In light of the bellicosity so evident in America today, I have decided to re-post this. pl
(Walter H. Taylor)
The Hog’s Snout
(An alternative history)
By W. Patrick Lang
“Mister President, my newspaper and I are grateful for this opportunity to speak with you.”
“I am always happy to talk to our friends and cousins in the United States. We do not wish to have any misunderstandings between our two countries…”
President Walter Taylor was the sixth chief executive of the Confederate States of America and halfway through the single six year term allowed under his country’s constitution. He was fifty-six years old and looked healthy as the proverbial horse. Dressed in a black suit, he sat at ease in the parlor of the Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia. He was a beautiful man growing gracefully white haired but still slender. He looked comfortable in a simple chair. He had emerged from behind a big, dark colored wooden desk to sit with the reporter.
The New York Times man who had been given an interview eyed him appraisingly. “Would you tell sir, something of your early life,” he asked.
“I was born in Norfolk in 1838. My people were merchants. The family had been here since the early days of the Virginia colony. I decided to attend the military institute at Lexington and studied there for a while until my father died and I was called home. I worked for a bank and read law until war came. I was in the Norfolk militia and joined a volunteer company in Tidewater after secession.”
“As an officer?”
“They did me that honor… Yes. Shortly thereafter one of my numerous relations suggested to General Lee that I might be useful to him as an adjutant and member of his headquarters staff.”
“You were not the only officer on the staff.”
“No. No. There were quite a few of us; Charles Venable, Charles Marshall, Colonel John Fairfax, you know of him. He is the eleventh Baron Cameron. Born here among us, but he was a picturesque man, always quoting the King James Bible and a great source of good whiskey. Then there was the usual collection of ‘galloper’ officer couriers et cetera.”
“But you were close to him? I mean Lee…”
Taylor thought about that for moment. “Yes, and the longer the war dragged on the more he was like a father to me, but, I suppose that would be true of us all. Is there something in particular that you wanted to talk about?”
“I am the military editor of the Times. I would like to know what happened at the North Anna. Grant’s plans to end the war were progressing well until then. But suddenly things started to come apart. Ben Butler was pushed back at Drewry’s Bluff south of Richmond on the 12th of May and that strange defeat in the Shenandoah Valley happened on the 15th at New Market, but still, observers thought that after Spotsylvania Court House it was just a matter of time until we reached Richmond and then there would be a total downfall of your… government.” The reporter looked in the portfolio he had brought and found a photograph. He handed it to Taylor.
“Ah, yes,” the president said. “Grant and his staff relaxing at Massaponax Church on the way to our renewed encounter at the North Anna, they look confident, sure that we were finished. We thought the same thing. We thought we were doomed. The only thing holding us together by the time we arrived at our new position in that river was our
loyalty to “the tycoon” himself. “
Taylor smiled. “That’s what we called him, and he pretended not to know. He tried hard to be a tolerant man, but he was a volcano inside. It showed on the battlefield, and he had a terrible temper. When it got the better of him we would all go hide as best we could.” The president seemed suddenly to remember that he was talking to his old enemies through this man. The smile left him and he waited.
“The North Anna?”
Taylor nodded. “Do you like the wallpaper,” he asked after a minute. “My wife tells me that it is French, flocked in that fuzzy red material, and that it was here when Jefferson Davis sat in this chair. Yes, I heard you, the North Anna. We call it the ‘Hog’s Snout.' We were chewed to pieces by your people by the time we arrived on the North Anna River. The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania had taken an awful toll. I was in charge of calculating our strength every day and we were at about half strength from what we were when Grant crossed the Rapidan two, three weeks before. He just kept coming and coming at us. We had lost all manner of animals in the artillery and trains. Edward Johnson’s division had been pretty much captured or killed in the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania. Supply had broken down again and there was nothing to eat except what we took off your men’s bodies. We killed your people, and killed them and killed them but there were always more. We beat Grant to the North Anna and could cover the Virginia Central rail line and the Telegraph Road where it crossed the rail line, but we had no idea what we would do when Grant arrived in strength from Spotsylvania. We were right desperate.
The newsman saw that Taylor was looking at him in a way that made him uneasy.
“And then reinforcements arrived, Pickett’s Division came up from south of Richmond. They had just whipped Ben Butler and were full of themselves, and Breckinridge reached us from “The Valley.” Both of them had been done pretty hard in the previous weeks but the men were somehow still full of fight. There were a lot of Virginians. This was our home place…”
The reporter nodded in seeming understanding.
“So, Grant came in from the northwest and tried to force a crossing of the river at Jericho Mill upstream from most of us.
(The North Anna at Jericho Mills)
Wilcox’s Division drove them back, but Grant kept moving southeast toward us. The river was actually quite an obstacle then. These days with all these new kinds of horseless transport, maybe not…
And then, something unexpected happened. The army’s Chief of Engineers, Major General Martin Smith, a Yankee by birth, but one of us, talked to the boss and they devised an ingenious scheme with which to trap Grant and his handmaiden, George Meade. Smith was a very clever fellow. He and General Lee had the foresight to build a corduroy road to Spotsylvania west and parallel to the Brock Road in the winter before. They reasoned that such a road would be needed to stay ahead of Grant if he tried to march south on the Brock Road through the Wilderness. That is how we got to Spotsylvania before Grant. After Spotsylvania those two decided that the topography of the North Anna area was a good place to lay a grand trap.
On the north side of the river a move to the Telegraph Road by Grant would have to cross the river twice on ground not served by roads or bridges. Such a move would take time and a great deal of field engineering work to achieve in any circumstance, especially a crisis circumstance. Because of this our planners decided to set up a position in which an inverted “V” would be created with available units positioned in a wedge, the point of the wedge resting on the south bank of the North Anna just where the greatest scarcity of lateral roads existed on the north bank. The opportune arrival of Pickett and Breckinridge allowed them to be positioned as the army 's reserve within the wedge.
“And you were privy to all these arrangements? You would actually have known this?”
Taylor sighed audibly. “Ah, yes, I and all the other officers of the staff in the field. The hope was that Grant would move to the east of the Telegraph Road through the roads well north of the river, and that is what he did.”
“What did he do then?”
“Well, you know the answer. Why you are asking me is almost a mystery, not quite a mystery, but almost, nevertheless I will answer the question. The Second US Army corps was sent to the southeast of the North Anna with evident orders to keep pressing down the Telegraph Road to the south, toward Richmond. The city was at that moment but ten miles away. Our side believed that Grant had no clear idea of our wedge shaped disposition. We were correct. He had sent Sheridan and the bulk of the Union cavalry corps on a massive raid into the Richmond area. These scouting troops were unavailable to spy out our locations. They had not yet returned to the main battlefield. It was understandable that he was effectively blind, but his dispatch of Second Corps isolated them on one side of our wedge, isolated by the bends in the river and the probability of an attack by our troops in the “nose” of the wedge into the Union flank if they tried to move east to rescue Second Corps from an assault on them.
“The result was a disaster for us, and the United States,” said the newsman. I was with Second Corps as a correspondent and was captured and imprisoned at Libby.”
“Welcome back to the capital,” President Taylor said straight-faced. “I hope your rooms are more satisfactory this time…”
The grey haired, portly visitor grew red in the face. “May we continue? We have never learned exactly what your plan was except by the effect, and I understand that you, personally, drafted the orders.”
“Well, sir, we have not had a close relationship since those unhappy days, but, to answer, we knew we had only a short time until Grant realized his error and withdrew Second Corps to safety. General Lee decided to attack Second Corps east of the river with all available force using both Breckinridge and Pickett as well as Harry Heth’s division and to do that in a massed column of attack by brigades.”
“When was this planned to happen?”
“In the pre-dawn on the 24th of May, when were you captured?”
“I was taken by Heth’s men that afternoon. There must have been difficulty in putting all this together, getting men into position with troops who had recently lost a lot of leaders, a lot of friends.”
“Yes, that is true but the main worry was that it looked like Lee was about to be seriously ill. He had dysentery, bad dysentery, dysentery as bad as he had suffered at Gettysburg. He also had bad chest pains. This angina was a symptom of the illness that later killed him. He no longer had the advice and moral support of General Longstreet who was wounded at Spotsylvania. If he could not command through his illness, we would fail, but somehow he did command.”
“At five in the morning our lead brigade struck the front line of Second Corps, and found that there were a lot of surrenders. They pushed through the trenches. The following units went through the hole and we found that the shoulders of the penetration were equally soft. We had not understood the extent to which losses in the campaign had weakened the Second Corps, indeed all of Grant's force. Resistance folded up as our people got farther and farther into the rear. Your troops began to move away in disorganized masses and the corps commander’s capture with most of his staff around noon pretty much ended Second Corps resistance.”
“General Lee ordered a general advance when Hancock appeared as a prisoner at our headquarters. Pressure from south of the river by troops on our left and on the rest of Grant’s army on their now open flank caused them to start withdrawing to the northwest and pressed by Hampton’s cavalry they continued to fall back until they were across the Rapidan once again. As you know, Grant, in his confidence, had changed his supply base to the coastal river ports. When compelled to fall back, his lack of a base to the northwest was a major embarrassment.”
“Yes. He took over when you killed Stuart at Yellow Tavern.”
The newsman grimaced. “Yes. Grant was relieved of command in August. McClellan was elected president in November and he accepted the offer of mediation by Britain, France and the Vatican. Pius the IXth was always a friend of yours and a negotiated settlement was done that gave you independence, for now…”
“Are you sure you work for a newspaper?” Taylor asked. “Your government accepted our independence because your citizenry would no longer consent to the horrendous losses for little accomplishment. I guess you ran out of the poor people needed to fight your war against us, people who could not buy exemption from service.”
“What of slavery?”
“Our constitution reserves changes in the institution to the states. Increased use of farm machinery is steadily making slave labor more expensive than machines. Three states have abolished slavery on a compensated basis and Negroes are steadily leaving us for the North..”
“Any chance of reunion?”
“Not in the lifetime of my generation, but who knows what might happen in the future. My secretary will show you out. Don’t overstay your welcome in Richmond…”
Note: In real history Lee grew so ill that the plan could not be executed.
The young man’s work had gone badly. For three days, he had labored deliberately and carefully over the words. After three hours, he felt he needed a break and went to lunch.
When he came back, he saw it all was trash.
He stood looking out the window of his flat. From his window, the city of Paris spread all along the horizon. The sky was brightly torn. The distant hills were blue. Far off, somewhere at the outskirts of the city, black smoke was spreading form a lone factory stack, and it reminded him of a black stocking being stuffed back into a thin tube.
He tried to cheer himself up – after all, twenty eight is no great age.
It was late afternoon when the rain stopped, and he decided to go out and walk. The feeble sun was out now, the pavements drying after the spring rain.
He finally reached the Seine. What a beautiful city! He stood and looked out at the dull, dirty green river, a great garbage-flecked drift, watching a discarded tire wallowed weakly in the water. The broad banks of the river displayed the faces of quaint, crooked buildings or high narrow houses, most of them half hidden by the green blur of latticed trees. He watched a beateau mouche, full of sightseers, slowly go past, the banks of the river drawing together in the distance.
At last, he felt footsore and began to head back. The sun, as it sank, reddened the walls of the houses, tinting pink each pane of glass. He went past people with determined faces, walking with a purposeful air, the women carrying brass buckled handbags while a few of the men had a manila envelopes under their arm or who held sleek leather briefcase in their clenched hands.
Clearly, the day’s work was over.
. Ahead, he saw a low stone wall. The greening trees and black-green shrubs shut out the view from the street, but he saw an opening between the trunks. Passing between the tall gate posts, he looked up, letting his gaze wander easily over what lay before him. It was a small city park, and, suddenly seized by wonder, he stopped.
Everything waited for nightfall.
In the empty, graying, silence, the statues stood still and mute. A trash fire burned quietly in the corner of the park. No one was nearby. As he stood there, he couldn’t believe how quiet it was. He stopped and listened. The traffic noises of the town did not carry this far: you could have heard a petal fall from a flower. Nothing moved. No one was to be seen on the paths.
