Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I got a flash last night of why it is that this new Internet age is so separating us from the young.  There was an announcement that a new app-- the very word offends me, word that it really isn't-- will answer needs before they are expressed e-wise: that is to say that all your apps, talking to each other, will determine from another app where the traffic is too heavy, for instance, and notify your GPS(huh?) to send you on another, route, anticipating your not wanting to get where it is heavily congested,
    Well, what is heavily congested by all this new shit(my word for app,) is the spirit.  When I examined what I wrote the other day about my darling friend Pam, and our losing each other because she was so tuned in to the net, to its near psychotic immediacy, that she simply could not understand or tolerate the truth that I couldn't keep up, bright as I was once rumored to be, and, I pray, undiminished by time as I still am, at least mentally.  And not being able to keep up in that instance was because I have usually taken time to think about what it was I was addressing, in the way of a challenge, in a hope, even, as some will do of a pensive evening, a prayer.  I'm not talking religion here, but the reaching out we all have to do when there is something we long for, in the way of getting through to somebody, or, if it should be out there for someone besides George Lucas, a Force.
    Then last night I passed my new neighbor, a lovely young newlywed who just moved in, having come to LA and taken a job marketing for a game company.  And as she tried to explain exactly what it was to me, I understood it was part of this Today world, where young people don't see or want to see the same movies we did, the ones with characters in them, with longings, and a story that didn't just zap.  And I said to her, understanding in a flash as you sometimes can, that what today is giving us is NO TIME TO REFLECT.  That's it.  Everything is connected to immediacy.  Instant feedback from the computer, about to be upgraded, supposedly, into anticipating what you might have wanted to ask, where you might have wanted to go, to eat, to... everything but dream.
    Dreaming is food for the soul.  And the tragedy of today is that, as Mame said, Most poor suckers are starving to death.  Reflection is digesting what you are taking in.  To have no time for it, or inclination, with everything being Instant, with Immediate Feedback, diminishes our capacity to feel on the deepest level.  What would Thoreau do, I asked myself last night, as I put a copy of WALDEN on the table by my bed.
    Well, for sure he would have been too smart to tune in to any of this shit.  Forgive me: apps.

Monday, July 29, 2013


So having been shut out by the Jews-- don't ask: it's a story I don't like to tell, but probably would, as to share pain decreases it except to the person listening, so don't ask-- I went today to All Saint's Episcopal Church where I had a nice experience once or twice, and as I believe God is in Everybody(except Dick Cheney and those Republicans now moving against women,) I am happy to go anywhere in pursuit, or not even pursuit, just the relaxed opening of heart where Uplift might be available.  I went to the second sitting, I guess you would call it if you were on a ship which it feels like we all are, even as our country, and the planet, are sinking.
     The 11:15 service, the second one, is for the younger people, which of course I have no idea I no longer am, where they play guitars and sing original God songs, which I think all songs probably are, as if there are Gifts, there must be a Giver, so why not?  But it was joyful and melodic, and they sing, even during the actual sermon, which is brief and friendly-- I am also a Friend, with a capital 'F', the Quaker part of me from Bryn Mawr years and Winifred Barrett in my youth, and Westwood for the LA years when I walked on Sundays to the Meeting on Hilgard. And then of course there is the Buddhist, nourished and guided by my wonderful teacher and friend with a little 'f' Jack Kornfield.  During the songs in All Saints' they project art and thoughts on the screen at the front of the church.  One of those today was "I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain," and I could really relate to that, except I think I probably still have that brain.  I lost a very dear friend, a computer expert named Pam, a darling woman, because she understood the net to the extent that she took for granted everything I couldn't begin to absorb, and spoke with the speed of one who webbed without a moment's reflection, and I quite simply couldn't keep up, and really didn't want to.  So we parted ways over Miscommunication which is what I think they could call it as well as what they call it now.
     But there is enough in the world we are actually in at the present time to nourish us if we look at it, and take it in.  So there.
  All the same, it was a delight to get in the mail a PHOTOPLAY from my youth, sent me by the partner of the teenage heart-throb of my youth,Tab Hunter. I had occasion to see him in New York when they were making a documentary about him.  I participated as one who had been in love with Tony Perkins, who I lost to Tab, but who knew? Everybody was in the closet then, as Tony, very smart, and deeply conflicted, was almost more than anybody.  The issue of that vanished magazine has the song printed in it I wrote with and forTab, who was temporarily a record star, his great popularity spilling over into something he wanted to do, as all the boys envied Pat Boone.  The song is called DON'T LET IT GET AROUND, and it certainly didn't., The issue's cover has the young, happy couple, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner on it.  Inside are various gossip columns, besides the features on movies and then movie stars-- Jean Seberg, Burt Lancaster, Jayne Mansfield, the still beautiful Marlon Brando, with the magazine predicting he would get an Oscar for SAYONARA, in which I thought he was terrible, except when he winced at the dead double suicide of Red Buttons and Miiko Taka or whatever her name was, and looked really pained, which I think he was because of the movie..      

Two predictions-- Lauren Bacall could never really be in love with Frank Sinatra, because she was too much in love with and dedicated to the memory of Bogart, and Lana Turner's husband #5 would be Johnny Stompanato, except her daughter was going to kill him.  I am really pleased to have this copy of the magazine.  Too much of my life, the part that should have made for great souvenirs were thrown away by me in moments of carelessness, or anguish, or pique: 1) A letter from Saul Bellow, who had won the Nobel prize, to whom I appealed for support during the anguished lawsuit over TOUCHING, from the "therapist" Bindrim who had conducted the nude encounter I'd gone to.  Bellow had used everyone he knew in real life in his novels, but his letter said he would not support me.  This, when Doubleday sued me after defending me all the way to the Supreme Court.
    2) A letter from Philip Roth, who had all but destroyed my favorite friend with whom he lived for seven years while she supported him, but left the day he got his million for Portnoy, after he had used her mercilessly in that novel, saying "You may not use my name…I suggest you contact Bernard Malamud, chairman of the Freedom to Write committee at P.E.N."
    Worst of the papers I should have saved, most painful, a letter scrawled in his own constipated hand, from my once closest friend Stanley Kubrick.  Stanley's tinily cramped words ran in ink across the top of the page, apologizing for having not let me into his house in England.  When I'd first come to Hollywood, down from Stanford where I was trying for my Master's, Stanley and I had become true buddies.  "I've just bought LOLITA," he'd said to me.  "And Dwight McDonald is going to give it a rave in Esquire because Nabokov is a literary genius.  But he can't write a line of dialogue."  I had just given Stanley a draft of my novel, Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah, about wife-swapping in the suburbs.  Probably my worst book, but ahead of its time.
     "You're the best writer of dialogue in America," he said, and invited me to go into the closet to write the movie of Lolita.  So I moved down to L.A. and holed up in the Park Sunset, instructed not to tell anyone I was in town, as Stanley was sure everyone would guess what I was doing.
        But we argued over approach.  At an early point there was a scene where Lolita disses a kid who "is a creep.  She had polio."
       I said, "Stanley, you can't have her putting down a kid for having polio. The audience will hate her."
      "You don't get it," he said.  "Humbert is thinking how exciting it would be to screw a twelve-year-old who had polio."
       "Stanley..." I managed.  "How do you see this movie?"
       "It's a love story," he said.
       "Oh," said I.  "I thought it was a comedy."   He'd stopped speaking to me after that.  Then Don came into my life, and we went to  the opening of Strangelove.  I told him Stanley would be there for the first showing (four P.M.)  Don said: "Stop being a writer."  As we came down the steps from the mezzanine, we heard 'Click Click, click.' And there Stanley was, clicking away, on a bus driver's counter, saying "We just broke the house record for the Criterion."
      He came to our wedding after that, with Kristiana, who complained that the vase she sent us from Steuben (SChtoy bun, she pronounced it, was $29.95.  It's now five hundred, which shows how long ago the wedding was.) Stanley took Don aside...Don was producing the first Jets games for TV,-- and told him to keep the camera on the line, instead of following the ball. "The line is where the most exciting action is."
       "Stanley," Don said, "if you'll let me run a credit at the end saying 'Directed by Stanley Kubrick,' I'll keep the camera anywhere you say."
      When we were living in London, visiting the Gary Smiths, whose house in the country was right next to Stanley's, I went next door to show him my beautiful children.   He opened the front door, which actually creaked, as in a horror movie, and two snarling dogs-- can't remember the breed abut they were black and sleek and huge-- leapt snapping at the air.  
  "Stanley?" I said, into the darkness, not able to see if was he behind that heavy door.    "Gwen…?" he said, recognizing my voice.    "Yes," I said.    "I'd let you in," said he, "but the dogs will go for the children."    After that,  he wrote me that letter, explaining why it was he had acted as he did, in that tight little hand.   I was so wounded I threw it away.  Would've brought a fortune at auction.
   Something else thrown away, I am afraid-- the check stub from Eugene C. Kelly (Gene, my dancing teacher from Pittsburgh when I was two,) for $100 minus $10 commission to MCA for an 18 month option on my story, Mrs. Midas, that became 'What a Way to Go."  Kept, though, the dinner menu for Mr. Cary Grant, from the Q.E something. Amazing the things we throw away in our journey, this struggle to become ourselves.  Excessive, the things we keep: the scars.  But then, of course, there's the memories.

Friday, July 26, 2013


It is hard, even not living in New York, not to be embarrassed by Anthony Weiner.  One would wish he were not a Democrat, not a Jew-- although a Republican Gentile who wags his penis in public is difficult to imagine.
   Clearly the man is out of his mind, if not his briefs.  That there could remain any public debate about whether he is fit for public office(or a private one, that doesn't belong to a psychiatrist) is silly.  Anyone who supports him is probably as into exhibitionism as he is.  I grieve for his wife, who was clearly dedicated and smart, except that she married him.
   That all of this emerges, so to speak, at the same time as the death of Virginia Johnson, she of the Masters & Johnson sensational breakthrough, especially in book sales, feels cosmically orchestrated, as most things are starting to seem to me--since it would be interesting to get her educated(over-educated?) opinion about what could possibly explain this madness, besides madness, or as my friend Hal says: stupidity.  
   Anyway, it is a cloudy day in Beverly Hills, a welcome relief, not that we have suffered here in comparison to the rest of the world-- another signpost that should be held up for those who insist there is no global warming.  An overcast sky is a balm for the soul, giving,as it does, an opportunity to reflect, as life does, free of too much glare
   Am debating-- not too vociferously, as I know what my intuition is-- whether or not to get a dog.  As longtime friends know, I have had dogs most of my adult life, all of them singular and exceptional.  The first of them was Bo, a Yorkie, the result of my husband's being a soft buy as opposed to a hard sell-- he went to get backing for a movie idea he had from a woman with a lot of money, and she ended up selling him a dog. "Say Hello to Bo," he said, as he came home sheepishly, or as that is mixing animal metaphors, Terrierly.  I was a little miffed with him at the time, as I had never had a dog except for a poodle I won in a contest(25 words or less) when I was 12 that my mother made me return.  
     Also at the time he came home with Bo I was in the midst of my fake celebrity, the limelight you get in this country when you have a success, traveling the country doing TV talk shows promoting "THE PRETENDERS."  Billy Friedkin,(to give you some sense of how long ago and what exact period it was, was shooting THE EXORCIST, and after I visited the set,) sent me to the airport in his limousine, so I was full of myself, and much of what Billy was, too, though at that moment he was clearly inspired.  When I landed they had lost my luggage, and I think (I KNOW) I behaved with outrage and indignation.  Then I got home and they told me Bo (we had changed his name from the more pretentious 'Beau') was dead.  And I fell to my knees, no kidding, and prayed with a fervor I had never prayed, and I didn't pray that often except when I was little and asked God to keep my parents from killing each other, to keep him alive.  In the morning when I called the vet said he didn't know how it was possible, but Bo was alive.  He recovered, though he was blind in one eye, as Shani Wallis' boxers had come up our hill and as Madeleine, four at the time put it "made Bo a trampoline."  My best friend at the time was the witty and irreverent Jaye P. Morgan, who said "Did you imagine for a moment that Shani Walllis' dogs could kill yours?"  Well, yes.
    Then there was Happy, who the kids found at Beverly Center, as Bo was entering into his dotage.  I walked them together one day, the old man and the puppy, and they both lifted their leg by the palm tree at the same time, like a dance team, and I sorrowed at not having a camera, though the image is still in my mind.  Then Don started to die, and there was so much going on of a sad and horrible nature that I had no time to try and keep the aged and ailing Bo alive, so he was put to sleep. "I already had my dog," Don said, looking away, when I brought Happy up to his bed to say Goodbye to him.
   But as I started to heal, or try to, there came Mimi.  Not so much a dog as an encapsulated soul.  I was having lunch with Pat McPherson, my brilliant college ex-president, and she noted "You ought to have a dog."  Right around the corner from the restaurant was a puppy mill store, and in the window was Mimi, so that was that.  She traveled the world with me, and she could spell.  She lived only seven years, but they were very full. F U L L. 
   Now as I enter into what appears to be my own senior phase -- how could this be?  I was always the youngest one-- the youngest one in my class, and by class I don't mean my station in life, because Jews didn't have one, and even though I practiced no religion, being a Jew was not something you took off, like a sweater-- many are those who say the time has come for another dog.  So I have put in an application for Emma, a rescue dog.
   When I complained to my Aunt Rita, sorrowing more than complaining really, about the trouble I was having with my children, she said "But you've been very lucky with your dogs."  That's the truth. Maybe someone should give a dog to Anthony Weiner.  But it better be a female or he might text a picture of it lifting its leg.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I am reading Henry Jaglom's book of his lunches with Orson Welles.  Henry's brother Michael was at my crazy high school, Cherry Lawn,in Darien, Conn. and was crazier even than the nuttiest person there.  He and Frenchy Bessmertny used to surprise attack each other, jumping off roofs, crying" Mao-Tse-Tung" as they landed on each other's backs.  Besides being nuts, Michael was also some kind of genius, so I was always a little bit interested in his film-making brother.  But mainly I am interested in Orson Welles, always acknowledged as one of our authentic geniuses, unrealized to the extent he might have been if he'd had more financial support, and it hadn't been so difficult for him to get his projects made.
     When I went to Paris after Bryn Mawr, in love with Show Biz as i already was, I said I was going there to save Judy Garland, Marlon Brando,  or Orson Welles, all of whom were supposed to be there at the time.  (I later almost nearly had a chance encounter with Judy, when I went to Las Vegas, sent there by MCA, to write a new act for her.  But she had a breakdown just before my plane landed, and that was that.  My husband, Don, came closer, as he had worked for the wicked agent David Begelman who handled her in every sense of the word, and had assigned the 22 year old Don to shepherd her, and she liked him, always patting his ass just before going onstage for good luck.) Anyway, I was crossing one of the great bridges in Paris on my way to the Mars Club where I was singing, when I passed Orson Welles, who was going the other way.  He was talking to himself.  That sort of ended my idolizing him, as I saw he was in trouble.  I didn't have the courage yet... I was 20... to take on someone that crazy, or maybe that gifted.
    Then I saw his production of Moby Dock onstage in London, in which he played a number of roles including Father Mapple, about which the captious critic Kenneth Tynan wrote "Hamlet is a tragedy about a man who couldn't make up his mind. Moby Dick is a tragedy about a man who couldn't make up his nose." So mean, and so accurate.  Welles' nose was particularly tiny and so, I guess, not impressive enough to him, so he really overdid it.  That was the only time I ever saw him except once, and no longer infatuated, no longer hoped to make it better for him,  The only other time was at Ma Maison, where all the conversations in Jaglom's book take place, when he was lunching with my loved friend, the brilliant actor-director John Cassavetes, who I think would have written a better book, but he wasn't one to record.
    I have never before written about what I was reading, but as books on paper vanish, I suppose it is a good idea.  I remember when Maureen Stapleton was being courted by the 90-something-year-old George Abbott, and told me he'd written her "I am reading The Pretenders.  It's supposed to be about Billy Rose."  I was thrilled of course that the fabled showman was actually reading my novel, just as Maureen was thrilled to be courted by him.  They went out dancing almost every night when they were in the same town-- she was at the Beverly Hills Hotel while making a movie in LA, and called me to say that I was going to be very rich, that a thief had broken into her hotel room and left her money and left her jewelry, but had stolen her copy of The Pretenders.  "When I get back to New York I am going to go to Doubleday's," she said-- remember when there were Doubleday's?-- "and I am going to say: "Do you have a Child's Garden of Verses, and do you have The Pretenders?  And if you do, why the fuck isn't it in the window?"  There was nobody like her.  She and Mr. Abbott broke up because he was seeing other women.  No kidding.  "Surely you're not one of those women who's jealous?" he said to her. but she was.
     I'm writing this as I have to do something of a creative nature since my morning was spent on the phone with A T & T trying to sort out a bill demanding payment for a phone line  I never used and cancelled because I couldn't hear, and neither could anyone I tried to call.  Billy Rose, my diminutive sort-of hero of The Pretenders got rich because of A T &T, and I'm sure he would be appalled at what has happened to them.  But he would probably be appalled at what has happened to everything. I don't want to sound like one of those people lamenting about things having gone to seed, but haven't they?
I'm sort of relieved that Orson Welles isn't here to see, though I imagine he would, if he could get the financing, make a good movie about it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


