Monday, December 05, 2016

JESSICA'S BIRTHDAY

It's my sister's birthday.  I know most of you don't even know I have a sister, as it's one of the things in my life that has least factored into it, my life that is.
    My mother got pregnant in her affair with Puggy, whom I came to adore, I think while Elizabeth, his wife, was still alive.  Puggy and Elizabeth pulled up to the front of the hotel where my mother was social director, a position she had worked up to by a cleverness had she used it to the extent she was able but had no idea she could, she might have been the first woman president, though obviously that will not easily or perhaps ever happen, the way the world is.
She thought Elizabeth was his mother, and social director that she was, made them her closest friends.  So close that at the end of the summer, Elizabeth, knowing she was dying, invited my mother to come live with them, and the rest is, though not quite history, my probably best book, the one that would have been a great bestseller except the country had to be saved, so there was ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.  It hurts me to put it in caps.
     Something in my mother was definitely off, so even while she loved him and got to marry him when Elizabeth died which was not long after, she could not help tormenting him, driving him crazy, being cruel to his son, a genius but off, (she despised him) and punishing my half-sister Jessica who came not long after from that union, for just about everything, driving her even crazier than Puggy's son, Mickey.  It is all so sad, but made a wonderful novel.
    Puggy left Helen, my mother, for Mickey's girlfriend Kathy who dumped him because he was a Jew, married the Gentile heiress, and died in the bathtub, right after we had a loving conversation on the phone.  I never have to make anything up.
    I hope to have the opportunity to write most of these things in story form somewhere before I die, though am not sure any of it will matter when Trump destroys the book market which will probably be soon.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

VERY BAD PLOT INDEED

So I went to the Apple store after being up most of the night to correct my e-mail.  But the Apple store is canceling one-to-one (the sessions where you can actually be helped) because they were not making enough money.  I guess it's good Steve Jobs died.
     There has been little in my life I was unable to solve other than mathematics and George Segal being a shit at Haverford with me at Bryn Mawr until this computer thing.  It is my hope that I still have creativity and its spawn inside me, but when I get frustrated I get mad and when you get mad you get stupid.  Non-functioning, that is.  So I have lost several days of my life recently as companies acquire each other and cancel services, all the while they tell you on TV that they are expanding, but it comes up on your screen that it's not going to come up on your screen. So I have been raging into the night which at my age you shouldn't dare do-- we just lost Florence Henderson, and look how pleasant she always was--and so in the late morning, when Elzie Fedora couldn't get together-- she wasn't so well either-- I went to the Apple store.  There they told me the reason I had been on hold for several hours was that I was dialing one of those bogus companies.  But then I checked it out and the company isn't bogus at all-- they're actually listed, they just don't answer for several hours and then when/if they do, they don't know what's going on.  I mean with anything.  I would say they were fucked but maybe children can read this, and it's bad enough you hear them saying that word on the street when there's not really reason enough to get that angry.
     So the Apple store rescheduled my appointment for tomorrow and I better go, in case Trump actually becomes president and we all get killed and nothing is left but his properties. (Does he really have any, or is it all just bluff?)  
    I am so scared and sad for the United States of America, a mouthful that never actually offended me, because I believed in it.  This is all about the power of money, which he really doesn't have but knows how to sham about.  My apartment in New York-- a maid's room it probably was when the very rich lived there,-- it's just a little one-stop now, but on a great street, or at least it was till the Donald lived up the block.  It upsets me to refer to him as that, since my very late husband was also named Donald, but there was the offhand about him, so he was much more 'Don.'  
     Oh, what a world what a world, as the wizard said when Oz was collapsing.  That a stupid little man as that, with his tiny hands that he insists do not portend a little member, could have any effect on a bright old little girl like me.  I really do hope someone kills him.  And Me, a Jewish Quaker, except I was so depressed I couldn't get up to go to Meeting.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

VERY BAD PLOT

Comedy was once my best suit, one I could wear on the most sophisticated of occasions.  But I find myself caught in a plot so unthinkable, even for high-line farce, that I am hardly able to function.  That is, I appear to be functioning, but I cannot believe my surroundings, or, indeed, anything that appears to be taking place.
     Let us play this one out: a man walks into an empty country and says "Who's the president here?" and a voice says "Nobody."  And the man says "Okay.  I'm the president."
     That is a sort of joke that my loved and very funny friend Mel Brooks made about my father Lew Davis, the failed pharmacist and soldier-- my mother got him the commission when she left him so he could pay her alimony which she was to spend several decades suing him for after he moved to Tucson and became mayor.   "A man walks into a town," Mel said, imagining, "and says: 'Who's the Mayor here, and someone answers 'Nobody.' 'Okay,' he says, 'I'm the mayor.' 
    That this Trump clown,-- not fair, it is an insult to clowns-- should have the future of this up till now mostly great country, and so the world, in his stubby-fingered hands, is unthinkable, even as it becomes a reality.  On the Internet his people are selling hats and banners that are left from this campaign, so he will profit even as he has failed to pay anything he owes the country, all the while managing to keep hidden how much it is.  This is a plot Mel could have come up with. 
   It only works as comedy if we are sure the world will not come to an end.
     

