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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New York Minute

Lured by the photo of the young Stanley Kubrick in The New York Times, leaner than when I first knew him, his dark, hooded gaze caught in a mirror as he photographed a showgirl for Look, I made my way to the exhibition of that magazine's photographs at the City of New York Museum. It was a circuitous path, as I thought the exhibition was at the New York Historical Society so planned to combine it with Mimi's grooming, just a few blocks away, only to discover at arriving at the desk I was at the wrong museum. Fortunately there was a young woman from New Jersey, of Asian extraction, who had made the same mistake. We called the other museum to make sure it was there and took a taxi over together, she and I and her boyfriend, a Colombian composer who had arrived in the US before 9/11 so they let him in. She is an artist, living in Miami, where she had been promised a growing colony of artists but can find none, so wants very much to move to New York, where she is sure she can find one. I wish her Good Luck with her quest, trying not to edge my good wishes with irony, as I have several times moved back here with the same hope/aspiration/longing, only to find myself more isolated than I felt in LA.
My Inner Sardonic was tempered by the fact that I had had lunch with Annie Navasky, as smart as she is amiable, who a while ago codified New York for me when I was in one of my struggles to belong somewhere, and had told Jules Feiffer that I was looking for my community. Jules said "Do your work and your community will find you," Annie amended "He forgot to say 'Provided you are wildly successful.'" I cited Jules to Annie at lunch as one of the two members of the Literary community who is a whole person, the other one being her husband Victor,long-time publisher of The Nation Magazine, new grand-father, and recent minister, an addition to his impressive CV acquired over the Internet, so he was able to perform the wedding ceremony of his daughter, though he is not permitted to do circumcisions. But whole as Jules Feiffer may be, and usually captious, Annie's take on the scene here is more acute than his. Success is the doorway, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free being a long time away and ago and New Yorkers in general being, in Annie's words, 'overcommitted.'
So it was with some sad amusement I viewed the quote on the wall that is the keynote for the Look exhibition, E.B.White's. "No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky." The reverse also obtains. And even more naive and touching was the one on the wall from Moss Hart who wrote in Act One "The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream." Yeah, right.
Still, entering the exhibition, pegged on Stanley's having become such an icon that an event can be hung on his star, I did truly enjoy what was on those walls: old black and white photos of who mattered when, Sherman Billingsley,the owner of the Stork Club, Elsa Maxwell, the hostess with the mostess, in true disheveled disarray, not that her array when sheveled was much better, Fleur and Gardner Cowles, (he started the magazine), the 23 year-old Marlon Brando having just taken the town with 'Streetcar,' already uncomfortable in his own skin. Then, the center of the exhibit, Stanley's photos, an extensive array of a Copacabana girl, not particularly pretty, except for a dimple in her right cheek, and terrific shots of Rocky Graziano, who had six-pack abs probably with a bourbon first. Another of those pronunciamentos on the wall says Kubrick shows "the glamor New York promises to the lucky masks a world of physical brutality and emotional degradation." Well, I wouldn't have gone that far, but it can be a disappointment.
On the way out of the museum, beyond First Rate as most New York museums are, offering histories of the town as it made its way to super-city, as Stanley made his way to superstar, there was a salute to Black Style-- I do think they dared to label it that, no 'African-American' cloak- with stunning gowns on mannequins. And on a poster, a quote from Maya Angelou: "We have survived, flourished, and thrived, with passion, compassion, humor and style." She forgot to add in her particular case, Bullshit.
Oh, I know I'm not supposed to say that, as it will keep me from being on Oprah, Maya is more than revered, and as an editor of mine once said "A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do." But as I knew her, and well, in Paris when I was 20, so understand much of her pseudo-biography, and have observed her grande-dame-ing over the years, watched her orating her 'Good Morning' poem at Clinton's inauguration, while on the line with my musician friend Bob Dorough who played for her and with her at the Mars Club in Paris. When her inaugural performance ended, I said into the silence on the phone "What do you think?" And Bobby drawled, in his Mississippi way: "We-llllllllllllllll. She got the gig."
