Wednesday, August 27, 2014



Struck by a pram
In Amsterdam
Where no one pays too much attention
She flew quite high
Towards a sapphire sky
And entered another dimension
Where the air seemed clearer
And God seemed nearer

Monday, August 25, 2014

RETURN TO WOODY ALLEN

The first and only job I ever had, I shared office space with Woody Allen. There was something at NBC called the Comedy Development Program, headed by a clever promoter named Les Colodny, who signed everybody young and funny and bright he could, so of course Woody was among them.  He was already smarter than I, coming into the office only on Friday, the day we got paid.  The rest of the time he was out selling his material that he was supposed to be giving to NBC, to individual comedians.  I, on the other hand, came in every day with a sitcom, a comedy song, an idea for a musical comedy which I gave to Tad Danielewski I think it was spelled, who was in love with the diminutive dancer Sondra Lee who'd played Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, so I wrote a musical for her, too.  And meanwhile, Woody was out selling his material.
    I didn't know him well enough to like or dislike him, but as I remember he was pretty dismissive in the office as it could hardly capture his focus.  I was not long afterwards to become friends with Jean Doumanian, the sharp and attractive woman who put up money for his projects, partnered as she was with Jacqui Safra, of the Swiss banking family, purported to be the richest in the world.  I used to see them out having dinner together in all the right places, looking like they probablys enjoyed each other's company, though you could never tell when Woody was having that good a time, as dour was his expression, pronounced 'joyless.'  When he left Mia Farrow and took up with Soon-Yi, and it all began being about money and lawsuits, and humor more or less left the picture, at least the one off-screen, he sued Jean and Jacqui.  When they went to court and Woody couldn't remember the names of all his movies, the judge, apparently a fervent fan supplied them. When that judge gave down his verdict, that Jacqui and Jean should give Woody
something like eight million dollars, Jacqui, according to someone who was in the courtroom, just kind of shrugged.  As in, "Oh.. is that all this fuss was about."
      Now I don't know if he molested the little girl Mia had adopted, or who he may have screwed really or spiritually.  But I do know he has made a movie a year, and only a couple of them have been really good. Still, when you make a movie a year you do become a
force, and in some circles a legend.   But you by the umpteenth one should have at least learned to variegate your music.  
    I found myself sitting today in the Tusimski theatre, in the middle of Amsterdam, an incredibly elaborate movie house created by a Polish movie fan in 1922, revving up for my return to the USA if the volcano in Iceland where the plane from here stops, stops exploding, wondering why someone clearly so clever, and a musician, couldn't have expanded aurally, as it were.  I get that the titles stay branded, the print he's always used.  But the soulless old music, clever as it might have been in the era it was created, grates on the spirit, which I assume he has. I mean, even perverts and child molesters, not that I'm drawing any conclusions, have spirits, though it may be a dark one. 
     But the movie was empty of anything that made you care.  Interesting, as I saw Colin Firth, who is its star, in A Single Man yesterday, and it tore my heart out.  But you have to have a heart to touch someone else's.

Friday, August 22, 2014

RECOVERING IN AMSTERDAM

So the lovely Fiona, fair flower of Northern Ireland, came in like the angel she is, just at the right moment to straighten me out, sort of.  I have not been Myself, whoever She is, having been so unsettled by various computer crises(is that the plural?) that I literally lost my way, at one point could not remember where I lived, and when I got a taxi driver to consider taking me there, was told, rather scathingly, that it was the "Jewish section." So was uncovered what is not exactly a hotbed of anti-Semitism, the climate in Amsterdam being too cold and wet to allow for that description, but was, most certainly, a strong indication that the problem that has long plagued what I cannot deny are my people, still exists Big Time.  
     I first understood that on this sojourn when the Chinese doctor, (he says he is, though there is no evidence of a medical education as we insist on it, everything being overpriced herbs) said "those Jews, they think they are God," and I realized I was friendless in Amsterdam.  This is not considering Daniel, the fine,  cheery and handsome Brit who sat beside me on the plane from Glasgow, more or less the reason why I had the courage to take this bold and ballsy step, not to mention the apartment, or the darling young couple whose baby waved to me across the canal, a distance it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone can see, but Fiona assures me one year olds can and babies are her specialty, or the lovely woman who runs Filter, the coffee shop/hostel downstairs. 
     But the truth of it is I am an older woman, and this is a curious time of life to strike out anew, especially in this climate-- meaning not only the way the world is, but someplace where, apparently, any good weather has been an accident, and will clearly not come again.  And this village-- it truly cannot be called a city-- that saved Anne Frank, for a while, anyway, might not have done so if it had been a communal decision.  The Dutch were apparently more than willing, eager, you might say, to give up their Jews to the Nazis.     All of this particularly fascinating to me because I have never really thought of myself as a Jew, except in the presence of anti- Semitism.  I was privileged to go to Bryn Mawr, where they did not ask you on your application what your religion was, and some of my best friends were Gentiles, and had names like 'Muggy.' 
     So it is clearly time to go home, wherever that is.  It is harder now because there are no longer travel agents leaning over counters being eager and helpful, and I am, obviously, cloddish on the computer.  But I will find a way, and get there, and, hopefully get the suitcase I left at the Marriott in London, returned to the one next door to me on Central Park South.
     This is the first time in my life, I think, that I have given up on an adventure.  But then I have defined adventure in several of my novels, and in one of them, as "you don't know how it will turn out," which was certainly the case in this version.
    I love you all, whoever you are, and am touched that there are people I don't know who have actually been reading this.  Stay well and hope that the world, eventually, will be a better place.
     Fiona reminded me that I gave Peter Mandelson, 'the Prince of Darkness' as he is known in political circles in the UK, a copy of the Happy book when I first went to Northern Ireland.  So apparently I was either as audacious and nervy as he is, in a slightly more charming way, or really stupid.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MARLON BRANDO HIMSELF


