21 questions

Milton Glaser’s Hands Have Literally Never Touched a Keyboard

Milton Glaser
Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com

Name: Milton Glaser
Age: 82. “I was born in 1929 at the dawn of civilization.”
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Occupation: Graphic Designer; Teacher, and acting chairman of the board of the School of Visual Arts; Co-founder of New York.

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional? 
Fiorello H. LaGuardia. First of all, I went to one of the great high schools of the world, the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. (Incidentally, that was the name I helped unofficially shorten when I designed their logo because nobody could remember it.) And LaGuardia had all the characteristics that we hope we would have in a mayor or a citizen of the city: He was optimistic, he was accessible, he was good-humored, and he was a great leader.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York? 
You know, with the nature of New York — the complexity, diversity, and alternative experiences — there’s no best of anything, because there are so many alternatives that you can’t establish a single standard that works for everything. Certainly, some of the best meals I’ve ever had were at Chinese banquets, others were at a client we admire, Eleven Madison Park. Others are meals that I had when I was working with Joe Baum at the Rainbow Room. But I’ve had so many fantastic meals, it’s like saying what’s the best painting in the world.  

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job? 
I sit around pushing pieces of paper until they look right.  

What was your first job in New York? 
My first job was in the Bronx, where I grew up, and it was working in my father’s dry cleaning/tailor shop. I would deliver orders, and very often it would be something like ten overcoats for the winter. I would take them and walk six blocks and up six flights of stairs to somebody’s apartment and give them the ten coats and usually get anywhere between a penny and three cents as a tip. All the dry cleaning was sent out to a dry cleaner until my father discovered that people had dry-cleaning machines in their shop. And that made customers come in, because they felt it was being done on the spot. So he bought a second-hand dry-cleaning machine that didn’t work, and put it in the front of the store. It was kind of my first experience with marketing.  

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway?
I am not a frequent theatergoer, so I literally can’t remember the last thing I saw. I must say, I am of a strange literary mind: It’s hard for me to read novels, and it’s also very difficult for me to go to the theater.

Do you give money to panhandlers? 
From time to time. I have the instinctive response that everybody in the city has — one is withdrawal and to walk faster, and the other is to say “That for the grace of God could have been me,” and reach in and give ‘em a buck. But it’s very capricious.

What’s your drink? 
Currently, lemonade.  

How often do you prepare your own meals? 
My wife is an extremely good cook, so I would say virtually never. I studied Chinese cooking for a while and I became credible at it, but since I haven’t done it in many years I’d probably have to learn all over. But I have the rudiments.

What’s your favorite medication? 
I can’t say I have a favorite medication … I have medications that have been keeping me alive for the past couple years … but I take so many medicines that it would be hard for me to distinguish between them. Visually, I realize that I quite like the appearance of Advil gelcaps. They have a lovely color.  

What’s hanging above your sofa? 
I have three sofas in the house, and two of them are in the middle of the floor. The other sofa has two things above it: an etching by Giorgio Morandi who is — if you don’t know — a great twentieth century Italian painter, perhaps the best etcher and painter in Italy of the period, and now extremely cherished there. I studied with him for a couple years in Bologna when I had a Fulbright. At his first show in New York, I bought an etching of his for $60, which is now worth about $35,000. It’s a small etching of shells, and above that is a colored engraving by Villon, who is another artist that I admire very much.  

How much is too much to spend on a haircut? 
Well for me, given the limited amount of material that the barber has to work with, I would say $20.

When’s bedtime? 
That’s an interesting question. I used to stay up so late — two in the morning or three every night, but now it’s ten or eleven. It depends on whether I watch Judge Judy or not.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square? 
I have no preference. I think they both reflect a moment in time and a function in the city, but it’s not a place that I want to spend any time visiting.

What do you think of Donald Trump? 
Well I’ve met him — I’ve even done a vodka bottle for him as a matter of fact. I don’t know how to think about him. He’s an example of the power of the ego. How can anyone be so totally egocentric to not understand that there are others in the universe. It also shows the power of that position: When you don’t think there are others, everything is attainable for you. I just find that the combination of incredible ambition and a lack of modesty can be a terrifying prospect. And if you’re in a roomful of people like that, you realize that that’s why the world is the way it is. And the other thing is: I can’t figure out his hair. From the point of view of someone who is into art and form-making, I can’t figure out the structure of it: where it’s coming and where it’s going. And then I also wonder, what does he think this object on his head achieves? It’s just a great mystery.

What do you hate most about living in New York? 
You know, you can’t separate what you hate from what you love in New York, which is to say that everything that exists in New York also has its opposite simultaneously. So I don’t hate anything in New York. I can’t stand some things some times, but I realize that it’s always connected to a benefit.

Who is your mortal enemy? 
Rupert Murdoch. He probably is the most powerful single man on earth. If you look at the amount of influence he has in virtually every country, and the internal corruption that is now being revealed in one of those sites — England — and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any constraint of decency, morality, responsibility, anything, that prevents him from doing anything he wants. It seems to me that nothing that appears on most of his outlets are any more than a reflection of his point of view. And I think that is very dangerous for a democratic society.

When’s the last time you drove a car? 
I’ve had some visual problems so I haven’t driven for six months. But I’m hoping to resume in a couple of months.  

How has the Wall Street crash affected you? 
Not very much. I lost a bit of money, but I was never a heavy investor.  

TimesPost, or Daily News?
, of course. The paper. I do nothing electronic. When I work on the computer, which I do often, it’s always with somebody smarter and younger at my side. My hands have literally never touched a keyboard.

Where do you go to be alone? 
To our house in Woodstock, which is very isolated. It’s very easy to be alone there.

What makes someone a New Yorker? 

Milton Glaser’s 21 Questions