"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm a Mother!

May 25, 1965

We rented out the little house in back-- they have no furniture, so we have to buy it all. We got a mattress set for $26 and a refrigerator for $45-- both in good condition. The renters gave us a $100 dollar bill!

...The baby kicks and punches a lot, and has for quite a while. I can even see it on the outside. Usually when I'm lying down and trying to rest is when it decides to exercise. It turns around and rolls from one side to the other a lot. I've been going into the backyard to suntan some afternoons. I'll feel funny now with renters in the back. I am getting so fat. Sometimes I get so depressed, about nothing. I feel like sitting in the corner and howling, and I can't think of any reason WHY. I get lonesome sometimes.

A man just left who wants to sell us a water softener. He doesn't know we don't have any money! My washer and dryer both work good, only the water has to run out into the backyard. But it dries up fast. We still have to get so many things-- a crib mattress and pads and baby clothes, etc. Week after next I start working my 10 split trick. Only two more months to go. (I worked for Ma Bell as a telephone operator, the same job my mother worked at for twenty-five years in Inyokern).

August 20, 1965

They are getting even with me for those nice four days off. I'm working ten days in a row. Five to go. But there is one piece of good news. We're going to get our insurance after all. Some nice lady from Juvenile Hall gave us a lot of baby clothes, an infantseat, and a car bed.

(As it turned out, I didn't have to work those ten days in a row after all. Of the five days left, I only worked four. And it was a good thing the insurance kicked in when it did. The baby was born on the last day, three weeks early. Surprise, surprise. A BOY-- six pounds two ounces, 18 inches long. Marvin said he looked like Woody Woodpecker. I thought he was just beautiful! What d'you think?)


Windmills of Your Mind

Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Like a carnival balloon
Like a carousal that's turning
Running rings around the moon

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it's face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of it's own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it's face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly
Was it something that I said
Lovers walk along the shore
Leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand

Pictures hanging in a hallway
And a fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong
WHen you knew that it was over
Were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color of his hair

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind
In the circles of your mind

(From the soundtrack to the movie The Thomas Crown Affair, words and music by Alan Bergman and Michel Legrand)


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Summer of Love

So. Suddenly I found myself with a husband, and I became a wife. In a small apartment on Mallul, in Anaheim, a few blocks from Disneyland. From our bedroom window every night we could view fireworks over the Matterhorn and watch Tinkerbell fly from the top peak down through the exploding darkness toward the Sleeping Beauty's Castle. And a block away, out the same window, there was a big red T rising above the ThriftiMart. Life was beautiful. I listened to folk music and wrote poetry all day. I practiced playing Marv's guitar and sang along with Joan Baez and Judy Collins and wondered with Pete Seeger Where Have All the Flowers Gone?Joan said the answer was Blowin' In the Wind. If we waited long enough, the Lord would Kumbaya. The Beatles sang that Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lives in a dream....

It was the Summer of Love, Lyndon Johnson won the Presidency and 50,000 young soldiers would die in a far-off place called Viet Nam, which was of little concern at the time. Nobody had even heard of Viet Nam, really. We had no idea that once in, there would be no way out. Flowers were in Power.

We bought furniture--a blue couch, two end tables, a lamp, a brown plaster statue of Confucious, and somewhere along the line, another of comedian W.C. Fields. We bought dishes. Marv had one plate, one drinking glass, a knife, fork and spoon.... We bought pots and pans. Potholders (Marv's kids at Juvenile Hall made us an endless supply of yarn potholders). Bath towels.

We still went to Newport Beach often, got browner, ate bananas-on-a-stick, gathered collections of seashells. We went to old art films, Black Orpheus, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. We saw Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,
and Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton in Becket,and Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek.

Rent was $40 a month, and we were happy with very little money. A lonely kid from the apartment below us came up every day to visit me. Colyer Dupont was a child actor, eleven or twelve years old, with long blond hair. My hair was long, and blond. He thought I was pretty, said I was like his sister. His mother was divorced, and carless, so when Colyer went to auditions at Disney Studios in Hollywood, I took them there in my little old DKW, which ran on a mixture of half-and half, half gas, half oil--(Janet had taught me how to drive that car in the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena the year before). Colyer's mother and I waited, our fingers crossed for him. All of us were living on a shoestring, you know. It didn't matter.

