Sunday, January 24, 2016

ELECTION FROM HELL-the rental side

So just in case we have not had enough disappointment and frustration in recent times, all these alleged candidates may be messing up the election.  My smartest friend Joanna says the rumor is Biden may be drafted, and that would be a reward for people who care, who cannot find it in their souls, which they probably have, to root for Hillary.  I don't know if that's how you spell 'root,' but I would however you spell it do that for her if she were the nominee.  But nobody is that sure anymore she will be, things are so crazy.
       Meanwhile, my former sort-of flatmate, Marilyn, is back in the news, or even better, The New York Times.  I lived in her former apartment on N. Doheny Drive, just below Sunset, when I second (first, I was in Laurel Canyon, so long ago that Dennis Hopper was a teenager, and seemed cute if not super-talented, and had an affair with the wife of my writing teacher whom I had warmed up by writing about him) was inspired by LA.  (I remember my writing teacher warning me about run-on sentences, but he's likely dead now, as it is very much later and they're still talking about her, Marilyn.)
        But she was darling, a lightweight word to use about her, especially with the picture that's in the NYTimes, --where even more appropriate might be 'adorable,' not seen with all her baggage. One could write a book about what the world might have been like absent a Marilyn Monroe, but nobody's writing that kind of novel anymore, nor, more importantly, would anyone probably read it. Meanwhile the one I DID write, about which a publisher was really crazy and sure everybody would want to read,  languished, as it came out exactly the moment that Nixon fell, and God, (I wrote at the time,) convinced there was One, had to choose between saving my career and the country.  So the winner among books, palm up to Heaven, was All the President's Men.
       I am not so sure about God anymore although I did have a religious, if not a spiritual experience yesterday, when I went to the temple observed at by my most unusual and lovely daughter-in-law, Jennie Davis(no relation other than by marriage and coincidence of name, unless it was Destiny.) I had apparently Quakered too long, at least one time too many, and fled the sweet little meeting in Santa Monica, and reached out to Jennie, who invited me in.  I am hoping if indeed He/She does exist, my wavering of mind if not soul will be forgiven, and I will continue to grow spiritually at least and this Trumpian nightmare will fade.  It would have been hard to believe as a story construct, but people are apparently dumber than we think.
       I sat behind Arthur Miller once, when he came with the president of the country to see his play about Marilyn that I assumed would be in English.  I had a teacher once who said "Never Assume."  Also never assume you will remember later which country it was when you have lived in a lot of them, but I do remember Miller's back: it was broad and had clearly shouldered a great deal.  The president was one of those heroes, the only one who had stood up against oppression and been an artist besides.  Am sure you all will remember his name and e-mail me.  We did not stay for the entire play as the language was unintelligible, and so the play, unmoving, unmoved. Oh, right, I just remembered-- it was in Czech, in Prague.  Nobody expects you to be able to speak it: it's enough that you tried actually to live there.
      Am of course no longer that touched by Miller,  as he gets to live forever, an upper that not that many people get to have, besides getting laid.  A crude expression for the reward that awaited him, but it is, in my opinion, and my mother's before me, probably what excited him most.  That, and to be in The New York Times on Sunday: what more could anyone hope for?

Saturday, January 23, 2016


So today's Wake-Up Call, that is to say, the call I made to wish Happy Thanksgiving to a favorite friend, as well as to make myself aware of what I should be doing, brought me the admonishment that I was writing too much about Brando.  No doubt that is true, as I am focussed on the young part of my life, probably excited that I could be remembering it in so much detail, when I had to be reminded by my daughter-in-law that not that long ago I had what seemed a relationship (not to be fooled) with Shirley MacLaine, who wanted to make a book of mine into a movie, when she, and it, were still viable.  Having been to a theater yesterday, in a movie(it wasn't really, being more static than "motion picture",) I am sad for what had been one of the most major pleasures of my youth, which is now definitely over.   Not just my young days, but what had made them more enjoyable.  Norman Mailer's once wife whom he stabbed has died, and I am remembering standing near him when a doctor friend of mine was married for a minute to the heiress Peggy Hitchcock, a very bright, erratic classmate of mine at Bryn Mawr, and he said something I could have considered combative, and a journalist friend said "Careful, you're standing near the railing--"  a balcony in her house.  So I didn't speak, an unusual characteristic for me in those days.
      Mailer was a defender of mine during my near-annihilation from the alleged (we still don't know the value of his academic credentials-- that isn't true: they were in the main spurious,-- a reporter on the LA Times doing a follow-up story and finding out how fragile were his only credentials, which included a Nude Encounter weekend) psychologist who sued me for Touching, my novel about the nude-encounter marathon I attended at the end of the Sixties, which it very much WAS.  The Sixties I mean.  But Mailer admonished me then even as he continued to support, writing me how much being used in a novel had upset his life, though he wouldn't step away from being in my corner.  The allegedly great writer Philip Roth, who had decimated one of my most beloved friends, being her lover of many years until he got his million for Portnoy, on which day Roth's wife drove her car into a tree so he never had to give her anything, which he celebrated by leaving my beloved buddy, so she attempted suicide, giving him his next book. Everything very well written, but I think empty of real feeling, as he was.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Couple of Rock 'n Roll Nights

So going over my files, I have found a number of pieces I thought I would be saving for my memoir, a word I hate, though I don't want to reveal what I thought would be the title, in case I never get to it. That thought, sadly, has surfaced as a probable reality, since it was announced today that Bette Midler will be coming back in my buddy Mike Stewart's HELLO, DOLLY! in a year from now.  A Year.  That which once seemed to me a potential likelihood is now in reality more than elusive.  I had stood under the leaves of a New England tree with Bette Midler reassuring her that she would be able to take on Broadway, after a performance of a summer show she'd done with Joe Layton, the wonderful director and good friend who was actively thinking to put together a show for Bette, with himself at the helm, and me as writer. 
     But he is gone now, as is almost everyone empowered at the time, and seeing, as I sadly must,  that the idea of my having a show on Broadway is delusional, I am in a giving up mode, which truly seems more sanity than surrender.  So I am adding to my ramblings here what is probably the best remembrance of things past, in case I never pull it all together.  Here goes:

Harry Nilsson, Tommy Smothers & … wait for it: John Lennon                            

  When I was young, a state that I didn’t realize would not be everlasting—we all know we are going to die, but that aside, which is where we usually put it, we don’t really comprehend the fact that we will grow old-- —I had a crush on Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers.  His wit was as sophisticated as he faux-paraded simplicity, so when he opened as a single at the Cellar Door in D.C., THE place to perform at the time, I was there.
      My friends in Washington, besides Republicans high in government who invited me, a committed and vocal Democrat, to stay in their homes and spy on them for my new novel about Washingon, THE MOTHERLAND, because, in the words of Nixon’s Deputy press secretary, Gerald Warren, “We knew you would be fair,”-- were Bill and Taffy Danoff, who’d written and sung along with John Denver, “Country Roads.”  I was visiting them when Tommy made his debut as a single, and buddies he’d made along the way flew in for the event.  Among them was Harry Nilsson. 
      It was a night that young people who dream about being in Show Business fantasy will be part of the road, but rarely is.  After the show, we all went back to Bill and Taffy’s, and sat around on the floor and sang.  We sang songs we were writing, songs we wanted to sing, songs we liked to imagine would be part of the American heritage, which some were actually to became.  And Harry Nillson was there, gentle, gracious, sad and either stoned or drunk, maybe both. 
     I was just excited to be in his company.  He sang, looking at the rest of us through heavy lids, laying in phrases to other people’s songs, growing increasingly remote even as he participated.
      The singing went on until four or five in the morning, with
music everyone there knew or new songs put together on the spot, with the profusion of talent, or the lateness/earliness of the hour, removing what little remained of inhibition.  Even as I was yearning for Tommy, which was, I was sure, to be the climax of the evening/morning, I was thrilled and inspired by the company.  I wrote a song on the spot with Billy, one of the gently uplifting craftsmen of the art.  It seemed to me the miracle of Washington, almost making up for the constipation of its main events, that there could be this creative energy in the midst of the unproductive (and, it seemed to me, unpatriotic) politicking.  I imagined that Benjamin Franklin, my favorite among the Founding Fathers, had he been able to return, would choose to be in this inspired company, rather than in the chambers that had become so stuffy and unproductive.
     And then it was time to go.  Tommy and I drove Harry to the airport.  “I’m really sorry to see you in this kind of shape, Harry” Tommy said, as Harry stumbled out of the car.  I had never met Harry before that night, and was to see him again only twice.  But I already considered Harry a tragic friend, since we had been together in that creative intimacy.  Besides, I was sure that Tommy, such a patently smart, piquant spirit, whom I prized, wouldn’t have held him so high unless he was wonderful, finding his downward spiral so obviously heartbreaking.
      Then Tommy and I went back to his hotel, one of those places on the main road in Georgetown that seem so inviting as you drive up to them.  What ensued was the stuff of comic 18th century novels with a rakish slant: unsatisfying yet hilarious.  After all the time we had subtly longed for each other, he couldn’t.  He had had an affair—at least it had seemed to me an affair—with my pal the comedienne and singer Jaye P. Morgan.   I had loved for her ease, her humor, and her being unaffected by any of her relationships.  She’d known I had a yen for Tommy, and had more or less warned me about how it would in all likelihood turn out.    After several half-hearted(so to speak) attempts, and one climatic pass that had been very un-climactic, where he’d zoomed down and bit my mons, he sat up on the bed, arched back on his naked haunches, and cried out “Wasn’t tonight funny?”  Then he fell backwards, off the bed, knocking himself unconscious. 
I was afraid he was dead.  I was terrified of the headlines.  He was still a major star at the time, and I was married, with a bestselling novel.   I loved my husband, but the teenager part of my soul and body, had still to be satiated, much less satisfied, so had I entered into the (I was sure-it-would-be-assignation) eagerly.   Passionately, I probably would have said at the time.  I had a tendency to over-write, certainly in my imagination.
 At long, terrifying last, Tommy came to.  What was to have been, I had been sure, my great erotic adventure, ended as a hilarious episode in a life that has never been exactly what I thought it or hoped it would be.  My life has been at once highly comic, and seemingly cosmically protected.  “I owe you one,” Tommy said thickly, as I left.  We were to stay sort-of-friends, but between getting older, his career having its own ups and downs, and the toll the years and inconvenience takes on sex, especially when you don’t have it, what there seemed to be of a romantic nature vanished.   I mean completely.

      But I did have another borderline adventure with Harry.  The next to the last time I saw him was at Jack Haley, Jr.’s house, in Laurel Canyon in Hollywood.  It was late on a Saturday night.  Harry had come to town to soothe John Lennon, separated at the time from Yoko Ono, and visibly suffering.  Harry was playing ping pong, drugging, and drinking.
       Like most of those there, including many Hollywood celebrities, including a starlet on roller skates, I was blinded by the presence of John Lennon.  Harry had brought him along to this Saturday night Hollywood informal celebration, to try and cheer him up.  John was visibly depressed, it being the middle of his separation from Yoko Ono, who, whatever else she may or may not have been or had, had had the strength to dump him, at least for the moment.  Jack Haley, Jr., whose home it was, was a very funny man, in the shadow of a famous comedian father, one of the fabled stars of The Wizard of Oz.  Sadly, Jack Jr., a very bright and funny man, had few original talents of his own, though he was brilliant at editing old film clips.  But he did give great party.  Especially that night, when John Lennon came.
      To be in proximity with this man I regarded, as did most of the people on the planet who loved music and words, as the Greatest, was exhilarating.  But he looked so deeply depressed, I considered it my duty to cheer him up. 
     So I went over and told him how much he meant to me, how much he meant to everybody who cared about music, what a gift he was to all of us, and culture in general.  After fielding the flow of my effusions, he looked up and over the top of his dark glasses and said: “Gwen, if you really loved me, you’d stop talking.”
         That became the favorite story of my son Robert.   He enjoyed nothing more than his mother being artfully put down.
         I saw Lennon next at Tommy Smother’s opening at the Troubadour.  He was in the balcony, once again with Harry Nillson, stupidly drunk.  Wearing a Tampax on his nose, Lennon talked and joked, loud-voiced, doing what I would guess he considered good-natured razzing through Tommy’s act.  But as the audience was made up of Tommy’s friends and ardent fans, they ran out of patience.  Jeering, they took Lennon from his seat in the balcony, and passed him down over the railing like a cork bobbing on an ocean of hands.  Down from the balcony he came, down to the main floor, over the heads of the crowd and out of the club.  It was a sadly bedazzling happening, heavily covered by the press.

