There is a saying, a superstition, probably both, in Show Biz or Life Biz or Writing Biz that when someone falls, buys the farm, or takes a cab as my darling Donnie used to say in avoidance of the word--ok, dies,-- there will be three. My first confrere to go in recent days was Tom Korman, and no fuss was made as he had stopped mattering except to people who loved him which doesn’t seem to count that much in the country we have become or maybe the world we are. The next was Sidney Zion, a smart curmudgeon who had the ability to sidle up to important people and then write about them without making them mad, but who became an avenging angel when his young daughter died in a hospitalized coma because of improper care. It was the mensching of him, because for all the self-interest he actually probably helped other people. I knew Sidney a little from the literary gatherings I was sometimes invited to, or the bars he hung around, or the estimable lawyers who knew us both, or probably Victor Navasky, the one truly generous soul in the literary so-called community. At any rate his name was brought up when I moved back to New York after my young husband died, or my husband died young, whichever is correct and more touching, and Gay Talese with his usual sensitivity about women asked me “What are you going to do for white meat?” and brought up Sidney’s name. We were never more than friends, although that was before he had been ennobled by tragedy, so he would have been more than willing. But I liked him and I’m sorry he had a rough exit.
Today, the third, and a fine lot of space it got in the New York Times which pleases me, and I’m sure would have pleased him, was Budd Schulberg, author, first in my mind, because his was the book about Hollywood we all read when we thought Hollywood might be the place we wanted to be as writers, What Makes Sammy Run, then a number of other works mighty and not so, ‘On The Waterfront,’ and The Disenchanted among them. The last was his novelistic recounting of Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholic falling apart on a project they were working on together(lucky Budd, and he knew it.) I had just read a piece in Esquire, the magazine you had to be reading at the time, about those who shone a little too brightly and then faded or exploded, as had been the case with Thomas Heggen, I think his name was, who wrote the unbelievably successful for a very young man “Mr. Roberts,” and then committed suicide. Budd was mentioned in that piece, probably with reference to his disastrous association with Fitzgerald. I was incredibly young, it seems to me now, although I felt I was already old because I was over 21 and hadn’t yet published a novel, and living on North Doheny Drive in an all-white apartment that allegedly had been Marilyn Monroe’s—I was to use it as a setting for part of the mystery in Silk Lady—and aching for friendships as one is when they first move to LA and is doomed to be for most of the time afterwards no matter how long you stay or how many friends you think you have made, I gave a party. Nicky Blair, a darlingly pushy and anxious would-be actor/friend of the stars/sometime restaurateur and some say pimp, called and asked me if he could invite a few people, among them Cary Grant. (This preceeded by several decades my actual and still magical in memory friendship with him, so of course I must have squealed my assent.) That gentleman never came, but a raft of others did, like a skiff unloading sailors on leave, drinking my booze, meeting my friends the starlets(Tuesday Weld among them-- by today is she Friday?) And, in the midst of all of it, brought by Nicky, was Budd Schulberg.
He was a nice man, somewhat surly with curly white hair, and we got into an actual conversation, which I guess in retrospect he wasn’t expecting, any more than a woman who read. We talked of the piece in Esquire, and I said, finally, that even if Fitzgerald hadn’t drunk himself to death fairly young, the tragedy was less so because in any case “he would have been dead by now.”
Budd looked at me hard, and said “You’re a dangerous woman,” starting out of the garden. “I’m leaving for Mexico.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Mexico,” he said, taking the air out of his own drama balloon. He was back in a little while and stayed for the rest of the party.
I always liked him because nobody had ever called me a dangerous woman before, and it had a dramatic sting to it, especially because the danger was that I thought. He seems to have had a very full life, extinguished at 95, writing till the end of it, dying in the Hamptons and not out of boredom.
I wish him a happy journey if there is to be one, and the peace he will have now anyway even if there’s no After. Cary Grant, when we did become friends, told me that there was nothing afterwards, that he had talked to Peter Sellers after his heart attack where he was dead for a number of minutes and Sellers, a major believer in all things WuWu, had reported back, disappointed, that there was absolutely nothing. I don’t think I fear Death myself; the thing I really fear is lawsuits since they go on forever whether or not you believe in them.
But I do hope the trio that just left us has found some comfort, or, if there’s anything more, that Comfort has found them.