Googling Larry Willette (Lawrence A. Willette, aka L.A. Willette) tonight I found out from the Gallery at Large site that he died last November, 2005. The following is my email, sent just now to the Gallery at Large owners:
Dear Pet Silvia and Tammey Stubbs,
On a whim tonight I decided to Google if Larry had a website of his own yet and what a shock to read about Larry's death on your website. I had no idea he was ill.
What a beautiful tribute you gave him, thank you so much. It was very moving what you wrote, to the point, caring, very New York and fun; Larry would have loved it.
Larry was a fellow street vendor by the Museum of Modern Art on west 53rd Street. We sold there together for several years in the late 1980's and discovered we not only lived across the street from each other but our windows faced each other on either side of East 29th Street, so we could wave to each other, beckon when we were heading out to work and share a cab. I sold African and Indian folk art in those days. What a treat it was to sell next to Larry. It wasn't just that we were briefly lovers - as I imagine half the planet's women must have been, lol- in that marvelously squalid, artist's mess of an apartment of his, but it was such a treat to see him at work, purring his way demurely through sales, magnetizing about every female who came within a yard or two of his lanky scruffiness.
At one time we vendors on West 53rd were struggling not to be cleared away by the cops and I suggested he give a little collage to stand-offish Mary McFadden, who lived at that time in Museum Towers, thinking it might be a good political move to sugar up the powerful locals. He did. He made her a collage, "Mary and Coco", of her walking her little brown poodle, named Coco Chanel. Mary grinned and seemed genuinely pleased. The strategy worked.
Oh God, he was such a pussy cat, it must have been devastating for him to get cancer. Shit. Already two of our fellow street vendors on West 53rd (Larry's uptown vending crowd) died, Chaim Kanner the Hasidic photographer died of stomach cancer in 2000 and then Francis Paraison, the Haitian painter, died of some bowel disorder a two years back. Now I have late stage uterine/fallopian tube cancer as well, never thought of telling Larry. Street vending is hard enough, I didn't want to depress him and there it is, he had cancer too. I wish I had known, gone to see him, comforted him, been there for him. I can only imagine he got small cell lung cancer from decades of smoking and that it was aggressive. I so hope he didn't suffer too much from the illness and hope there were loving people around him at the end.
By any chance do you know the details of his cremation/burial? If you have a memorial book at the gallery I'd love to sign it. I live in Hell's Kitchen and walk by The Film Center building all the time, didn't know you were there. I'd love to come up and have a look. Anyway, all this rambling and what I wanted to say was simply how kind and wonderful of you to make such an excellent memorial page for Larry, it's elegant and moving.
Thank you again,
Julie Schwartzman, Larry's neighbor, put up a nice site, Friends of L.A. Willette, in memory of Larry with a good photograph of his handsomeness. I remember him in tortoiseshell glasses, not the new rimless ones of that photograph. He would have liked Julie's site so much. It's good to read his dying process was swift and that he died peacefully on November 13th, which was near his Scorpio birthday.
Another loving and appreciative memorial about Larry, in The Villager, discussing his bi-racial heritage. Larry told me his mother was white-Jewish and his dad was black American. You could see the black American aspect to Larry in his long legs, Mick Jagger pillowy lips that were so wonderful to kiss and his cute, little round ass. His skin was quite pale white, his hair naturally blond and in those days almost to his shoulders. He was otherwise an international character, proud of his son, Luca, being brought up in Italy and he was also quintessentially a New Yorker, incredibly smart, well read. A few things I loved about Larry were his extraordinary love of women. He had quite a passionate, fetish-interest in painting women's high heels and did endless collage-painting variations of a woman sitting alone, demurely, contemplatively with eyes half-closed, at a cafe table with a bottle of wine or cup of coffee. I loved his smoker's gravelly laugh, which was also, as Julie described it perfectly, buttery. Everything amused him in a joyous way. He reveled in his sexuality but in a generous, affirmative way. His phone number was easy to remember: 69 69 1 69 (212-696-9169). Whatever the opposite of misanthropic is, he was that. There was an intelligent edge to his humor but he wasn't meanly smart.
He graced the world with his vitality. I miss him and miss his not being in the world.