Saturday, July 02, 2016


    So it is 4th of July weekend, the celebration of our nation's Freedom, which may be coming to an end with the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the blatant fascist and closet ignoramus.  I have just returned from the commemoration in Scottsdale for my daughter, Madeleine, looking teenagerly beauteous in the photo at her service, but actually fifty at her death, though still unnecessarily too soon.  But it was uplifting, in a dark way, to see the people there were who cared about her, not the least of whom was me.
     Madeleine, named after the woman fired from  the lead in my Broadway comedy that opened and closed with her birth, died under mysterious, ugly and cloudy circumstances in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she bolted seven coffees every morning at Starbuck's, worked out two hours every day but still, desperate, didn't find love.  My friend Ann Busby, who should have her picture in Wikipedia under the definition "friendship,"drove me there from LA and funneled all information back to me when it fell out of my head, and being a lawyer, siphoned out what would hold up under scrutiny after our meeting with the police.  To my relief, they were genuinely nice guys, a word I wouldn't usually use, but here it obtains.  Clear, direct, and having conducted what appears to be a thorough investigation, except for the drug reports. That will take six months to be completed, there is apparently so much of that kind of death in Arizona.
     I guess Madeleine went to college there because she didn't have the equipment or longing to aspire higher, and my father had been mayor of Tucson, moved there during my teenage years because the woman my mother introduced him to as she was sure Selma, the second wife, would kill him.  But instead, her allergies drove them to the desert version of greatness.  He was less than a wonderful man, but apparently they didn't see that in Tucson, as I am fearful we might not be able to see it in America. Or maybe we just no longer care.
     So because Lew Davis, Lew, the Mayor, as my friend Mel Brooks called him, had standing, Madeleine went there to college.  But she was less than a devoted student, though my colleague from graduate writing school at Stanford who taught her at the U of A told me she had talent, which, sadly, she didn't use, so busy was she questing for love. She married three times.  The first dumped her after little more than a year, once she had signed over her car; the second adored her but she didn't want him anymore until he had married someone else; and the third I never met but I know he'd had her arrested.  Not a pretty story, and certainly not one I would have written out of choice.  Or inspiration.
      When Madeleine was a little girl, I told her how much I loved her, how wonderful she was.  "Than why did you have Robert?" she asked me.
    I suppose that that is a question that resonates through the minds of many children.  It got a laugh at the Quaker Meeting I grieved for her at, and again at the memorial for Maddy, as her friends called her.  Not a nickname I would have chosen, but her life wasn't up to me, or it would have been better. 
     When her brother was born on the eve of my would-have-been-bigger-bestseller, had I had a better publisher, The Pretenders, my editor, a really smart man, Bob Gutwillig, sent me a telegram: "A boy! How marvelous!"  My mother said simply, cuttingly, as most of her judgments came, "Anyone could have a girl."
     I was so busy trying to pick us back up from my failed Broadway comedy, The Best Laid Plans,  an ill-chosen but ironically apt title, that I didn't really process how cruel, and untrue, that judgment was.  That I had gone to what is arguably the best college in the world, still for women only, Bryn Mawr, seemed beside the point.
The point was success, as it seems enduringly to be in America.  Scary.  And sad.
    My husband, Don Mitchell as he'd changed his name to, Miskie being too Jewish and Bronxy to be swallowable by my mother, Helen, born Finkelstein changed to Fink (I never have to make anything up) had lost his job as a television producer in New York just as we'd decided to put off having children.  But I found out the next day  I was already pregnant with Madeleine, as we were to name her as compensation to  Madlyn Rhue, the leading lady in my comedy, fired just before it opened, and I went into the hospital to give birth to my daughter.  To give you some idea of how much loyalty and love there was in the New York theatre world of 1966, the heads of several studios whom I considered really close friends, coming to  my hospital room to congratulate me the evening of her birth, were unreachable after the reviews.  The director, Paul Bogart, had been fired just before the opening, and Hilly Elkins, the producer, had brought in Arthur Storch, who didn't have a clue, and  kept changing everything, so everybody went up on their lines opening night.  Mel, married to Anne Bancroft, my close friend, for whom I'd written it, only to have her tell me she was doing The Devils, ("Well, who knew you would write a play in a week?" she'd said,)  taxied us back to the hospital that night.  Don and I had gotten to the theatre in time for the closing curtain, and the last laugh. Only it wasn't there.
     "Well, you had two things happen this week," Mel said.  "If one of them had to be less than perfect, if your child had been born with six toes and two noses... that would have been okay.  What mattered was the show."
     It was, like most of Mel's lines, funny.  But, sadly, in terms of New York and the theater world of the Sixties, the truth.  Mostly, as I remember,  I spent what was left of my youth trying to make up for America's greatest sin: failing.
     No one would return our calls.  I was still kind of chubby, so when I would pass people I knew on the street I would secrete myself behind telephone poles, imagining that would hide me.
    But Annie and Mel came over to visit. She read the reviews out loud, spitting at them.  I really loved her.  When you do life over in your mind, she plays the lead in my play, so I am a hit and my whole life is different.  But maybe not as interesting.
    But this is supposed to be about Madeleine, as her whole life should have been.  But wasn't.
    Don was without work, and I was limelight failed.  I had a friend in Carol Burnett, so I called her on the sly, and asked her to give Don work.  Her new show was starting in California.  So it was we left New York, and I no longer had to hide behind telephone poles.
    We stayed in the attic of Carol Burnett's guest house till we found a place to live.  When we did, the man who opened the door to rent it to us, turned out to be Les Colodny, the funny, self-promoting man who'd hired me in New York at NBC when I was twenty, as a comedy writer, and he ran the program of new talents that was just starting.  It was to audition for him that Eliott Kastner, --that is another saga-- had had me come back from Europe and sing my songs, to be hired on the spot, only to have Les and the writers he liked better go to Hollywood leaving me to be fired as the department fizzled though I had two or three musicals under my arm.  But that is several more stories, and this is supposed to be about Madeleine.  
     As Madeleine's life should have been. But apparently never really was.  So maybe her death can be.  I hope so.