelmed, you know. I, being Italian and very stubborn, stuck it out. He passed me, I think, with a C. I’m sure I didn’t totally deserve the C but, you know, in his mind, I’m sure I did. And the thing that I know about him, he got in touch with her and offered her an opportunity to take the exam again. That’s, that’s, you know, that’s a very kind, caring professor. And she did and she passed. You know, she’d just been overwhelmed.
I can still remember the Russian word for lampshade. Other than that…. We gave up our Russian affiliations after that first year. Yeah, we dropped it. And I took sociology classes. I took anthropology classes, which I liked a lot. I took a wonderful Tolstoy class. Wonderful. Professor Rosen, I think. And so, yeah, some…. I don’t think I had the – The English majors seemed to have wonderful repertoires and histories with their professors. I didn’t really have that in my particular area of expertise but I did encounter some wonderful teachers along the way. And a roommate of mine senior year, who also took the Russian seminar – and we talk about it occasionally and it had an impact on us. A good impact, a good impact.
MM: So the faculty that you knew didn’t have that same kind of, "Oh come to my house for dinner" or things like that?
CL: Not really.
MM: That was more departmentally...
CL: Yeah, exactly.
CL: I didn’t have that. I remember going but with someone who was invited. I went sort of as a date with, you know, with someone who had been invited but, no, I didn’t have that.
MM: So you talked about having some classes in Fauver Stadium.
MM: Do you remember other buildings that you had classes in?
CL: Oh, I don’t know, just classes on the Quad. That’s all I remember. And we had biology lectures in Strong, Lower Strong. I think most of my other classes were in the academic buildings on the Quad.
MM: This was a point after the merger, you almost came in with President Wallis is some ways.
CL: Yeah, I think we had a year with President de Kiewiet. A year or two years, some – a year, was it one year?
MM: It was sort of a transition.
MM: Yeah, so you would have had him maybe a year-and-a-half or so.
CL: Yeah, yeah, mostly I think we remember President Wallis.
MM: So how aware were you, then, of what was happening in the administration. Did you go to his inauguration?
CL: No. No.
MM: Were you invited?
CL: I don’t think so. I remember the change and, you know, we were well aware of the fact that President de Kiewiet was retiring and leaving and that President Wallis was coming in. And I think he’d been in the Eisenhower Administration. He was a very esteemed and respected candidate, there, but no, I don’t know that any of us went to that inauguration.
MM: So how aware were you, do you think, of what was happening in the administration and the changes on the campus? So, it was so crowded that you had classes in Fauver.
MM: And they then started building on campus a great deal. Were you aware of that?
MM: At all?
CL: No, really not. Sorry.
MM: It’s a different perspective and that’s always interesting because we have – you were there for four years. Faculty or staff were there for many more and they see that range.
MM: So it’s interesting that you didn’t have a feeling of what was happening in that way. Where did you study?
CL: In our rooms, in the library, in the Welles-Brown Room when we could get a chair. [laughs]
MM: Why couldn’t you get a chair?
CL: Because it was so crowded all the time, you know, and everybody wanted to curl up in one of those cozy chairs and study. Yeah, that’s where – I think that’s where I studied. And then senior year, when we were in the dorm, the new – the co-ed dorms and so we had private rooms, you know, so I think we studied in our rooms maybe a little more.
MM: So where you in Anderson and what then became called Anderson and Wilder Towers?
CL: The Towers, yeah, we inaugurated the Towers, our class.
MM: You were inaugurated the Towers.
CL: We were the first ones in. We watched them go up and, yeah, we moved in.
MM: So did you then use the Sage Dining Hall?
CL: Is that the dining hall that’s in the Towers?
MM: It’s the low building that’s next to it.
CL: Yeah, yeah, we did.
MM: It’s now an art center.
CL: Oh, okay. Yes, we did. We ate there.
MM: Good. And did you also hang out? I know we’ll talk a little bit more about Todd in a minute, but did you hang out in Todd? Did you eat at all in Todd?
CL: Oh yes, we hung out in Todd. Absolutely. Lower Todd, sure, sure, all the time. That was, you know, between classes, go for coffee. A lot of – I didn’t play bridge there but a lot of people played bridge there. Yeah,Todd.
MM: So you did a lot of theatre.
CL: A lot.
MM: Can you just talk generally – how did you – you came into the University having a history of working in theatre already.
MM: So it seems a natural.
CL: There wasn’t much to do. There was a women’s chorus. I was long past the point of being interested in singing in a women’s chorus. And that was kind of it. I mean Chapel Choir was not for me, you know. As a Catholic girl I wasn’t going to sing in the Chapel Choir, really. And Kari Fougner being my big sister and having a lead in Co-Kast said, "Here’s what we’re going to do." So yeah, that was how I started and in the freshmen year in the spring was the last of the all-female original performances.
CL: Kaleidoscope. K-scope, we used to call it. And the male version of it was Q-Club, Quilting Club, Q-Club so but that was the last year. The following year they merged, became Jesters. So I did that in the spring. A lot – with a lot of the gals in the, my class did that. Kari was involved. And then Guys and Dolls was the Co-Kast of sophomore year, so I started with Co-Kast. And that’s really how it happened. Probably Kari got me into it. I’m sure I would have found my way there anyway. It just made it a little bit easier, you know, having her there, so.
MM: Did you know Lisa Rauschenbusch much? And do you want to?
CL: Lisa Rauschenbusch. I can do my imitation. Fetch a good breath, ducks and begin again.
MM: You want to tell me more about her?
CL: I took speech with her. I have to be honest and tell you that I took it as a gut class, you know, this was not a hard thing for me to get up and talk to people. But all the elementary Ed majors and the Ed majors who had to take it and who used to be terrified of taking that class. I found her completely charming, you know. I really did. I found her just a character. She was a character. And I liked her class. I thought it was fun. I think I got an A. I think.
MM: So, then you were in Co-Kast and you wrote a show. Sorry, you wrote a show for the Freshmen Orientation.
MM: Were there particular things that you found very useful about being… in later life? That it was useful to have been in the theatrical productions or how to….
CL: No, it just.
MM: …Managerial role. Or it was just fun?
CL: No, it was just fun for me. I – music is so important in my life that it, you know, I can’t imagine not being a part, you know, being a part of that. It would never have occurred to me to not be involved in music in some way in college, so...
MM: So then did you go down to the Eastman School for concerts and things like that?
CL: No, no. I went off-…. I remember going off-campus to hear, you know, famed people who came. I remember seeing Harry Belafonte at Eastman and Miriam Makeba and – but, no, I didn’t go to concerts. What I do remember is that we were extremely fortunate, because of Eastman, to have all these wonderful musicians. I mean we had live orchestras for our productions of Co-Kast and when – I was not writing music but when the music was written for the original musicals in the spring, I think his name was Bob – it was either Bob Stills or Bob Sills – who was at Eastman and he used to come and bring his group and they would write all the orchestrations for the music and anybody who could do that would sit in the orchestra and do it with him. And we had live orchestra for all this original music. Now it wasn’t Rogers and Hammerstein but, you know, it was good music, a lot of it. And we had all these terrific musicians to, you know, to play for us and with us.
MM: So the Eastman students would actually do the – be in the orchestra for.
CL: Yeah, absolutely.
MM: These productions.
CL: Yes. Yeah.
MM: Did you do any – you didn’t do any sports or student government or anything?
CL: I don’t think there was anything. I don’t think there were any sports for women.
MM: It was before Title IX. It’s true.
CL: Yeah, yeah. There was nothing. I would have, probably, but it didn’t exist. No I wasn’t in student government that I remember. No, I’m sure I’d remember. I wasn’t. I wasn’t.
MM: I don’t see it on your card.
CL: Yeah, no, no.
MM: Actually. So in Senior year, you went off and you were on the European tour with the Yellowjackets.
CL: Yes. It was the summer of ’63.
MM: And what did that? What was that like? What was the purpose of it?
CL: It was – it was to entertain the troops. It was a USO tour. A couple of the guys are here, and Brad Johnstone, who was on the tour – who’s married to Judy Johnstone who was one of the three girls. There were three girls, seventeen guys, which included three musicians, two of whom were from Eastman.
And the men, the Yellowjackets submitted a tape to the National Music Council – this is how I remember it – the story. I think it’s pretty accurate. Because somewhere they had heard that the National Music Council will sponsor groups to do these tours. And they were selected to go, based on the tape that they submitted. And then, I believe it was the USO – Brad knows the answer – but somebody suggested to them that it might be a really good idea if they brought some girls with them. [laughs] They didn’t really... Brad was telling this to somebody last night and he said, they didn’t – the guys didn’t quite have it figured it out and Ward Woodbury sort of pointed out to them, "They mean girls. Bring girls."
So they had auditions. And foolishly I thought, "Well, this will be fun. I can do this." You know, I mean – I thought I knew everybody on campus who sang and performed, you know. I thought, well, three – this is easy, sort of. So I auditioned but what – first of all, I didn’t know that Judy Swoyer Johnstone who’s married to Brad. First of all, she never sang, she never performed. And I said to her senior year "Where the hell were you for three years?" She has a gorgeous voice. She said she was too busy studying, you know, she didn’t have the time for extracurricular work.