Then he saw them.
A few yards down, they sat as still as stones, old men, some who had big, wood canes slanted between their knees. Their bleared eyes looked weary and worn out. Their seamed, wrinkled faces had buckled like old tin. They dressed poorly. The April day had not been cold, but they were bundled up in worn out coats and scarves.
He carefully sat down on a bench at the front and stayed still. Minutes passed. A thin trickle of people suddenly walked through the small park, office workers, school kids, the school kids walking with a certain swagger, certain of having a special and exceptional destiny in life.
He sat still and watched them pass. The passing people never looked at the old sitting men on the benches, sitting with their meek shoes placed together on the gravel path. Then a young couple came in, two Americans, holding hands, and they walked slowly and carelessly. The pretty young woman was saying, "I want us to begin to live a unique life, our life. I know it’s difficult to do if you’re a nobody, but I just want us to go somewhere brand new. I want to live now." Her partner again quietly told her go talk more softly.
She began to whisper, but then said loudly, “They give me the creeps.” Her partner urged her to not talk so loudly. “Well, they do.” They talked some more and then she said again, “Well, they creep me out.”
He was still sitting after the couple left, thinking, no young person ever thinks that they will a draw a blank in life. It never enters their minds. He sat and thought for a long, long time, and then finally got to his feet. As he was going past the tall gate posts, he halted to cast a sad look back at them: each of them left alone with all they did not do.
"Oren’s contention that by publicly airing differences with Israel, Obama broke with a long-standing principle that there should never be “daylight” in the relationship. Really? To take just a few examples, Dwight Eisenhower slammed Israel for the 1956 Suez operation and forced it into a humiliating retreat; Gerald Ford froze arms deliveries and announced a reassessment of the relationship as a way of pressing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai; Jimmy Carter clashed repeatedly with Prime Minister Menachem Begin before, during and after the 1978 Camp David summit. Ronald Reagan denounced Israel’s strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq and enraged Jerusalem by selling surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia; George H.W. Bush blocked loan guarantees to Israel over settlements; Bill Clinton clashed publicly with Israel over the size of proposed West Bank withdrawals; George W. Bush called for a settlement freeze in the 2002 road map for peace and afterward repeatedly criticized Israel for construction in the West Bank. In other words, Oren has a point — except in the case of virtually every Republican and Democratic U.S. administration since Israel’s founding." Washpost
The most remarkable thing about this book review is the willingness of the Washington Post to publish it. The Post is a newspaper that is; pro-Zionist, never saw a minority they did not love, ant-Southern (especially Virginia), and wildly in love with gayness.
Why would they publish this? "Is a puzzlement!" pl
It was November of 1944, and we had settled down to our long Winter Nap. Unfortunately it was a season of surprises. By then, of course, we felt were too hardened or too smart for any kind of surprise. Boy, we were wrong.
We passed through Melmedy then entered the woods to replace members of the 9th Division. We were walking up one side of the road, and they were coming down the other side. They had tired, gray faces and their staring eyes were eerily expressionless. There simply was no life in those eyes. Few words were exchanged, except for this one stubbly, thin faced guy who yelled at us, “You’ll be sorry,” in a tone of mocking, bitter resentment.
Going through a street through a village, it had been snowing. Now it was raining hard on our heads.
We returned to their former fox holes or bunkers that they had dug in the frozen soil. The sodden snow was very deep, especially where it had drifted to one side of the road. In the woods were, the snow fell almost every day. It was bleak, dreary, and thankless duty. The woods had a Germanic quality, trees planted in perfect rows except where an artillery shell had torn things up. There was no activity to be seen. If you gazed out, and after about a 1,000 yards the country rose in a gentle rise, but there was no one out there.
The snow kept falling. When I went to cross the road, I plunged into a snow bank up to my neck. I suddenly felt myself surrounded by colored lights, and got panicked and confused until my men helped me to climb out.
I don’t know if you’ve spent a lot of time in a bitter winter cold, but it’s tough as hell to endure. At the beginning, the snow was creaking under foot, and the icy air made us catch our breath. The inside of our nostrils stuck together, and the cold made our teeth ache. You never got used to it. We devised a lot of tricks. Field jackets were useless against a cutting wind, so we learned how to sew blankets into their inner linings. We learned how to wrap sheets of newspaper around our bodies as a buffer against the bitter wind. We would stuff newspapers into our socks and boots, to keep from getting trench foot, which you can catch easily if your feet are wet all the time. We learned how to heat pebbles in a tin can and dump them into our boots with our wet socks in order to dry both.
But when we started, we didn’t know any of that stuff; we simply knew that we were living in teeth-chattering cold.
We didn’t believe the rumors. The weather was still miserable, snow falling, the bitter cold, and it was at four in the morning of Dec. 16, when a hellish scene sprang to life around us as virtually hundreds of dazzling searchlights directed their glare into the American positions, and the artillery and the rocket launchers unleashed an unearthly fire such as we had never before experienced. The incredible whine of our own guns made clear we were firing directly at German forces in front of us. It was a terror-fraught attack, let me tell you. There were lights of all descriptions, lighting up the sky and the snowy ground. The lights pointed up into the sky and some were directed on our positions. They beamed from German trucks, tanks, and pillboxes. They caromed off the low hanging clouds to light up the roads and open fields. They were meant to scare us, but they also made the German stand out better, and we fired out at them, and some of them fell.
Then our hearts sank into our shoes.
We heard ominous sound of creaking tank treads. Of course those reports about a German build-up had been dutifully transmitted to division headquarters but were dismissed as unlikely because “the terrain was not suited for tanks.” Right. Except now we were hearing the mass movements of trucks, tanks, trucks and men. Conflagrations erupted near by, and we could hear piercing screams, the screams of death coming from those who had been hit.
We got a hurried radio message that said that the whole regiment was being hit by shells. We tried not to show it, of course, but panic began to set in, but we had to keep our heads down. We had to endure. The most dangerous thing came from the Krauts shelling the tops of the trees, and huge branches rained down and people were killed if they were out in the open, crapping.
We tried to radio for help, then we then tried to use the phone, but the wires were all down. We felt frantic: I mean, all systems of fight or flight were going full blast in us. Then, hardly able to believe our eyes, vague figures in white suits began to appear several hundreds of yards away. Initially, we in a shocked, stunned state. My unit had remained in place in the outskirts of Lanzereth, and we had earlier made contact with task force from the 14th Cav., and they had machine guns and anti tank guns to cover our right flank, but the task force were from a different corps which meant that communication was sketchy. Our biggest fear was that other units near us had been outflanked and had fled.
Suddenly our tank destroyers moved out. Just like that. No word. Not a word to us. They just left. A very abrupt exit to say the least. The walkie-talkie finally worked, and I contacted regiment to get instructions. A Col. Bridesworth told me to move some of my guys into Lanzereth to make sightings from a farm house a house that had been previously occupied by artillery observers. I realized that I was now basically commanding only a platoon of 23 guys, instead of a company of 120 men. Lt. Harris was missing, someone had said that he had taken a bullet; I realized we were not much of a company anymore. But the task was clear: we going to look for places to fight, a rock here, a depression there a ditch, a manure pile. You made use of anything you could, you see.
I looked assessingly over the men I was commanding for this mission, especially Sgt. Oakhurst. When I first met him he acted as if he had never heard of fear. Stories about him were plentiful. He was a big, burly guy. His hair was cropped short, and with his helmet off, he displayed a head shaped like an artillery shell. His head sort of sloped down into his huge shoulders, which also sloped down, which gave Oakhurst a look of bull-like strength. He was a nasty, boastful man who had a thin voice like a giggling chicken. But he was a bully. He would say things like, “I’ll jump up and down on the Kraut’s balls until they squirt like jelly,” and stuff like that. He carried a small bottle that he claimed contained real human eyeballs.
Dedicated to James T. Sale
The men stood like tiny upright bottles in the mournful, greenish gloom of the jungle path, while soaring a hundred feet overhead, the wide tops of the trees spread and entangled each other, shutting out any view of the sky. From the thick, matted, tangled ceiling of vegetation, some thorny vines trailed down limply like rescue lines dangling over the side of a damaged, heeling ship. Back in the dim, green-black recesses of the jungle, a few sharp, yellow flecks of sun could be seen here and there.
The four-man party, flushed and worn out, had halted on the narrow path. On both sides of it there arose dense masses of bushes and thick, squat trees, and all around them the noises of the tropic birds seemed to intensify the jungle’s isolation. One harsh screech, repeated with the monotony of madness, seemed to say, “Play ball!” Play ball!” a cry that was answered raucously, near and far, by others of its kind. There was a chorus of other chattering and cooing birds as well, but they seemed fainter and farther away. The welter of crowding trees blocked out any hint of a breeze.
The young one with the mustache, clad in khaki, his rifle upright on his back, was haggling a pack of cigarettes free from his shirt pocket. A scratched match spurted into amazingly bright flame. The young man ducked his head. A gust of blue smoke hung without movement, until the man lazily waved his hand. The blue haze slowly stirred and writhed to thin and sluggishly vanish.
The swarthy, heavyset man, in wash pants and unpressed cotton shirt, blue in color, pawed and mopped at his face with a coarse, white cloth. His shirt had darkened as sweat had soaked it through. In his late forties and out of shape, his belly hung out a bit over his belt. His dark, tangled hair looked as if a bucket of water had been emptied over it. He exhibited a picture of complete misery. In fact, all four men were covered in sweat from head to foot.
“No, thank you,” said the foreigner to the crumpled pack extended to him. He was an American, his face red as a poppy. He had a pleasant, steady baritone voice, a bit out of breath. Pablo, the one in khaki, knew better than to ask the heavyset man. He knew he did not smoke.
Bernardo, the talkative one, was younger than his heavyset partner by a decade, but older than Pablo. Bernardo had a young, alert, open face that expressed a look of manly candor. He threw a look of assessing sympathy at the foreigner. He was a tough one, thought Bernardo. Fit. He came prepared. They almost never came prepared, but this one had. Well, they had said he would.
Sipping water from his canteen, the American stood lost in his own thoughts. To him, the air was heavy, thick, humid, and standing in it was like standing in a sauna. Even as they rested, he knew how acutely he was suffering from the heat. His name was David Heartrik, and he had lost his craving for adventure a long time ago. Ambition to stand out had died out of him in the trek up here. In the old days, he delighted cutting a dashing figure in the eyes of his colleagues – ambition had driven him on without rest. Back then, he was in love with the glamour of the strange; he had liked risk, he had loved enduring the maximum of privation. But now he was 37, no longer invincible, and being thought brave by others had lost its power to incite. Now he did his job because it was what he was expected to do. As he gazed into the gloomy, steaming sun-dappled black-green of the jungle, he suddenly realized that this place was making him uneasy. It was so hard to see in here, and it was as if they had stopped in a darkened closet. But it was something else that was bothering him, something he couldn’t quite find the words for that troubled his mind.
He was thinking about how, if you came up along the twisting coast road, the land displayed an exhilarating spectacle: a dense, green mass, its top going gold in the sunlight, and then the ragged, sharp mountain ridges rise dramatically overhead. Along the road, gracefully bending palms grew in orderly groves along the coast, and there were wind-bent pines like little hunchbacks. The bay was full of enormous crescent beaches that curved one after the other into the distance, their surf breaking in hazy, white lines on the shore. It was almost like a postcard in its beauty. Yet when one of his colleagues at The Washington Post heard of where he was going, he said to him, “You’ll see, from a distance it’s one of the most beautiful tropical views in existence, but when you’re in it, beware, on the ground it’s a mass of slops and stinks and pestilence.”
He became aware again of the smell: the deathly, dank, sourish odor that came from mud, from downed branches, the rotting plants, the incessant working of decay taking place everywhere. And then he realized what it was about the jungle. It wasn’t the thick, steamy matted screens of tropical vines or the twisted creepers. Instead, a sense of something sinister hung over the place; that was it, he thought. Something sinister.
“Hot,” said Bernardo. He looked with sympathy at the American, not realizing that by speaking to him, the man would now have to make the effort to reply.
