Friday, July 27, 2018

Universal Mind (and Natalie Wood, of course!)

Natalie Wood Will Never Be Forgotten!; When Columnists Have Nothing to Say.
by Denis Ferrara

“IN THE beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move,” said Douglas Adams.

WELL, one thing for sure, Natalie Wood has not been forgotten!  A lot of heartfelt notes poured in about our tribute to Natalie on what would have been her 80th birthday, including a nifty piece on Wood’s 1966 film, “This Property is Condemned” from Rick Gould’s “Ricks Real/Reel Life” blog.  (In case you don’t know it, the movie, which co-starred a then-all-but-unknown Robert Redford, was expanded from a brief, unsuccessful one-act play. But, Natalie was still big box-office, and Hollywood had done well adapting Williams to the screen.)

A lot of people wrote in expressing their own opinions about Natalie’s tragic death and/or asking my “real” opinion on that event. 

My real opinion is that Wood wasn’t “murdered” as her sister Lana Wood believes. On the other hand, I sure don’t think Natalie just fell in the water trying to tie up a loose dingy to the yacht.  I suggest all those who are interested, track down Suzanne Finstad’s 2001 book, “Natasha.”  Her chapter on Natalie’s final weekend is chilling, heartbreaking and while it makes no accusations, it’s not hard to figure out what the author suggests — with the help of multiple on-the-spot eyewitnesses before and after Natalie’s death — without going so far as to open herself up to litigation.
When Columnists Have Nothing to Say. Even after two years, I hate working alone.  Access and invitations are scarce.  I’ve tried being more aggressive, but I didn’t have to be for the majority of my long life with Liz Smith.  Even when the column had lost some steam, it was still bylined by a legend, and news of some sort was not hard to come by.  It is now, and I am no legend.  This old dog can’t seem to learn a new trick.
And, at no point in my life have I been so distracted by “other things.” That includes almost dying, rather the ultimate distraction.
Me and my much, much, MUCH better half, Bruce. (Before the grays came marching in!)  
In 1998, I was given a diagnosis by my doctor that was a surprise to nobody except me. I was HIV positive.  That’s the polite version — I had full blown AIDS and a “slight” case of TB.  I looked like hell, but couldn’t see it.  I felt like hell but insisted “my allergies are acting up.”  When I finally gave in to seeing a doctor and got the news, I asked if I was going to die — soon?  The doctor said no.  He told Bruce the truth — if this “cocktail” doesn’t work, he doesn’t have much time. (I learned this bit of salient info much later, when I was safely out of the woods.) 

By the way, the only conversation Bruce ever broached after my diagnosis was about getting me better, making sure I always took my medication, eating properly, assuring me I was going to be fine. We’d been together over 20 years at that point.  He knew me, my insecurities, my reckless habits, quite well. He could have made me feel very guilty.  He didn’t. And I knew, in a way I hadn’t before, that I was loved. 
The cocktail did work.  I returned to Liz Smith’s office after less than two weeks abed.  I weighed 125 pounds, down from 160 just a few months before. I still felt awful. I still looked like shit.  I decided to bleach my graying hair a vivid blonde.  I was working a skeletal Andy Warhol kind of look, but as Liz Smith said, “Denis, if you’ve done that to your hair, you must be feeling better!”
Although well-recovered from illness, I kept that silly blonde 'do" well into the early 2000s.  It made me feel almost as young as, well -- Cher!    
At no point did I feel I didn’t want to work, that things were “too much” for me.  Quite the opposite — I was determined to prove that nothing was too much. And it wasn’t.

But it feels like it is now.  I’m too old — I think — to run out into the streets with placards or make myself part of a human chain of opposition somewhere.  But I am not so old that I don’t worry what my world, our world, will be like when I am old. 
If by Monday I am again excited about something silly, or grand or moving in showbiz land, and write it up with giddy, feckless enthusiasm, I will fall back on the words of Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I worry over personal freedoms, the environment, and the “ideals” of American democracy that have been bitterly fought and fairly new — and because they are fairly new, perhaps easy to reverse and forget. (The children of the president’s fanatical base are being “carefully taught” as “South Pacific’s” great song of generationally inherited injustice goes. Who will they be, and where will we be in twenty years?)
And yet, there is still a world of entertainment beckoning, ripe for my pleasure, eager to be noticed, a balm to my worries and yours too. Hey, I want to go see “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. And I did see “Mamma Mia!”  I feel that obligation, but ... but ... but. 
I apologize for this, however in all my years with Liz and this brief time on my own, I’ve always tried to express myself honestly. (When I didn’t it was always to make someone or something better than it was — why not?) 
Next week — if I still have a job! — is next week. Perhaps the screening I’m going to tonight, with a friend who always cheers me up, will do the trick.  And if not, I’ve had a good run — a “career” far more exciting and satisfying than I ever could have dreamed. 
Contact Denis here.