But as we were sitting outside in Upper Todd waiting for – to be called in to audition what we hadn’t know was that they had posted this at Eastman. Yeah.... So all the voice gals from Eastman arrived and I’m sitting outside with my little "When Sunny Gets Blue" music and I’m hearing all these gorgeous voices from Eastman. And I thought, "Okay, it’s a whole different game." And actually our soprano was from Eastman, she was a voice major at Eastman. Beautiful, beautiful soprano.
And then it came down to different types and, you know, they just wanted three different gals and people they could sort of "live with" – except that they didn’t really live with us because the three girls were stuck together all summer. The guys got to change – they used to shift roommates every week or so, you know, because they shared with... The gals, we were together all summer. And Judy and I didn’t know each other at all. We knew who we were, but we certainly didn’t know one another. We didn’t know Bambi at all and you really don’t want to hear those stories. And I only knew a couple of the guys. So, you know, it was a different time.
And people always hear this and they say, "Oh, seventeen guys and three girls." And I say, "You know, it wasn’t like that. It was – we had seventeen brothers that took really wonderful care of us." They were all very kind and good – they were just good guys, you know.
So it’s interesting when you look back at the people who were on this tour, everybody remembers it. It was a big – I don’t know if it was life-changing but it was life-affecting in a way, you know, we made friends. I’m still really good friends with Brad and Judy, and so there’s a bond from that. It was a long summer. It was two-and-a-half months on a bus everyday doing one-nighters and we had some places in Germany – we didn’t even have dressing rooms. We were changing behind a blanket on a rope, and you make the best of it.
I mean you just – we were twenty, you know – you just sort of go with it when your twenty, so it was a great, great time. And when I came back, even though my dearest friend, Bob Steinberg, was directing the Co-Kast production that fall, which was Bells are Ringing, I didn’t do it because I was just so tired from, you know, the summer of all of that singing. And I said, Bob, yeah, I’m sorry. I can’t. It’s just – I’m kind of done for now. But yeah, it was a great experience and we got paid.
MM: So it was paid by the US Government?
CL: We were paid by the Army. Through the USO, I mean, it was the USO, I’m sure, who paid it. We got nine dollars a day out of which we had to pay for our housing and our meals. Now in France we stayed in half-star hotels, I mean really… And we were out in the country. We were in, you know, we were in Paris for four or five days, and the hotel was fine. It was okay. It was nothing special. I don’t remember how much it was but the other little half-star hotels cost very little.
And then we had the ability to eat in Service Clubs and Officers' Clubs and, you know, where a steak dinner was a dollar or something, so. And then when we got to Germany we stayed in BOQ’s, Bachelor Officers' Quarters, so those were – they weren’t free but they were pretty close to free. So, the nine dollars a day went pretty far, you know. It also made it impossible for my parents to tell me I couldn’t go that summer. Because I didn’t tell them until it was over – until it was over and I said, "Hey guess what! Guess where I’m going this summer?"
MM: You didn’t tell them until it was booked or…?
CL: Yeah, I didn’t tell them until I had been chosen because – well, first of all, who knew if it was even going to happen and (b) I wasn’t sure my father would have thought it was such a terrific thing, you know, to get up in front of – he, you know, he was sort of old-fashioned then. So he kind of didn’t get it. But it was already done and it was the Army, so he knew we would be taken care of. It wasn’t – we weren’t going to be in any danger, so he really couldn’t say no at that – he could have, but he certainly didn’t, so off we went. Lots of shots. Lots of inoculations.
MM: Oh yes.
CL: The Army gave us a list this long.
MM: And did you write home?
CL: Here’s the thing. We didn’t…. We didn’t get mail, I think, for five weeks. It was a very interesting Army experience because we moved so much, every time we got to a place and they would say – we had an escort officer, an Army escort officer, one for France and one for Germany. And he would say your mails – "You’re going to get your mail when we get to Nancy, France." We probably hadn’t had mail for a few weeks by then. And we’d get to Nancy, France and they would say, "Oh the mail’s been sent to, you know the next stop." I swear it was more than a month before we got mail. So no, I didn’t write home. There was no point, really, you know, no, no.
MM: How did you get there?
CL: Get where?
MM: To Europe. Did you fly?
CL: We flew on a MATS flight, Military Air Transport Service. It was a prop plane. We left from McGuire Air Force Base and we stopped to refuel in Gander, I think. I clearly remember – I have a pretty good memory. We got grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast and… yeah, that’s how we got there. We did fly home on a jet, which was a big deal for us. We went to a different airport from where we were supposed to go, which caused a lot of problems for the parents who were meeting us. But yeah, so that’s how we got there. MATS flight.
MM: And do you think the experience then, of traveling to Europe with the Yellowjackets then – because you’ve done a lot of traveling since.
