Sunday, February 05, 2017

Where Do We Go to Scream?

So as it turns out, this Rube isn't really president.  The fascist who runs him is.
   I just got back from my Quaker Meeting.  Don, my darling husband, too long late, said I should introduce myself as a Quaker-Buddhist-Jew: "That will really confuse them."  But it doesn't confuse me.  Quaker is what I am when I go very deep and quiet.  Buddhist is what I am when I am around Jack, my teacher and friend and a really wise, touching, funny man.   He is not doing very well with all of this either. I don't think anybody is doing well who can really feel.
   And Jew is what you never really lose if you are born into it, as it will pursue you in places you didn't know had anti-Semitism.
    What an incredible time.  I feel Quakerly arms around me.  Impelled to get up for a change, I had to go to Meeting this morning as I am so... what?  Anxious is too easy a word.  That anyone is paying real attention to this... again, what?  Moron? Lout? Swine?   The people who support him, in the little towns, are not evil.  They just have no idea.  No idea what he really thinks, if he thinks anything besides 'Me, Me, Me.'
      I am not afraid so much as numbed by sorrow.  Heartened by the soft but firm undercurrent of sadness at my Quaker Meeting, I am almost confident this will be well dealt with, except that I fear that Evil, which I don't mean to capitalize but have to, will find insidious ways to subvert and foil.  There is such strength in Quakerly belief.  The power of Silence.  If only we could muffle him.
     I do not hope for his assassination, as Pence is worse, and being smarter would be more effective, and deadlier.  Oh, God, if you are there, and I really believe you are, especially in Meeting, Do SOMETHING.  And let it be comic.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A WEDDING

So I am inspired and amused by the news that they have a TV movie, FEUD, about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. 
 When I was getting ready, organized and spirited to marry Don, I went to the Plaza to book the place where we would be married, on a day when my mother couldn’t have my father arrested for failure to pay child support, for me.  I was 29.
  I put that in numbers rather than words because it makes it look the more stupid and ridiculous, both of which it was.  My mother had been suing him from the time I was a child, when he owed it, and ducked it, everywhere he went, which included Tucson 
where he’d gone because Selma couldn’t breathe.  She was his wife, and had been a friend of my mother’s to whom she’d introduced him because she was sure Selma would mean his death.   Instead, they’d fallen in love and he’d moved there and become Mayor.  He’d never been in politics, or a Republican, both of which he did, apparently it never being too late in life to change your skin. 

     So I went to the Plaza, booked the place for April 28th, and left.  In front of the
elevator stood Bette Davis, a great ribbon on her ass, also great.  If she hadn’t been a movie star, it would have been overwhelming.  I had gone to make the reservation, and told the woman in charge I was Miss Davis, causing some excitement and confusion as Don had announced himself as Miss Davis’ s fiancee, and they thought he meant Bette, who had an appointment at the same time. 

       Having been emboldened by the large, sequin-bordered ribbon on her butt, I told The Bette of the confusion.  She’d said in true Bette style: “How (breath)…very (breath)… amusing.”  It was almost as memorable as the wedding.

The process server my mother had gotten to serve my father had to wait outside the wedding the whole day for it to turn midnight so he could serve 
him, as you couldn’t be served on a Sunday.  Inside, all those there sat on which
side of the aisle and lawsuit they were.
   
      It was not a huge cast, but it WAS colorful.  Sue Mengers, later to become a major Showbiz Celeb, was among those present, being at the time a close friend which she could be until it wasn’t convenient.  Also there were my close friends from Bryn Mawr and David Begelman, later to commit suicide. 

 
     My mother and my father sat on different sides of the aisle, along with their newer, present partners, and my father-in-law Harry who’d gotten us the champagne wholesale.

         I have been told often in life, at least the earlier part of it, of my penchant for
comedy.  The truth is I never have to make anything up.  What I am handed in life,
or have always been proffered, is plot, my weakest suit. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A KESEY LOOK-ALIKE

So I am feeling in an unaccustomedly creative mood-- unaccustomed because who has felt inspired with what has been going on with our manipulated and potentially disastrous politics-- when I open this week's New Yorker, and there is an article about writer-director Mike Mills, and his film, 20th Century Women.  He looks exactly, from the angle they have him, like Ken Kesey who was a great friend of mine when I went for my Master's Degree in Creative Writing at Stanford under the allegedly great writer  Wallace Stegner, except he was on sabbatical but they didn't tell me that till after I had paid my tuition, which they wouldn't give back.  It was a dedicated and hilarious, if less than greatly productive time, and I probably wrote a book or two about it that I don't remember, as I am don't remembering many things at this point, but I am still ahead of Kesey, though he is better known and loved, since I am alive.  I think.
      I had what I hope is a really good idea for a comedy, and if I can remember, I may indeed write it, and if there is a comedy god, Susan Sarandon will play the lead, who is, indeed, based on me, as a gifted Goy.  I can say that it begins with an older woman strolling the beach, telling a much younger woman of her great love, who died early on, not that long after the relationship had just begun to mature.  The rest I can't tell because that is what makes it clever and fresh and ripe for theft.  Not that anyone necessarily reads these things, but you never know, especially with the accessibility of the Internet, and Donald Trump coming to office.
     What a time.  It is not easy to be an American who loves and prizes her country, and, when she was much younger, believed in reincarnation.  I used to think I had been friends in a previous life with Benjamin Franklin who really did.  But I hope for his sake, and that of probably the rest of us, that I was wrong.  To have been as smart, wise and creative as he was, and have to come back for this shit would be indefensible.
     How will it all turn out?  Will anyone be alive to know?  What will she wear to his funeral?
     