Marvin worked as a counselor at Albert Sitton Hall (and Orange County Juvenile Hall), a place for delinquents and homeless children. I still saw myself as an aspiring actress, an eccentric bohemian, while I tried to learn to cook and clean and be a good wife. Marv and I were very much on the same wavelength--one or the other of us finishing each others sentences, or transferring identical thoughts. Often, even our dreams at night would slide from one head to the other, sharing words and images, a unique intimacy, a sort of "meeting of spirits," like Leonard Cohen wrote about in Suzanne. In the music we listened to the singers were like friends. It was a time of great happiness.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half-crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Do! I Do!

WEDDING DAY--June 19th, 1964

They played Bach's Brandenburg Concertos when Marv and I were married. My brother played a French horn solo called Romance, and a friend sang Tonight, Tonight and There's A Place For Us from WEST SIDE STORY. (This friend, who was an actor, was killed a few years later during a performance of Oliver, the villan Fagan, shot by a badly packed blank bullet. )

When Marv proposed marriage, back on Valentine's Day, 1964, he gave me a heart-shaped box of candy. Inside, in the center, one of the candies was missing, and in its paper wrapper was a diamond ring. On the previous Sunday night, February 8th, the Beatles had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Marianne thought they "looked like apes." Gaylen was impressed with their "backbeat." They sang I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and She Loves You, and Please Please Me to an audience of screaming teenagers. And I said, "Yes." Absolutely. Yes.

This was my third visit to the L.A. Temple. The first time was when I attended its dedication, as a teenager; the second was on September 10th, 1957, when Gaylen and I were sealed to Mama and Daddy after their marriage for Time and Eternity. Marv's best friend (and Best Man) Richard Barbieri and his wife Eileen were there for us, and Gaylen and Marianne. Janet was mad that she wasn't allowed inside the Temple for the ceremony, but she and beautiful Cindy Moller (who took time off from her job as a topless dancer at the Dunes in Las Vegas) made up for it by providing a huge bottle of champagne (which we kept in the closet, unopened, for years and years....), painting "Just Married" signs in lipstick, and tying tin cans to the back bumper of the car.

Janet was my Matron of Honor, my sister-in-law, Marianne, andMarv's little sister Jean were my Bridesmaids. I wore Janet's wedding dress, that filled both the "something old" and "something borrowed" requirements. The "something new" was my veil, with a sparkly little decoration in the front. Two of my old boyfriends were there. (There. I have survived. Do you see? I am happier than I ever was! Do you see?)

Hey," one of them said. "You look great!"

I smiled, knowing I looked terrific. Marv and I had been to the beach often. We were both thin and sun-tanned and golden. My hair was blonde and he had hair! I'd say now, looking back from a distance of forty-plus years, that we were perfectly perfect people. Almost.

Some wedding pictures: Marv cutting our cake with a pancake turner. Why didn't we have a knife? I have forgotten. Janet and me, smiling. "You be good to her now," she warned him. No one ever said to me, "You be good to him." At least, I don't remember it if they did. Claude Gillham, a friend whose lap I used to sit on as a five-year-old while I rubbed his bald head, gave me a hug. Mama used to tell me not to rub his wonderfully smooth head, because it would hurt his feelings. FOr the life of me I could not imagine why it would ever hurt his feelings. But this night, I did not rub his head. I held two of my cousins little girls for photographs. And I may have been thin, but my corset was so tight I could not breathe, and I thought the night would never end.

Tonight, tonight. won't be just any night.
Tonight there will be no morning star.
Tonight, tonight, I'll see my love tonight,
And for us, stars will stop where they are....

But it did. And we drove from the desert back to the city, where Marv's room-mate, a cop we called Sweet William was sleeping in the bedroom. So, at three in the morning, we threw a mattress on the front room floor, and we slept.

We honeymooned in Ensenada, Mexico. We stayed at a little motel just out of town, on the beach, called Cabanas Monte Carlo, run by some people from Lebanon, who gave us a calendar with Hernan Cortez carrying off some voluptuous black-haired, half-dressed woman. We ate tacos at places who made their tortillas by hand and cooked them over big metal drums, places run by Chinese, called Fat Choi's Mexican Food. We ate Chinese at places called Pedro's, or Juan's. We ran out of money and lived for three days on corn tortillas, goat's butter, and 7-Up. At night piteros players on the street made lovely ancient music with magic flutes and drums. We took walks on the rocky beaches and watched the sun set. I wore my hair long and loose, and Marv smiled a lot. We loved each other. I'd never had so much fun in my whole life. We were poor but happy. The village idiots.