As old friends, those who remain conscious and breathing know, in my extreme youth, say, sixteen, I was in love with the then incredibly beautiful, gifted and brilliant Marlon Brando.  I had the indescribable (though I tried) joy of spending some weeks with him in Falmouth, Massachussetts, at the playhouse there, where he was directing a Summer Stock mounting of
Arms and the Man, starring himself, and all his buddies, whom he was very good about trying to pay back, both for their friendship and as recompense for his enormous stardom, which he considered, I believe, completely out of proportion, as he, too, was to become.
     I first met him, as intimates know, my being unable to stop telling the story, because Janice Mars, one of his close friends and cast-off loves, as all his loves were eventually, some faster than others, wanted to do a song of mine, as most cabaret entertainers (including Lena Horne) who heard it, did.  It was called SEX, was pretty witty, kind of Cole Porter manqué, Let's Do It updated and made more suggestive.  Eventually it was stolen by a number of performers, including the bitch who sang Goldfinger, Shirley Bassey, who, when I went backstage at Ciro's to tell her it was my song, asked her how she'd gotten it, and when she intended to pay me, said Rose Hardaway had learned it in Paris when I sang it at the Mars Club.  Rose came to see me almost every night in Paris,--  I thought she was my first fan.  "Hoh-ney," she said to me, "everybody in this business going to cheat you and lie to you; but I'm telling you the truth: I'm stealing your song."  I thought she was kidding.  But it turned out she had done it at the Apollo, where the arranger who did it stole it from her, and gave it to Shirley.  She told me it would cost more to sue than I could hope to recover, and as I was twenty at the time, I didn't have the guts to challenge her.  
    But a few years before that, when I was truly young, Janice had invited me in to New York from college to meet "someone."  As the elevator went up in the Carnegie Hall apartment building, I had no idea who it was.  But when the doors opened and I heard a garbled, rooftop-y cry of "Eyyyyyy, Janice," I knew.  That I could say hello to him over the hoofbeats that were in my chest was a miracle of the moment. When she told him I had a song she wanted, he said "Sing it to me, Kid."  Throwing her backwards across his lap in a great leather armchair, picking invisible hairs from her chest as I sang, he listened, beating the bongos that he saw south of her collarbone as an accompaniment.
    I tell this in all its detail, because it remains so vivid, with so many memories eluding me at this time, I figure I better get it all down.  When I finished singing, my heart now in my ears, I heard him say: "Not bad.  Not bad.  Tell me about yourself, Kid." So I gave him as much history as I had, ending with "And I go to Bryn Mawr," at which point he Katharine Hepburned up and said: "EUuuuuw. Ba-ryn Mawahr." 
     That summer, Janice invited me to come to Falmouth, where she was going to be among the cast of cast-offs and people he really trusted for a summer stock production.  As I wrote in one of my novels, I think, or maybe it was a piece never published, he always took care of the women he destroyed.
    So there I was rooming with the great (maybe the greatest) actress Maureen Stapleton, Janice's best friend, and a lifetime buddy of Marlon's, who was appearing in a production of Three Men on a Horse with Sam Jaffe onstage at night, while Marlon rehearsed his troop during the day.  Also in the night time show was Wally Cox, the diminutive, very smart once Mr. Peepers, Marlon's best friend from their 'boyhood' a word they both used to describe it, in Libertyville, Illinois. I was a very fat teenager, and there, in his presence, at long wooden tables where we served ourselves breakfast, I would manage a few blueberries I could barely swallow for love of him.  And he would grin at me and say "You finally on a diet, kid?" And Maureen would say, "Shut up, Natural Beauty," which he was.  Stella Adler or maybe it was Mady Christians once said it was a good thing he broke his nose or he would have been pretty as a girl.
    I followed him obsessively during his rise, becoming close friends with Josanne Mariani, his first official fiancee, she who had been nanny for the children of the Strasbergs, his mentors.  Josanne was in Hollywood-- I'm not sure how she got there, but I have to guess she had followed him there, understandably spiritually broken by his abandonment.  She became my friend when I got to LA, where I vampired her, as writers will, and put his cruel rejection, which I witnessed,when she knocked on his door,  pleading for admission into my first novel, NAKED IN BABYLON, where he was the fictional (sort of) hero, Jason Stone.  
     I visited her again in the south of France, where her stepfather was a fisherman, stayed in their home, peed for the first time into a hole, standing in tile footprints.  I went through the tiny town with her, trying not to notice, though that's what writers do, as the populace of Bandol, eyes cast down, pretending not to stare, murmuring, doubtless in excellent French, that there does the cast-off fiancee of the Great Marlon Brando. Later he introduced her to a fellow actor in The Young Lions, and she married him. Then I lost track of her.  I hope she is still alive, and has had a happy life.
    But as for Brando, I pretty much let go of him, even mentally, along the way, though I kept up through his very nice friend, the actor Sam Gilman, who liked me, which his wife said was very unusual,-- Sam didn't like many women, she told me. Sam took me to a party at Marlon's house a lot of years later, by which time he was already starting to be unrecognizable.  I had seen him, of course, at the Chessman execution outside San Quentin, when I was a student protestor along with Ken Kesey,  I was simply amused-- for all the gravity of the situation, a man being executed when his crimes were much less than he had become through self-education in prison-- by Brando's trying to find a way to relieve himself in the Bay without the press taking a picture.  There was a cart selling Hershey bars and Love Nests, and a loudspeaker promising that Shirley MacLaine and Steve Allen were on their way there from Sacremento, where they were appealing to the governor.  Stanley Kubrick wanted to make the whole scene, which I wrote about when Stanley and I were first friends, into a movie-- mostly I think because he was pissed off at Brando for firing him off a movie.  But that was the last I had seen my once Giant Fixation. There had been, for sure, no sentimental interludes, no sights of him I could make seem romantic, even with my fevered imagination.
    When I married Don, who genuinely loved me, and was quietly jealous of anyone in whom I had ever or might ever have the least interest, but dealt with it, wily charmer that he was, by making whoever it was his friend, he knew my history with Marlon, such as it was.  So there was a sad satisfaction as we walked up the then beautiful pathway to the Hotel Bel-Air and he said "There's your great love: he's turned into Sydney Greenstreet."  And so Marlon had, enormous, unrecognizable, the expanse of his back taking up a huge portion of the garden, blocking the view of what was once as beautiful a man, talent included, as had ever walked the boards.  Over the phone, I kept up my friendship with Janice, who had moved to New Mexico, and she told me Marlon had salvaged an album she'd made that he'd found in his desk,and would make it available, because she was a great singer.  He'd told her he intended to live to a hundred and five. "Why?" she'd asked him.  "Out of curiosity," he said. 
 Of course he didn't make it.  He died at eighty-two.     I went to the exhibition of his effects for auction, a year or so after his death in New York, saw Alec Baldwin checking it out reverentially, probably never having been in love with anything but his talent.  I wondered at the impeccability and extent of Marlon's note-taking, the sorting, the collecting.  The wonder finally passed last night, when I saw one of his last movies, and considered it probably just another facet of his compulsive behavior  To my sorrow, when I couldn't fall asleep, I watched the movie he made with the young Jonny Depp, where he played the psychiatrist, and saw the gigantic mountain of loss of control that he had become.
     I grieved so hard I had to take sleeping pills-- not something I like or want to do- because I couldn't shake the sadness.  Everybody has to die, so I didn't sorrow over his being dead.  I sorrowed over what he had become.  Or failed to become, because he couldn't get hold of himself.
     Not that I would have done any better, trying to grab on.  But at least I would have tried to remind him of who he was, or at least, who he seemed to be, for those of us who imagined an actor could be as brilliant as the parts he played. I ran into Wally Cox at a dinner party in Hollywood, some years after Falmouth, not having seen him again in all the years.  I enthused, as was still then my way, about Marlon, who hadn't at the time yet morphed into the awful distortion of himself, raved on about his gifts, his surprising intellect, what he meant to all the actors who came after. And Wally said "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I have to say that because Marlon never will." 
      Wally died the next day, suddenly.  So I always considered it a gift from the Universe that I got to see him again, and we had that wonderful exchange.  I'm just sorry I never got to speak my piece to Marlon, though I don't know what I would have said, and am sure whatever it was he wouldn't have listened.
     I went to the ophthalmologist this morning for a painful problem I've been having with my eyelid, and it turned out there was a stone in my tear duct.  A gathering of tears I've never shed, I wouldn't be surprised.  I wonder if the words you've never spoken calcify somewhere inside and turn to stone even before you do.  I wonder if there is a surgeon of the soul who can cut it loose. 