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A CARTOON FOR THE NEW YEAR

Two Birds sitting on a wire
FIRST BIRD:  When the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there's music in the air, it's hard to feel bad about life.
SECOND BIRD: Trump is president.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

EUNICE HARRIS, BETTE DAVIS, ROSALIND RUSSELL, AND OTHER GIRLS There was, and, I hope, still is, an artist in Hollywood named Paul Jasmine. Nobody knows how to find him, not intimate friends, not those who collected his work. But he was/is of such an original turn of mind, I can only imagine he would never have done anything as usual as die. Besides his gifts as painter and, later, photographer, he also had an assumed persona, a nasal, twangy Midwestern woman named Eunice Harris. It became a bit of a local legend that his was the voice of Norman Bates’ mother, in the upstairs of that weird house in ‘Psycho.’ I’m not sure of the truth of that-- I never checked it out with Tony Perkins, though I know they were close friends, if not more. But it will help to convey the timbre and sound of the voice he put on, when he made some remarkable telephone calls. I don’t know where or how he obtained the phone numbers. But he successfully got through to many of the women who were major stars at the beginning of the Sixties. More impressively, even miraculously, he managed to really engage them on the phone. By the end of their conversations, this perfect stranger would have made them his/her friend. It was a late-night sport to which some of us were privy, lying around in jeans on the floor, our vestigial adolescence making it the hot ticket in town, to be one of those listening to Paul putting on the stars. But we had to learn to contain our laughter, as it was the early days of speakerphones: the person on the other end, Ingrid Bergman, for example, hearing the sniggers, might hang up. But only one person ever did. “Hi,” he would say, in his funny, aging, just-got-in-from-the Midwest voice. “This is Eunice Harris. Colonel Tom and I just drove in from Iowa and tired as I am, I just had to call you before I could even dream of sleeping. I hope I’m not inconveniencing you,” he would say. “I know how busy you are, and of course I am one of your most ardent admirers.” They almost never asked him how he had gotten their number. By the time they might have thought to ask, Eunice had gently wormed her way into a real conversation, telling them what a hard time she’d had finding a decent place to stay, the smog was so terrible that night, people were so unhelpful, what a hardship it had been driving in from Nebraska or Wyoming or whatever her place of origin for the sake of that particular call. She would ask about their children by name, having dutifully pored over fan magazines. That would inevitably get them. In the case of Doris Day she was very proud of young Terry. Best of all the conversations was the one with Rosalind Russell, who began talking so fast and so much that Eunice could lay back and just listen. Miss Russell, every bit as elegant and funny on the phone as she’d been in Auntie Mame , was gently guided by Eunice into a discussion of her visit to the Eisenhower White House. “Is it true,” Eunice asked, “that Mamie is an alcoholic?.” “Oh, what nonsense!” Rosalind Russell said. “Mamie just enjoys her Old-Fashioned. She’ll say, ‘Oh, any minute now we can have our Old-Fashioned.’ Then a little while later, ‘Soon the sun will be over the yardarm, and it’ll be time for our Old-Fashioneds.’ Or, ‘It’s almost five o’clock, and then we can have our Old-Fashioned.’ Then the clock will strike five and she’ll absolutely light up and say ‘Old-Fashioned time!’ But no, of course she isn’t an alcoholic. “And what she’s done with that White House is not to be believed!” Miss Russell exclaimed. Then the actress launched into a discussion of the Lincoln bedroom, and the other rooms, the fabrics, the materials Mamie herself had chosen, surprising, Roz said, in view of the way people saw the First Lady, which was mostly chintz. It was at this point that we had to hold our stomachs, along with our mouths. Stanley Kubrick made a tape of the tape we’d made, ‘Eunice Harris talks to the Stars,’ and secreted it in his vault in Elstree when he moved to England. But while he was still in Hollywood, he’d had me invite the bona fide Eunice (Paul) to his house, and had her call, watching how she did it. Stanley, who did not smile easily, sat there grinning all the while, reveling in the mischief. He gave her Janet Leigh’s number, and Janet was so gracious I felt bad for her, knowing her and liking her as I did, but the phone call was harmless. Eunice said at the end of it that they’d have to get together, and Janet, very much the kind lady, agreed. “Yes, we must do that,” she said. “Would you mind coming over to the Valley?” Eunice asked. “I’m in this little motel right by the freeway, and there’s all this noise from the traffic, but I’m sure we can find a Mexican restaurant or something, and I’d love to treat you to lunch.” “Oh, I couldn’t let you do that,” Janet said. “All right,” said Eunice. “I’ll let you pick up the check just this one time. When do you want to do it?” “I’m sorry, I haven’t got my book with me right now,” Janet said. “Well, why don’t you go and get it, honey,” Eunice said. “Or I can call you back in a few minutes.” “I’m