“Surely not,” Heartrik grinned. Not much got past this man, he thought, a bit sour.
“Always hot. Always fucking hot,” grumbled the heavyset man, mopping.
“You’re all right?” asked Bernardo of the foreigner. He had a way of putting real feeling into whatever he said.
“I’m fine, thanks,” was the reply.
“You have hot places in your country, yes?” asked Bernardo. “You have your deserts and such places?” He seemed to enjoy the American’s company. A sort of comradeship had sprung up between them.
“There are parts are very warm, are they not?”
“We have deserts, yes. Very bad ones where people die.”
“In your deserts, though, you do have much heat.”
“Not like this.”
Bernardo smiled, canted his head, quizzical. “Heat is no fun, yes?”
“Not this stuff. I mean, even desert heat is dry, a dry heat,” said Heartrik.
“Well, it’s not much farther,” Bernardo said.
But Heartrik was thinking, only in Hawaii had he experienced heat like this. Hawaii had heavy, wet air, like this air, and it made your body wet, and it dissolved your will to action. Everything took extra effort. You always felt enveloped by something that drained away your strength and purpose.
“But you look quite strong,” said Bernardo, assessingly to the American.
“Ah. That’s the running,” Heartrik said. “Otherwise, you would have left me for dead, way back down the trail.”
While he felt quickened by Bernardo’s admiration, it was a bit of brag, all the same. Running or not, the truth was that he felt like a wet dishcloth with the strong, connecting threads gone, hanging over a line to dry.
“You are right to drink plenty of water,” said Bernardo.
The American, Heartrik, stood staring out, sipping from his canteen, regaining his strength. At least now he knew he would last. During the first half hour, he’d felt so leaden, clumsy and washed out, at times he had feared he couldn’t take another step and would have to stop and rest. But every time he’d felt he’d reached the edge of not being able to go on, every time he had touched the bottom of his stamina, the others had stopped of their own accord. After that, his conditioning had kicked in, and now he knew he could do it if they could. It was not part his makeup to quit what he started.
“Always fucking hot,” said the heavyset man. “Not in the day you don’t want to come out, not in the day, like this.”
But the American, too irritated and tired for small talk, was no longer listening. He was growing impatient. “You don’t have to wait on me,” he said. “Let’s get it over with.”
The heavyset man sighed, pawing at the wet, sagging flesh under his chin, head tilted back as if to admire the heavens, except his eyes were closed. “There is no hurry,” he said. “There is certainly no reason to hurry. For what?”
But there was reason enough. Above all, Heartrik thought, he didn’t want to be in the jungle at night. The jungle got as dark as the bottom of a well. No house lights, no lights from cars, just a deep, dense dark that smothered everything. It was as if you’d gone completely blind. Taking a drink from his canteen, Heartrik thought, “We’re wasting time, goddamnit.” He wanted to get up there and do what they had to do and get out.
“Who’s in control of the area now,” he asked them.
“Where we go?” said Bernardo.
“They’re long gone,” said the heavyset man. The third man, Pablo, simply stared and said nothing.
“The government soldiers came and did their work and they left,” he said.
“How do we know they’re gone?” Heartrik said.
“There is little that happens up in here we don’t know,” said Bernardo.
“So they’re gone? The soldiers? You’re sure of this?”
“They’re long gone. We control this area now,” said the heavyset man. He had sternly serious eyes that seemed to be bearing some great and painful inner burden.
A few minutes passed. The American was growing more and more impatient. He saw they sensed it. A quick, white flick of the eyes of the heavyset man went to the rifleman in khaki. Pablo had a young face – but it had a cold, hard, immovable expression that stayed stonily the same. He straightened and took a drag on his cigarette. The red bead of the cigarette peeped brightly and crawled back along the skinny tube whose edges went black. Then suddenly, the cigarette butt spun away, going end over end.
They resumed in single file. Pablo was far back. Riding shotgun, guessed Heartrik.
Heartrik, the heavy set man, and, Pablo in khaki followed the end of the column, and all toiled laboriously up a path that was pitched steeply up a worn slope. Thorn branches bordered the path, their form very graceful, but they were to be avoided. Just brushing one left a neat row of tiny red beads where the briars had raked the skin. It was hard work hiking the hill, Heartrik thought.
The young, friendly Bernardo in front was turning his head to talk. “You really must understand that what we want to establish is justice,” he said. “We do not want to replace one injustice with another.”
Heartrik, sweating heavily as he hiked, looked wearily plagued by the effort to keep on the climb. The steaming heat made every step an extra effort on the steep grade.
In any case, he was tired of talking politics. It was all he had done for two days.
“I’m sure you are ambitious to improve the lot of the people,” he said.
“We mean to build a nation, señor. We want to build the nation. That is our only aim. Do you see? Our only aim.” Bernardo was quite passionate.
“Yes. But you say, build…”
“That is all that matters…to build the nation. To…”
“I understand that. But...”
“…to build a new nation that is more than the sum of its parts. For what is a nation but that? The nation comes to life, every time a man or a woman or a child takes a breath that is free. That is the nation we want to establish.”
“But you already have a nation,” Heartrik said, impatient.
“We have a nation, but it is not our nation. It is their nation, the nation of the clique.”
“A clique that governs and has power, all the same...”
“…A clique that thinks the world consists of the people they see at the opera each week, that go to each other’s palaces and estates while the people starve,” said Bernardo. “We want a nation that offers the sum of its benefits for all, instead of just some. It is not a real nation as it stands now.”
“I’m sure they think it’s real enough.”
“The clique, as you call it. They have at their resources the power of the state, you know. They have the Army. They worship force.”
“Supplied by your country,” said the heavyset man.
“It’s the business of the arms business to sell arms,” Heartrik said with a shrug. He didn’t like the arms dealers either.
“But to such people as these?” He made a disdainful face.
“Yes. They pay. That’s true.” But he was disgusted.
“They pay. To the seller of arms that is all that matters. That they pay. That’s not to say I approve. It is simply a fact.”
“But why do they give the clique its weapons?” said the heavyset man. “It is because they want to continue as they are, illegally hogging power. But we, we are attempting to build a national unity.”
“Is this why you are setting up communes?”
“Communes are the arm of national liberation,” said Bernardo with force. It came out like a paper slip from a machine after you pressed a button.
“The arm that fights back,” said the heavyset man. His face expressed distress, and he was walking as if his legs were made of lead. “The arm that defends the nation because in them, in the commune, the person legislates and finds itself and gets real sovereignty.”
“And the fighting?” Heartrik asked.
“We regret the clashes,” said Bernardo, “but we did not begin them. They have an army, we do not. As you said.”
Heartrik knew that the government did indeed have any army, and it was completely ruthless, pitiless. It was addicted to massacre. The four of them had driven most of the night, taking side and back roads to escape the army. No one spoke of it in the country, but in every town, one came across a train of parked khaki trucks along a curb, men in green fatigues lounging about. Or if you were driving up a mountain, you suddenly passed a barbed wire enclosure, grim and featureless, where uniformed men with bayoneted M-16s turned and looked at you coldly as you passed. Heartrik had encountered them before on an earlier visit.
For many here, the loathing of the government was based on the loathing for the army.
“And the cliques, as you call it. What happens to them, if you win?” Heartrik panted.
“That is why they mobilize the troops to crush the people at every turn. Because they have one doctrine only -- to crush the people so they can go on as they always have with their exploitation.”
“But what will you do?”
“We? If we win?”
“What will happen?”
“Of course, we will win,” said the heavyset man. “Because those in power have no program, no designs for improvement, no development, no political parties, only the crushing of the people by collective armed force. That is why we brought you here. Because we knew you were a truthful man who would tell the American public what we face in them here.”
“My question was what happens to the clique if you defeat it?” Heartrik looked back at the heavy set man. He looked utterly miserable, entirely worn and played out.
“To them what happens?”
He shrugged. “In every revolution traitors and collaborators have been punished. It was so in your revolution?” Bernardo said.
“They paid with their property, not their lives. You’re speaking of the Tories?”
“They lost their property. Some moved to England. They weren’t killed. That’s not true. A few were killed especially in the South, but their numbers were small.”
“But surely some must be punished. The worst must be punished,” harshly gasped the heavyset man.
“But who judges who was the worst?” Heartrik almost said the words, but pulled back. Of course, the retaliations would begin with a few murders, but then everyone would be swept up in an accelerating escalation of rancor and emotion and a desire to exact vengeance. Then more and more scores would be settled, savagery would feed savagery, until the worst in the new group would do what the worst in the old group had done, until finally, ordinary people, tired of slaughter, would pause in a period of nervous debility and inertia that would gain the name of peace. He had seen it all before.
It was hot, hard work hiking the hill. It was endless, the hill, Heartrik thought.
“What about private property?” he gasped.
“What about it?”
“Well, what happens to property if you win?” Heartrik puffed.
“What people own?” gasped Bernardo.
“It is theirs. Like in your country.”
“Given to them? Or is it owned by them?”
“The property? It’s theirs. I don’t understand.” Bernardo seemed not to know where the American was going with this.
“But it is given them?” Heartrik said.
“Given, yes,” interjected, the heavyset, perspiring man. Heartrik saw for the first time that he had a big, broad, clean-shaven chin like the heel of a boot. “We believe that freedom is the giving of everything to all.”
“But can the average person, after you win, can they acquire property of their own by work? In my country, civil liberties were built on the right to own property. Our leaders owned a lot of property, not the people.”
“At first it will be given, but through work it can be acquired,” the heavy man said.
Given, thought Heartrik. Given meant keeping the people dependent on the government, keeping the people dependent on a group of leaders who would give them what they thought they deserved, coin by coin by coin.
“You do not approve, I think,” said Bernardo, carefully.
“Of what?” For a moment Heartrik felt the alarm one feels when he discovers another has been reading his mind. “What we said of punishment. Of repaying traitors. You dislike that, too, I think.”
“It’s hard to keep revenge and retaliations under control,” Heartrik said.
“You forget that the members of the clique are not decent people.”
Heartrik sighed. “I’m sure they are rotten to the very core.”
“Look. I understand that the sense of having been wronged is one of the most powerful of all the human senses. I know this. It’s just that I have seen this sort of thing before,” said Heartrik.
“What sort of thing before?”
“Well, you talk of building the nation.”
“We want to build. We must build,” said Bernardo.
“But when you punish, when you root out, you divide, isn’t that so?”
“We do not divide,” said the heavyset man. “We simply clear in order to build the nation just the way a woodsman would clear a forest.”
Heartrik said nothing.
They puffed and panted past an obscene twisted knot of roots sprouting from the path.
Ends and means, thought Heartrik. Everyone talked of the ends, not realizing that the means were simply the ends in their youth. The ends did not justify the means. Success simply caused the means to be forgotten. But he was too tired to talk. Besides, who would listen? All they wanted were words that upheld their ideals and character as freedom fighters.
They halted again on the path, all of them breathing like bellows, faces flushed red, soaking wet. Ahead the green tangled ceiling seemed to end abruptly. Beyond, there was a brilliant field of light, almost harshly savage, that seemed to lie far ahead.
The heavyset man eyed the American. “A difficult man,” he thought. “An honest man. He does not bend. He does not trade.”
“We’re wasting time,” thought Heartrik, utterly weary.
Here in the dim, green-black gloom, even though where they stood now was as hot as a humid, baking oven, he knew the weather could turn gusty and cold in a minute, the rain coming down in blinding sheets, turning the ground to slimy, slippery mud, forming pools, making little tunnels that gushed gaily and noisily down the hill. Soon you were shaking with a damp, bone-chilling kind of cold, and, even if the sun came out again, it simply steamed you dry. You began to smell then, and beginning to smell made you unhappy with yourself. He peered intently through the eerie, dim, dark and mysterious gloom, the dank smell of decay in his nose. What a place! he thought.
