Tuesday, August 25, 2015

FLYING TO BROADWAY

There was a review in yesterday’s, or maybe it was Saturday’s NYTimes of a Sue Mengers biography,  by someone looking to remember or profit from her.  Sue was my best friend, a curious word to apply to her as it turned out, when we were both starting out as young women—baby girls we might have considered ourselves at the time, when everything was cute, and dialogue was witty, and both of us were dating… no, really… Billy Rose.
      He was just as short as fabled, and probably even richer than the stories went, and had a limo that he picked you up in that then parked outside the 6th Avenue Delicatessen, where he actually took you to dinner.  He was cruder—is that a word?—than the legends had it, but balanced off the low level of his diction with the mythic  height of his friends, so old, of course, that you needed to look them up on what would have been the era’s Internet, if something like that existed, which it probably didn’t.  You would have had to call Gore Vidal who likely knew all that shit. 
     Billy took me to a few adventures in his limo—the black tie premiere of Lord Jim—a visit to his Fifth Avenue mansion, where there was in the front hall a statue that I confuse with Moses or something by Rodin, or maybe it really was The Thinker, borrowed or maybe stolen for a brief period of time from the museum in Paris.  Standing in front of that statue on Billy’s Fifth Avenue marble staircase, I was borderline ga-ga, there on the landing with tiny, old Billy behind me, and he actually said: “I know what you’re thinking: you’d like to ball him, right?”
      That was a line I used in The Pretenders, my bestseller—the only one I had since I never had that clever a publisher or such good timing again—the name of which inspired the singing group, a happy fact I didn’t learn until a number of years later when their lead singer told me they named themselves after my novel.  Meanwhile, Sue, truly my best friend, something she could still afford to be at the time, being my agent and Tom Korman’s partner, had stolen Phyllis Rabb’s client list from William Morris, and begun reaching out to all of them—clawing more likely.  There was no one cleverer, or, little round person that she was, cuter, in her lovely-skinned, chubby way.  When my novel came out and became a bestseller we had one moment where she might have expressed her feeling of betrayal—I’m not sure.  But I am sure she never expected me to be a success, so the fact that the novel lifted me to some kind of temporary prominence, though it never matched hers, irritated her.
     She didn’t speak to me for a big number of her superstar years, until a later novel, SILK LADY, revived and updated her character, though I’d had no contact with her for years.  It was, she phoned me to say, eerily on target about how she spoke and felt about everything. For a moment we were as close during that conversation as we’d been in our sort-of-girlhoods.
       It was shortly after Don died, -- he had really loved her in our early days, when we all hung out together.  She ended the conversation with “Most of all, I remember how much he loved you,” and hung up.  I tried to get her back, as I was to do over and over again in the coming years, but she never re-opened the door.  Control was her big issue.
      I saw her once after that, at Gladyce Begelman’s memorial, when she expressed her anger at my having told Liz Smith, lovingly as I remember, of that last phone conversation.  Then I saw her the last time, outside Phil Scully’s restaurant, when she tried to run me down in her Mercedes.  So you could say the friendship ended badly.  But I think, all in all, I probably held her in higher regard than she held herself.
     That she is still being talked of, or, at least, written about, albeit not very well, according to the review, is some indication of the energy she had, the force she was.  The play about her that I saw was not as sharp as she was.  There’s a production of it now off Broadway.  So I guess, in her own way, for a while at least, she has become immortal.
         What’s interesting to me, as me, for me, is that I still miss her. But then I never knew the tough nut she became.  I knew only the sharp young woman she was.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PUGGY'S BIRTHDAY

