Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Summing Up

So I end the year with quiet satisfaction, glad that I came, happy to be going back to California, particularly pleased that I don't want to go to any parties tonight as the police have barricaded my street and I understand it will be too hard coming home, and not very wise, as we leave at 9 in the morning. Mimi is in her usual state of anxiety when we are about to set sail, as she is never sure I am taking her with me, and starts guarding the luggage the moment I take it out. But I am curiously serene, bien dans ma peau, as the French say, comfortable in my own skin, which is especially funny coming from them as so few of them are. I am pleased to spend the evening in my NY studio, finessing the frivolity, such as it may be, content to stay home perhaps for the first New Year's Eve since Don died, and maybe a few before, because even as a couple we were worried we might be missing something, as Hollywood gives you that feeling even if you are attached to a firecracker, or are one yourself.
But my hope for romance(the word seems smarmy to me now) is gone, so venturing forth is not necessary. On this holiday I saw the last man to whom I was
drawn some years ago, and (epiphany!) realized I would probably have gone mad if we'd really connected, and that I was doubtless mad at the time I thought him worth worrying over. Also I had the best Christmas dinner ever, two of them: the one I imagined would be downmarket, in the home of friends of a friend, turned out to be Dickensian; and the one I thought would be top of the line was, after the lavishness of the first, sort of ordinary. The festive board in the 4th floor walkup: wild boar stew, venison pie, a goose(Mimi disappeared for a while and I remembered she could jump, and jump high, so went out to the kitchen and she sat by a thigh bone picked clean, looking very innocent) plus the most amazing brussel sprouts ever, luscious in a sweet and sour sauce with crispy onions. The seated elegant one in the Museum Towers, le plus upmarket co-op in New York, was traditional and a bit of a letdown after the unexpected wonder of the first. But I was honored to be invited to a family celebration of a celebrated family so I won't say who they were as they would be hurt to have come in second.
Now I end the year as Turner Classic Movies and The New York Times Magazine ended it, saluting some of the people who left us this year that I knew, and in one case really loved. The Times bade a surprisingly affectionate farewell to Glenn Ford and June Allyson who were never in a film together but would have made, they ventured, the perfect couple. Glenn I knew fairly well for all the years Don and I were in LA. We met at our first star-striking party when I saw him standing with Rita Hayworth, and, still in my overly-ebullient self cried:"It's the lovers from Gilda!" I was, at the time, wearing a ring my Mother had found at auction, a 19th century mourning ring, one side of it onyx framed in seed pearls, with the golden inscription, 'In Memoriam.' It flipped, and on the other side was a daguerrotype of the mustachioed departed. Rita, still beautiful, and apparently with her wits still about her, said morosely "He'd be dead by now even if I hadn't married him." Stunned that she could actually think, I offered the ring to her, as Glenn stood behind her back and violently shook his head. "I couldn't possibly accept it," she said, and wrenched it from my finger. The next day I suffered Giver's Remorse and wanted it back, but there was no getting it from her. "I tried to warn you," Glenn said. I consoled myself by saying How many people had given a ring to Rita Hayworth? Me, Orson Welles, and Aly Khan.
Glenn and I stayed friends. He was a quiet, kind man, occasionally funny, who fell into a deeper and deeper depression as he grew older. He doesn't have to worry about that anymore.
June I knew because her daughter, Pam Powell, was a freshman PR at Rogers and Cowan when that firm was handling ThePretenders. When I hit the St. Louis Hilton on my book tour, I ran into a farewell party for Warren Burger, who was leaving to become the Chrief Justice of the Supreme Court. Crashing the line of Secret Service men, I gave him a copy of my deliberately sexy novel, inscribed "Yours to determine what constitutes Obscenity: Good Luck in your new job." I called Pammy, and the next morning in their PR meeting she told of the incident to Warren Cowan, who was elated. "Get me Drew Pearson on the phone!" he instructed. Pammy quietly said, "Mr. Cowan, Drew Pearson is dead."
That should give you some idea how fortunate it was that the book emerged.
But Pam and I stayed friends, and when I moved to San Francisco after Don died, she brought her mother for a long visit. Gays had not yet received a universal welcome mat, but San Francisco was way ahead of cutting edge, and Junie, still cute, was a High Camp Festival, so the city loved me for bringing her there. And she, still with that deep, sugary voice, loved San Francisco. Maybe that's where she got to go when she left.
TCM saluted all those in the entertainment business who passed this year, and though I knew a few of them, the one I really loved, who, even as she reached for something in a brief clip from 'Reds,' touched me. I have written before of Maureen Stapleton, the last of that great group I was lucky enough to meet when Janice Mars, uncelebrated but a greatly gifted singer/actress wanted a song of mine and invited me to the Falmouth Playhouse one young summer, for her old lover and still friend Marlon Brando's single foray into stage direction with 'Arms and the Man.' Maureen and I bonded-- she was there doing 'Three Men on a Horse' with Sam Levene and Wally Cox, a bright diminutive darling, and Marlon's best friend. Maureen and I stayed very close, though her passionate, combative friendship with Janice degenerated as she did. But I never stopped loving her, great actress that she was, and great lady, albeit a two-fisted(one glass of red in each hand) drinker. I am protecting her. She was a drunk. But dear, and sooooooooo gifted.
There was a waiter at Ku-De-Ta, a beachfront restaurant in Bali, named Mahar, who became a friend. When I left he put his hand over his heart, and said :"I will always miss you." I will always miss Maureen.
Then yesterday, for my sins, I saw arguably the worst picture of the year, or many others, 'The Painted Veil.' Through the first lugubrious third I kept thinking how lucky Somerset Maugham was, to have all those exotic locales no one had been to but him, where he could send colonial wives to get bored and have adulterous affairs that made good reading. But not good movies(except for The Letter.) Drained, and enraged, (all that money wasted, not to mention what felt like several years of my life watching) I returned home and turned on Turner. They were running "Foreign Correspondent,' starring Joel McCrea, with whom Maureen had been girlishly and from a distance in love, still bobby-soxy when she spoke about him. So as a tribute to her, I watched him with her eyes which she can't anymore.
I always liked Joel McCrea, but was more caught up admiring Preston Sturges when I watched 'Palm Beach Story' or 'Sullavan's Travels." But from Maureen's POV, he was a man beauty. No question.
Eerily, the movie ended with his reporter character in front of a microphone, broadcasting to the US from London during the blitz, as bombs exploded and the lights went out. And his words were: "Hello, America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world."
Well, not anymore. May this coming year bring us back to what we were.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! God Help us, Every One.
Tiny Gwen