Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Gregory Peck, Himself.

When I was still, almost literally, a little girl, though tip-toeing into adolescence and unhappily overweight, I was already in love with movie stars.  Having been shunted off to boarding school by my devastatingly attractive mother, who had nailed Puggy, the investment banker husband of her best friend/guest at the hotel where she was social director.  Then my mother was taken in by her ,and she died.  She was going to do anyway; my mother didn't do it.  So there I was in Cherry Lawn, if you can believe it, the name of the school.
  Word came in to the dorm that Gentlemen's Agreement, the enormous bestseller about Jews, which most of us were, and anti-Semitism, which there certainly was, headquartered where we were en-schooled-- it was Darien, Connecticut, why, I cannot imagine except that someone must have owned the land to build there-- was about to film a scene coming in to local railway station, that would star Gregory Peck.  Any of us with any sense would have had a crush on him, albeit adolescent, and I certainly had any sense, if not a great deal.  So I walked into town while the locals along the route lowered their shades against having to look at us, my heart beating especially fast, along with my imagination what it could be like,  what might happen.  
     When I got to the station, I was informed that the train had already pulled in, and Gregory Peck was gone.   Everybody else went back to school, though I sat on the bench weeping with disappointment and anticipation that my whole life would be that way.  Then word came that the train had pulled in too far, and they would have to shoot it again.  So I watched the train come in, as Gregory Peck, even taller and handsomer than I could have or would have dared dream, got off. When he was through shooting the scene I went over and introduced myself to him, holding out a pen for him to give me his autograph.  He took it and the paper, and looking for someplace to lean, picked my front right shoulder, just above my partially developed breast.  
     I did not wash the shirt ever again, and myself probably not for weeks.
      Many years later, when I had found some footing in Beverly Hills and the entertainment community, I was invited to a party where Peck was, and told him the story.  My dog had just died, and I told him I had written a poem.  "Send it to me," he said.  So I did.  The next day the phone rang.  
    "That is the most wonderful poem," he said, without telling me who it was, like I wouldn't know.  "I was just reading it to Veronique.  What a wonderful dog he must have been.  I wish I had
known him."
    "There's a book," I said.
    "Send it to me," said he.  
    I did, and we became friends.  Eventually, to my surprise and delight, he recorded the poem.  (Write me and I'll send it to you, or maybe I'll do a little of it now,-- with the Republicans behaving the way they are, who knows how long, or whether we will last.)
    And so his ashes float among the graves
    Of the Cemetiere de Pere la Chaise
    A bit of him with Oscar Wilde
    The part that tells you 'Outlaws always mourn'
     For he was not like others of his breed
     His nature more poet than animal.
(That's enough for now.  I wish you could hear it, in his voice.  Maybe if I ever figure how to remember/work out these things, you will.) 

    Then, after Don died, I was living in Paris writing for the Wall Street Journal Europe, and Peck came as honored guest to the French Embassy.  There was an evening, and Veronique wasn't there, so he had the generosity of spirit to invite me as his sort-of date.  I had just broken my arm in my auto accident in Italy, and he, having something go wrong, as will happen, no matter how perfect you are, was on crutches.  "Look at us," he said as we went forward, arm in broken arm, to meet and greet the ambassador.  "Are we a pair?"
     We stayed friends all the rest of the time there was that he was with us, which wasn't nearly long enough.  The nicest man in the world.  Smart, too.  I'd say they don't make them like that anymore. But I don't know that they did before, either.