Today is the birthday of my stepfather, Saul Schwamm, affectionately known as 'Puggy', for the underthrust of his jaw, and, I wouldn't be surprised, his attitude.  Ready, more often than not, for an argument, he was also surprisingly kind and insightful, and, probably, a romantic.  My novel, The Motherland, ostensibly about my mother, the captious, facetious, and spectacularly original Helen Finkelstein Davis Schwamm, was, more pointedly about him, an incredibly touching and sensitive man who was forced by reality to abandon what deep yearnings he had for greatness as it manifested in his time slot, and become a stock broker, a trader on Wall Street, half of a duo consisting of him and his older brother Harvey.
    The day Roosevelt closed the banks, they took an ad in the Wall Street Journal saying-- approximately, I think: "Business will be conducted as usual in the offices of Schwamm and Co."  So everyone in the world who wanted to trade that day had to do it through their company . So they made eleven million dollars in one day.  Today that would probably be many multiples of that.
    Naturally they were despised, and considered and called Jews.
    Puggy was an extremely sensitive man, a secret dreamer, probably a poet had he had a pen late at night in bed, when it turned out his wife was less or other than she seemed.  The first one was sickly, an invalid, mother of his brilliant but troubled and clumsy son, Mickey,-- the second was, my mother, the zappy, charming, clever, secretly bitchy and destructive and probably crazy Helen, the third was Kathy, maybe with a C, the Gentile heiress who had been engaged to his son, probably the reason for Mickey's  attempted suicide, and later an alcoholic. How much later I do not know for sure, as it was my creative task and pleasure to pull this all together for what was my really good novel THE MOTHERLAND which Michael Korda, an excellent editor except when it came to supporting my book said was "the only book we are publishing this Spring," though he forgot about a little thing called "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN."  
     So Fiction hit up against reality, and the near collapse of the United States, and as I said, wittily I was sure, God had to choose between saving our country and my novel.  It was a heartbreak I could hardly feel at the time I was so busy being political, having been adopted by many prominent Republicans in Washington at the time-- I was staying in the home of Gerald Warren, the Deputy Press Secretary under Nixon, my best friend being Muggy Hoffmann, wife of Martin Hoffmann, underSecretary of the Army, and best friend himself of Donald Rumsfeld, too clever to seem the villain he turned out to be.  Somehow I was in all the front rows of the trials taking place at the time, and had I been smart enough to parlay it all into Huffingtonian shit, I probably would have become a political figure myself.  Instead, I just really loved my country, and worried about what would happen to it.
     Truly I hadn't a clue.
     That I am still alive to be able to grieve for my favorite, Benjamin Franklin, at what has become of the country he was so clever as to imagine could lift the rest of the world into intelligence, is, I suppose, its own kind of miracle.  In any and all cases, I am more or less happy for Puggy that he is not here on his birthday to see that things became even worse than he could have anticipated.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Children of the Greats

THERE NEVER WAS A SMARTER PERSON at Bryn Mawr than Joanna Semel now Rose, and that is really saying Something.  Even the most stupid woman, girl, whatever we were, someone who couldn't have gotten in in the first place, was smarter than almost anyone on the outside, and smartest of them was Joanna.  So the publication of her daughter Emily's book, THE MURDER OF WILLIAM OF NORWICH should be a cause of celebration among people who think, a less than universal category.  Rush to your local bookstore if one exists, and try to keep it and thinking in business.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

