Monday, February 25, 2013

And the Academy Awards are Hosted by... Who?

     I must confess to not knowing who Seth MacFarlane was/is/wants to be.  I had to run to my computer to Google him, something that makes me feel unworthy.  As close friends, ever diminishing in number know, I have been out of the country in various exotic and trying-to-become-a-better-person locales for the past several/many years, not really connecting with my Americanhood except in crisis times, which seem to be ever-increasing, or the best movies when it seemed they might actually be happening.
    Still, last night was a signal for what always felt sacred to me, consecrated by the best party I ever attended, hosted by Don, my adorable albeit late husband, and myself, when parties seemed important, as did the Awards. So I tuned in, having prepared for it all day by being stupid, though as low as I managed to get, I could not quite sink to the level of being able to stand Kristin Chenoweth, who I know can sing but do I have to listen to her speak?  Anyway, when the program first began, in a burst of everything, I looked up who Seth, which I feel it is all right to call him as he at once established a level of handsomeness that in America calls for respect.  To my astonishment, I saw that he had actually sung in Carnegie and Royal Albert Halls. So attention must (I thought) be paid.
    But it was too much of a good thing, and not really enough.  He had all the attributes of Danny Kaye-- that is to say, he could sing, dance, and be funny-- but absent completely was the magic that characterizes a great performer.  So I became bored with him very quickly, as he did seem to become with himself... and I missed what makes for a truly great host.
    The awards went on for what seemed days, the two most refreshing surprises-- the exquisite Charlize Theron, who had looked uncomfortable and awkward in a shot the moment before that I realized afterwards was because she was probably nervous-- dancing like an angel, albeit a dark one since we know her history(you can Google it.)  The other, of course, was jennifer Lawrence falling down, which seemed really quite adorable if you go back to it.
    The rest... well, you couldn't exactly say was Silence.  But nothing was particularly wonderful or moving except for Daniel Day Lewis, who was eloquent beyond eloquent, being completely winning, heightened by the memory of a story they tell about him which I don't know anymore if it's true, where he allegedly came onstage and completely forgot his role, which might have been Hamlet-- one can't be sure, these stories grow.
    But I am glad he married who he did after walking out on a famous love partner, as she has obviously nurtured his creativity.  I am happy for him, and his wife, who still has the depth and character to wear glasses.  And we are all, of course, happy for Meryl Streep for continuing to be who she is and always was, the only one to wear sleeves.
    And we all really love, or should, Ben Affleck, who seems genuinely dear and darling, deserving of his success and the wife he has now, not to mention George Clooney for a buddy.  A few years ago I saw Jennifer Lopez sitting on a mink blanket he had bought for her at Ben Kahn where my mother was a customer, and feared for his soul.  Clearly he got it back.
    Now, if only the Academy could.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Pocketful of Wry