There's a place for us,
Some day a time for us.
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there


Monday, March 26, 2007

Marvin Maurice Emerson Davis, Jr


Marv and I had only known one another for about eight years, so it was sort of a whirlwind romance, you might say. *Smile* This is a good time to let you know you something more about Marvin Maurice Emerson Davis, Jr (besides his impetuous nature). He was born in St. John's Township, Harrison County, Iowa, in his Grandmother Stoddar's house, the first of six children. For a while they lived in Sioux City, in a quiet neighborhood called Morningside, where he fell in love with a little girl with a red sweater and had his first banana split, and crossed the Missouri River over the singing bridge, and carried a real pocket-knife in a pouch at the top of his lumberjack boots. His father worked in the slaughterhouses down by the river's edge. His mother was from a well-to-do Chicago family. She had taken dancing lessons, and wore ribbons in her hair. When she moved to California with her family she had a real future in Hollywood. Everybody thought so. And the California air would be healthful, a cure for her mother's consumption. The Stoddar's (Marv's mother's people) were from old seafarer's, ship's captains, Master Mariners, and such. His father's ancestors can be traced back to a Black Irish lad named Roe and an Indian medicine woman named Dancing Sun, and to a President of the United States and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence.) When he was still a little boy, the family moved to Alhambra,California. On the way, at Grand Canyon, he had a nosebleed. Once there, Marv fell in love with a little girl in a yellow dress, tried a couple of times to burn down his house, blew up seagulls with carbide-laced bread, and endeared himself to his sisters by hanging their paper dolls by the neck until they were dead or chopping them into pieces with his scissors. He wasn't always that violent. He camped overnight at Tin Can beach with his friends, and stargazed. He peddled newspapers, and --out of embarrassment, or fear-- those he didn't sell he bought with his own money and threw away down the rain gutter, rather than return the unsold papers to the manager. In school, he was required to memorize "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

"Invictus" was the motto of the United States Naval Academy, class of 2001, (the year the Trade Towers in NYC went down), hurling defiance into the teeth of the storm.

He joined the Navy when he was just seventeen, and spent most of the next four years as a radioman on Guam, an island paradise he would dream about for the rest of his life. The Navy taught him to drink and smoke cigars, and saved his life. Once, he almost drowned himself swimming alone in off-limit waters, out past the coral reefs. When he found himself exhausted, he decided to give it up, and just let himself go under. When he ran out of air, he changed his mind and resurfaced. He gave up, went under, and came up again for air several times before they hauled him in, his legs raw and bleeding from the knife-edged coral. I guess I owe the Navy for that.

When he wasn't on the island, he was on the USS Chandler, where he sat alone on the deck at night and wrote poetry, sang songs to himself, and smoked cigars-- a vice he overcame, thanks to his conversion to the LDS Church. I guess I owe the Church for that.

It was while he was in the Navy that he became converted to the Church. I met him in 1957 while I was a student at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was working as a counselor at Hathaway House, a home for abandoned and emotionally disturbed and abused children. He had a great love and sensitivity for those children. Later he worked at Albert Sitton Hall in Orange County. We had a lot of fun together. When he held my hand it just seemed to fit. We spent lots of time at the beach, or at Pershing Square in LA (which used to be a fantastic place populated by schizophrenics, street preachers, drunks, dope fiends, and Salvation Army revivals). We went people-watching at Boorman's, a market in Pasadena which specialized in packaged pig-snouts and pig-tails and pig-feet, and it was purely awful, --but fun. We had unusual dates, and he fell in love with me.

We went our separate ways for a while, while I went out on the road with the theater company, and he almost married somebody else, a girl named Jane, heiress to the riches of the Tappen Stovetop Ranges fortune. He might have had millions and lived comfortably ever after, but, as it happened... it seemed like every time I went to visit my friend Janet, for some reason Marv would always show up with his skis, or on his motorcycle. Fate seemed to be throwing us together. Anyway, I finally proposed, and he accepted, and we were married, and I'm glad, because I do love him. Penniless though I was, he thought I was "a fairy princess," and loved me back.

