So I have lived a lot of years past Lolita, and she, it, and the vast magnificence that is the U.S. of A. have made the front of The New York Times Sunday Travel section, just as I have come to the time in my life when I am trying to sort out all the experiences, great and abusive, that have gone into making the today Me. Prime among them, if my mind is open and my heart is full, is Lolita itself.
'Twas at a party I went to one Hollywood weekend when I came down from Stanford where I was doing graduate work, that I met Stanley Kubrick, the by now mythic director though probably forgotten by most or at least you need to be reminded. He was deeply dark-eyed and with his blossoming wife Christiane. I said to the just-met Stanley that she was the most beautiful pregnant woman I had ever seen. He said "What did you think I would marry?" as though we had been friends forever, as it now seemed we would be. He had just been announced as having the movie rights for LOLITA, the greatest literary sensation in eons.
To my joy and protracted adolescent delight-- I think I was twenty-five, but I had gone back to graduate school to study with Wallace Stegner, whom I admired, not knowing him, a state that was to continue even though they took my enrollment money not bothering to tell me he wouldn't be there to teach that year-- Kubrick came up from Hollywood to visit me, taking me on a boat ride around that perilous San Francisco bay. "I'm in terrible trouble," he said. "I've hired Nabokov to do the screenplay of Lolita, and he can't write dialogue. You're the best writer of dialogue in America..." I had given him the manuscript to read of the novel I'd submitted as my Master's Thesis for my graduate degree. So cosseted and complimented, I agreed, joyfully, to come down to Hollywood and be in the closet, as the expression still went then about things beside sex, writing the screenplay.
Paranoia was one of Stanley's leading characteristics, so I was allowed to tell no one I was even in town, holed up in an apartment motel on Sunset Boulevard, all my dinners taken with Stanley and Christiane, not that bad because I loved them, and Christiane was a good cook. But as I click-clacked away on my little portable typewriter-- I began to grow somewhat uneasy. Stanley spoke with luminous eyes of a scene where Humbert was, in his vision, to talk excitedly, though belittlingly, of a ten-year-old who had polio. I said to him, "Stanley, you can't have him putting down a little girl with polio." And he said, "No, you don't get it. He's thinking he's never fucked a ten year old with polio before."
"Stanley..." I said. "How do you see this movie?"
"It's a love story," he said.
"Oh," I said. "I thought it was a comedy." Right after that, I realized I shouldn't be writing it, stepped away, and lost touch.
Still, I loved him and Christiane, and when Don and I were going to get married I wanted to ask them to the wedding. So I said to Don we should go to the opening day of Dr. Strangelove, that Stanley would be there, counting the house. "Stop being a writer," Don said.
But coming down from from the balcony after the 4 o'clock screening, I heard 'Click, click, click, click, click,' And there stood Stanley, counting. "We just broke the house record for the Criterion," he said.
So we picked up the friendship, and they came to the wedding at the Plaza. Christiane brought us a glass vase from Tiffany's. German, she was shocked at the price, which she informed me, while giving it to me, was $29.95. (To let you know how long ago it was the same vase is now $400.)
Don at the time was working in television at WOR TV, producing the first Jets games. Stanley watched in a corner of the reception. "You should keep the camera on the line," Stanley told Don. "Don't follow the ball. The line is where the real action is."
"Stanley," said Don. "You let me run a credit at the end, 'Directed by Stanley Kubrick,' I'll keep the camera anywhere you say."
We lost touch soon after that and the Kubricks went back to Europe. A few years after that, we were living in England, with our by then little children. Visiting the Gary Smiths, who were friends, I knew that the Kubrick's home was behind theirs. So I took my tiny progeny, Madeleine 4 and Robert 2, to the stone castle next door.
I rang the bell. It tolled, big time. Slowly the doors creaked open. There was the sound of dogs, and two giant creatures snarled, pulled at leashes.
"Stanley?" I said, into the darkness. "Stanley?"
He recognized my voice. "Gwen?" he said. "I'd ask you in, but the dogs will go for the children."
I have written that tale (tail?) before, but it is now so long ago that I hope it is synthesized, that my style has smoothed. In any case, I am finally trying to pull all my adventures together while my hands and my mind still work. I remember the night I was watching the Academy Awards and that little Italian, I think he was, who won, sorrowed over the loss of Stanley, who had, unbeknownst to me, just died. I was sad of course, though in my view, his movies had become painfully slow. But perhaps that was just the one with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.
Still I understand at very long last, how lucky I was to have known the people I did. And though it has become a world of Trumps and Tweets, maybe there are still some who like words. And memories.