The Early Years

A year after Diana and Murray Scheshko’s marriage took place, they had a son, who happens to be my gardener (for those who don’t know, my gardener is also my husband hahaha). He was born in Jackson Heights, but I’m not sure where they lived at that time.

By 1959, they had another baby, the gardener’s sister.

So there you have the gardener playing Parcheesi at his mom’s feet. Diana is holding the gardener’s beautiful new baby sister.

What else happened to the family in 1959? You can see in this newspaper article.

“Borough president Clancy yesterday picked the winning ticket for the Fiat 500 Bianchina sports sedan awarded by the Steinway Merchants Association at the climax to its successful Steinway Jubilee Sales event  which broke all records last week.

Clancy chose the ticket belonging to Mrs. D. Scheshko of 34-15 12th Street, Astoria. The Astoria woman received her new car.”

That is our Diana who won the Fiat. I love how their address is included in the article, although it’s a little scary by today’s standards! The address is probably their first apartment in Ravenswood, a project of brown brick apartment buildings. There are 30 or 40 buildings in total. They still exist. A few years ago we visited Astoria to see the gardener’s old stomping grounds, and at Ravenswood, a woman leaned out a window and asked our daughter if she was with the city. Apparently she had some complaints about her apartment. When the Scheshkos lived in Ravenswood, the people were not as poor as they are today. And there was more diversity in those days: residents were all races and nationalities. The neighbors that the gardener was the closest to were his Italian teen babysitters (who bought him candy) and the Chinese couple who lived next door.

Back to the Fiat. This was a sports minicar, not a vehicle for a young mother with a preschooler and a baby. So the family traded it in for a used Pontiac and some lovely Italian provincial furniture that Diana and Murray kept for the rest of their lives.


A huge thank you to all the offers to help, including Amy of Brotmanblog who did a preliminary search for me. You all are wonderful and still might hear from me LOL!

UPDATE on The Gardener’s Parents Get Married

FOR THE UPDATE, PLEASE GO TO THE END OF THE POST. I NOW KNOW EXACTLY WHERE DIANA AND MURRAY WERE MARRIED. I found an index record of Diana Shulman and Murray Scheshko’s 1954 marriage, recorded in Manhattan. Diana’s name is spelled Diane in the index.

Then I got my hands on their marriage certificate (where her name is Diana, as it should be). Let’s see if this document yields any good info.

Murray’s address was 326 E. 58th St. He was a radio and television technician. First I’ve heard of that. I’ve always heard the more colorful stories ;).

Diana lived at 483 West End Avenue. She was a portrait artist. Yes, that is true.

Here are Google Map images of the apartment buildings where they probably lived (I think these buildings have been there that long) and the distance between the two apartments.

Murray’s Residence

Diana’s Residence

 

Here is page 2:

This second page is very interesting. It is a page completed by the rabbi who performed the ceremony. According to this document, the wedding took place on 17 January 1954 at 66-15 Wetherole St. in Queens. I asked the Facebook group Tracing the Tribe about the location and was told: “66-15 Wetherole Street is a Building located in the Rego Park neighborhood in Queens, NY. 66-15 Wetherole Street was built in 1950 and has 6 stories and 113 units.” SEE UPDATE AT THE END OF THE POST.

Marriage ceremony location

So do the two pages go together and mean a wedding date of 17 January 1954? Because the date according to family lore was 20 January 1954. But documents from the City Clerk of the City of New York cannot lie. Right? And the rabbi would certainly know the date. Or was there a civil ceremony after the religious ceremony?

Because I have never seen a photograph that looked like a wedding portrait and the gardener has never heard about his parents’ wedding, I had assumed that they had a civil ceremony, but this looks like they had a religious ceremony. I just wish there was a photograph of the day!

There are two witnesses on this document who I have never heard of. Were they friends or relatives or perhaps random people provided by the rabbi? Charles Joseph Charnow and Hyman WHAT? Cigine? C. Kine? What do you think it says?

Well, it didn’t take long to find Charles Joseph Charnow. He married Grace Cohen in 1940. You probably don’t remember Grace, but I knew she sounded familiar. She was Murray’s second cousin–and the kids lived in the same household when they were very small because their parents, being first cousins, lived together for a bit. So in 1954, Murray was still close with his extended family in NYC. It leads me to believe there were family and maybe friends at the wedding!