    Yesterday (and Today, why live in the Past?) presented and will present a challenge.  Yesterday Matinee I saw PICNIC, preceded by a soul-rending communique from Roundabout's director, Todd Haimes, about the importance of Inge as a playwright, and his neglect, especially in view of his contemporaries, many of whom are icons who were not held in as high esteem as he.  I went with great enthusiasm to the theater, since that was not only the era that fed my beginning passion for the theater, it was also the play that spawned the romantic(?) couple that were to be together in the first movie I did the title song for, Ralph Meeker and Janice Rule.
    Meeker was a crude actor, and it was his pecs that first exhilarated the theatre ladies, so they were teamed together for a movie.  Herbert J. Yates, the very old head of Republic Pictures, which bought them, called us(me and Les Baxter) into his office.  He wanted the picture, a suspenseful(sort of) thriller about a murderer called "A WOMAN'S DEVOTION."  I was only twenty, but I believe I said "Huh?"
I had been signed by a wonderful agent at MCA named Bobby Helfer, cousin of Elmer Bernstein, who had said to me at first, "Honey, they're not going to let me take you on at $500 when I can get $50,000 for Les Baxter," but ended up saying "The hell with it: I'm going to sign you."  He later committed suicide at 42 by taking forty-two sleeping pills.  But a truly lovely guy.
    After my Huh? I believe Yates, who was married to Vera Hruba Ralston, which I mention because it is such an unlikely feat of memory I like to show it off, said to me, "Don't you see?  He(meaning Meeker) is killing people and everything and she still loves him.  That shows A WOMAN'S DEVOTION." We wrote the song. It was really terrible, as the movie was, too.
    But tonight is about what should and hopefully will be the Best of Movies, and many years ago, when our children were 2 and 4 and both in black tie, we had the first, and famous, black tie Oscar party to watch on TV.  There were three rooms with TV sets, Orthodox(no talking), Conservative(watching AND talking) and Reformed(the talking never stopped.)  All of HAUTE Hollywood came to our house that night, led by Ruth Berle, Milton's very sharp and acerbic wife, whom Time Magazine, which covered our party, called the society doyenne of Beverly Hills.  We had a floodlight by the curb, an usher to lead people into the house, and endless appetizers I had spent many days preparing, a hot dog stand with umbrella in the back yard, and high and low end booze, that Don, my husband, gave out generously while he did his Jackie Gleason impression, the only thing that was less than wonderful about him.
    John Wayne was the expected winner, and Bob Hope the host, so all of those who didn't love either of those guys were at our house.  Lee Marvin, who had won the year before, Shirley MacLaine and Zsa Zsa, who was still a name, Glenn Ford whom I loved, and had met with Rita Hayworth, 'the lovers from Gilda," I'd exclaimed, meeting them at an early Hollywood party, where a little guy had come up to us, held out his hand, and said "Hi, I'm Mickey Rooney," like we wouldn't know. It was a glowing time, and everybody glowed at our house.
    Dusty Fleming was my hairdresser, and Sandy Burton, then a tyro reporter for Time had had her hair done the day before by him and asked what he was doing for the Awards; he told her he was coming to my house.  So she called and introduced herself and asked if she could cover it for Time.  It was right in the middle of The Pretenders and I was publicity mad, so almost choked on my tongue in my eagerness to say 'Yes,' I was so excited.  In spite of my then (understandable?) excitement, Sandy and I were to become lifelong friends, at least as long as her life continued, until she was killed by her boyfriend in Bali which no one investigates, not even Time, because there's no money, and, supposedly, no proof, but that is another story.
    Anyway, it was a great night: everybody came.  Shirley, whom I believe at the time was having an affair with Sandor Vanocur sat stoned, staring at him on the TV.  Then she did a rant against Mike Frankovitch, then the head of Columbia, as I told her this woman standing in front of her was covering the party for Time.  But still she raged on, and called me, infuriated when Sandy printed the least offensive of her outbursts, (I think it was "Oh, shut up, John Wayne.")  "Make it up to me," she was to insist for several years afterward, at one point considering doing my musical which she wanted to own outright.  Anyway, Maggie Smith won, so there was purity and grace to the evening, and it was a really lovely piece that Sandy wrote.
      I will be sad tonight, I think, because I did love Hollywood so when it was that time, and I will miss Don's singing as he did his bad impression, the only thing he did badly, really, darling gentleman that he was.  I will also miss Sandy, and the fact that some places there is no justice, especially when people can be paid off.  But oh, well, it's still America here.  At least until sequestration.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Walk in Central Park

    I went for a walk today, like a tourist, which, in a way, we really all are-- just passing through.  It was an irresistible winter day, not something you can say very often in New York City.  But this one was, filled with sparkle, and none of the weather from the dire predictions, radiant with sunlight and warmth and the gentleness of melting snow, and a little boy named Spencer stomping on what was left of a hardening heap, crystallizing and lightly sprinkled with soot.
    I passed my friend William Shakespeare-- (I wonder if his legs were really that good,) paid the homage I always do when going by him, stopped by Robbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott, massive, wonderful statues on either side of what i think is Poet's Walk, or maybe Writer's, and wondered, as usual, what FitzGreene Halleck is doing there.  Probably he wonders, too.
    When I was first starting out in life, at that point when we allegedly determine what it is we want to be when we grow up-- in my case, way before-- I wanted to be a poet.  Pelted with poetry by my father, a pharmacist/poet manque, I had started spouting it myself at a scarily early age, and by seven or eight had aligned myself with Longfellow, probably not the best choice, but what do you know when your father's been reading The Highwayman at you.
So The Children's Hour hung heavily in my head.  You remember?
       Between the dusk and the daylight
       When the night is beginning to glower (a word I thought heavyhanded, e'en then) Comes a pause in the day's occupation
       That is known as The Children's Hour.

So sitting in the Boathouse Restaurant, looking out at the frozen lake, sipping on not a bad glass of Pinot Grigio, talking to two racily charming Italian women at the next table-- you can always make friends in New York as long as they are from someplace else-- I took out a little notebook I had brought along that had in it some poems I'd written in this park on earlier occasions, and found this:

Between the day that my life shall end
        And the year that I thought to begin it
        Came the pause in my Solipcism
        That is known as the Children's Minute.