Monday, July 08, 2013


Today I got a first look at the clever, successful spawn of my loved friends Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, in a picture in the Jewish Journal, that I read while eating a bagel(what else?) in the Nosh in Beverly Hills.  He looks to me very like Mel around the laughing eyes, but there is about him Much Annie, and that can only be a good thing. 
      We were very close friends at a very young time in my New York life, when Annie was a good friend and Mel was a great source of help and comfort with my comedy, or so it was meant to be, The Best Laid Plans.  It was unfortunately titled, because as we know from the poem, they aft gang a glee.  I had written it with Annie in mind, because I loved her, who didn't, and thought her the most gifted actress on Broadway, and a brilliant comedienne which eventually nobody worked out better or made better use of than Mel. But she told me she couldn't do it, because she was doing The Devils, and when I asked why, said: "I've never played a hunchback nun before."
     Mel was a great help in Philadelphia where we were out of town when plays still went out of town, giving us, as he usually does, the best joke in the show-- it was a young woman pretending to be a suicidal drug addict to win the love of a character like a straight Tennesee Williams, if you can imagine such a fantasy existing, who only likes disturbed women so he can write about them.  She goes to his psychiatrist to find out about him-- the psychiatrist cannot stop talking about his favorite patient, she moves into the apartment next door and runs a gas line from her apartment to under his door.  Mel broke into her apartment, smashed the window, and saved himself leaning out and heavily breathing fresh air, and like everything he does, it made the comic moment glorious.  Not glorious enough to save the play, produced by Hilly Elkins, an egocentric madman, who kept calling me Bitch, which made my husband Don tell him I had a baby in my belly(Madeleine) and if he didn't watch how he talked to me, Don would have to kill him, to which Hilly replied "You and what army?" and BOOM, he was down. And Don was on top of him, and Paul Bogart, the director, (later fired in Boston) ran over and took off Don's glasses so he wouldn't get hurt by Hilly's flailing hands.  A scene ultimately funnier than the play, as they fired Bogart and brought in Arthur Storch as director who killed it, except for Kenny Mars who couldn't help being hilarious as the psychiatrist, no matter what.
     I was in the hospital giving birth when it opened, and my obstetrician wanted to go to the opening, so he let me out. I got there in time for the last laugh which wasn't there, so I knew it had been a disaster.  Mel and Annie took me back to the hospital, and in the cab Mel said "Well, you had two things happen this week: if one of them had to be less than perfect,if your baby had been born with six toes and two noses, That Would Have been Okay; WHAT MATTERED WAS THE SHOW!"  So he made me laugh, and saved my life.  And when the reviews came out he and Annie came to our apartment and Annie spit on the reviews, and said "You're never as good as they say, and never as bad," and Mel said "Where is the mention of the wit?" and saved me again.
      Her biggest fear once they were married, when, she told me, she would lean over him at night and make sure he was breathing, because she couldn't believe how happy she was, was that she wouldn't have a child.  So i am so happy there is Max, which she must have been, too.  We lost touch as you will in this world, but I never stopped loving her, and saw her and Mel a few times in LA when we would get together again.  But I still miss her, so am sure it isn't easy for Mel, singular human being and formidable talent that she was.
     So it's great that there's Max, though how such a funny man and such a great actress produced this mentality is a puzzle. I forced myself to sit through World War Z this past weekend and confess to not having had a great time, though it is great the movie got made and the book is selling, so the son can stand up to and probably buy some nice presents for the extra-ordinary dad.  I saw Mel honored in the HBO special they did, and it really wasn't enough, because it is my theory that he personally could stop World War Z or any other disaster that arose, because he is that funny, that generous and kind.
     He has, as always, given me the Best Joke for Sylvia Who? for which I am happy to credit him When/If(?) it opens.  
Meanwhile, I wish him many happy evenings eating dinner with Carl Reiner, and I hope one night they'll let me come.
    The world is a better place with him in it, with or without zombies.