sorry,” Janet said. “I’ve got some company here.” “I’ve heard you give the best parties,” Eunice said. “I’ll be right over.” Then she hung up, leaving, we were sure, a very anxious Janet on the other end of the phone, crouching against the fearfully anticipated ring of the doorbell. By this time, Stanley, giggling like the bad little boy I always suspected he secretly was, turned over a prize: author Vladimir Nabokov’s number. One must understand that as protective as people in Hollywood are of their friends’ privacy, on the right occasion, under the right circumstances, many of them will betray one another on a dime. In this case, it was not for money or power, but for a really great laugh, as rare and prized in those environs as a heartfelt hug. Stars allowed into Eunice’s circle would happily volunteer their dearest pals’ unlisted line. So it was that Stanley, in the midst of making the movie of Nabokov’s erotic bestseller, Lolita, gave Eunice the number of the master, at the moment ensconced in a rented house in Cheviot Hills. “VLADIMIR!” Eunice enthused, the moment he answered the phone. “Colonel Tom and I have been driving night and day from Council Bluffs, hoping to get here in time. You’ve got to get rid of that dreadful Sue Lyon. There’s only one girl who can play Lolita, and that’s our daughter, Cindy. We brought her with us, Colonel Tom and I, and she’s perfect for the part. Delectable. Adorable. And she doesn’t look a day over thirteen.” “Who did you say this was?” asked the hapless Nabokov. “Eunice Harris. Mother of the girl who must play the part. Cindy. You’re just going to love her, being the prevert that you are. You’d never be able to tell that… she’s… well.. thirty.” Stanley lay curled up with laughter on the floor of his living room, holding his mouth and his stomach. Poor Nabokov, genius though he might have been, was no match for Eunice. And it was from Jasmine’s inspired, lunatic dialogue, that Stanley was to harvest the word ‘prevert,’ that echoed throughout the screenplay of Dr. Strangelove. Eunice was merciful with Ingrid Bergman, who was back in Hollywood after the disrepute of her running away with the Italian director Roberto Rosselini. Because her image had been virtually angelic, her public equating her with St. Joan, a role she had portrayed in Otto Preminger’s production, filmgoers found it unacceptable, her turning out to be a passionate, living human being. She had even been denounced by Congress. So Bergman was quite anxious at the time. When Eunice asked her, ‘just between us girls,’ about the end of her marriage, Bergman said she really didn’t want to talk about it. “Not even with me?” Eunice said cheekily. “Well, I’m not really sure who, exactly, you are,” said the great lady. “I understand, dear. We can’t all be Ingrid Bergman.” “I didn’t mean that,” Ingrid Bergman said, apologetically. “I’m not really that sure who Ingrid Bergman is supposed to be.” Bergman was really a lovely, if openly melancholy woman. I met her in the still- striking flesh a few years later, when the writer Sterling Silliphant invited me to join them for a drink at ’21.’ She seemed edgy and depressed, having survived her fall from sainthood. She and Rosselini had had twins, a daughter, and a couple of terrible movies. Now she was making films in Hollywood again. But the remarkable success of her early career had vanished, as evanescent as the glow of her complexion. I don’t think there was ever a more carved, exquisite face on the screen than hers in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ where she was victim to Spencer Tracy’s temporarily murderous villain, or in ‘Gaslight,’ when she was driven nearly mad by Charles Boyer. Phillip and Julius Epstein, the writers of the all-time classic ‘Casablanca’, graced by that face, were later to be accorded a standing ovation by the same U.S.Congress that had denounced her. But there in ’21,’ she seemed lustrous and sad. “You are,” I said to her, after some moments, sensing her unhappiness, “the most beautiful woman ever to be in films.” It sounded, I know, sycophantish, but I was sincere. “How very lucky for me,” she answered, coldly. It dismayed me slightly, her haughty and ironic delivery. It disappointed me even more when I saw Saratoga Trunk on television some years later, and heard her say the same line in the movie. She was, after all, only an actress. But she’d been cordial on the phone with Eunice Harris. I cherished her for that. And now we come to the only movie star ever to hang up: Bette Davis, staying at the Chateau Marmont with her then husband, Gary Merrill. Once connected by the operators at the Chateau, who, in those days were a little air-headed, and didn’t always screen the calls, or necessarily connect them, Eunice launched instantly into her most successful terms of entrapment. She told Bette Davis she had just been selected to be the poster girl for the Daughters of Bilitis. That was a name for a lesbian organization, but Miss Davis didn’t know that, and Eunice didn’t elucidate. She said only that there would be a photographer there the next morning to take the star’s picture for the cover of the Daughters of Bilitis magazine, and they’d like her to be in a tennis outfit. “I don’t play tennis,” Bette Davis said. “And I’m not posing for your magazine. Now go away!” Even the way the phone crashed into the cradle sounded soooooo Bette Davis.