MIXING MEMORY AND DESIRE

So the young and still very beautiful Marlon Brando is on the front of the theatre section of the New York Times today, holding his baby Christian.  Taking all things personally, which I do, I gently seize this as a sign that my life, too, may re-begin.
     It was all these many years ago, when as a Junior at Bryn Mawr, and an aspiring songwriter,  I met a woman named Janice Mars, who wanted to sing a song of mine called 'SEX.'  Everybody wanted to sing it, (it was clever and funny, road company-young- girl-Cole Porter) and Janice invited me to come into New York to meet 'Somebody.'  We rendezvoused  at the Carnegie Hall apartments, getting off the elevator at a high floor, to the resonating cry of 'Eeeeeh, Janice!" in that unmistakeable voice.  There was at the time no greater star in the world than Marlon Brando, and, I really believe, in spite of all the damage he did to himself in the following years, there never would be a greater star.  Not with the impact he had, the way he was then, when I had the teenager-y ecstasy of hanging out with him as he did his later-that-summer- summer stock "Arms and the Man," in Falmouth Massachussetts, so all his friends could work, including Janice.
     "Sing it to me, kid," he said that day at the Carnegie Towers, as he whopped Janice back down across his lap, and picked imaginary(I think they were) hairs from her chest, and beat on it the rhythm of the song I was singing.
     "Not bad, not bad," he said, when I was finished, still shaking. "Tell me about yourself, kid."  So I did, voice quavering, ending with "And I go to Bryn Mawr."
    "Oooooooo, Ba-rynnnnn Mahwahrrrrrrr," he Katharine Hepburned, perfectly.
    So apparently meeting with his approval,  I was invited up to the Falmouth Playhouse, where I got to room with Maureen Stapleton, another good friend of theirs.  She was there doing "Three Men on a Horse" with Wally Cox, Marlon's best buddy. 
    It was, as you might imagine, an enchanted time, in spite of my being unhappily overweight, ("You on a diet, kid?" Marlon said to me at dining hall breakfast, as I set aside three blueberries.  "It's okay, I just think most girls are prettier thin."  Considering what was to happen to him, it seems beyond ironic.  I last saw him at a wedding at the Hotel Bel-Air, where he was so huge as to be unrecognizable, except for the "V" at the base of the back of his hair. )
    "There's your great love," my husband, always solicitous and always jealous of my infatuations said as we saw him sitting on a bench in the garden.  "He's turned into Sydney Greenstreet."  
    And so he had.
    So it was great, seeing Marlon yesterday, digitalized on the screen in the film they've made from his own obsessive collecting of his own career record, remembering how brilliant he was, sorrowing that his life brought him so little happiness, so few moments of real laughter, the comedy he was so inept at playing, but so enjoyed. 
     Then I took a break for some Japanese food, and went back to see another of my attachments, Gore Vidal, in his miffed debates with William F. Buckley.  I never much liked Buckley, but never felt compassion for him like I did yesterday.
    We had been in Rome, my husband Don and I, when the feared, ferocious, and very funny when she wasn't being mean agent Sue Mengers, still my great friend at the time, told me to call Gore.  He was at the time as big a name as there was in the literary and theatrical world, and I was more than thrilled when he invited us to come for a drink, to his rooftop(I believe it was) overlooking everything, except other people's failings.
     Apparently we passed the cocktail audition.  We were asked to continue on to dinner, in some good (everything is) Italian restaurant, along with one of Andy Warhol's flower-named pseudo-celebs, or maybe it was a sort-of color: Ultra-Violet.
      "Are you wearing contact lenses?" Gore asked me during dinner.
      "No," I said.
      "It's just that your eyes are so beautiful I thought you must have something in them."
       Dazzled is too mild a word for what I felt.  To be hit on by one of the world's most celebrated and certainly most articulate  homosexuals!  I could hardly speak for the rest of the evening.  
    Don was infuriated.  "It just shows what a pervert you are," he said when we got back to our hotel, "that you enjoy the company of Gore Vidal."
      Well, I did. And he, apparently, liked mine.  When Don died-- much too soon-- Gore invited me to come visit him in Ravello.  He waited for me like an eager schoolboy at the trellised entryway to the path along the cliff to the home he shared with his longtime companion Howard Austen, who was not very happy I'd come.  "Gore didn't tell me you were coming," Howard miffed, as I joined them for dinner, after a swim in their pool.  They had everything, or so it seemed,
     The dinner was less than joyful. For the rest of my time there, Gore met me at restaurants in town, so Howard wouldn't be angry.
     Gore e was at the time trying to stop drinking.  When I saw the debates last night I fully understood the level of his malice.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the best of our poets said.  But he was wrong.  Hell hath no fury like a brilliant gay man, nettled. 
    For all his brilliance, Gore wasn't in the least bit funny.  And he was mean.
     I felt actual pity for Buckley.
     Then I came home, as I am trying to think of it, and maybe even make it be a little bit, and tried to catch up with my rest,  Also what might be inside my skull, besides memory. And Desire?  Maybe a bit late in my game, unless it is for Marlon, before he morphed into a Grotesque, digitalized.
   