Sunday, July 07, 2013


Meditation having finally made it into an editorial in The New York Times, not surprisingly as a very unsatisfactory piece about the benefits of it, the one cited here being that you are more compassionate, my eye made its way down the page to a piece called 'The Joy of Old Age.(No Kidding.)' by Oliver Sacks, a noted professor of neurology and apparently a prolific writer whose works I've never read, but I liked this article.  He made me laugh aloud quoting Samuel Beckett, walking through Paris with a friend positing the query:"Doesn't a day like this make you glad to feel alive?" and Beckett saying "I wouldn't go as far as that."  
     Mr. Sacks notes how surprised he is to be the age he is, as he was always the youngest, as I was: youngest in my class, youngest to have the adventures I had-- singing in a night club in Paris at twenty-- a play on Broadway that opened the same time my daughter was born, that, even failed--the play, we have yet to know the final answer on the daughter-- was a kind of triumph, an unthinkable ambition achieved(it OPENED ON BROADWAY!),  living all over the world, or at least what seemed the best part of it at the time-- France, the South of Spain before it was touristed, Rome, with George d'Almeida, the world's most poetic and articulate painter as guide, and finally, or at least for that segment, as a  loved and productive wife to a darling man who thought I was wonderful, mother to children who were adorable at the time.  And then there was the movie that was a hit, and the musical that almost opened, and the one that's still breathing, waiting to come out, gayer than many who have, albeit in a more traditional way.
 My quest, at this moment, being to find a swimming pool so I can stay in shape and productive and, ultimately, alive, so all the good stuff can happen, I woke this morning and went to the Peninsula, arguably now the best hotel(I WAS a travel writer for a few years there, you know) in this dreamlandy, utopian spot, (discounting the occasional earthquake) for breakfast.  As close friends-- diminishing in numbers, but increasingly smart and select know,-- I never had an actual, salaried job except for the brief stint at NBC with the Comedy Development program when I first came back from Europe sharing office space with Woody Allen who showed up only on the day we got our checks.  As a result of that hard fact of history, I get next to nothing from Social Security. Don, my sweet husband did a little better.  So I have totaled what we both get and have figured out I can have one meal a day at the Peninsula if I eat carefully,  And perhaps I can become their Old Eloise. 
    The staff is gracious and friendly, the flowers are unremittingly dazzling, and the view from the roof, where the terrace restaurant is, is breathtaking, even when you see how full of smog it is, but what the hell. At the far end of the terrace on which I read the article on meditation this morning were two authentic Indians, from the real place, not the one Johnny Depp just portrayed so disappointingly.  As I practiced my Jack breathing, I caught a look at them: One was on his cellphone, the other was texting. So the disease of not being present has spread even to the deepest searching places where all this meditation began.
     There is in that same section of the Times a fairly miffed piece on travel, and how cramped it has become.  So I will rejoice in all the time I spent cloaked in the good graces of Sir Richard, about whose airline I wrote a funny screenplay(with suggestions from Himself, Branson being as quick with plot twists as he is innovative a showman) but Sherry Lansing said she couldn't believe anyone could hide out and live in an airport (and then came the Tom Hanks movie, and just lately, a sweet apology from Sherry, who said she had made a mistake) Then there was my clever dog Happy, of Happy at the Bel-Air (when it was TRULY the Bel-air) who was on Oprah and would have lived forever, but she didn't show the book.  Still as I perused those newspaper pages, semi-sorrowing over missed opportunities, I thought about the victories I HAD had, the places I HAD been,-- the Outback of Oz, where we got off the little plane and stayed in sandy way stations-- so I have actually been pretty much  everywhere I ever wanted to go except for some spots in South America-- twice to Machu Picchu, where I had less of a spiritual connection to what was mysterious and spiritual than I had at Jack's retreat in Toledo, Washington, with a view of the mountaintop since partially blown off, the south of France, on the hilltop near Ramatuelle, to which I can no longer climb.  
     Still, as I remember, I remember moments of magic: a red heart balloon that soared in the sky when I asked a question of the Invisible, and there was the answer: a red heart in the sky that clearly meant Love, pretty much the answer to Everything.  There have been Great Souls enhancing my life, who may have seemed at the time incidental, teachers I always knew were there to teach me more than they were actually teaching.  The presidents who were truly illuminated-- unfortunately more often of colleges than my country.
     So as I sit here and rev up for Act Two of SYLVIA WHO? and yet another, unexpected plot twist in my own life-- an embrace of quiet? peace? flowers hanging outside my front window like yellow gold trumpets upside down, their name unknown to me, but described by the handyman from the former Yugoslavia as "fragrant," a word as beautiful as it is unexpected on a not-native-born tongue, I have no choice but to be more grateful than impatient. I can hear Doris Day singing Che sera sera in a corner of my mind, and remember having actually had the unexpected delight of a friendship with her, connecting with her at the Cannes Film Festival, being invited to see her again in London where she was making The Man Who Knew Too Much, a joy  balanced by the horror of having to baby-sit her then twelve-year old son, Terry, who was a real pain. "Westminster Abbey?" he said, as I got ready to take him on a tour. "Who needs it! Let's go to Wimpy's and have a Wimpyburger."  Still it all becomes part of a story, as everything becomes part of a story, if you get to see it stretched out over enough time.