Friday, September 30, 2016

BURYING A CHILD

It is, I would suppose stupidly, one of the last things you would ever imagine: Burying a child.  In this case, Madeleine Anne Mitchell, as I read from her death notice just received in the mail from Arizona, was very much more than a child.  But she was mine, though I hardly gave her the attention I should have.  More than remiss, I am.  Stupid.  Insensitive, for such an allegedly bright woman.  So caught up in what might happen to Robert, who came second, and, as my mother, the fierce Helen Schwamm said, "Anyone could have a girl."
      Madeleine just died at fifty, under circumstances that might be characterized as mysterious, though the officers in charge of the investigation were satisfied that there was nothing untoward about her death, if death can be characterized as toward.  She was, I think, a good girl, but as her body was not found for many days, it had begun to smell, and that's what brought the police.  A terrible story. Not one I would have written, even on my worst day.
     Even now, I am having difficulty getting the words out, putting them down or clinking them out on my computer, what I use now to express myself, other than shrieking in the night.  I am no longer sure who this person is, having myself become ill for what I think is the first time in my adult life, other than the stuff you go through without becoming alarmed or scared.  Or, in this case, inert.  Stupid.
      I am so sad for Madeleine, though as a friend pointed out, she is free from pain.  I have been sifting through the works of Kay Boyle, a great writer who championed me when I was going through the horror of Doubleday's lawsuit against me, and I still didn't appreciate her enough to have read her except for snippets.  As it turns out, I am not as nice as I should have been, especially considering all the great people who stood up for me in my lifetime, when I should have become more than I did.  Silas, my remarkable grandson, has already done more for others at thirteen, than I have really done at my very (how is it possible?) advanced age.
       So Madeleine is very gone.  I have just put the death notices, come from Arizona, into the chute as I have to ready this apartment for my permanent departure, which I believe and hope will be soon, as there's no point my being here.  New York is an old fantasy, one from my twenties, when all of life seemed to lay ahead of me, and I had a play on Broadway, even failed.  Driven back to the hospital opening night(I had just given birth) by Mel Brooks and his beautiful wife, Anne Bancroft, who I considered my closest friend, certainly the most gifted one, for whom I had written the play but she had another commitment, only to have gotten to the theatre there in time for the closing curtain and the last laugh, which wasn't there.  "Well you had two things happen this week," Mel said in the taxi back to the hospital,  "If one of them had to be less than perfect, it should have been your daughter." He was always funny, but the laughter was pained.  Now it is, funnily but grotesquely, fifty years later, and she is gone.
   I threw the notices away.  I don't think I need to be reminded that she is gone.  The roof across from my little, ugly, ungraceful step-onto it and don't fall off it terrace, is bleak and joyless like the day. I can no longer think of living here.  That is to say, I can think of it, but the thought saddens me.  It's time to go back to California.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

ARE WE STILL FREE?

