Letter From Los Angeles
January 2013
© 2013 Joel

aka Letter From An Elitist Hypocrite

Quote of Issue

They shall beat their swords into plowshares.- Isaiah 2:4

Runners Up

We do not lack for answers. What we lack in America today is (political) courage. –Fareed Zakaria on gun homicides.

To a mad, mad world. –Admiral Bridey’s final toast before joining his fellow Australians in suicide in On The Beach.

Larry

Larry Goggia, friend and faithful reader, died on January 2nd at the age of sixty-five. I met Larry thirty-seven years ago at my first meeting of the Berkshire Community Gay Coalition in his native Pittsfield, Ma. Larry was president of Berkshire County’s first lesbian and gay group at the time. He was also Treasurer of the Pittsfield Sportman’s Club, a post he was to hold for forty years.

My friend was by his own admission a single issue voter, his issue being gun rights. Our final disagreement on the subject of guns, indeed our final hug, was after dinner in Lenox this past October. Larry said he respected my position on gun control and I believed him. No one could have known his cancer was out of control.

Despite his advocacy, Larry Goggia was the kind of responsible gun owner I refer to in the coming segment. I dedicate this issue to my sorely missed dear friend.

Newtown, Connecticut: The Political

I’ve just completed reading Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. Caro concludes the penultimate volume of his series with how Lyndon Johnson, in his first year as president, pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through a reluctant Congress. Johnson’s success was based on his mastery of the legislative process and his dedication to winning one for the slain John F. Kennedy. He had to outwit a coalition of Republican and southern Democratic bigots to gain a victory so long overdue, but LBJ knew a thing or two about what was possible.

Gun control advocates have allies in the most unlikely place of all. Ever sit down with a member of the NRA? They are among the most serious advocates for gun safety, which, given their understanding of weapons and concern for those they love, is not surprising. NRA rank and file positions on criminal background checks, assault weapons, high capacity magazines and related matters are not too far off from mine. Although I don’t regard gun rights as the centerpiece of American freedom, I never sneer at people I can reason with.

A heightened degree of mutual respect is going to be essential. NRA members need to challenge their organization’s knee-jerk rejection of every reasonable measure and recognize that “Obama’s coming for our guns” is an insult to their intelligence. Reforms are not a slippery slope toward abridging or abrogating Constitutional guarantees. NRA rank and file deserve an organization that does not use gun ownership rights as a front for lobbying on behalf of weapons and ammunition manufacturers and gun show organizers.

The James and Sarah Brady Bunch have their work cut out, too. They need to understand that tarring NRA members as violence-loving paranoiacs will not move them to the table. They must also counter apathy born of gun reformer’s sense of resignation. Both sides need to resist efforts to keep them apart and to question the motives of those who try,

Gun law reformers have to attach ourselves like pitt bulls to the cause. One such “bull,” California Senator Diane Feinstein, made gun control her project immediately following the Newtown massacre, and guess what? Within days a White House aide cautioned the Senator that the NRA has “twice the money.” So money buys disproportionate influence in the U.S. Congress, at least we’re clear on that.

Dealing with weapons is not the end of it, of course. In our national shortsightedness and cheapness we’ve defunded desperately needed mental health initiatives. Mass murderers tend to be crazy young men who the police can’t touch until they’ve done their harm. (It must be stressed that crazy folks are not all evil.) We can also give teenaged boys something to get it up over besides violent games and videos, keeping in mind that kids in countries who don't have access to guns watch even worse on their screens and do not murder.

This is about much more than telling our kids how much we love them. For once let’s show we do. We cannot legislate mental illness and criminality away, nor can we prevent nut bag mothers from introducing troubled sons to lethal weapons. This is about what some would call impossible. You know, like civil rights, same sex marriage, a black man in the White House. Will someone kindly channel LBJ?

Newtown, Connecticut: The “Blindingly Obvious”

I watched Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square (GPS) on CNN as always this past December 23rd, and although the Indian born host pronounces decision as “desishon,” Asia as “Asha and politics as “bolitics,“ the man is often wise.

“Blindingly obvious” is what Zakaria believes needs to be done about our mass gun murders. A man armed with a knife in China injured several children in an elementary school the day of the Newtown shooting, yet no one died. America does not have a higher proportion of crazies or violent movie and video game addicts than any other country, Zakaria maintains. It’s our gun laws, stupid! Australia experienced a 59% drop in gun homicides in the decade after they instituted strict controls. The UK and China ban private gun ownership, and Germany, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Canada have tight controls that work.