MM: Did that have an influence, did it open you up to the idea of having a working situation where you did a lot of travel? Did it…?
CL: I think it just was part of.
MM: …just inform the experience?
CL: I think it just informed the experience. I think I certainly wasn’t afraid to travel, maybe because of that, you know. And I did – I certainly knew you can really do just about anything if you just keep your mind in the right focus and so… we were very protected that summer. So we didn’t really encounter... We encountered a lot of soldiers – that’s who we encountered. We didn’t – we didn’t really meet a lot of French people. We didn’t meet a lot of German people. It’s a lot – some – we’d have six hours off here, and we’d go to the – this memorial. We went to Verdun. We saw the war memorial there. We were incredibly moved by a lot of the things we saw. We tried as much as we could to experience what we had time for, basically. But mostly we met soldiers. They thought we were stars. They had no clue.
MM: You were, in their eyes.
CL: Well in their minds, yes.
MM: Yeah, good. So you didn’t participate in athletic events. We’re going to switch gears.
CL: There weren’t any.
MM: Did you go to football?
CL: Oh sure.
MM: Did you do things like that?
CL: Football games, basketball games, baseball games. Yeah, absolutely.
MM: And did you – how did you spend Saturday night, if you weren’t in a production or rehearsing?
CL: Well if I had a date I would go, you know, there used to be a lot of – we called them Beer Blasts. And so fraternities would have Beer Blasts and, you know, you could drink at eighteen in those years. So when I hear people complaining about, you know that I think when – I remember when the Bush girls, you know, were nailed for getting their false ID cards and all of that. And you know. And I just – I couldn’t relate. And somebody said to me, "Oh come on, you did that." And I said, "No."
MM: You didn’t have to.
CL: I didn’t have to. And I wouldn’t have done it anyway. That’s just not who I am but I said we could drink, you know. And I remember. I don’t know if we were supposed to, but you could have beer out on the quad, on the fraternity quad, we would have – we would maybe take it out there. I don’t remember. We had parties – the, my world really circled – my social world really circled around the fraternity quad. That… for a lot of us, I think. That’s what I remember.
MM: Is it – was it because you had friends who were in fraternities?
CL: I was dating, yeah, I had these – the guys I dated were in fraternities, so for the most part. Not entirely, but for the most part. Yeah, that’s what I – that’s what we did on Saturday nights. We studied. If we were, you know, feeling sorry for ourselves and stuck in the dorm, but that’s what we did.
MM: So I know you’ve kept in touch with classmates. Are there – how in touch are you? Do you talk to them a fair amount? Do you…?
CL: Well, email makes it pretty easy today. As I said to you, Brad and Judy who were on our USO tour are very good friends of mine. And I see them – they – when I lived in California they came to my house there and they’ve been to my place in New York. So yeah, we’re in touch. They live in Chicago, I live in New York, but I do – I see them. My college roommate, who’s my roommate here, runs a B&B in Sonoma, California with her husband. So I see her. She’s so busy though. You know, it’s why she doesn’t have a lot of time. It was really touch and go whether she could even make it here this weekend. But yeah, so I’m in touch with her.
And this small group of women that we’ve been having these mini-reunions over the last five or six years, that just sort of happened. You know, it started and I think we had a much better time than we thought we would, with the first one. Because many of us really weren’t – hadn’t been close – we knew one another but we hadn’t been in touch, and we weren’t friends. And I really went to that one because Marcia was coming in from the West Coast and she needed to stay somewhere in New York to get up to Westchester, so I did it for her. But we had a good time.
So the next year – I think about a year-and-a-half later we went to her B&B. I said, "What do you think?" She said, "Oh no one would come." Yeah, right. Eight of us went. I said "People will come, Marcia." So we had a wonderful – that was a great, great trip. Wine Country is beautiful in October and so that – we had a terrific time.
And then this – a year ago we went to Chicago where Brad and Judy live and so – and Chicago is a great city, so we had – we had a terrific time. We were eleven, I think, in Chicago. So we have a good time. We are not all in touch during the rest of the year, but some of us are. But we have a great time. We learned you have to go somewhere where you can do things other than just sit around and look at your yearbooks. So you have to pick a destination carefully. But we’ve done well, I think. Sonoma’s pretty good, Chicago’s pretty good. I think we’re – our next plan is to head to Charleston, so that’s a good choice. We’re skipping this year because we’re here.
MM: So your senior year....
MM: …Kennedy was assassinated.
CL: Oh yeah. Defining.
MM: And can you talk about what that was like on campus when that happened?