    So it is 4th of July weekend, the celebration of our nation's Freedom, which may be coming to an end with the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the blatant fascist and closet ignoramus.  I have just returned from the commemoration in Scottsdale for my daughter, Madeleine, looking teenagerly beauteous in the photo at her service, but actually fifty at her death, though still unnecessarily too soon.  But it was uplifting, in a dark way, to see the people there were who cared about her, not the least of whom was me.
     Madeleine, named after the woman fired from  the lead in my Broadway comedy that opened and closed with her birth, died under mysterious, ugly and cloudy circumstances in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she bolted seven coffees every morning at Starbuck's, worked out two hours every day but still, desperate, didn't find love.  My friend Ann Busby, who should have her picture in Wikipedia under the definition "friendship,"drove me there from LA and funneled all information back to me when it fell out of my head, and being a lawyer, siphoned out what would hold up under scrutiny after our meeting with the police.  To my relief, they were genuinely nice guys, a word I wouldn't usually use, but here it obtains.  Clear, direct, and having conducted what appears to be a thorough investigation, except for the drug reports. That will take six months to be completed, there is apparently so much of that kind of death in Arizona.
     I guess Madeleine went to college there because she didn't have the equipment or longing to aspire higher, and my father had been mayor of Tucson, moved there during my teenage years because the woman my mother introduced him to as she was sure Selma, the second wife, would kill him.  But instead, her allergies drove them to the desert version of greatness.  He was less than a wonderful man, but apparently they didn't see that in Tucson, as I am fearful we might not be able to see it in America. Or maybe we just no longer care.
     So because Lew Davis, Lew, the Mayor, as my friend Mel Brooks called him, had standing, Madeleine went there to college.  But she was less than a devoted student, though my colleague from graduate writing school at Stanford who taught her at the U of A told me she had talent, which, sadly, she didn't use, so busy was she questing for love. She married three times.  The first dumped her after little more than a year, once she had signed over her car; the second adored her but she didn't want him anymore until he had married someone else; and the third I never met but I know he'd had her arrested.  Not a pretty story, and certainly not one I would have written out of choice.  Or inspiration.
      When Madeleine was a little girl, I told her how much I loved her, how wonderful she was.  "Than why did you have Robert?" she asked me.
    I suppose that that is a question that resonates through the minds of many children.  It got a laugh at the Quaker Meeting I grieved for her at, and again at the memorial for Maddy, as her friends called her.  Not a nickname I would have chosen, but her life wasn't up to me, or it would have been better. 
     When her brother was born on the eve of my would-have-been-bigger-bestseller, had I had a better publisher, The Pretenders, my editor, a really smart man, Bob Gutwillig, sent me a telegram: "A boy! How marvelous!"  My mother said simply, cuttingly, as most of her judgments came, "Anyone could have a girl."
     I was so busy trying to pick us back up from my failed Broadway comedy, The Best Laid Plans,  an ill-chosen but ironically apt title, that I didn't really process how cruel, and untrue, that judgment was.  That I had gone to what is arguably the best college in the world, still for women only, Bryn Mawr, seemed beside the point.
The point was success, as it seems enduringly to be in America.  Scary.  And sad.
    My husband, Don Mitchell as he'd changed his name to, Miskie being too Jewish and Bronxy to be swallowable by my mother, Helen, born Finkelstein changed to Fink (I never have to make anything up) had lost his job as a television producer in New York just as we'd decided to put off having children.  But I found out the next day  I was already pregnant with Madeleine, as we were to name her as compensation to  Madlyn Rhue, the leading lady in my comedy, fired just before it opened, and I went into the hospital to give birth to my daughter.  To give you some idea of how much loyalty and love there was in the New York theatre world of 1966, the heads of several studios whom I considered really close friends, coming to  my hospital room to congratulate me the evening of her birth, were unreachable after the reviews.  The director, Paul Bogart, had been fired just before the opening, and Hilly Elkins, the producer, had brought in Arthur Storch, who didn't have a clue, and  kept changing everything, so everybody went up on their lines opening night.  Mel, married to Anne Bancroft, my close friend, for whom I'd written it, only to have her tell me she was doing The Devils, ("Well, who knew you would write a play in a week?" she'd said,)  taxied us back to the hospital that night.  Don and I had gotten to the theatre in time for the closing curtain, and the last laugh. Only it wasn't there.
     "Well, you had two things happen this week," Mel said.  "If one of them had to be less than perfect, if your child had been born with six toes and two noses... that would have been okay.  What mattered was the show."
     It was, like most of Mel's lines, funny.  But, sadly, in terms of New York and the theater world of the Sixties, the truth.  Mostly, as I remember,  I spent what was left of my youth trying to make up for America's greatest sin: failing.
     No one would return our calls.  I was still kind of chubby, so when I would pass people I knew on the street I would secrete myself behind telephone poles, imagining that would hide me.
    But Annie and Mel came over to visit. She read the reviews out loud, spitting at them.  I really loved her.  When you do life over in your mind, she plays the lead in my play, so I am a hit and my whole life is different.  But maybe not as interesting.
    But this is supposed to be about Madeleine, as her whole life should have been.  But wasn't.
    Don was without work, and I was limelight failed.  I had a friend in Carol Burnett, so I called her on the sly, and asked her to give Don work.  Her new show was starting in California.  So it was we left New York, and I no longer had to hide behind telephone poles.
    We stayed in the attic of Carol Burnett's guest house till we found a place to live.  When we did, the man who opened the door to rent it to us, turned out to be Les Colodny, the funny, self-promoting man who'd hired me in New York at NBC when I was twenty, as a comedy writer, and he ran the program of new talents that was just starting.  It was to audition for him that Eliott Kastner, --that is another saga-- had had me come back from Europe and sing my songs, to be hired on the spot, only to have Les and the writers he liked better go to Hollywood leaving me to be fired as the department fizzled though I had two or three musicals under my arm.  But that is several more stories, and this is supposed to be about Madeleine.  
     As Madeleine's life should have been. But apparently never really was.  So maybe her death can be.  I hope so.
   
