So having lived through the most painful and arduous experience since Don died-- I will tell you one day what it was, if it feels correct to do so-- I have decided to return to NY and pretend it welcomes New Talent in their 80s.
I am stunned to be this old, as what I always was was the Youngest. Having said The Gettysburg Address when I was two, thereby becoming a traveling attraction in Pittsburgh, leaving there when I was five and probably reciting it on the train to Florida where my mother was running to escape my father, taking me along not because she wanted to or loved me so much but because that was What Women Did, I spent the next many years being relocated and doubtless spiritually lost as well as farmed out. Then I found my tether in education, connecting with the occasional teacher or principal who saw and/or loved me, and so survived, to more or less triumph as a creative student.
At the Cherry Lawn School, if you can believe that name, in Darien, Connecticut, where most of the students were Jews, site of the filming of Gentleman's Agreement, a movie about anti-Semitism in the United States, with Darien its capital, I had a drama teacher named Basil Burwell, whom we called Bazz. He was a gentle man with a gifted and visible soul. I see a credit sometimes now of a Burwell, and hope and suspect that is his son. It would be colorful and kind if we met one day, and I could find out. I went back to Cherry Lawn in whatever decade it was, when they were going to make a book of mine, Sweet William, into a movie. Bazz was sitting on a tree stump, touching and silent, telling me when he opened his eyes that he was musing about when I had been a student there, he told me. But apparently the director got a better deal to do something else with Robert Redford, so my movie collapsed, as will happen always in Hollywood when more money is involved. You will be stunned to know the industry is not about art or what will survive the ages.
But in the railway station in Darien when I was eleven or twelve, and they were shooting a scene from Gentleman's Agreement, I met Gregory Peck, coming to visit his fiancee Dorothy McGuire on the train. All of Cherry Lawn cut school to watch it, but when we got there they told us the scene was finished. Everybody went back to school except me, who sat there weeping at having missed him. But it turned out the train had pulled in too far, and they were shooting the scene again. So I was there when the train pulled in, and he got off. I held out my pen, and he signed his autograph leaning against the front of my shirt. I never washed it again.
I loved him of course, and Fate being kind or colorful, maybe both, I came to know him as a seeming adult(me) in Hollywood, where he was, of course, a Great Star, with a heart and spirit that matched his height and fine looks. (Mike Nichols had as a young refugee attended CLS, as we called it, probably trying to seem like we were Happening. He was bald from Scarlet Fever, which couldn't have been easy, either the disease or being bald. But he toupeed over with talent, and had as creative a life as anyone in the last/andthis American century, and I'm sorry we never got to be friends.)
But I knew and became friend-ish with a lot of the Biggies, including Elizabeth Taylor. She was very short, but had a lot of stuff she did that made her seem a great deal taller, including jewels and makeup that took almost forever, lasting a very long time-- Elizabeth, not the makeup. The jewels are still advertised in a window in Beverly Hills, along with her picture, the way, if she can hope where she is, she probably still looks.
According to a gossipy friend of mine she left a fortune of money to each of her many children. Easy to believe, as during the time of our seeming friendship she would get calls from Richard Burton, then fucking the other Princess Elizabeth, the one with a country, sending him cash so he could continue the courtship, which seems to me to be passing the boundaries of caring. But she got fatter and less marketable during our warmth of communication so they never made THE MOTHERLAND, as Elizabeth very much wanted to do. That was the novel about Helen, my mother, probably a greater character even than Elizabeth. Witty and beautiful, shrewd, original and crazy Mom was, hating it if I called her Mom. You should read it sometime if it's available online. Really good. It came out at a moment when God had a choice between saving the country and my novel. What everybody read instead was All the President's Men. At the time I thought God had made the right choice.
Elizabeth got a lot of phone calls during our friendship, including one where she spoke of her relationship with one of her son's babies' mothers where they wanted money to keep up the connection. She said into the phone to whoever it was "So we'll just have to get us another baby." Tales of her warmth and loving connection with the children might just be a fantasy.
I am no longer talented or certainly patient enough to write something like The Motherland. To have a project take that long and then have it not receive the attention it could have-- timing is everything-- hurts the soul. But as said, I did believe it was the right choice, saving the country instead of my novel, though the way things are going at this moment(Trump) I am not sure.
Was also blessed, as it seemed, with a real connection with and to Cary Grant, even more elegant and charming than you would hope, so who cares if his great love was Randolph Scott. I have never known anyone more tasteful and charming, and it was one of the great friendships of my life. Outside of the Academics, who were the ones that made life smarter and more interesting for me.
The best memory: Mabel Lang, the teacher of Latin and whatever went on in old Greece, dancing around her office when I gave her flowers for shepherding me through an education in Ancient Athens for a comedy of what went on upstairs during the argument at the Coliseum.
God, was I educated. Was there a point?