Heartrik wasn’t surprised that his newspaper had sent him down here. People’s minds are quick to form patterns, quick to characterize as a permanent trait what in fact was only an accident. His first big piece on the paper had been about the homeless being hired by business firms to clear asbestos from old, broken-down buildings. Paid poor wages, the homeless workers had been given no masks, no briefings, and no warnings of the cancer their exposure to asbestos would probably cause. The business firms recognized no obligation to the pay the families of the dead.
It had caused quite a sensation, the piece, and his career was cast, his specialty discerned once and for all: he was the man with a considerate feeling and concern for the weak. He had an affinity with the unfortunate. After that, it was living on Death Row for a month, working in VA emergency rooms, or doing a portrait of a man dying of cancer in a hospital for the poor in the Bronx, or spending three months with 4,500 gang members on Chicago’s south side.
“You have a touch with this stuff, man,” editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee had once said to him, admiringly.
So he went all over the world, covering riots, bombings, insurrections, always trying to personalize, to bring to life by means of words what such events meant to the people having to live through it.
He thought of the quiet, subdued pride he would feel in pulling this off. As he had left the office, Boyce, a senior editor, a man always needling him and forever out to make him look small and subsidiary, had come out by the water cooler, cradling a steaming cup of coffee against his belt. “What is this, Dave, another one of your coups?” he said, with a slight sneer but with a trace of admiration in his voice.
Because by then all of them in the office had heard how murderous this particular government was. It was massacring its peasants wholesale and blaming it on the peasants themselves. The government soldiers had shot two French reporters in the head as they were disarmed and lying on the ground, and then had blamed it on rebels.
Heartrik was used to succeeding in this sort of circumstance because he brought to it unique gifts. First he brought knowledge of the country’s language, its culture, its people; information about its history and its customs from whatever source he could find. This knowledge he would use to put people at ease, to give them the sense that the country they belonged to was of so much account, that a foreigner had gone to the trouble of studying it. This touched people to the foundation of their souls. In Iran, in Mexico, in Guatemala, wherever he had been, when people saw they were not despised by an American, they became a lot easier to deal with, a lot more forthcoming. Perhaps, by the end, they’d even felt some affection for him, who knew? He had for them. He often thought of them. He had certainly admired most of them.
But he never forgot that the world they lived in was not his world. His fellow reporters often made that mistake. They acted as if the inhabitant of foreign nations were basically inferior versions of themselves. Out of weakness or sycophancy or fear, the American reporters flattered the people, but it was instantly perceived, and it bitterly offended. Heartrik did not make the mistake. He stayed in his own world. He was loyal to what he was and where he was from. He was there to learn, to listen, to remember, but that was all.
He felt intense sympathy for their lives in the end even though it wasn’t his life. “To love with the heart is to pity,” his father had said, and he had tried to live by that line. But Heartrik knew a great gulf parted the rest of the world and his world. They and he could stand at its edges and talk across, but the gulf remained. And because he remembered the gulf, strangers often found him to be the exception and refreshing, and he had found himself liked. Or so it had seemed. Certainly he had kept up communication with many of the people he’d interviewed. He also brought an alert, discerning eye (which again, he was careful to disguise), plus he brought some intuitive sense of “touch,” some special sensitivity to the inner atmospheres of the people he was with.
Bernardo, the heavyset man, and Pablo, they were honest men, not corrupted yet by wealth or luxury. Unlike Americans, they needed no comfort to be effective, and they were tough, trained, tireless and were of serious purpose. They were not to be trifled with. You could not lie to them in the least thing.
He would do them the honor of reporting them accurately. What they said and did. If he had misgivings, he would confront them with them there, not wait until the articles came out and made them look foolish when they had no chance to fight back.
All stories entailed risks deliberately taken, but Heartrik had a rule: to never take counsel of his fears. By now he had learned to put out of his mind the possibility of serious harm or failure. Besides, like most people, the desire of being thought special, had gained a hold over his mind. He prized the reputation he had slowly built up among his colleagues and his friends in Washington. He was also aware that they overestimated the danger and thought him a romantic figure, but there was little he could do to deflate or re-proportion their ideas. They simply thought him modest every time he tried, so he had finally stopped.
But he had a powerful attachment to his family and parting from them this time had been very tough. He and his wife were close. Theirs was an attachment of great passion, physical, emotional and mental. Their little girl, Sarah, was the core of their life now.
The night before he’d left, only three, wearing a vivid blue dress, she had climbed on his lap, clutching crayons splayed from her fist, and they had worked together, his wife watching bemused from the big chair facing them and the TV. Sarah had drawn him a “tree,” which meant she dragged with a crayon of any color, a rather wobbly line down the center of a blank page. If he asked for a forest, she bent far over, intent and industrious, tongue poked out of her lips like a cat, and laboriously inscribed a series of wobbly, scraggly unconnected lines on the paper sheet. and, as pleasure beamed in her face, she would scream with joy, her little clenched fists up at her eyes until she twisted to bury her face in his shirt.
Since he’d been down here, all his thoughts of home had awakened in him a sweet ache of pain, a mood of gentle melancholy, and he would sharply miss his wife or see in his mind his little girl, hearing her voice, missing the delight of her climbing into her lap each morning as he read The Washington Post. Except this time, his wife had not liked him going at all. She had grown somber, soft in the face, her eyes anxious, and had just clung to him wordlessly until the taxi came. “This is the last,” he said to her.
“Until they ask you again,” she said.
“No. There are other things at the paper I can do.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she said.
“No, I’ve done enough. It’s time to do something different.” And they had kissed goodbye.
When the four of them came out of the jungle canopy into the sun, it was like coming out of a tunnel into the day. The harsh light fell into their eyes like a lash, and the muggy heat enveloped them like a kind of woolen garment thrown over their bodies.
They stood now on the steep slope of a mountain. Behind and below them, the dark jungle over spread like a green humpy fungus. He could see the curved beaches of the bay, the bay itself blue and smooth like a polished metal plate. Far below, there was a tiny white road that lay like a little piece of dropped thread.
When he looked up, the heavyset man was staring at him piercingly, with a look of peculiar resolution. He turned and pointed.
Heartrik frowned. He turned back. The heavyset man pointed. Then Heartrik saw. It was a village that made a cluster higher up on the slope. It was surrounded by a wall made of mud the height of a man’s head. Heartrik didn’t like the look of it.
They kept mounting the slope, red faced, perspiring, exhausted, their legs as stiff and numb as sticks. The mountain behind rose as a solemn and forbidding rampart, colored a dark, black green.
Each man now seemed busy with his own thoughts. Heads down, bodies bent, they went on hiking up the hill.
They smelled it before they saw it.
First they heard the noise: their heads lifted. They all thought that someone had farted loudly. They came closer. The sound had come from a body ahead lying by the side of the road. The corpse made a dark, rounded mound. Around it whizzed clouds of flies. Even from where they were, the loud, buzzing of disturbed flies filled the air. The heavyset man was talking of how decomposition here happened very quickly. The immediate attack was by millions of flies, but within four hours came the maggots. Heartrik tried to just listen to it, listen to it with a part of his mind that would be like a desk drawer that he could close when they were finished. The heavyset man was talking, saying that in two days the body would start to swell. He said they had seen one case where a body had finally burst through its clothes, and the penis had stuck up in one final, violent erection. Heartrik and the others had made a nervous laugh. The heavyset man, humorless, just waited, then said how, under the broiling of the sun, the body, beaded all over with oil, finally burst, releasing a foul, sick stench that would be smelled for miles.
Heartrik felt a touch and turned. It was the khaki clad one with the rifle, Pablo. He offered Heartrik a cigarette, and Heartrik refused. Pablo shrugged.
Heartrik wildly batted away a fly that landed on his face. They heard another loud fart. Pablo, the rifleman, took out a cigarette, broke it in two and gave it to the American. Heartrik looked at it a minute, but the man gestured, and Heartrik understood. Gently, he put each stubby segment up a nostril. His notebook and pen were out, and he began to take notes.
“You will see now what swine the army is,” said the heavyset man. “These are people who do not preserve the decencies.”
Bernardo had grown quiet, worried. He kept casting glum looks at the American.
In front, by the wall, were bundles of colorful laundry dropped here and there, lying at the same angle. More dead. “Jesus,” Heartrik said. More bodies lay sprawled, most on their faces. Some lay on their back, eyes open and staring. He gazed at sights so horrible that he knew he could never share with his wife.
But then Heartrik slowly become aware of something. He sensed it more than he saw it.
“What is it?” Heartrik said.
The men around him were acting oddly, he thought.
Alert in every sense and fiber, Heartrik stopped, uncertain. He looked wildly about, flailing at the flies trying to land on his face. Suddenly, with horror, he looked ahead and thought in panic, “Government Soldiers.”
“Is it soldiers?” he said, fearful.
But he saw that they were all over the mud-walled village.
“What’s wrong?” he said. Because some odd tension had seemed to enter them. It was not as though they were watchful and ill-at-ease. It was something else that he couldn’t name.
The heavyset man stopped and looked back, slowly shaking his head. “Nothing is wrong,” he called to Heartrik.
“Are there other men here?”
But the heavyset man did not reply. Heartrik felt himself gripped by some indefinable sense of danger, like catching the sound of something sinister. He sensed some threatening presence. They seemed to feel it although they steadied and kept on straight ahead.
“What’s happening?” Heartrik asked, now frankly scared.
But the heavyset man did not answer. Bernardo just climbed ahead.
Suddenly their four heads snapped up.
Heartrik halted still as stone, tensed to flee. Behind the baked mud wall, a figure in khaki appeared. It held a rifle. It waved, friendly and vigorous.
“He is ours,” said Bernardo, glum.
But Heartrik’s spine tingled as if someone were moving a morsel of ice up and down his back. He didn’t like surprises. The heavyset man looked more stern and serious and sadly burdened.
Heartrik hurried up to them. “Are we okay?” he said. There was still some undercurrent here that he could not quite fathom. Perhaps, they hadn’t been sure of the identity of the soldiers.
“We are safe,” said the heavyset man. He suddenly pressed the American’s arm with affection. “We are fine.” The small group moved forward.
Of course, thought Heartrik with a flood of relief: he had the answer now to their uneasiness, they knew what had happened here. Of course. That was it.
He looked up. Overhead a great mass of cloud was building forbiddingly over the crest of the mountain. It meant rain later. “We’ve got to get in and get out” said Heartrik to himself. How he hated the slanting, driving sheets of rain, the mud, the slippery mud that would make the hike back take hours longer.
They approached the gate of the village and went in. When the American saw what was in the courtyard, nausea flooded his mind, and he was nearly sick, gasping.
Two more men in khaki appeared. There were four or five in all, and they stayed across the courtyard, watching him. Heartrik was writing in his notebook. The bodies on the ground looked like discarded bundles of colorful rags.
“The Army?” Heartrik said, He sounded as though he had a cold from his stuffed nostrils. “This was the Army?”
“The Army’s work, señor. Now you see,” said the heavyset man.
Heartrik could still get the smell of death through the tobacco, that unique, sweet smell, as if honey had been poured over herring.
“They butchered them all,” Bernardo said, angry and bitter.
“They just shot them. Even the children.”
Heartrik walked carefully, bricking up any sense of sympathy he felt. Sympathy left you vulnerable. It left you open, slow to act. But, at bottom, he knew that what he was telling himself was merely a way to cheer himself up. He felt a sense of utter, sick depletion. “How many people?”
“And this happened when?”
“Jesus,” Heartrik said.
He moved from pile to pile, the air above wildly alive with hordes of flies. He moved along, his keen, trained eye noting the details: the lifeless eyes staring into nothingness, the sagging jaws, and the humorlessly grinning mouths.
Ahead was a house, its windows sightless. He turned and looked back. They were there: Bernardo, the heavyset man, and Pablo in khaki with the rifle. Cautiously, he forced himself to go in. It was a shock: the permanent face of poverty and underdevelopment: no furnishings, no tables, chairs, lamps or appliances. Only straw mats. And the festering bodies. He stared down at one, a woman, her grimaced face bloated and twisted as if in an agony of pain. Her skirt was pulled up, and a bayonet protruded from between her thighs. Curiously enough, there was no blood, just half a blade of bayonet sticking out. Heartrik found a dirty blanket, and kneeled to cover her up. There was a man lying there, three feet away, but his cut off head was sitting under a stool. Then he saw a teenager, a head wound turned into a seething mass of maggots blindly jostling and pushing, crowded like the cells of a honeycomb. The maggots were as thick as clustered bees on a branch. The smell was sickeningly bad, and Heartrik pushed the cigarette butts further up his nose, as he absent-mindedly watched clear bubbles of gas moving under the tightly stretched, brown skin of the dead.