Zakaria acknowledges that we cannot know the mind and the path of every potential killer, but “we do not lack for answers. What we lack in America today is courage.”

My Manhattan Friend Was Badly Beaten: If He Only Had a Gun

A friend’s holiday card this year contained disturbing news. Months ago he was attacked by five teenage boys- probably as part of a gang membership initiation, the police believe- near his Manhattan theater district home, and was so badly injured he needed facial surgery. (Thankfully he’s doing fine.) But what if my friend were carrying a gun? Would he have been able to draw it in time, considering the attack was sudden and he had fallen to the sidewalk? At which thug would he have first fired, and with which intent? To halt; to kill? Would he have experienced the police officer’s nightmare about firing in a crowd?

A majority of Americans want teachers armed in schools. Ask cops what they think of that one. One expert said that the best trained, well armed security officer would only have had a 40% chance of taking down the Aurora, CO. movie theater murderer.

Lance A Little

I join radio’s Randy Rhodes in wondering whatever became of “I cannot tell a lie” George Washington and good old Honest Abe. lance armstrong, formerly of stage 10 cancer, is crying all the way to the B of A. He’s reached the pinnacle: he’s famous and he lied. Do you think we enjoy Chicago only for the costumes and the numbers? Roxy Hart, the musical’s real life protagonist, got away with murder, and she remains celebrated to this day.

Diversity In Obama’s Cabinet

Have you noticed the absence of Orange Americans among President Obama’s second term cabinet appointments? House Speaker Boehner has.

Kechoo!

Don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s had a cold this winter. December, 2012’s “UC Berkeley Wellness Letter” reports on the preventative and curative value of our favorite bulb. “Garlic is no more likely to keep away colds than to repel vampires, unless you eat it raw and the smell makes cold sufferers stay away from you.”

Speaking of Heath Care......

Recently, I told my doctor that Americans have “health care by insurance.” He nodded so vigorously in the affirmative I thought that he’d need a doctor.

Joel At The Movies: Lincoln, Hitchcock and Christopher And His Kind

Those of you who have seen Lincoln will know just what I’m talking about:
a) Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Tony Kuschner have earned their place in cinema heaven.
b) The movie should have ended with Lincoln heading toward the theater.
c) The film’s a masterpiece.

Lincoln is the first feature film about our thirteenth president to be made in seventy-two years, and, thanks to its excellence and popularity, this is the Abraham Lincoln today’s Americans will remember. Granted, Lincoln was at times a canny and unscrupulous politician. The man’s brilliance and goodness shine through nonetheless. Where would we be without him?

Fewer of you have seen Hitchcock. Despite some flaws (the movie begins and ends with a clumsy parody of a Hitchcock TV episode), I recommend this backstage Hollywood take on the undisputed but deeply disturbed master and his underrated master of a wife.

Here’s one I’ll bet you’ve never even heard of. Christopher And His Kind, based on the memoir of that title by Christopher Isherwood, is the real life story of I Am A Camera, aka Cabaret. (I include the Cabaret movie among the worst I’ve ever seen.) You won’t likely recognize any of the British cast, which is why the movie may be unheard of. No popular entertainers, sight gags, audience interaction, or other of the kindergarten-like fads contemporary audiences favor, spoil this well developed, well-acted story about Isherwood’s experiences in the early days of Nazi Germany. Like Lincoln, Christopher and His Kind merit seeing more than once.

Comment on “Right To Work” in Michigan

I’m for bringing back labor unions and the power of the strike a) to keep America’s middle class alive, and b) to keep the rabble (defined as greedy corporate chiefs) in line. Heck, CEOs name their price, so why not their invaluable employees? American workers would become more competitive if civic-minded companies provide them skill-upgrading training and if they paid attention to their teachers in the first place. More radically, perhaps, Americans could alter the worker supply/demand equation by having fewer children.

My support of unions has not come easy. Remember, I was once Republican. My otherwise liberal mother crossed the picket line during the first United Federation of Teachers strike in New York City over fifty years ago because she thought a teachers’ strike was unprofessional, but she became a union stalwart subsequently. That some labor unions have been corrupt is beyond dispute- like banks and corporations sometimes aren’t? Worker’s clout is all but gone now, and look at the results

The most egregious example is of workers who are hired for a few peak-time hours daily. Imagine where we’d be if that were standard practice throughout our nation’s history. Such employees get no benefits and cannot make a living. A supposed silver lining is they have time to go to school to learn a higher paying skill. But wait. Last minute work schedules often conflict with worker’s classes. And try to arrange child care in such a situation.

