So as I looked for fresh flowers to brighten my hotel room roaming Pavillions, formerly Von’s, but suddenly made elegant by a change of name, I fueled my trip with a paper cup of Seattle’s Best Coffee, and as I no longer give a shit, had a bear claw. Bear claws played a very important part in my life when I was very young and just starting out in this business(alleged) as I was staying in the Park Sunset, a less than upscale motel made sort of upscale by its location(Sunset Boulevard a stretch of the leg and imagination from the Sunset Towers, where some kept starlets stayed and George Raft in his very last years when he still had a pimp so the rumors about him were probably true.)
There was a coffee shop by the street entrance to the Park Sunset where they had bear claws, and as I was very chubby, fat actually, in addition to young and wasn’t sure anyone would ever love me(someone eventually did) I would resist the temptation to have one. I gave in only occasionally when the temptation became too strong and my will power caved, along with the conviction that someday someone would love me, so what the hell: there was something about the thinly sliced almonds and icing that smacked more of comfort than a hope did. Also living in the Park Sunset at the time were Vince Edwards who went on to improbable TV stardom in some doctor series I can’t remember the name of, Vic Morrow who almost became a star but a helicopter blade took his head off, and Corey Allen, the one who went off the cliff while playing ‘chicken’ with James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’ He was a very handsome lad, most intense, and the son of Carl Cohn or Cohen, I can’t remember, who was head honcho at the Sands in Vegas when it was still heavily Mafia-ized, and he was considered a ‘White Jew,; which meant he was allowed in the inner circles even though he wasn’t Italian. I know this for a fact because my father-in-law was a ‘White Jew’ who told me Mario Puzo had a lot of things wrong and one day he would tell me the real story, and I am sorry I never heard it. I did, however, hear from him the story of the man who took the fall for Sinatra in the Westchester Playhouse scandal where there was a lot of illegal stuff going on that they tried to tie Sinatra to, since he was heavily involved in making sure the playhouse got tippy tippy top talent, and there was much graft and rumors of payoff, and Harry, my father-in-law, told me that the fall guy, a buddy of Sinatra, took the rap, went to jail. When he was released Sinatra sent his private plane to pick him up and take him for R&R in Vegas, but like a sandy Amelia Earhart(sp) he disappeared somewhere over the desert and was never heard from again.
Anyway, Carl Cohen, Corey Allen’s(changed back to Allen Cohen when he became a director0 dad was a really nice guy in spite of what it said in The Green Felt Jungle, an early expose of the Mafia, and he liked me and so okayed me at the money window at the Sands, which was kind but unfortunate as being an addictive personality I had a run as a gambler. Nothing Kenny Rogers, you understand, but I would keep going back and cashing checks thinking I could finally beat the crap table. I had gone to Vegas for the first time when I was with MCA as a songwriter, and they sent me to Vegas to write for Judy Garland and Gordon MacRae(sp?) I drove up there in the car Jennings Lang sold me from the MCA lot, that I bought with what his wife, Monica Lewis, paid me for a song I wrote for her night club act. It was a yellow Pontiac convertible, and quite hideous, but I was barely twenty and proud to have a car, even though I was being ripped off in several directions by the machinations of M CA.
Anyway I got to Vegas to write material for Judy Garland, who had a nervous breakdown as I arrived(before I met her so it couldn’t have been cause and effect,) and then I went to the Desert Inn where Gordon McRae(that looks better) was standing at the crap tables. I introduced myself to him, and he immediately began a losing streak, and after about $25,000 said, tight-lipped and dry-mouthed to one of his cronies “Get her out of here.” So friendless in Vegas, which goes not quite as deep as Eyeless in Gaza, but you’ve seen one desert you’ve seen them all, I made my shaken way to the safe deposit box, wherein was contained a certified check from NBC for all I had earned during my brief career at the only job I was ever to have, writing for the Colgate Comedy Hour, where I shared offices with Woody Allen who never showed up except the day we got paid so was clearly already smarter than I was, I who wrote a sitcom a day or a musical a week to which no one listened. Anyway, there I was, about to get my check and cash it, and I passed the old comic Jackie Miles, and said ‘Stop me, Jackie. I’m on my way to the box,” and he raised both hands rabbinically and said “Go my child and learn,”
I went back to the crap table where I had been spiritually eviscerated by Gordon McRae and put a dollar on the pass line and won. So I took the extra dollar off and said “Someone please tell me how this workd, “ and they said “Shut up and keep shooting.” I made thirty five straight passes. Someone betting against me lost two hundred thousand, someone betting with me, made sixty thousand. I made thirty five dollars. Afterwards someone explained the game, and I went to the box. It took me two and a half days with no sleep but I managed to lose every penny I’d made. The next time I had any money at all I drove to Vegas, put a hundred on the pass line, won a hundred dollars, got back into the car, stopped for gas in Barstow, where someone stole my wallet.
So I understood I was not meant to win, and so became an inveterate gambler, since in that arena losing is the spur. I would sneak out during nights in Vegas after I was married while Don slept, and cash checks and lose. Finally, during a rough patch in my marriage, we flew up to Vegas for Liza’s opening at the Riviera in a plane load of H’wood semi-celebrities, and I was so mad at Don I promised God if He would get me through it with a calm mind I would never gamble again. So He(or She or If, as I still believed at the time) did so I did, too. Have never gambled since except at a raffle in the Cotswolds where I won a stuffed Penguin.
Anyway, back to the bear claws. I think I may have eaten one or two during the time I was secretly hiding out in the Park Sunset writing the beginning of Lolita for my best friend(I thought he was) Stanley Kubrick, which was intense and lonely as he wouldn’t let me call any of my friends as he was very paranoid and thought if they knew I was in town they would know what I was doing.
The one today at Pavillions was very fresh and quite good, and I actually tasted it instead of just quieting grief and isolation, which I did as a 20 year old. During the course of eating it I remembered Maila Nurmi, who played Vampira on TV while introducing horror films, and told me she had peered in through the window of the lower level of the Park Sunset and watched Corey Allen humping, which at the time, since I was very young, I considered shocking, Not the spying, but the actual hump. She had been great friends with Jimmy Dean, predicted his stardom but apparently didn’t tell him not to drive so fast. She was probably the most interesting character in Naked in Babylon, allowing me full throttle to write about madness. She told Hal Wallis to go fuck himself which had ended her career as a seemingly serious actress. But she was genuinely fascinatingly nuts.
As for Don, the man who finally loved me, I remembered when he met my father, Lew the Mayor as he called him, and my father suggested before we got married that he change his name to ‘Davis,’ Don said “If I changed my name to Davis, I would have to get a pink jacket and add ‘And his’, as the full monicker should be ‘Don Davis and his orchestra.,” He was funny.
Our son wore a pink jacket to his father’s funeral when he was sixteen. I tried to get him into a dark blue one, but he said if he wore that, in case he managed to be there to observe, his father wouldn’t recognize him.