Wednesday, August 15, 2012


    This morning's USA TODAY, usually a gutless paper, has an article about Kirk Douglas having guts, standing up for Dalton Trumbo when he was blacklisted, making him take credit for SPARTACUS.  The one who really deserves credit for Spartacus was Stanley Kubrick, who was credited as Director, but really was so much more.
    Stanley was my best friend when I was in the graduate program for writers at Stanford. Happily, the movie sneak-previewed in the Bay Area, and I got to go with Stanley.  When, in the film, Kirk Douglas faced off with Tony Curtis, and one of them had to die, Stanley murmured to me: "Isadore Dempsky and Bernie Schwartz: who would not be moved?"
    Afterwards, late into the night, we went over the preview sheets together, and more of them than I can remember had the comment: "Cut the dwarf!" "Get rid of the dwarf!" (one of the rebelling slaves in Spartacus' army was a dwarf, then prominent in the battle footage.) 
    "People are very threatened by dwarfs," Stanley said.  "Because they have enormous genitals."
     I never knew whether or not that was true, but I did come to discover that genitals were very important to Stanley, as he was lining up to do the movie of Lolita, which he believed to be a love story.  That accounted for the first real breech in our friendship, as I thought it was a comedy.  But that is another story.
    Meanwhile in San Francisco, I got to know the lesser of the two slaves, Bernie Schwartz, and found him genuinely bright and funny, his subsequent tragedy, like Stanley's, whose brilliance was unmistakable, but whose gift shone most radiantly when he did satire, was not focussing on his gift for comedy.  But that, too, is another story.
    As for Kirk Douglas, I don't really know him, but I know a lot of people who do and did, and all of them agree that he is and was a genuinely Stand-up guy, maybe less so in the physical sense now that he is 95.  But it is heartening to know that someone who really had a conscience, has had such a long and rewarding life.
    My once dear friend Sue Mengers, whose guiding principle besides representing big names was shagging them, looked up one night in media res, saw looming above her the great cleft in that memorable chin, and cried "Kirk Douglas!"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Writing Off Mitt's Write-Offs

    This morning's New York Times has an article about Mitt's refusal to show his returns.  I am quick to cite it as a colleague I admire but don't know has just been nailed for plagiarism, so I want to offend and/or cheat no one.  No, that isn't true.  I would like to offend Mitt.
    I would like to offend him because it would be interesting to see what he had to say/express facially/stumble over if offended.  I wonder if he would know, he seems so programmed, as if he had a little Victrola (it seems that old) playing in his ear.
Not since the fall of Mark Zuckerberg have I felt such delight, elation even, in someone's discomfiture.
    For all the anti-Obama sentiment, which stuns me, especially since some of it comes from people I genuinely admire, like my doctor, and the doctor who tended to me a few days ago, both of whom flare at the mention of his name, from what seems a convincingly calm persona, I cannot believe that much as they dislike him, they could actually cast a vote for this boob.  I can't think of the Porn star about whom it was written that she had had more positions than Mitt Romney, but nameless, the thought still makes me smile. 
    But not in a good way.  I am genuinely fearful for my country, finding this the first reason to rejoice in being older, as I lived through greatness in candidates, even when they were Republicans, harbor a childhood memory of feeling bad for Wendell Wilkie during his concession speech, because he sounded like such a nice man.  And I actually voted for Ronald Reagan, and remember my beloved classmate at Bryn Mawr, Loi, Roosevelt's grand-daughter, campaigning for Eisenhower.
    What is the upmarket expression for 'Boob?'  As measured and thoughtful a job as Jon Stewart is doing, presenting this loser(one can only hope) to America, there seem to be people who could actually vote for him.  Have they listened to what is not even his Doublespeak?  One longs for Aldous Huxley to come back and write WUSSY NEW WORLD.
     My favorite thing is that Rafalda, his dancing horse, did not even make it into the Olympics because he failed to score enough points to contend in dressage.  If racing is the Sport of Kings, what the fuck is Dressage?  Doesn't anyone besides us see what a dolt he is?  On the tax return he DID submit, from a year we can only assume he did not look tooooooo rich, Rafalda is listed as a money-losing investment, rather than a hobby.  But as Mrs. Mitt loves him so, and doesn't seem to mind that he didn't even qualify, I wonder if, since all the horses were Fedexed to London, they will fly him back on the outside of the plane.
    Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, drying in the drought.  What have we done wrong that people-- good people-- can actually take this man seriously.  Now that he has chosen Paul Ryan, who I understand CAN speak, the issue is clearly one of Class Warfare.  God Bless America, and save her from all this implosion.  Ben Franklin believed in Reincarnation.  Ben! Ben!  Say SOMETHING!!!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Missing Spencer Tracy

