Letter from Los Angeles
Quote of the Issue
It’s all about your attitude. – John Caris
To Your Valentine
True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love that increases in proportion as it is shared.–Thomas Merton
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
Lead from the back- and let others believe they are in front.
Mandela was not a saint, he was a political genius. He saved his country. - Fareed Zakaria
Frankly, My Dears...
Money must serve, not rule. – Pope Francis
I don’t see Pope Francis ringing the opening bell at the stock exchange. – Bill Moyers
Jesus never asked a leper for a copay. – John Fugelsang, a comic whose parents once were members of the Catholic clergy
We now should call “Eggs Benedict” “Eggs Francis” in honor of the new guy. – Mark Woodworth
Quote Re: “Afluenza” Defense
This case is a petrie dish of everything that is wrong with the justice system. – Jeffrey Toobin commenting on scion Evan Couch’s non-sentence for killing four individuals in a drunken driving incident
Bang, Bang You’re Dead Quote
2013 is the year we took no consequential action to eliminate gun violence, and 2014 is the year we’ll live or die by the consequences. – Melissa Perry Harris
Putti’ Putin In His Place
In Vladimir Putin I see “a stone-cold killer.” – Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates
The people you expect to be near you are the people who are hurting me the most. – A Ugandan who has been excommunicated from his family for being gay
You’ll be relieved that Uganda’s Parliament substituted life in prison for the death penalty in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which they passed in December, 2013. The legislation applies to all Ugandans, including those presently outside that country’s borders. The stories of LGBT Ugandans make one want to cry. Lloyd and I sent the following to Uganda’s Embassy in Washington.
“We gay partners of forty-seven years have lived through repression, Stonewall and Gay Liberation, Harvey Milk, and a growing, widespread acceptance of LGBT people, even by religious Americans. As far as we’re concerned Uganda is another North Korea.”
Next time I may not be as subtle.
Government Surveillance Issue
If you want freedom, you’re going to have to have police. If you want to be protected, at some point the government is going to have to step in. – Fareed Zakaria
This subject requires lots of input, thought and information. For now I’m comforted that rampant surveillance is no longer a secret. All the right people, such as former intelligence officials, members of Congress, ACLU representatives and impartial experts are weighing in on this issue.
Respected legal analyst Jeffrey Rosen calls for “a constitutional amendment to prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures of our persons and electronic effects, whether by the government or by private corporations like Google and AT&T.” Whether existing law can be relied on or we need an additional amendment to protect us remains to be determined. You’ll read more about this in future letters.
Bully For You
Everyone is chattering about Chris Christie’s character and personality in light of what’s becoming known as Bridgegate. The Governor’s popularity has hinged as much on his blunt manner as on his policies, about which I have a somewhat different slant. When Christie calls reporters “stupid” and refers to them as “idiots,” or barks when they comment on where he sends his kids to school, he is fulfilling our collective fantasy of telling others off.
Even I have trouble telling friends to mind their own damn business, an expression I haven’t used since I said it to a nosy neighbor when I was twelve. My mother never hesitated telling those who crossed her path to go to hell. Each of us has to figure out how to deal with folks who give us heartburn, but for now Chris Christie does it for us.
I’ve long suspected elected officials of having been bullies back in school. Lloyd thinks they were budding leaders. As a campaign volunteer I met some of the toughest customers around. One former mayor, now a national name, was a terror at weekly meetings of department heads, a participant confided to me. I’ve seen politicians in bully mode myself. The line between leading and bullying may be finer than we think; just read your history.
I Wished Phil Had Been A Little Mena
It’s the Catholic Church that should go to confession. – Martin Sixsmith to Philomena
Amen – Joel
Everything was going fine until the final minutes of the movie Philomena. Reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) then pushed his way into the private quarters of a convent and confronted an old nun (I use old, not elderly, deliberately), regarding an event that happened almost fifty years before. At that time, Philomena Lee’s out of wedlock three year old son was snatched from her care by the sisters and sold to an American family for a thousand pounds. Before Martin could fully unleash his fury, Philomena (Judi Dench) entered and spoiled everything for me- or so I thought- by forgiving the surviving perpetrator.
Philomena is the true story of a retired Irish nurse we’d be proud to call our mom. The title character crossed continents to find the son she had not forgotten for a moment. What we like about Philomena is her determination, humor and refusal to be anybody but herself, to which some would add her forgiving heart.
