Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Icy everywhere

Ice floating down the Hudson River. 11:00 AM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015. Cold like New York mid-winter, sometimes sunny, sometimes not. Narrow streams of ice chunks flowing smoothly and quickly down the East River at 4 in the afternoon as the tide rolls out. Icy everywhere. I’m dreaming of Daylight Savings (two weeks from this past Sunday) when it gets dark later. And we begin again.
A close-up of the ice.
The question of the day, everywhere I went: whadja thinka the Oscars? Then I’d say, “I didn’t think anything. I didn’t see them.” I did see a clip of Lady Gaga singing the Rodgers and Hammerstein “Sound of Music” medley. I’d never seen Miss GaGa before although I’d heard much about her and her talent. I didn’t doubt it although the uber-kitsch befuddles me; life as a video game. However, I was happy to learn that GaGa’s voice is truly thrilling. She’s deeply talented; deeply.

If Jerome Robbins had been around he have told her to cut the hands and arms forever waving like a moving flag. She has such a beautiful voice with an arresting emotional quality to it, that she should just knock off the Sacred Heart School gang; they’re not the audience anymore; the world is. We are lucky to have her. I did not see the John Legend performance yet, but I have been told by many that it was also thrilling. I look forward to it.

Otherwise I heard all the complaints about: boring, boring, boring. But that’s old news. The day after the general point of view is “wotta bore!” One friend of mine said that the Oscars are “over” and that they should just present them the way they present the Nobel: announce it and leave it at that. But then what would we talk about the following morning in America.

In the olden days, and indeed they are/were, it was the Oscars and that was it. Now award shows are a dime a dozen and even the emcees move around  from show to show like Neil Patrick Harris. It’s all about brand and product, and Zzzzzz. The Oscars had Bob Hope and he was a major draw because the audience knew he was in the thick of it and he was funny (Ha Ha) and upbeat. Those were the times. Hope was a tradition for years – maybe fifteen or twenty, so there was a homey-ness to it all. Hope was our anointed leader of the festivities. It was like old home week in America. Viet Nam ended that for Hope and for the Oscars, but that’s another story.
Bob Hope hosting the Oscars in 1964.
The Oscars are now preceded by the Globes which has become part of the Oscar game (will she/won’t she,etc.), it’s all Ed Sullivan – the old familiar score – without the performances to keep you interested.

However, the Oscars do provide rich memories. Maria Cooper Janis sent me the clip from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal by Bob Greene called “An Oscar Moment Before the Selfie Age.” It’s the Academy Awards on April 17, 1961, 54 years ago.

I remember the night and I’ll bet many others of us who were around then remember. Jimmy Stewart came out to present the Oscar to his beloved friend Gary Cooper (Maria’s father) who was very ill in the hospital at the time.
The Academy had awarded Cooper as an homage from friends to a friend. Hollywood was like that. At the tippy top, it was a small community (with a larger small community).  Off-camera, Stewart and Cooper were close friends, as were their wives and husbands, including Bill and Edie Goetz who were the hosts-with-the mosts in that crowd.
Gloria and Jimmy Stewart and Gary and Rocky Cooper.
On any given night the Stewarts, the Coopers, the Pressmans (Claudette Colbert) dined at the Goetz’ table as close friends. The fate of their beloved friend Gary Cooper was already known to them, and they were deeply saddened for Coop was one of those guys that men and women loved for the kind of guy he was.

The Academy Award for him was either borne of their great affection for their friend, or at least their great support of the idea. A tribute from his distraught friends. It is a sad story but a beautiful story about Hollywood and I’d tell it but Mr. Greene in the WSJ has done it beautifully. I’d link to it, but I’m not a WSJ subscriber – I get the FT – so here's Maria’s scan of it.
Meanwhile back to today’s Oscars. An old friend of mine, an actor, and a sophisticated and worldly one at that, loves the Oscars. He watches them alone. On purpose. He’d read in my Diary that I don’t watch the Oscars and that my reason is not important enough to even explain. This was his response to that:

Oh, but it is important. Why did you stop watching the Oscars? 

One night AD (ed.’s note: his girlfriend at the time) and I were having a fight about something, and I turned on the TV to watch the Oscars. She said, “We can’t watch the Oscars. We’re having a fight.” I said the Oscars were so much more important than our fight it wasn't worth having a second fight about. 

I can’t even imagine not watching the Oscars. And I so much prefer watching them by myself. The year Phil Hoffman won, I was at an Oscar party and everyone there was so fucking important and had so much inside information about each new person who appeared on the screen that they had to share at top volume with everybody in the room, it was impossible to hear the proceedings on the tube. Except for during Phil’s acceptance speech - since we were all his pals - when there was complete and respectful silence. So I swore I would never go to another Oscar party. And I haven’t. Nor have I been asked.