EUNICE HARRIS, BETTE DAVIS, ROSALIND RUSSELL, AND OTHER GIRLS

            There was, and, I hope, still is, an artist in Hollywood named Paul Jasmine.  Nobody knows how to find him, not intimate friends, not those who collected his work.  But he was/is of such an original turn of mind, I can only imagine he would never have done anything as usual as die. Besides his gifts as painter and, later, photographer, he also had an assumed persona, a nasal, twangy Midwestern woman named Eunice Harris.  It became a bit of a local legend that his was the voice of Norman Bates’ mother, in the upstairs of that weird house in ‘Psycho.’  I’m not sure of the truth of that-- I never checked it out with Tony Perkins, though I know they were close friends, if not more.   But it will help to convey the timbre and sound of the voice he put on, when he made some remarkable telephone calls.
I don’t know where or how he obtained the phone numbers.  But he successfully got through to many of the women who were major stars at the beginning of the Sixties.  More impressively, even miraculously, he managed to really engage them on the phone.  By the end of their conversations, this perfect stranger would have made them his/her friend.  It was a late-night sport to which some of us were privy, lying around in jeans on the floor, our vestigial adolescence making it the hot ticket in town, to be one of those listening to Paul putting on the stars.  But we had to learn to contain our laughter, as it was the early days of speakerphones: the person on the other end, Ingrid Bergman, for example, hearing the sniggers, might hang up.
But only one person ever did. 
“Hi,” he would say, in his funny, aging, just-got-in-from-the Midwest voice.  “This is Eunice Harris.  Colonel Tom and I just drove in from Iowa and tired as I am, I just had to call you before I could even dream of sleeping.  I hope I’m not inconveniencing you,” he would say.  “I know how busy you are, and of course I am one of your most ardent admirers.”
They almost never asked him how he had gotten their number.  By the time they might have thought to ask, Eunice had gently wormed her way into a real conversation, telling them what a hard time she’d had finding a decent place to stay, the smog was so terrible that night, people were so unhelpful, what a hardship it had been driving in from Nebraska or Wyoming or whatever her place of origin for the sake of that particular call.  She would ask about their children by name, having dutifully pored over fan magazines.  That would inevitably get them.  In the case of Doris Day she was very proud of young Terry.
Best of all the conversations was the one with Rosalind Russell, who began talking so fast and so much that Eunice could lay back and just listen.  Miss Russell, every bit as elegant and funny on the phone as she’d been in Auntie Mame , was gently guided by Eunice into a discussion of her visit to the Eisenhower White House.  “Is it true,” Eunice asked, “that Mamie is an alcoholic?.”
“Oh, what nonsense!” Rosalind Russell said.  “Mamie just enjoys her Old-Fashioned.  She’ll say, ‘Oh, any minute now we can have our Old-Fashioned.’ Then a little while later, ‘Soon the sun will be over the yardarm, and it’ll be time for our Old-Fashioneds.’ Or, ‘It’s almost five o’clock, and then we can have our Old-Fashioned.’  Then the clock will strike five and she’ll absolutely light up and say ‘Old-Fashioned time!’  But no, of course she isn’t an alcoholic.
“And what she’s done with that White House is not to be believed!” Miss Russell exclaimed. Then the actress launched into a discussion of the Lincoln bedroom, and the other rooms, the fabrics, the materials Mamie herself had chosen, surprising, Roz said, in view of the way people saw the First Lady, which was mostly chintz.
It was at this point that we had to hold our stomachs, along with our mouths.  Stanley Kubrick made a tape of the tape we’d made, ‘Eunice Harris talks to the Stars,’ and secreted it in his vault in Elstree when he moved to England.  But while he was still in Hollywood, he’d had me invite the bona fide Eunice (Paul) to his house, and had her call, watching how she did it.  Stanley, who did not smile easily, sat there grinning all the while, reveling in the mischief.  He gave her Janet Leigh’s number, and Janet was so gracious I felt bad for her, knowing her and liking her as I did, but the phone call was harmless.  Eunice said at the end of it that they’d have to get together, and Janet, very much the kind lady, agreed. “Yes, we must do that,” she said.
“Would you mind coming over to the Valley?” Eunice asked.  “I’m in this little motel right by the freeway, and there’s all this noise from the traffic, but I’m sure we can find a Mexican restaurant or something, and I’d love to treat you to lunch.”
“Oh, I couldn’t let you do that,” Janet said.
“All right,” said Eunice.  “I’ll let you pick up the check just this one time.  When do you want to do it?”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t got my book with me right now,” Janet said.
“Well, why don’t you go and get it, honey,” Eunice said.  “Or I can call you back in a few minutes.”
“I’m sorry,” Janet said.  “I’ve got some company here.”