Psychologists contend that forgiving is the best gift we can give ourselves, yet I left the theater fuming. Didn’t Philomena owe herself, her son and other heartbroken families considerably more? Then I got to thinking. If the experts are correct, by bestowing forgiveness Philomena began to heal herself. And by giving her consent for the movie and the book on which it’s based, she exposed the Church’s evil-doing to the world. I take my back disappointment, Philomena, and say instead, “Good girl!”
In Love With Pot? What About Peter Pan? (Or So Long Cathy Rigby and Mary Martin)
The flower of motherhood is a sacred generosity- a magnificent gift of nature and hope from women who bequeath the future to each new generation. – Rev. Galen Guengerich, Mothers Day, 2013
The day comes when remaining the same becomes more painful than the risk to grow. And when that happens there are many goodbyes. (Old patterns, friends, lovers, ideas and some cherished beliefs.) Loss and growth are too often the one and the same. – Phoebe Eng
And that’s my home where dreams are born
May you always feel as young as you felt the day you saw Peter Pan. May you remember that youth has nothing to do with age. – My uncle in the show’s program on September 2, 1950
I enjoyed the show a lot. – The seven year old budding critic Joel, also in the program
In Los Angeles, 2013 was the year of Peter Pan. (The Berkshire Theater Group in western Massachusetts chose a fourteen year old boy- (gasp!), the miraculously talented Charles Kerzner to play Peter this past summer. Remember that name, and remember where you read it.)The Peter we all grew up with played the Pantages in Hollywood; a more recent version, Peter and The Star Catcher, at the Music Center downtown; and the Blank Theater in Hollywood had a runaway hit in The Boy Who Hated Mothers written by Michael Lluberes.
No, you’ve not misread that final title. With a bow to Mr. Freud, Peter tried returning home long after he had flown the friendly skies to Neverland, only to find his nursery window locked and his bed inhabited by another boy. Peter’s mum had gotten over him, but never vice-versa. Hatred of mothers became Neverland’s founding principle. James M. Barrie, who imagined Peter into being, reveals that his protagonist “despised all mothers except for Wendy.” This long ignored reality gets plenty of play in the Llouberes telling.
How dare Peter! How dare the playwright! What would Walt Disney have to say about that? Come to think of it, why have so few of us read J.M. Barrie’s book, and- having done so- how many of us would recommend it to our children? At the suggestion of Daniel Henning, whose Bank Theater mounted The Boy Who Hated Mothers, I picked up the classic for $6.95 at Barnes and Nobles. This edition begins with the Scottish author’s chronology, from his birth in 1860 to his leave-taking in 1937.
My knowledge of Barrie had been confined to adoration for his creating the story behind my first Broadway show (in 1950 starring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff, with a score by Leonard Bernstein) and behind the beloved Mary Martin version. I had also seen Finding Neverland, in which the author was played by Johnny Depp.
The Barnes and Nobles Introduction reveals more than I had imagined about James M. Barrie’s life. In reality, if I may be excused for going there, Barrie was a tormented man who, from the age of six, was haunted by a brother’s accidental death and the grief this brought their mother. The genesis of his naming the central character Peter is enough to send one flying in itself. In 1897, while in a short lived sexless marriage to an actress, Barrie, who was likely impotent, befriended a family which included a Peter and a Michael. The former became the model for the ageless boy of ageless fame, and the tale of lost boys, pirates and adventure was based on the adult Barrie’s playing with the kids next door.
Did you know that Peter Pan was also social commentary? Captain James Hook, who, as a boy, had attended Eaton, exemplified the scorned aristocracy of the liberalizing Britain of Barrie’s day. Did you also know that, despite employing a human maid to clean the house and a canine maid to supervise the children, the Darlings were living from paycheck to paycheck?
And middle class Victorians the Darlings were. Kenneth Bartlett of the University of Toronto discusses the rise of the British middle class in his audio course, The Development of European Civilization. Women, in that place and time, had become the “angels of the house.” They served as loyal wives, attentive mothers, hostesses and supervisors of servants while their husbands were away at the kinds of work they no longer did at home.