        I hear in the bedroom above me
        The toddler that calls me "Mom,"
        And by the time I climb the stairs
        She's dressing for the prom.

The little boy with the pinchable cheeks
        Huffs and puffs up a hill of stone
        And by the time he reaches the peak
        He has two little boys of his own.

        Why didn't I spray them with some kind of glue?
        So they'd stay at that huggable age
        Oh, they say that time flies, but it literally flew
        Giving not enough time to engage.

        If we could but know at the start of the game
        That Life isn't a fair referee
        For there are no "Time outs" and there's no one to blame
        But yourself, for not stopping to see.

Oh, well.  The ladies from Italy have invited me to visit them in Lucca.       

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

An Afternoon in Camelot

     So as people who know me know, and even some who don't if they read any of these rantings, my great, as yet unrealized love is the musical theater-- for which I always thought I was headed, except then came the diversions: life, novels, poetry, a family.  Still, in the back of my heart and sometimes the front of my head was the big dream, which, in the past several days seemed for a moment or five that it might not be a fantasy.
     So today I settled comfortably onto my mink pillow-- Mom left a a stole-- and watched Richard Harris play King Arthur in Camelot.  Strummed through this tune is the recollection of my friendship with Nancy Olsen, the first Mrs. Alan Lerner, who wrote the brilliant book (I imagine Shaw was a bit of a help) and lyrics for what is without argument the GREAT musical of our and any other time, My Fair Lady.  Nancy told me of the day Alan came to her and said of the dazzling Micheline, who was to become his next wife: "I have to have her."  It is the kind of line I imagine he would have demanded be cut from any script that bore his name.
     But have her he did, and scuttle his happiness for a while I imagine he did, too.  She, Micheline, and I became friends for a while, and dazzling as she had been, when I knew her she had already become a little hard.  Nancy had her revenge when one sunset in Malibu, as she walked along the shore, she passed a withered woman, half-bent, and it was Micheline.  Time, the Great Avenger.
Anyway, I was excited to see Camelot all these years later, as my heart is at once light and heavy at the prospect of finally getting my dream, which I understand can also mean losing it.  In the meantime, I remembered going to Rome and meeting Franco Nero, who played Lancelot-- badly, but with gorgeous, I mean gorgeous blue eyes, and knowing he and Vanessa Redgrave, who was beautiful, and, I believe pre- political when she made the movie, had had a child together, I realize it must have been especially boring on the set even if they hadn't been so lusty.
     I had been told that Franco never bathed, but I don't remember smelling him.  Just for some reason-- was I married? Was I being faithful? or had I finally grown up, which I doubt, that transition having come much later-- I did not fall into a swoon over him, though I do remember he was funny, and that is always a good thing.  Ah, but I do remember those eyes, and am happy to have seen them up close, and not fallen into them.
     The glorious chords of the music of Camelot sounded in my little studio today, and I immediately began to weep-- my feelings are all dangerously close to the surface these days, as I have been going through crap I don't care to glorify by remembering it while I am writing these things which strangely soothe me.  So I am highly emotional even when the music isn't going all the way into me.  But I wept just to hear it at first.
     And then I saw the movie.  Richard Harris was pained and wonderful, and we've already heard about Vanessa.  But oh, the final hour when we reach the bridal bower. It is really tedious.
     I don't know who wrote the screenplay, but I imagine Lerner was stubborn about changes.  And the truth was they hadn't really worked it out for the stage, either, though I imagine we were all so swept away by the presence of Julie Andrews and Burton and the then(how was it we ever really prized him) irresistible Robert Goulet as Lancelot.  He DID have a most wonderful voice.
     I remember when Billy Rose, later to be the covered-up(not that well, but he was dead) fictional center of THE PRETENDERS, who I actually went out with a couple of times, as did my then best friend Sue Mengers, brought me home to my apartment on 73rd Street and went to my closet and opened it.  My mother had a world of wholesale connections, one of which was feathered lingerie.  So there was a peignoir, a word that sounds sexier than the robe really was, since I never actually put it on, sort of halfway between peach and orange, transparent, with matching ostrich feathers all down the front and at the bottom of the sleeves.  And Billy looked at it and said, "Who you saving this for, Robert Goulette?"  I mean he really hit the final T.  A very sad little man, lonely and scared because he'd made all the money in the world and didn't get joy from it, or spend it. (He took me to a deli, and Sue, too,at a different time, and she never forgave him.)
     He walked into Sardi's once when Sue and I were at a front table, being young.  He was with Monique Van Vooren, who everybody said gave great head.  As Sue was later to say, and I think I cited it in the novel, "With us sitting there like the Dolly Sisters."
     I think I miss her.  We did not have a very good finale, she, who was my best friend and agent when I was first starting to have a visible career, and, even more so, a visible life.  She was sort of my Maid of Honor, (Dishonor, she would have said,) at my wedding to Don at the Plaza, when she said, "We must do this every Sunday."  Then, when my play opened on Broadway, the same week my daughter was born, she said "I feel like the Mother of the Bride-- everybody's calling me."  The play failed, and so did our friendship, particularly since my bestseller, The Pretenders, was about her-- and me, too, really: the character was kind of a mix of the two of us. 
     Then she moved to Hollywood, and started to become a star.  We met again in the driveway of a party she was surprised I had been invited to, where she said, yelled out, really, to Beau Bridges, "Beau, Sue wants to fuck," and it made me sad.  I always thought she was better than that.  But maybe I was wrong.
     Then, I wrote SILK LADY, which was not quite the success THE PRETENDERS had been, but it was hot.  And once again, Louise Felder, the fictional name I gave Sue, was a central character.  She called me to ask me how I had known so much about her when we hadn't been friends for so many years, and also told me how much she liked the book.
     "The only reason I stopped reading was I could not lift my eyes, it caught me so completely," she started the conversation, not even saying 'Hello' or telling me who it was, which is how she started most conversations, assuming people would always remember her, which they did.    When next I saw her, it was at Gladys Begelman's funeral, where she chastized me for having told Liz Smith how happy I had been for her(Sue's) phone call.
      The next time I saw her, she tried to run me down in front of Phil Scully's restaurant.  And that was the last time I saw her.
      But I am happy she is having such a Renaissance, with Bette Midler, yet.  I hope there is an Afterlife, so she sees.  

