Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Innocents Not Quite Abroad

     Understanding that my salvation is in writing, and I woke up not knowing what I was going to write about, the Universe, or Providence, or WhoeverItIsWho is concerned about the new Pope, if One there Is, sent me an e-mail from a Jeffrey Schwartz, a documentary filmmaker who is about to make a film about Tab Hunter.  Tab was one of the heart-throbs of the 50s, along with Rock Hudson and some other great male beauties who nobody knew were gay.  He was a sweet guy, and very tall, Goyishly handsome, blonde and blue-eyed, and was, in background, a stable boy, and in painful fact which it took me eons to process and actually believe, involved with Tony Perkins, my first great movie star love.
     I met Tony(Anthony he was on the marquees) at my first big movie star party in Hollywood, given by Elaine Aiken, who was with the Actor's Studio.  At the time, that had enormous eclat on the West Coast, since few of the stars of the day had actual acting credentials, and Brando, whose home was the Studio, his father figure Lee Strasberg, was on his way to being a God, still thin and full of intellect and principles. 
     Tony was incredibly beautiful, and very mysterious, though not about what was to turn out to be his real mystery, and engaged me immediately because he was so bright, and played games.  Rapt by his then very boyish male beauty, I stood transfixed in the garden, as he told me he would take me to dinner if I could tell him what movie these lines were from-- as I remember still, I think-- "If Miss Perry know more, we find out fast.  Take Miss Perry deeper into ship."  I believe that was Akim Tamiroff in something, I never found out.  But as Tony was so reluctantly adorable, and I was still wearing my teenagerish heart, I fell into his very clever pit. We not only went to dinner but he became the center of my first novel, NAKED IN BABYLON, and from there, my life.
     He would call me at four in the morning and say "What's for breakfast?" and I would get up and make it for him, including home made jams and popovers he said were better than his mother's-- as it turned out she had never cooked, so that, besides being endearing, was a lie.  Then he would go off to the studio, the most sought-after star of his day, having played Gary Cooper's son in FRIENDLY PERSUASION, James Dean having just died, so they were looking not only for the new James Dean, but whoever was lanky and appealing enough to eventually replace Gary Cooper.
     As Tony went out the door after breakfast he would say "I'll call you from the studio."  I would wait all day-- in those days the phone had a twenty-five foot cord for which you paid extra, but it would not stretch to the bathroom, so I wouldn't pee all day for fear my tinkle would cover that of the phone.  
     He never called.  And I would go to sleep, Miltowned, I think, the popular trank of the day, saying "I'll never speak to him again." And then the phone would ring at 4 A.M. and I would get up and make him breakfast.
     This went on for months, and finally, years.  He took me to Disneyland, kind of our version of an orgy, as our romantic life consisted of shooting off model planes in which we put our enemies. Sidney Skolsky, the gossip columnist, who had called us in print, 'The Odd Couple--"  I was fat, and Henry Willson, the agent who represented what was suspected to be but not spoken of in a loud voice, gay movie stars.  Among those was Tab Hunter, Tony's good friend-- and, eventually, a friend of mine.
     Every day I would wait for the call from Tony that never came. And every night the phone would ring-- Hollywood, even then, was never at a loss for vicious people-- and someone would say "He's at the beach with Tab." And I would say, "Shut up, shut up, shut up" slam down the receiver and try to go back to sleep. And then get up and make him breakfast.
     Finally, I made my Hollywood experience into a novel, and he would say, reading it every day before he went to the studio: "You're going to be the most famous writer in America." On the day I gave him the last chapter of the book, wherein the heroine confronts the young hero with his homosexuality, he said he would call me from the studio.  This time he did.  "All the way to the studio I said 'I have this friend, and she writes poems and songs and funny telegrams in French and now she's written a novel, and she's going to be the most famous writer in the country, and I'm so proud that she's my friend.  And then I read the ending.'
 "Tony," I said.  "Let me off the hook.  I'll burn the book.  Is it true?"
And he said to me "I care for you as much as I have ever cared for any woman. We will drink from the same cup."
     I still didn't hear him.   
     So I changed the ending, and devoted myself to him over the next several years, following him to New York where he did "Look Homeward Angel," onstage, to, as I remember, very favorable reviews.  For that opening I gave him a gift, a keyring with a gold playing card, a ten of diamonds.  On our way to see Mary Martin in Peter Pan in San Francisco, which he had taken me to, there was a playing card lying face down on the runway(they still had runways then)  I said "Now you're taking me to San Francisco. Next you'll take me to Disneyland,(it was just opening)  He said "I'll take you to Disneyland if you can tell me what that card is."  And because I loved him so much, and Disneyland seemed to me to represent consummation, I did not guess: I concentrated so hard, I saw through the card.  He turned it over and paled: "You're a witch," he said.  The note that accompanied the gift of the keyring said "If I knew about this, I must know about you," meaning, as I remember, my conviction that he would be the greatest star of his day.
     And he might have been.  But the weirdness of the parts he took, (PSYCHO) and the unsuitability of the ones where they still paraded him as athletic and over the top male, undid him.  He fell out of sight, as did our friendship.
     Then, years later, I ran into him, literally, as I sort of jogged home one afternoon.  I took him home with me, and we saw Don, and Don said "Oh, my God, he's got you again."  And he did.
     By that time he was married to Berry Berenson, truly a lovely woman, and I was happy for them.  We saw what seemed a lot of each other, and he encouraged me to write my musical, as he knew songwriting was my happiest and most satisfying talent, albeit unrealized.
     Meanwhile I had also become better friends with Tab, who had been part of 'Young Hollywood' as it was known, and would come to see me when I was performing my songs at the Purple Onion, along with Venetia Stevenson and the rest of the then Young Hollywood crowd.  The years having made us all Older Hollywood, I saw him in New York with some of his gay friends-- one of whom was a doctor, who gave me a shot of the diuretic I was using-- I was still heavy, --and, happily was wearing a wig which I ripped off, saying "You're all under arrest," so they all were terrified.   Tab and I talked that evening on a new level, and I told him how I had asked Tony to let me go, that I would burn the book, if he would only tell me the truth.  I repeated what he had said, that was, of course, a complete denial.  And Tab said: "He must not believe in God."
     After that, of course, quite a while after, fortunately, as I think and hope he had good years with his family, Tony died of AIDS.  And, on September 11th, his wife, Berry, was on the plane from Boston that crashed into the Twin Towers.  So it was, in all, as dark a story as any I have ever told, much less lived.  
     And it's still very sad.  I saw one of his sons at his memorial, looking more like Brad Pitt than Tony, which is not the worst thing that could happen to a man.
     But I look forward to being part of the 'documentary' that is being made about Tab based on what was his best-selling biography.  I never read it in full, but someone did show me a footnote, I think it was, in which Tab wondered how someone as smart as Gwen Davis could have been that naive.
     Interesting query.