Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I had occasion today to go to the Museum of New York, Historical Society it probably adds, though I rarely pay attention to full titles. Mimi's groomer is a few blocks away, and I was determined to spend the time while she fluffs up doing something constructive in the neighborhood, and have meant for some time to see the First Ladies exhibition, which included Eleanor and Jackie. A friend gave me a motto to put on my desk some time ago, a quote from that great Eleanor, saying "Do one thing every day that frightens you," and I have certainly tried.
Today my spirit was slightly shorn before Mimi's coat was, by the news in The New York Times of the split by the Supremes about displaying the Ten Commandments-- they can on the lawn in Texas, they can't in the courthouse in Kentucky-- which threatens our separation of church and state, though not as badly as the right wingers waiting in the wings to blow us into the arms of Jesus would have it. Worse was the news that Matt Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times would be going to jail for refusing to reveal their sources, since the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The issue was the outing of a CIA operative married to a man who rankled the administration. Meanwhile the execrable Robert Novak, who put it in print is out and about, maundering on. The mills of the gods grind slowly, goes the saying, but they grind exceedingly fine. I'm no longer convinced that is the case unless Robert Novak ends up in someone's pablum.
Tonight our(is he ours?) president will make an address on TV about Iraq, and John Kerry who stands very tall once the fight is lost by his own ambivalent palavering wrote an op-ed piece saying what Bush ought to say in his speech, like he's going to listen. We should get out and end it. Of course. Now he takes a strong stand. If I sound like I am angry with not just their candidate but ours, it's because I am. He missed the boat (swift) and now there is no one to stand behind, the reason why we are not marching, according to the opinions of some knowledgeable friends like Victor Navasky, who publishes The Nation, and Sidney Zion who fights with everybody, passionately, though sometimes espousing less than important causes like second-hand smoke, which I must guess he is in favor of, as he is going to write a big piece for Harper's about how it doesn't kill. Victor said Barak Obama is too young and Sidney says he sounds like Osama Bin Laden. Hillary is too polarizing and Dean acts a bit bi-polar, though he is certainly the only one besides Teddy Kennedy who speaks what is on his mind.
Anyway, in the forecourt of the New York Museum is a quote from Gallatin, whoever he was, about Alexander Hamilton: "he made no blunders, committed no frauds." Hamilton's gravestone(it was a blunder to duel with Aaron Burr) is upstairs in the display organized and donated by Henry Luce III, alongside the tombstone of CaptainJames Lawrence, who died at 32 saying "Don't give up the Ship." The memorabilia about all these true patriots seems particularly heart-rending at this time, especially when, on the way back to pick up Mimi one dashes into the Museum of Natural History, and reads the word carved in their front hall of Teddy Roosevelt's (Eleanor's uncle) that it is "Character that determines the future of individuals and nations alike." Oh, we are in such deep___ --what they cannot print in the New York Times.
I first had occasion to go to The New York Museum when Frank Rich wrote a soul-searing article about the 9-11 exhibit there, where you could sit, and slow-breathed, watch the second plane in what seemed like slow motion leisurely glide into the Tower, as well as the unraveling of film from a dropped video camera that recorded much of the rest of it-- people running and screaming in confusion and disbelief. The second time I went was to see the Jules Feiffer exhibition that included his letter to Laura Bush refusing to come to a White House dinner honoring writers, because of who she was married to. I wonder today where the rest of the people are who will stand up to the bogus pageantry, and say, like Howard Dean in his balanced time, we have to get our country back.
Well, off to the Marlon Brando exhibition at Christie's. I musn't lose all of ,my glitzy focus. Eleanor Roosevelt said that New York became a great city because its populace was 'Unterrified.' I guess that's why Los Angeles never did, great distances aside, since everyone in the motion picture business that kept it stoked was so afraid. Well, as we know, Marlon wasn't. But he still blew it.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Summa is a'comin in