Of course, The Post would remove or retouch most of the animal indecencies. After all, the reader wanted only the embellishment, the noble fight for freedom. Not what you’d really seen.
He realized he was going to be sick and started gulping air. And then he realized a brackish coating of some kind had spread in his mouth. He saw where the blood had pooled under another bundle of clothes and, with shock, found another body in the same condition.
He came out, sickly pale, agitated. Numbness was settling over him like a net. He felt he couldn’t quite shake himself free of a strange, odd daze. He stood in the bright, baking air, pushing the stubs even farther up his nose. Bernardo, the heavyset man, and the man in khaki, stood not far away.
Then the heavyset man was walking up. He grabbed Heartrik’s arm. “Look,” he said and pointed. It was a v-shaped clump of grass next to a low bush, and then the American saw.
A sudden clutch shut his throat. Something in his throat began to swell, and he widened his eyes, blinking back the tears. It was no bigger than a shoe box. He thought it was something someone had dropped when he saw how caked and smeared with mud it was, and then he realized. The mud, that’s what had kept off the flies, the caked mud. She must have been all of two years old, dressed in a little skirt and blouse. She had black hair, long. Her hair moved as a gust of wind caressed it. An infinite pity surged up in him. He fought it back down. But something was swelling and choking his throat.
Suddenly the heavyset man touched him. He turned and looked straight into his eyes. “This is why we needed you. To see. To tell people of this. You are the man we need, señor. You care. We were right to bring you. The American public must know of these things.”
With an expression full of sorrow, of anger, of heartbreak, Heartrik started to kneel, but the heavyset man said, “I wouldn’t touch her, señor.”
Heartrik, his lips pressed close, was standing then, writing, sketching the tiny girl, blinking back his pain. He had hot flashes of savage rage, but they were mixed with cold repulsion that took the heart out of him.
He was thinking of his own little girl, at her third birthday party a few weeks ago, dressed in her bright, fresh, yellow party dress, sitting at the table, her small face full of innocent pleasure, head back, singing, “Aaapy to-you cake.” When he had taken the birthday cake back to the kitchen, she’d cooed, “Bye, bye to-you cake.”
The heavyset man stood watching him work for a while, and then slowly walked away.
Heartrik wrote and wrote, then finished. He had seen enough. He looked around. No one was in the yard. The heavyset man watched as the American at last came out through the gate, his face looking numb, wasted, and empty. The extremes of pity and horror and suffering had left him a shell. Pablo and Bernardo stood off a bit waiting for something, the one in khaki upright as a post.
Heartrik lifted his face. Then, purpose beginning to come alive in him, he hurriedly jotted an additional note, his lips tightly pressed together as he wrote. He finished, putting up his pen, raising his face to look over at the waiting men, beginning to smile at them, when the club-like impact caught him, he was like a skater who had skidded on the ice. He dropped his notebook and flung his arms out wildly, trying to regain his balance, feet pushing and pedaling backward, thrashing. A violent force he was unable to begin to imagine had smashed straight into his head. Thrown violently back into the wall, there was a loud, dull pumpkin sound as his skull hit and rebounded from the hardened mud wall. Then, his legs slowly caving, he slid very slowly down the wall that kept him upright.
There was complete, ominous silence, except for a cheerful, brisk rushing of water, lively and quick, as if a faucet had been left on, as the blood rushed out of his head. Soon this rush slowed, and there was only a leaden, sparse tick, as if a clock had started. The blood from his head had pooled in Heartrik’s lap. Behind his head was a great red splatter of it on the mud wall. His skull had exploded everywhere.
At the shot, Bernardo had seen the red eruption spew into the air, and he quickly turned his back, seizing his elbows in both hands. His teeth began to chatter, his face a sick, deathly white.
The smoke curled in a lazy thread from the barrel of the gun of the one in khaki, Pablo. His face was without a flicker of life or interest. The heavyset man motioned the shooter back.
Bernardo came up, teeth chattering, his pale lips twitching. With a brutal tightening of his jaws, the heavyset man gave Bernardo a single, hard, slashing slap in the face. Bernardo stood hugging his elbows, his shoulders sagging, his nerve gone.
The heavyset man stared down. It was over. “It was hardly a surprise, Bernardo, yes?”
He stared down. The American’s dulling, glassy, vacant eyes were puzzled and unblaming and seemed to ask why.
Yes, he thought. The American reporter was past all things a man could love or hate.
“We must preserve the decencies,” whispered Bernardo, whose face was a very angry, sick white. “We must preserve the decencies.”
“Shut up,” said the heavyset man.
“But we must preserve the decencies.”
“Will you shut up, Bernardo?”
“But he was for us. He was for us. He was such a likable man,” Bernardo chattered, his face stricken with horrible pallor. He still couldn’t bring himself to look down at the American.
“Bernardo,” said the heavyset man, gently, but, with savagery, Bernardo pulled free of his touch and walked away.
The heavyset man stared down. He was squinting. It was hot. A big fly had already settled on a smudge of blood, walking across the ashen forehead. “He was a fine man,” he said. “We must make sure to publish his notes. Mail them to his paper.”
And he had been likable, the heavyset man thought. But later today, Washington would thrill with horror at the news of the murder of one of its famous, most promising foreign correspondents. There would be an outburst of furious repulsion at the government, a cut in foreign aid to the clique. Then American military aid and support, lacking so far, would come flooding in, and, above all, the American press would come. They would come and rescue the cause. What was the fate of one man when the fate of so many was at stake? What was the fate of one? Every cause required sacrifice. This poor, gullible, likable man had met his fate: that was all.
The heavyset man turned and walked away. Bernardo stood, hugging his elbows, horribly pale and agitated. A group of soldiers stood nearby, talking, their backs to the body.
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.
But at that time, my only romantic interest was the wife of Edgar Bergen, Frances, who had been a high-fashion model and who was a star of the Yancey series. She played a hostess in a New Orleans’s bar, but she was tall and extremely beautiful, not simply good looking. A key element to her beauty was the refinement in her face and the exquisite manners that comes from good breeding and good ancestors. She was leggy, had elegant, blue-veined hands, and her gestures and reactions were unpretentious and graceful. She and Edgar had a daughter, Candace, who would later earn fame as the star of the Murphy Brown TV series. She and I would become very close friends.
After I arrived, I felt entirely misplaced. I felt like a spy in a foreign, dangerous country, and I was drawn to her because, she was a safe harbor in this new scary and unfamiliar world. One night, after a dinner given by the Bergen’s and about to leave their house, surrounded by strangers, timid though I was, a breeze of resolution filled my soul, and I went back in and up to Frances and kissed her smack on the mouth. A spontaneous murmuring that sprang up, and people didn’t know where to look, but I felt as if I had kept an inner promise. Courage is acting in the fear, and for a man as shy as I was, it took guts. Someone said to my father, “I thought he was supposed to be shy.” But Frances was a magical wonder in my eyes. She gave me strength. She gave me courage.
So I was witlessly smitten by Frances. Her mind was observing and articulates, and she talked with pleasant, earnest charm, her observing eyes on your eyes. Her husband, Edgar was gay, but he was very puckish and witty. I remember one time when my father and I had tied up to a dock at a restaurant in the harbor of Newport Beach to have lunch. Edgar was to meet us. He had a little steam-driven yacht called “The Poopalong.” My father had docked his boat, and Edgar waddled out and gazed at the rope my father had tied to the dock to secure the boat, and said to my father, “You tied her too loose Lautrec.” (Toulouse Lautrec, the dwarf 19th century French painter of prostitutes.) He said things like that all the time. He was a very clever man and he was also very rich.
It hadn’t been in Hollywood very long before Frances invited me over to a dinner at her house by ourselves. She lived on North Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, a very elegant neighborhood for the rich. Doris Day lived there, with her son, Terry Melcher who was a classmate at college. One day when I was at Day’s house, she and her husband, Marty Melcher, came in from filming, and the first thing Doris did was to flick on a recorder that was playing her songs at an earsplitting pitch. (Marty would soon abscond with Doris Day’s wealth. ) I would later become very close to the Bergen’s daughter, Candace, but that was to come. The dinner at Frances’ house was served by a short, dark, efficient Philippino who was also her chauffer. Immediately we found we were very comfortable with each other. She exhibited warm impulses and a generosity of spirit and as we talked I was entranced by the gentle, mild light was pouring from her eyes.
Like any son, I began to question her about my father. What was my dad like? Who were his friends? His detractors? Frances said about my dad was flamboyant and colorful character, and then she added that Edgar had said he was a genius. My soul filled with a son’s pride. I kept on, enjoying the relaxed company, the waiter quietly passing in and out, and I kept asking questions, and at some point Francis said of my father, “He’s double-gaited.” I had never heard the term before. “Double-gaited?’ What the hell was that? I was completely baffled. I asked her what it meant, and she then said, “He does it with both men and women.”
I was stunned, gutted, and speechless. There are incidents that can heavily damage your ideas of things like a car ploughing through a shop window. This was one of those. My heart sank into my shoes. I knew hardly anything about homosexuality. Oh, sure, in eighth grade, small groups of us of boys gathered in a circle to “beat the bishop or “slam the ham,” but we were entirely fascinated by woman, not men. I had never heard the word “lesbian.” I had never heard the word “gay,” other than James Joyce writing in a short story that, “The evening streets were gay.” My mother told me that homos were “degenerate” or “sexual perverts.” She had told me that homos were effeminate, wore red ties, and had handshake that was “limp-wristed;” In Hollywood, they hung out at Hollywood and Vine, and were transvestites. I myself had never pictured to myself how two grown men made love. Sodomites were way beyond the reach of my inexperienced imagination. But my father’s bi-sexual life was soon to be unmistakable except to the blind.
So now I had just heard that my father was a homo. In an instant, my delight, my sexual desire for Frances was gone. We talked for a while, but it was if someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head: my interest in her maimed beyond repair. Her chauffer took me home to the Santa Monica mansion where I waited, seething. There was a small room near the garage where my father kept his five cars. I sat in a rigid fury, and I thought of shooting my father when he came through the door. Why, you ask? First of all, I was not mentally stable. I had recently tried to kill myself, but mainly I was in a rage because ever since I was a little boy, my mother had dropped incessant innuendos about “queers,” “fags,” “fairies,” “flits,” “nasty spotty prancers,” etc., and I had always defended my father’s honor, defended him relentlessly, steadfastly, even ferociously, defended him almost by reflex, and now I had been told he was a queer.
So my mother had been right after all. That was the most bitter of my realizations. She had been right all along, the person most detested and who had made my life a misery.
Of course, my father’s sexuality was none of my business. Absolutely none. It was his own, period, but I was jittery and angry, and in a foul mood. Against all advice, my father always kept a loaded gun in the house. He had already boastfully shown me his loaded. 38 revolver that he kept in a drawer upstairs by his bed. I stewed for a second, and then I flew up the stairs, got the .38 revolver and came down and waited. I was going to drill him. It was that simple. I was going to put a hole in him in his center mass and kill him. I waited. I waited, boiling with implacable fury. But then I heard noises in the driveway – they were home! Suddenly the insanity of my sick idea became dreadfully overpoweringly clear, I raced back up and replaced the gun, and hurried back downstairs to wait, still in a hot, unforgivable fury.
At last, the back door came open. In they staggered. It was Mary Loos, a big, loud woman, wearing a lovely dress, who came in first. She was angry, exasperated and a bit tipsy. She jerked her thumb back, indicating my father, and spat, “Happy Jack squirrel,” and immediately left to go upstairs. My father, it appeared, had gotten very drunk.