So there you have it.
My friend Margo Howard has written a memoir “Eat, Drink and Remarry: Confessions of a Serial Wife," which you may have noticed advertised on the NYSD. Margo and I have accidentally known each other for more than thirty years. I say “accidentally” because in all those years, she’s lived in one place and I lived in another. We met one night at dinner at the house of the aforementioned Edie Goetz. Margo’s mother was Eppie Lederer a/k/a Ann Landers, the popular advice queen who in her heyday (pre-internet) was published daily in something like 400 newspapers across the nation.

Margo Howard.
Margo's mother, Eppie Lederer a/k/a Ann Landers.
I’d met Eppie before at Edie Goetz’ dinners, as Eppie came to LA a few times a year. I knew who she was obviously, but had no idea before our meeting how knowledgeable and sophisticated she was, and how socially connected. Eppie was one of those people who used her popularity and position to get to know all kinds of people in the political, financial and media worlds of this country. And she was interested in them, not in herself knowing them. She not only knew them, but they knew her, the lady with the common sense advice. One of my favorite aphorisms of Eppie’s was advice to a reader who wondered about marrying a man for his money.

Eppie: “Marrying for money is a hard way to make a living.”

Eppie’s husband, Margo’s father, was equally successful in business (founder of Budget Rent-a-car). Margo was an only child of these two dynamic individuals who also both adored their daughter. There are all kinds of implications in such good news (that continues throughout the lives of both parents). Margo, on the other hand, has been married four times, and has three children (all by her first husband who is not remembered with fondness).

Aside from that, she went from Brandeis, into journalism, equipped with the connections (Eppie again), but also with the mother’s common sense and the brains to produce, eventually – after Eppie left us – taking on the advice column beat. The fourth marriage in what we could call the latter part of one’s life, seems to have taken, going on two decades, and everyone is pleased with the process.

Having written a memoir for Debbie Reynolds, I was curious to know how Margo technically created the memoir for herself. This is not her first book, but her fourth. The first three had to do with Mother, including biography and her letters. It was an unusually close relationship which I saw briefly – although having known both women, I get it. Margo was an extremely well-treated child by two very intelligent and successful people. The bad news is always in the good, whatever that may be. I wondered how Margo approached the project.

Here is the writer’s approach, as told by Margo to me. I thought anybody who is interested in writing a memoir  (and there are not a few of us in these hyper-tech times) might find it interesting to hear one woman’s approach.

Margo to me:

On more than one occasion you’ve talked about writing a memoir. Knowing some of your story, there is no one whose life I would rather delve into than yours. For writers like you and me (both with careers as observers and essayists) it’s not all that hard. I would encourage you to think seriously about beginning, because we are both at the golden hour, as it were, for remembering. People of a certain age who have not lost their marbles can clearly recall the past. 

For me, this book was organizationally predetermined. Knowing I wanted it to be a marital memoir, and having had four marriages, the order was a no-brainer: a little preamble seemed necessary, on the order of, “Who was I before I married all these people?” This would be followed by The Starter Husband, then “Mr. Right” -- numbers 2, 3, and 4. I knew there had to be a few extra chapters to tie things together. And voila! My short but comprehensive book.

Click to order “Eat, Drink and Remarry: Confessions of a Serial Wife."
Why did I think people would be interested in what might be referred to as a colorful past? For one thing, people love a glimpse into someone else’s life. For another, it’s an honest retelling of the life of a girl who was never a bridesmaid but always a bride. 

And I truly felt there was a minor key advice aspect from a rice-scarred veteran, since I write about what I learned. (You cannot live through three divorces and have learned nothing.) I never felt embarrassment or like a failure because of my divorces. I know women who do feel this way, and I wanted to tell them it is not the end of the world.

Another feature that made my four marriages something out of the ordinary was that deep into my journalism career I became an advice columnist -- first as “Dear Prudence,” then “Dear Margo.” And ... I was the only child of America’s most famous advice giver, Ann Landers.

And let us not forget the husbands. One was famous: the actor, Ken Howard. Another was infamous: hotelier and generally strange person John B. Coleman. Mr. Right #2 (short marriage, short chapter) was a good guy ... but not good enough. And happily, because who doesn’t like a happy ending, there is Dr. Perfect, who has, indeed, been perfect for me for 18 years.

Margo and her ma.
This memoir also has marching through my marriages people such as ... Jonas Salk, Marcel Marceau, Elizabeth Taylor, the oil advisor to the Shah of Iran, Erich Segal, Hubert Humphrey, and at the moment I forget who else because there is no index.

Maybe most people would be laid low by three clinker marriages, but for whatever reason, I was not. As b said in “Annie Hall” when asked why she was not depressed, “Maybe I’m shallow.” I also believe my humor saved me. I have never taken myself too seriously, and let us call a spade a spade: I had the great gift of two parents who were both loving and very successful in their own lives.

As to the question, “How do you just sit down to write a memoir?” I like a chronological story. You and I are not thriller writers where, for effect, it is dramatic to jump around. For myself, it is the nature of my personality to tell it as I see it, so my book is honest, and revealing. I suggest in writing a memoir, you let it all hang out, to use that inelegant phrase. Not because truth is stranger than fiction, but because truth has its own particularity, not unlike the hallmark on silver.

As ever,

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