So who lived at 66-15 Wetherole? Who did Diana live with prior to marriage and who did Murray live with prior to marriage? I would like to search these addresses in the 1954 city directory. Does anyone know if it’s available online or how? I can’t find it. It seems as though it hasn’t been put online yet??? (The 1950 census would be helpful here, but as we know it is not yet available). SEE UPDATE AT THE END OF THE POST.

Any insights would be greatly appreciated!

In lieu of a wedding portrait I will post the only early photo I can find that isn’t with children. It is possible that the gardener had just been born. The small child in this photo is Murray’s niece Michelle who was three years older than the gardener and Michelle’s younger brother (the boys were only 8 days apart). Maybe Murray’s brother-in-law Lou’s mother was taking care of the babies while the young couples went to the beach with Michelle, her parents, Lou and Eileen, and YES, that is Celia Goodstein Scheshko in the middle! OR is Michelle only two here and Diana and Eileen not yet “showing” or didn’t yet know they were pregnant? I actually favor the idea that this photo was taken in the summer of 1954, about 9 months before the boys were born.

I admit I did crop the photo a bit as it is a beach photo, and I don’t think they expected to have it put online decades down the road.

 

UPDATE!!!

66-15 Wetherole St. in Queens, where Murray and Diana were married, was the home of Murray’s sister Eileen (in photo above behind Diana) and her husband Lou Horowitz (who was probably taking this photo). This was a discovery by the gardener’s cousin, Eileen and Lou’s son who recognized it as the address on his own birth certificate! So we have quite a merry bunch already at that wedding because in addition to the witnesses (and their affiliated family, possibly), Celia (center of photo above) would have attended her son’s wedding, too. And perhaps other family and friends still unknown. Other information Eileen and Lou’s son provided is that the building was at one time called the “Oklahoma,” built by real estate tycoon Samuel J. LeFrak who owned a lot of property around Rego Park. The name LeFrak eventually became famous for LeFrak city, which featured over 4,600 apartments in one area.

Dina’s Birth Certificate

This post is a backtrack. I ordered and received Diana Shulman’s birth certificate. You can see that her Canadian name at birth was Dina Shulman. Her middle name Leah is not listed. According to this document, Diana was born at 533 King St. in Winnipeg. I would like to find out if this was a hospital or residence, but I can’t find the information readily available in a google search.

I need to go back and correct Moving On to the Shulmans because I spelled her name Dinah, mentioning she was born Dinah Leah Shulman. I do think her Hebrew name was Dina(h) Leah, but her legal Canadian name until she changed her name to Diana was Dina.

 

Post-War Survival Jobs in NYC

Last week, I told you about Diana’s celebrity paintings. She considered herself a celebrity portrait painter. I have a couple of interviews I did of her that I slowly am listening to. As I get more information, I will share it. One thing I forgot to mention last week, though, that comes from my paper files is a mention of Diana by a very cool columnist. From Rodgers and Hart’s song “The Lady is a Tramp”:

I follow Winchell and read every line
That’s why the lady is a tramp

That’s right; Diana was mentioned by Walter Winchell under the professional name she was using, “Diana Dale.” She’s at the bottom of this clipping.

“The paintings on the Birdland walls are from the easel of Diana Dale.” Not a big mention, but still.

I am finding more and more little tidbits so at some point I might backtrack a bit. For now, I am moving forward.

In addition to studying and working on her paintings, Diana held survival jobs in NYC. Here is a photo of her from 1951, when she was working at Walgreen’s.

It looks like ads for camera film are above her head. I’m not sure what is in the forefront of the photo. Or the details behind her. She was 29 here.

She also worked at the world-famous Stork Club as a cigarette girl. Whenever I think about this job, I remember the commercial from my childhood, “Cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos?”

In addition to her job as a cigarette girl, she was a hat check girl at the Stork Club. She much preferred this job because the tips were fabulous. She earned $20 and $50 bills from many wealthy customers, including celebrities, such as William Powell.

It is possible that she worked at this job in 1952 because it would explain her license as a “wardrobe checker.”

Although I don’t think I have a photo of her at work at the club, I do have a few mementos she saved.

Celebrity Art in NYC: 1940s and 50s

Diana painted celebrity portraits while still in Toronto, probably in preparation for the posters, and then when she moved to NYC and went to school at the Art Students League and afterwards, she continued to paint famous people.

