There is to be a celebration of Mike Nichols this weekend at the probably wonderful theatre built recently in Beverly Hills, and I am hoping everyone will go who really loved comedy. I say probably wonderful because I went to one or two evenings there and didn't have my chops up, my spirit being more or less decimated as it seems to have been most of the time I am in Los Angeles, where the weather is kind to my body, what's left of it, but the ambiance-- and I am generous to call it by an upmarket word-- is less than uplifting.
I knew Mike because a really favorite friend of mine, a woman in my class at Bryn Mawr(she dropped out though later became much more than she planned) was one of his lovers, and took me upstate to meet him. I was just starting out my feverish plan to be a success in theatre, with huge piles of talent and energy and pushiness, a wonderful history of having written really wondrous musicals-- I can say that with great immodesty, since nothing became of any of them, in spite of my having been loved and umbrellaed by Yip Harburg, the best American lyricist ever, and Rosemary Clooney, whom I picked up in a grocery store-- as smart as she was gifted, who recorded my musical comedy in exchange for sandwiches for the musicians. Oh, I do have so much terrific history, it's a shame nothing ever became of me.
Ann Mudge, my beauteous dropped out classmate, her features so perfect she could wear her white blonde hair pulled tight back against her skull took me to meet Mike. He was then married to one of his early wives who was to become something once they parted, and we talked of Cherry Lawn, the nutty boarding school in Darien, Connecticut, where he had gone as a bald refugee of ten-- "He really must have liked you," Ann said, "or he wouldn't have told you he was bald." He had had measles or one of those childhood diseases where you lose all your hair. Imagine that happening when you are also having to flee the Nazis.
Anyway, we really enjoyed each other, but I got too aggressive about trying to get him involved in my musical, and he fired me as a potential friend, while he was helping his son who might not really have been a result of his sperm, but that is another story, one that I would no longer write, since I do not want to be remembered as the author of The Pretenders. I saved his very cold and mean note on really nice stationary in his own hand thinking I might sell it one day, but now just intend to give it to my son who will probably have a good time showing it around once I am gone, as we speak in these waning years of death. It is an awful word.
My friend Joanna the Brilliant gave an evening where Mike was present, where he apparently forgave me, saying "Oh, I know Gwen," and actually smiled at me, and then I saw him in the forecourt of a play where we had a witty and lively exchange, so what bad blood there might have been seemed to have washed away. But it is a shame I had been pushy in my then still youth, and antagonized him, because there were all those years I was being so productive and clever with nothing coming of any of it when, had I had him in my corner, I could have been all that Frank Loesser saw in me that he pillaged. Oh, when we think of the life we might have had. Then, there was the wonderful MCA agent Bobby Helfer, cousin of Elmer Bernstein, who said, when I was twenty-one, that he was going to override agency policy of not helping those for whom you could not ask a lot of money just because he believed in me and my songs, who then committed suicide the night of his forty-second birthday by taking forty-two sleeping pills. I guess there are worse things than not being able to get people to support your talents.
I think I will dress up for this evening of Mike Nichols just in case one of my more whimsical notions should be a reality and there is an invisible life after death and Mike should be there, unseen, wondering who really cares about him. I really do want him to know I do, even though he can no longer do me all the good he could have.