He had a terrible temper. He had the soul of a poet. He loved opera, Lily Pons and Enrico Caruso, and folk music-- Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he loved Johann Sebastian Bach, and took me to the LA County Library where, listening with one shared headphone, each of us with one speaker, he introduced me to the Brandenburg Concertos. I owe him for that.

He's been a good father to our five sons. He's a good grandfather. He loves John Wayne westerns and old war movies (if they have no blood, and star John Wayne). He likes his poetry to rhyme. His favorite movies are The Wizard of Oz and Brigadoon. He loves to watch football on television, and his favorite color is yellow. He's an insomniac. He still loves opera. And he still holds my hand.

What else?

Saul Bellow (who won a Nobel Prize for literature) said: "I blame myself for not often enough seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Somewhere in his journals, Dostoyevski remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace things,
scratch around in it long enough, and lo! soon he will hit upon the marvelous. I tend to believe that, at least most of the time." And H.G. Wells said that "Man must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind him to the fact that each moment of his life is a miracle and a mystery." Each moment of my life has been a miracle and a mystery. The love I have for Marvin, the birth of each one of our children, our grandchildren, have surely been miracles and mysteries. Johnny Carson asked singer Helen Reddy once what she'd do if her success would all end tomorrow. And she said, "If it should all end tomorrow-- well, I've had one heck of a ride, and enjoyed every minute of it!"

Me, too. It's all marvelous! I've had one heck of a ride, and I guess I owe my Father in Heaven big time for that.


The University of Utah

The U of U was on the hillside across from my brother Gaylen's house on Sunnyside Avenue. The Zoo was only a little farther up the hill. I walked to the University and back home every afternoon, and the fields behind the National Guard Armory were empty except for meadow larks and sparrows. I lived in the basement of Gaylen and Marianne's little house until their new house on Orchard Drive in Bountiful was built. Mom and Daddy were building a new house on the lot just to the west, and were getting ready to move from California. Every morning after the move to Bountiful, Gaylen and I would climb into his Volkswagen and chug off to school together. He had his new PhD in Music, and was teaching several classes in music theory and composition, and French Horn. I took Music 101 from him, and felt obligated to get an "A" because I really didn't want him to think I was stupid. I loved the class, and he was an awesome teacher. I spent much of my free time between classes in the listening library of the music building listening to Palestrina Masses. My friend Janet wrote, warning me that this was a terrible place to meet men, and she worried that I would become an old maid.

I loved my Physics and Astronomy classes. I barely made it through a year of French. Paris est dans le Sud de la France. Le Seine traverse Paris. The new Pioneer Memorial Theater had just been completed, and most of my classes were there, or in Kingsbury Hall, next to the music building. I loved to sit under the trees between the two buildings, listening to the hodgepodge of sounds coming from the windows of the various practice rooms: piano scales, violins, horns, voices.... When Kingsbury became the home of the Ballet and Dance Department, I began to live my life, from dawn until dark, in the basement of the Theater building.

My theater classes were fine. The University accepted most of my Playhouse credits, so I had all upper level classes. I wrote home:

May 25, 1961

Dear Folks, Thanks for the dress and sweater. They're very nice, and fit fine. Gaylen's house is really going up fast. The basement and floor are in. Marianne is so excited-- she's been planning paint colors and decorating and such. The kitchen is all built in. Gaylen has been trimming all the trees on their lot and yours.

Do you know who the happiest motorcyclist is? The guy with the bugs all over his teeth! And have you seen the new Helen Keller doll? Wind it up, and it walks into the wall! (Not very funny?)

I have a rehearsal at 2 this afternoon. We open on Wednesday. I got my name in the paper this morning-- spelled wrong. We have been having late run thru's lasting until after one a.m. I play Dunyasha Thursday night. One performance out of four. Amy E. plays opening night and the week-end. So Byron took me aside after rehearsal & told me why I was playing just one night. He said he was sorry I wasn't playing more, but that there were "a lot of things involved," such as the fact that Amy has been here three years, and this is the first good part she's had. Mrs. McGrath (Byron's wife, Grace) was there when he was talking to me. She said she liked my Dunyasha, and that when she looks at me she thinks of 25 plays I could do! That was nice.

