Roberta Kaplan was big part of my life in the New York and Brooklyn years. We waitressed together at “Chris’s” near City Hall. I started painting billboards; Bobby drove a taxi, night shift, in all the boroughs of NY with a gentle but impressively toothy Collie asleep at her side in the front seat. Remarkable, bold, beautiful young woman. I started writing news at CBS. She opened a little shop to sell her fantabulously gorgeous hand crocheted and knit clothing on West Third Street in Greenwich Village where the bar The Purple Onion once jazzed the neighborhood. She called it “Arabella”, named after her monkey, part of the great large menagerie of cats dogs ducks sundry and a rat named Ratsina. That’s not easy in that town, even for someone incredibly beautiful, sassy, inventive, original and talented.
Bobby was a Pratt Institute graduate, industrious as hell. She got hired at swank & famous Club 21, some coupe, the only female they ever hired in a permanently male staff. She was a kind of lightning in a bottle, game for anything.
The little shop went through the usual rough first year, then she was moving into the big time with a pending contracts from Bonwit Teller and Saks Fifth. She was starting to do custom orders for some famous NYers. She kept a bowl of Oreos along with bottles of chilled champagne at the front door for visitors. Class act.
What was more exquisite? The colors she used, special French died wools she gathered from all over the city and world, antique handmade buttons that sparkled in the dark, the supreme skill of the work, the tones and shades she combined that set you aflame or brought on a faint, the designs she invented, the sweaters and hats loaded down with crocheted flowers even Louis Carroll and Salvador Dali never dared dream, or just that clear, firm look …..a no-nonsense, square jawed, titian haired beauty who illuminated the air around her.
A stranger who’s never been caught ended that March 11, l983 when Roberta was 34 years old. He walked into her Greenwich Village shop and knifed her in the heart and killed her. Front page, Daily News. Weeping that didn’t end at such an impossible end. White coffin, like you’d want for a baby.
I miss her every day of the week. I have dozens of her creations that never went out of style, that I still wear, that will never be duplicated.
She was one of a kind.
She was an original.