“I’ve heard you give the best parties,” Eunice said.  “I’ll be right over.”   Then she hung up, leaving, we were sure, a very anxious Janet on the other end of the phone, crouching against the fearfully anticipated ring of the doorbell.
By this time, Stanley, giggling like the bad little boy I always suspected he secretly was, turned over a prize: author Vladimir Nabokov’s number.  One must understand that as protective as people in Hollywood are of their friends’ privacy, on the right occasion, under the right circumstances, many of them will betray one another on a dime.  In this case, it was not for money or power, but for a really great laugh, as rare and prized in those environs as a heartfelt hug.  Stars allowed into Eunice’s circle would happily volunteer their dearest pals’ unlisted line.  So it was that Stanley, in the midst of making the movie of Nabokov’s erotic bestseller, Lolita, gave Eunice the number of the master, at the moment ensconced in a rented house in Cheviot Hills.
“VLADIMIR!” Eunice enthused, the moment he answered the phone. “Colonel Tom and I have been driving night and day from Council Bluffs, hoping to get here in time.  You’ve got to get rid of that dreadful Sue Lyon.  There’s only one girl who can play Lolita, and that’s our daughter, Cindy.  We brought her with us, Colonel Tom and I, and she’s perfect for the part.  Delectable.  Adorable. And she doesn’t look a day over thirteen.”
“Who did you say this was?” asked the hapless Nabokov.
“Eunice Harris.  Mother of the girl who must play the part.  Cindy.  You’re just going to love her, being the prevert that you are.   You’d never be able to tell that… she’s… well.. thirty.”
Stanley lay curled up with laughter on the floor of his living room, holding his mouth and his stomach.  Poor Nabokov, genius though he might have been, was no match for Eunice.  And it was from Jasmine’s inspired, lunatic dialogue, that Stanley was to harvest the word ‘prevert,’ that echoed throughout the screenplay of Dr. Strangelove.     
Eunice was merciful with Ingrid Bergman, who was back in Hollywood after the disrepute of her running away with the Italian director Roberto Rosselini.  Because her image had been virtually angelic, her public equating her with St. Joan, a role she had portrayed in Otto Preminger’s production, filmgoers found it unacceptable, her turning out to be a passionate, living human being.   She had even been denounced by Congress.  So Bergman was quite anxious at the time. When Eunice asked her, ‘just between us girls,’ about the end of her marriage, Bergman said she really didn’t want to talk about it.  “Not even with me?” Eunice said cheekily.
“Well, I’m not really sure who, exactly, you are,” said the great lady.
“I understand, dear.  We can’t all be Ingrid Bergman.”
“I didn’t mean that,” Ingrid Bergman said, apologetically.  “I’m not really that sure who Ingrid Bergman is supposed to be.”
Bergman was really a lovely, if openly melancholy woman.  I met her in the still- striking flesh a few years later, when the writer Sterling Silliphant invited me to join them for a drink at ’21.’  She seemed edgy and depressed, having survived her fall from sainthood.  She and Rosselini had had twins, a daughter, and a couple of terrible movies.  Now she was making films in Hollywood again.  But the remarkable success of her early career had vanished, as evanescent as the glow of her complexion.  I don’t think there was ever a more carved, exquisite face on the screen than hers in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ where she was victim to Spencer Tracy’s temporarily murderous villain, or in ‘Gaslight,’ when she was driven nearly mad by Charles Boyer.  Phillip and Julius Epstein, the writers of the all-time classic ‘Casablanca’, graced by that face, were later to be accorded a standing ovation by the same U.S.Congress that had denounced her.
But there in ’21,’ she seemed lustrous and sad.
“You are,” I said to her, after some moments, sensing her unhappiness, “the most beautiful woman ever to be in films.”  It sounded, I know, sycophantish, but I was sincere.
“How very lucky for me,” she answered, coldly.
It dismayed me slightly, her haughty and ironic delivery.  It disappointed me even more when I saw Saratoga Trunk  on television some years later, and heard her say the same line in the movie.  She was, after all, only an actress.
But she’d been cordial on the phone with Eunice Harris. I cherished her for that. 
And now we come to the only movie star ever to hang up: Bette Davis, staying at the Chateau Marmont with her then husband, Gary Merrill.
Once connected by the operators at the Chateau, who, in those days were a little air-headed, and didn’t always screen the calls, or necessarily connect them, Eunice launched instantly into her most successful terms of entrapment.  She told Bette Davis she had just been selected to be the poster girl for the Daughters of Bilitis.  That was a name for a lesbian organization, but Miss Davis didn’t know that, and Eunice didn’t elucidate.  She said only that there would be a photographer there the next morning to take the star’s picture for the cover of the Daughters of Bilitis magazine, and they’d like her to be in a tennis outfit.
      “I don’t play tennis,” Bette Davis said.  “And I’m not posing for your magazine. 

