Monday, February 15, 2010

The Ghost of SuperBowls Past

I was never one for football. The college I went to, Bryn Mawr, was near Haverford and Swarthmore, and to describe the boys(men?) who went there as effete and/or epicene was to be lavishly understated. I attended only one football game of theirs with a hefty German exchange student named Gerd who feared for the lives of those on the field if they as much as tripped, much less were tackled. When I first met my husband, who was a jock, albeit darling, he was producing the original games of the Jets, then a brand new team, but as he really loved me, I did not have to pretend interest, though as writ in other Reports, at our wedding, Stanley Kubrick, on hearing that Don was producing those games, told him not to follow the ball, but keep the camera on the line, as that was the most interesting part of the game. Don told him “Stanley, if I can roll a credit at the end that says ‘Directed by Stanley Kubrick,’ I’ll keep the camera anywhere you say.” That immediately gave rise to an idea of Don’s, to bring in other directors, so there would be one game by Billy Wilder, and so on. Of course it never materialized but it was a funny concept.
Less than funny was the price women paid for loving their men during football season. I know there are many women who actually loved football, or pretended to, but I was never one of them. As John O’Hara always waited for winter to begin one of his novels(now mostly forgotten, alas, as a sort-of friend went to buy one on the orders of her writing teacher, and the stores carried none of them) I attribute my productivity during football seasons to fleeing into the other room where I wrote, to avoid the rasping voice of Howard Cosell. One of my meditations in How to Survive in Suburbia when your Heart’s in the Himalayas was ‘Imagine Life as Mrs. Howard Cosell.’ A chilling thought, for those of you who remember.
But much as I hated football, I did love my husband, and so we hosted many SuperBowl parties, one of them a surprise for Don’t birthday which usually came around that time, where he was actually upstairs while the guests gathered downstairs, and he never had a clue. I loved surprises, especially when they were. Once I got him to go to a concert, black tie in San Francisco, to what turned out to be a sit-down black tie party in his honor at a friend’s Mansion(not showing off, that was the name of his hotel) and even though we ran into a couple who were friends at the airport, also in black tie, he thought they were going to the same concert. I also invited Cary Grant, who did not come, though we all know or at least those of us old enough to remember, how good he looked in a tux, but he did call Don at the party to wish him Happy Birthday, which added to the surprise.(Don’s birthday was Jan. 16th, Ben Franklin’s the 17th, and Cary Grant’s the 18th, so I used to have a continuum of Polish birthdays for my three favorite guys.)
Then there was little Robert, who, at six, spent a whole SuperBowl party with Steven Spielberg, and when I asked Spielberg what he had found to talk about with my son, he said “He knows more about football than anyone I have ever met.” That encyclopedic knowledge has been passed down to Lukas, now l0, and Silas, 6, both of whom can go on endlessly about stats and fiercely love the game, though the NFL website has been most remiss about sending Silas his Brett Favre jersey, so he will probably have left the Vikings or gone on to yet another team or genuinely retired by the time it arrives and I will have to send it back to exchange for Tom Brady. SO the family tradition of loving football has been passed down through the boys, and, I must admit, I realized how much I missed Don after his early death when, all alone, I actually turned on the playoffs.
But none of that prepared me for the actual joy of yesterday’s game. As you may have noted, our country is in a great state of disrepair and dysfunction, with many devoted to simply keeping anything good from happening, a whole party pledged to blocking Barack. You may have missed the news in the FT(it’s in the lobby of this hotel, so I have become global) that China bared its dragon teeth, and said it was not wise of Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama with the US in a state of economic crisis, which sounded like a not too heavily veiled threat that they’d call their notes, as you may be aware that they own us. (I am assured by Jack Kornfield, my Jewru, who is close to that spiritual leader that the meeting will indeed take place, and what Obama needs is a copy of The Prince, as he clearly lacks an inner Machiavelli, and even in the opinion of a spiritual man could use some of that.)
Anyway, as you all know, New Orleans represents the greatest glitch of that awful administration if you leave out unnecessary wars and the destruction of the economy, so to have them rise and redeem and triumph as a team is absolutely glorious. It did feel to me like redemption. Rachel Maddow, who, openly gay, is much the softest voice, not to mention the smartest on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann having too completely filled out his terrible suits and his even worse ties and Chris Matthews yelling at everybody, did a lead-up on Friday that was incredibly touching to what a victory would mean to New Orleans, already so evenhanded and proud they planned a parade even if they lost. So I wish I could be in their numbers when the Saints Go Marching in. What a day it must in that city, and tomorrow is Mardi Gras. And the best of it, the worst of it, it would have been if I went on clinging to outmoded feelings, was I really loved the game. I hope it wasn’t just because my son hates Payton Manning.