If I become aware of a profitable business, chain or local, that engages in such a practice I’ll let you know, and I ask you do the same for my readers and for me.

Rotten Teachers At It Once Again

Recently, the PBS News Hour reported on a chain of charter schools. Their goal of keeping impoverished and immigrant children academically engaged is undeniably commendable. Talk of merit pay, hiring inexperienced (ipso facto better) teachers and working them to exhaustion was interspersed with gratuitous slaps against the teachers unions. I’m starting to come over to free enterprise’s side.

Consider these examples of educators who are in it for the easy buck. The Newtown, Conn. teachers who swallowed their pain and went back to working with the kids. The loafer at Taft Union High School in California who disarmed a student after he had critically injured another student.

And have you heard about the teachers in the community that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy? Their school was gone, as was the power in their homes, so what did these teacher union parasites do? Flashlights in hand, they climbed endless flights of stairs to check on their students and offer help while their own families suffered. If these and others receive the pay they merit, their school systems would go broke.

May I Please Have Your Autograph:
The Hills Were Alive And The Actors Struck

As you may have guessed, this will be about the era of The Sound of Music. First, some odds and ends

Odds (Defined As Lloyd and Me)

In an earlier edition I reported meeting Actors Equity giant Martin Wolfson when he appeared in the Broadway musical Goldilocks in winter, 1958. Wolfson more famously played Mr. Peachum in the renown 1956 production of Threepenny Opera. Mrs. Peachum was played by Charlotte Rae.

A few weeks ago while walking in West Hollywood, I was approached by a short, white haired woman who asked if I thought her parking space was legal. Indeed, I said, it was. And as she turned to leave I asked her. “Are you Charlotte Rae?” “I knew you looked familiar,” Ms. Rae replied, and she refused to believe me when I told her we don’t know each another. Although I didn’t ask for her autograph, which I have from long ago, I listened to the tale of Mr. Rae’s friends, some of whom you may remember.

Jane Kean is eighty-eight, Anne Jeffreys soon turns ninety. The best is Patricia Morrison, star of the original Kiss Me Kate, who lives alone and is doing fine at ninety-seven. For her finale, Rae announced that she was eighty-six and en route her vocal coach. Rae belted out a high C, asked “Is that O.K.?,” reiterated she was glad to see me again, and went upon her way.

Ends

Ever bull your way backstage on Broadway? Lloyd and I did in the 1950s more than once. Stage entrances of that era were guarded by men who had been rehearsal pianists and the like shortly after WW I. They were not an easy breed to fool, we soon discovered.

After a Saturday matinee of William Gibson’s Two For The Seesaw which of course we didn’t see, Lloyd stood back as I informed the stage doorman at the Booth Theater we were there for Henry Fonda. The incredulous old-timer asked us how we knew the star. “Well, we don’t, but our parents do,” “How’s that?” he asked. “They met him at a party.” The doorman explained he could get into trouble if he let us back and we were lying, so we compounded the lie and went backstage. When he got to Fonda’s dressing room door we chickened out and left in one big hurry.

The following season we pulled the same routine at the Helen Hayes Theater, where Eric Portman was co-starring with Helen Hayes in the first ever production of Eugene O’Neil’s A Touch of the Poet. Portman had visitors in his dressing room, thank God, so we were spared that embarrassment and the doorman kept his job.

Waiting for a crack at Portman, we encountered cast member Betty Field. Ms. Field knew Lloyd’s cousin Ann quite well. Ann appeared in the original casts of five of Field’s husband Elmer Rice’s plays, and Rice had been sweet on Ann. Still, Ms. Field was gracious.

The Segment Proper

Larry Hagman was known to ask autograph seekers to sing him a song or tell a joke in exchange for his autograph.–Obituary, New York Times, November 25, 2012

Mr. Hagman was the son of Broadway icon Mary Martin, the forty-something year old former Peter Pan who decided she would play Maria Van Trapp on Broadway. By opening night of The Sound of Music, November 16, 1959, Lloyd and I had several years of haunting stage doors underneath our teenage belts. And thanks to my father’s example, we were veterans of opening nights on Broadway, although not yet as members of any audience.