So as another of my vintage disappears, I start cleaning up my files and find this piece I wrote about Brando, that I guess I’d better get out there while there are those who still remember and are curious about him.

MARLON BRANDO AND THE BOYS(AND GIRLS) IN THE BAQ ROOM


        There was a place in New York on Sixth Avenue in the Fifties (decade and blocks) behind the Midtown Café and Bar called the Baq Room.  I was introduced to it by its doyenne, the brilliant and bellicose singer Janice Mars, who performed all the best cabaret songs a couple of times nightly, with a small, very hip, or maybe they were hep then, band of musicians.  Regular patrons included Marlon Brando, who, with a group of Janice’s very “In” admirers, paid the rent.  It was very dark in the Baq Room, but you could still make out the famous faces: Tennessee Williams was there, and Judy Holliday, who brought Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Christopher Plummer, Lauren Bacall with Jason Robards, Maximilian Schell with his sister Maria, Anna Magnani, who was, Janice was later to say, the best audience she ever had, Curt Jurgens, and one time even Thornton Wilder. 
            Marlon had had an affair with Janice, and then, when he dumped her, as he had done and would do for all his dumpees, paid for her analysis. Having the foresight to know any woman he was finished with would be undone, he threw a carom shot of compassion to the wreck he was sure they would become.  And so it was that he underwrote Janice’s psychological (and probably spiritual) collapse.  They were never again lovers, but for the rest of their lives he kind of watched over her, telling her, when they disagreed on the phone, ‘Fuck you!”  She would offer him the same and then one or the other would hang up, and they would never speak again for the rest of their lives until the next time.
            In those early days, when he was young and hunky, Marlon backed Janice in the Baq Room.  And while he still roamed as a free spirit, she followed after him when there was an acting job, which he of course had the power to proffer to any and all of his friends. 
        It was the time when the entertainment business belonged to him.  He had just emerged not as an actor, but a force.  He had already transfixed Broadway in “Streetcar Named Desire,” and now he had moved his magnetism onto the screen.  There wasn’t a theatre owner in the country who would have turned him down if he wanted to perform onstage.
            And he did.  Plagued by the impressionists who mumbled in imitation of him, he determined to show that he could be articulate.  So it was he decided to direct and star in “Arms and The Man,” by George Bernard Shaw.
            I was a would-be songwriter at the time, still in school, and like most young women who weren’t crazy, and a few who were, I was in love with Marlon Brando.  Janice tried to brush away some of my naivete, and became a friend.
            I had met her through some Actor’s Studio friends early in my college career, having written a song she’d heard about, and wanted to sing.  Like a surprising number of the theatrically gifted, she was from Nebraska, in her case Lincoln.  Marlon was from Omaha.  During spring break of my sophomore year, she took me to Carnegie Hall—the side door that elevatored up to private apartments—telling me she wanted me to meet someone.  We were halfway down the parquet-floored hall to whoever it was’ apartment, when I heard the shouted-muttered “Hey, Jannnnnnnnnnice!” like it was “Stellllllllaaa,” and my heart stopped.  It was, of course, his Brutal Himself, still wonderfully in shape and indescribably beautiful.  It is hard for those who have seen him only in his later,
porked-up years to imagine how manly breathtaking Brando was.  But there are the films: besides ‘Streetcar,’ ‘The Men,’ ‘On The Waterfront,’’The Young Lions.’  You can skip ‘Julius Caesar.’  Mady Christians, who had starred with him on Broadway in ‘I Remember Mama’ said it was lucky he had broken his nose, or he would have been pretty as a girl.
            So at Janice’s instruction, I sang him the song, a comedy number called ‘Sex,’ knees and voice shaking.  As I sang he made bongos out of Janice’s chest—he’d pulled her down across his lap on a great, sunken leather chair, and played her like drums, breaking rhythm from time to time to pull a hair, or an imagined hair, from between her breasts.  When I finished singing, he narrowed his eyes, examined me like I was Blanche, and murmured “Not bad.  Not bad.  Tell me about yourself, kid.”  So I anxiously chattered what little history I had, ending up with where I went to college.
      He pursed his lips and elegantly Katherine Hepburned “OOOOOOOOOOooooooooo, Brrrrrynnnnnnnn Maawwwwwwwwr.”  I was at once humiliated and in complete thrall.  So when Janice invited me to visit her in summer stock, at the Falmouth Playhouse, in Falmouth, Massachussetts, where she would be playing opposite him in ‘Arms and the Man,’ which he would also be directing, I was there in an audible heartbeat.