Lewdly sing cuckoo.. That was one of the medieval folk songs we would sing at medieval Bryn Mawr. This merciful Spring, which it was, this soft flow of friendly air that actually wafted, a word I don't think of often because it sounds so stilted and unlikely, was, in this case, gorgeously applicable. People from all over the world who clumped in camera-ready groups around the edges of the lake where Mimi walks every morning, praised the weather of New York and told me how lucky I was to live here. I in turn told them how lucky they were to hit a season where Nature performed as if She were working for Bloomberg, making advocates of visitors, and fans of those who weren;t sure about New York(me.) This, too, shall pass, and, even this morning seems to be passing, the heat waiting in the wings like an anxious ingenue who is afraid nobody will honor her debut. Even the New York Times had an op-ed piece on the weather. It has made people more companionable, a solace for what we are going through politically as our country appears to seep away.
Billy Graham is in Flushing Meadows where I was going to go to hear him for purposes of research, trying to understand where all this is coming from, but I saw him for a few minutes on Larry King and decided it's coming from cant, and there's enough of that around without taking a long subway ride. I would rather just hang out on Central Park South where a sidewalk cafe, Sarabeth's, a cousin of an upper West Side tearoom, has opened, and I can take Mimi as long as we sit at a table next to the iron fence and I keep her outside. She of course sneaks in between the curls of metal to be at my feet,but there is only one hostess who makes a fuss. I came there two weeks ago and there was a pleasant looking woman occupying one of the tables I needed to be at, so I asked if she was starting or finishing, and she said 'Finishing' and invited me to sit down. I accepted gratefully, tied Mimi up and introduced myself. "Did you go to LAke Bryn Mawr Camp?" she asked me when she'd heard my name; I said, 'Yes.' and she said "I'm Nancy Rivlin." We hadn't seen each other since we were eleven. Lake Bryn Mawr Camp, Honesdale, Pa., where all the little girls were sent away by parents who could afford it, to beat the heat and not get polio. When I got into Bryn Mawr College,(no relation) my mother said "Why do you want to go there? You already went there." ANyway Nancy Rivlin was going to go with me to hear Billy Graham but we both opted out. Still I see her there often(that used to be the writer Tommy Thompson's favorite word, 'we'll see each other often,' he would say, and never call again.)
Yesterday I had the table first and Nancy formerly Rivlin joined me, and we both joined in conversation with a fine-looking white-haired, white goateed gentleman who was having an afternoon ice cream, as Europeans do, appropriate since he was Greek. A professor of philosophy at an Athens university, here to lecture at Hunter. He began talking of when he was in D.C. studying in the 60s, and how he spent half his time protesting, and wondered why no one is protesting now, when our policies have become so execrable. Howard Dean was on the Daily Show the other night being quite sane, and said, very calmly, "They've taken our country away from us and we've got to get it back." The woman at the next table, a pretty blonde in her forties who'd just found a fine old picture of the Palm Court in a closet at the Plaza and bought it for $8.oo, opined that he was bi-polar, often found in brilliant people. She was a nurse, a cancer survivor, who said she'd lost 186 pounds from the cancer when her husband decided he didn'[t want to be around someone with cancer. Now she has met a sweet, beefy man who sat opposite her at the table-- they were in to scavenge the Plaza for one of his hotels-- and admitted they were both Republicans. I asked why, and she said '9-11.' I will give this to George Bush: he has succeeded in confusing a lot of otherwise lovely people. I suppose I should say 'folks.' He spoke of the folks in Iran a few nights ago, so I guess we will have to acknowledge that people from Baltimore are surely folks.
But what was nice was that the sidewalk experience makes it seem almost Parisian, which of course Paris wasn't, several lifetimes having passed since Les Deux Magots. Parisians don't talk to each other even when they've been properly introduced, and Hemingway was nowhere to be found.
Tommy Thompson, who was a wonderful writer albeit hyperbolic, used to talk on the phone often to Shana Alexander, who just left us. Bennett Cerf said of her, in a shocked tone "Shana takes sex like a man." I admired her at the time Bennett said that, since I understood what he meant, that she didn't get involved, just ate and ran. As admirable as I found it, as an over-sentimental woman, at no time in my life did I ever really want to be like that, as I do think the longing and the yearning and the attachment is what makes us women, unbecoming as it may seem to those we long and yearn for and are attached to unless they feel the same way, which men seldom do, unless they're like my husband, macho enough to get away with it, covering it up with humor. But then they die, so what can you do? And so did Shana Alexander. So no matter how craftily and cagily you waft(there it is again) through life, it ends. And so did the miracle weather, It's really hot now.
But the cool winds were there when I needed them. I finished my play yesterday, nourished by the atmosphere, and too much grub. I remember when Robert and Madeleine were little and they went to the pony ride on Beverly Boulevard, and rode every Sunday on Bobby and Cindy. Then one day Bobby and Cindy weren't there anymore, in their place the Beverly Center. But by then our children were getting too big for pony rides. And Don said "Well, it was there when we needed it. And so was Spring.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I Like New York in June

Well a cool breeze has blown in from somewhere, probably Heaven. The heat was unbearable, the close, wet heat New York gets so it feels like you are in a pot on a stove, doing a slow simmer. As I was in my creative frenzy, I mostly stayed inside and huddled by the computer, seeking not just air-conditioned comfort, but inspiration. Got some, and the break in the weather at the same time.
Mimi has kept me from being in complete seclusion, as she has her needs, as we all do, and will prance around no matter what the temperature, and loves the park in any season, considering it her front yard. In a way, I have come to consider it mine, too, and appreciate the shadings of light on the lake, cool to the eye no matter what the temperature. Besides, I have come to the conclusion that Life, too, has its seasons, so I will make the best of this one, and stay in New York.
The correctness of that decision was demonstrated to me last night when I had an evening most tourists imagine is the way New Yorkers live all the time. My new friend Howard from Time Magazine took me to the opening of an exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art-- you remember the Rubins from your trek through the Himalayas(see Danny Kaye: "Loved him, hated her.") Coincidentally, if you believe in coincidences, my classmate Evie Rich, fighter for good causes runs their foundation, which is devoted to good works besides having given New York the museum, in an airy locale that used to be Barney's, with a winding staircase up to the sixth floor, and one wall that feels like a sacred space, so maybe Barney's should have stayed there and would have had less trouble, The exhibition was of Female Buddhas, which we all have an obligation to become, though most of us are still in a struggle to sit quietly, and art of the Footprints of the Buddha, some of it depicted in embroidered silk, some in stone, which Howard noted was the Asian spiritual version of Grauman's Chinese.
Then we walked to the village in a very gentle rain, light enough not to annoy, to a spare, peaceful restaurant on Barrow Street, Annisa, where the decor is Zen, but the food is craftily indulgent. The footsteps of the Buddha would have plumped up considerably. I had zucchini blossoms stuffed with feta cheese and "the surprise of currants," as Howard previewed for me, being a fan of the place, and a friend of the owners, two women, which Annisa means in Arabic, I think it was.
Home to Mimi, who enjoyed the remains of my excellent main course, and then to bed to watch South Park, where the army of Satan was waging a battle with the army of Angels as below the citizens of South Park battled over whether to take a dying little boy off life support, and people were protesting although he was brain dead. If he was allowed to die, he was going to join the angels, which really infuriated Satan,who when asked by his stooge what he was going to do, said "What we always do. Use the Republicans." I wonder how long South Park will stay on the air.
Today's autopsy report on Terry Schiavo I hope will send Bill Frist into his tornado cellar, if he has one. All that energy and anger and I would assume money, wasted. All that pain. Not what she was feeling, as it was evidenced she was feeling nothing, but the pain that was inflicted on the country. Do you remember what a great place this was?
At the end of the day a heavy rain, and today, Friday, another shimmering Spring-like morning, with all the ducks-- mallards and egrets, more like-- in a row. Sitting by the lake, one read The New York Times front page with a growing sense of a growing sense, as the country disapproves the way the administration is going.
Well, Good Morning, Citizens!!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

When Rape is Inevitable, Don't Procrastinate

I awoke not rested this morning, in a deep melancholy. Last night before going to sleep I watched 'Age of Innocence.' It made me sad the first time I saw it, smacking as it did of unrealized love, but last night it bummed me out for a number of reasons. First, there was Michelle Pfeiffer, who has Anne Bancroft's mouth, something I had pointed out to Annie, which she thought about for a moment and then agreed with, at the time I had written a screenplay I hoped-- and she did, too-- she would play Pfeiffer's mother in. The picture, as I said in the last report never got made, just as the play I wrote for Anne in my youth was produced with the wrong actress, and failed, conspicuously. (There were seven newspapers then in New York, and I was eviscerated in all but one of them, causing my mother to say "I didn't realize all those critics knew you personally.") Richard Dreyfuss said to me once, not originally, that no one dies saying 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.' But I am quite sure I will die wishing more things I had written had come to fruition. And I'm sure my mood is reflecting grief about Anne, not just that she died, but that we never got a chance to work together, to tie up that friendship with a creative bow.
I have never done my Edith Wharton, the novelist who wrote 'Age of Innocence.' When I published my first novel, Naked in Babylon, a friend of mine at Stanford, where I was working for my Master's, said "Well, now you've done your Dickens. It's time for your Conrad." I never did that one, either, but Wharton was more on my horizon, as hers, this 1920 page turner, was the first American foray into the Theory of Procrastinated Rape. I lapse now into my graduate student, who, at that pretentious Princeton of the West(their own title for themselves) studied the 18th century novel, with its bestselling Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, the first novel of procrastinated rape. To make it clear, a villainous lecher plots early on to have Clarissa, and apparently the spellbound 18th century reader hungrily ate the words till the deed was finally done. So it was that old Edith, or young Edith, whatever she might have been in 1920, portrayed and dissected New York society as the reader obsessively consumed the book wondering when, how and if Newland and Ellen would ever do it, which they did not, and I'm pissed about that, too.
Anyway, I'm covered with these feelings of loss, the road not taken, etc., the movie not made, the artistic friendship not consummated, as well as the heroine not getting laid. Anne did say to me that the character I had to write full out was that mother, so that's what I'm trying to do now, with my play. But there are little stops I have to make at stands along that highway, to rest the arms that are tired at the wheel, pick up a Diet Coke, whatever, try and understand what my real destination is, and hope that I get to it while I am still alive.
It's hot summer now in New York, air you can weigh. That, plus the heaviness in my spirit sends me to the theater today, to see 'Virginia Woolf,' as I haven't done my Albee, either.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