Their Bible was “The Role of Household Management” by Harriet Beaton, an encyclopedia of recipes and cleaning techniques which was passed from generation to generation. Middle class Victorian households were run on a military model, Professor Bartlett tells us. The wife was general, the servants foot soldiers and the children subalterns. To oversee her troops effectively the wife had to master the details of household management, hence Beaton’s book. The home had become “the center of a cult of respectability” like the “proper British household” of Mary Poppins.
A fascinating history of the original stage production is included in the Introduction to this classic, too. On that long ago opening night the audience was asked to clap if they believed in fairies, which has been the highlight of all subsequent productions. If you still believe in fairies continue reading.
More than a monumental flight of originality, Peter Pan is a gorgeously written, dark, dark story worthy of adult book club discussion. “The effort to make his audience laugh in the face of tragedy distinguishes all of J.M. Barrie’s writing,” explains the Introduction. “We encounter the most flawless example of this mixture of humor and heartbreak in Peter Pan.” The story’s central themes are the relationship between boys and mothers, the perils of growing up, and the pain of inevitable abandonment. And, take it from Joel, the humor’s gay.
Regarding mothers, Barrie tells us the boys “knew in what they called their hearts that one can get on quite well without a mother, and that it is only the mothers that think you can’t.” Less than heartening, also, is Peter’s remarking “Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are.”
I’ve saved the most stunning part for last. “Peter was so full of wrath against grown-ups... that as soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of five per second. He did this because there’s a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies, and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.” What’s that, you’re no longer clapping?
Peter’s disillusionment is with unconditional love. “Long ago, I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me,” he tells Wendy and the boys, “so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons and then flew back; but the window was barred, for my mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed.” The everlasting pain of the ultimate rejection lies at the heart of this tale we’ve come to think about with joy.
Farewell to Mary Martin, Cathy Rigby and all the other Peter Pan imposters. In Colorado and Washington you can now smoke pot while reading Pan. You may find you need some.
One wishes the sexually ambiguous Barrie, his grieving mother and his brother David, whose life was so short, eternal peace. One wishes Peter’s invitation to a place that “might be miles beyond the moon, or right there where you stand” to everyone who wants to make the journey. If that applies to you, please don’t forget to blow the fairy dust.
Production Gossip: No Names Mentioned
A well-known actress who played Peter in a short lived production many years ago was despised by everybody in the cast. On opening night the stage manager gave the actor who played Captain Hook the present of a pair of wire cutters.
May I Please Have Your Autograph? Off Book
If any of my readers saw the short-lived Broadway musical Say Darling (1957), I’ll take you out to lunch (canceled ticket stub a must). Lloyd and I celebrate Say Darling because it was our first show together and because it had a stellar cast, David Wayne, Vivian Blaine, Johnny Desmond, Jerome Cowan, Horace McMahon and newcomer Robert Morse among them. Older readers shake their heads in recognition while the younger wonder “Who the hell are they?” To the latter I say get thee to a Google.
Those who remember the original How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and/or watch Madmen on TV can identify Robert Morse. In Say Darling, his Broadway musical debut, Morse played a hip “boy” producer in the mold of Harold Prince, the boy producer of his day. We thought the show had some funny moments. At an audition, a young woman enunciates “dahnce” as she sings first chorus of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, then, becoming rattled, as dance with a Brooklyn accent in the second. We still have the original cast recording and are willing to sell it for a million bucks.
Vivian Blaine was a red haired beauty known for her portrayal of Miss Adelaide in the original cast of Guys and Dolls. (She has the distinction of being the only one capable of playing the part, which she repeated in the movie, correctly.) Decades later we chanced to meet her brother, the owner of a Healdsburg, Ca. gift store. He was delighted that we remembered his then late sister.
Of course we got her autograph that Saturday in 1957, probably because we were polite. When Blaine came out after the matinee a group of teenage girl autograph hounds behaved annoyingly, and she scolded them about their manners. I had never seen an actress behave that way toward fans before. Blaine wore a green plaid suit to match her green eyes and alligator shoes and bag to match her mood that afternoon.
Johnny Desmond was a well-known TV singer in the 1950s, so we got the handsome guy to sign. I had the most fun with movie veterans Jerome Cowan and Horace McMahon, who played Morse’s co-producers. My parents were excited when I mentioned Cowan, although I had never heard of him before. Watch The Maltise Falcon to learn that I was ignorant.