Now go away!”

       Even the way the phone crashed into the cradle sounded soooooo Bette Davis.


            There was, and, I hope, still is, an artist in Hollywood named Paul Jasmine.  Nobody knows how to find him, not intimate friends, not those who collected his work.  But he was/is of such an original turn of mind, I can only imagine he would never have done anything as usual as die. Besides his gifts as painter and, later, photographer, he also had an assumed persona, a nasal, twangy Midwestern woman named Eunice Harris.  It became a bit of a local legend that his was the voice of Norman Bates’ mother, in the upstairs of that weird house in ‘Psycho.’  I’m not sure of the truth of that-- I never checked it out with Tony Perkins, though I know they were close friends, if not more.   But it will help to convey the timbre and sound of the voice he put on, when he made some remarkable telephone calls.
I don’t know where or how he obtained the phone numbers.  But he successfully got through to many of the women who were major stars at the beginning of the Sixties.  More impressively, even miraculously, he managed to really engage them on the phone.  By the end of their conversations, this perfect stranger would have made them his/her friend.  It was a late-night sport to which some of us were privy, lying around in jeans on the floor, our vestigial adolescence making it the hot ticket in town, to be one of those listening to Paul putting on the stars.  But we had to learn to contain our laughter, as it was the early days of speakerphones: the person on the other end, Ingrid Bergman, for example, hearing the sniggers, might hang up.
But only one person ever did. 
“Hi,” he would say, in his funny, aging, just-got-in-from-the Midwest voice.  “This is Eunice Harris.  Colonel Tom and I just drove in from Iowa and tired as I am, I just had to call you before I could even dream of sleeping.  I hope I’m not inconveniencing you,” he would say.  “I know how busy you are, and of course I am one of your most ardent admirers.”
They almost never asked him how he had gotten their number.  By the time they might have thought to ask, Eunice had gently wormed her way into a real conversation, telling them what a hard time she’d had finding a decent place to stay, the smog was so terrible that night, people were so unhelpful, what a hardship it had been driving in from Nebraska or Wyoming or whatever her place of origin for the sake of that particular call.  She would ask about their children by name, having dutifully pored over fan magazines.  That would inevitably get them.  In the case of Doris Day she was very proud of young Terry.
Best of all the conversations was the one with Rosalind Russell, who began talking so fast and so much that Eunice could lay back and just listen.  Miss Russell, every bit as elegant and funny on the phone as she’d been in Auntie Mame , was gently guided by Eunice into a discussion of her visit to the Eisenhower White House.  “Is it true,” Eunice asked, “that Mamie is an alcoholic?.”
“Oh, what nonsense!” Rosalind Russell said.  “Mamie just enjoys her Old-Fashioned.  She’ll say, ‘Oh, any minute now we can have our Old-Fashioned.’ Then a little while later, ‘Soon the sun will be over the yardarm, and it’ll be time for our Old-Fashioneds.’ Or, ‘It’s almost five o’clock, and then we can have our Old-Fashioned.’  Then the clock will strike five and she’ll absolutely light up and say ‘Old-Fashioned time!’  But no, of course she isn’t an alcoholic.
“And what she’s done with that White House is not to be believed!” Miss Russell exclaimed. Then the actress launched into a discussion of the Lincoln bedroom, and the other rooms, the fabrics, the materials Mamie herself had chosen, surprising, Roz said, in view of the way people saw the First Lady, which was mostly chintz.
It was at this point that we had to hold our stomachs, along with our mouths.  Stanley Kubrick made a tape of the tape we’d made, ‘Eunice Harris talks to the Stars,’ and secreted it in his vault in Elstree when he moved to England.  But while he was still in Hollywood, he’d had me invite the bona fide Eunice (Paul) to his house, and had her call, watching how she did it.  Stanley, who did not smile easily, sat there grinning all the while, reveling in the mischief.  He gave her Janet Leigh’s number, and Janet was so gracious I felt bad for her, knowing her and liking her as I did, but the phone call was harmless.  Eunice said at the end of it that they’d have to get together, and Janet, very much the kind lady, agreed. “Yes, we must do that,” she said.
“Would you mind coming over to the Valley?” Eunice asked.  “I’m in this little motel right by the freeway, and there’s all this noise from the traffic, but I’m sure we can find a Mexican restaurant or something, and I’d love to treat you to lunch.”
“Oh, I couldn’t let you do that,” Janet said.
“All right,” said Eunice.  “I’ll let you pick up the check just this one time.  When do you want to do it?”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t got my book with me right now,” Janet said.
“Well, why don’t you go and get it, honey,” Eunice said.  “Or I can call you back in a few minutes.”
“I’m sorry,” Janet said.  “I’ve got some company here.”