Indeed she did. And so did Stanley.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Kratzmas

My Uncle Ralphie, who was a pharmacist, worked in a drugstore in Pittsburgh where we all lived together, Pappy(Grandpa) and Mammy(Grandma), their nicknames taken from the L'il Abner comic strip, as they were so little, my Aunt Bessie, her husband Jack, Uncle Harry, my Aunt Rita, my mother and my father whom my mother had married mostly because his family was so elegant and well-to-do she thought she would live in Squirrel Hill, where the better class of Jews lived. But my father was so stingy he moved in with her family, and my mother almost died. There was only one bathroom, and because my father was as meticulous as he was tight-fisted, he was in it most of the time.
It was the tail-end of the Depression, so the feeling in that crowded, loving (except for my mother and father whose coupling was steeped in violence) was not so much that we were Jews as that we were Americans. A portrait of FDR cut from the cover of the glossy color magazine in the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph was pressed against the front of the glass in the cupboard above Pappy's worn leather chair in the corner of the dining room, so Roosevelt overlooked everything that went on in the the heart of the apartment, as if he were the real head of the family, which in a way I suppose he was.
Christmas morning, I as the baby of the extended family, would awake filled wih happy anticipation, because Jewish though we were, we celebrated it, and I believed in Santa Claus. But I also believed in Uncle Ralphie, because he worked in a drug store and always brought home good things. So there were oranges which always seemed a delicacy in harsh Pennsylvania winter, even though Pappy had a fruit stand, and the very full color comics, which Ralphie would read to me aloud, some candy (given reluctantly, as I was already porking up, with Ralphie calling me 'Baby Elephant'-- once more ahead of her time, childhood obesity before it made the news) and some little gifts from him beautifully wrapped, with fancy paper from the drugstore. And he would say, with a big grin 'Merry Kratzmas!' satire in the salute, as if we had taken this Gentile holiday and made it our own. Which I suppose we really had, since there was simply joy in the day, with no religious connotation.
Our own Judaism was restricted to matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish made from scratch by Mammy on Friday nights, followed by something like pot roast that I understand now is considered ethnic, though I doubt Mammy and Pappy knew that word, bright as they were, and grateful to be in this country. Most of her family died in Therezienstadt, and Pappy never talked about his relatives, or in fact very much about anything except how foolish my mother, his favorite, had been to marry Lew W. Davis, whom he always called by his full name including initial, as if to underscore how deluded my mother had been, imagining him to be an aristocrat.
The family in full, as Tom Wolfe might have it, can be found in The Motherland, my novel about them, which can probably be had on for about $1.19. My mother famously stopped speaking to me when it was published. In spite of her being depicted fictionally as clever and beautiful, she was outraged because her family had been depicted as poor, which of course they were, as that, apparently, seemed the greatest sin to someone who had later arrived. She said that my Grandma, too, would never speak to me again, as I had written of her wearing a worn mink coat at a funeral, except that Mammy, being the great heart she was, apologized to me for the novel's not being a greater success, blaming herself, as Grandmas will, for the family's not being more interesting(an incorrect assessment-- publication collided with the fall of Richard Nixon, and my publisher also had All the President's Men.) My mother solaced herself by writing a note to the gossip columinist Liz Smith who was our friend, saying that the book upset her so much she became bedridden for the weekend, and regretted not having committed infanticide. Liz published that letter in her own The Mother Book, but she now does not speak to me either. I do not miss her, though I still long for some exchanges with my mother, with whom happily I reconciled many hundreds of times before she left for that Great Plastic Surgeon in the Sky. I am in her apartment now, a little studio she left me in New York that she always raged that she wouldn't, but did, and at some point during the day when I remember how witty she was, how dazzling her smile, and her jewelry, much of which I have lost, how sharp her brain, a little gasp of loss escapes me and I say 'Mom!' hoping she can hear me and knows how much she is missed.
I do that or the like very often now, as some recollection of someone beloved no longer on the planet flashes across my brainpan like a shooting star, and I say 'Suzanne!' or ''Sandy!' or 'Susie' or 'Donny!' or even the names of some I did not like so well, but whose absence is palpable.
We must all love our friends very much, including the ones who hurt our feelings, because the silence goes deeper than the wound. I mean, most of the time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Following Yonder Star

I took off from the Long Beach airport, where the conning tower is the one used in the last scene of 'Casablanca,' and the walls inside are postered with flying lore. The decision to go to New York was a last minute one, be-sherty, a Yiddish word I have made inappropriately into an adjective or maybe it's an adverb when you add the y, meaning 'Meant to be'/, and as it's Hannukah I suppose it obtains. I was sittingin front of my computer having just received a rather rude message from one with whom I intended to spend the holidays, wondering how to get out of it, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a pop up notice from Jet Blue that I had earned the reward of a trip. So I took it.