       I never saw him again, but grieved, along with everybody else when he was murdered.  I was borderline-friendly for a while with the psychiatrist from the jail where his killer had gone.  And though I had never felt the affection for Yoko Ono that I, like the rest of the world, felt for John, I was glad he had gotten back together with her, since  he’d obviously adored her.  Of course nobody else I knew liked her very much.  But that wasn’t  our job.


So there we stood, at the back of the theatre, on the opening night of Hello, Dolly, with Michael Stewart, our very good friend, who had written the book.  Don was on one side, I on the other, and each of us had a hand driving nails into our flesh, as Mike, suffering, waited for the curtain to come down, and the bad news to come in. There had been so much change and tumult as the musical moved towards Opening night, that Mike had been filled with despair. 
     Mike and his partner, Tony Manzy, were close, good friends, and as it was my greatest, most passionate ambition to write musical comedy-- I was basically a lyricist, and songs were my heart-- the relationship with Mike was more than prized.  He was the smartest, most tuned-in writer of stage comedy, an elegant, highly educated and creative Gay--I capitalize it because in another century he would have been a fop when the word was not a putdown but a colorful description.  The director of the show was Gower Champion, a name that well described him.
     The producer, when being a producer meant being a producer, when there weren't fifty names associated with the event, but one man, usually a titan like David Merrick, mad as a well-coiffed hatter when he still had hair, had an iron hand at the helm.  And it was Merrick in charge of this one.  But there were terrible problems, as there usually are in the pulling together of a show, and Mike was suffering.  Nobody knew how it would turn out, and the vista was bleak.
     We had opening night tickets, but because Mike was suffering so, we stood with him at the back of the theatre, so he could dig his nails into our arms.  And from time to time, he would murmur, "that goddamned Gower," as he watched what he thought, and said from time to time, was the joke that director had made out of his work.  Love in the theatre was an easily won emotion, but really difficult to sustain.  Too many things went wrong, and the ups and downs were dizzying.
       So though the night seemed to be going well, the truth about theatre, especially a musical, was you just never knew.  The digging into our arms went deeper and deeper, and when the curtain came down, you just didn't know.  And Mike, from all indications, was heartbroken-- heartsick at the least.  Murmuring words of hurt, and borderline despise.
     Mike's sister had a boyfriend who was a journalist, so as Mike continued to murmur under his quaking breath, "that goddamned Gower," the newsman went to call his newsroom.  We were at the top of the stairs in Sardi's, when the answer came in: a smash. And Mike almost literally flew down the stairs, his arms waving as he joyfully cried out: "Gower! Gower!" and went to tell him the good news.
        I am sad that it has been such a long time that Mike is gone. But I am happy to note that even as the new production of Dolly is announced in today's New York Times, there is plenty of space given to Michael Stewart.  Maybe there is a newsstand in the afterlife, in the unlikely event there should be one, where Mike can see he is truly an Immortal.  

Saturday, January 09, 2016


So I have begun the day, the year, really, by breakfasting, something I rarely do in company, with the wonderful Katie.  She is the little (tall, actually,) angel who was given me as a neighbor on whatever street it was I was sentenced onto in Beverly Hills when I moved here time before last, where I was so out of place and low on creativity except for a musical and a play or two.  She is unloading what weights she doesn't need and certainly doesn't deserve and wants to help me get my musical on, or my comedy now that she knows about it (I read it last night, having taken a medication for my allergies that completely eliminated memory, so I can approach myself as a new talent, a relief considering how old I am.) It's really funny, I must say in all lack of humility, which it's easy to have considering I didn't remember myself.
       I would have stayed anonymous except since it's only a comedy, and not a musical-- that would have cost a true fortune, since they must have learned a lot of ways to pad since I was a girl, cute in the bargain-- I have decided to come forward as myself while I am still here.  Maybe this is all only because I have gotten out of bed-- tilted, the bed is, and so must I be-- for the first time in more than an age, to meet somebody for breakfast.  If the comedy works, I will then introduce my mother, or my aunt, whoever I have decided to be, who has written the musical, if I can still remember it.
         What is so strange about all of this is how much I am remembering of my very young life which I am surprised to note now was so long ago.  It was a very different time, when the reason for a girl's not being able to break into the ranks was because she was a girl, period, not because she wasn't a gay guy.  After my show, the musical I had written with Phil Springer, about (and could have been by, she says in all lack of humility) Mark Twain, had its purse pilfered by our own producer Kermit Bloomgarden, the Broadway producer when there was only one, or a couple at most for one production, to put its whole budget in a Mel Brooks' (a close and good friend but not yet a guaranteed winner) fiasco, which closed right after opening night.  And having had an original musical writ as a girl child pilfered by Frank Loesser, I had no choice but to try and find a career other than songwriter, my true original goal.  After all, I did have Irving Berlin's birthday. 
     So it was that I became a novelist.  My God, who knew I had so many words in me?  
     Now, a lifetime later, here I am coming back (for the first time) as a newcomer, which I could actually be, if it weren't for the years and the genes.  Well, we'll see what the universe has in mind or in pocket if there is, indeed, any plan besides the planet's going mad and actually empowering Donald Trump.
    I do not mean to add by focusing on him to his blindingly over-emphasized over-statedness, though I am, as everybody seems to be doing, including poor Hillary, even as she pointedly tries to ignore him.   I have not before felt too much compassion for her, as I now do.  If the routes were not potentially too hazardous to try and be casual about going back and forth, I would make my way to Amsterdam, where I have everything I like except a dentist.  
     But okay, terrorist, I believe you.  I understand we do not get to choose the manner of our exiting the planet, but there is no point walking into the muzzle(is it a muzzle?) of a rifle.  How much crazier it has become in this world since I said the Gettysburg Address at two.   I now can remember nothing of it other than its  
opening lines, and the address where I said it, Melwood Street in Pittsburgh.  Is it still there? Melwood Street, I mean.  Not Pittsburgh.  Certainly that will always be there, and a great place to come from and even better to have left. 


Saturday, January 02, 2016


'Tis actually the second day of the new year, though it feels more like the first, and, more accurately, feels for some reason as if it should be a new century.  So much has changed this past month, with terrorists having become more explosive in really stupid ways, not that there could be something like a smart terrorist-- but in a manner that seemed as mindless as heartless.  The moronic, crazy woman who went to San Bernardino-- again, Huh? why there, of all places nobody knew was even there-- to get married, pregnant and kill people-- and their neighbor who linked up so he could help them be destructive-- I don't get any of it, but then I don't think they did either.  It just seems to me that almost everyone in the news is not so much news as truly pointless, in their own lives as well as the ones they're wrecking or ending. 
     I am particularly lucky because I have been everywhere I wanted to go except Barcelona, and as noted, Sondheim has already written that song.  So I have nowhere to be besides Here, and that is something I studied with Jack Kornfield how to be, and a finer teacher never lived and I still have trouble with that. 
      Had a celebratory lunch with the wonderful Ellen who still does everything mostly for other people, making her truly unique in Beverly Hills.  We went to Kanter's, the genuine delicatessen even though it is in LA with a soul that is basically New York's.  There was a ten-day-old or maybe not even, peaceful and asleep in a carrier having made it beautifully through her trip here, which was not easy, certainly not for the mother, who, like most of us who'd determined not to have drugs asked for them.  It is probably one of the big questions I have for God, if I ever meet up with Her/Him, why it's such a tough trip for the mother, giving birth.  I imagine the answer might be, because then what comes afterwards might not seem so painful, and you can really appreciate the good stuff, if you're lucky enough to get some.
     So I wish everyone except Donald Trump a great year ahead, peace-filled and triumphant in spirit, with a personal quest they can fulfill.  I would be sad for our country, having gotten so silly, were it not for the wondrous fact that we are still here, so anything is possible.  I have a glorious photo in front of me on my desk of autumn leaves behind the bridge in Central Park with the San Remo in the background that never looks like that when I am there, seeking out that view.  
    I mean the whole lesson of Jack and everybody else who knows what they are talking about in as few words as possible is to be fully present.  I think the baby in the carrier chair on the floor of the deli was aware of that, and doing her practice.