I met John Jory last night (Victor Jory's son). We talked for a long time. He came again tonight, and asked where in California I lived, & how come I was here, & how I liked the Playhouse, etc. He's done a lot of shows there, since he was a little boy.

Maybe I'll just enroll in the Writer's Conference this summer, and save my money for the Fall quarter. There aren't a lot of classes offered in summer. I'll just concentrate on the Conference, and maybe some of the summer shows. I'll have to get a manuscript together-- don't know what....


Opening night's over. The show ran 20 minutes late. Amy felt very bad about it, she was in tears. It will be me in tears tomorrow. John Jory told me he's coming tomorrow night. And Gaylen and Marianne will both be there. So there will be at lest three people in the audience. There was a full house tonight. More later.


We had another full house-- even had to turn people away. MY night is over. Byron patted my cheek, called me "Angel," and said it was "Swell." Who knows? Since I have just one night, there's not much use for criticism. Marianne and her mother came. Gaylen has been writing a philosophy paper all day and all night. Her mother is mad at me, I think. See, we had this weird-looking bug on the wall, it could run like hell, boy. Gaylen was after him with a piece of paper and a Kleenex. Marianne was shrieking and her mother was on his tail with her shoe, stomping and shouting, "WELL MY GODFREY, GAYLEN, KILL IT!" (That's the nearest to swearing I've ever heard from her).

"My sister'll be mad at me if I do," he said. Up to now I was just an innocent bystander. "He won't kill it," said Marianne.

"WELL I'LL KILL IT!" And Mrs. J. runs at it with her shoe again. So I took Gaylen's Kleenex & picked up the bug & put him outside. My cat was running wild by this time, rolling up all the rugs, with her eyes big and her ears back flat-- Hot damn! Quite a fun little episode, huh? The cat's all lovey now tonight. Goodnight.


Tonight is the last night of "Cherry Orchard." Grace McGrath told me I was "just wonderful." I heard a lot of good things from a lot of people. She said I was the best Dunyasha she'd ever seen. I wish I could do it again tonight, even if Byron does feel obligated to Amy because she's been around for so long....

After last night's show my ride decided to go with the rest to a little bar called the Blue Angel. I felt awkward and out of place because everyone was getting drunk but me. Joyce the Stick. Gaylen and Marianne will begin to wonder-- I'm always bringing half-crocked people in to use the bathroom at one or two a.m.... Byron and Grace are having a cast party after the show tonight. Full house again, with people standing, crammed in every aisle. I wish you could see it.

Gaylen's going to plant a couple of little apple trees on your lot. I told him I thought Mrs. J. was mad at me. He said, "Well, she makes ME mad, quoting the Bible about the Lord sending things to torment man! The world is full of bugs-- every drop of water is full of little bugs, and most of them are harmless, if she only knew it!"
He's a good brother. XOXO

So that's how things went, generally. I went to the Writer's Conference that summer. Robie McCauley talked with me about my manuscript of stories (for 20 minutes and 6 dollars). He said my stories were too short and unfinished, and too grotesque.

Well. I got to do "Look Homeward, Angel" on the mainstage. Actually, I went to read for the understudy for Mercedes McCambridge, the actress coming from Hollywood to play Mrs. Gant. I only went along because my friend was trying out for one of the roles, and I read just because I was there, not because I expected to get the role. I was already involved in another show. Allen Somebody was doing "The Rainmaker," and I was doing Lizzy. We had several performances in Salt Lake and were taking the show to Moab in a few weeks. I could have had the understudy role. The director, Robert Hyde Wilson (we called him "Rawhide") said I read it perfectly, and he seemed disappointed and angry when I apologized and told him I couldn't do it....but he gave me a smaller part. In theater lingo, "Break A Leg" is a good-luck wish. As it happened, Ms. McCambridge actually broke her leg and was unable to come, so they hired an actress from New York, Leora Dana. She inspired me. She was a wonderful actress, absolutely awesome. Every night. I wrote home: I would love to keep trying for professional theater. If I am too old (by the time I finally get out of school) to play charming young things, then I'll play character and mother roles. After seeing Miss Dana in "Look Homeward Angel." She has played mother roles her whole career. I'm not a very charming young thing anyway!