The first nighters for The Sound of Music more than matched the cast for fame and glitter. Helen Hayes, opera singer Gladys Swarthout, champion prize fighter Ingemar Johansson, Ed Sullivan, Gypsy Rose Lee, who towered over her escort Billy Rose, columnist Dorothy Killgallen in a blue and white brocade kimono, and the Rodgers and Hammersteins are among those I remember.

I devote an entire “Growing Up Gay” chapter to why Lloyd and I were attracted to this musical and how it ultimately led to our romance, but when I first heard the show’s title and it’s subject (the Trapp Family Singers), I thought “how absolutely dull.” Learning that Marion Marlowe, a “mere” TV singer, had joined the cast did nothing to improve the prospect. Still, the latest R and H musical was news, so when Perry Como previewed “Do Re Mi” on his Saturday night TV show I paid strict attention. The song, performed by a handful of adults, I thought was rather childish, but little did I know.

Lloyd and I saw The Sound of Music, thanks to someone’s turning in a pair of tickets, two months into the show’s run, after which we got right down to work. Our first target was the fourteen year old William Snowden, who played Freidrich. (Lloyd and I were seventeen.) By then Billy had received my letter which ended , “In short, William, we have adopted you,” so without hesitation he jotted his home address and telephone underneath his name. I kept in touch, mostly with Bill’s mother, for several years.

Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, who played the Captain. got hit for autographs and were also called at home. Back then, famous folk were sometimes listed in the phone book, Mary under the name of her producer husband Richard Haliday. As Haliday began with H-a-l and my dentist’s name was Hall, I asked their maid if I could speak to Dr Hall, then I apologized for dialing the wrong number. I don’t remember my excuse when I called the Bikel townhouse on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, but I was startled to be speaking to Theo’s Viennese accented mother, whom I knew was living there. She was cordial but definitely on to me and on to Dr. Hall.

Marion Marlowe and Kathy Dunn, who played Louisa Van Trapp, were easy, as both were friends of my cousin Nancy. Kathy inserted her character’s name underneath hers, as if that were even necessary. Over the course of a year we got to know several cast members and were regulars in their dressing rooms. One afternoon I took advantage of them all. I had been dating a girl whom I wanted to impress, so I got the autograph of everyone on the picture program, which, regretfully, I had never done for myself. I hope she kept the program over all these years for its historical and economic value. After I presented it to her we never met again.

One matinee afternoon, cast member Bernice Saunders, who worked with Mary Martin in South Pacific and now played a singing nun, stopped in her tracks, turned and asked us, “I see you by the stage door every weekend. I must ask why you wait here.” “To see Miss Martin and the cast go in because we love the show and Broadway,” I remember lying, neglecting to say that we loved Billy.

Two members of the company who were far older than ourselves became, in fact, paternal. John Randolph, the distinguished actor who played Franz the turncoat butler, and who had himself been blacklisted in the horrid 1950s, took an interest in me when I approached him in the store where I worked on Saturdays.

Touching, too, was the kindness of Muriel O’Malley, who sang a lot of “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” O’Malley, who had appeared in Allegro and was once a student of Dame Nelly Melba, chatted with me at Pete’s Coffee Shop next door to the Lunt Fontanne. All the folks from Broadway shows ate there. Miss O’Malley’s opener differed vastly from that of Bernice Saunders. “Hot day, isn’t it?” she asked. We exchanged small talk–she lived in New Jersey and I lived up in Yonkers. She may have sensed how hungry I was for acceptance and belonging, and what the stage door meant to me.

Our love of Bill ... I mean The Sound of Music ... did not keep us from the other stage doors. Jessica Tandy, the original Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, had signed for me a year earlier, and now, on her way to a rehearsal, she signed for Lloyd as well. Tandy wore her hair in her later life signature pony tail. Another autograph was from the nattily dressed Gene Rayburn, whose filmmaker niece I coincidentally now see each Thanksgiving. He had taken over for Dick Van Dyke in Bye, Bye, Birdie. Outside the musical Tenderloin, Lloyd nabbed Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans on a day I wasn’t there.

I had just been wowed by Ben Hur and at the height of my religiosity, so when the movie’s stars Charleton Heston and Martha Scott appeared in a short-lived play on Broadway we were ready for them. Miss Scott, miraculously cured of her movie leprosy, wore dark glasses and a dark mink coat. Heston began to sign in the middle of a traffic-crazy Broadway, and we pushed him to the sidewalk just in time for scores of more gun deaths to happen.

