Memories I Should Have Had

Part One

Tom Connolly

Somerset Maugham entertaining Winston Churchill.

My life has always been particularly interesting to me. Through the years almost every time a friend has mentioned someone famous, I recall a time that I wished I had met that celebrity. I know that there are so many occasions when if I had been there it would have both appropriate and exciting for me to have mingled with the famous and the infamous. Now I realize that it is my responsibility to create the diaries for the memoir I ought to have been able to write. So, following the advice that Gore Vidal, George Plimpton, Diana Vreeland, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would have given me, I am offering them to my public.

12 August

Saint-Raphaël

First morning at the Villa Mauresque. Still not sure why I was invited. So far everything I’d heard has come true. Breakfast brought to me on a tray in my bedroom along with several French and English newspapers, plus the International Herald Tribune.

Art Buchwald gets it wrong, I started a fire at the Les Deux Magots lighting Zsa Zsa Gabor’s cigarette, not Anita Ekberg’s.

Not easy keeping my eyes in my head. Noël Coward is here, the Aga Khan, T. S. Eliot, Alfred Lunt, Lynne Fontanne, and Jean Marais. After lunch Maugham returns to his study, but everyone else takes a siesta.

I don’t dare call Maugham, “Willie.” But everyone else does. Quite awkward.

When I wake up I can hear voices and splashing. I go out to the pool. To my embarrassment I am the only person wearing a bathing suit.

Noël Coward eyes me and says, “Do you have something to hide, dear boy?” Then Alfred Lunt pulls my suit down and pushes me into the pool.

The pool at the Villa Mauresque. Full disclosure was de rigueur.

As soon as I get back I must tell Amy Vanderbilt about this faux pas, but she’ll never be able to put it in her book.

9 October

The Stork Club, New York

The day before I’m leaving for the Coast to see Hal Wallis about a “Cyrano de Bergerac” treatment for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bennett Cerf asks me if I could do him a favor and pick up a manuscript from him to bring out there.

Cub Room at the Stork Club. Cerf’s late. Bert Lahr bumps into me and almost knocks me over. He says nothing, goes to his table, looks up and glares at me. Then he knocks over a water glass. Still says nothing. The waiter brings him a new menu, and Lahr orders via telepathy. He doesn’t even open his mouth.

Cerf tells me that Lahr has had the same lunch at the Stork every day for the past ten years, but gets upset if they don’t bring him a menu.

Finally, over coffee Cerf makes me swear not to tell anybody about the manuscript. I’m supposed to deliver it to Christopher Isherwood: “In his own two hands and nobody else’s. He’s going to write an introduction. And don’t you look at it! This will be the bombshell book of the year. But it’s got to be kept secret. I’m counting on you.”

He hands me a package the size of the Manhattan phone book.

11 October

Approaching Kansas City, Missouri

I keep my word until I’m in my compartment on the Super Chief. Then curiosity overcomes me. I open the package. The manuscript is entitled, “Jokes: Dirty, Clean, and In-Between.” By Ayn Rand.