The weather in New York is incredibly mild, giving even more weight and credence to Al Gore, but, one must admit, making life seem easier, at least until the planet burns up. Sunday was glorious, chockablock with tourists, me and Mimi, people waiting on line for the ice to be cleaned at Wollman Ice Rink, people lined up beside the fence above, watching the people waiting in line. I guess people feel more festive when they are forced to wait for what they feel festive about.
Walked over to Madison Avenue where the sun was so bright I breakfasted in a sidewalk cafe as if I were in Paris, and as the waiter was French, my eggs came with Attitude, without my even having to cross the Atlantic.
Dropped a note by Joan Rivers' apartment-- the lastest photos of her look like the final days of Zsa Zsa Gabor. We made a record together an eon ago-- the making of it a great story I may tell another time-- called 'The Other First Family'-- it was right after the 'First Family' about the Kennedys. We were The Kruschevs, George Segal playing Nikita, I was Mrs., Buck Henry was the palace guard, and Joan played my maid though in her autobiography she said it was the reverse, and I was her maid. Apparently she knows how to get even her facts lifted.The night Edgar, her husband, committed suicide she was having liposuction: once more ahead of her time.
New York is less than Christmas-y, what with the mild temperatures and not all that many decorations, except for a huge new star in the midst of 57th and Fifth, Fiberoptic it looks like, its dazzle consistent and eerie, like the pumpkin I bought at Beyond Scents that will orange eternally as long as it is plugged in. Everything in New York is pretty plugged in, I think. There was a huge Menorah being carved in ice on the corner of Madison and 41st Street, beautiful and oddly touching, they were working so hard to perfect it as I passed. The night before I had passed the Chabad truck, the one from the temple of my little cousin Susie's Rebbi, the Lubavitch who was supposed to be the Messiah, and was going to save Susie from her cancer and be immortal himself. She is now buried with him. Anyway, a little boy in full orthodox regalia, about 12, gave me a Menorah and candles, and hesitated to shake my hand until he realized I was probably too old to sully him. It was nice to get an indirect gift from Susie.
Met with a bright literary agent who is encouraging, and then had lunch with Egi, wife of Sirio Maccioni who owns Le Cirque and suffers every time he gets an unkind review. He'd just had an 'Et tu, Brute' unkindest cut of all from the vile food writer Gael Greene, to whom, thinking her a friend, he told his hopes and fears for the new restaurant and a coming chef and she used the info to kill him in New York Magazine. I have always found her loathesome and self-serving-- she eats men and it can't be that fun a process for them. At Sandy Burton's farewell party many decades ago when she was leaving LA, a West Coast writer she was dating to whom I had, regrettably, introduced her, read aloud from the letters of Gael Greene. Huh? That was a salute to Sandy? So I have disliked him and her ever since. But when Gael wrote a book with sex in it, a critic wrote that she had now "proved herself a pig in every area." I softened that to "voracious" when I wrote my angry rebuttal to NY mag. Twill be interesting to see if they print it, this being as closed a city as Rome was Open.
I am off now to Circo, the less upmarket arm of the Maccionis, whom I do love, and on the way will pass the star. I shall see if there are any Wise Men following it, but mostly I think it's rich guys on their way to Brioni.
This may be the last communique for a bit. But know that I love you all and wish you Joyful Holidays.

Before I go, let me pay sad tribute to the Plaza, which at this season would have been the best, most festive place to go, but greed has torn and ripped up everything there, and it will never be the same or even good enough-- they're going to make it into Time Shares. Huh? The ghosts of those who picked up dates in the Oak Bar that worked out well whirl in the air, as do some who were married in the Gold and White Suite, had elegant teas in the Palm Court, and Eloise.
