Saturday, March 29, 2014


I mean, that way at least we know there's activity in the Bleak, so it isn't just a stagnant overlay of gray.  This has been without doubt the most down period of my late middle years, as I, who have always believed in new beginnings, cannot even rev up memories of old endings, there is such a lack of light, of bright possibilities in my soul, which I am confident is still there but it's hard to see through the clog.  SAD(Seasonal Affect Disorder) it's called, but UTD is what it should be named-- Unfair To Dreamers.  See?  There remains in me a vestige of the Innocent, the optimist who returned to New York imagining you really could start over, no matter how late you returned to the game.  But for that to happen, the game has to be in progress.  And for that, you need light.
   Still, I did make an attempt.  If you remember-- not that you knew in the first place-- that I was born on Irving Berlin's birthday, in Stephen Foster's home town-- and here comes the surprise: It was not the deep South, but Pittsburgh-- there should have been no doubt even through the soot that I was meant to write songs.  Having spent a lot of Berlin's later years(he lived to 101) hoping (an unfulfilled hope) to meet up with him, but having had the privilege of close friendships with some of the songwriting greats, Yip Harburg, Julie Styne, chased around a piano by Vernon Duke, coming to brief rest with and inevitable betrayal by a conscienceless master, Frank Loesser, being given a kind hand up by Cy Coleman, but still, at a pretty far juncture down the road, having made no solid connection, I determined to check the ethers and tune in to Stephen Foster.
    So it was that I made my way last night to Lincoln Center, where Foster was one of those honored in dance by Paul Taylor, and his amazing troupe. "Molly, do you love me?" was the first of his songs, little known, (no Oh, Susanna! or Old Folks at Home,) but clearly the origin of the popular song.  The construct is a slider into what was the template, until the advent of rap, which for me, outdated as I am, is antithetical to music.  The fact that his output was as great as it was, as brief as was his stay-- 38 years, the same as Gershwin's--might indicatee one has to choose between time and popularity.
    Anyway, the Taylor dancers, who I would never have known existed, shame on me, had I not returned to these fetid climes, were past remarkable, every fiber of their bodies,-- and a bonnet for one of the ladies -- were engaged, though none of the romances, as far as I could see, were consummated.  Still, what a triumph for Stephen, no matter how long in coming.
     But oh, how dismal the view from what I guess you could call my window, the glass doors out to a metal balcony across from a quite ugly rooftop, truly un-enhanced by this drear.  Next to me at Lincoln Center, in a building that is one of the few positive arguments for the existence of the Koch Brothers, were two pleasant, soft-spoken gentlemen, one of whom, an engineer, called me 'Ma'am,' (his father had been in the military) the other, an architect, had put a railing around the spectacular interior of the library at NYU, as students kept throwing themselves off the high floors.  I would like to say it is lucky there is a railing around my balcony, except I do not even go out there to look down, the vista is so antithetical to beauty.  I shall try to look at it all with the wizened eyes of Irving Berlin, who must have been juiced by this city, or he couldn't have written Annie Get Your Gun.
    But it was engaging, in many senses of the word, to connect with people who so loved art, as manifested in dance.  I could probably delight in it here, if the sun ever came out, and we found the right director for my musical, and they welcomed to New York all those who had had a long struggle but never gave up.  Or, as my darling husband used to say, "If a bullfrog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass when it landed."  