            I shared a cottage that summer with Maureen Stapleton, the great actress and too vulnerable human being.  We agreed that no one knew what it meant to be unhappy unless they had weighed a hundred and eighty-two pounds in high school, which we both had.  While Marlon rehearsed his company during the day, at night Maureen performed in ‘Three Men on a Horse,’ with Sam Levene and Marlon’s best friend, also from Nebraska, Wally Cox.  Wally was an enormously bright, diminutive, tender-hearted man, who’d become a television star playing ‘Mr. Peepers.’  He was as gentle as Marlon was truculent, and I often thought his very early death not too long after was the corner Brando turned into belligerent and bestial.  Wally was the only man Marlon trusted completely, and sweet soul that he was, wouldn’t have let his best friend get away with all that self-indulgent shit. 
           I was, needless to say, thrilled to be in that company.  Marlon teased me mercilessly—many mornings we sat at the same table for breakfasts where I could hardly swallow, as I ate one blueberry at a time.  I was in my teens and fat.  “You on a diet, kid?” he would ask me, while I turned the color of what I was eating.
            He took the role of the pompous Sergio in Shaw’s play.  He was awful.  He never could do comedy.
        Nor could he, apparently, direct all that well—let us never forget he was later to get Stanley Kubrick fired from ‘One-Eyed Jacks,’ taking over the task himself, so it was slower than even Kubrick might have made it.  But in spite of Brando’s apparent limitations, I was no less smitten, my adolescent romanticism reinforced by the fact that he was clever.  He stood at the back of the empty theater scowling at the very gray set, admonishing the set designer.  “This is Shaw, for Christ’s sake, not Gorki,” he said.  “It looks like ‘The Lower Depths.’
            “There’s only one thing wrong with this play,” murmured Janice, who was playing Luca opposite him.  Janice had a lady’s baritone voice, so the insights she had, which were considerable and cantankerous, always sounded more profound, because they resonated,   “The whole fucking company’s in love with the leading man.”  Others in the cast were Mendy Wager, William Redfield, Marlon’s good friend Sam Gilman, one of those he was to keep around him in films for the rest of Sam’s life, as he kept Phil and Marie Rhodes, Phil as his make-up man, and Marie, his wife, as Marlon’s stand-in.
            For a couple of years after I got out of college, I inside-tracked Brando.   In my earliest days in Hollywood I became friends with Josianne Mariani, his first cast-off fiancée.  He’d met her when she was working as au pere for the Lee Strasbergs in New York.  Like almost everyone who studied under Lee at the Actor’s Studio, Marlon regarded his mentor as father-figure.  So I wondered what the Freudian implications were at his scooping up the nanny.  She’d gone with him to Hollywood at his bequest, and became his first public fiancée to be dismissed.
       I stood with Josianne one smoggy foggy night outside his house in the Hollywood Hills, as she pounded on his door, begging to be let in.  He opened the little iron-crossed gate that was the peephole, and, impervious to her pleas, slammed it shut.  It was a devastating scene, one I recreated in my first novel, Naked in Babylon, which Pennebaker Productions, Marlon’s company, made a faint attempt to buy, I imagined to suppress it.  I had a couple of meetings with the company’s president, who was Marlon Brando, Senior, a quietly impressive gentleman.  It was enough for me as a fledgling novelist in Hollywood to have meetings, not least of all with someone of that name.  When the book created no stir with its publication, the interest disappeared, as is the story with most writers’ love affairs with Hollywood.  Unlike his son, Marlon Brando, Sr. didn’t pay for your therapist when he lost interest in you.  But then, neither does anyone else.
            I stayed friends with Josianne, a fragile, lovely woman, visiting her some years later in Bandol in the south of France, where she’d returned to stay with her mother and fisherman step-father, as a kind of high-profile pariah.  Marlon was at the time of their split, the biggest celebrity in the world, and the French press, though not yet on the level of ‘Hello,’ marked her rejected movements as she tried to hold herself erect as she went back home.  She was later to settle there with her husband, Christian, who’d had a minor role in ‘The Young Lions.’  Marlon had introduced them.  As noted, he always took a kind of care of those whose lives he’d smashed.
            It was a lot of years before I saw him again, in the too-too solid flesh.  My husband, Don, always guarded in the presence of men I’d felt anything for, said, at the Good Earth restaurant in Westwood, “There goes your great love.  He’s turned into Sydney Greenstreet.”  And so he had, complete with Panama hat.  That great and beautiful and, one hopes, sensitively gifted man, an enormously fat caricature of the greatest star of my lifetime.