Friday, July 24, 2015

GWENNIE'S WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE, SPECIAL TERRIBLE ADVENTURE


So it would seem I have gotten through it all alive, provided the plane lands.   Having gone through blatant misadventure— that is to say, I went to Amsterdam as a not-really destination, with no real intention of going anywhere, just feeling out of sorts and out of energy, and probably out of luck, the reasonably priced ticket went there, and there was where Daniel was, and Peter, two beautiful friends I have made on my travels.  So I bought a ticket there and from there intended to explore, an intention I abandoned when I got to Bruges as they spell it some places, when I discovered I had been robbed online by someone in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where I have never been and certainly have no intention of ever going.  Stuck in a little overpriced hotel on a canal which everything is in Brugge which is how they spell it there, I went on a tour of churches, in the middle of which Amy at Citi bank called me to alert me to my having been pilfered for my entire account, at which juncture a beautiful white-haired Englishman actually came back out of the tour to see if I was alright, at which point I fell in love.  I understand I will never see him again, and would like to make him into my final fantasy love story, but I don’t know that I have any more Fiction in me.
    It would seem I should pull myself together for my Memoir, hate the word.  My wonderful friend Barbara Conaty, the great woman at the Library Journal, she used to be, suggested I call it Recollections, I think, and I suppose I’d better do them while I still have them. Had a very long moment— it might have been almost an hour walking by the market place along the canal in Amsterdam, when I really couldn’t remember where it was I was going, or even where it might have been I belonged, if indeed I belonged anywhere.  Sweet Esmir, the tall. smart, kind and wasted(he is brighter than just someone who should just help you learn to master what Steve Jobs left behind) came to visit me at the tiny sanctuary Miriam found for me near my old hood by the canal, having had a fight with his love, the mother of his little boy, which I hope he resolves by the time I finish this adventure.
     What is evident to me is how angry everybody can get about everything, and how confused and confusable we each of us are, with the possible exception of Jack.  In the course of this totally uncharted adventure, I have come across three lovely young women just graduated from Columbia, one of who actually threw discus I think they are spelled, the handsome, thick haired Englishman who actually dropped out of the tour in Bruges to be concerned about me, Peter and Arthur and most touchingly Daniel who I love with my soul but suffer over because he has no clue how smart he is and says he is going to stop smoking but we’ll see, and my new friend from India who’s actually invited me, but I don’t know if I have the energy to set off on that big a trip.  
    Well, I guess we’ll see.  Meantime, I have to fill out the customs form they’ve just handed me on the plane.  Sadly, it feels like the trip was pointless, an adventure that wasn’t one, really.  The definition of Adventure, I wrote in one of my novels, is you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.  I am too old to be in love, except with Daniel, who glistens with the glow of Don, the nicest man who ever lived, though not long enough.  I would like to think there is still something colorful ahead.  Well, let’s start with the plane landing.  One can only hope.
P.S.  The PLANE LANDED!!!  Well, there's a Beginning.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