“I’ve heard you give the best parties,” Eunice said.  “I’ll be right over.”   Then she hung up, leaving, we were sure, a very anxious Janet on the other end of the phone, crouching against the fearfully anticipated ring of the doorbell.
By this time, Stanley, giggling like the bad little boy I always suspected he secretly was, turned over a prize: author Vladimir Nabokov’s number.  One must understand that as protective as people in Hollywood are of their friends’ privacy, on the right occasion, under the right circumstances, many of them will betray one another on a dime.  In this case, it was not for money or power, but for a really great laugh, as rare and prized in those environs as a heartfelt hug.  Stars allowed into Eunice’s circle would happily volunteer their dearest pals’ unlisted line.  So it was that Stanley, in the midst of making the movie of Nabokov’s erotic bestseller, Lolita, gave Eunice the number of the master, at the moment ensconced in a rented house in Cheviot Hills.
“VLADIMIR!” Eunice enthused, the moment he answered the phone. “Colonel Tom and I have been driving night and day from Council Bluffs, hoping to get here in time.  You’ve got to get rid of that dreadful Sue Lyon.  There’s only one girl who can play Lolita, and that’s our daughter, Cindy.  We brought her with us, Colonel Tom and I, and she’s perfect for the part.  Delectable.  Adorable. And she doesn’t look a day over thirteen.”
“Who did you say this was?” asked the hapless Nabokov.
“Eunice Harris.  Mother of the girl who must play the part.  Cindy.  You’re just going to love her, being the prevert that you are.   You’d never be able to tell that… she’s… well.. thirty.”
Stanley lay curled up with laughter on the floor of his living room, holding his mouth and his stomach.  Poor Nabokov, genius though he might have been, was no match for Eunice.  And it was from Jasmine’s inspired, lunatic dialogue, that Stanley was to harvest the word ‘prevert,’ that echoed throughout the screenplay of Dr. Strangelove.     
Eunice was merciful with Ingrid Bergman, who was back in Hollywood after the disrepute of her running away with the Italian director Roberto Rosselini.  Because her image had been virtually angelic, her public equating her with St. Joan, a role she had portrayed in Otto Preminger’s production, filmgoers found it unacceptable, her turning out to be a passionate, living human being.   She had even been denounced by Congress.  So Bergman was quite anxious at the time. When Eunice asked her, ‘just between us girls,’ about the end of her marriage, Bergman said she really didn’t want to talk about it.  “Not even with me?” Eunice said cheekily.
“Well, I’m not really sure who, exactly, you are,” said the great lady.
“I understand, dear.  We can’t all be Ingrid Bergman.”
“I didn’t mean that,” Ingrid Bergman said, apologetically.  “I’m not really that sure who Ingrid Bergman is supposed to be.”
Bergman was really a lovely, if openly melancholy woman.  I met her in the still- striking flesh a few years later, when the writer Sterling Silliphant invited me to join them for a drink at ’21.’  She seemed edgy and depressed, having survived her fall from sainthood.  She and Rosselini had had twins, a daughter, and a couple of terrible movies.  Now she was making films in Hollywood again.  But the remarkable success of her early career had vanished, as evanescent as the glow of her complexion.  I don’t think there was ever a more carved, exquisite face on the screen than hers in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ where she was victim to Spencer Tracy’s temporarily murderous villain, or in ‘Gaslight,’ when she was driven nearly mad by Charles Boyer.  Phillip and Julius Epstein, the writers of the all-time classic ‘Casablanca’, graced by that face, were later to be accorded a standing ovation by the same U.S.Congress that had denounced her.
But there in ’21,’ she seemed lustrous and sad.
“You are,” I said to her, after some moments, sensing her unhappiness, “the most beautiful woman ever to be in films.”  It sounded, I know, sycophantish, but I was sincere.
“How very lucky for me,” she answered, coldly.
It dismayed me slightly, her haughty and ironic delivery.  It disappointed me even more when I saw Saratoga Trunk  on television some years later, and heard her say the same line in the movie.  She was, after all, only an actress.
But she’d been cordial on the phone with Eunice Harris. I cherished her for that. 
And now we come to the only movie star ever to hang up: Bette Davis, staying at the Chateau Marmont with her then husband, Gary Merrill.
Once connected by the operators at the Chateau, who, in those days were a little air-headed, and didn’t always screen the calls, or necessarily connect them, Eunice launched instantly into her most successful terms of entrapment.  She told Bette Davis she had just been selected to be the poster girl for the Daughters of Bilitis.  That was a name for a lesbian organization, but Miss Davis didn’t know that, and Eunice didn’t elucidate.  She said only that there would be a photographer there the next morning to take the star’s picture for the cover of the Daughters of Bilitis magazine, and they’d like her to be in a tennis outfit.
      “I don’t play tennis,” Bette Davis said.  “And I’m not posing for your magazine. 

