Friday, October 25, 2013


As those of you know who are generous enough to read this column, I have returned to New York to set in motion, at long, long last, my musical comedy, Sylvia WHO?  The only problem was, I had signed a lease last May for a year, for considerable rent.  I'd furnished the apartment sparely, from Ikea and, like the world's oldest college student, painted a few not-exactly landscapes-- you will remember I slept during my teen years under Jackson Pollock's Blue Unconscious, so you don't go unmarked, been gifted with a tote bag with my initials from my loved friend, Jamie, for my birthday, mounted that above the keyboard I'd gotten online, and so hung the rest of the walls with other purses as a motif, so became, thematically, a bag lady.
    When the good news began to come in about my musical, I gave no thought to trying to get out of the lease, because in the event my dream did not materialize, I intended to return to LA.  And I did not want to incur legal bills,  So I stiff-upper-lipped and just moved forward towards my departure date, which was yesterday.
    Some months ago, an upstairs neighbor complained that my TV was too loud, so I stopped watching TV, because the walls are paper-thin, and I am not looking for trouble or arguments.  I loved my new next-door neighbor, a bright, great innocent named Katie Freshwater, (I never have to make anything up,) and though she was sad that I would be leaving, she has a new, dear husband named Bobby, whom I left all the extra tables and chairs that had been sent me by mistake from Ikea, which had failed to send the hardware to put them together, and when I asked for it sent more tables instead, but oh, well.
     So I was all set to leave, almost, and made out a number of checks to leave with Katie to give the landlord over the months I would not be there.  I called the superintendent to ask the exact amount and he then-- understand this was Wednesday, and I was leaving Thursday-- told me he could accept no more checks that I had breached my rental agreement, that there was a complaint against me for making noise, and I had a 3 dayQuit notice.  I then opened the envelope I hadn't had time to look at, and in it, it said...(I NEVER HAVE TO MAKE ANYTHING UP...) that I had been SINGING.
    And here's the best part.  The complainant, was my upstairs neighbor-- not an old woman, but a 30 year old___ (I will not use a descriptive word-- you may put in your own) named SONG.
     Thrown out for singing, because of a woman named SONG, when I was writing a musical. I NEVER HAVE TO MAKE ANYTHING UP.
     My wonderful friend Pam Korman connected me with an antiques dealer who gave me the name of a trucker who was over and had me packed up in three hours and the stuff is now in A1 Storage for if/when I go back.  But "SONG"  Do you believe it?  For SINGING?
     When my daughter got into some trouble my attorney here got me a lawyer in Phoenix, who turned out to be less than Oliver Wendell Holmes' dream of the law, and his name was LAMM.  A lawyer named LAMM.  I NEVER HAVE TO MAKE ANYTHING UP.
      I am so glad, when at Bryn Mawr, I studied Restoration Comedy, where everyone was named what they really were.  None of them were vile enough in this case, although what she is is a well-honored word, from ancient Rome, a description of what separated  the water that ran down ancient hillsides.  But we will have to be satisfied with SONG.
      Jamie wanted me to put a bowl of flowers outside her door as a thank you, but I am not quite that high-minded, as I think this might have given pause even to Jesus.  But only, of course, if he was trying to get on a musical.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


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?

