Memories I Should Have Had
New York, Lower East Side
Out on the town with George Jean Nathan, Julie Haydon, William Saroyan, Carol Marcus and the Broadway columnist, Louis Sobol. We end up at The Old Roumanian. Nathan tells me that if I don’t fall in love with Roxanne the singing star of the creaking floor show I should take Holy Orders. Saroyan and Carol, his fiancée, are feeling no pain. Sobol makes mental notes for his column.
The musicians tune up; Saroyan proclaims, “I ‘m America’s greatest playwright and her greatest song writer!” Then jabbers full voice: “Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you candy…”
Nathan sweeps Carol out of her chair, on to the dance floor, and waltzes her with the dignity of a Habsburg and the hot-cha-cha of George Raft. Julie Haydon who usually makes as much noise as a dormant hummingbird starts growling. Roxanne appears, Nathan and Carol stop; he kisses her hand, then whispers in Roxanne’s ear.
Roxanne sings “J’attendrai” but in Russian. Nathan looks at Sobol and snickers, “This is for you, comrade.” Sobol turns white. Roxanne clams up because Saroyan applauds too loudly and hollers, “I can do better than that! I can sing in Japanese!” He then croons incoherently. Nathan later tells me it’s a mix of Armenian and menu items from Saroyan’s favorite chop suey joint.
A couple of years later I tell this story to Eartha Kitt at Le Pavillon; in no time she’s at The Village Vanguard singing “Come on-a My House” in authentic Japanese.
Saroyan asks, “So George, tell the truth was Lillian Gish a virgin?” Julie throws her drink in Saroyan’s face. Nathan says, “Julie that’s a waste of perfectly good liquor.” Julie seethes, “Oh really Georgie, is it?” She tosses a full glass of water in his face. Carol cracks up, and Julie throws an ashtray at her. Carol’s laughing so hard she falls out of her chair, so it misses her. Ever the diplomat, Sobol pays the check, hustles us out, and gets us into a cab.
I’m in the jump seat across from Nathan and Sobol. I hear him whisper, “I told you I was born in Russia in confidence, George. The ways things are now, with all the Red menacing, I’d be on thin ice with Hearst if they knew.” Nathan feigns falling asleep. We head uptown.
“21.” Straight to Nathan’s corner. John O’Hara passing out at the next table. He revives when he spies Sobol, starts barking at him, “Hearst whore! Hearst whore!” Pete Kriendler rushes over and O’Hara vanishes. It’s not Louis’s night.
In spite of O’Hara, everybody calms down — until we finish our first round. A lull, Louis says to George about the show they’d seen earlier, “Say, George, for you every bad play is another Hiss trial, huh?” Nathan freezes. He stares at Sobol with a look in his eyes that would make a cobra cry. Kriendler comes over. Nathan snaps at him, “Pete, I don’t want this man at my table.” It’s awkward. Louis and Pete are real pals. Fortunately, Louis gets up and slinks away.
Nathan draws deeply on his cigarette, exhaling through his nostrils. Then he taps his glass with his cigarette holder and addresses the table: “That man impugned my integrity as a drama critic. I shall never speak to him again.” Julie rubs his neck; peace is restored.
Suddenly Carol shrieks with joy as Oona O’Neill and Gloria Vanderbilt come over to the table. They’re in grass skirts under their mink coats. They coo, “Aloha” and put leis around our necks. Gloria starts strumming her ukulele; Oona hulas. Carol, Saroyan, Nathan, and I start a four-part harmony “Hawaiian War Chant,” and the place goes wild.