Richard “Wendell” Cordtz died last year. He was only in his fifties, about my age, so it came as a shock and still seems very strange.
He was one of the genuine characters I knew in New York for most of the years I lived there — an actor and stage director and singer. I didn't know him well but I saw him fairly regularly because he did a cabaret act with another friend of mine, Hugh McCarten. They billed themselves as Dr. Wendell and Mr. Hugh, Hugh providing piano accompaniment to Wendell's song styling.
Wendell had a wry and often very subtle sense of humor, characterized by a kind of sly irony hinting at the outrageous and delivered deadpan. It was a kind of mask, which would fall away when he smiled his sweet smile and suddenly seemed like a child. He was always very mysterious to me.
When musician friends visited from out of town there would sometimes be musical soirées at Wendell's loft. The last time I saw him was at one of these, not long before I moved away from New York. He sang a song I always associated with him, “Skylark” by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. He sang it beautifully, without any irony at all.
I have a recording of Dr. Wendell and Mr. Hugh performing the song, about a year before Wendell died. Listening to it it's impossible to imagine that Wendell is dead — easy to imagine that he's just gone off to follow the skylark somewhere . . .