Not Quite a Madeleine

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.


My son Robert has long wanted me to write a book called ‘Dead Before Me,’ about all the famous people I knew/was actual friends with, who are dead before me(among them John Lennon, Stanley Kubrick, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, ken Kesey to give it a literary spin.) When I was in Venice this past autumn I received from him notice of yet another celeb passing, along with an e-mail that read “You better hurry up: there aren’t that many people left to be dead before you.” This morning’s LA Times carried the iconic photo of James Dean walking down a deserted, seemingly foggy Broadway, hands in his pockets, looking prematurely despondent, something he would not live to be at an appropriate age. I did not know James Dean, but he was the center of my first novel, Naked in Babylon, the plot kicker-offer(I did occasionally have a plot in my novels) being the frenzy to find his replacement for the maddened teenage audience, and keep his legend alive long enough to save the not-yet released ‘Giant.’ I called him Johnny King, not understanding yet that the dead had no rights in libel cases, or that the living had a good chance of losing them if they had a bad lawyer. The rest of the cast of characters, most of them Dead Before Me, were given pseudonyms, including Natalie Wood(Dead Before Anyone) Tony Perkins, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and a couple of little Mormon girls who came to Hollywood specifically to fuck Elvis, which they did, though the less assertive of the two had to do his cousin Gene. I hung out with them at the Hotel Roosevelt in-between bangs, while Elvis ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches and swilled Pepsi. I did not fully understand at the time the full extent of Elvis’ magnetism, but I certainly got it about James Dean.
The photo that they had in this morning’s Times(LA,’s. alas—I am on a budget and the NYT is prohibitive here) was by a photographer named Dennis Stock. The photo is so well known that it made the front page because Dennis had died. He had been one of the figures in almost constant attendance at the dinner table of the Stanley Kubricks, who were my best friends at that very young time in my life. Stanley had a collection of people in whom he was deeply interested, or from whom he thought he could steal some secrets—an actor I had gone out with when I was sixteen or so in New York named Freddie Martinl(he changed it to) was developing a brilliant new technology which Stanley appropriated for 2001, giving him no credit and very little money, which was Stanley’s way. But I liked Dennis Stock, and always wondered what he did that Stanley thought he could plunder, went to a small showing of his photographs at a gallery in New York last year and wrote him a note he never answered, so now I will never know what Stanley wanted from him besides his company, which was not that stimulating, but he was a sweet man. He had fallen deeply in love with Jimmy, as those who were also in love with Jimmy(Dennis Hopper among them) called him, and devoted what little time was left of the young Dean’s life to hanging out with him, and a few decades after trying to get movies made about him, some of them written by Stewart Stern, whom I believe had also fallen under the necrotic spell. But alas, poor Dennis, I knew him not well enough to go on about him, but it was slightly thrilling, in a chilling way, to see that what there was of his art made the front page.
In a later page there is more brouhaha about the Warren Beatty book, and how many women Warren made love to. As I made him a character(name changed, in another novel) and was personally very close to one he had had often in real life, in person and several times over the phone, including an outdoor payphone on Rodeo Drive, where he caught a cold from exposure, and one he wanted who was most unlikely, because as wonderful as she was, she was a physical wreck and very much his elder—Maureen Stapleton—(when I asked him what his character, in something we talked about my writing for the two of them could possibly be attracted to in her, he said “she has a vagina”)—and having seen the incredibly radiant and thoroughly shell-shocked Julie Christie sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the floor in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire where he lived when he dumped her, I feel I am in the perfect position to be an authority about him and so will be the only one in Hollywood not to express an opinion. Though I will recall one time just after the big earthquake when I was recuperating in the Bel-Air pool when he came out of one of their apartment cabanas where he was meeting with Emma Thompson, and started talking to me, so I couldn’t get out of the pool as my body wasn’t good enough. He told me the full details of how he had made it back through the broken glass, barefoot, to check that his wife(he had one by then) and children were all right, and then how he was questioning living in Los Angeles, because of the safety factor.
“But then I stand on Mulholland Drive,” he said, “and I see mountains and desert and sea and all this exquisite scenery, and think ‘Where else can you find all this in one place?’ And how does it rack up against the danger? It’s like … all your life there’s this gorgeous hooker you wanted to fuck, and then you’re finally going to do it and she has Aids.”
“Why Warren, “ I said. “How poetic. Have you ever thought about being a writer?” He closed his eyes against the sinking sun and appeared to be considering it.
The book someone ought to write is about his parents. Imagine the two people who produced Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine.
Anyway, as you can tell, I am once again caught in the fake majesty of Hollywood, though I am on its most economically dangerous border, Beverly Hills, within walking distance of Neiman-Marcus. In all the years I lived here I never set foot in Neiman-Marcus, and now I understand why. They are having their ‘Last Call,’ everything GREATLY marked down. So my friend Pam having told me what incredible bargains a friend of hers had gotten I went in. There were purses piled high on the counter, among them a good-looking turquoise leather a grade or six above the kind I usually pull off the carts in New York, and I love the color, so I looked. $1570. “Is this a joke?” I deep-throatedly gasped. “Well, it was $5800,” said the semi-outraged salesgirl. I then called my friend Pam to report, and she said there were women waiting all year for that bag to be $1500, and went on to tell me how when she was younger she would shop in the lingerie department which was reasonable, and wear that to the prom. So I went to the lingerie department and found a silk robe, black and red, with satin tuxedo front, that was only $103. I was immediately struck with RAPTURE OF THE CHEAP, and thought I could spend what is left of my sojourn here in that robe, like Oscar Wilde. I mean, suddenly, it was like they were giving it away. Once having been touched with the feel of silk and the loss of any real sense of values, I went back the next day to see if the matching camisole wouldn’t be a good idea. Happily they had only the wrong size. But on passing out the door on the first floor, I saw that the only $1570.00 purse was gone.

