I was still a teenager, working as a housemaster in a private school just outside of St. Louis. In the fall, I was going to go Christian Science college, The Principia, that was just outside of Alton, Illinois.
One day I got a letter. I opened it with eagerness only to read, only to find:
“It appears that you had bragged to the people out here that I was a homosexual, and that only my wealth prevented me from disclosure.
“From now on, you are on your own,
I cannot recreate the feelings I had as I read this. The momentary pain blinded me. I had graduated at the top of my class. The teachers had helped me to discover the basic virtues of promptness, faithfulness, listening to your conscience instead of being self indulgent, and now I wasn’t going to go to college.
So my feelings were too painful to try and recreate. Of course, as got over my festering disappointment and sorrow, I realized that the letter made no sense. How could I, living back in St. Louis, intrigue among my father’s friends far away in Hollywood, in order to try and embarrassed him about his homosexuality?
Especially when the knowledge of his bi-sexuality was widespread.
I had no funds to send myself to college. Thankfully, I had a stepfather, a corporate executive that worked for the El Paso Natural Gas Company, Jack Evans, and he and I were friends. He was kind. So while my mother was busy denouncing my father at the top of her puny, inexhaustible voice, Jack had an excellent suggestion, He had graduated from Columbia College, a small, all male college that was part of Columbia University. At that time, it was rated number one in The Ivy League. So Jack called up admissions, and got me in. (Jack trusted me enough to tell me that my mother was crazy and being married to her was an ordeal.) He paid for my expenses which were small, like $250 a semester (I was living at home,) The only deficit was that it took a two and a half hours commute each way from Chappaqua, New York to Grand Central and then up to Columbia. I would get up at 6:00, and we got ready promptly in order to make 6:50 am train. On arrival at Grand Central, I had to take a crossover subway on the West side, and then headed back up town to 116th Street where the college was. The West side subway was sometimes full of grotesques – the homeless sleeping away like little fetuses, a few transvestites passed out with their penises lolling out of their pants, Etc.
I was soon to learn, from my step mother, that my father at that time spending $750,000 dollars in one year on gambling, whores, orgies and other amusements, and she had ordered him to cut back. Refusing to send me to college was, I guess, one of his first austerity measures. In fact, Columbia College was my salvation. I had superb teachers like Mark van Doren, Charles van Doren, and Lionel Trilling, Jacques Barzun. They taught me to read the classics beginning with The Iliad, The Divine Comedy and French Literature to be read in French. They also offered me courses on the Middle Ages, and Greek philosophy. Etc.)
My fellow students were really brilliant, and they left me abject and helplessly inferior. One of them had read Freud, Karen Horney, Jung, Adler, and lot of history. Another one, Nathaniel Reichek, was from Bronx Scientific High School and their erudition left me no hope. I was an inferior being. In high school, I had graduated with almost straight A's, and I remember receiving my first grade on some essay question and was shocked to find I had earned only a c-minus. What had happened to my wits? Was I really going to turn out a mediocrity after all. But I soon devised a way to remedy my defects.
All of us students took notes, our pens fleeing across the pages of their notebooks, but I saw something they had not – I saw that the professors always used books in their lectures, their pages underlined carefully, and I stopped taking notes. I reasoned that writing an essay from notes would produce a diluted and half-baked product. So I began to observe the books that the teachers were using, and I went and bought them, studying the pages that they had studied. I was careful to never bring those books to class, and I went through the motions of taking notes, which were in fact journal entries. But every evening, I read every passage they were using to teach and more. My grades immediately began to improve. At the end of my freshman year, my forty male classmates stunned me by electing me the number one student of the class, and I was taken to a congratulatory lunch at a local drug store across from the University by Reichek. He told me that his family, which was Jewish, was undergoing some religious crisis which meant he was alternating between unleavened bread and ham sandwiches.
My visits to my father were increasingly stormy. One night with a lot of people there at the house for a party, he called my stepmother a whore. I couldn’t stand my stepmother – her vulgar, loud, ebullient manner, her protruding teeth, her lack of tact, her conceit, but she was the head of the household. After the guests left and Mary went up to bed, my father and I sat there drinking, and inwardly I was furious. To behave like that was to me completely impermissible.
My father had just given me a new T-Bird, and he had boasted to me, “You realize you are a rich man’s son.” He wanted me to follow compliantly in his footsteps, and he had already gotten me an agent from the Goldstone-Tobias Agency in Hollywood, to further my writing career. I was trying to sell scripts to TV while in high school, and my father now wanted me to be a Hollywood writer. But Hemingway once said (I think in The Green Hills of Africa) that New York writers were like worms inside a bottle. They get nourishment from each other but get none from the bottle.) Their experiences were all limited and secondhand. In other words, their lives were empty of unusual events. The great German statesmen Bismarck one said that it was stupid to say that people learned from experience, when the key was, learning from others’ experience. Learning was a combination of both. Wagner once said that talent was appropriating and using the learning and experience of others, and I believed him. (So that is why I became a reporter – in order to have experiences I could put into prose. Soon, I applied to LIFE Magazine for the job of a war correspondent.)