And it was then my father than came in, only to immediately rest his large 6 ft. 4 inch body against the doorframe. He was barely able to stand. He simply stood there, and I went over and grabbed him around the waist with my one good hand and clumsily helped to lie down on the couch. I went back closed the door, and then I sat facing him on chair. He was sprawled on the couch, and I lifted up his legs so that he could lay flat. My mood was clearly lethal. The interrogation began. I said that Frances had told me that Edgar Bergen had said he was a genius. Was he a genius? Was that true? My father shook his head, no. “I’m not a genius,” he mumbled. “No; I am only a brilliant mediocrity.” I was quite stunned by that, by its honesty. We talked for a bit, but he was quite “stoned,” as he put it, and I finally went up to bed and lay awake, my soul in turmoil. I slept little that night.
In the morning, I found him, quite sober, sitting in his striped expensive silk pajamas with a typewriter in his lap finishing a script that was to have been done by 8 o’clock. It was now after ten in the morning and the script had been due by eight. I took the discards out of the waste basket. He was already on page 19 of a 30 page script. He had only made two false starts on the whole narrative, hence the discards. His thick glasses were down on his nose. Suddenly, I asked my father, “What makes a man a queer?” I was trying to be heartlessly cruel and trying to wound, but he wasn’t at all startled by the brutality of the rudeness; he simply looked terribly sad. Finally, he said, “A boy’s mother has a lot to do with it.” I replied simply that I wanted to go home,” and not long after, he took me to the airport. Later, he would tell me that when he was 10 years old, his mother, the opera singer, had molested him.
Six months after my first visit, Christmas came and I went out to visit my father. Jock and I were becoming more competitive all the time. I had begun to drink when I came out the second time. I was drinking rum and coke, and was standing up at the bar, when Jock came up. “Look at you,” he said with a quiet sneer in his voice. “You were so idealistic, so clean and upright, and now look at you.” I answered, “What’s wrong with me? I am simply having a drink,” but Jock wouldn’t let it go. He tried shoving me a bit, and I bristled. I told him that I was not my father, and if he tried to muscle in on me, to try and dominate me, he would regret it. Our eyes locked, and we calmed down. You see, my father was a defeatist by temperament, and I was not. Besides, I quickly learned that Jock only did things when the odds were entirely in his favor.
At that time, he was in training for the role of Tarzan a movie to be filmed in India. He had six weeks to get fit and he was training very hard, and I admired that enormously. But the film soured his fate. He swam in some Indian river and got dengue fever and some waterborne virus that eventually caused a fatal stroke.
My father, in spite of the authority conferred by his big size, was a physical coward. Back then, I was studying a lot of St. Thomas Aquinas, and I knew he had taught that courage is a cardinal virtue. So did I. Of course, when challenged, I didn’t back down. I loathed losing, but you didn’t turn down a challenge for fear of losing. If you lost, you lost. You steamed over it, you vowed to triumph in revenge, but at the moment you lacked the means to triumph. I had played water polo in college and was an excellent swimmer and won a lot of meets. In 1962, my father and step mother were out in their back yard in Newport Beach, when Jock suddenly challenged me to swim across an inlet and back to our dock. Jock was waiting for me to refuse, since it was my father’s habit to turn away, but I took him up on it. So we got set. Given the mark, we both dove in, and we flailed and thrashed away, touching the opposite shore and returning, swimming at full speed. Well, Jock finished about 5 yards or more ahead of me. I had lost. I grit my teeth as I write this, but that is what happened. It taught me a lesson: Don’t ever relax your training. You had to be ready when the time came. Of course, you are going to lose a contest if you haven’t trained hard enough to have a chance of prevailing.
That summer, I had become a counselor at a summer camp in Maine where I taught archery and riflery. I had a co instructor, Frank Best, (a neat name for a rifleman who was an expert,) and we competed against each other. One time, each of placed 10 empty cartridge boxes at the end of the firing range, and the first one to hit all ten would be the winner. I was firing an old .22 of mine, and we were off. I hit all ten, and Frank hit only nine. But when I went up to examine the boxes, the tenth had only a lead graze going across it, I hadn’t hit it solidly, so basically it was a tie. I was simply lucky.
At that time, I was reading a lot of St. Thomas Aquinas, an Aristotelian, who taught that those with courage must be able to “stand immovable in the midst of dangers,” especially those dangers that threaten bodily harm and death. Of course, an excessive desire to face fearful circumstances constitutes a kind of recklessness that can easily hasten one’s demise, but didn’t matter to me at the time.
I was at that stage where a young man tries constantly tried to test himself and I was teaching myself to withstand risks. I had an older friend, Richard Hass, built like a brick blockhouse, who told me that, during his Army training, a defective round had entered a recruit’s head as he was crawling under barbed wire with machine guns firing overhead. He was killed instantly.
So one evening, at the end of the day at the camp, when the kids at camp were up at mess, we went down to the firing range, and I asked Frank to shoot small cereal boxes off the top of my head. I would hold them in place, and wait until he shot and see what happened. I had a witness, Tom Parker, who was about to join the merchant marine, so that if something went wrong, and Frank killed me by accident, Frank wouldn’t be blamed. It would be my fault. So I carefully put the small cereal boxes on the top of my head, holding it with the tips of the fingers of two hands, and waited. Frank raised his rifle. Now, at a distance of 50 feet, looking into a raised rifle barrel, you got a shocked chill because the bore looks as if it’s aiming right between your eyes. Frank fired suddenly. There was a solid, sharp “thwack” as the bullet went through the boxes, and I felt it part my hair. The impact of the bullet surprised me. In the old Western Hoot Gibson movies of the 1940s, they talked of a bullet parting a man's hair, and I thought it a myth. But I could feel my hair move when the bullet went through it. At the first shot, Tommy looked as if he were about to vomit, but we persuaded him to stay. We needed a witness.
So I was pleased to discover that I had steady nerves. I certainly was no hero, but at least I could endure risks. We did this at least four times, and each time that bullet would go “thwack” and my hair would rustle as it passed.
The next summer when I went out, my father took the boat out, The Amberjack, heading for the open sea. We traveled for four hours, and then we halted. The boat was left to drift and bob on the big waves. I was still practicing shooting, and Jock and me started to shoot at empty liquor bottles. My father had played a big part in training me to shoot bottles far out in the deep swells. My favorite weapon was an M-1 carbine that had been zeroed in to perfection. We were at least 35 miles out in the ocean, and my father began to throw a single empty bottle of vodka over the side, throwing it as far as he could. I was then to wait, and then try and hit it. By then, I had my sea legs. The sea one day was disturbed, the wind was up, and it was a huge, vast field of water that sometime steeply rose and fell, and you kept our feet by quick movements and alertly using your hips. Once you had sea legs they never left you. Even in very rough seas, you were able to stand as long as your footwork was deft. So my father would throw a bottle in, I would stand out on the deck, waiting until he gave the signal to fire.
One day, he threw the bottle in way out in the heaving waves, and I waited, nervous, ready to pounce, watching the deep, leisurely, rising and falling of the steep swells. I kept waiting, legs spread, holding the rifle at the ready and shifting my weight, staring straight into the distance. No signal from my father. I finally yelled, “Are you going to give me the goddam signal or not,” but he said nothing, staring out at the sea and its restless swells. I had become so anxious and doubtful; I wasn’t sure I could see the damn bottle, much less hit it because the seas were moving the boat away from the bottle. I didn’t wear glasses and kept staring out, the carbine raised, and practically unhinged from the suspense. All of a sudden, both of us saw a little wink of light, very far away, a minute glare that stood atop a huge swell, and my father signaled, and I fired. It demanded a reflex shot, and I took it. Suddenly, the tiny glare of light blinked out, and my father was impressed, but I was nettled. “Next time, please give me the signal before the goddam bottle reaches the coast of Japan,” I said, a bit sour.
But Jock Mahoney was becoming more and more competitive. So one day, Jock, myself and my dad went out together. Jock was a wearing a bathing suit, as was I, and he had a pistol, a .357 magnum. He often boasted of his prowess with it. I had my favorite M-1 carbine. So Jock challenged me to a shoot out, and the contest began. We fired away at the empty bottles in the water, but when Jock began to miss, he became whiney. “Of course, you’re winning – you have a rifle.” I knew it wasn’t a fair contest, but he had underestimated my marksmanship. I replied, “You wanted this contest, not me.” We shifted weapons, and did all right with his pistol, but Jock kept saying it wasn’t fair to pit a rifle against a mere pistol, so I kept hitting things to humiliated him, and he kept complaining. It was ignominious. I had not bitched when he defeated me in the swimming contest, and he should have simply shut up. But I knew I had behaved badly.
I learned slowly, over time, that during the Yancey series, Jock and my father were lovers. Or had been. The hint came from my stepmother, who once morning complained that my father and Jock had stayed up late and had a quarrel which finished when my father fired his .38 pistol into the wall just above the big TV in the den. I was asleep in the pottery shed and hadn’t heard the shot. A lover’s quarrel.
Jock was not simply a bisexual, he was also a lecher. Sally Field was his stepdaughter, was the daughter of Maggie Field, an actress, but to Jock, Sally was simply another species of prey. One day, Jock’s wife, Maggie, surprised Jock putting the moves on Sally, and a very bitter divorce followed.
At that time, Jock was in training for the role of Tarzan, a movie to be filmed in India. He told me that he had only six weeks to get fit and he was training very hard, and I admired that enormously. But that film sealed his fate. He swam in some Indian river and got dengue fever and some waterborne virus that eventually caused a fatal stroke. The attachment between my father and Jock had cooled by then. And my father was quite without any expression of feeling at his friend’s death.
My father was a successful Hollywood producer and writer of screen plays. He also directed films as well. In the 1950s, he wrote the original screenplay for “Around the World in Eighty Days,” but was screwed out of his screen writing credits. In order to do the script, my father traveled through Europe, including Soviet-occupied Austria. The producer was an Englishman, Alex Korda, and I was wondering why an English producer paid my father’s expenses as he traveled through Europe including Soviet-occupied Austria, for the sake of the script. I soon learned that Korda was an agent of MI6, and my father and his crew were unwitting reporting agents for British intelligence.
As I related earlier, it was in the early 1950s, that my father wrote a play called “Suddenly” about an assassin who tries to kill a president with a long-range rifle. At the time, Frank Sinatra’s career was on the rocks. In 1953 when the script was finished, my father urged that Sinatra be given the part of the assassin. It remains an excellent script. Sinatra’s acting was superb. (Except for Sinatra, the acting was poor.) Later, I learned that the singer was given only $15,000 for the gig, and ever after, Sinatra was always grateful to my father, and each year would send him a large color TV or a huge vat of champagne. As I earlier related, the FBI told me that Lee Harvey Oswald watched the film many times, and the last viewing took place a week before Kennedy was killed. (I have no way to corroborate this, but the day before he was killed, Kennedy said to Jackie that if a man with a rifle were to shoot him from a building, there was no way to stop him.) Fred Zinneman, the director of From Here to Eternity, a film that snared a Oscar for Sinatra, told me that it was Sinatra’s performance in Suddenly that gave the crooner the part in his film.
My father had colorful stories about Sinatra. The offshore island of Catalina was clearly a place where many orgies occurred. One night, Humphrey Bogart’s yacht was anchored in the cove, and Sinatra came in, (by plane or by boat, I don’t know,) but he was being rowed to the yacht in a tiny boat by Lionel Newman, the father of Randy, and who was singing ribald songs, “My prick fit her clit,” sort of thing, and Sinatra was singing along with the jolly obscenities, when, nearing the yacht, the singer suddenly dropped a big bottle of bourdon into the water of the cove. Sinatra, who was by then, utterly and completely drunk, yelled out mightily in alarm, then dove in, swimming to bottom to search for it. Sinatra was a feisty little devil. He reemerged spluttering, yelling at the top of his lungs, “The booze! The booze!” And he dove back down again. Sinatra’s clothes were sodden, and onlookers on the board thought Sinatra was going to drown, when an actor, Dewey Martin, who had starred in Daniel Boone, and The Land of the Pharaohs, dove in and rescued Sinatra just as someone else dove down and rescued the booze. (This is the same Sinatra who delivered $4 million in cash to the Mob in Havana.)