    So I have just finished Katharine Hepburn's memoir, ME, the first book I have read in eons that I didn't write.  This is not so much ego, (I don't think,) as an ongoing flood of creativity which has yet to be rewarded with acceptance or approval from an official source, and the fact that I am not depressed by that is either a sign of great spiritual growth or the very sane realization that the book biz is no more.  Sad.  Borders on Broadway in the 70s, my last leg-stretch there, is a cheesy clothing store, and one has few options besides Amazon, where you cannot browse.  
   ME is, as the title would indicate, the work of a very self-centered person, but as she was one of a kind, why shouldn't she have been?  I met Katharine Hepburn when she came to Bryn Mawr, from which she had famously(to us) graduated, for the official beginning of a scholarship in her name, and came to speak at the Deanery, a quaint name for an even quainter place that, like Borders, is no more, to those of us who were interested (in my case, obsessed,) with showbiz.  She was patently frightened and uncomfortable, clad in her ministerial off-white collar, white jacket and trousers, standing in front of the fireplace holding a teacup which I helped her steady as she trembled, in this instance I believe less from the tremor she'd developed than terror at facing the small group of worshipful undergraduates.  
   "I suppose," she began, "I should tell you how Bryn Mawr helped me in the The-ah-tah... But I caahhn't."
    Of course we were all already in love with her, legend that she was, personal to us because it elevated everyone to have had her go to our college, coupled with the rumor that she had swum naked in the Cloister pool the night before her comprehensives, which, incidentally, all of us did or we were doomed not to pass.  But nobody ever said (or thought) that she had just done what was tradition for all Bryn Mawrters(that appellation the one thing I found cloying about my college), but only that it had, like everything else in her life, been rebellious and individual. Also she had been Lantern Girl-- the sophomores passed their lanterns on Lantern Night, when we sang Greek hymns and were veddy Bryn Mawr, to the freshman, and Katherine McBride, the formidable college president I loved who much enriched my life, passed her lantern to Katharine Hepburn, so I felt genuinely connected.   I saw Miss McBride in the Cloisters the Monday after my triumph in Junior Show, which I had written the book, music and lyrics for, and had the comedy lead in, with George Segal, then at Haverford, and my inane college crush, leaping up on the stage at the curtain to kiss my hands, and my friends from the Actors Studio, very hot at the time-- Brando was in his young, slender prime-- telling me I was wasting my time at Bryn Mawr, I should come work at the Studio, I told her: "Miss McBride, Shakespeare and Chaucer have given me all they can, and the theater needs me, so I'm leaving Bryn Mawr," she fixed me with her very steady eye and drawled "Well, Gwen, try to be back for exams."  So I was.  Bless her.  I was very lucky to have her for a guide, and so was Katharine Hepburn.
    Some years after Hepburn's talking to us, when they were assembling the great book that was to be Bryn Mawr's history, by which time I was more or less established as a professional writer, I called her and asked if I could be the one interviewing her.  "Why?" she asked, somewhat imperiously.  "Because we would have fun," I said, sure it would be livelier than what they would come up with in the way of an academic's writing it.  
    "Well, we're talking now," she said, "and it isn't all that interesting."
    She was really Katharine Hepburn, (which you had to spell with the second 'a' or she knew you weren't paying attention.)
     Anyway, I am reading about her great love of Spencer Tracy which, in spite of the recent scrofulous book by the pimp who serviced movie stars, I am sure was a great love.  And I am thinking about how much I wanted a Great Love, and started off my romantic quest by fixating on the young and very beautiful(which he was) Anthony Perkins, who was, of course, gay, and was gently put out on the back stoop like a misbehaving cat by my husband, who I never realized was my Great Love.  Don did that with all my infatuations, every one of which-- and there were several-- were childlike and foolish, never getting visibly angry, but, I would imagine, truly steamed.  My girlfriend Pat who had extensive experience with erotica, which I did not, told me early on "You are It for Don."  But I never realized until much later how right she was, and never knew until very recently, that Don was It for me.
     He died, as my friends know, very young, and to his surprise, I was steadfast as he disappeared in front of my eyes, eaten away by the cancer his doctor, who was supposedly his best friend, had failed to detect until just before the very early end. "You're still here," he said, looking up from between his knees, where his head was, to try and deal with the nausea.
    "Where else would I be?" I asked.
    "Well," he said.  "You could have gone to the south of France.  You could have gone to a Bryn Mawr Reunion."
     They don't make 'em like that anymore.  Or like Spencer Tracy.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Gore Vidal Poem - writ After dinner in Ravello, 1986


He ate peas           
This Word Master of the
Western World
This living Monument to
Who lived in a place
Where people spoke at dinner
Of other dinners
And told historical stories
About Food:
How mayonnaise was invented
In a Napoleonic battle
Where there was no butter
For the fish
And spoke
Of moving to
A place in France
Where the food was
The Finest in Europe
Living in those hills
Because of the Cuisine
And when the time came to
He asked for peas
And they were green.

