freedom. I lived in a project. A village community within walking distance to everything a
child would want to walk to including playgrounds, Libraries, parks, Long Island Sound and
the corner store.
The Library was my frequent destination and there I steeped myself in fairy tales and other
children’s books. Very early on I fell in Love with illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and
Ernest H. Shepard and the list goes on and on. The Library with its books and the movies
shown in town were my main creative sources for imaginative escape since my family life was
stressful. My main goal was to become independent and pursue my own dreams.
At the University of Bridgeport my fields of study were: Literature, Art and Theater. I
studied Art with Jennett Brinsmade Lam. She was an American painter (1911-1985) and she
was born in Ansonia, Connecticut. She studied with Josef Albers at Yale University
(BFA/MFA 1954/1960) and her works are in such prestigious museums as the MOMA, the
Whitney, and the Brooklyn Museum. I took a year of drawing classes with her and I still use
her techniques in all my drawing. She was a great influence on me.
Also at UB, I studied Graphic Design for a year with August Madrigal and found his classes
not only profound but a journey into a new perspective.
Years later I studied with Joan Heiden, Expressive Arts Therapist in Hartford.
It was for a brief time but its impact has been life changing.
At the University of Bridgeport I was also taking many acting and theater classes and also
performing in productions in the ‘Little Theater’ with such directors as Kenneth Frankel
(later directed at Long Wharf ) and Warren Bass (head of award winning Cinema Dept.)
After a performance, an art student came backstage to introduce herself and compliment my
performance. We became friends and it just so happened she was working for Gene and
helping him in the studio. She was the ‘matchmaker’ that set up a blind date for me with
Our first date was on his birthday. We both were smitten. We married exactly a year later on
his birthday at the beautiful home of Fred and Fran Otnes (both talented artists.) They
became generous and inspirational friends. We lived in an area of Connecticut which was
populated with famous Illustrators and artists of every medium: Sperry Andrews, Robert
Andrew Parker, Sas Colby, Fred Otnes, Mark English, Karlin Streng and her daughter Judith
Streng just to name a few. We had drawing classes in our home for 10+ years where we hired
a model for each class. Many of these artists were regulars over the years creating a constant
influx of ideas and support.
Gene’s Agent, Bill Erlanger, had his office, Artist’s Associates, at that time in lower East Side
Manhattan and we made frequent trips into NYC. I loved every minute of it.
Unfortunately, after a long struggle with symptoms that were finally diagnosed as Multiple
Sclerosis this phase of our life was ended.
Marilyn is an artist in her own right and told me, "At this point of my life I paint and have
personal creative projects that I’m finally getting to focus on for myself". I look forward to
what she does. She also expressed wishes to write a book about her life, which would of
course encompass her time with Gene. I will let you know when that becomes available.
Shown below are a few examples of her work that she was kind enough to share with us.
Marilyn Despres was Gene Szafran's Wife, and has been the caretaker of his art
and legacy. I have asked her to share with me some details of her life, up to and
including her time with Gene, and she was kind enough to relate the following.