Now go away!”


       Even the way the phone crashed into the cradle sounded soooooo Bette Davis.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

ALL GORE IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS

ALL GORE IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS
     There is a review in this week’s New Yorker, to which I have after a long time away started to subscribe as magazines have so fallen in favor, they are cheap, and you can feel their desperation—so literate in a world where so few people now turn to the actual page—of a Gore Vidal biography.  And I feel how lucky I am to have had, in one lifetime, a man who loved me as much as Don did, and a friend—as much as he could be one—like Gore Vidal.
         Don and I were living in London as a young couple with little kids, going for our first visit to Rome.  It was early enough in our lives so we were still friends with the powerful and witty agent Sue Mengers, who told us to call Gore.  Invited for tea, or more probably it was a drink, to Gore’s rooftop apartment in Rome, we apparently passed the audition, and he said we should go on with him to dinner.  Impressed and excited,--or at least I was, --- we did.  
      His companion, and, as he was to seem from time to time, clever and funny friend Howard Austen was along.  So was one of the Andy Warhol girls: Ultra Violet, I think it was. 
         The dinner was obviously Italian, and the words, though I can’t remember what all of them actually were, were dazzling.  There was little he seemed to be able to say without its being framed and mounted like a celebrity photo on a mantel.  And I do remember vividly Gore’s looking at me intensely at one point and asking if I was wearing contacts.  I told him no.
     “It’s just that your eyes are so beautiful I thought you must have something in them.”
    Well, let me tell you, dear reader, if one you are and you are there: there is nothing more dizzying than being hit on by one of the world’s most notorious and dazzlingly articulate homosexuals.  As I remember, I was stunned into silence.
     Don, viably straight man that he was, who’d been captivated but less than comfortable for most of the evening, was furious.  “It just shows what a pervert you really are,” he said in the taxi back to the hotel,” that you enjoy the company of Gore Vidal.”
      And I did, and continued to, whenever I was in the same city he was.  When he came to Los Angeles I would meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel where he stayed with appropriate panache.  And I recall vividly, his squeakily saying “Really?” when I relayed something flattering that had been said about him.  Then there was going to visit him at his home in Ravello, when Don had died shatteringly young, and much too early, and I was questing for the upside of being alone, and he had invited me.
        “This…” Gore said, arms outspread, as he gazed down from the side of the mountain his villa was perched on, overlooking the ocean, “is our view.”
         I was still so overcome at having an actual relationship, such as it was, with Gore Vidal himself, that I didn’t really register how pretentious it sounded.  Even now, all these years later, I prize having had the contact, and sorrow over the deterioration that was to come, the inevitability of decay if you are lucky enough to have a long run.  At the time, though, he was still superior, literally and geographically above it all, contemptuous even while appearing the sort-of gracious host.   Howard, though, was patently pissed, not enjoying Gore’s being interested in a woman, though it was Nothing Really Personal.
         I told tales of having gone to the nude encounter marathon, the wet adventure that was to be the center of  most of my career difficulties, when the novel that resulted started an egregious landmark lawsuit.  Both Gore and Howard were visibly un-enchanted.   Gore became contemptuous, and when I gave him a novel of mine that I had brought as a gift, MARRIAGE, not a smart choice of subject on my part, was dismissive.  I don’t imagine he ever even bothered to read a work of mine.
         But after Howard died, and he was lonely, I was invited to be with him on a number of occasions.  He waited for me at the gate to the path that led down to his villa.  I could almost hear him holding his breath as I approached, and I realized he was actually anxious for my company.
      But he became more arch, and less appealing with every visit.  Sort of happily, I had had one phone conversation with Howard before he died, amicable and even borderline hearty, and that made me happy.  I do like to make friends, especially when they don’t like me.
         Reading about Gore in The New Yorker, -- once my, and everybody’s as I remember-- favorite magazine, it is easy to see how far or maybe near we have actually come.  The cartoons are no longer so funny or so well drawn, but the prose is still read over the nose as if it were a transom, and everybody should be standing on tiptoe.
      Gore, from a distance, seems actually closer than one could really get, and I realize how glad he was for my company though he less than prized it, and how desperately he longed for literary acknowledgement.    “The very rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald said to Hemingway, and Ernest replied, “Yes, they have more money.”
         “The very literate are different from you and me,” I say.  “Yes,” I answer back, trying to be fork-tongued. “They pretend to read The New York Review of Books.”