Farewell, My Witty -- Goodbye to Gore Vidal

    I have decided to grieve over Gore Vidal.  We will be poorer for the loss of his wit.  So it seems the right, or rather, the left thing to do, as I don't imagine there will be many that weep.  And he deserves at least a whit of regret and an Alas, because he was so clever.
    Gore was a major bone of contention between me and my husband, Don, arguably the sweetest man in the world, whom I was lucky enough to partner for a moment in time.  But he said to me in Rome, after a dinner in Gore's company, not easily come by, "It just shows what a pervert you really are, that you enjoy the company of Gore Vidal."
   And did I ever.  Even when he made me uncomfortable, which was obviously a Literary Lion's share of his pleasure, I felt honored to be with him.  I understood how smart he was, and the fact that he was interested enough in me to have me in his company was a tribute.
    I can't remember when exactly I met him for the first time, but I do remember being thrilled at the connection, especially because he seemed to more than tolerate me.  I was having a struggle keeping a foot in two worlds, the first, the one that made you famous, the second in which people understood you were genuinely smart even though you had a popular bestseller.  THE PRETENDERS topped the list in 1969, right after THE GODFATHER, and though Mario Puzo had called me to say "You wrote that for the same reason I wrote The Godfather: you wanted a bestseller.  But the good writing is undisguisable," which, obviously, elated me, I still needed the imprimatur of an intellectual, which Mario, though a nice fellow, was far from being.
So when Gore very obviously liked me, I was excited, which really seemed to upset my darling husband.  
    We were in Rome, and Sue Mengers, then still a friend, a situation that was not to last too long, arranged for us to meet Gore.  We were invited to his palatial apartment for drinks, and then, apparently, passed the audition, as he suggested we go on with him to dinner.   
      "Are you wearing contact lenses?" Gore asked me midway through the meal.
       "No," I said,
       "It's just that your eyes are so beautiful, I thought you must have something in them."
       "Well."  Let me tell you, that no matter how many or how few times you have been hit on in your life, there is nothing more dazzling than an erotic slam from one of the world's best known and most articulate homosexuals.  I was speechless, and Don was in a mild fury.
         Also at the table at whatever restaurant it was was Ultra Violet, one of Warhol's discoveries.  Although my memory is still sharp, I can't remember exactly what the conversation was, though I know it included enough to be offensive to Don, who was adorable but fairly square, and did not list on his conversational program sexual conquests or tastes, which Gore very easily and, -- this I DO remember-- often did.
    But it was after that evening that Don made his comment.  I thought it pretty funny and, in fact, witty.  And it was true.  I did enjoy the conversation and company of Gore.
    When Don died, much too early-- he was just 45-- I went to visit my darling friend the actress Betty Garrett in the hospital, where she often was.  Betty had also lost her husband, Larry Parks, much too soon.  And she said to me "Now you have to do the things you wouldn't have done if Don were alive.  So I went directly from the hospital to a department store and bought a hat-- Don didn't think I had "a hat face."  Then I bought perfume.-- He didn't like me smelling of anything besides clean.
      And after that, after time and my beloved Sandy Burton had given me an interlude that really ruffled me-- I went to visit Gore Vidal.
       "Gore didn't tell me you were coming," Howard Austin, his longtime partner-- though maybe not sexual-- whined, when I showed up in Ravello.  So Gore thought it would be better if I stayed in the local hotel, which I did.  But I dined in their house, and all through dinner Howard studied me fiercely.  I was bleeding openly from an unfortunate alliance I'd had in Hong Kong with a very naughty Brit.  And Gore said 
"Men understand that sex means nothing, that it's just for fun.  The trouble with women is they think their feelings matter."
     Gore was still drinking at the time, and I remember meeting him for dinner in a Ravello restaurant-- Howard clearly did not welcome my presence in their magnificent home-- "THIS," Gore had proclaimed as we stood on his terrace looking out at the world, the sea, the sky, "is ONE of our views."  And in the ristorante Gore ordered peas.
      That's all.  Peas.   I wrote a poem that I will transcribe at another time that was, as I remember, pretty witty about that, but never showed it to Gore. The right thing not to have done, but I'll send it later to you.
      Right now I have to end this and post it, so you can know how I feel.  Sad? No, not at all.  I'd seen him getting old and understood that he didn't like it (who does?) And i'd seen what there was in him of genuine humor turn rancorous.  So it was probably time.
      But we will not see his like again.  Certainly not in the world of Mitt Romney.  Maybe that's why he left.