Friday, March 28, 2014

From the Horses' Mouth

Having interviewed a number of unlikely subjects while working for the Wall Street Journal Europe, a few years back when there was still a lot to believe could be fixed and/or healed, I decided to interview the subjects of a humanistic debate now taking place in New York City, the place I am trying to make my home, but it's  HARD.
    As locals know, there is a movement to get rid of the horse-drawn carriages that work Central Park South just across the street from where I live.  I have spoken to a few of the horses, and asked the more attractive of them if they have been abused, and they all said "Nay."  The truth is I don't think the very tall Bill de Blasio, who has had a tough beginning, what with the worst winter in recent and maybe even distant history, understands what sentimentality prevails along those fairly well-manicured borders, in his haste to seem genial. Also I am not so sure that tall means Big, either in heart or spirit.  My little potted fleurs that I put outside because I, and they, hoped for Spring, collapsed at the throat and now droop dejectedly on my Keyboard, with little chance for re-awakening, I don't imagine, as the Keyboard doesn't either.
   But I am sad for the city, and probably the country, as Obama sets a very dejected standard for leaders since he really didn't seem to know what he was doing with a number of things, especially insurance, and anybody who isn't Anyone is in trouble with medical, unless they have money.  My friend, the angel Carleen is temporarily less imperiled than most, because she lives in the city, which doth take under its wing, but only to a certain extent; everybody else, even if they are working, has to stretch a paycheck which doesn't cover it, not with the price of the subway and food, especially if they have children. So what does this mean?  Could we possibly have been better off with the cipher Mitt Romney? Truly inconceivable.
   So back to the horses and carriages.  From all indications New York as New York will only survive with the help of tourists, who don't know enough to be outraged.  Therefore we must save the horses, and I don't know where to begin, because you seem only to be effective in New York City if you are well-connected.  And to be well-connected, you would have to have lived here which of course I haven't done.  This whole arena is a puzzle.
    Still there are greater areas of confusion, many of them manifested in the Arts.  I finally got to see the whole of the not-so-Great Gatsby, having walked out of the theater twice before our Hero's actual entrance,  Baz Luhrmann having so sickeningly overdone everything from the get-go.  As a convicted English Major I could not endure the company of what was on the screen. I wonder sometimes if these people have actually been able to read.
   But laid out defensively against this insufferable winter, I did at long last endure all of it.  I remember Stanford and Huhbie Merritt- with whom I studied Anglo-Saxon which everybody needs, right?- or at least you had to to get your Masters there, whose real name was actually Herbie, but his Southern accent was so thick as to transform, who had been at Princeton with F. Scott Himself. And he asked me what I was doing wasting my time in graduate school, as he had seen the demonstration of writing success not being about education.  In the same way, Gatsby, the movie, proves that success as a film director has naught (I shall speak High English) to do with discrimination, as over-the-topness is the order of the day, and it is, in plain language, disgusting.
    Worst of all, having recently seen The Wolf of Wall Street, impressed with Leonardo di Caprio's comic gifts, I was forced to conclude that he is miscast as a romantic lead.  Understand that I have all my life been riveted by screen heroes, even the weak ones.  So it is surprising to discover that he doesn't work as such. At least not for me.  And the constant repetition, his calling everyone Old Sport, -- his curious pronunciation making it sound more like 'Old Spore' --causes them to seem like a growth.
   Carey Mulligan, whom I spied in minor parts in a lot of her earlier films, and thought adorable, is beyond disappointing. Acting: over the top, which it's really easy to do with your hair bobbed.
    Oh, well.  There must be something to look forward to.  Spring? Wilt thou ever come, to unwilt us?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


As I no longer remember who I am-- a New York winter will do that to you, at least this one did, my having picked the worst one in recent history-- I went back to one of my own works to remind me who I was.  MARRIAGE was unquestionably my best novel, edited by Don Fine, a brilliant and troubled man who was locked out of his own publishing house while trying to buy it back, and whom I visited in the hospital before he died, which enraged him, after Kurt Vonnegut told me to go see him, because "it would do him good to see a pretty woman."  That gives you some idea how long ago it was, Kurt being alive, and my being young enough to still be considered pretty.  None of this is self-pitying, though it may sound so: I want only to be accurate while I can still remember details, which become increasingly shadowed with the passage of time, though not in the sinister sense.
       We had dinner at Stefanino's, still another marker of how Ago it was, that being the place in Hollywood to dine at the time, when Nicky Blair was its owner, a former pimp and really sweet guy who apparently got enough guys fixed up to open a restaurant.   I had been to dinner there before with Bob Gutwillig, my sharply gifted editor, when he had invited Gloria Steinem to join us at the time of THE PRETENDERS. I sat quaking with fearful anticipation at what I anticipated would be her contempt, but when she arrived, gorgeous woman that she was, she said "A novel.  That's Big Time."  Loved as she is, she is not loved enough.  To be that brilliant, beautiful, and also kind: THAT's Big Time.
    So there I was with Don Fine, who picked me up from the sewer Doubleday had thrown me into with my libel suit from Paul Bindrim, the spurious psychologist who did Nude PsychoTherapy, whom I had disguised in my novel TOUCHING, only to have him don the disguise(it took seven years to come to court, by which time he had grown a beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long and wound it around his bald hair so he would look like the character I had disguised him as in the book.)  It was a nightmare time, where my darling husband, who had grown up in a neighborhood rife with criminal counts but had stayed clean and more than upright, found himself with marshals at the door.  I became an outcast in publishing, as nobody cared who was lying; only who had had to pay out money.  Don Fine, who had himself been a maverick in publishing, crazy and brilliant, sat at a table in Stefananino's a little drunk, and said "I know what not many people in this restaurant know: that I am sitting with one of the great writers of our time."  And this was a man who had edited Norman Mailer and James Jones. 
   So I felt good about myself, something I did again yesterday, when I read MARRIAGE, though not as quickly as I might have once.  The novel, which will doubtless pass unregistered in the public consciousness, soon to remember very little I am afraid, is clearly written by a writer, one with whom I feel a distant connection, though there are sentences in there that seem hewn.  My brilliant friend Joanna is reading an earlier novel of mine that she finds too long, but it was the one about which Michael Korda, the hot editor of Then, said "As far as I am concerned this is the ONLY book that Simon & Schuster is publishing this Spring," but he forgot about All The President's Men.  So my Great Moment was obliterated by history, and, as I said at the time, God had to choose between saving my book, and the country.  I thought then that He/She had made the right decision, but some days I am not sure.
      At any rate, I visited Don Fine at the end of his life in the hospital, and he all but threw me out, he was so enraged at being seen as less than in command.  But I am glad now I showed my affection for him.  He was a madman, and a great editor. We will never see his like again, or maybe anyone who loves writing the way he did, which, in the case of MARRIAGE I have to objectively consider, not remembering who or what I was at the time, was justified.  I can say that in all lack of humility, and probably grace, because it has nothing to do with what or who I am now.
    That is the strangest thing of all: Nothing remains of her, the woman who so effortlessly set down her thoughts, and even more impressively, her feelings, which I have to hope and consider were not just personal to me, but said much about all women, we being still, at that time, not clearly presented, for all the Austens and Brontes.  It was the heaths and the moors that were mysterious, but not how complicated we were.
   This would be an essay, were I still to be at Bryn Mawr, on HOW COMPLICATED IT IS TO BE A WOMAN.  Note that Philip Roth is being everywhere commemorated, genius that he undoubtedly was and is, unfeeling as he has shown himself to be, which is apparently laudable among the highly literate. I have to try and get over being mad at him, which I am on a personal level, because he has lifted a lot of people, though few of them with a gentle hand I don't think.  A woman I love as the apotheosis of what a woman should be, soft and beautiful and caring, who also knew how to organize a tool chest, was the cast-off who connected us.  She brought him to a dinner that Don and I had in the early days of our marriage, when I also invited Jules Feiffer and his then wife, Judy. And the hard exchange of repartee and opinion were dazzling.  Don said he felt like he was sitting in the surf being blasted by wave after wave, which was how the wit went.
   But love and loyalty don't seem to be a factor in Roth's make-up, and demanding woman that I am, I like a man better who cares, and not just about words. Feelings, that's what really separates us from the beasts.  Especially when you can not only express them, but have them all the way down.  Or up, if you're lucky.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Da Dum Dum Da Dumm Da Dum Dum Da Dum- ROCKY!!!