I liked Dewey very much. He was a handsome man of medium height, with dark hair and alert intelligent eyes and a modest manner. His body was fit, and he had charm. There was nothing showy about him, and his good looks had none of that vulgarity which you sometimes saw when you saw male actors up close. He often went to sea with my father and me.
When we were far out to sea, Dewey and I would get off the boat and swim with the sharks. The movie "Jaws" would later captivate the nation, allowing a lot of drunken idiots to rent a boat and slaughter the creatures, but in the early 1960s, sharks in the ocean off of California were not that dangerous. The blue fin sharks we saw were slow, lazy swimmers compared with dolphins. If you were ten miles out on the ocean, you would sometimes spot the sharks in a flat sea, and they did not manifest any ominous, huge, black fin ploughing along, but instead displayed small fins wallowing along atop the shallow swells of ocean. I always swam with my eyes open under water, in spite of the salt, and the only incidents where I had brushes with them, occurred when a shark got curious at seeing me swim, and he came up to investigate. I would take his measure, make a ferocious face, and then hit him quickly on his nose, not hard, and he would dart way immediately. I was not afraid of them, neither was Dewey. The real danger came, not from the sharks, but my tipsy father who was standing guard, pointing his .30.6 at the water. I tried not to think of that as we swam.
As I’ve made clear, my father was a superb story teller. He could do superb impressions, his lively, expressive face would assume odd shapes or expressions for effect, and it made all of us laugh. He knew Bogart well, and once told me how Bogart had a sailing yacht, the Santana, and he enjoyed going to sea and putting into port at Catalina. (His wife Lauren Bacall used to get seasick, and she disliked going.) But all the actors respected the fact that the yacht was the couple’s love nest. No one was allowed to set foot in the cabin where he and Bacall made love. It was extremely private, off limits to everyone. The two were very private people in real life.
Except one night, Bogart had sailed to Catalina without Lauren, and Dewey Martin was on board, drinking, when he confessed to being extremely horny, He used the ship to shore phone and got Gloria de Haven, a popular starlet, on the line. She agreed to take a motor launch from L.A. over to the Santana if Dewey paid for it. He happily agreed. It took an hour and a half before Gloria arrived, all decked out and showy, and no sooner had she alighted and had been rowed over to the Santana and gotten aboard, when she and Dewey went into the hallowed cabin and closed the door. It was clear that Bogart had made an exception for Dewey.
It was after two in the morning – the cove at Catalina Island was utterly quiet and sound asleep -- when suddenly the loud hailer came on and that incredibly unmistakable Bogart voice announced– “Now hear this! Now hear this! The fucking lamp is lit.” That story is the favorite of my Hollywood stories.
As hilarious as those stories are, what makes one sick about Hollywood is the constant obsession with pleasure, with a side of life that demanded large sums of money, endless spare time, an empty head, and the belief, fundamental to their character, that going out and having sex with as many people as possible, was not only a very important thing in life, but it was the only important thing in life. In Hollywood, the endless smut, the lewd, the lascivious, the voracious and unstrained play a big part in the life there.
Most such encounters were transitory, their infatuations held by the thinnest of threads, most of those infatuated lived in suspense, expecting to see the threads broken or discovering, to their horror, that they had never been fastened to anything of significance at all.
If Pat permits, I will submit Part Three for his approval. We are not trying to do War and Peace here, and I have gone far enough as it is. I don’t want to weary busy people.
Note on Money
I noted that my father earned $1.5 million in 1958. To try and translate that into day’s terms, “Bogart and Bacall moved into a $160,000 ($2,100,000 in 2010 dollars) white brick mansion in an exclusive neighborhood in LA's Holmby Hills.” In other words, it was a lot of money. But it should be made clear I never cared for money, not my grandfather’s or my fathers. There were many things in life that I valued more.
The first impression of my father that I can still vividly recall occurred when I was a little boy living with my sister and mother on a farm just off the Merritt Parkway near Greenwich. CT. The place was isolated, surrounded by orchards and other farms. We had no neighbors. Except for the odd relative, I have no memory of anyone calling on us.
It was Christmas morning in 1943, and I awoke and came out of my bedroom and through spokes on the stair railing, I saw a wonder. Down by the front door, a toy train was doing lively figure eights under the heavily decorated, tinsel-drooped branches of the Christmas tree. My small soul flooded with joy.
I soon learned that my father loved toy trains, and meticulously built his own layouts, his own engines, laid his own tiny tracks with a tiny hammer and tacks, built small towns and landscapes with mountains, constantly adding to his system. He was also a Ham Radio operator who made his own recordings of someone named Walter Cronkite who was writing about some war, something about a battle in France where “the fighting was fierce, especially in the center…” The broadcasts were about the Nazi victory of France in 1940. He kept those 78s for years.
My father stood six feet four with a big frame. He was a red head with a long, clean-shaven oval face that always wore heavy dark spectacles because his eyes were so flawed he could barely see. I can still picture him, his thick-lensed glasses on his nose peering down at something, trying to read it. He was born in the Bronx in New York. As a sensitive boy, he was called, “Fatty Four-eyes,” and had a miserable childhood with bullies constantly picking on him. The disdain of his peers scarred him. They were cruel and remind me of the time when Theodore Roosevelt first went to North Dakota, where the cowboys saw his spectacles as “a failure of character.” Apparently, my father’s schoolmates were prey to the same sort of prejudicial idiocy. As a child, he was awkward, helpless, defenseless, and badly bullied by the other boys. He dreaded school. My father never fought back. Submissiveness lay at the root of his nature. At times it paraded as strength, boastfulness, etc., but it was still submissiveness.
He was a glib man, a fluent man, who could be extremely charming. The real loves of his life werepleasure and money. Hemarriedmy mother because her father had money, and he married his second wife because her father had even more money. His ease at making himself interesting to others, his skill in explaining ideas, his animation in recounting stories, impressions, facts and experiences, his momentary earnestness, all captivated the unwary. Sometimes when he was drinking, there was in his conversation energy of touch, an ability to relate things in an engaging manner. He had never finished college. He did a year at Washington and Lee but dropped out
My father’s childhood was tragic.
His mother was Frances Adams who, according to my father, had sung the title role in Carmen when she was 19. She was a genuine eye-catcher, he said. Her husband was a kind, extremely competent Los Angles doctor who adored her. When Frances got tuberculosis, her confidence was destroyed, and she cast all decent restraints aside and embarked on “an around the world screwing tour,” according to my father. After her husband learned of her breathtaking string of infidelities, he, completely broken-hearted, threw himself out the third floor window of a Los Angeles hospital. Unfortunately, he had succeeded in suffering a compound fracture of his ankle, and died three weeks later of a Streptococcus infection. That took place in 1935. My father never forgot his death or its cause. He hated his mother with a stone cold, loathing detestation.
But as I was to learn, my father’s dominant instincts and the habitual force of character were not of one type, but were mixed together in a disturbing and contradictory ensemble. The great Lytton Strachey once described famous British Prime Minister Gladstone’s character as “a confusion of incompatibles.” That describes my father. When she would visit, he never expressed any affection to her. He coldly correct and simply wanted her gone.
When he wasn’t drinking, he was cold, stand offish, afraid of the world and his own shadow. He would abstain from drinking two weeks at a time during which he was distant and indifferent. He was polite but it was the kind of politeness that simply tolerated you. There was no friendship in it. During his days of abstinence, he was always sniffing his nose. All day you would hear chorus of “sniffs.” He was chronically insensitive to others unless he set out to seduce them to validate his powers. Around people, he was charming: alcohol was like second temperament for him.
He was a very timid man. He once told me that other men in Hollywood made fun of him and wanted me to teach him self-defense. I was offended for him and wanted to meet the men bullying him but I never did.
“The Dumas of the Pulps”
My father had been dubbed “The Dumas of the Pulps,” and he began to sell stories in his early teens. Before I was born, under the influence of my mother’s Christian Science religion, he wrote a good novel, Not Too Narrow, Not Too deep, about an escape from Devil’s Island which was led by a Jesus-figure. In 1938, he did another novel, Is a Ship Burning? based on the Morro Castle disaster when a luxury liner caught fire in 1934. According to news accounts, “Hours after the first broken SOS stuttered out to the sleeping world, 251 of the liner's 558 passengers and crew were dead or unaccounted for. Thirty three bodies were recovered at Manasquan, N.J., and 17 were washed ashore at Point Pleasant.” This second book was not as good as the first, and he turned to writing detective novels.
By 1945, he had become a Hollywood writer, director and producer working for twentieth century Fox. My father directed Marilyn Monroe in her first film a western called, “Ticket to Tomahawk.” My father didn’t like Marilyn, calling her a woman “whose bra straps would never be clean,” but my stepmother countered, saying that she would become a big star. Both were right.
In 1946, he divorced my mother. He married an attractive California woman, Mary Loos, the niece of Anita Loos, author of Gentleman Prefer Blondes. In 1959, still a teenager, I went to visit him. The father of Mary Loos was exceedingly rich. She was a loud, vulgar woman, and it was clear to me then that my comfort-loving father had a certain mercenary streak in his nature. He married my mother because my grandfather had money, and he married the niece of the author Anita Loos, Mary, because she had even more money. Her father, Dr. Clifford Loos had founded one of the first chains of health clinics in Los Angeles, and he prospered. He lived in a huge, lavish Spanish-style mansion nestled in Santa Monica canyon. The main house had a towering living room, with a huge fire place and statues of the saints nestled high in niches on each side. Outside, there was a long swimming pool, Olympic sized, bordered by Mexican tiles on each side. There was a ¾ acre plot out front full of banana and other fruit trees which I would wander about in. It was a magnificent place.
There was a pottery shed on the property, which where I lived when I came to stay. It had very old books stored atop the tables there, one of which was the original version of The Koran, translated by one of my great, great grandfathers, George Sale, who was an 18 century English clergyman. When I was in Tehran one time, I went to a book store and found it sitting high on a shelf, the secret police lady who ran the place, staring expressionlessly as I explain that a relative of mind had written it. The Islamics were the true enemies of the Shah.
That book was to have been mine, but when my father died, all kinds of things of value suddenly disappeared.
I liked to stay in the pottery shed and I had learned to shoot a pistol and I kept it near me, in order to keep the place safe.
Introduction to Hollywood
In 1958, he got a CBS TV series on the air, Yancey Derringer, and had earned $1.5 million in one year, which was a lot of money back then.
In any case, as a teenager, I had an accident that left my left arm badly damaged. My mother had refused to let me visit my father, but she relented, and I flew out to meet him. My father was driving an expensive car and he was very flamboyant in manner and dress. He wore those dubious leisure suits, red socks and loafers. He owned five cars and three homes. He had his series Yancey Derringer on CBS, and he made $1.5 million in a single year. That was real money back then.
In any case, as a teenager, I had an accident that left my left arm badly damaged. There were 12 stitches in the wound. My mother had refused to let me visit my father, but she relented, and I flew out to meet him. My father was driving an expensive car and he was very flamboyant in manner and dress. He wore those dubious leisure suits, red socks and loafers. He owned five cars and three homes. He had his series Yancey Derringer on CBS, and he made $1.5 million in a single year. That was real money back then.
A few days later, when I went to my first lunch in Hollywood, feeling very much an awed, timid kid, completely out of place. The lunch took place at Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles. That was where the star spent their summers. John Wayne was a neighbor who owned an old PT boat from President John Kennedy’s day; Jane Russell lived next door, etc. My first lunch took place at Lucille Ball’s house. Her house sat on an inlet in Newport Beach near the open ocean. I was introduced to a lot of famous people like Dick Powell, Lucille Ball, Robert Mitchum, and Candy Bergen whose father. Edgar Bergen, was the famous radio ventriloquist. We went over to Lucille’s house by boat – my father owned a 40.ft boat called The Amberjack, and we took it to Lucy’s dock. I scrambled from the boat up to the dock, but the wind had kicked up, the swells were swift and unruly, and my father had trouble docking the boat. The wind made the flags on the dock flutter wildly. My heart went out to him as he tried again and again to nestle the boat into the dock space, only to fail. Jokes began about his seamanship. And I detected in this famous group, a cruel streak of cruel superiority, a cold bloodedness that rejoices in another’s discomfiture. I saw at once by father was not quite on equal footing with the rest, and I felt very protective of him.
