So after one of the most difficult evenings since coming back to LaLa, which I will not go into lest it make somewhat indelible the experience, I turned on the TV to try and lull myself into sleep, and, instead, came up with a part of my history that still makes me laugh, be sorrowful, and understand how lucky my life has been.
There it was, Eyes Wide Shut, the last movie of Stanley Kubrick, who had been my closest friend, mentor, and ultimate disappointment. But like the movie, if it has to be a letdown, you might as well have the biggest.
I went to a Hollywood party when I was was at Stanford, and came down for the weekend, and was introduced to Stanley, there with his wife Christiane, very pregnant, in a white dress with sparkles across her belly, and said to him she was the most beautiful pregnant woman I had ever met. And he said "What did you expect?" as if we had been friends forever, which it then seemed we would become. He had just announced his acquisition of LOLITA, the book on everyone's lips who read, which in those days was everybody.
He came shortly afterward to visit me in the Bay Area, having read the novel I had submitted as my Master's Thesis, and we went for a boat ride on the bay. "I'm in terrible trouble," he said to me. "I just hired Nabokov to write the screenplay. Dwight MacDonald (then the reviewer for Esquire, as I remember, maybe faultily) is going to give me a great review because it's Nabokov, and he can't write a word of dialogue. You're the best writer of dialogue in America. Will you do it for me?"
I was, of course, thrilled and delighted, ready to hole up in the Park Sunset, as he wanted me to do, since part of the offer was I couldn't tell anybody I was in town, because they would all know what I was doing-- paranoia was one of his major suits and our friendship was now well known among my friends, as it was one of the reasons I was glad to be alive, Stanley was so brilliant, albeit crazy. So I checked in to the motel and started writing.
There was a scene where Lolita tells Humbert about a friend named Ginny who's "a creep... she has polio," and I said "Stanley, you can't have her put down another kid for having polio... it'll make her despicable.' And Stanley said, his dark eyes literally lighting up, "No, you don't get it. Humbert is thinking he's never fucked a twelve year old with polio before." And I said "Stanley, how do you see this movie?" And he said "It's a love story."
"Oh," said I. "I thought it was a comedy."
Not long after we agreed that I would not write the screenplay, and I went back to Stanford to get my Master's, which is another story. The friendship aborted temporarily.
A while later I met Don, and we went to the four o'clock opening of "Doctor Strangelove" at the Criterion, because I wanted him to meet Stanley, who I told him would be there counting the house.
"Stop being a writer," Don said. But, sure enough, after the opening showing, we came down the stairs from the balcony, and I heard 'click, click, click, click.' And there he was, with a bus counter, and he said to me "We just broke the house record for the Criterion."
So we became friends again, and Stanley and Christiane came to our wedding, and Stanley told Don, who was producing the football games for WOR at the time to "not follow the ball, but keep the camera on the line, because that was where the real drama was." And Don said "Stanley, if you'll let me run a credit at the end 'Directed by Stanley Kubrick, I'll keep the camera anywhere you want it to be." (Christiane complained to me at the wedding that the vase she had bought as a wedding gift, Steuben, pronounce Schtoybun, the German way, had cost $29.95. By the time I broke it, living in La Jolla after Don had died, and swept it off the shelf doing a yoga posture, it was $495. Now I think it's close to a thousand.
A couple of years after the wedding, when we had moved to England temporarily, we had a meal at the country home of Gary and Max Smith, close, good friends-- Don was working for Gary at the time-- and Stanley and Christiane were living in the castle-like domain next door. So I left the table with my then little children, Madeleine, five, and Robert, two, to show them to Stanley, as evidence that my life had really worked out in spite of all expectations to the contrary. I rang his bell, a terrifying, cinematic tolling. In a few moments, the door creaked open. Two huge, snarling Dobermans pulled at the end of a leash. And I said into the darkness: "Stanley?"
He recognized my voice. "Gwen?"
"Stanley?" I said.
"I'd let you in," he said. "But the dogs will go for the children."