It Never Rains in California

So as if to demand equal time with the freeze in the east, and, more devastatingly, the disaster in Haiti, the heavens(if you can think of them as such) have opened up .
Great mudslides are everywhere they can do the most damage, and for some reason I can hear Cass Elliot singing ‘It Never Rains in Southern California,’ although that was a hit by Toni Toni Tone, whoever the hell they are, when I Google it to check.
I think of Cass often, possibly because my son wanted me to write ‘Dead Before Me’, and she was one of the first famous friends I had to go. But also I think of her because I can still hear her voice, sometimes on the radio (“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray”) and sometimes in memory, combined with her own appraisal of herself, the only overconfident thing about her, that “there are three great pipes in this country: Barbra, Edye(Gorme) and me.” We met her at the palatial movie star home of the palatial movie star Laurence Harvey, whose epicene talent was surpassed by his elegance. He had more style than anybody, most of it painstakingly acquired, since he had been born Lithuanian, and it was a long trip, probably by boat, to the impressive if ultimately frail figure he became. He married the sophisticated British actress Margaret Leighton, many years his senior but a slender heavyweight in theatre and films, which was what he wanted to be, and at some point left her for the widow of Harry Cohn, the ferocious head of Columbia, whom he kept referring to, even after their divorce, as ‘Mrs. Cohn.’ It put me in mind of Billy Rose, the once long ago flamboyant tiny producer(read The Pretenders) who told me “You should never marry a woman who’s richer than you are.”
Anyway, Larry had this great white house looking down into one of the chi-chi-ier canyons, up atop a street called Cabrillo off Coldwater Canyon, with Greek statues around the pool and all the rest of it, as one imagined movie stars lived, probably including the builder of the house who could not wait to snag someone pretentious, which Larry also was, although very dear. The furniture was also Movie Star white, and on one of the deep armchairs , sunken in, was Cass Elliot. She either liked and trusted me immediately or didn’t know how to hold anything back, and told me she was not financially secure. “Joni Mitchell is shipping gold, and I can’t even get a record contract<’ which, for one of the three great pipes in the country had to be really painful. Her life itself was obviously painful, judging from her size, with which I both identified and empathized, as having grown up a fatty whom people always told ‘You have such a pretty face, if you’d only lose weight…” I could see the pretty face hiding in Cass. She had wonderful green eyes, something I always regarded as an achievement, and though the rest of her features were less than impressive, I could wash the bloat away with my not green eyes and see who was hiding inside, and she was pretty. And very very funny, and quick. Easily wounded and compulsive—I knew of a very cute young writer who drove with her to Palm Springs in her Cadillac, tilted heavily to one side, who made very clear to her that he had no intention of sleeping with her, at which point she pulled off the road and went into a store and bought four of the giant size Hershey bars and ate them in very few minutes during the rest of the drive, at the end of which she had him fired from the comedy he was supposed to write for her.
