Monday, June 06, 2016

NAME DROP: Doris Day

    When I first arrived in Hollywood, I was able to drop the biggest name of the day: Doris.  I had met the singer and movie star(#1 in her radiance) when I kid-sat her son, Terry, in London, having met their traveling troupe in the south of France, where I'd gone with my mother, who'd come to Europe to check on me, convinced I could be up to no good, singing in the Mars Club as I had been.  "Is she a white girl?" Gene Kelly asked someone when he heard where I'd been performing in Paris.
     Terry, Doris' boy, was a terrible kid, but probably all eleven or twelve year old boys would have seemed terrible to me at the time. I was just past twenty,  considering myself a grown-up.  The greatest star of her time, Doris Day was sweet, kind and kind of shy.  I could think of no better way to ingratiate myself with her than to help with Terry, who was bored, restless, and an obvious pain.  
    "Westminster Abbey.  Who needs it?" he'd say.  "Let's go to Wimpy's and have a Wimpyburger." 
     Doris was making a movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much, so I had the dubious privilege of caring for Terry,  taking him around to the various obligatory sights, to all of which he sneered "Who Needs It?"  I ended up writing a song with that title, that I tried to sell her husband, Marty Melcher, whom I imagined/hoped would recognize my talent and make me into the new Irving Berlin, whose same birthday I had. "Double A Ascap stuff," Marty said, listening to my songs.  But he expressed no interest in advancing them, and bought nothing.  I don't think I really expected him to.  It was enough I could hang out on the periphery of Doris' life, when she went underwear shopping with Audrey Hepburn.
     But when we all ended up back in Hollywood, Doris invited me to Sunday brunch at the Bel-Air home of her lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, a smart, funny, powerful man who became my friend and ally, which served me well until he went to jail.  But that wasn't for a number of years.  And in the interim at his home I met arguably America's greatest lyricist, Yip Harburg, a darling man, writer of "Over the Rainbow." At that time it was my hope to have a career as a songwriter, so the joyful fact that Yip liked me, and his wife, Eddie, a tough, smart woman, took me under her very strong wing, was a bonanza.  They were my advocates, protecting and connecting me once back in New York.  Except for the one very Leftist evening they invited me to, they showed me nothing but kindness. 
      Eddie got mad at me, though, when I turned up with Don who was to become my husband.  It had been her intention to connect me with her son(from a previous marriage.) But they ended up the most loving elders in my history.  Probably the happiest experience of my young life was walking through Central Park with Yipper, singing him songs from the musical I was writing,  having him make approving comments.  "As good as any ever written," he said after one.  And then, after the last "I wish I'd written that." 
      The friendship with Doris never blossomed into what I'd hoped would be the musical reality.  But I'd had the lilting lift of the friendship with her in my early days in the business.  And Jerry became friends with my mother, whom he called all the time from jail, collect.  She always accepted.  He had gotten into a feud with a judge he considered himself smarter than.  But the judge was the one with the gavel and the clout.  So he sentenced him to jail, from which he called my mother collect.  At one point, finally, he was released, and took up sad residence on a less than lovely street in Beverly Hills, the wrong side of Santa Monica Boulevard. He lived a very long life, the end of it, disgraced.
      He was a very smart man, brilliant, really, who outsmarted himself.  But I loved him.  I never became a big enough success in the songwriting business for him to in any way screw me. He was the first  entertainment lawyer to make himself into a powerful corporation, planning what he'd intended to make (almost literally) his own country, where he'd be able to deal in his own favor with taxes.  I saw a plan in his office of a mountain he'd outfitted, renamed, circled with roads, and dotted with outposts.  
     Many were those that he'd mulcted.  Ross Hunter, one of the most influential filmmakers of the day, whom Jerry had represented and incorporated, got tears in his eyes when he spoke of him. And Kirk Douglas raged. It was not unlike the Mel Brooks TV comedy, about a crook named Mr. Big.  "If only he had turned his badness to goodness," the former partner says.  "He could have really been... Mr. Big."