CL: Yeah. I was studying for a Fine Arts final in the Fine Arts Library and a teaching assistant came in and made the announcement that... I’m not sure. I don’t remember if he said President has been shot or if he announced that he was dead. I think he announced that he’d been shot. And we all just sort of sat there, you know, we had... And then he left. And we all just sort of sat there and we thought, what are we supposed to do? We have no idea. Are we supposed to stay here to study? Are we going to have this exam tomorrow morning? We just were so overwhelmed by that news.
And I remember going to Todd and watching people sort of stagger into Todd. You know, very few people had televisions. And I think eventually we learned that he had died. And there – it was right before Thanksgiving break and there – we were in the Towers and the – one of the other suites on our floor at a television this big. And I can’t even tell you how many of us were jammed into that room, you know, watching on television, crying. It was terrible, it was, you know, you’re emotional, you’re still – you’re still a kid, really, because you’re a student and this is nothing we’ve ever had to wrap our heads around, anything of this magnitude.
So it was a – and actually I sent my ticket to Jana, and they put it in the Memory Book. Because Kennedy had come here freshmen year and made a speech. And about four or five of us had gone to that – to the War Memorial. And I almost got run over by his motorcycles, so I was this close to him. We were sort of in an alley in the back and he was sitting in the back of that, you know, of the convertible, and he was staggeringly handsome in person. Much more so then we could tell from mostly black and white televisions that we looked at, because he had that gorgeous auburn hair and beautiful blue eyes. I mean, he really was wildly handsome.
So you know, we would, we had a different. We had a really close memory of him as a person, not just somebody on television. It was shocking for us. It really was. It was – it changed everything, I think, for us, as seniors. It changed everything.
MM: Can you talk about it a little bit more about what it means to say that "It changed everything"?
CL: Well I think it was a – it was a grow up moment, you know, this is what life is, this is – there are terrible things that happen in life and it doesn’t get much more terrible than this, other than if it’s personal, but this was... This was "the real world is out there," and I guess because we were seniors and about to go out in the real world it resonated with us in a completely different way.
It was – I remember watching the funeral and watching the riderless horse and everybody just sobbing all – all over. It was – because it was so solemn and so beautiful, in a way. And I think we just became more serious. I do. I think we did become more serious. That’s really all I remember about it. That the – the events that started with his assassination and the tremendous changes in the world and Civil Rights were things that we lived through without, without looking back on them.
I think when we look back on it now and we look at the – at the chain of events that started, really with – with Johnson, and the Civil Rights Act and all of that. We were living it. So our perception of it was – we weren’t sitting there saying, "Wow, this is changing the world." We were just – we thought, "This is – what’s happening," you know, what’s – we were.
We were trying to get jobs. We were trying to, you know, find a place to live. And some of the – some were getting married, some were, you know, so it was. When we look back on it and we’ve all been looking back on it whether we wanted to or not because it’s the fiftieth anniversary so it’s everywhere. I mean we all say, "Wow, we – wow…" you know.
And the book, The Help, you know the book The Help. We were talking about this at one of our mini reunions that we had no idea that this is what was going on in the South – we had no idea. And it was a real eye-opener to a lot of people, so… and I just saw the LBJ play that Brian Cranston did and it was called All the Way, which was more…
We did sort of get overwhelmed as we were putting reunion together and everybody kept saying, "We really don’t want a history lesson," because it became, I think, bigger than us because it is. It was bigger than we are, so defining moment, probably processed differently by everyone. That’s kind of what I think.
And it might – a friend of mine from Westfield, where I grew up, who was at Smith, and her roommate – we were talking about it when we went home for Thanksgiving. She said her roommate turned to her and said – her roommate was from Texas and she said her roommate's first words were, "Oh my god, not in Texas." So it’s different. And it was. That’s all I remember.
MM: So actually after graduation you spent the summer in – at the University...
MM: … At Lower Todd singing.
CL: But I worked in the Development Office during the day. I had a job to make money.
MM: So did you – did you have any other work during your undergraduate years?
CL: No, no. I didn’t. I was fortunate. I didn’t. I didn’t need to earn extra money.
MM: So you were here during that summer and in fact the Race Riots happened in July here in Rochester.
CL: Yes, they did.
MM: Do you remember those?
CL: I certainly do. We were supposed to do "summer stock" that summer, arranged by Bob Steinberg who was in our class.
MM: Summer stock meaning…?
CL: He was trying to get us on a summer stock circuit that went around.
CL: And he started too late and the night of our graduation I – we did our USO show that weekend and I remember Bobbie coming into the dressing room at Strong and saying, "It just fell through. I couldn’t pull it all together." But we had made plans to stay and so one of the girls, Carla Friedenberg and I had taken an apartment. And we had nothing else to do, so we stayed. And as did a few other of the people that were going to do the summer stock.
