Sunday, August 11, 2013


Today is the birthday of my stepfather, Saul Schwamm, affectionately know, by those(not an army) who celebrated him, as "Puggy", because of his underbite, which thrust his jaw forward  as though he was ready for an argument, as he often was.  Contentious, combative, original and brilliant, he came into my life as the blessing my parents were less than.
    My mother married him when I was in high school, and because of him, and his generosity, I was able to go to Bryn Mawr, where I had been accepted, when my father, by then, as I remember, the Mayor of Tucson, said the University of Arizona was a better school... doubtless because he wouldn't have to pay for it.  Daddy was all things to all men, if all men were Himself.
   When I scored my great success in Junior Show, having written most of the music and lyrics and played the comedy lead(causing George Segal, the one-day-to-be movie star, albeit briefly, to leap to the apron of the stage for the curtain call and kiss my hands, something that caused a near-swoon on my part at the time, since I had masochistic taste and was infatuated) and Freddy Sadoff, my friend at the Actor's Studio, then the center of theatre excitement, since it harbored the young, inspired, and still thin Marlon Brando, to tell me the theatre needed me, so I should quit college and come to New York. So I told Miss McBride, our wonderful president, who had congratulated my mother the night of the show, saying "This is the most exciting theatrical event since Katharine Hepburn was an undergraduate here," -- followed my mother's saying to me 'Who was that?' as Miss McBride went off into the darkness. "The president of the college," I said.  "Oh," said my mother.  "I thought it was the washerwoman."
    But after what Freddy said, I went to Miss McBride and told her "Shakespeare and Chaucer have given me all they can, and the theatre needs me, so I'm quitting Bryn Mawr."  Without missing a beat, Miss McBride said: "Well, Gwen... try to be back for exams."
   So I went home and told my mother I was quitting college.  "They told me this would happen in the Beauty Parlor!" she shrieked, and locked me in my room.
    I lay there quietly sobbing and reading Tennyson.  Later, Puggy came into my room.
   "It's all right," I said. "I was going to quit because I had no reason to stay.  But now I have a reason: you won't let me leave."
    "No, Gwennie," he said.  "That's not your reason... There's your reason."  He pointed to a painting on the wall.  "All Art will show it self in its time.  Don't rush the calendar."
    Well, I certainly haven't.  The whole span of my life lies between that caution, and the heartening almost-fact that my musical comedy, the center of my aspiration, seems at long long last to be coming to life.
    But then, meantime, I had a few more years of Puggy's kindness and wisdom, before my mother accused him of having an affair with his son's ex-fiancee, so he did, after which me and my mother divorced and he married Kathy... But that is another story, probably a sequel to The Motherland if people still cared about novels, which, sadly, I don't think they do anymore.
   I had a few more glowing moments with him-- there was the night a man landed on the moon, and Puggy, a Wall Street investment banker, waxed poetic and longing for the aspirations he once had.  "The time has long since passed," he said, "when I wondered if I was doing the right thing."  But by then he and his brother, Harvey, had long been "The Bad Boys of Wall Street," having taken an ad in the New York Times the day Roosevelt closed the banks, saying "Business will be conducted as usual in the offices of Schwamm and Co.," so all trading that day had to be done through their company, started when they were blackballed for being Jews.  They made what would have been today a Gatesian/Jobsian fortune in that one day, and were never considered gentlemen again.
   But he had a soul full of love for art-- he had bought Pollock's BLue Unconcious- and the 8-room apartment on Park Avenue that Mom talked herself out of(screamed, actually) was full of wonderful paintings, including the one he pointed to with his aviso to me.  And when he read THE MOTHERLAND, about which Liz Smith said to my mother, "I know it's fiction but Gwen could;t have written it without you for inspiration, to which my mother responded "It made me regret not having committed infanticide," Puggy said, of his fictional depiction: "I don't know why I got off so easy."
    I do.  He was a wonderful man.  Happy Birthday, Puggy.