Well. We took "Rainmaker" to Moab. And it was fun! I was Lizzie! Gene Pack, who hosted a classical music show on KUER for many years after, played my brother Noah. Steve Somebody-- I've forgotten his last name-- (he was a dead ringer for James Dean) played Starbuck. We took publicity photos in an old barn. Steve What's-his-name, standing up in the hayloft emptied the flashbulbs out of his camera down onto the bald head of Gene Pack, standing unaware below him. The flashbulbs bounced off like ping pong balls. I laughed and rolled around in the hay until I thought I would die of laughter. No one else seemed to think it was THAT funny.... Steve and I had a love scene in the "tack room." I discovered that I really liked kissing! I mean, it was 1963, I was almost 24 years old. I had certainly kissed, and been kissed before. But here, in the middle of "Rainmaker," I discovered that I really really liked kissing! And I can't even remember his last name!

Kim Hunter, who I had admired greatly since I was a teen-ager for her role as Stella in "Streetcar Named Desire," (she won an Academy Award for that), came to the U. to do G.B. Shaw's "Major Barbara." I wrote home: "I saw "Major Barbara" between rehearsals Saturday. It's a great show. I am very impressed with Kim Hunter. I sneaked into a symposium here this afternoon sort of by accident. The Theater Guild was listening to a discussion of Shaw, and "Major Barbara," and Kim Hunter was on the panel. I sat in the back with the newspapermen. (This was an accident, too, as I just walked in and sat down, uninvited. I didn't know then what, or who, was happening). Anyway, it was the most interesting hour of the day.

Anyway. I took a directing class from "Rawhide." I decided to do Christopher Fry's "A Sleep of Prisoners," which we had done when I was on the road. I cast a very good friend, Victor Gordon, a fine actor who was also Black, as God. In the 60's, people were marching for equality, and bombing churches, and killing civil right's workers and burying their young bodies in landfills. Our performance would be in a church in Bountiful, in my Ward on Orchard Drive. There were a few raised eyebrows at our rehearsals, but the show went very well. Rawhide gave me an "A". Years later, Time Magazine wrote a piece on the status of Blacks in Utah, and they interviewed Victor Gordon, who apparently felt like a 2nd class citizen among Mormons. I've always regretted that I never wrote a letter to the editor of Time, wondering if Victor remembered the time when he played God in a Mormon church?

Graduation was a blur. Forty-plus years later, I discover that the Baccalaureate Address was given by Neal A. Maxwell, "...but speaking the truth in love..." He said: "It is they to whom we look for concern with justice, whether this concern is held in spite of the fact that we live on a planet that someday will blink, quiver, and die or whether the concern is held because life on this planet is part of a continuum in which we strive for proximate justice; it is they to whom we look for some shared realism about the nature of man and for assurance and reassurance that man is sufficiently rational and good that, therefore, we need not despair. It is they to whom we look for shared concern about freedom....It is they to whom we look to place a premium upon knowledge as essential to survival in a changing world.... If all of us cannot link arms for the task of dealing with conflict by communicating the truth...we shall be a crippled culture-- a pathetic huddle of the timid, the apathetic, and the fearful-- a society likely to end as Eliot said, 'not with a bang, but a whimper.'"


Friday, January 05, 2007

ACT THREE: On the Road

I went "on the road" with the Bishop's Company, American Repertory Players, in the summer of 1960. A fellow I knew from the Playhouse, Mark Rawson, was one of their 22 actors. I was number 23. Mark was from Glen Falls, NY, and had done three seasons of summer stock there before coming to Pasadena. He was a member of the Oregon Shakespearian Festival. He Left the Company almost as soon as I arrived, to do summer theater in Cripple Creek, Colorado. My first show was in Denver. I'd had two days to prepare. The pay was ten dollars a week, and the Company provided our meals and a roof over our head.

My mother thought it was a big mistake. She thought it was a bad idea for me to go "bumming around the country" with a bunch of actors, and tried to talk me out of it. As it turned out, she was wrong.

