Georgelle Hirliman | Photo by Cissie Ludlow
NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 208 | March 15, 2010
WRITERS IN WINDOWS
Editor’s Note: I recall seeing this woman, Georgelle Hirliman, in the storefront window of a gallery off the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in the late 70’s, early 80’s. I never met her. But now I wish I had. And I don’t recall taping a question to the window for her. But now I wish I had. I no doubt was amused by the whole idea, spectacle—something only the West or Southwestern imagination might come up with. Not something to be seen in any department store window in Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, I was certain..
Then too, given a writer’s constant need/desire to get his or her work done, eventually printed and bound as a book, I definitely felt her frustration not to mention a sense of despair: To what extremes will a writer go?
Some years after that, I found myself walking the main street of Bisbee, Arizona one afternoon, and there in a store-front window sat a Brautigan-looking writer at a desk, facing the street, writing by hand in a notebook. There was a stack of books beside him, and a sign that said: PLEASE BUY MY BOOK.
I’m sorry again that I didn’t. –norbert blei
“Writer in the Window”
With Answers, Is Dead at 73
by Margalit Fox
Q. Dear Writer in the Window: If life is a stage, why do we take it so seriously?
A. Because it requires Method acting.
Georgelle Hirliman, whose innovative solution to writer’s block a quarter-century ago gave her a national career as a performance artist — and a book to boot — died on Jan. 29 in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 73 and a Santa Fe resident.
The cause was cancer, said Devon Ludlow, a longtime friend.
In 1984, hopelessly blocked on a novel, Ms. Hirliman hit on the idea of setting up shop with her typewriter in a Santa Fe storefront. Beside her, she placed a sign:
HELP ME CURE MY WRITER’S BLOCK —GIVE ME A TOPIC.
People stopped and stared. Before long they began scribbling questions on slips of paper and taping them to the window. (Q. Where do the ducks go when ponds freeze over?) Ms. Hirliman fired off brief, aphoristic replies and taped them back up for all to see. (A. Warm, chlorinated pools in Miami and Beverly Hills.)
She never wrote her novel, but it no longer mattered: Ms. Hirliman was soon appearing in windows across the United States and Canada, her work widely reported in the news media.
In Manhattan she wrote in the windows of The Village Voice, Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper West Side and B. Dalton on Fifth Avenue, among other places, sitting daily for eight hours at a stretch. Store owners paid her $50 to $100 a day, New York magazine reported in 1985.
Ms. Hirliman’s project resulted in a volume of questions and answers, “Dear Writer in the Window: The Wit and Wisdom of a Sidewalk Sage” published by Penguin Books in 1992. She later reworked her window act as a one-woman stage show, which she performed around the country.
Before Ms. Hirliman began writing in windows she was variously, by her own account in interviews over the years, a model, journalist, secretary, tarot card reader, astrologer, cigarette girl and call girl.
“Being a call girl is a very giving profession, just like writing,” she told The Washington Post in 1992.
Georgelle Cynthia Hirliman was born in Los Angeles on June 11, 1936. She was adopted as a baby by Eleanor Hunt, a Hollywood actress, and her husband, George A. Hirliman, who produced “Reefer Madness” and other films. Georgelle, who moved with her family to New York as a girl, was unhappy at home and left as a teenager.
Ms. Hirliman settled in Santa Fe in the early 1970s. In 1982 she published a nonfiction book, “The Hate Factory” (Dell). Written with W. G. Stone, it chronicled the notorious 1980 riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico, in which 33 inmates were killed and scores injured.
Ms. Hirliman’s daughter, Heather Anne Marchetto, died of cancer last year. A sister, Kathy Perlman, is her only immediate survivor.
As she sat in windows across America, Ms. Hirliman entertained all manner of questions, some vast (Q. Why is there Anything rather than Nothing at all? (A. After timeless eons of Nothingness, anything seemed a better idea), some small (Q. What is an appropriate collective noun for freckles? (A. A frieze of freckles). In later years, she answered still more questions through her Web site, writerinthewindow.com.
But there was one question Ms. Hirliman would not entertain:
Q. How much is that writer in the window?
“I stopped answering that,” she told the Albuquerque Journal in 2000. “Nobody paid.”
[from The New York Times, February 21, 2010]