            When she got older, Janice moved to New Mexico, where she read to veterans, and fed the birds, that she believed were angels.  Her relationship with Marlon continued, sort of.  He had an acetate of a record she cut in the Sixties, of all the Baq Room songs, and kept it always in his desk drawer.  Her nephew, Casey, got it from him, and made it into a CD.
            “Jannnnnnnniiiceeee,” she imitated Marlon’s commanding slur as she related their conversation when he had listened to it again.  “You’re not a good singer.”
            “I know,” she told me she said.
            “You’re a GREAT singer.”
            “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said.
            “You’re ridiculous,” he said back.
            And then one or the other, or both hung up, after chorusing “Fuck You, Fuck You!” 
            She called him back and asked him how long he was going to live.  “To a hundred and twenty-five,” he’d answered.
            “With that weight?”
            “I’ve lost a hundred pounds,” he’d told her.
            “Why would you want to live to a hundred and twenty-five?” she’d asked.
            “Out of curiosity,” was his rejoinder. 
  

            Well, obviously he didn’t make it.  I was out of the country that winter, and when I returned, I found out that Janice had died.  Once his friends were almost all gone, I was afraid he wouldn’t stay long.    He didn't.

Friday, August 01, 2014

AMSTERDAM DIGS, Thanks to Rosie

Could not wait to leave Paris. Walked miles on the Champs-Elysees on a sweltering day, found my old hood, ate dinner in a restaurant downstairs from where I used to live where they brag Sarkozy eats there— they don’t mind his being a criminal—spent most of Sunday with Victor Hugo, his intense, handsome bust by Balzac at the Musee D’Orsay after Saturday at the Louvre, with 30,000 visitors a day and four toilets, none of them with seats.  Tells you all you need to know about the French.
Had dinner Sunday with my old upstairs neighbors now moved to the nearby Androit I think it’s spelled, and then went to find my old first career, in a boîte, the Mars Club, now an “Urban Lounge” it says on the menu, called Le Confidentiel.  This after reconnecting with my lovely long-ago neighbors from the rue de la Pompe, the Kellers, parents of my great Long-Ago love, Gaspard, who was two when I first adored him, and is now 18, but was away.
   All in all, a pleasant enough sojourn in a place that is really in love with itself.  But am happy to be back in Amsterdam, and even happier to find out I am happy to be back.
Love and xx Little Dutch Gwen


