The Good Ol’ Days


Norman Mailer at the Jazz Gallery

Norman Mailer and AdeleThe music was loud, insistent, driving. It was a Saturday night, mid-June, steaming hot, the club, the Jazz Gallery on Manhattan’s lower east side, packed. I had the largest group, four tables pushed together in the center of the place, a dozen or so people, musicians, writers, artists, all drinking, laughing, arguing. I was balancing a half dozen drinks at a time. Mingus was there, downing a mountain of chicken and ribs, discussing heatedly with Dave Garroway, an icon of early morning television, the first host of NBC’s “Today” show and a passionate lover of jazz, the pros and cons of Thelonious Monk.

Monk’s music, improvisational, harshly dissonant, took some getting used to. Garroway, a drummer of sorts, was in the club two or three times a week and he was railing against Monk and Mingus would have none of it: he considered Monk a genius. We waiters used to battle not to wait on Garroway who was pathologically cheap: a two dollar tip on a hundred dollar check was big money for him. Years later he put a bullet in his head and I remember thinking that his suicide and extraordinary frugality were somehow related.

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Edouard de Laurot, Film Genius and Lunatic

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Edouard de Laurot with his inamorata Zoë (Tamerlis) Lund

I first became acquainted with Eduoard de Laurot through his writings in Film Culture Magazine. He had founded the magazine with Jonas Mekas in the early fifties. His articles were astonishing, often abstruse, impossible to fully-comprehend, but stunning in their brilliance, power, and insightfulness. Reading de Laurot for the first time, I thought, this is the most astounding writing on film I have ever encountered. This is genius. De Laurot would come to a seemingly ordinary work, a commonplace film with a straight-forward narrative, and cut and slice his way into the heart of the thing, the profound mystery of a work, laying bare the complex, true soul of the piece.

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Karen Black

George Segal and Karen Black in DSM's "Born To Win"

George Segal and Karen Black in DSM’s “Born To Win”

We were in trouble. A film I had written, “Born to Win”, had a director, Ivan Passer, a star, George Segal, a studio, United Artists, money for the production in the bank, and a start date. There was one problem: we did not have the female lead.

Blythe Danner had been cast in the part: it would have been her first film. Ivan and I had seen her on Broadway in the play “Butterflies Are Free” and she was extraordinary and perfect for our film, where she would play a radiant, delicate, innocent who becomes involved with a street junky hustler. And as so often happens the gods of chaos visited us at the last moment. A key element of our financing, disappeared—literally disappeared. The legendary agent and mountebank, David Begelman, had come up with a money scheme called First Artists, which would invest in a passel of films produced with clients of Begelman’s CMA Agency. Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Sidney Portier, and George Segal were to be part of it. “Born to Win”, we were told, would be First Artists’ first film.

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DSM “Tells All” About Shirley Jones

Shirley JonesFor the past several days I’ve been getting phone calls and e-mails from old friends in my hometown of Pittsburgh PA to tell me that the actress Shirley Jones, has written a steamy memoir. It’s getting great play in the Pittsburgh papers as well as papers all around the country.

Shirley and I were friends many, many years ago, before her enormous success and fame. We even dated briefly, which I suspect is why I’m getting all the phone calls and inquiries. The early reviews of her book tell of a lubricious sexpot Shirley and my old friends want to know how much of this I knew in the old days. Well, it’s probably boring, but not very much.

Shirley was eighteen years old, as I was, and just out of high school. The Pittsburgh Playhouse had a theater school and they awarded two scholarships to high school graduates in Western Pennsylvania. Shirley won the girl’s scholarship and I, the boys. I had been slated to go to Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon, to study playwriting when my senior English teacher asked me to represent our high school, Taylor Allderdice, in competition for one of the Playhouse scholarships. It was a big deal in Pittsburgh, Shirley was Miss Pittsburgh, and though I had a mild interest in acting, writing was what I really wanted to do. I reasoned that Shakespeare had been an actor as had Moliere and Eugene O’Neill and the schooling would be free and could only help me as a playwright. I accepted the scholarship.

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