Here is a sample of what she did as a “kid” of twenty or so in Canada.

That is my favorite.

Here are a few more.

At some point after arriving in NYC, Diana embarked on at least two major painting projects. One of them was painting portraits of Broadway stars. She was allowed to attend rehearsals and would then paint the artists in one or more of the show costumes, as well as (sometimes) costumes from other shows he or she had performed in. She also painted some TV stars. Some of these were sold and some she kept. We have a few of the paintings . Here are three.

Ethel Merman

Ezio Pinza

I am not positive about this 3rd one, but it might be Katherine Cornell. I used to know, but right now my certainty has flown away.

The other project was painting the portraits of the jazz greats who performed at The Birdland nightclub. These were commissioned by the club and hung on the walls for years. The murals were saved from the fire at the club, and a grouping of them were eventually displayed at the Smithsonian museum.  A limited edition book was published about the club and the murals.

The portraits included Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and many others. Many of these are now owned by a private collector.

For an idea of what the murals looked like, as well as to read a poem I wrote about Diana’s art, check out this publication at The Ekphrastic Review.

 

Art for the Movie Theatres: early 1940s

This week I want to backtrack to Diana’s art when she lived in Toronto, before she attended the Art Students League in New York.

As a young woman, Diana worked as an usherette for the local movie theatres. You can find my post about her job at Proud to Be an Usherette. But Diana had another job for the local theatres. She was a film poster artist. Her posters were posted outside and inside the movie theatres.

The other day I wondered if she had ever wanted to be a full-time artist for one of the movie studios, but when I looked at the list of artists the studios used for any length of time they were all men.

These posters were painted (mainly in 1942) in Toronto. Here is 20-year-old Diana posing with one of them.

The “poster show cards,” as Diana referred to them, were painted on beaverboard, and most of them were 40×60. She rented some of them out to the 20th Century Theatre chain in Ontario, Canada. However, Century claimed they lost the posters and never returned any of them to Diana.

Taking Courses at The Art Students League in NYC: 1940s

Last week I posed the question of what drew Diana to New York City from Toronto.

What is known to me about Diana’s life in NYC before she married involved her education at the Art Students League, her survival jobs, and her painting. I believe it’s safe to say that what drew her was her artistic passion. From the time she was little, she was a talented artist. Her family first noticed it when they discovered that her “tracings” were drawn free-hand and were not traced at all.

The Art Students League of New York was well-known as a school for artists. Many famous artists had studied there, but perhaps two of the most important attributes of the school for Diana would be:

  1. Students can take classes as they wish–there is not a formal program of matriculation and coursework. She would not have had the funds to enroll in a full-time program.
  2. The ASL had a decades-long commitment to providing art study to women artists with the same respect it gave to men artists.

The following photo is what the Arts Students League looked like when Diana attended–and what it looks like today. It’s a landmark of NYC.

Here is a great article about The Art Students League: The Top 10 Secrets of the Art Students League

In the next photo, Diana is standing on the roof of the Art Students League. The water looks very close, which somewhat surprises me. I am guessing this is the Hudson River. Any NYC readers, what do you think? Diana wrote the location on the back of this photo, along with the year of 1947. She said her dress was wine-colored.

I plan on showing you a little more of her art in a future post, but here is something I discovered from 1943, when she was 21, and before she traveled to the United States for the first time. I guess it shows where her mind was at, even then. Please excuse the condition of the painting. Paint has chipped off it. It was in with her practice works, so not well cared for.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the United States. And a sign of the times, too.

Here is one more painting drawn from the news stories of the times Diana grew up in. Field Marshal “Monty” Montgomery. In the lower right corner, near her signature, Diana has written Toronto 1943.

Last year the gardener and I visited the Knoxville Museum of Art and saw an exhibition of the paintings of Joseph Delaney. He was an African-American painter who was born in Knoxville. He was a student at the Art Students League in NYC at the time that Jackson Pollock was a student, so a bit before my MIL’s time at the school. I was struck by this Delaney painting of the lobby of the Art Students League.

Seeing this painting meant a lot to me because I can see a lot of similarities between Delaney’s painting style and my MIL’s style. Was this taught to them at ASL? By a particular teacher, perhaps?

I know Diana cherished her time at the school. She sometimes mentioned it when she talked about her life in New York City. Diana remained a painter for the rest of her life.