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.