Even worse, the Essex House is now the Jumeirah, bought by people from Dubai, so they're in the process of tearing it apart. Gone are the touches of elegance, including incredible black and white photos from the 30s and 40s that lined the walls in the corridor I used as a short cut to get to 58th Street, sort of loving them out of the corners of my eyes, but not eating them into memory as I might have done if I knew they would take them down. So, a pome:

There were some great renditions of New York
Photographs from times
When photographs were photographs
Black and white and trenchant and severe
That hung along the walls I passed through
In the Essex House
On my way to something more
Significant, I thought
And so was only half aware
How beautiful they were:
Women in cloches
Huddled in Flapper concentration
Holding holders more intense
Than FDRs
Men with important cigars
Because I knew they were there
I took them for granted
Never stopped to examine them
And tonight they are gone.
Where was the notice?
Why was there no sign? Attention!
Look hard! Soon they will be gone!
Why did I not study more carefully?
Like friends you take for granted
Whose words you do not really hear
As you imagine they will say it
Another time
So you can't remember exactly
What they said
And then they're dead.
The universe should give us clues
Look well! the air should shout
Make sure you see
The lights that will go out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Easing into the Holidays

I am going through a squeeze of little inspiration, sort of like getting stuck in the birth canal, which is always hard on me, because I still think I exist only in my writing-- or at least more completely, as I feel most alive when I am writing. I remember Howard Auster, Gore Vidal's longtime companion and partner, said that Gore could live in LA because "he can write here." I happen at the moment to be reading Gore's second, and I would assume, last memoir. It is, as always with him, brilliantly written and emotionally contained. A gay friend of mine said he was afraid it would become sentimental when he wrote of the death of Howard.. But that never needed to be a worry. When I visited the two of them in Ravello some years ago--'86, I think it was--(Howard said, rather testily, "Gore didn't tell me you were coming,") I asked Gore if he had ever written a personal book. He said "I am not a personal man." I was in the throes of grieving, still, for my young husband, how much he had meant to me which I didn't realize fully till he was gone, traveling a world that seemed to offer only bad guys as replacements, one of whom I had tripped over in Hong Kong, and I grieved for him, too, that he was a lout, which meant, I suppose, that I was really sorrowing over my own feelings for him. "Men understand that sex means nothing; that it's just for fun," Gore said at dinner. "The trouble with women is they think their feelings matter." I did not punch him at the time, because I was still so impressed by him that argument was out of the question. Still, Howard complained that he felt like he was eavesdropping. But no one needed to be afraid Gore would get mawkish, though it's interesting how much he loved Howard's singing. It feels very 19th century to be writing "I've been reading..." as writers used to write each other with their plumes. But I do remember, and vividly, when Maureen Stapleton was dating George Abbott-- I believe he was 93 at the time, and they would go out dancing-- he wrote her, and she read his letter to me "I've been reading The Pretenders. I understand it's supposed to be about Billy Rose." Their romance ended when he started going out with other people, and she was hurt. "Don't tell me," he said, and she repeated to me, "you're one of those women who's jealous." Other women. 93. Lawd a Mercy. I also remember Oscar Levant's saying "The night June stabbed me, I was reading the Life of Berlioz." Some there are who think always in terms of biography. But this defining myself only by what I am in the process of writing, or what is on the celestial blackboard for possible happy surprises from what is already writ and out there is a sad and folly-filled thing. Richard Gilman, a fabled teacher at Yale, just died and in his obit they quoted his having written "the American compulsion to take your identity from your profession with its corollary of only one trade to a practitioner may be a convenience to society but is burdensome and constricting to yourself." I hope my writing is never as elaborate and self-conscious as that, but he was smart, and remains right, even in the Afterlife, which I hope there is one for academics. This life we have right now, though, although obviously blessed(I can walk Mimi in the morning, without wincing before the weather, and they have forgotten to turn off the heat in the pool yet, so I can still swim, and oh yes, let us not forget I can get out of bed in the morning, and am at loving peace with my son) is nonetheless difficult for me as I feel no sense of purpose, in spite of my burgeoning skills as baby-sitting Grandma. I remember when I was passionately writing Marriage, I asked Jack, my Jewru, if I could put aside my spiritual work till I finished the novel-- I used to sit for an hour in the morning before going to my typewriter, it still was then. And Jack said "Your writing is your spiritual work." That was at once freeing and elevating, but then, the book was good, and completely engaging of my energies. I have nothing like that right now, and feel incomplete and restless. But then I am alive, and that, in spite of my once optimism about the Afterlife, is to be cherished.
Here are some things that constitute loss:
The undelivered gift
The occasion uncommemorated
The loving word unheard
Or Unexpressed. _______________________________________________________________________Check