On meeting Ivan
| Along Fifth Avenue. 11:40 AM. Photo: JH.
|Wednesday, August 17, 2011. Sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast, much cooler.
Books and the Bookish. I love books. I love having them. Sometimes I stand and look at the shelves, at the titles, sometimes removing one to take a look, and I’m filled with awe of all the lives, all the history, all the stories filling my room.
Sometimes I’ll buy a book for its cover. David McCullough's A Greater Journey, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, was one. I wouldn’t have cared if the book weren’t interesting: the cover was a beauty. A Renoir. It turned out to be a great book, good to read in this maelstrom of a world of ours. McCullough turns life into a garden, a beautiful garden; no matter what. We can all use a little of that right now.
Books are in fashion, oxymoronic as that sounds. The book business isn’t good and bookstores are either starving or strangling. Borders closed their doors. But they are the greatest gift. Like Manna from Heaven.
|Barbara Goldsmith and Alec Baldwin at the East Hampton Library Authors Night.
I was reminded of all this by an email I got yesterday afternoon about the authors event at the East Hampton Public Library last Saturday.
Barbara Goldsmith and Alec Baldwin were Co-Chairs of the East Hampton Library Authors Night.
What started out as a tiny get together with one author a few years ago now had more than 150 authors and over 1,000 people attending. Authors and readers intermingled and had a spectacular time.
Barbara Goldsmith is a real book philanthropist besides being a best-selling author herself. She loves books too, honors them, cherishes them. She’s funded a preservation project at the New York Public Library to rescue the books that are deteriorating with age, to keep her love alive.
I don’t know Alec Baldwin but I do know that for an actor to part with a quarter of a million bucks to give to a library speaks volumes, if you’ll pardon the pun. Both Goldsmith and Baldwin are in the position to be generous, but what they really are are heroes. Unsung totally, but it doesn’t matter: it’s all on the page.
|George Stevens, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ivan Moffat in 1951.
|Which speaking of writers and books: In today’s Diary we include an obituary first published in the London Daily Telegraph of Ivan Moffat, an Englishman, screenwriter and film producer who died last July 4, 2002.
I had met Ivan more than twenty years before in Beverly Hills at the home of our mutual friend Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill. Ivan had a kind of English version of the Humphrey Bogart image — craggy-faced, furrowed brow, the cigarette with the long ash about to fall off; silver gray hair brushed back casually.
He had lived in California for years by then, but still looked perfectly at home in a suit and tie, albeit slightly less than impeccable but comfortably worn. He had he had a deep, gravelly voice that lent a serious dimension to any thing he said.
|Ivan Moffat in his later years.
|Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill Sparky, her Jack Russell, Beverly Hills, 1980.
On meeting, we talked about our friend Sarah while waiting for her to appear for cocktails.
Ivan told me the first time how he’d first met her in 1961 shortly after Jack Kennedy was elected to the Presidency. He had been seated next to Sarah at a dinner party in New York. They were discussing the recent election, and in her characteristically authoritative yet off-hand way, Sarah told Ivan that the U.S was going to be invading Cuba.
It should be noted that at the time, the relationship between Castro and the U.S. had deteriorated seriously, but no military action had been taken.
Considering that, Ivan thought Sarah’s remark was outrageous and absurd, and he told her so, asking how she could say something like that.
“Why, Jack told me the other night,” Sarah answered, unfazed by Ivan’s reaction. “He said we’re going to invade Cuba. Soon.”
Ivan was astounded and disbelieving that the President-elect would think or say such a thing to a friend at a dinner party.
“And then a few weeks later,” Ivan said, continuing, “we had the Bay of Pigs invasion.” He was amused by his friend on the re-telling but still somewhat astonished by her inside information.
Later I asked Sarah about this. She said that Jack — whom she’d known since the 1930s when Joe Kennedy was Ambassador to the Court of St. James (and Sarah’s father was the Duke of Marlborough) — “always talked too much.”