Monday, February 04, 2013


     Ar what turned out to be almost the last day of his life, Happy, my Yorkshire Terrier, perhaps the cleverest dog in the history of his breed-- (he had been on Oprah and would have lived forever, but she didn't show the book) -- went with me to visit Oscar Wilde. 
We had a sandwich sitting on his gravestone at Pere LaChaise. Everything in Paris was closed that day.  It was some kind of national celebration, I'm not sure which one.  Maybe July 14th, as big as it gets in Paris.  There was nothing open but the cemetery.
      So we had lunch with Oscar Wilde. That night, around the corner from my hotel, a little boy about two + was playing in the street and Happy played with him.  A very pretty, dark woman came and put a glass of champagne on my table, and said: "That is for being so kind to my son, Dorian."
    "Dorian?" said I.
    "Yes," she said. "After Dorian Gray."
     Well, those who know me, who are apparently not a multitude judging from the silence on my phone, know that I do not believe in coincidence.  All these things seem to me orchestrated, little gifts sent by the universe to connect us.  So I invited them to come visit me the next day at my hotel, the Prince de Gaulles.  Happy played with the little boy, chasing him and being chased around the hotel room, up and down the corridors.  And he was young again, a puppy, the lively little boy he'd been when he first came to live with us.  
     And after they were gone,  I went out with him to dinner, and he collapsed, stiff-legged, on the sidewalk.  I called the vet, the one we had in Paris, and he said it was a heart attack, and I should bring him in the next morning and they'd put him to sleep.  
     I called Robert and we wept together on the phone.  Then I lay Happy down on the bed beside me, and petted him, and asked him to help me.   I didn't want to put him to sleep. About four in the morning I turned on the light, and he was gone. 
     The next day I took him in his little travel bag, a purse I carried that I smuggled him in, to museums, the occasional movie, whole countries before they checked and x-rayed.  He was cremated, and I took his ashes and sprinkled a little of him on the great artists that lay in Pere La Chaise, a little but not a lot on Gertrude Stein, some on Heloise and Abelard, and put his collar on Jim Morrison's headstone.
     Strangely, I have received a card today from Dominique, the mother of Dorian, who was, in Robert's words, "the little boy who killed Happy."  Dorian has grown now, and has his own band.  I heard a little of what he played the last time I was in Paris, and it sounded really dreadful, but then I am older, and what they do now is foreign not only to my ears but all my sensibilities. So maybe he is gifted, I can't really say.
     But he has grown up looking really dark, his eyes in the photo on the card, shifting even in a still.  I hope he will be all right.  I hope Happy is.  
     And meanwhile, as I struggle with what I hope will be my return to my greatest love in the Arts, theatre, I found this quote, the same day I got the postcard from Dorian's mom.  A sign? 

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. 
    Oscar Wilde