Letter From Los Angeles
November 2014
© 2014 Joel

Quote of the Issue

–Bill Cosby

Contrarian Quotes of the Issue

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,- you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
– Emily Dickenson

The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.
Arthur Miller in An Enemy of The People

The same applies to women. – Joel

Secret Service Quotes

The Secret Service Makes Me Nervous.
Irving Berlin song title for the musical Mr. President

I wish to God you had protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation. – Congressman Stephen Lynch at Secret Service Hearing

Disillusion Quote

It’s hard to be disillusioned when you weren’t “illusioned” in the first place. – Sean Wilentz, historian, referring to our regard for politicians

Climate Change Quote

Isn’t there enough money to buy Congress? Do you have to throw in the Bible? – Chris Matthews on the use of religion to deny climate change

Climate Change and One Republican

Call me a sap for the unpredictable. I like when liberals see value in some conservative ideas and the other way around. This past June, former Treasury Secretary Henry (Hank) Paulson, Jr. stated the following in an op ed piece in the New York Times. Please note that conservative and conservation both build on the word “conserve.”

For too many years, we failed to rein in the excess building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do. We’re making the same mistake today with climate change.... The solution will be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emission of carbon dioxide- a carbon tax....

I’m a businessman, not a climatologist. But I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with climate scientists and economists who have devoted their careers on this issue. There is virtually no debate among them that the planet is warming and that the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible....

When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as in preserving our natural environment for future generations...

Climate change is the challenge of our time. Each of us must recognize that the risks are personal. We’ve seen and felt the costs of underestimating the financial bubble. Let’s not ignore the climate bubble.

Thomas Menino, R.I.P.

Bostonians owed a lot to their former long-term Mayor Thomas Menino, who died the end of this October. In office at the time of the bombing massacre, Menino famously said that he wanted to make guns a “crime control” rather than a gun control issue. Congress is in the hands of the NRA, he opined, and needs to be voted out of office. I’m going to miss that man.

Personal Responsibility
Joel’s Credo For A Libertarian Age

When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object. But when you look at it more closely, you see that it has no independent existence.... It dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretch across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all form part of the tree. As you think about the tree you will discover that everything in the universe helps make the tree what it is- that it cannot be isolated from anything else. -Soygal Rinpoche

And now, infinitely less poetically, from Joel....

Libertarian-leaning Americans justifiably exhort fellow citizens to wean themselves from their dependence on the government. I would go one step further, though, and insist that we relinquish our dependence on other things as well.

We’ve become overly dependent on farmers for our food, for instance. A real American raises his or her own, just like in good old frontier grandpa’s day. A cow, a couple of chickens and a field are all that you really need.

And cease leaning on doctors when we ought to heal ourselves, and on cops when we have easy access to lethal weapons. Make your own clothing; design and manufacture your own cars. Produce a play or movie all by yourself when entertainment is your whim. Then pop some corn you’ve raised and hold your own hands in the dark. And when you want a baby or a corresponding pleasure, go f____ yourself.

Ebola Policy: A Compromise

There are two viruses circulating now. One is Ebola, the other fear. – Doctor at Bellevue Hospital, New York

Nurse Hickox is “obviously ill.” – Chris Christie, M.D.

Governor Christie is “obviously” a man I wouldn’t want to be my president, or president of anyone or anything. – Joel

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Know what I sometimes feel like doing? Taking a nice, brisk walk past a house way up in Maine. And if I encounter Kaci Hickox, who risked her life to treat patients in Sierra Leone, I’ll go up and shake her healthy hand.

Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, no bleeding heart, cautions against unreasonable policies based on fear because, perhaps more than most of us, he comprehends the impact ill-considered policies such as restricted travel would have on the world’s economic recovery. This health crisis is more than a test of our governmental, scientific and medical institutions. Our maturity, judgment and humanity are also on the line.

I’m immune neither to Ebola nor to compromise. Those whom we quarantine ought to be compensated for their involuntary incarceration to the tune of, say, 25,000 tax free dollars every day, If my calculator is correct, twenty-one days in quarantine would net $525,000, the price of a barely acceptable house here in L.A.

Joel and Lloyd Make The New York Times: A Shameless Plug

Seldom do I use these pages to bring something personal to my readers’ attention, but there’s always an exception. Same-Sex Couples, at Ease at Home appeared in the October 16, 2014 online New York Times. In 1987 our San Francisco doctor, himself in an enduring gay relationship, referred us to Sage Sohier, who, in honor of her gay father, photographed and interviewed lesbian and gay couples in those awful, early days of AIDS. Lloyd, John and I were among her San Francisco subjects. Google the article’s title and read all about it and us.

When Sage’s initial exhibit toured the country, it happened to land at the Manhattan YMCA where my former employer went for his daily workout. Principal Arthur Block was so excited to see our picture that he called me up immediately. The iconic photo of Lloyd and I embracing in our San Francisco living room was later included in A Kiss Is Just A Kiss, a volume of mostly heterosexual, often famous couples that came out for several Valentine’s Days, in a college text about relationships, and in a tongue-in-cheek critique titled Why Gays Shouldn’t Marry in Details Magazine.

