Thursday, June 23, 2016

Schulenberg's Page: New York/LA, Part LXV

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

At UCLA, an older fraternity alumnus lived across the street
from my fraternity house in a landmark Richard Neutra apartment building in Westwood. I had suspicions about the motives for his sociability, but nothing concrete. He was a drinker. Across the complex lived a prominent big-time notorious drinker, Edward G. Robinson, Jr.

He is most remembered by a cameo in the movie, "Some Like It Hot." He plays the gangster Johnny Paradise who pops out of a cake and, St. Valentine's Day Massacre-style, guns down the gang looking to kill Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
Edward G. Robinson, Jr. as Johnny Paradise in "Some Like It Hot."
His father, Edward G. Robinson, Sr., made his career playing the role as gangster Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello in 1931's "Little Caesar."
Edward G. Robinson, Sr. as "Little Caesar."
I met "Eddie G." as I called him at an afternoon cocktail party given by the alumnus. People called Eddie "Manny," his father's name originally being Emmanuel, but it didn't really seem to fit him — like many things. I played the piano and Eddie loved it. He was with his older mistress, Mary James, an attractive blonde woman friend of his mother who was twice his age. He was 22.
Edward G. Robinson, Sr. with Jr.
On multiple occasions, Mary invited me to come over and play Eddie's piano. Every time they had one of their frequent abusive arguments, Mary would flee to the fraternity house and beg me to come to Eddie who'd been drinking.

He'd already been involved in a headline-making case involving several unpaid cab drivers. Confidential magazine would also write a scandalous article about him, "a drunk delinquent living in a luxury apartment thanks to his movie star father."
Father and son in 1957.
So I fell in.

There were many nights where I would play the piano for drunk Eddie until he'd fall asleep, keeping him from going out into the night and getting in trouble.

Once, he took me to his family home in Beverly Hills where I met his mother who'd also been an actress.
Gladys Lloyd and Edward G. Robinson with Junior.
The Robinsons had created a world class Impressionist art collection will Renoirs, Lautrecs, Degas', and even a Seurat. There was even a Bonnard and a Vuillard in a bathroom!

There was also a Steinway grand piano with a Cezanne placed on it. Eddie told his mother that I played the piano and she invited me to play something. I played "Rhapsody in Blue."

After I finished, she had Eddie open the lid of the piano to show me something. Inside, engraved on the harp were the signatures of the great pianists that had played the piano. Rachmaninov, Rubinstein, Horowitz — everyone except George Gershwin. She told me he had played it and said he'd sign it the next time he came over — but he died before he could.

I wasn't invited to sign. (The piano was eventually given to UCLA.)
Vladimir Horowitz's signature on the Edward G. Robinson piano, now in UCLA's Schoenberg Hall.
There were frequently free loaders around Eddie and one night he'd invited a crowd to dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. I went with a date. When the bill came, he paid with a check (pre-credit cards) and the manager arrived at our table telling him that his father had cancelled his credit. Eddie, in a rage, stood up and overturned the large fully loaded table as we, his guests, made a quick exit!

At least there were no headlines that time. But there were when Eddie was feeling bad that he couldn't be in New York for his father's anticipated return to Broadway and his opening night premiere in the play, "Middle of the Night," written by Paddy Chayefsky.

Jane Breckenridge, my closest friend from high school in Fresno, was living in LA then and we were with Eddie consoling him until around 9:00 p.m. when he decided he'd go to New York and surprise his father. He asked Jane and me to drive him to the airport for the last flight of the night. We couldn't dissuade him so we all piled into my MG to start for the airport.
I tried to take side roads and to do anything to make us miss the flight, but he kept us going and we arrived at the airport with some time to spare. We went to a lounge area for coffee and Eddie kept saying he didn't know if he could stay sober once he got to Manhattan. I kept telling him to be strong and that he could do it.

He said he might be able to only if I was there: "You HAVE to come! If you're my friend you'll do it — you'll come with me to New York!"

Jane gave me a plaintive look.

I told him that it wasn't possible. It was the dead of winter ... I was wearing only Levis and a tee shirt ... It was snowing in New York ... I had classes ...

Eddie said we'd go to Brooks Brothers and get winter clothes and I could return as soon as Eddie arrived at the theater sober.

Jane gave me another look.

"What about my car?"

"Jane can take it!"

More looks.

And Eddie went to buy me a ticket to New York.

I was about to board the plane when Eddie said he needed to get something. I continued on to the plane and waited. Soon, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: "Passenger Robinson, report to the plane!"

We were preparing for takeoff when I saw Eddie running to the gate carrying a bag.
Suddenly, a security cop grabbed him, knocking him off his feet and he dropped the bag out of which came a bottle of scotch whisky.

He cried out, "I'm going to New York!" And the cop said, "You're not going anywhere, you're going to jail!"

Edward G. Robinson, Jr. after his arrest in the airport.
I got off the plane (as everyone watched) and Eddie gave me the money to bail him out. I collected a tearful Jane and drove her back to her apartment on Mariposa near the Ambassador Hotel and then drove back to Westwood and the fraternity house.

Around daybreak, I was awakened by Eddie who'd gotten himself out on bail. He wanted us to go down to the Village for breakfast and see if there was anything in the LA Times. There was. The headline in big black letters said "Robinson Flies High, Gets Grounded."

We had breakfast at the Village Delicatessen as Eddie read the paper. He told me to keep the money. I paid for breakfast.

Another night, at Eddie's apartment, he'd been drinking, I'd been playing, and as he was beginning to drowse he was mumbling about how some people thought he was gay. He was already divorced at 23, with an infant daughter Francesca, but it bothered him that some people still thought he was gay.

Another night, just before passing out, he kissed me on the cheek. It was like a child's sleepy kiss to a parent, but it was a surprise, nonetheless.

Soon after, I graduated from UCLA and was immediately drafted. It was 1956.

Later, I read that Eddie had had a DUI traffic accident and his passenger had lost an eye. He was judged guilty and sentenced to a period at the Wayside Honor Rancho north of the San Fernando Valley.

Some years later, back from New York for Christmas, I was with my mother at Frascati Restaurant in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive at Wilshire, the old Beverly Hills Brown Derby location. We were meeting Howdy, a friend I'd met in Paris who had also gone to UCLA.

At the bar area, I saw Eddie. He was leaning over the piano exhorting the pianist to play just as he had with me — and I freaked out. I had what I now think was a panic attack and told my mother that Eddie mustn't see me.
Where was Howdy?

He finally arrived and we quickly left.

I never saw Eddie again and he died around the age of 40.

After being released from the detention center, he wrote an autobiography with William Dufty called "My Father, My Son" wherein he mentions me and Jane.

Many years later I met William Dufty who was having some success with his book, "Sugar Blues," and was married to Gloria Swanson. I didn't connect him with Eddie and was more fascinated talking with Swanson. Years later I realized the connection with Eddie but at that time it was too late.

Everyone was gone.

Post script:
Gavin Lambert
had written a story included in his book, "The Slide Area (a collection of roman à clés stories), about the alcoholic son of a world famous Beverly Hills "lawyer" with a world famous art collection. The son befriends a young man from Lima, Ohio (coincidentally my father's father was born in Lima, Ohio!) and they have an ambiguous close relationship. Lambert was gay.

There was even a description of a Malibu beach house that I recognized.

How did Lambert know? How many knew? I never knew. Coincidence?

My mother asked my father, a lawyer, if we could sue.
Contact Bob here.
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