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.