One of them was Gus Fleming, who played the guitar and sang beautifully. And so I got a job at the Development Office. I’m not really sure how I got that job, to be honest. I don’t know. But I had a job and it basically consisted of – they were working – they were starting to work – the trustees were starting to work on a new project, so we were just doing a lot of research on people and their backgrounds and I guess they were trying to figure out who they could pull in. So there was just a lot of that kind of thing. And I think we were actually typing, on IBM typewriters and then we were making – they were called "xerocopies" then, not Xerox copies.
CL: Yeah. And it was – and I kept saying "Are you sure you don’t want to give the originals…?" And they said, "Oh no, Mr. Wilson loves to see the xerocopies." So I did that during the day. It was actually a very nice job. The people were very nice, and very kind. And then at night we decided – I don’t know how we had the nerve to do it, but we decided that we – because we all wanted to sing or perform or do something. So, I guess, Gus went to the University and got permission to use Lower Todd where, you know, a little snack bar had been, and to have a coffeeshop.
Now we obviously were not allowed to serve alcohol but we took the back room and we got big things to make tea and coffee, so we had a coffeehouse. We had – we served tea, we had coffee, we made up a lot of crazy drinks. We gave them crazy names that were basically water and fruit juice or something.
And I think there was a little stage in Todd somewhere. Either that or we made something into a little stage because I remember sitting up on a little stage with Gus and singing. And so we used to serve drinks, and then Gus would sing and I would sing with him, then I would sing a little bit. And we got – suddenly the word spread and we started getting all these kids from town to come. Gus was a very handsome guy. He died unfortunately in 2000. But very handsome. And so he had all these groupies. They started coming.
By the third night I said, "Gus, something’s going on here." You know, he just laughed. He thought it was so funny. But we had a really good time. I don’t remember that we made a dime. I’m sure we didn’t. I’m not even. I’m sure we charged something. I just don’t ever remember handling money or doing anything like that. But we did that for the summer. It was great that the University let us use the space that way. And I guess we were respectful. We didn’t trash the place. We had a good time. It was a good summer. We resurrected something, you know. We made something good out of an unpleasant experience that we’d been looking forward to having.
MM: So where was your apartment that you were living in?
CL: You know I’m going to say it was either Joseph or Jefferson because I remember the J. Here’s what I remember about the riots. Waking up and hearing on the radio that the National Guard was in Genesee State Park. And I thought, "No… what?" We had no idea. And the riots had started the night before. And they were on the street, so if it was Joseph Avenue, okay then we – then that’s where our apartment was.
CL: It was on Joseph Avenue. And we were in a residential area. Now we were at the far opposite end of where the rioting had started but there was a little convenience store right across the street from us. And Carla and I – I remember we looked out and the owners were boarding up the windows. And we just sort of looked at one another. You know, we had no idea what to do.
And then some of our friends – a lot of our friends were on campus for the summer and staying in the fraternity houses. And they started calling us and saying "You can’t stay there. We don’t want you to stay there. We don’t think it’s safe and you need to come to campus. Come to campus, stay here." So we did. We went to campus and I don’t know, we took a blankie or something and I think we slept on sofas in the fraternity houses that night.
And I do remember that Bob Steinberg, who was the one who was trying to put the program together – came, and he had a car and we got in the car and we went for a long ride. Gus – Gus was a black man, one of the very few on campus in those days. And Gus and I and Bobby and probably one or two others that I don’t remember. And we drove. We went for a ride and we were – there was a curfew that night, an early curfew as I remember. And we were stopped by the police. And I think they figured out pretty quickly that we, you know, we were not making trouble anywhere and they let us go. But it was very unsettling, you know. It was – I think it was weekend. Did the riots happen on a Friday night, do you know?
MM: I think so.
CL: I think it was a Friday night 'cause I think it was the weekend and so I wasn’t working in the Development Office that weekend, so we spent a lot of time on campus because of that, as opposed to our apartment. Now I think we would have been perfectly fine in our apartment but, you know, seeing the store boarding up its windows was unsettling for us. So we had a very lovely woman who was our landlord and she said, "Oh, you’ll be okay." And we said, "Yeah, we know but we’ll be back."
So very unsettling. I think the Rochester riots were the first – were they not? Yeah. So it wasn’t even as if your mind had gotten wrapped around it. It was – and I remember the helicopter that came down and they weren’t sure whether it would get shot down or I think the official story was that it was engine failure or something.
CL: I don’t know that anybody ever really believed that, to be honest. So it was a pretty serious thing. We’d had a lot of serious things in our life by then. Us ‘64s, yeah.
MM: Can you tell me more about Gus Fleming?
