So I am readying to leave L.A., comfortable as it is, nourishing as it has been to my creativity, off to seek my Fortune. I suppose this is not only old-fashioned as in a Fairy Tale, but redundant, as I have only lately come to the realization that my fortune was something I already had: the ability to express myself. That does not come easily to a lot of people. I have had the good chance to manifest that in different ways in my life: through poetry when I was a very little girl, through comedy and song when I was a teenager and very young woman, and through novels for all the years between then and now, punctuated with my travel-writing, and ReportsfromtheFront, that more or less reflected where I was in time, and my head, and often in my body.
But it is the song part of me that has always filled me with the greatest aches and joys, and I have been privileged in my life to know some of the Great songwriters, a few of them adorable, some of them cads, a worn-out, Noel Cowardy word, but then, so were they. Among the latter were Frank Loesser, who said, when I auditioned for him at MCA when I was twenty: "Kid, you're the biggest talent since me," and then proceeded to disappoint and use me in the many ways successful, brilliant and unscrupulous men can, which at the time seemed as thrilling as it was hurtful. Then there was Yip Harburg, the gentle genius who wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz, which remains the most uplifting and diverting and Illuminated score ever, I think, filled with a love for the Invisible and Unknowable in which Yip thought he did not believe, being a committed atheist, but manifesting what was its most radiant demonstration-- this melodic side of Blake and Shelley. His wife, Eddie, offered me fruit one Yom Kippur when I took sanctuary with them, fleeing the hurts of my mother, whose place Eddie had taken in my very young consciousness, since Yip had become my dad. When I told her I was fasting, she said "Surely Gwen, someone as intelligent as you doesn't believe in God." It had never occurred to me not to. So I ate five grapes and was sick for days.
Yip and I walked through Central Park his final autumn, and I sang him some of what were the beginnings of my musical, and he said they were as good lyrics as he had heard, and with the final song, paid me the greatest of compliments I have ever received, saying "I wish I had written that." Though I was so elated I thought I could die that day, I am grateful that I didn't.
My street here in Beverly Hills, Robbins Drive, is lined with sycamore trees, the leaves a glorious multicolored assertion of autumn, as it seems to be nowhere else in LA. So I think of 'Autumn in New York," by Vernon Duke. He once chased me around the bed in my stepfather's room, and told me "Zat Richard Rodgers is a son of a bitch.. but he does write a good tune." Then there was Julie Styne, diminutive and darling. I would have lunch with him on Saturdays at the Carlyle towards the end of his life. We had tried writing the score of this together but to my surprise and disappointment his melodies, like Julie, were worn out. So we opted for friendship and those Saturday lunches, after his many heart procedures. He continued to try and hit on me, and aware that he was badly failing, I asked him what he would do if I said yes. He said "Try."
Then there was Cy Coleman, whom I approached when he came out of an elevator. I was leaving a humiliating audition where a potential collaborator, a soulless but gifted composer had had construction going on all during the time I sang him my songs. "You might be allowed to write a quatrain" he said, condescendingly, as he said he would do the music and turn the lyrics over to Alan Jay Lerner. "No one's going to let you write this score alone," he said. Then Cy, who was a friend, came out of the elevator, came to my place and listened to the songs. He told me they were fine. "If I worked on them I would just rip the spine out of them," he said, telling me I should persevere on my own."Just write bigger endings." I think I have. And a lot of bigger beginnings and middles, too.
There are a few other songwriters I will not mention-- they were not colorful enough to make good stories aside from their insensitivity, and I am entering a period of nothing but Love Love Love. I have just had a farewell breakfast with beautiful and adorable Amber, a young actress who was sustaining herself as the bartender at the Mosaic when I stayed there, with whom I became good friends. Amber's mother's heart just stopped forever a few months ago, and the same thing happened to Amber in the midst of a soccer game. The players kept her alive for seven minutes till the firemen got there and kept her going in the truck till she got to the hospital,where she was given emergency surgery and a defibrillator. She just had to go through another procedure where it had to be upgraded because it was set for older people, and Amber is so young. She is as glowing a presence as I have ever met, and told me how the fireman who ministered to her in the truck told her after a luncheon in their honor after her recovery how she lay there, gone gone gone, no sign of life. Then suddenly, after the second shot of adrenalin, she sprang to, opened her eyes, sat bolt upright, and started punching out, crying "No, no, no." He thought she was literally fighting for her life, but she thinks the truth is she was fighting not to come back, because whatever it was she found there, she was okay or maybe even happy staying with.
Well, I guess we will all find out. Unless it was true, what Peter Sellers told Cary Grant, my favorite name drop, when Sellers came back from his first pass at dying, that there was "Nothing." Maybe there was just nothing for Peter Sellers. There had to be something for Cary Grant, or there wouldn't have been a Cary Grant.
I remember when I published "How to Survive in Suburbia When Your Heart's in the Himalayas," one of the meditations was "What Hath Cary Granted?" He said to me, my dazzling and generous friend, "Why am I in this book? It could last a hundred years, and in fifteen years no one will even know who I am." And I said to him "People will know who you are forever." But alas, as the most affected of publishers used to write in their rejection letters, he was right.
Still. alas, even publishing didn't last the way we thought it would, and books as we knew them, along with people you thought were immortal, are passing from the scene, like Republicans with conscience, and politicians who love their country better than their jobs. But maybe as long as there are people who sing, there will be musical theatre. And maybe I'll get to see you all, Opening Night of Sylvia WHO? Wouldn't that be a great story?