Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Danish in place of a Madeleine

An enormous piece of my history vanished today: coalesced from several parts of my recollection and then clocked off, wiped from the planet, and even the orb of memory. All clicked away by the death of Robert Goulet.
I was very young, younger than I was, and for some reason I cannot recall, was going out with Billy Rose, the dwarfy little electric entrepreneur who had brought elephants onto the stage, married tall and often. He was at the time, I remember, also going out with my then best friend Sue Mengers, the soon-to-become-famous agent who was going out with him for reasons I CAN recall. Key to this scene is my mother, who got everything wholesale without seeming a cliche or particularly Jewish: she was elegant and beautiful and, at base, I think, an anti-Semite, though it was probably just ordinariness that she loathed, lack of education, bad grammar and ugly neckties, as she was later in life to hate fat people, old people and poor people. Anyway, Helen's dream of the perfect exit... well, I will put it in her own words: "If the H-bomb comes, I want to be in the Inner Room of Loehmann's." The Inner Room was where women of very high breeding, a lot of them, seized designer dressers with their labels cut out from each other to be able to buy them first. I tell you this so you will understand about the chiffon wrapper.
There hung in my closet, never worn, a see through chiffon not-exactly negligee, but what you would put over it if you still hoped to entice. It was shrimp colored, according to the manufacturer who was smitten with my mother, but I would call it coral, softer than vibrant a shade, with long feathers of the same hue all up and down the front and around the collar, so it might have been a boa worn today, being Halloween, by a drag queen, (though I understand they have cancelled the Gay Parade on Castro in San Francisco, which must be a terrible blow so to speak..) I was still, at the time this peignoir hung in my closet, a very innocent young woman, stupid, I suppose, as much as moral, waiting for my great love, having loved not wisely but not too well either, squandering some juicy years on Anthony Perkins who was as clever as he was handsome then, and whom I didn't realize and/or wouldn't acknowledge was gay.
So I had this apartment on East 73rd Street, and Billy Rose, already quite elderly but still incredibly famous which was catnip to Sue and somewhat poignant to me, as I saw him as more sad than important, took me home one evening after feteing me in his limousine via the Sixth Avenue Deli, following the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia. Or maybe it was Lord Jim. In any case, no moves had ever been made towards me on his part, the only crudities having fallen from his mouth, as opposed to what he offered Sue, an open fly and "Put your hand on my cock," all of which I was later to appropriate and use to great benefit in The Pretenders, my first and perhaps last novel to ever be a breakaway bestseller, larded as it was with sex and the pungent and piquant melancholy insight I was able to bring to this mythic little man as a character.
Anyway, there we were in my apartment, and he rolled back the mirrored door of my closet, saw the feathered coral peignoir, and said: "Who you saving this for, Robert Goulet?" He pronounced it with a hard final 'T', so I realized at once that in spite of all his success, money and connections, he had not an iota of suave, much less the ability to pronounce things in French. It was shortly after that that Sue and I were having dinner at Sardi's, and he walked in, and Sue said "with us sitting there like the Dolly Sisters," and I used that in the novel, too.
Also he had a mansion on Fifth Avenue he invited me to, a time or two, and in his front hall, up a winding staircase, he had Michelangelo's David, maybe the original which he could have afforded at the time before giving it back or perhaps his relatives squabbling for many years over his estate sold it to the Duomo. But there it stood, on the landing, and he said "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you want to ball him, right?" To say the little man was limited is being very kind, but then, I was probably that, too, except when I hit the typewriter.
Still, it all came together with his death, and my being able to re-construct him as a crude but touching figure in The Pretenders, though Sue was and remains very pissed at my having conflated(Janet Malcolm might say) her character with mine, softening what was too hard about her, but creating-- it was a creation-- a memorable dramatis persona.
George Abbott, during his courtship of Maureen Stapleton-- they danced together into what I think was his hundredth year, when he dropped her because she was annoyed at his seeing other women-- wrote her a letter she read to me, in which he said "I have heard that this is supposed to be about Billy Rose." The fact that glittery people were actually corresponding about my novel was more thrilling, almost, than its being a bestseller. Best of all was Maureen's calling me in the middle of the night from the Beverly Hills Hotel, somewhat more than slightly wined up, saying "I've been robbed. They left my jewelry and they left my money, but they took my copy of The Pretenders. You're going to be very rich." It was true, I should have been, but my publisher wasn't prepared for its success, so was hundreds of thousands back orders behind and then went out of business before giving me my royalties, but that is another story, and according to my inner metaphysician, all for the best, as had I been as rich as was earned I probably would have bought a yacht and anchored it next to Harold Robbins' in Saint Tropez, and never become. Become what? we have yet to determine, or the Fates or the Furies do.
Maureen said she was going to go straight to Doubleday's on Fifth Avenue(it still was then) and say "Have you got a Child's Garden of Verses? And have you got The Pretenders? And if you do, why the fuck isn't it in the window."
I miss her. I never missed Billy Rose, but that is because I made him better and more interesting than he was, which I have a tendency to do with those I encounter. But I am touched by the loss of that moment, when the coral peignoir hung, and an old, powerful little man said "Who you saving that for, Robert Goulettttt?"