 I saw him again, all grown up, at an evening at Paul Newman's. I knew he had been involved with Manson's girls,  promising Charley he would help him with his songwriting career, letting him down, making me wonder if he wasn't the real target that horrific night, when Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate were staying in the sublet house that actually belonged to him. At the time I saw him again, Terry was embroiled in a battle with Jerry Rosenthal, the crazy/brilliant lawyer who had incorporated and ultimately mulcted just about all his high profile clients, including and especially Doris, who'd invited me to his house my first Sunday in Hollywood.  It was there I met the great lyricist Yip Harburg, who became my mentor, as Jerry became my lawyer, when I sadly but fortunately had nothing to steal.  

Terry, the night of the gathering at Newman's house, was bent on revenge, which he ultimately more than got, Jerry having such a big mouth, considering himself so much smarter than anyone else, he got himself sent up for contempt,back talking  to the judge in the trial. He would call my mother collect from jail-- I'd introduced them-- and she was the only one who would take his calls.

Terry wanted to know whatever I knew about Jerry. I was right in the midst of my Washington studies that were to become a part of THE MOTHERLAND, and spoke of my friends, the good Republicans. Newman said "There are no Good Guys in this bunch."  

He's gone now.  Terry is, too.  Nobody lives forever except Dick Cheney.

But every once in a while there's a heart balloon in the sky to let you know it's all going to be all right.  And something in The New York Times that makes you laugh out loud.  Of course, it's never the news.


Thursday, July 04, 2013


  So having understood, reluctantly, that for this new alleged society-- I'm not so sure it any longer is one, or will ever be again--to be in touch it is not enough to think of, to love, or even to call, I actually went online and looked at some names in Linked-In, which for some reason seemed less offensive to me than Facebook.  Twas there I came upon 'John Strasberg,' who, I assumed was the brother of my loved friend Susan, gone from us too early and too long.  
    So I introduced myself, and sent him an e-note, asking him to contact me.  This morning I got an e-mail saying he had clicked on my name and address and nothing happened.  
     Clicked.  When did the world become so passive and electronic that all you needed to do was click?  Not even lift a finger to signal somebody's name?
     I am remembering Susie, how energetic and enterprising she was, wondering what she would think of what she left behind.  Susan, daughter of Lee, the formidable and dominating head of the Actor's Studio in New York, which gave us the incredible Marlon Brando in his still fit and beautiful Stanley Kowalski prime, and Paula, the dowdy but apparently spellbinding mother figure who devoured and spit up Marilyn Monroe in her later, increasingly troubled days, the one Arthur Miller might have pointed to as submarining his already doomed marriage.  What could they have been to Susie, as parents?
     I saw her first, when, at the age of fourteen, she made her theatrical debut as the heroine in The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway.  I have to admit to being a dissenter in the rave column, as I found her voice to be shrill and irritating, and, bad girl that I was and have probably remained in some hidden corner, said I wasn't really sorry when the Nazis came. But later on, when we became friends, I grew to love her, and just as you no longer really see the face of the one you love, didn't hear her anymore, except for what she said, which was usually pretty bright, and often illuminated.
     We were both friends of Pattie McLaine, the psychic, who, at that point in her (and my) career, was fairly amazing, telling me, for instance, when I had told her nothing, said I was in the middle of writing a book about the Afterlife that would turn my head around (it did, but only for a while: it was Kingdom Come, a lovely little novel that brought me unexpected friends(Diane Brown, who came to me in a bookstore and told me I had been given The Truth, because I had the words to make it available, which really blew me away until the sales were disappointing-- I was still of This Earth.) 
      Susie did a few plays and a couple of movies which also never happened.  But she had some of the great backstage stories of all time.  She had done Time Remembered on Broadway, and Paula, being apparently the Overseer-Manipulator of all time, wanted her to have the right sexual break-in, so arranged for her first consort to be her co-star Richard Burton.  (I remember seeing them nuzzling in a dark corner of Janice Mars Baq Room, the cabaret funded by Janice's friends, who included Marlon and Maureen Stapleton and Tennessee Williams, who were also often in attendance haring Janice sing in her baleful basso.) 
     When they were in the play, along with Helen Hayes, by then the Grand Old LAdy of the theatre.  Burton would make love to Susie on the chaise next to the ventilator in her dressing room every night before the performance.  One night Susie caught Miss Hayes crouched next to the ventilator in her dressing room, apparently awaiting the sounds of that night's aural performance.
    Susie came to visit me with one of her beaus in Paris when I was living there one time, and Pattie came to see me in Weinheim, the little village in the Bergstrasse, in Germany, where I was engaged in a struggle to overcome all my fears at once: loneliness, the computer, and the German language,  I lost track of Susie towards her end, which came very young, as I remember.  From time to time, I still check in with Pattie, who, you will not be stunned to hear, has not grown more grounded with the years.  
    But then. who says the ground is the right place to be?  I am reading The Afterlife of Billy Fingers,  by Annie Kagan, the sister of Billy Cohen.  He was the inspired and funny and, apparently, doomed heroin-addict friend I had when I went to Synanon in the early 70s and played 'The Game,' a funny/serious/sometimes effective attack therapy used by Chuckj Diedrich when he started the whole thing.  Annie found me through the Internet, so I guess it can really be a good thing if it doesn't swallow you.  Billy, back on drugs many years after I lost touch with him and Jeannie, his very darling, tough, foul-mouthed wife who also came to a painful end, got hit by a car which is where the book begins as his life ends, and he speaks to his sister who adored him, from the Beyond.  She swears every word of the book is true, and there is an interesting intro by a doctor about the "world in-between," noted by philosophers from what some would label Time Immemorial, but I would re-name Time Memorial. Because if it's at all true, we have nothing to be afraid of, except wasting the Time over which we have some control.
    Well anyway, Happy 4th of July.  Nice that Freedom is ringing somewhere.  GO CAIRO!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