Ivan and I then concluded easily, and with a laugh, that it was a quality that JFK and Lady Sarah shared, although she was unaware of it in herself.
I used to see Ivan sometimes on Thursday nights at dinner parties that Edie Goetz had in her great big house filled with Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in Holmby Hills.
Mrs. Goetz, the eldest daughter of L.B. Mayer, and wife of Bill Goetz, one of the founders of 20th Century-Fox, entertained formally, Hollywood style — women in long dresses and jewels, men in dark suits.
and Edie Goetz, 1965.
The butler had come from the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace. The chef was, for a time, the best in Southern California. The dining room was done by Billy Haines and entirely candlelit for dinner, save the lights over the Fantin-Latour, the Degas, the Modigliani, the Soutine, the Manet, and the very large Bonnard.
The guest list was usually eight or ten — such as Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, Freddie and Janet de Cordova, often some visiting dignitaries from New York or Europe, and Ivan Moffat.
Conversation was always lively. One night Ivan told the story of the release of George Steven’s A Place In the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters. Ivan had been involved in the producing of the picture.
The film, made in 1950-51, was an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, involving out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In those days, such matters were very dicey in a world with an influential Catholic Church code, as well as movie censors, not to mention the newspaper and magazine business. Because of it, they were worried about getting enough distribution for the film.
Coincidentally, one night Ivan was introduced to Marion Davies at a cocktail party. Telling her about himself, he mentioned the new picture he was working on, and the subject matter, knowing that it was a sensitive one for her. Davies had openly lived outside of marriage to William Randolph Hearst for more than thirty years. There were persistent rumors of a child that she’d had with him. There was also the obvious: that she couldn’t have a “legitimate” child which some said was her tragic regret.
|Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A
Place In the Sun.
Davies at M.G.M in the early 30s.
|As Ivan had hoped, Marion Davies asked if she could see a print of the picture. One night he took a print up to the mansion she shared with Hearst on Beverly Drive (still standing — the house was used in “The Godfather” for the bloody horse head bedroom scene). Mr. Hearst was still alive, although barely, in his bedroom upstairs.
Davies and Moffat sat together in the large screening room right out of Sunset Boulevard, and watched. At the end, Marion had tears streaming down her face.
“It’s a beautiful film,” she whispered. Ivan then told her the problems they were facing with the different censors.
“I think I can help. Come with me,” she said, leading him out of the room, out of the house, and down the long driveway to the gatekeeper’s cottage at the entrance gate. Inside were teletype machines and many telephones connecting to all points in the Hearst empire. Marion picked up a phone that went directly to an editor in New York.
Speaking with her slight stutter, but with conviction, she said to the ear on the other end, “Mr. Hearst and I have just seen the most wonderful picture called A Place In the Sun, and Mr. Hearst wants something about the picture in the papers everyday until it opens.”
Mr. Hearst, of course, had not seen the picture, confined to his room, close to death. It had long been rumored that Marion Davies had great editorial power in the Hearst papers — which was then the largest, most powerful chain of newspapers in America.
From the day following Davies call, until the day the film opened, A Place In The Sun garnered enormous publicity in the Hearst papers and magazines and went on to become one of the most talked about films of the year.
Fast-forward to 2002. I hadn’t seen Ivan Moffat since moving back to New York ten years before. Nor had I heard much about him, as it happens. Although last year, his name came forth with another great pleasant surprise.
It was revealed in the press that Ivana Lowell, daughter of the late Caroline Blackwood, had learned after her mother’s death, that her real father was not the man she’d always believed to be her father. Her mother (who'd been married to Robert Lowell and Lucien Freud, among others), for whatever reason, had concealed his identity from everyone.
Ivana, curious to know the truth learned that her mother had left her with one big clue. Her name. Ivana. After her father. Pursuing the lead, she learned that indeed it was so: Ivan Moffat was her father, and he welcomed her knowing. She and he met and she was charmed also, and pleased to learn of her true paternity.
|Freud and Caroline Blackwood. Courtesy of Ivana Lowell.
| From the London Daily Telegraph
Ivan Moffat, who has died
aged 84, had a colourful career as a screenwriter and man about
town among the English colony of writers, directors and actors in
Hollywood after the war.