This past spring we discovered a copy of A Kiss Is Just A Kiss in the Friend’s Bookstore at the Beverly Hills Library. When we showed the cashier our photo she grabbed the copy from my hands insisting, “You’re not buying this because I am. And I expect you both to sign your page!” We did so gladly.

That picture and another of us taken fifteen years later, plus candid excepts from our interview, appear in Sage’s new volume, At Home With Themselves: Same-Sex Couples in 1980s America, which is available for purchase online. I’m now more motivated than ever to continue writing Growing Up Gay: A Different Kind of Boy in A Different Time, my memoir based on the series you’ve all read.

The Roosevelts, An Intimate History
Please (Teddy) Bear With Me

For all the praise Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History genuinely deserves, I learned little from the series that I hadn’t known already. Still, I would recommend the documentary to anyone. One of my earliest memories is of the day that Franklin Roosevelt died. My parents were downcast and a neighbor was in tears. Who was Roosevelt, I must have wondered? What does it mean when someone dies?

My personal connections to that political family are tenuous to say the least. My grandmother once boarded a New York City taxi and was told by the excited driver that Eleanor Roosevelt had been his prior fare. A friend of Lloyd’s parents, coincidentally, drove a cab and once transported ER, too.

Lloyd and I spent New Year’s Eve, 1977 at a house party in Pacific Palisades, a suburb of L.A. Among the guests was Hall Delano Roosevelt, better known as Del, grandson of Eleanor and Franklin. He was tall, nineteen with luxuriant red hair. (My response to his appearance was something other than political.) In 1995 Del bit the bullet and ran for Long Beach, Ca. City Council. I don’t know any more about him, but I’m certain he watched the Ken Burns special.

A psychologist who reads my letters asked what I thought of Theodore Roosevelt. Despite his legitimate contributions, I thought the man was just plain nuts. Did you know how the Teddy Bear came to be? A Russian Jewish immigrant grocer in Brooklyn liked the photo of the president posing with a bear he’d shot and killed. The grocer had his wife, a seamstress, put together a raggedy little bear, and he hung it in their shop window, never dreaming this would lead him to found Ideal Toys.

That Franklin Roosevelt was a complex character is no secret to my readers. Perhaps you didn’t know Harry Truman’s impression of the man whom, as Vice President, he barely knew. After a rare private audience with FDR, Truman declared he was the coldest man he’d ever met.

Conventional wisdom holds that Roosevelt’s sympathy for the common citizen was a function of his physical disability. Examining one’s own psyche is hard enough, much less speculating about the motivations of a man who kept his feelings from his mother. My hypothesis is that Roosevelt’s beneficent liberality, while genuine, was more a product of seeing the country he was leading fall apart. Biographies are always filled with guesses.

Thought challenge: On what bases besides past performance have Americans traditionally chosen their leaders? What are our tests of character? How do we develop confidence in a candidate about whom we know little more than campaign hype? How did we come to bet on an Obama or a Bush? Has this process changed over all the centuries?

Look, Look, Look!

That every city has it’s defining purpose is hardly news. Manhattan, for example, is about merchandising, performing arts, finance and displays of wealth and power, today’s San Francisco about high tech. Los Angeles demonstrates that glitter is only gold upon occasion. The key to a city’s soul, I believe is the way its people look.

Bostonians tend to look intelligent. One gets the feeling they dress for themselves and no one else. New Yorkers dress according to their status or to display a casualness bordering on the sloppy. Residents of San Francisco play the part of San Franciscans, which those who have lived there understand. I must presume Angelenos look like we embody something, too, but as we’re always in our cars it’s hard to know.

Which of the above “looks” do you think I value most? (That shouldn’t be too difficult.) My point is that our appearance often reveals who we really were are. Eleanor Roosevelt, co-star of the Ken Burns series, famously said that she wore the first hat her hands touched when she opened up her closet. I’d recommend her heart and mind to anyone, but surely not her sense of style

One look is ubiquitous in today’s United States. Females from nine months old to ninety wear their hair like every bimbo on the screen, straight and right down to both their shoulders, and they talk like teenage girls. Exceptions: women whose hair just won’t cut or hang that way, and those who possess a shred of individuality.

May I Please Have Your Autograph?
Gay Begins To Come of Age

The 1970s opened a new era in my and Lloyd’s lives, and no doubt yours as well. (Readers under age forty-five had no era whatsoever at the time.) The decade’s opening year was an active theater season for this young gay couple. Norman Is That You, which opened late that February, told the story of another young gay couple who, like us, lived as “roommates” in Manhattan. The comedy focused on Norman’s parents who were visiting him from out of town, and their shock, and then acceptance, of their son’s gayness. Norman suited the dawn of a more gay-tolerant day.