CL: Sweetest guy. Class of ’65. And very musical. From Chicago. And actually came to New York his senior year and I got the tickets so we could go see Funny Girl with Barbara Streisand and he was desperate to see it. Lost touch with him after a while. I saw him when he first graduated because he went to Neighborhood Playhouse – he wanted to act and I saw him for a while and then, you know, you drift apart. I was starting to travel and we just sort of lost touch. And I think I would see him occasionally in a movie. I’d say, "Oh, there’s Gus."
And then he died in 2000 and I read his obituary in the New York Times. And it just broke my heart. You know, and they had an absolutely beautiful memorial service for him at Avery Fisher Hall. And at that point I found out that he had been in charge of the concert halls at Lincoln Center. And I thought "I’m at Lincoln Center every week. This is just stupid, you know." And I went to the memorial service. I did not see anyone from the U of R there that I recognized. Did see Beverly Sills and a few other people.
But a beautiful service. Lots of people came and sang. They had a beautiful picture of him and his guitar up on the stage
MM: So after graduation you went into… essentially into fashion...
MM: … and sales.
CL: But I really…
MM: And how did you get into that?
CL: I just wanted to live in New York. I was offered a job by AT&T Long Lines and computer thing. I mean it might have been a, you know, a more interesting career path, as I look back on it later. But I would have had to, I think, work in White Plains and I wanted to work – I wanted to be in New York City. And that’s really why I took the job.
I had never even worked in a store. I had no idea what I was doing. I just thought, "Well…" It's interesting, I’ve talked to some of my childhood friends who went on to have very big careers. One in advertising, she was a creative director at Grey’s advertising. And it’s a big job. And we’ve talked about it and, you know, when you got out of college were you thinking career path? Were you thinking? You weren’t. We really weren’t.
So she’s thrillingly smart and, you know, Holyoke graduate, and we just didn’t think that way. Some of us did – obviously some people went on to graduate schools and had wonderful careers. But I think a lot of us didn’t. So I wanted to be in New York City. And I was. And then I, you know, stumbled into. I was recruited on campus. I worked for Ohrbach’s which doesn’t exist anymore. And they came to campus, and that’s how I got there really. And I stayed there for six years. It was – it was an interesting time. This is way before you would ever remember but they…
MM: It’s not.
CL: They used to do a thing called line-for-line copies. And Ohrbach’s did it and Alexander’s did it. And you would – they would buy couture models, they were called, and then bring them back and do – copy them at somewhat reasonable prices and have a big fashion show and it was a big to-do and all kinds of famous people would come to the fashion show. The Duchess of Windsor, and Grace Kelly, and all these people.
So when I was twenty-five years old, I landed that job. I’m not sure why, but suddenly I was an assistant, you know, in the dress department and then all of a sudden I was – it was called the "Oval Room." I was the Oval Room buyer and a month later I was on an airplane headed to Europe, to the shows. Not all of them but enough of them. Valentino and St. Laurent and, you know, I met Valentino when I was twenty-five years old. He had a big afro and sort of – he looked like Tom Jones. You know, Tom Jones? What he looked like then? Big afro and sunglasses and white lace shirt. It was – he would be horrified, I think if he could see himself now. But… and went to party at Pierre Cardin’s house.
And you know, I was – I was twenty-five years old. I didn’t – I did not move in those circles, so to speak. But we were four or five of us and the senior vice presidents and, you know, it – so I wasn’t alone by any means. But it was pretty stressful. The shows were fun. They were interesting really. And then you had to go back and they actually sent me to, I think it was Valentino’s showroom to look at a dress, a model that we had bought because it had Guinea hen feathers under the hem all the way around. And they wouldn’t give us samples; the House of Valentino wouldn’t give us samples, so I was given the job of going back and asking to see the dress and stealing some Guinea hen feathers, right? Who else would they choose but the twenty-five-year old. I am the straightest person in the world and to give me this job was – I did it. I’m not sure how I did it. I think I put my hand under and fluffed and somebody turned their head for, you know, thirty seconds. And I grabbed a couple of Guinea hen feathers and I think – I think the pretext was that I needed a belt. I needed the belt to bring back because it was going to take us a lot of time to copy the belt and the buckle and all that. So I did steal the Guinea hen feathers but, yeah, that was quite a, quite an experience.
Much more work than it was worth, you know? The clientele that you deal with are not all so charming. They’re all used to having their way and what they want and, you know, you were basically a vendeuse, you’re there to serve them and so you have to have that head. Grace Kelly was very nice – I will say that about her. And she was already a princess – I think she was married by then. Certainly, yes, clearly she was married. So, some of them are nice and some not.
MM: And your language skills at the University helped you?