I was excited. The Bishop's Company was a group of professional actors dedicated to performing plays they thought were socially significant, in churches, at universities, sometimes in prisons. It began as the dream of a young and ambitious woman named Phyllis Benbow Beardsley, who I never met, but her young son wrote a poem about her I've never forgotten: There is no other mother, either far or near, who needs so much her girdle, and uses so much her brassiere. She was a tall red-head who "took courage in both hands and made the dream a reality." I believe Christopher Fry's The Boy with a Cart was their first play, a gentle, lyric poem of a shepherd boy who packs his old, nagging mother into a cart he has made, making himself a harness of willow shoots to pull it. They set out across the hills of SOuthern England. The boy believes that when the shoots break it will be the place where he will realize God's purpose. They performed this around Los Angeles, along with another called Thor, with Angels, and Herman Melville's Billy Budd for a while before their cross-country tours began. Variety wrote: "The theatre has gone back to the church after a lapse of about 400 years. And it has gone back with all the embellishments that modern theatrical techniques and modern ways of playwriting can muster." And again, "The prodigal son has returned to the bosom of the family and may well turn out to be one of the fair-haired boys. In other words, the theatre, after wandering into some devious pathways during the past 400 years [has] returned. The return of the 'bad boy' of the arts to its cradle is not only a healthy sign, but an indication that the deliquent has grown up...." All that was said way back in 1947. In July of 1954, the Los Angeles TImes ran an article that said: "Bishop's Company Booked at Churches Coast to Coast.
Los Angeles' own drama-in-the-church troupe of professional actors, The Bishop's Company, has shoved off on its first nationwide tour...." Anyway, by the time I joined them, they had four units, two that remained in the Los Angeles area and two that criss-crossed the United States and Canada. THey had BIG plans. We will have a ship! The ports of the world will be its harbor! I don't know if they ever reached that goal, but after I left, they toured Hawaii.

Alan Paton gave his permission for the Company to adapt his novel Cry, the Beloved Country as a play. Also in the repertoire were C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows, Steven Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, and another of Christopher Fry's poetic plays, Sleep of Prisoners. And after all those years, we still did Boy With A Cart. The 'home' units did A.A Milne's Winnie-The-Pooh, as well as The Diary of Anne Frank.

I loved travelling. I loved the other actors. At first, as new people came into the group they were simply called "Newgirl," or Newboy." Whenever someone left, or went to join another unit, and new people came, we were given our name, and the newcomers became "Newgirl" or "Newboy."

I genuinely loved theater, and was grateful to be given this opportunity to work at something I had been preparing myself to do. While I was on the road, my best friend Janet was knocking on doors in Hollywood. I knew even then that my chances of working in Hollywood, or on Broadway in New York were remote at best--something akin to being abducted by space aliens. And with the Company, I did make it to New York, and I was a working actor!

In fact, one chilly Thanksgiving in New York City, when I was buying chestnuts from a street vendor (the wonderful perfume of roasting chestnuts is the BEST!), he went for coffee, asking me to "take over the cart," for a few minutes-- so, I also sold chestnuts on the sidewalk in New York City for a few minutes....

I wrote disgustingly long letters home, describing every cornfield and bird and Burma Shave sign we passed. Some others slept, some read, some studied lines. I remember Jim and Judy laughing hysterically over a book of Fractured Fairy Tales: Guilty Looks Enter Tree Beers, and Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, and Center Alley Enter Ladle Gloss Slobbers.

I wrote: "Hello from one of the Dirty Dozen in their Travelling Tenement! We're going to write Sleaze, Inc. on the side of the trailer. Our trash bags are overflowing with old show programs, candy wrappers, banana skins, etc. More mosquitos. It's raining again. We're thinking of calling ourselves The Jolly Consumptives. Cough, cough...."

"...We drove to Bowman, North Dakota last night. Up at seven and drive all day and most of the night. Then we'll be in Winnipeg tomorrow. Are you following me on the map? I love this!"

"...Spent last night in a hotel in Muskegon. The water wouldn't run out of the sink, and the plug in the bathtub didn't fit. I had to plug up the drain with my heel to keep the water in. Somebody's baby cried all night and a drunk talked to himself for hours outside our door. This place smells like Muskegon sounds. Yucch."

"Did you know I'm insured by Lloyds of London?"

"CHICAGO!--we have a necklace of dandelions hanging from the rear-view mirror. Yesterday I met a little girl who was overcome by standing next to a real actress! She said, "Gee, can I touch you?" SHe said she thought I was "the prettiest one" in the show! I could really get to like this. Lots of kids and old ladies ask us for autographs."