“My Cowan,” I simpered. “You’re in movies. Aren’t you cold this far away from California?” Cowan rubbed his gloved hands together, smiled broadly, in agreement, and removed the gloves to sign my program. The dapper Cowan allowed Lloyd and me to walk him to the corner and we chatted with him merrily. One mistake, however, was pronouncing gruff looking Horace McMahon’s surname “McMayhon.” I had no idea it was “McMan,” Aline and Ed forgive me.
The Segment Proper
Aline MacMahon, pronounced McMan, was in a very different kind of show on Broadway. Everyone in All The Way Home (1961) except Colleen Dewhurst and the boys were well past fifty MacMahon very much included. She left the stage door dressed like 1941, but she kindly signed Lloyd’s book.
All The Way Home, Tad Mosel’s adaptation of James Agee’s novel A Death In The Family, explored relationships in a multigenerational southern family following a funeral. Multigenerational described the cast as well. Johnny Megna, whom you may recognize from To Kill A Mockingbird, and Jeff Conaway of later TV fame, were the youngest actors. I was saddened when Megna died of AIDS at age forty-two and surprised to learn his half sister was actress Connie Stevens.
Colleen Dewhurst was becoming a Broadway household name around that time, and Aline MacMahon had been a regular in movies for several decades. Lylah Tiffany, who looked too old for the hundred four year old she played, was an offstage character in her eighties who lived in an apartment above Carnegie Hall. Outstanding actor Arthur Hill also signed for us.
The producers went all out, however, when they hired Lillian Gish, whose career in silent movies dated back to their beginning. Her autograph should fetch a handsome price when we leave our collection to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. A decade elapsed before we again saw Gish in a theater, this time in audience at the St. Bart Players when she was eighty. That evening the star impressed us by her youthful appearance and unpretentious manner.
Gish and her sister Dorothy had been “discovered” at the Palisades Amusement Park, where their single mother made a living selling candy, by park owner Nicholas Schenck, later president of MGM, in the early 1900s. Gish’s final screen appearance was in The Whales of August. She made it to almost age 100, and, with Dorothy, is entombed at St. Bartholomew’s on Park Ave., where we last saw her in the audience.
Four years before All The Way Home I saw Greer Garson in Auntie Mame. Of course I got that legend’s autograph. Once again, winter weather brought us together. While Garson patiently waited for her long black car outside the Broadhurst Theater between Saturday performances. I chatted with her mostly about the weather. The star had a white mink coat and several coats of makeup to keep her cozy.
Peggy Cass played Mame’s secretary Agnes Gooch- the one who “lives, lives, lives!”- on the stage and in the movie. I was surprised how well she dressed offstage and delighted by how joyfully she greeted me and signed my program. Lloyd’s Cousin Ann Thomas was offered the part of Gooch at the end of the Broadway run, but she turned it down because accepting meant she would have to travel with the comedy on the road. Leaving her husband in the clutches of her Wagnerian mother, who lived with them, would not have been a kindness.
The fashion model who played brainless Gloria Upson exited the stage door at one end of a leash that was attached to a large white poodle and was cool as I tried to engage her in conversation. I also fussed over middle aged Anne Summers, who was merely a guest at Mother Burnside’s fox hunt, because no one else asked her for an autograph.
Signatures of long forgotten Paul Ford and Martha Wright are in Lloyd’s book, too. Wright stood by for Mary Martin in South Pacific, played the lead when Martin left the show, and went on to do the same in The Sound of Music. Nearly ninety, Wright’s still with us.
Paul Ford, the Colonel in TV’s Sergeant Bilko, was co-starring with Maureen O’Sullivan, Mia Farrow’s mother, in the Never Too Late, which dealt with his late middle aged wife’s becoming pregnant. Ford seemed a little out of it when he signed for me in Shubert Alley.
Kristoffer Tabori’s signature came next. You’ll likely know his mother, Swedish stage and movie actress Viveca Linfors, We often saw Tabori act off Broadway and found it impossible not to fall in love with him. Finally- for this edition- there were James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the creators and costars of the revolutionary musical Hair. They had once temporarily lived down the hall from us on West End Avenue but were hardly Lincoln Towers types.
In the next edition I’ll close the 1960s with Claudette Sutherland, Patricia Neway and Milton Berle, then head into another “May I Please Have Your Autograph” decade. We’ll revisit Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance as the 1970s move along.