CL: You know my language skills really have never helped me except when I lived in California. Because Spanish is not a language that is spoken as a second language even. They all speak French as a second language really. I mean I worked in Turkey a lot and I love the Turkish people. They love me. I used to spend a lot of social time with them and they don’t – they didn’t all speak English all that well and they’d invariably ask me if I spoke French. And I would say, no, I have some Spanish and they don’t, no one spoke Spanish. So I have to say it really didn’t help me in terms of real application it did not. And I kept saying, "Why wasn’t I a French major. Why wasn’t I a French major?"
MM: Because you didn’t know.
CL: I didn’t. Who knew?
MM: So do you have any – would you – I think you said in your Memory Book entry that you wouldn’t change anything.
CL: No, I wouldn’t – you know what I wouldn’t change is the innocence that we lived with then because – and I know you’ve heard this from a million people but there we were, twenty gals living in on a hall, and there was one phone at the end of the hall. And those little intercoms, you know, “Carol you have a phone call,” and we all used to listen for everybody’s intercom and so if you weren’t there we would scream "Yes," because that’s how they would take the call. So we would take the call for, you know, god forbid you missed a call for a date or something for someone. That was it. One phone.
And the guys used to come pick us up at the dorm and there was that little vestibule where the gal sat with the switchboard, with the things that used to plug in, and headphones and they would call us, "Carol, you have a caller" and you would say "Thank you." Go downstairs. It was – the hours was difficult. I have to say the curfews were – which we didn’t have senior year and freshmen year I understood it very well.
We’ve talked about this – the gals and I, you know, there’s some terrible things happening on college campuses today. And I said, quite honestly, I don’t think my parents worried about me in that sense for even five minutes. And I had a very protective Italian family. But I know they didn’t worry about my safety, in the way that I think parents do today. And everybody pretty much agreed that we – our parents felt we were very safe and very taken care of.
So the curfews, I think, freshmen, I don’t know if it was the whole year – they were pretty early. Did it hurt us? No, it didn’t. When you were rehearsing shows and working on shows it became very difficult, and I do remember sitting in the basement at the Theta Chi House and Bob Sills or Stills, maybe you can find out his name. Wonderful black man, bald, and he used to come after the shows and play the piano and sing for us. And we all loved him. And I remember sitting there one night. We were just listening to him and it was my curfew and I didn’t care. I just – I got "campused" for the first time ever and I didn’t care.
MM: What does that mean to be "campused"?
CL: It meant you weren’t allowed to go out – it was like being in jail. I think you had to sign out during the day. I think at night you – you had to stay in the dorm. Ask Judith Lehman, she would know. I think she was the campus-er. I think she was involved in that, so I got campused and, you know, we had a watchman, a night watchman, Mr. White, had his little time thing. He used to stand – he was a very nice man and as we would come running up the hill to make curfew, you know, he would have the door open and he would look at his watch and would do, [motioned] you know, to get you in before he locked the door.
So I think the curfews, as we got older, became a little bit harder. But that being said, I think it was a pretty nice way to – I think it was a pretty nice way to grow up a little bit, you know, and to feel safe. We felt very safe, very.
I have a friend who’s five years younger than I am and her theory is that the kinds of things that are going on now were going on when she was in school and I disagreed with her heartily. I said, I don’t think so. I really don’t. I’m sure things happened that we never heard about, but even in a crazy fraternity party, I don’t think any of this kind of terrible stuff that’s happening today... It’s a different time, you know. So yeah, that was – yeah, I got campused. Ask Judith Lehman. You’re talking to her, right? Judith Lehman Ruderman.
MM: Ruderman, yes.
CL: She’ll know. She’ll know. Jana said "We want to talk – we want to talk to someone whose experience is different from yours." I said, "Well it can’t be more different than Judith Lehman because all the pictures, she has her nose down." She was a great student and a very capable, you know, leader. She was a leader, you know. And then there’s me, screwing around, you know, singing, having fun, so different, different time. And I forgot what the original question was. Did I get? Did I get you an answer?
MM: I think so, yeah, it was would you change anything? And I think.
CL: Oh yeah, no. No, I really wouldn’t. We’ve talked about it. Brad and I are friends and we’ve talked about it, too and because, you know, I don’t have children, so I think when you raise children your perspective is different, obviously from mine. And I often wonder how parents raise kids in an environment where there’s so much out there to hurt them, particularly girls. I think it’s – I think it’s very difficult. But I have no kids, so I worry about other people’s kids.
MM: Is there anything that we’ve left out that you can think of to talk about?
CL: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
MM: Well I think then we’re done.
MM: But if there’s anything more, you’ll let us know.
CL: Yeah, no I can’t think of anything.
 Professor Alexander Wieber
 Robert Stills (E1959)
 Bambi Blake
 John Payne Fleming (UR1965)
 Joseph C. Wilson
 Robert Stills, E1959
 Judith Lehman Ruderman (UR 1964)