Memories I Should Have Had

Part Seven

New York, Midtown

10 November

Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green remaking Broadway.

Oscar Levant is in town for the Jack Paar Show. He’s in a bad way. Even for him. Fortunately, I round up Betty Comden and Adolph Green for moral support. Betty complains, and I tell them why I can’t take him to NBC.

Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen and the two-hit wonder, singer Johnnie Ray. Note that Johnnie has eyes for anybody but her.

Paar’s mad at me because he knows about my dinner with Dorothy Kilgallen and Johnnie Ray at The Colony. I’m with Diana Barrymore — by surprise so is Tennessee Williams. Dorothy is oblivious to Tennessee’s paying court to Johnnie, which he’s shameless about. Dorothy is more concerned with the waiter keeping her glass full.

Diana asks Williams about the play he’s promised to write for her. He drawls, while looking into Johnnie’s eyes, “I’m gonna call it, ‘The Two Little White Clouds That Cried.’ Do you think we could get Monty Clift back east for it, honey?” Dorothy looks up and says, “You won’t talk to me because you’re jealous. Ever since Ernest Hemingway called me the greatest female writer in the world none of you, male, pen-pushers will get near me!” Tennessee howls, “You dropped two letters, Dottie darlin’.” Johnnie giggles.

Diana Barrymore and Tennessee Williams on the fly.

A waiter comes over. I have an urgent telephone call. It’s Levant demanding I bring him Seconal. I go back to the table, and explain why I have to leave, but I don’t know how to get Oscar what he wants. Instantly, all four of them offer me bottles of pills. Only Diana’s is Seconal, so I take hers.

Now I’m Oscar’s guardian angel. In his eyes I can do no wrong. The next day, claiming he feels “alarmingly well,” he insists we take in a matinee at Carnegie Hall. Something’s wrong. Levant has avoided concerts for years. I’m supposed to meet him there. As I’m going in, I see Leonard Bernstein in the lobby surrounded by his entourage. There’s a fan with an autograph book trying to break through the circle. A flunkey hisses at him: “Can’t you see Mr. Bernstein’s busy?” Bernstein notices and coos, “Can’t you see he’s blind?” But Bernstein signs the kid’s book. Of course Oscar doesn’t show up.

I find him with Comden and Green, who strangely enough are complaining about Bernstein. He wants them all to do a musical version of Othello starring Paul Robeson, but with a happy ending. Betty’s convinced it’s because Bernstein’s jealous of Cole Porter’s success with Kiss Me, Kate. “Lenny wants to outdo Cole at Shakespeare and make a statement about prejudice.” Adolph wonders, “So it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein he wants to top?” Betty cackles, “Othello as a Paul Robeson musical comedy…”

Levant starts playing, “What Did I Do to be so Black and so Blue?” on the piano. I say, “Othello, a musical comedy? You could call it ‘Pillow Talk.’ ” Levant says, “I wish I’d said that.” I respond, “You will Oscar; you will.” Betty and Adolph groan. Levant says, “Has Lenny ever heard of that Italian hit-machine Giuseppe Verdi? He’s had quite a run with his Othello.” It’s time to get Oscar to NBC, but the phone rings. Jerome Robbins, in a snit: there’s a Bells Are Ringing crisis, and they both have to get over to the Shubert.

They pull me into the kitchen. Betty says, “You have to baby-sit Oscar.” Levant calls out, “You Freudian harpy! How dare you impugn my infantile sexuality!” I remind her I can’t get anywhere near Jack Paar. Adolph says, “We have a plan!” He rummages through a drawer and sticks a mustache on me. “I wore it as Captain Hook,” he gushes. Betty glues it on me.

Levant, “the Oscar that no one could win,” and Elsa Maxwell who lived by and for partying.

In the green room are Elsa Maxwell and Dorothy Parker, the other guests for tonight. Oscar, unaware that I know Elsa, introduces me as his “incognito keeper” and makes a “mustachio” gesture. Then he snarls at her, “Stop staring at me! I feel like I’m looking in a broken mirror.” Elsa laughs, “Oscar you’re far prettier than I.” He asks Dorothy, “Do you ever take sleeping pills?” She answers, “In a big bowl with sugar and cream.”

Oscar takes out a cigarette, but can’t light it. Elsa and Dorothy take out cigarettes too. I immediately strike a match, light theirs and then Oscar’s. He leaps to his feet shouting, “Are you trying to destroy my career? Three on a match!” Elsa saves me. She snaps, “Oscar! Don’t you know everything on television goes by contraries?” Dorothy takes him by the hand and says, “It’s true, Oscar.” He sits; she chuckles, “Hysterics don’t become you. Stick to neuroses” He calms down and looks at me, “Sorry, kid.”

Maybe Elsa is right; I successfully avoid Paar. Afterwards, the four of us go to “21” where we run into Alfred Vanderbilt, an old friend of Oscar’s, and he picks up the check.

Dorothy Parker once wrote: “The two most beautiful words in the English language are: check enclosed.”

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