Having spent the weekend celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of my grandson, Lukas, named after my father, Lew, a man I could not much admire who was much admired by my son, because he had a title, Mayor, and made some money, I had no choice but to return, as much as I could, to my Judaic roots, never too firmly entrenched, and even less cultivated.  But the rabbi was smart and eloquent, and Jenni, my daughter-in-law, had a cousin come in for the event, a dazzlingly articulate and handsome 30-year-old, Jonnie, an Orthodox Jew who I could see becoming the Prime Minister of Israel, except he wouldn't want to be, he said, because that would give him no time for his family, the one he hasn't got yet.  
     The whole event was mired in anguish, because my son has no real expressed love for his father. gone these many years.  Don was not a success in terms of this town, which is all and only about success, so no child was named after him-- Silas is adorable and commanding, but he is Silas, with an S, and there is no one with a D.  And last night, in between a radiant expounding of Bible stories by Jonnie over dinner-- "Are they true?" I asked him.  "It doesn't matter," he said, and continued my overdue religious education.
     Then on the way home he asked about Don, with the inevitable question, although it surprised me coming from an Aussie-Israeli, "Was he successful?"  So in truth, I had to say No, as that was without question the most painful part of Don's life, his career, or, more aptly, his failure to attain what was commensurate with his interests and talents.
     I remembered a Saroyan quote that I could not quite call up in its entirety till later, "In the time of your life, Live.  But when the time comes to kill, kill and have no regret."  Don couldn't do that.  He would have been able to kill in defense of his children, or me.  But not in business, and in the business of Show, you need to be able to ruthlessly cut down and/or out an adversary.  And that was just not in his make-up. 
     But when I went to bed I thought: As a human being, he was about as successful as you could get.  I remember, patchily-- some of the words are gone-- when we were in Guaymas, Mexico, during the making of Lucky Lady.  I had been invited for the shoot by Liza Minnelli, whose friend I was that week-- she had come to a party at Elizabeth Taylor's, whose friend I also was at the time, as Elizabeth wanted to play my mother in The Motherland, my best book that never happened(it came out at the same time as All The President's Men, Nixon was a catastrophe, the air was heavy with the fact of country's almost falling apart, so no one cared about Fiction.) Liza, still young and hot, came into Elizabeth's party, and as I was the only one she knew aside from their credits, came straight over to me and said "I'm making a movie in Guaymas with Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman, and I don't know any of them.  Will you come?"  As I had just started a novel that was a murder mystery about a movie company on location, something I knew nothing about, it seemed the answer to a prayer, one I hadn't sent up to God, but had mentioned to Don,-- "How will I learn about a movie company on location?" He'd gone to the LA library that day and brought back the article, from Esquire, I think it was, "SARAH AND BURT AND THAT DIRTY LITTLE DEATH IN THE DESERT." (Her writer friend/lover/harasser had been found dead, a star-shaped wound on his skull, and a lot of men from MGM arrived, allegedly with suitcases full of money to pay off the local authorities.)
     So I went to Guaymas, where I became, at first, the darling of the producer--"Maybe you could write a piece for the New York Times about the making of Lucky Lady," he said to me.  Then as things began to go wrong-- the camera boat sank, etc.-- he was afraid I might write a piece for the New York Times about the making of Lucky Lady.  So he told the owners of the hotel I was an itinerant, and would be unable to pay my bill-- I was waiting to pay the whole thing at once-- and tried to have me thrown out.  But as it turned out, the company that financed the hotel was underwritten by a bank whose board my father was on.  Still, we decided it would be best if I went home with my family at the end of the Easter holiday.  As we sat by the pool that evening, the producer said "What a shame that you have to leave," in a tone embodying derision, said it several times.  At which point  Don said "Get the needle out of my wife.  Get the needle out or I'll drown you in front of your whole fucking crew."  And the producer, Mike Gruskoff, turned into Road Runner.  I'd never seen anyone move that fast.
     So Don was, when the situation called for it, a Hero.  As he was dying-- his doctor, his best friend, had failed to catch the cancer in his early x-ray and was treating him for a bad back when they finally x-rayed him and saw his whole right lung was gone-- he sat on the edge of the bed in a heat wave like this one, where we had no air-conditioning.  As I put on shorts to take him to Emergency, he looked up from between his knees and said "You look so cute."  I said, "Oh, honey-- with all you're going through, that you would take time to compliment me." He said "But it's true.  You look really cute."  Then he said, "You can tell them for me-- your friends on 'The Path,"-- he could not help making it sound slightly sarcastic, as he had been skeptical about my spiritual study, not able to believe I could spend weeks at a silent retreat without talking, so had been sure I was having an affair-- "You can tell them for me you've made it to a whole new level."
    "Thank you," I said.
    "Don't thank me," he said.  "You're the one who did it.  I just gave you the opportunity."
     So that was the man this town would not have considered a success.  The Rabbi at Lukas' temple talked of a Rabbi looking constantly at his watch, and a member of his congregation asking him what he was doing, and he said "Getting ready to die."  I know it sounds like a downer, but the truth is we all have to do that, and maybe it's just part of the journey, and there is something, as we can hope, and I have written in a loftier moment--something that comes After.  But for the time he was here, and the support, emotional and physical, of me and our children, he was a Hero.
    I had a dream (cue the orchestra) where a man dies and goes to a place where everything is easy, so he thinks he is in Heaven.  Eventually he realizes he is in Hell. Because what gives Fulfillment as a human being is stepping up to and meeting a Challenge.  If everything is Easy, and nothing is a Challenge, that is real Death.
     Hey, I know it's heavy.  But you haven't spent an evening in Kate Mantelini's with a Bible scholar.