Probably one of the nicest men in the world and certainly one of the sweetest, calmest and most helpful, including self-effacing, not a prominent characteristic in the business of Show is Tom Meehan, who co-wrote The Producers with Mel Brooks, making it cohesive, and seems to be able to do that with life on the Great White Way, which is no longer that Great or White but is mostly expensive.  Everyone seems to relax when Tom comes on board, because of his pervasive sanity, as I myself would have liked to do with Sylvia WHO? , my musical comedy that I have been hoping to bring to life for most of mine-- my life, that is. The talent I hoped I had most of and longed to bring to light was songwriting: The great lyrist Yip Harburg(The Wizard of Oz, Finian's Rainbow) was my mentor, and Frank Loesser, when I was 20, said "Kid, you're the biggest talent since me; write me a musical!"  I did, and as in traditional showbiz stories he proceeded to undo me. But that is another story, one probably without songs.
     So as the door I could push most easily open was novel-writing, that was the path I pursued.  But the part of my heart that continued to beat most melodically was songwriting, and twelve or fourteen novels later, song came back and I started to write my musical. "You're a BOOKWRITER!" Jimmy Nederlander growled.  "What are you doing writing a MUSICAL!"  It's been that kind of struggle ever since, with little patches of compassion and support from people like Rosemary Clooney, who liked the songs so much she recorded some of them in exchange for sandwiches for the musicians and Tom Meehan, who can't help being kind to everybody.
     So it is with some pain that I report having been to see ROCKY, which Tom co-wrote with Sylvester Stallone, some of the well-known themes from the movie, a couple of songwriters who should have written at least one really good love song, and clearly all the electricians in Germany, where the musical grew like Topsy, whatever her name is in Deutsch. Patrons are warned in the beginning that if they react to light they should be forewarned: I wasn't aware of the warnings.  But I attended the show with my friend the Angel Carleen, one of the gentle creatures on the planet, and she was in an absolute fury, she felt so manipulated. 
    The audience itself, is actually moved-- I had met, by accident, not design, the young, handsome, and gifted director(Peter and the Starcatcher) during intermission, said I was hoping to be moved, and he said "Wait till the Second Act."  But I had NO idea. Before the finale the first ten rows, or maybe it was twelve, are physically escorted onstage so they can be actually ringside for the fight, bloodied and band-aided.  I wondered what would happen if the inept, elderly, and/or infirm had been lucky(?) enough to secure those tickets. 
    At any rate, the angel Carleen, being a dancer by training, is highly sensitive to light, so left the theater in a rage.  The finale comes with strobes and flashes of every design, most of them doubtless German.  I had been in Beverly Hills some months ago and ran into Sylvester Stallone at a local coffee shop.  He'd just come back from seeing ROCKY in Germany, and said he didn't understand a word, but he was crying.
    From joy at the unraveling legend, I would have to opine. I actually saw the movie again some months ago and will have to admit the thing really works.  But not to death.
    It will probably make a fortune.  And I could not wish more or better to Tom.  But where are the songs of yesterday?  Where are the songs at all?  How can we leave a theatre humming the lighting?