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I am sorry to have missed the BBC movie of Burton and Taylor last night, but I did not miss the real-life event.  Although the review in the New York Times quotes her never reading material until she was playing the role, she did read a novel of mine, and we became friends, sort of.  I received an actual telegram from her in the days when people still sent them--it was the year THE MOTHERLAND was published by Simon & Shuster, "the only book we are publishing this Spring as far as I am concerned," Michael Korda had written me, forgetting, I guess, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.  Elizabeth, whom I had never met, was congratulating me on my "wonderful novel," and clearly wanted to play the part of the heroine, Evelyn, inspired by my mom, who had told me "I didn't like children even when I was one of them." Thrilled that she wanted to play the part, I told my then close friend Sue Mengers, who responded, with her standard cruel on wry, "Tell her to get the napkin off her lap."
     Elizabeth was then clearly past it, though not in the popular imagination, and certainly not in mine.  So we became friends. She was "dating" Henry Wynberg, living with him in the house of Tom Tryon in the Hollywood Hills, where the wallpaper in the bedroom, where she spent most of her time, being in one of her semi-invalided phases, was a metallic foil, so reflected her everywhere she looked.  She was lying in bed watching one of her old movies on TV in-between the metal reflections of her, the first time I went to visit her, and to complete the picture, Richard Burton was on the phone.  He was dating Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, and needed money, and Elizabeth was going to give it to him.
      At the same period of her personal history, a few of her long- time friends were in attendance, including Max Lerner, the very kind and markedly Left columnist for The New York Post, who was clearly and Hebraically in love with her, worrying over the pulleys on her bed that were weighing on her spine, a remedy her current trendy doctor had prescribed for her.  "He had the nerve to imply he had an affair with me," she bristled, but still invited him to a picnic lunch on the terrace for a few close friends, one of whom I was hopeful of becoming. I loved her enough already that I sorrowed over the extra slather of mayonnaise-- mayonnaise?!!-- she lavished on her hot dog, as she was in one of her weight-gaining phases.  I remember a discussion of Village of the Damned, where someone asked her if she had seen the movie, and she said "No, but I read the book."  So much for tales of her not reading.
      We became friendish enough that she confided to me her visions-- one of which was waking bolt upright in the middle of the night to announce that Gary Cooper was dead, which caused another mutual acquaintance to note how wasted were her psychic powers since they revealed nothing that would help anyone to better their lives.  But I cherished the friendship-- I had always been in love with movie stars-- and there was no one Bigger in the cosmic awe sense, than Elizabeth.
     At the time I myself was still a bit of a hit, so when she gave a party, I was one of the first ones invited and there, to be waiting the hour and a half for her late arrival.  My friend, who had once been my agent, and was now a fabled bad but prolific and successful producer, Elliott Kastner, murmured to me at one point that "the only two above-the-title names here are you and Liza Minnelli."  Liza, whom I knew only slightly, had arrived and made a bee-line for me, "Oh, thank God," she said, as though I were her best friend.  "Will you come to Guaymas to visit me?  I'm making this movie called LUCKY LADY with Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman and I don't know either of them." I was at the time just embarked on writing a murder mystery about a movie company on location.  "How will I learn about a movie company on location?"I'd asked Don, my husband that morning.  Always the quickest to help me, he had gone to the library and come back with the magazine story "Burt and Sarah and that Dirty Little Death in the Desert,"about the mysterious death of Sarah Miles' flunky press agent, while she was making a movie with Burt.  He had died with a "star-shaped wound," and it was murmured that Burt was the star.  So the invitation seemed like the answer to a dark prayer, and I was soon to go to Mexico and write what was to become my next adventure.  But that is another story.  In fact, another, not very successful novel.
     But as for Elizabeth, we remained... how can I put this?  What is the best synonym for close, that isn't close really?  I have checked Rodale's Synonym Finder, and the best I can find is "articulate," which sort of says it.  I saw her once a few years later in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.  She was with a friend who had been my doctor in New York, Lou Scarrone, who was, to put it kindly, vague, and generous with medication.  He had married, for a short time, a classmate of mine from Bryn Mawr, Peggy Hitchcock, the heiress who funded Timothy Leary.  "Oh, I'm just sort of hedge-hopping," Elizabeth muttered, her violet eyes unfocussed.
    The next time I saw her she was heavy again, and had married a Washington pol. That didn't last very long.
    Some years later, I was in Mexico, where I had once stayed at the Garza Blanca, the fabled hotel where she and Burton had had one of their trysts, which must have been just that-- completely and really.  I climbed the hill to their cottage: it was overgrown and dark, no sign of life or movement, as by then neither of them had either. 
    But she remains, even dead, where remains are really remains, one of the last great movie stars.  I look at who's out there now and wonder how they can be considered stars at all.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So this is the strangely beautiful tree outside my front door.
I don’t know the name of it. The flowers have a certain pathos, a sense of having given up. But the fact that they are still alive infuses them with spirit, so I see them as the trumpets of something better to come, even though they are upside down.
Myself, I am about the same. This has been a particularly confusing period of my life, which has never been without confusion. My greatest dream appeared about to come true-- the musical I have been working on as long as some of you have been alive-- seemed to be actualizing. But then something strange occurred, fortunately in time to catch my notice, so I was able to intercede, and sidestep possible disaster. Interestingly, now that it might not happen, I am much more peaceful.
I wish I could stay in California, with this view from my window, and hang out with the trumpets upside down. But there are things I must do in New York, where I am so far from peaceful. Where no one makes eye contact anymore, they are all so busy being on their way to something, or their gaze is fixed on their cellphone. If only Life offered us a world where we didn’t have to go to the dentist.