Thursday, July 31, 2014

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER SEAGULL

There is something quite literally uplifting about having a bird that would normally be winging past you at sea, sail by your front terrace.  As I have learned, the Dutch, being mainly a seafaring lot,  not intimidated by this vast expanse of water, drove down pylons or whatever they're called, stuck them in the sand and built Amsterdam.
     Having spent a delightful day this past weekend looking at windmills in the place where they have become both a commemoration of the land this once was, and a tourist attraction, especially for Asians, the prettiest of them, or certainly the would-be chicest, not that I mean to be judgmental, in long dresses with sparkles.  All of this is a learning experience for me, which everything is supposed to be, really.  But it is especially exciting since I am learning to take joy from what isn't.  That is to say, the mantel of calm I always hoped would descend on me seems to have.  So except for the occasional panic attack, I feel really content to be here.
    This assumed serenity is gently exacerbated, one of my favorite aggressive words, by the clipping I received from my brilliant friend Joanna Rose, the obituary of Eileen Ford, the head of the famous modeling agency, in which I am mentioned, having tangled with her on the Dick Cavett show.  It is the second time I have been in an obituary in The New York Times without having to die, and I think there is some kind of distinction in that.  The first time was with the death of a gently heartbroken, as I remember, psychoanalyst or at least psychologist, though I am not sure, who was one of the teachers or mentors of Jeffrey Masson, the psychologist who sued Janet Malcolm for libel, which trial I covered for The Nation-- thank you, Victor-- and they quoted what I wrote about him in his obituary.  I would like to say, very much off the record, that though I am glad she won, as her lawyer, Gary Bostwick, is one of the radiantly smart and funny people I have met in my life, and went on to become my friend, or, rather, I chased him down until he did, I found her afterwards to be as cold a piece of humanity, and I am being generous, as I have ever encountered,  Chilling, actually.  Never have I rooted so strongly, in principle, for someone, although I believe I was quite evenhanded in the article, and then been so disappointed in who they actually were.  But that's enough of that, lest she sue me.
    So here I am in my loft, having been twice in a NY Times obituary, with still some life ahead of me, five stories or maybe four depending how they count it, above my canal.  Tied to the dock below are several small boats, and tethered to the building next door a big one, on which parties are held with some regularity, as they seem to be across the canal as well.  There are three picnic tables on three separate terraces and there were three separate parties where people didn't seem to interact, so it would be hard to crash, especially as I don't know how to get to the front of the buildings.  But it all seems quite friendly.  
    Now all I have to do is learn to speak Dutch.  It is not the prettiest language in the world, to put it mildly, as if you were clearing your throat and getting ready to spit.  But they are really lovely people.  Lekker.  That will give you some idea.  That's how you say good, or tasty, or delicious.  Talk about a turn-off.  But not everything can be Mooi.  I think that's how you spell it. And that means beautiful.  Pronounced Muu-eee.  Can you believe it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ZAANSE SCHANS

Is it a wonder I am reluctant to try and learn their language.  Still, as these are the nicest people in the world -- and I have been there-- I am making an actual effort, no matter how awful it sounds, or, even worse, feels, where you actually have to clear your throat on a great many of the words, and I imagine they think that's pretty.
   But Sunday, the good Daniel and his troop, the lovely Marlies, her adorable Zoe, the on-her-way-to-stardom, India, and the resident tourist, me, all went to this citadel of windmills and wooden shoes, where along with the ancient sails(they are actually called, and I am fearful to ask what they're called in Dutch) still turn in the wind and you can get a guided tour if you want to, through the ancient fields or marshes or whatever they are, along with elegant Japanese ladies in full formal dress, to the ground, or the floor, or the pebbles, whatever it is.  I have, by the way, begun to completely forgive the cobblestones of Amsterdam, having discovered on this excursion that it is because the whole city is placed on turf so uncertain, that they have frequent need to pull up portions of what would anyplace else be considered a sidewalk, and the way it is, they have only to pull up a few of the stones at a time instead of breaking up what would otherwise be a great expanse.  All of this could have been avoided of course if they hadn't decided to build a place in the middle of what would usually be considered an ocean.  But then, I might not be having such an interesting time.
      So we had a beautiful touristic day in this unpronounceable remnant of what was once, I guess, the power system of an entire nation.  Everybody had pancakes, which the legitimate residents actually had with ham and cheese on them UNDER the floods of syrup. whereas I, being a woman of what is seen here as odd taste, elected to have them simply with apples.  I understand that all of this is less than room-rocking information, but if I live to be much older I imagine I will one day want to look back at what has made this unlikely adventure so interesting, so I had best make note. Then we came back in time for the torrential rains of Sunday, unusual even for watery Amsterdam, so even though Daniel is the offspring of clergy, and espouses being a non-believer, I can't help thinking we were blessed to have gone when we did, or, at the hard-headed outside, really lucky.
     Now it is late Sunday afternoon, and I, once again, consider myself blessed, as the rains wiped out the open market that would have been there yesterday, when I was determined to buy what I had remembered as an irresistible wooden statue of a clown.  I had spent all night trying to place it in my head in my New York apartment where there is no room for anything, hardly even me.  But I am happy to say that when I went back today it wasn't as I remembered, and I didn't want it at all.  Saved by the rains.
     I understand that all of this sounds trivial and ridiculous, but that is the wonder of it.  I am having a really good time with what is trivial, and so maybe not so ridiculous.  Maybe it is Life that is meant to be the true celebration, not just having your books published or your children turning out interesting or your musical opening on Broadway.  Although none of those would be so terrible, really.  Do you think?