When my father finally gained the deck, eager for a drink, when someone was talking about Edgar’s wife, Frances, a former fashion model who had become a cast member of my father’s TV show. She wasn’t there, but someone asked, “How is she?” and my father quickly and suggestively replied, “I don’t know -- I haven’t felt her yet,” and not missing beat, Lucille Ball shot back, “The hell you haven’t!” in that inimitable voice of hers. Lucille and I would soon become great friends. Lucille had a rooftop apartment overlooking Central Park in New York, and we would often have dinner and converse. Whenever we kissed, it was restrained, not avid or greedy. She would say to my father, “What’s wrong with your son? Wouldn’t he like to marry a rich woman?”
That was my introduction to Hollywood.
I was never in awe of Hollywood. The whole idea of celebrity I was in my eye extremely dubious. What kind of an idiot think it thrilling to shake Cary Grant’s hand. (Cary grant, I learned, was gay, and he lived very quietly with Western movie hero Randolph Scott, one of the first thing my father told me.) The taste of the run of the mill people is sadly lacking in the ability to judge rightly. I had a savagely abusive mother, but t least we didn’t live in Hollywood, but on the East Coast. I had no affection for the West Coast. Most stars come from completely undistinguished backgrounds. Most of the actors there were there because of their looks. Some of these had talent, but most got by on their looks and were taken in hand by promoters whose aim was to exploit them. Lana Turner was discovered at a Drug Store counter in Beverly Hills, Rock Hudson was a filling station worker when he was discovered, etc. . (The one actor of genius I met was Marlon Brandon. I was in New York, working for Life Magazine in the Entertainment Department, (I had applied to become a war correspondent, but was put there, “because you read a lot of books, an editor explained, and I spent an evening with him. He talked incessantly about the rights of American Indians, and I finally asked him, have you ever liked with any tribe?” which took him aback – I had interrupted his harangue,) because I used to spend summer with the Apaches in New Mexico. The Mescalero Apache Tribe. I soon discovered that the Apaches were a very proud people, whose wives were reduced to prostitutes’ service rich white golfer from El Paso. But in terms of projecting anguish, of being truly distraught, suffering with horrible desolation, beseeching and helpless in his pain, Brando had no equal. Clearly he had suffered very deeply in his life.)
I am wandering.
In Hollywood, gifts of mind are soon separated from any trace of conscience, and the pleasure-loving, rapacious, degenerate character of Hollywood was soon surfaced. Nothing there was done with an eye to lasting. The moment, the fad, the empheral ruled there. Everything was immediate: the success, the money, the sexual license and freedom from any restraints or serious purpose – these attitudes contaminated everything. There was never any serious ranking of values. It was their habit to worship the worthless as long as it was expensive and showy. There was a widespread lack of conscientiousness. A man or woman in show business cannot conduct his or her affairs without some idea, however vague or inaccurate which gives them an indication of where he or she is going, something that gives direction to his or her life and efforts. But in Hollywood, the only motive is selfish calculation. They believe things are true because everyone says they are. There is a placid gullibility that I saw there. It was a place founded on false impressions.
It became clear that most of the actors I knew were hopeless alcoholics. All had no morals. They had no intellectual interests of any kind. They had no inner life. They didn’t read. Their minds were vastly limited. Easy, reckless pleasure was the idol they all worshipped My father and most of his friends had no principles, no morals, and no inhibitions, no purpose beyond mental and physical pleasure and the immediate gratification of those. He entirely lacked any moral sensitivity or compassion for other’s feelings. He was entirely self-centered. He was an alcoholic, and if you have ever lived with one, you soon learned what their “trajectories” meant. By that I mean, as they were getting drunk, they were amiable and friendly, when they hit their apogee, they wanted to hug you and carry you away from life’s torments, and on the way back down, and they turned as mean an unpredictable as rattle snakes. They have no honor.
He was producer and director of his series, Yancey Derringer, and I got to go behind the scenes and saw all the tricks that Hollywood uses in its productions. I remember a scene where the hero, Jock Mahoney, was traveling by train, and the set displayed part of a railway carriage, with two stage hands making the thing jounce it up and down, while another stage hand had a metal can which could blow smoke past the passenger windows.
In the series, set in New Orleans, a former stuntman, Jock Mahoney, a slick gambler and law man, had an Indian sidekick, Pahoo, a Pawnee Indian. They would work together to solve crimes. Pahoo was a mute, and only communicated by sign language from the Pawnee Tribe. (I had two books onsign language, most of them from the Sioux tribe. This came in handy when Jud and I visited the Tarahuma Indians deep in western Mexico who didn’t speak Spanish but who spoke sign.)
My father had a wonderfully impish sense of humor. One night, after the cast had spent the night drinking and playing poker, my father and Pahoo went to the studio after eight o’clock in the morning driving in my father’s 1935 Rolls Royce. Soon, Pahoo emerged in his make up, and my father was now dressed in a chauffer’s livery, including a small cap. My father then put down top of the car, and he and Pahoo went driving around Beverly Hills, with Pahoo sitting upright in the back seat of, the butt of a silver-plated double-barreled shotgun sticking up, my father hunched down to drive. In a place that refused to be impressed by anything, that makes an impression, people turning to see a mute, proud Indian being driven about Beverly Hills. My father could be a bit of a map cap when he chose.
I watched my father direct episodes. One of the actors on the show was Lee van Cleef who was very kind to me. Van Cleef would later obtain fame from the Italian spaghetti westerns, but even then he had an arresting presence and voice, and his success didn’t surprise me. He had injured a leg driving drunk off a canyon mountain road at night. When I first saw him, he was standing in the back of the set, idly scratching his groin, and he told me in an aside that he had finished the last of his shot for gonorrhea or some STD. This sort of made me stare.
Another actor I liked was Kelly Thordson, a former LA policeman who had a warm, amiable personality. But the star of my father’s series was a former stunt man, Jock Mahoney whom I had seen as a teenager in the series, Range Rider. He was extremely lithe, graceful and handsome, lean, and very physically talented. He has been a stunt man before Yancy Derringer. Once I saw him at my father’s house in Newport Beach, standing on the third floor balcony from which he dove into the small swimming pool below. I found this stunning, but my father warned, “No stunt man ever takes a chance. They estimate, then they act, confident they can succeed. They don’t take chances.” I told him what Jock had done took courage, he simply shrugged.
During my first visit, Pahoo, whose name was X. Brands, one day showed up for the shoot with 16 stitches in his jaw. The night before, while drunk, arriving home after he had just had a sexual experience with a girl friend, he taunted his wife by saying, “See, what she does for me? Why can’t you do that for me?” and the wife had picked up a phone and hit him in the face, opening up a 16 stitch cut. At my father’s funeral, I learned from my former step-mother that while at Twentieth Century Fox, my father and another man went to an orgy, and both started at the end of supine females, their legs open, until both men met at the middle.
Jock lived in the San Fernando Valley, with his wife, Maggie, and step daughter, Sally Field. I didn’t like Maggie much. She was attractive, lying out in the back yard, trying to get a tan, but she would labor over the difference between the word “kookie” and “koonie.” Fr me part, she didn’t speak English, and I stopped being attentive. I liked Sally right away; she was a beautifully formed little girl with intelligence, endless curiosity and grace of manner.
In the back yard there was a trampoline, and I watched Jock work out on it. He asked me if I wanted to learn some stunts, and I was delighted and said yes. He took me aside, and made a distasteful face and said to me, your father doesn’t exercise. He thinks about it and thinks about it and it never happens. I told Jock I wasn’t like my father. But clearly the two men were competitive.Soon, Jock had me diving through successive barrel hoops in his yard and had me jumping off low roofs. I horrified my mother when, on my return, I began to jump off the roof of the garage.
Sally Field was Jock’s step father, and at one point, according to my father, Jock could not keep his hands to himself, and a bitter divorce resulted. But I always knew she had something special. The success of Sally has given me great joy.
Last December, The National Inquirer published a story about the drowning death of movie star Natalie Wood. The story interested me because I knew how she died, and, worse, I knew of her phobia about drowning.
I got to know her in this way.
My father was a Hollywood writer and director and he knew a lot of famous people. One my first trip out to meet him, he introduced me to Natalie and her husband, actor Robert J. Wagner. They took us aboard RJ’s boat, My Other Lady, the destination the island of Catalina, 22 miles off Newport Beach, south of LA. RJ and Natalie had been married twice, and my father was best man at the first wedding. At the time, I was a Christian Scientist, forbidden to take any medicines, I didn’t drink, but on the way to the island, I drank a quart of milk. The wind had whipped up the ocean into choppy white caps, and very soon, I got seasick. Wishing I were dead, I leaned to vomit over the side, when RJ grabbed the seat of my jeans and hauled back with all his might to stop me going overboard. The next day, deeply chagrined, I would see him with a hose-brush cleaning my vomit off his boat. I blushed with shame. No one wants to open a friendship in that way. I was a newcomer, and wanted people to like me, and no sooner had I met them, I had vomited all over their boat. It still bothers me.
RJ Wagner was collegiate, handsome, courteous but lacking in force of personality. Natalie was the stronger personality of the two by far, and I found she was extremely attractive. She had shapely legs, beautiful hands and feet, and modest nicely shaped breasts. My father told me the story of how Natalie had been seduced by the director of Rebel Without a Cause, Nick Ray, when she was fourteen. My father was still steaming over it when it when I arrived. Even for Hollywood, seducing a fourteen year old was entirely despised.
Catalina was lovely, an island rising out of the sea, mountainous, impressive, At night you could hear sheep up on the slopes of the mountains. The boat was moored in a quiet cove, and that night, the three of them were playing poker and drinking heavily. I sat outside, gazing at the stillness of the calm night, and reading some of Aristotle Ethics by a light on the deck. Poker, at that time was the trivial pursuit of Hollywood then. I was a serious kid, reading Aristotle, when the door came open and Natalie came out. She was always stunning. She asked me what I was doing, and I said I was reading, and we talked and then she shook her head, smiled, and said “Richard, you are such a square.” But I was a person not eager to express what was in my mind. I was still too shy.
Except I was a horny square. The next morning, while my father and RJ were sleeping, I was up early and crept out on the deck only to see Natalie was already there. She was lying face down, getting a tan. She had undone her bathing suit bra and when she saw me, she sat up arched her back. I saw most of her breasts then and I stopped breathing. She still lay down while we talked. She was Russian, and her real name was Natasha Gurdin. (Gurdeen.) Her mother barely spoke English. I learned that when the ship to shore phone rang one day, and I found Natalie’s mother on the line, asking for her. Her mother’s English was smothered in a heavy Russian accent.
Natalie and I got along well. We met several times, and had good conversations. We talked about her career. My father’s basic line about show business women was, “I’m tired of talking about me. Why don’t you talk about me?” But Natalie was not like that. I asked her questions, curious and wanting to know her better, and she said she had starred in a movie when she was five, Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street, where she had to sing song in the film. I asked her to sing for me, and she did. It was a lovely, understated voice, soft and full of charm, pitched perfectly. I was entranced.
The sun was beating down sharply, and I wanted to go swimming. I had my trunks on, and I left her and dove off the stern of the boat, going straight to the bottom where, eyes open, I could see fish that were about 18 inches long swimming leisurely through the water. I came back aboard, draining like a waterfall, and Natalie’s face looked disquieted. She told me she never dove overboard. She never swam. She told me that she had many nightmares about drowning. There was such distressed suffering in her face when she talked of swimming.
So when I heard she had drowned, yearning, grief, and dire sorrow filled my soul. Of all deaths, that was the one she had dreaded most, and her death left me to grieve.