Saturday, December 12, 2009

* Who?

It's 1972. We've been trying to get Nixon to overrule his attorney general and convene a federal grand jury investigation of the slaughter at Kent State for a year now. A friend of mine says, "Why don't you write Garry Trudeau and ask him for help?" I say, "Who?" He says, "This cartoonist who writes Doonesbury."

"Never heard of it."

My friend says, "He's a Yale student who started this cartoon at Yale and then went national. He's counter-culture.He's big."

I say, "Yeah? Never heard of him. But I grew up in New Haven. Maybe I'll see if he's in the phonebook."

He is. I call. I entreat him for 40 minutes (Strangers are introduced to each other by and are loyal to "issues" in the 1970's). I write him afterward.

He sends me a note and a copy of the cartoon he wrote for May 4th the second anniversary of the killings. It gets him thrown out of a dozen newspapers that day.

Governor Rhodes of Ohio is pissed about the cartoon. Maybe Nixon too, I hope.

End of story.


PS: (2009) I still don't read Doonesbury or any other cartoon (except the singles in The New Yorker); but, I understand getting thrown out of those newspapers 37 years ago didn't hurt Doonesbury one bit.

* Gloria Swansong: Reverse Sexism and "Small lobes"

I was 27 in 1972 and Gloria Swanson was 72. I'm sure she would have an astrological interest in that numerical inversion. Through no intention on my part, I wound up spending half an hour in a Watergate Hotel room with Miss Swanson (who was between her 5th and 6th marriage at the time). My mentor (mentess?) Miss Vivien Kellems had asked us both to join her in testifying before Rep. Wilbur Mills' House Ways and Means Committee on a bill Miss Kellems had succeeded in having introduced to equalize the tax burden between single and married taxpapyers. All three of us were unmarried at the time, albeit a brief interruption in a series of married states for Miss Swanson.

Miss Swanson's ego was like Eddie Murphy's expanding body in his "fat" pictures: it just grew and grew until there was no space left in any enclosure Miss Swanson inhabited for anything but that incessantly inflating monstrosity of self-absorbtion.

Miss Swanson took an instant dislike to me, perhaps because I did not bow when introduced. She reached up (she was short and I am tall) and took my right ear lobe in her fingers and said with patronizing (matronizing?) disdain, "Small lobes" only she drew it out with a hollywood-british [sic] pronunciation "Smaaaaawwwwwwlll loooohhhhhbbbbzzzzz".

I didn't quite catch on. The words seemed to make no sense even though she had her fingers on my ear lobe. I said "What?" puzzled; and she replied, "Small ear lobes mean you weren't breast fed* as a child," all in that upper crust phony auntie mame scarsdale-british accent [sic] that only hollywood [sic] seemed to produce in the 1940's and 50's. (BTW: She was correct: I wasn't breast fed as a child!)

Now I caught on. She was dissing me (before the word "diss" had been coined). Not one to back away from a challenge, I began to question the authority of such a biological axiom.

Miss Kellems saw an argument brewing and walked over between us and said "Paul..." something or other, changing the subject as a diversionary tactic.

There were only the three of us in the room and we were due to testify in an hour and Miss Kellems did NOT want to blow her chance to get her bill out of committee (it failed) and on to the House floor with some unexpected personality clash.

( I wish I had had the zest to say in return to Miss Swanson's "Small lobes" the words "Long face" "LOOOHHHHNNNGGGG FAAAASSSSUUUHHH". She had an enormously long face for a short woman, perhaps the result of 'heavy lifting', shall we say.)

So the storm was averted, I was invited to pose for a photo with both of them (see below or and we all testified and evaporated back to our respective lives.

But Miss Swanson had given me a wonderful anecdote which I have repeated dozens of times over the years. In 1972 she was herself now the very "caricature of the caricature" she had made famous in the movie Sunset Boulevard: the fading star Norma Desmond. Well into her four decade Swansong, she had precious few "gifts" to bestow.