     
      

Saturday, June 25, 2016

PLOT

    Plot was always the last thing I thought of, if at all.  It was being able to express myself, feeling through the ends of my fingers, the few I used, connecting with my characters as I connected with the keys that carried me along.  That anything would hinge on who did what never occurred to me.
     But yesterday I started to sort out maybe not exactly what had happened to my daughter Madeleine.  But only some of it.  I think.  I can't be really sure.  This much I know for sure: she is dead.  And 
somebody might have killed her.
      I got the most beautiful picture of her, recent, pulled together like a teenage model, sent me by her dearest friend, the sad way life works out, her own life pulled together many miles away. Sending me the loveliest picture of Madeleine, looking like the supermodel it would have made her happy to be. Only dead at just turned 50.  A bad dream.
    I had an actual bad dream last night, the first I have had, at least I am aware of having, where I didn't know anybody in it, or where I was: it was a museum, I think someplace like Philadelphia, only I have been in Philadelphia and this place was foreign to me.  Filled with uptight, aloof people, who didn't know who I was, and didn't care.  And I was inarticulate, and frightened.  Knowing nothing, most especially why I was there, or where 'there' was.  And then I realized I was dreaming, and woke, abruptly, remembering Madeleine was dead.
    My poor little girl.  This is all so hard, and hard to believe.  Europe shattering, Trump re-surfacing yet again, and Madeleine dead.

Friday, June 24, 2016

MADELEINE

Strangely, I was in my drugstore in Beverly Hills when I received news of my daughter’s death.  She was just turned fifty years old, and when last I saw her she was really pretty.
     She’d had her nose fixed when she was still a student at Beverly High, which most of the girls who didn’t consider themselves pretty enough—almost all of them—did.  Disappointed with the job her surgeon had done, cute but not chiseled enough—she nonetheless held her impression of herself high—or so it seemed.  My husband was still alive, so she had her protector and maybe that helped keep her out of trouble.  Or so I thought, but then… what did I know?  I was so busy being a writer.
      It seems I am still or again like that now.  Waiting for my son to come pick me up outside the doctor’s office and pharmacy where I found myself, sort of providentially, when I got the sorrowful news, I have my Macbook in my lap, and, strangely less than emotional, am just writing.  Weird that I should be back in Beverly Hills, in front of his office when I get the news. Walked here this morning after waking at four-thirty, seven thirty New York time, back yesterday, in time to be here for news of Madeleine’s death.
     Madeleine.  Born at the tippy-top, nearly, of our marriage.  A show opening on Broadway at the same time as our daughter was being born, my husband associate producer as a way of salvaging his career, imploded from the beginning.  Poor Don.  Sweetest man in the world, not easy coming from the Bronx.  Had the option of an easier life had he chosen being crooked.
     But as he was honest, and not self-aggrandizing, he might have undersold himself.  So in Hollywood he was doomed, from the beginning.


      Maybe Madeleine was, too.  When she was born, her Grandma Helen, which she wasn't to be called, lest she sound like she was old, said: "She has pretty eyes.  The rest we can fix.
      And because it was Beverly Hills, we did.  Not always by the right people.  But she seemed satisfied, except for how gorgeous she wasn’t exactly, in spite of it all.  And how easy it wasn’t.
       I was just back from New York, sitting in the forecourt of my doctor’s office, when I got the terrible news.  The phone rang. It was the banker who handles Madeleine’s inheritance from her grandfather, who’d been Mayor of Tucson.  “I don’t know how
to do this,” the banker said, his throat audibly closing.  “I’ve never had to do this before.” 
     I thought he was going to tell me she’d been arrested.  My mind leapt to everything I would have to do to try and make the sentence less grave.  Instead, he told me she was dead.
     Somehow, it seemed a touch less terrible.  That, apparently, is how it is in Southern California. Death is somehow a touch less horrible than a child’s being in terrible trouble.  Or at least it appears that way until you get a chance to think about it, to sort it out.  If death can be sorted out.