But to return, my father insulting my step-mother to me ignored any semblance of good manners or moral principle or any obligation of gratitude, one of society’s chief virtues. A public repudiation is the worst sort of slight. It is a sudden, brutal devaluation, and it is meant to destroy any esteem for a person the eyes of other people. I told my father that insulting her was truly an outrage, and his face became extremely disagreeable. When he was drunk became belligerent, and he nastily taunted, “You like my money, but you don’t like the way I behave.” First, of all it wasn’t his money – much of his fortune came from my step-mother fortune; yes, he made money but he lost millions in gambling and whores and other dissipations. I grew angry: I told him I didn’t like either of them, and threw the keys of the T-bird his face. He flew into a rage and said sharply and loudly, “You are disbarred.” Those were his exact words.
So I was disinherited.
Early, the next morning, I borrowed $250 from a friend, Jim Munch, in Laguna, and flew back to my college in Illinois. I frantically scrambled around, and finally got a defense loan to put myself through the last two and a half years of college. At Alton, Ill. I lived in a small rented room near the college, which in August, had one light bulb in the ceiling, which meant I couldn’t read my books. I survived by bailing hay for local farmers at a dollar an hour, the most thankless, cheerless back-breaking job I have ever had. The good thing was appreciating the generous nature of the hardworking farmers and their families.
Hollywood was simply a sewer of vice. Perhaps it has changed, but in the old days that described it perfectly. Nietzsche once said, “Genuine pang of conscience are rare among criminals.” That is Hollywood in a nut. The meaning of guilt was almost unknown in Hollywood. Honors in Hollywood come to the vilest persons.
It was a place founded on false impressions. The film industry was all selfish rapacity, tawdry self display, unbounded egotism, lewdness and lascivious idiosyncrasies, backstairs cutthroat competition that worked at undermining of friends or relatives or anyone who stood in the way of what they wanted. Actors I knew harbored great, degraded ambitions which consisted of wanting the great, mute mob to be able to recognize them on sight. The desire to be famous is a degraded ambition.
In those days, show business was crushing and thoughtless machinery. It took half educated people, spiritual primitives, and used their looks to make money for the studios. The so-called ‘stars’ were thoroughly kneaded and malleable characters who had no vestige of integrity. They had mercenary natures, and were boundlessly vain. Think of Ben Affleck trying to falsify the fact his ancestors owned slaves. But from my experience with them, the only thing that arouses hope and interest was the desire to get their own way at whatever cost. My father ‘s fearful egotism came from his false belief that he was an artist who was entitled to do as he liked. All mediocrities tend to believe this.
He was a highly sexed bi- sexual, screwing both attractive men and women. Ann Baxter was one of his mistresses. She was beautiful with a big shapely bust. After screwing her, my father said, “She was so tight, she made even me feel big.” That was the way he talked. Eleanor Powell was another mistress. He once tried to screw Ava Gardner in London in a doorway, but they were both too drunk. I asked him who was the best female star in terms of sex, the best lay in Hollywood, and he answered: Deborah Kerr. He spoke of the affair Kerr had with Burt Lancaster when they made the movie “From Here to Eternity.”
I did not look down on my father’s sexuality. I thought that gay people were human beings. I approached the subject of his lovers with tact, and sometime in there, he grew to trust me and I found that the love of his life was the movie star, Tyrone Power. My father had directed Power in a film, “Abandon Ship,” made in London, and one day I saw a photograph of the two of them posing by their Rolls Royce which displayed the license plates that said, “TP 1,” and RS 2,” and the story tumbled out from him. I admired my father for his honesty, and felt enormous sympathy for him. To love someone selflessly is a great and admirable thing, and the two had been very much in love. It is not fair to judge lightly of such things.
My father still grieved over Power’s death.
There was a prominent attorney who held a senior position in the Nixon administration, and he and his wife had moved to California, We will call the wife Natalie, and her husband will be called Peter. Natalie. was pretty of face. She had a high forehead, swept back blonde hair. Her mouth was sensual and prim at the same time. She had large breasts but her figure suffered from short legs and a tendency to gain weight on her rump. Her mother had been a showgirl in Las Vegas, a subject that I or anyone else was forbidden to bring up. Natalie and Peter were very much in love. They respected each other. Natalie had just been in the cover of Redbook, and she and a neighbor, Joan Zimmelman who lived upstairs in my father’s Beverly Hills apartment, a modest apartment,, and Natatlie was talking about the $25,000 payment the magazine had given her. Natalie declared that her purpose in life was to amass more and money. I think she had done a book, and my father made a joke about it being simply “more water under the gate.” Natalie was drinking vodka. Peter had come in, and I saw that he was incredibly bright, yet his manner was hesitating and modest. He was not ceremonious in the least. He greeted you shyly and hastily, and soon he had a glass of white wine in his hand. He had a very high forehead, thinning hair, and an oval face.