She gave me something else which as a 6'2" male with the aura of still youthful looks, I had never felt before: the sting of sexism.

Miss Swanson was a woman in a open-air market shopping for male merchandise worth her attention, and my "small lobes" (and my failure to genuflect upon being presented to her starship) disqualified me instantly.

On to the next display case please.

Imagine the gazillion times a day women have been so dismissed as "inadequate" by men, including Rose Kennedy herself, the mother of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert F. and Edward M. Kennedy.

Rose Kennedy had to endure the quite public affair her husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, conducted in the late 1920's with none other than Gloria Swanson.

This I believe is called horizontal sexism, when one member of the same gender treats another member of the same gender as an inferior unworthy of respect.

So thank you Miss Swanson, for this fabulous anecdote, and for sensitizing me to the plight of women who are passed over disdainfully by the mercantile eyes of male flesh shoppers a trillion times a day on this planet.

* Miss Swanson was a macrobiotic enthusiast who was known to bring her own food to dinner parties in a paper bag. It didn't work. She died at 84, no longer a life span than the average woman of our day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

*The Bridge of San Luis Rey Desk

New Haven Register


Writer's furniture finds home at retreat

By Herb Epstein

After 33 years in Paul Keane's home, former Hamden resident Thornton Wilder's furniture is now on display at a New Hampshire artists' retreat where he wrote part of his classic play, "Our Town."

Keane donated Wilder's furniture in honor of the writer's late sister, Isabel Wilder. She privately gave Keane the furniture in 1976, a year after Thornton Wilder's death. Included in Keane's donation are the desk at which Wilder wrote "The Bridge of San Luis Rey"; his favorite chair; a Persian rug; and a bookcase from Wilder's study on Deepwood Drive in Hamden. Wilder was a Hamden resident for 50 years.

"Her private donation to me has been in my house for 33 years," said Keane, a former resident of Hamden, who now lives and teaches in Vermont. "This is the first year it'll be on display."

A year before Wilder died, Keane met him at dinner in the Old Heidelberg on Chapel Street in New Haven. Over the final year of Wilder's life the two exchanged a few letters.

"He was very charming," said Keane.

While on the Bicentennial Commission in Hamden, Keane had asked Wilder to endorse a project for fundraising for a museum in Hamden. However, Isabel Wilder wrote to Keane telling him that Wilder was unable to endorse the use of his name and pictures in promotion of the project because of his declining health.

Once Wilder died, his sister decided to make a contribution in his honor. She donated another desk of his, which is on display in the Miller Memorial Library in Hamden. It took nine years for an architect to create an exhibit that would display Wilder's desk in the library.

"I exchanged letters with Thornton enough that Isabel Wilder wanted to honor him," said Keane.

In a letter to Keane, Isabel Wilder wrote, "My brother wanted to make a contribution. Now I'll do so in memory of him."

Keane and Isabel Wilder developed a strong relationship over the years, as she even gave Keane some of Thornton's furniture.

"She took a liking to me," said Keane. "She treated me like a son."

Isabel Wilder died in 1995 at 95 years old. Now Keane has decided to donate the furniture in her honor. At 64 years old, Keane wanted to see the furniture go into good hands.

"I wanted to see for myself before I died that it got into appreciative hands," said Keane. "I have received as much pleasure in giving this furniture away as I have had in owning it for the last 33 years."

Keane offered the furniture to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., and officials there were happy to have it.

"It means quite a bit for this piece of history to come back here," said Cheryl Young, executive director of the MacDowell Colony. "Especially as a writer to get his desk means a lot."

Keane added, "All I wanted was for someone to enjoy it. It is something that ought to be shared."

Keane understands how fortunate he was to meet Thornton Wilder and later Isabel.

"If I hadn't been invited to sit down with him, then none of this would've happened," said Keane.

Keane added that "Isabel and Thornton made a conscious decision to share with the public, and they were extremely generous in that way."