In lieu of flowers

Sad news about Annie Bancroft. We were very good friends when we were young, though I never had any idea she was young, too, as she had already conquered Broadway with "Two for the Seesaw" and "The Miracle Worker," when we met, so I thought she was a real Grown-Up. She was dating Mel Brooks when I was first dating Don, and Mel said "Isn't it wonderful that people can be with each other and not feel they have to get married," as it was still THOSE days. Then Don and I got married and Mel stopped speaking to us; then they got married so he spoke to us again.
I remember walking down the street with her and her telling me that sometimes when Mel was sleeping she would lean over to make sure he was breathing, because she couldn't believe she could be that happy. At least she was spared the pain of losing him.
I loved her very much, as anyone would have who was stagestruck as I was, who'd seen her in those plays, and also played 'Dictionary' with her and Mel, and a game called 'Camouflage' which was always hilarious in their company, if very intense. I thought she should really be doing another comedy, so I told her I was writing a play for her. But when I finished it and called her to tell her, she said she was going to do 'The Devils.' I asked her why, and she said "I've never played a hunchbacked nun before." Then she added, "and who knew you would finish it in three weeks?!!"
So my play was cast with a much lesser light, who faded fast, and was replaced with someone not very good, and it failed in increments, out of towns-- Philly and New Haven. Mel came to Philadelphia to give us his ideas, which made us fall down laughing till we read the notes about what he'd suggested, and they made absolutely no sense.
My daughter Madeleine was born just before the play opened, so I wasn't there to protect it, and they brought in a director the last minute who destroyed what comedy had worked. My obstetrician wanted to go to the opening night party so he let me out of the hospital-- you still stayed in for several days then-- and I arrived at the theater in time for the curtain laugh, only it wasn't there, so I knew it had been a disaster. After the party, (really a Wake,)Mel and Annie drove me back to the hospital. Mel said "You had two things happen this week-- if one of them had to be less than perfect-- if your daughter had been born with six toes and two noses, -- that would have been okay. What mattered was the show."
When the reviews came out, Annie read them aloud in our living room, and spit at them. "You're never as good as they say," she said. "And you;re never as bad." She was, for that moment at least, as good a friend as I'd ever had.
But that was a moment. She did 'The Graduate' and became a gigantic star, and Mel started putting his movies together, starting with 'The Producers' which he'd followed Don around our kitchen spinning. When we saw them in LA after we'd moved there, we were both very intimidated, because they told us how busy they were, and were, in our view, clearly becoming too important to pick up the friendship as it had been in those early days. I went back to NY and saw her in The Little Foxes at Lincoln Center, and afterwards at O'Neal's bumped into Frank Langella, a very close friend of theirs, who used to play 'Dictionary' with us. About two o'clock in the morning my phone rang-- i was staying at a hotel-- and fire came out of the receiver when I picked it up. It was Annie. "You came to the play and afterwards you didn't come backstage!" she dragoned. I tried to explain I thought she was too busy. She repeated that sentence-- 'You came to the play and afterwards you didn't come backstage!" four times, with increasing fury, until I was crying as I tried to explain. But she would not be mollified. I sent her flowers and letters, but she did not respond. I bumped into her about ten years later in Saks in LA, and she told me she was going back to Broadway to play Golda Meir. I said I'd like to see that, and she said "Good. And afterwards, you can come backstage. "
But I didn't go. When Don got sick, Norman Cousins counseled that laughter healed, so I called Mel and he sent over tapes of all his movies, and some Marx Brothers besides. After Don died, I was living in San Francisco at the time of the '89 quake. My phone rang, and a woman;s voice said "Who is this?" I said "Who is this?" and she said "Anne Bancroft. I'm calling everyone in my address book with a 415 area code to see if they're all right." It was a darling thing for her to be doing, so I loved her again. We chatted, and she told me she was doing the new play by the man who wrote 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' and I said I would come to LA to see it. And she said "Afterwards, you can come backstage." I saw it and thought she was really terrible, but afterwardsI went backstage. I brought her a new play I'd written for her, but she never read it.
She did, however, read a screenplay I wrote with her in mind for the mother, and Michelle Pfeiffer for her daughter-- they had the same mouth, did anyone ever notice? She loved it and wanted to do it but the producer I'd written it for couldn't get it going. Still, we had a couple of pleasant moments around it-- I had lunch meetings at Fox with Mel and she turned up as a surprise guest.
The last time I saw her was at Kate Mantelini's, a restaurant where she was eating with Mel and his gang. She was very cold. She told me she was having a hard time with aging, and I repeated that to my beloved friend Gena Rowlands, who said "Who isn't?"
I am sad for Annie that she had such an ending--- when Don had cancer she wouldn't even let me mention the word to Mel, it made her so fearful. I am happy for her that she had forty years with Mel, twenty more than I had with Don. I am hoping that the vision some of us have of what comes next-- if anything does-- is true, in which case Don will be there to greet her, and make her laugh as he ushers her in. He was always such a gracious host.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I understand fully now how old I am. Because I like to keep these reports lively and up-to-date, and am in New York where everything is offered and it is not all Central Park, me and Mimi, I went last night to an event at Loew's on 34th Street, where is being held the 17th NY Film Festival wallowing in all the above. I have rarely, if ever, been more bored and uncomfortable, especially since I had come from watching a video of the first hour and a half of 'Elmer Gantry,' acquired at the selling to the walls closing of a video store on Columbus near where Mimi is groomed, while waiting for her to emerge in all her preened excellence.
So there I was, in Theater 9, for the showing of a documentary on Charles Busch, the female impersonator and playwright whose earlier efforts I had never seen, but whose 'Allergist's Wife' I had considered funny enough except Betsy Hailey told me it was better when he played all the parts. That event, the showing of the documentary was sponsored by Tylenol-PM which they should have handed out before so I could overdose myself into a coma. Trapped as I was, sitting next to my new friend Nancy Friday, who murmured to me that she thought perhaps her life had been too sheltered, as she, too, seemed to be in pain, there was naught I could do but endure, and wonder where it was I had failed, not just myself, but society and the planet. Shakespeare said 'The time is out of joint,' but I think the joint is out of time.
Anyway, I wrote this letter to Frank Rich, a critic I truly admire, whom I know slightly, but well enough to hope he can set me straight, so to speak. Here is what I wrote him. There was no piece by him in today's Times, so the alarm I felt at hearing he had praised Busch, author of 'Vampire Lesbians of Sodom' on his move to Broadway, was compounded by my fear he might have been offed by the current administration.

Dear Frank,
Besides that my week is punctuated by your take, I am very much in need of a word from you on a particular issue. Because I warm up my brain and fingers for the serious task I am presently engaged in with a brisk and, I hope, sometimes witty look at a present scene behind wherever I am, I write a 'Report from the Front,' to friends. So it was that I attended last night's event at the 17th New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival, thinking it would provide fodder, in addition to which a woman I know, straight I think, who wants to mount my musical is a wild fan of Charles Busch's, and invited me. The event was a documentary on him, which I must evenhandedly appraise as according the reverence due to a figure somewhere between George Bernard Shaw and the Dalai Lama.

I was unable to escape as Busch sat a few seats away, so I tried, sincerely, to figure out what all this was really about. To my greater surprise, part of the endless self-absorbtion and masturbatory accolades was a moment when someone rushed in and said about a particular production-- I don't remember which as I was mercifully out of the country during this period-- "Frank Rich gave it a rave."
You have some idea, I hope, how much respect I have for you,--that I share Floyd Abrams' contention that now that you are back on the Opinion page, "everything will be all right." So please, sir, for the sake of my sanity and continued respect, can you tell me why you raved, and about what, or, if it would be easier, send me that review?

A pair of young girls were making out in front of the Loew's as I went in, and I tried to swallow my distaste, since I am still of the 19th century opinion that sexuality is personal and should be private. In the same way I am annoyed at my Alma Mater, among the last of the fiercely women's colleges, for allowing Lesbians to recruit during the (I assume) Innocent's first look at the campus, as it is my opinion that one's sexuality should not be a factor in what you want from an education. When I went there it was still a magnificent place, and as I remember, my own sexuality at fifteen was not a part of my agenda, which included mainly what I wanted to learn and be. I understand I am outdated, but please, dear sir, help me a little to deal with this strange new world by telling me what you saw that was so wonderful.

I came home and watched a recently acquired video of 'Elmer Gantry', and remembered when writers were writers and stories were great ones, and performances were dazzling. Good God. Bush and Busch. Where are we?

Yours sincerely,


PS. Not a part of the letter to Rich. I was overjoyed to come home andwatch the end of Gantry and some episodes of 'Sex and the City' which righted my brain and what's left of my hormones.
Did anyone remember that Burt Lancaster could also sing? Does anyone want to go with me to hear Billy Graham in Flushing on the 24th of this month? I think if I am to survive in a world of Bill Frist and Rick Santorum I have to understand fully the extent of the insanity on both sides. By the way, if anyone's free tonight, they're showing 'Bad Girls Behind Bars.'