Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was a resident of the Chelsea Hotel, where became friends with Shirley Clarke; during her time in the Chelsea, Patti Smith sometimes lurked by his door hoping to get a glimpse of him.
Shirley Clarke had lived at the Chelsea since 1965, and at times her daughter Wendy also had a room in the hotel, where the two often crossed paths with Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti prowled the hallways and peeked in other rooms, each of which was its own little universe. On some days she loitered in front of Arthur C. Clarke’s room, hoping she might get a glimpse of the famous author. During another one of her hallway adventures she came across the underground filmmaker, folklorist, and occultist Harry Smith, who wore big Buddy Holly–style glasses that complemented his wild silver hair and tangled beard. On another evening, Patti Smith wandered into the restaurant connected to the lobby of the Chelsea and came across Grace Slick, Jimi Hendrix, and other rockers who were downing mounds of shrimp, paella, sangria, and bottles of tequila. She was amazed, but didn’t feel like an interloper because they were on her turf.
From Chapter 21 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
“One time,” Wendy Clarke recalled, “Arthur C. Clarke came over and he had just gotten this small laser that you can hold with your hands.” The science fiction author, another Chelsea resident, had been given the handheld laser beam projector by a crew member who was working on the film adaptation of his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. The mischievous Clarkes (who were not related) projected the laser onto the Twenty-Third Street sidewalk below—and then Shirley, dressed as Groucho Marx, did a slapstick routine while playing with the beam on the ground. “People on the street would become fascinated with the beam,” said Nancy Cain, a member of another collective called the Videofreex. “They would try to take the beam with them as they walked all the way down the street and then they would turn the corner, but the beam couldn’t turn the corner with them.” Viva recalled, “I was with Arthur when he and Shirley had the laser. I said, ‘Isn’t it kind of dangerous?’ They said, ‘No no no, it’s fine.’ Well, I wasn’t so sure.” Viva and Shirley got to know each other when the two worked together on the 1969 film Lion’s Love. “I was married at the time to Michel Auder, and he, Shirley, and I all moved into the Chelsea. Shirley had the penthouse, and we also had a place, so we became close friends.”
From Chapter 22 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore