Thursday, November 20, 2014


Mike Nichols went to Cherry Lawn, the co-ed progressive boarding school in Darien, Connecticut, full of mad, inspired, troubled teenagers from broken homes or parents who didn’t want to be bothered, of whom I was one.  He wasn’t there when I was, but many years later after he was the great, sought-after success he was, a close friend of mine from Bryn Mawr who had dated him, set up a visit for me so he could hear my musical, Sylvia WHO? that I am working on till this day.
He was married at the time to the woman whose name I have difficulty remembering, along with all names that are starting to elude me.  But as I recall, sort of, it was Anabel, and I do remember clearly that she had had an affair with Morgan Mason when he was eighteen or nineteen, on the set of the movie Tony Perkins, with whom I had been innocently and ignorantly been infatuated, not knowing he was gay, or probably even clearly what “gay” was, wrote with Stephen Sondheim.
    Mike lived in Connecticut with his then wife. Ann Mudge, the beauteous, pale blonde heiress from Pittsburgh which you’d never know from how elegant she was, had dated Mike, after trying to commit suicide over Philip Roth, who had to be the cruelest man ever to be gifted with great talent.  She'd set up the audition for me, being as generous as she was upmarket Gentile.  I remember telling her I had relatives who had gone to Taylor Alderdice high school in Pittsburgh, and her saying “Taylor Alderdice was my grandfather.”  Imagine.  I’d thought he was a building.
   Anyway, we went to Connecticut where Mike and I walked by the lake in the woods of his home, and he’d told me about how agonizing it had been for him at Cherry Lawn, where he’d started, as a refugee, at ten.  I don’t think anybody had ever been at home or comfortable at Cherry Lawn, but he’d said to me “Imagine being there bald,” which he’d been in addition to being a German refugee, as a result of having had scarlet fever.  
    “He must have really liked you to tell you that about himself,” Ann said, as he was never without his very good wig.
    But whether or not he liked me, it was his wife who really helped with my musical, about a widow who has to crash parties to eat.  Anabel, if that was her name, oh yes, I believe it was, said “she needs an assistant,” which led to my creating the Countess.  A really great part for someone gifted and funny if it ever happens.
     Mike was of course a creative genius but he was less than kind, or maybe I just never learned how to deal with someone being less than happy to see me.  Although he may have really liked me or he wouldn’t have told me he’d been bald, once he understood I had a musical comedy I was eager to get on, he less than brightened at the sight of me, knowing I had an agenda.  Everybody in New York has an agenda, and I would guess everybody in theatre had one with Mike.
    But I did manage to say something once that visibly tickled him, so of course I can’t remember now what it was.  But he did take a proprietary stance with me in the forecourt of a theatre, where he introduced me to a producer as though I was a friend of his, which I imagine I might be in the next life if there is one. Meanwhile I am sad he will not be directing my musical if it ever happens.
    I saw him not all that long ago at a wonderful evening my friend Joanna Rose gave for Tony Walton and the Library of Congress, where she introduced me to Tony Walton, saying, all in one breath: “This is Gwen Davis, and she writes books and plays and movies and songs and she went to Bryn Mawr.”  Mike was standing just to the side, and she started to introduce me to him, but he said “Oh, I know Gwen.”  I tried not to seem that excited to see him, because eagerness has usually been greeted with less than rapture on the part of the celebrated.  But had I know his days were to be brief, I think I would have hugged him.