"...I feel--something I can't find words for. Like time is so short and things go by so quickly, and that frightens me...."

"Tonight we play a huge old barn of a building. I can hardly see the back wall from the stage. They've got eight baskets of flowers up there. If they don't move them, we'll all be hidden in the foliage! We went through Minneapolis and St. Paul early this morning. Can't remember much, but neither can I remember sleeping--just being tired and uncomfortable, and having my leg or my hand or arm go numb at close intervals...."

"THere was so much I wanted to tell you, but I'm too tired. About New York City, and the fly in my jello. About midnight rehearsals in hotel rooms. About all the company jokes (mostly dirty). About being so tired you think you're going to be verrry sick. And about all the beautiful people I've met."

I did, actually, meet and shake hands with Edward Teller, the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb. I didn't really know how famous (and infamous) he was, at the time. I only knew the people who introduced us told me, "Harry Truman called him before dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and said, Ed? What d'ya think?" Ed suffered a heart attack in 1979, which he blamed on Jane Fonda, for promoting her latest movie, The China Syndrome. Everybody said he was the "real" Dr. Strangelove. He seemed like an old man when I met him, but he lived until 2003!

I loved the people in my unit. Jeanne Needham was pretty, and funny when she didn't mean to be funny. Don Crail was a preacher who ran away with the circus. Dan Barrows had been in radio and TV in Cincinatti before joining the company. Chris Elm was easy to talk to, and Jim and Judy were good buddies. Jim's mother owned Brigham Young's "wine snifter," and Judy was a great horse-woman from Kentucky. She and I once rowed a little boat out on a big lake in a storm, with thunder and lightning crashing all around us. Gasping and sweating, we took turns rowing back to the dock, and when we finally got back, she said, "Thank you very much for the ride, Miss Earheart!" Frank Herold was Judy's "significant other." I once rolled Frank a cigarette made of weeds, when he ran out of his own brand. He said it was "very mild." Everybody sort of paired off--Frank and Judy, Jeanne and Clyde Phillips, and Jim and Marilyn. Freddy Goff and I were "an item" but he always smelled and tasted like cigarettes. He was good to me, wanted me to come to his home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and promised to take me to New Orleans, to the Mardi Gras.
Ummm. Never happened. WHen I left the road to go back to school at the University of Utah, he married Carol Sunde, a sweet Lutheran girl from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Maybe they are still married, if she hasn't passed on from breathing too much secondhand cigarette smoke. They were all truly like family.Jim Wheaton, one of the original eight, writes in his book Masks Before the Altar, "For me, each person was still an island that needed to be free...There are means of escape." For all our closeness, emotional, physically packed into the car like sardines in a can, as a "unit," each time we stopped, in every city, we were islands entire unto ourselves. Always.

I wrote: "One of the guys gave me a bouquet of scaggy wildflowers and a real hawk feather to brighten up our otherwise drab hotel room. He found somebody's falsie as we were about to leave Chicago, and he was embarrassed to ask who it belonged to. "Nobody would admit it if it was theirs anyway," he said. It didn't belong to me!"

CHEW MAIL POUCH TOBACCO, TREAT YOURSELF TO THE BEST. If Daisies Are...Your Favorite Flower...Keep Pushing Up...Those Miles Per Hour...Burma Shave. Kokomo. 14 miles. Eat. Budweiser, King of Beers. 4:24 P.M.

I wrote to Marvin: "Hope I don't have to be nice to anybody tonight. Hope they just leave me alone. I get so tired of being nice to people, saying the same things over and over. I'll be glad to get home. We'll have taquitos on Olvera Street."

Marv replied: "Looking forward to having 'Taquitos for Two,'(a new song I just wrote). Sorry this is such a short letter, but you must remember I am a short man. Although I am an intellectual giant."

I sent him one last letter from the road: "I miss you so much I could go out and eat worms. But you know how I hate to eat alone."

I had one standing ovation for a performance as Olivia in An Episode of Sparrows. And that one will have to last the rest of my life. I needed to stop. I was tired of waking up every morning wondering Where am I?, like an amnesiac from some old 1940's film. I needed a place to put things. I needed to go home. But sometimes at night I still have dreams about finding the company again, and I take off with them again, on another tour. Again. And it's almost like I've never left.


About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.