Tall, attractive, charming and well-connected, Moffat assisted the
director George Stevens on I Remember Mama (1948), A Place
in the Sun (1951) - the title of which came to Moffat in a dream
- and the classic Western Shane (1953).
He then co-wrote, with Fred Guiol, the script for the Texas
cattle ranch epic Giant (1956), starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth
Taylor and James Dean, which brought Moffat and Guiol
an Oscar nomination, and an Oscar for Stevens for best director.
Moffat and Guiol did an excellent job condensing Edna Ferber's sprawling
family saga, and it was a tribute to their skills that the script
was shot as written - not Stevens's usual habit. The picture would
be the most profitable for Warner studios until Superman 20 years
| Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant.
Ivan Moffat was born in Havana on February 18 1918, the son of the
actress and poet Iris Tree (herself the daughter of the celebrated
Shakespearean actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree) and the American
photographer Curtis Moffat.
The family soon returned to Fitzroy Square, London, where Moffat
pere adorned their house with oriental carpets, African sculpture
and T'ang dynasty horses. Ivan was educated at Dartington Hall,
Totnes - where he began a lifelong friendship with Michael Young (the future Lord Young of Dartington) - and the LSE. As an
undergraduate, he joined the Communist Party, an action for which
he was blacklisted for a time while in Hollywood; Jessica Mitford later described Moffat as "span[ning] the gap between Left-wing
politics and the deb dance scene".
In 1938 Curtis Moffat moved back to America, and Ivan took over
a flat on the top floor. He maintained his father's tradition of
bohemian entertainment and became an habitue of the Gargoyle Club
in Soho, mixing with Philip Toynbee, son of the historian Arnold Toynbee, and Dylan Thomas, whom he claimed
to have got his first job at Strand Films; Moffat himself worked
at Strand, making government-sponsored documentaries promoting the
When America entered the war, Moffat enlisted as a writer in the
Special Coverage Unit of the US Army Signals Corps - the so-called
"Hollywood Irregulars" who under the director George Stevens
were charged with improving film coverage of the war. Moffat filmed
such events as the liberation of Paris and of Dachau concentration
Directly after the war he moved to Los Angeles, where he turned
down the offer of a writing job with MGM to become an associate
producer at George Stevens's new company, Liberty Films.
Moffat was by then married to Natasha Sorokin (whom he had
met in Paris), a beautiful but unstable Russian who was reputed
to have formed a menage a trois with Simone de Beauvoir,
her former teacher, as well as her lover Jean-Paul Sartre.
Her union with Moffat produced a daughter, Lorna, but broke
up in the early 1950s, after which Moffat embarked on a series of
liaisons with beautiful and interesting women.
|Ivana's mother Lady Caroline, c. 1950s.
In a diary entry of September 30 1955, his friend Christopher
Isherwood remarked: "He is always so pretty and bright
eyed and clean - he has to be for I imagine his evenings usually
end, if they don't begin, visiting some girl.
"He has the slightly guilty grin," Isherwood added, "of
the accepted lover." Isherwood identified with Moffat "as
an expatriate and as a romantic adventurer" - although Moffat
was, unlike Isherwood, clearly heterosexual.
In 1956 Moffat began a long on-off affair with Caroline Blackwood,
whom he first met in Venice while she was still married to Lucien
Freud. She followed him back to Hollywood with vague ambitions
to become an actress, and soon moved in to his small modern house
on Adelaide Drive, overlooking Santa Monica Canyon.