Maureen Stapleton, who at life’s end lived in Lenox, our next door Berkshire town, played the mom opposite stage husband Lou Jacobi. Both signed our book. Norman’s roommate, the flaming Garson, was Walter Willison, with whom we remain friendly to this day. The following year Walter received a Tony Award nomination for his featured performance in Richard Rodger’s Two By Two starring Danny Kaye. Listen to his recording of I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You from that show and you’ll likely swoon. Look at the autographed photo Walter gave us and you’ll see why we swooned, too.

A Tale of Three Shirleys
(All In A Single 1970 Month)

Shirley Booth, better known as TV’s Hazel, returned to Broadway in Look To The Lilies, a musical version of the movie Lilies of The Fields, to which we took our mothers one 1970 March matinee. Al Freeman, Jr., a long forgotten talent, played the role Sidney Poitier originated in the movie and was friendly when he gave an autograph.

Miss Booth was a somewhat different story. You might have been, too, had we handed you a program from another show we had picked up off the street on which to write your name. Booth looked like she employed a dozen Hazels as she swept out of the Lunt Fontanne Theater stage door in a mink coat and satin turban en route her Rolls Royce waiting at the curb. “You didn’t see my show,” she griped as we handed her the program. We explained we had seen it the past weekend with our mothers. A skeptical Shirley brought herself to sign. This twenty-five performance flop was to be the star’s last Broadway show.

Another Shirley opened in a musical three days before Shirley Booth’s. Minnie’s Boys told the story of the Marx Brother’s mother’s role in pushing her sons to stardom. The wonderful cast included Lewis J. Stadlen as Julie (Groucho) and Danny Fortus as Adolph (better known as Harpo). Minnie was played by Shelley Winters, nee Shirley Schrift. You’d change that name, too.

Unlike the critics or the public (Minnie’s Boys folded after eighty evenings and matinees), we loved the show. Interesting to us was that the composer, Larry Grossman, had married the daughter of Broadway gossip monger Dorothy Killgallen. Young Danny Fortus (Harpo) especially caught our eye. We had seen him in the 1963 musical Oliver and, more significantly, off Broadway in Friends/Enemies in 1965. Eli Mintz, renown for playing Uncle David on stage, radio and TV versions of The Goldbergs, starred in the latter with blond Danny, another of our Boys In Show Biz. If memory serves Mintz’s character tried to make the twelve year old Danny’s realize that he was gay.

After seeing him in Minnie’s Boys we wrote to Danny and asked for an autographed photo, which he sent us, and for a lunch date, to which he did not respond. Danny died of AIDS at the age of thirty-one, early in the epidemic. His framed photo is on our Berkshire cottage wall.

Shelley Winters, the outstanding movie star, dazzled us as mother Minnie Marx. The non-singer could put a musical number over nonetheless. After waiting by the stage door for her seemingly for hours, out came Winters dressed liked my mother wouldn’t dress to clean the house. She was one of the friendliest stars to sign our book, after which she got behind the wheel of a sporty white Cadillac convertible which bore a California license plate and drove off on her own.

I’ve saved most glamorous Shirley story for last because I love crescendos. Shirley Maclaine looked perky in her mink cape that March 1, 1970 opening night, and Dinah Shore evinced those qualities in a gown and matching cloak on the same occasion. Each lady smiled for the waiting cameras, and then each lady signed for us.

That opening was of a revival of Harvey, the play about the rabbit, and the star was Jimmy Stewart of Harvey move fame. He and co-star Helen Hayes were the reason Hollywood royalty was in the house. Miss Hayes had signed our programs at the 1963 Actors Equity’s 50th anniversary, which Lloyd’s actress cousin Ann had co-coordinated. We also got Beatrice Lillie’s autograph on that memorable occasion. Offstage Helen Hayes, known as the First Lady of the Theater, looked like the hired help.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. escorted his former bride, Joan Crawford, to Harvey’s premier. Never had we seen such glamour. Ms. Joan wore a satin gown and matching turban, both in shades of green and pink, which matched the rubies around her neck and on her ears. As they settled in their limousine, your writer could not suppress a gasp.

The night we finally saw the play we waited for Jimmy Stewart and were not disappointed. As JFK had during the 1960 campaign, Stewart fixed his cold blue eyes on me and maintained eye contact as he signed other’s programs. He obliged each signature seeker unsmilingly, and I’ll never know the why behind his stare.

Also in the cast were Jesse White, the Maytag Repairman of TV commercial fame, and Dort Clark, who had played Inspector Barnes in the musical Bells Are Ringing on stage and on the screen. Clark was a friendly catch; Maytag White was decidedly annoyed.

Eleanor Geisman was as friendly as she could be when we spotted her on 46th Street heading to rehearsal of Forty Carats in that magical 1970. You know her better as June Allyson.

The 1970s yielded some of our most valued autographs and experiences, even as they marked our final years as residents of New York City. Such experiences extended beyond Manhattan. Lloyd’s cousin Ann stayed in our newly acquired Stockbridge, Ma. cottage when she played Miss Tempest, the world’s oldest prostitute, at the Berkshire Playhouse in 1972. Who starred, and why they didn’t take the play to Broadway, will appear in my next edition.

Joel: Letters