We had the same doctor, a very sweet man later to miss completely my husband’s cancer so considered himself responsible for his death which I try not to do, who had an overload of compassion(although apparently not a lot of smarts) and he was very loving to Cass, and enlisted me to help her. At one point she fell on herself and broke her leg, and as I visited her, in traction in a hospital bed in her home, leg pulled high in the air, I told her it was a warning, that she would have to lose weight or she would kill herself, which she not long after did, the cruel verdict of the gossipmongers being that she had died of a ham sandwich. Undoubtedly the report that she had choked on something she was eating was a true one, but I always considered she had died of loneliness, the kind of desperation that when you were alone in a hotel room in London could drive you to eat too fast and without thinking, imagining that feeling full would make you feel less isolated. I am sorry for the health rage now finally sweeping America about obesity that she, or someone like her, with powerful pipes, is not around to be a poster girl. They could use the army motto ‘Be all that you can be’ and try and turn it around so it sang ‘Be less than you are.’
We went once, to see her in Las Vegas where she had a new act. She wore a voluminous silk outfit that made her look more like a circus tent itself than the clown she thought she was dressed as, surrounded by boy dancers dressed the same, but of normal size. At one point Don turned to me and whispered “You could have been her.” (I had started my professional life, such as it was, as a singer, doing my own material—mostly comedy-- in Paris at the Mars Club, and in Hollywood at the Purple Onion on Sunset. At the time I was still a chub.)
So I ached for my beloved(which she was, -- I am a sucker for funny, especially when I can see the poignancy underneath) friend, her inability to find love, especially for herself enough to stop eating. When she died, her fineral was the same day John Dean went to jail(he was my neighbor on Rembert Lane, him and the martials(sp?) who were staked out in the upper room of his garage waiting to see him to the slammer for his complicity in Watergate.) I remember at the time standing in the Hollywood Cemetery, the once top place to get buried i—Valentino and the rest of the kids—that had lost out first to Forest Lawn, then later to Westwood, or what Peter Hyams calls ‘Our Lady of Avco’ where Marilyn and Natalie and Billy Wilder are planted, not to mention, though I must, Don,, thinking that of the two, Cass had gotten the lighter sentence. At the time I was a great believer in the Afterlife, having a close friend who had soul-washed me, but has since disappeared from my life, angry and unforgiving, so I am no longer sure that anything she believed in could possibly be true, or Christian, in the best sense of that word, probably with a little ‘c.’
So Cass is under the ground and probably not on high, but she is on the radio, and the voice is wonderful and strong, and whether or not one of the three greatest pipes in America at that time, still worth listening to. I remember when I introduced her to my close, loved friend Taffy who was the other half then of Bill, one of the writers of Country Roads, with a lovely voice, and a face that drove Republicans wild, with dimples yet, Cass told her not to give up her day job. Fairly merciless I thought it. Taffy ignored her and went on to become one quarter of the Starland Vocal Band, who had the big hit(one) “Afternoon Delight.” So sometimes it’s good not to listen to someone who you’re impressed with, though I often wish Cass had been impressed enough with me to pay attention.
Still, I think of her in Baltimore, where she climbed up on the stage when she was four, in the movie theater where they had talent searches and giveaway dishes during the intermission. And the MC said to her, “Little Girl, what are you doing here?” And she said “I came here to sing.” And that was why she was born, and that was what she did.
I think of it more than I probably would when I sit on myself too hard because I do not feel whole unless I am writing. I think of her, and then I think “I came here to write.” And I did. I should probably be starting on a new book now, but I’m scared. So this is my Instead, while it’s raining.