That spring of 1960, an issue involving actor’s pensions made our collection swell. A dispute between Actors Equity and the League of New York Theaters resulted in a shutdown of Broadway shows for thirteen days. The game was that the entire cast and crew, stars included, showed up for work eight times a week to find their stage doors bolted by the League. Mary Martin, whose husband was a producer of The Sound of Music, must have felt conflicted, yet she pulled up in her Rolls Royce each evening and matinee day at the appointed hour, waved to the assembled cast and went upon her way.

Martin bought that Rolls from theater legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne when she starred in South Pacific. Along with the car came the Lunt’s chauffeur, a gay African American who loved to chat with us. Decades later we showed Mary a photo I had taken of her and the Rolls on July 4, 1961- an Oh My God! moment for the former Sound of Music star. We learned Mary had begged her husband to install the car in their Manhattan living room when it was no longer drivable. Wisely, he demurred.

That strike was an autograph tree. Mary Rodgers, daughter of famed Richard, had composed a jaunty musical called Once Upon A Mattress, in which up and coming TV comic Carol Burnett played the lead. The show and Burnett were fabulous. Burnett, wearing a trench coat and looking anxious, signed for us willingly. This strike was serious.

The star of the musical Destry Rides Again was Andy Griffith, whom I had enjoyed in movies No Time For Sergeants, and A Face in the Crowd, which scares me to this day. Griffith was strumming on his guitar to entertain fellow cast members at their stage door when we pounced on him. He looked younger than I’d imagined, cleaner cut and quite professional. Just then the Destry actors marched with the other Broadway casts to Madison Square Garden, then on Eighth Avenue, for a union meeting. En route we spied handsome Richard Kiley in a slightly out of date leisure suit and got his autograph.

Can you imagine Gone With the Wind star Vivian Leigh walking along the street alone like any other human being? We didn’t either, until that 1960 strike. She asked Lloyd to leave his book with the stage doorman and pick it up after the show. True to Miss Leigh’s word, she had signed.

The only resistance we encountered was from the two female leads of Take Me Along, the musical based on Ah, Wilderness starring a surprisingly supple Jackie Gleason. The Great One would leave the Shubert Theater stage door in costume and makeup immediately after curtain call accompanied by his lady friend. He would make a beeline for the Hotel Astor looking straight ahead, so we never got his autograph. Walter Pidgeon, also in the cast, had recently been caught by cops sneaking out a whore house window, which seemed so out of character and which delighted us. When he signed Pidgeon came across like Herbert Hoover.

To Take Me Along’s young Robert Morse we told a story which embarrasses me to this day. Our high school director of the ill-fated Bachelor Party (see Growing Up Gay), had gone to prep school with the actor and remembered knowing him as “Mousey.” When we brought this to Morse’s attention he smiled and changed the subject quickly.

Now about Take Me Along’s reluctant leading ladies. Scottish born Eileen Herlie, later of General Hospital fame, who played opposite Jackie Gleason, was chatting with old time movie actress Una Merckel, who played Walter Pidgeon’s wife. “People are asking us to sign all kinds of things,” they almost said in unison, owing to the strike. Each woman carefully examined Lloyd’s book and my piece of scrap paper before signing. I thought them awfully grouchy.

On occasion we’d get an autograph from someone in an audience. In 1957, former Miss Rhinegold Jinx Faulkenburg did a daily TV interview show with her husband, Tex McCrary, from Peacock Alley at the Waldorf in New York. Another friend named Joel and I viewed the show one afternoon from the adjoining Waldorf lobby, then waited for Jinx’s autograph. Talk about two grouches.

Fabled comic Eddie Cantor had been her guest that day, and as he headed for the door accompanied by his well-known wife named Ida, I asked him for his autograph. Cantor, who had recently suffered a heart attack, bleated, “What are they trying to do, kill me?” He signed, never explained who “they” were, and did not die for many years.

Then came Jinx, dressed in something unimaginable in the Manhattan of that day: a pair of slacks. Jinx complained she was heading for a golf game on Long Island, where she lived, and had no time to sign, which thanks to my persistence, she did. Fast forward to The Sound of Music. One matinee day Lloyd and I encountered Jinx Faulkenburg McCrary heading backstage with her two children, having seen the show. Only slightly more graciously she signed for Lloyd.

The following fall Lloyd and I were enrolled in college, which did not stop our exploits for a moment.

Joel: Letters