Pat Cleveland was a supermodel before there were supermodels. She was also one of the first African American supermodels. And as heady as walking the runways of New York and Paris was, the nightlife of the 1960s and ’70s was even headier, studded with figures such as Andy Warhol and Halston, Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson. Cleveland’s memoir, Walking With the Muses, published this week by 37INK / Atria Books, recounts those days, including her six-year-long affair with Warren Beatty. You can purchase it here and here.
BORN SMACK IN THE MIDDLE of the middle of the twentieth century (June 1950), I’m like millions of other baby boomers in that some of my most formative experiences have occurred inside a darkened movie theater. Like falling in love for the first time.
At some point around my sixth birthday, my mom began taking me to matinees at the RKO 86th Street Theatre, a slightly musty old movie palace roughly eleven blocks due south of our tenement apartment on the edge of Spanish Harlem. There, warm and toasty in winter and blessedly cool in New York’s steamy summers, the two of us would sit, arms entwined, sharing popcorn and Raisinets, and stare transfixed at the big screen through hours of previews and double features (two movies for a buck—seventy-five cents for Mom and a quarter for my child’s ticket).
Whatever new fare Hollywood served up, Mom and I would be there most Saturday afternoons to devour it.
For me, the only child of a single mother, male role models were in short supply, so my template for the ideal man was forged right there on that screen. Charlton Heston. Rock Hudson. Tony Curtis. And then one day a movie star came along who wiped all the others off the map: Warren Beatty. Mom and I went to see Splendor in the Grass the week it was released in October 1961. I didn’t know it then, but our days of blissful moviegoing—just Mom and me, together in the dark—were nearing their end because she’d recently married a soldier from Georgia who would radically curtail her outings. I was eleven and Warren, who was making his screen debut in the male lead, was twenty-four. From the moment he appeared on-screen, as the rich Kansas high school football star Bud Stamper who’s in love with the town’s good girl, Deanie Loomis (played by an incandescent Natalie Wood), I was a goner. I couldn’t have explained the effect he had on me—I was only eleven, after all, and until then I’d never experienced that thrill of pure longing for the opposite sex—but I knew instantly: We were destined to be together. Later that day, at home in my bedroom, I daydreamed freely. Patricia Beatty. Mrs. Warren Beatty. I tried out the name in my mouth a few times. I practiced writing it in my fanciest script. It was meant to be.
Imagine, then, the inner frenzy that descended when, fourteen years later, I spotted Warren in the flesh at the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Richard Avedon at a tony Fifty-Seventh Street gallery, an event attended by a who’s who of prominent New Yorkers ranging from Andy Warhol to Norman Mailer. By then I had traveled all over the world as a model, met more boldface names than I could count (and bedded a few of them), and become friends with some of the most creative people of the time (including Warhol, who ended up being one of my wingmen that night). But when Warren Beatty walks in, even the most blasé girl in the world gets weak in the knees—not that I was that girl, anyway. I instantly reverted to the eleven-year-old from Spanish Harlem crushing on the movie star.
As it turned out, my feeble preadolescent fantasies never even came close to conjuring the awesomeness that was Warren. The actual man was so much more beautiful, more sensitive, more talented, more intelligent, more . . . well, good in bed than the dream lover who’d lived in my imagination. Our on-and-off affair, which lasted six years in all, was an unforgettable chapter in my life—a life that’s been filled with despair and triumph, sickness and health, heartbreak and joy, lust and true love, and loads and loads of fun.
Excerpted from Walking With the Muses, by Pat Cleveland. Copyright © 2016 by Pat Cleveland. Excerpted by permission of 37INK / Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.