DAMNED IN AMSTERDAM

So just as in every bad dream, everything comically dark that could happen did.  Except of course that I am still alive, and not quite as old as I could be, and people are kind.
     It is very much the 21st century.  My computer got a virus and someone pilfered my bank account.  A bright woman at City National in Maryland caught it, so I am not bankrupt, including emotionally.  But it was a black adventure on a cloudless day, when I should have been looking at design and purpose as my little boat (not mine, you can't be too literal here) wiffled through the watery byways.  Everything here is worth looking at, including the prostitute or if I weren't trying to sound intelligent-- whore area, where I was saddened to see tourists actually bringing their children.  Not for action, I'm sure-- they looked to be from the South or places where people don't think.  But still-- what could the kids imagine?  I mean they were little, but not little enough not to wonder what those women were doing in doorways with jewels in their belly buttons. More than sad were the women themselves, albeit beautiful.
    I have to take a break now and go to the Apple store, my haven, to have the virus removed from my belly button.  Later.  God willing, if there is a God.
     Now it is Sunday, and I have spent a happy, carefree lunchtime with my beautiful former almost neighbors, the lovely Brits from across the water when I used to live here, Miriam and Fred and baby Zephyr, going to the museum (I think it is,) where everybody seems to take their children to lunch.  Former (Almost) neighbors because I didn't connect with them until I was about to leave Amsterdam, and was struck with a great sense of loss about losing them.  They are so clearly special, making the world a better place with less than a lot of funding(they are in Academe and charity work) and/or ease.  I had forgotten how riddled with rivalry the academic community is, -- not having been involved with it since I was a graduate student at Stanford, a long, long time ago, when the nightmare level of the competition was darkly dazzling--so it is an edge of the chair existence for Fred, a patently selfless scholar who still has to know or at least presume his future is secure, which none of them ever does until he has tenure.  Her job is dependent on funding, and you will be less than stunned to know that there is even worse competition there as she works with Bangladesh and the places we only hear about with child labor and say "How terrible," and then forget about, unless we are Miriam.  Noble souls, selfless, both of them, and probably Zephyr by the time she is four.
     I am hopeful that some dazzlingly clear reason why I made this trip will become evident by the time I leave here.  I am so used to  being in a community-- such as it is, to even call it a community is borderline satirical-- of the self-absorbed, except for Ellen and Amber, that to come in contact with people like this is probably a cleansing. But it has been less than a dance of a holiday.  Hardly a dance at all.  And you need to remember that Gene Kelly was my dancing teacher in Pittsburgh when I was two.  I mean, if you can remember Gene Kelly.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE LOST (PASS)WORD

So I am back in the Apple store in Amsterdam, what has become my security locale. Am bunking in with my beloved Daniel, whose mouse has become my room-mate.  We re-named him Andrew this morning, after my last almost love, the bright, sad comedy writer in New York, sharp as a tack he was, in his tired prime, and still suburban adorable, a word I have come to use too much lately, probably because there is little adorable in my life.  
    As I regard most things in life as a spiritual test, this one is a Biggie.  It is cold, rainy and dark in Amsterdam, but I at least have shelter from a cherished friend.  And that is more, I'm afraid, than I have in the United States, which I don't think we can think of it as at this point.
    Meanwhile, a legal battle is borderline raging, over something I wrote in my long ago youth, a concept that became 'What a Way to Go,' a successful comedy with the young, gifted, and very horny Shirley MacLaine.  She played a woman who wanted to marry for love but all her husbands died funny and soon, making her a richer and richer widow.
     I think I sold that in 1962.  I find it hard to believe how long ago that was. But there is a fight going on over it now, from some people who want to own it and probably make it into a musical, which it should be, as it's funny and lively, or at least it would have been if written by the right people.  Meanwhile a man I thought was a friend, an apparently quite duplicitous man who has never succeeded except in fooling me, has flogged it to a team I consider less than gloriously gifted, and the nice guy who got it from me seems to be getting screwed out of it. 
    And it is raining in Amsterdam, where it is less than welcoming, except in a couple of people I really like, and Andrew the Mouse.
But at least I have come in from the rain, and bumped into the Apple teacher I really like, from Bosnia, yet, with whom I have a date on Friday to meet his 16 month old son who is probably more connected and organized than I am.  The only thing that makes me feel a little better is I could be in Bruges.  Spelled Brugge by the people who live there, who can't seem to find too much that belongs to them, including their own homes.  Only the statue by  Michelangelo-- you remember him-- seems to be easily spotted, and he didn't like it enough to be that happy about it, or Brugge.