Moffat seemed to Isherwood in this period to be avoiding marriage;
and there were indeed other girlfriends before he married secondly,
in 1961, Katharine Smith, the 28-year-old daughter of the 3rd Viscount Hambleden (of the W H Smith family), a former
bridesmaid to Princess Alexandra. The married couple soon
moved back to London, partly because Moffat had been hired to "doctor"
the screenplay of The Great Escape (1963), and partly so that his
wife could fulfil her responsibilities as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Moffat ended up modifying a substantial part
of The Great Escape, but for various reasons (and much to his cost)
he chose to forego a credit.
His other screenplays included John Masters's Bhowani
Junction (1956); D Day The 6th of June (1956); John
Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus (1957); Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Sophia Loren's first American film; They Came
to Cordura (1959); F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is
the Night (1961); The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and Black
During the 1970s,
he wrote episodes for the television series Colditz, and in 1985
he wrote the script for the television film of Florence Nightingale.
Ivan Moffat died on July 4. His second marriage was dissolved in
1972. He is survived by his daughter Lorna from his first marriage,
two sons, Jonathan and Patrick, from his second, and
by another daughter, Ivana, with Caroline Blackwood.
Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: Ivan's father, Curtis
Moffat, was a highly civilised American connoisseur, traveller and
photographer, and his mother was Iris Tree, the daughter of Sir
Herbert Beerbohm Tree and half-sister, though neither knew it until
they grew up, of Sir Carol Reed. There was also great-uncle Max Beerbohm at Rapallo; Ivan used to wear his straw boater
at a slant at dressing-up parties. His school years at the avant-garde
Dartington Hall were not very exacting. All his life, with his high
forehead, tousled hair and large eyes, he had the look of an intelligent,
rebellious, finely-strung and charming boy. His quiet, urgent style
was spaced out by pauses and changes of pace and pitch and interrupted
by bursts of all-consuming and infectious laughter. His most precious
gift - a very rare one - was the spoken word.
| Ivana with her elder sisters Natalya and Evgenia.
|Evgenia and Ivana in 1996 at their grandmother Maureen’s ‘tiara party.’
We met and made friends, in the first winter of the war, at Rosa
Lewis's Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street, and after much to
drink, groped our way through the blackout to the Gargoyle Club,
drank some more, collected two fellow-members and moved on to his
absent father's Aladdin's cave of a flat in Fitzroy Square, and
finally dossed down among the empties. When I left, he tried on
my guardsman-recruit's cap in front of the hall mirror, and shuddered
with a stage groan. But he soon joined the US Army and I only learned
of his wartime adventures when it was all over. He became friends
with Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre and married Natasha Sorokin,
their Russian protegee. Script-writing in Hollywood made him friends
with Aldous Huxley, Isherwood and James Stewart. His
narrative gift, on return, brought both sides of the Atlantic to
Strange things were always happening to him. Once when he was staying
at the Savoy, someone - a girl, I think - gave him a praying mantis
as a present. He had to leave for a few days on location, and when
he got back the hotel was filled with minute green progeny everywhere
from cellars to sky lights. They were very decent about it. It might
happen to anyone ...
He was devoted to his friends and deeply-felt love affairs were
scattered through his life. I remember once observing one in the
painter Niko Ghika's house in Hydra, with endless talk and
songs, amphibious days and endless dictionary games under the stars.
Ivan's marriage to Kate Smith, a great friend of Princess
Margaret, brought two sons, Jonathan and Patrick, into being,
but alas, didn't last forever. But a romantic link with the author
Caroline Blackwood resulted in a predictably beautiful daughter,
aptly christened Ivana.
We met several times in France and Italy, including a spell in a
grim castle on the Tuscan coast, where fierce seething plates of
frutti de mare, bristling with claws and accusing eyes and coiling
tentacles with feelers were plonked on the table. Ivan said: "Look
out! They are on the move." And a lightning improvisation sprang
up: all the sea creatures, first of the Mediterranean, then of the
whole world, were uniting in revolt and were about to fight back
until all their human foes had been ingested.
Apart from his many other charms it is outbreaks like these that
will be acutely missed.
Comments? Contact DPC here.