Peter was working on a book of some kind, but only a little while after the Natalie and Peter had arrived, my father started to belittle me, why I cannot imagine. He said with a hateful jeer, “Look at him – he’s frightened to death of Peter.” Meaning me. I told Peter that I was not frightened to death of him. My father then told Peter that I was in love with Natalie, whom I had met twice, and she replied, “Don’t be ashamed, Rich. We’ve all been there.” I told Peter that his wife was lovely, but I wasn’t in love with her to the best of my knowledge,” and she said that she liked to have people in love with her, and I told her that I did not know anyone who was not in love with her,” trying to end the conversation.
If you are about to blow out your brains out from boredom, I don’t blame you. I thought of shooting myself in the head as I recalled this endless tedium. The great writer and historian Bagehot once spoke of “the tyranny of the commonplace.” I was watching that tyranny in operation.
But after Peter and his wife left, my father was on the prod again. He was taller than me, six feet four, I was six foot two, but I was very strong and bench pressing over 300 all the time, plus, thanks to a former U.S. Army tunnel rat, Sgt. George Boomer, I was well trained in hand to hand combat, so when he jeered at me and tried to square off, and I bladed my body to the side, then encircled his punching arm with my left hand and seized his throat with my right. I dragged my father to the living room bar where I rammed his head into the wall, not using much force, just enough to deter his antics. He backed off, a bit stunned, but I had humiliated him and he was infuriated, and he snarled at me and said that he was going to upstairs and get the loaded derringer he kept by his bedside, and come down and shoot me you’re your right eye.” I called out to him, “You had better run for it, old man,” because I was going to step on the back of his knee and put my hands under his chin and yank back. I forget how that turned out, except he didn’t shoot me. But when he was drunk, he often repeated that threat of shooting me in my right eye, which is sort an unusual thing for a father to say to his son.
My father was working on a script for a movie White Buffalo, based on Crazy Horse, and he began to use a phrase from the Sioux, a declaration of humility that said, “I throw my face away.” That’ll be the day, I thought. Peter and Natilie were both there at the time. Natalie repeated the sentence, “I throw my face away,” and June, the upstairs neighbor said to Natalie, “If you throw your face away, can I have it?”
June and John then began to play backgammon, while the rest of us talked. (I should state that my father had married for a third time, a beautiful successful business woman, Irma Stern, on whom he incessantly cheated.)
The friendship soon sourced. It was clear early on that Peter didn’t care for my father. My father bored him by his endless posturing, the cheap, insincere histrionics, and his attempts to attract attention to himself, using any means. My father, like so many in Hollywood, was driven by an enormous drive to have any new visitors admire him. Natalie was quick to notice this, remarking that when drunk, my father gave himself to the “exaggerations of acting.” A neat phrase. Of course, many people spend a great deal of effort trying to provoke admiring responses from other people. I try not to do that. I know Pat doesn’t either. We are not self-promoters.
One time, drinking in the evening with Natalie and Peter, my father, for no discernable reason, reached over and slapped me hard on the face, hard enough to start up tears in my eyes. I stood up, ready to damage him, but Natalie was shocked by the sudden brutality, and she was a very determined personality. She was outraged. She immediately demanded that my father apologize or both of them would never set foot in the house again. She was appalled and outraged and she wouldn’t budge. My father did finally apologize.
When drunk, my father would impart all sorts of jabber: “Thee I love,” he would say. “You are absolutely, bloody magnificent…There is a certain Bibility (Bible, sic) about you.”
After he drank, I would take notes on what he said as soon as I could. Here are some: “You haven’t been there yet”…”Let’s talk about the real things…” or, “I would kiss you except you are too real. Real, that’s the name of the game. Now, how are your bowel movements?”
Or, ‘”I can’t get it up anymore, ask the great white-haired cunt” meaning his wife, Irma. He would say to their dog, Max, “You – out!” he would say that to people whom he thought were long-winded: “You – out!” Another of his mantras, was: “I throw my face away.” Or he would say, “Never be afraid to make a mistake. Never. Never…” or “You are a free dog! Free! You are your own man. Uruhu,” (Swahili for "freedom.” Or he would say, “I will not be a victim of so much nicety.”
If his wife, Irma, began a story, he would say, “Is this going to be a long story, Irm? She is interminable.” Or he would say to me, “You are fab, simply fab,” adding, “And I’m pretty good myself.” Sometimes he would say, “If I make you unhappy I’ve lost the game,” but it was soon to be followed by, “Fuck off! Irma said to him, “You are exhausting: and he would reply, “There is no exhaustion in happiness.”
But enough. I will do a Part Four, and then will quit. In the next segment my father betrays me for a third time, and I will end trying to make sense of it all.