Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marilyn French,Rona Jaffe,Lillian Hellman,Betty Friedan and me

I met Marilyn French because we shared an agent. One day I walked into the agent’s townhouse/office and there was Marilyn French. I had read her groundbreaking novel The Women’s Room and could not believe what I was reading. She had mined my psyche and organized all of the buried dissatisfactions and laid them out in a story that mirrored every suburban woman's life. Marilyn sat next to me on a little bench in the entryway and chatted for a minute. I was overstimulated and began to babble. I blurted out something extravagant like “you changed my life.” This was not true. I continued to live exactly the same way but now I knew why I was annoyed. Oh, wait, I remember something: I wrote my own account of events in Report From The Heart.

I met Tom Wolfe before he was The Tom Wolfe. He was a reporter for The Washington Post and used to eat in a restaurant owned by my uncle where I occasionally worked. Besides being witty and charismatic Tom was already wearing his signature unique wardrobe. I once asked where he had acquired his epaulette driven military officer’s coat. He said that he bought all his outerwear at The Nearly New Shop nearby.

I met Lillian Hellman, the famous playwright (who lived with Dashiell Hammett, the famous mystery writer) in Michael’s a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. I had just written an article for Ladies’ Home Journal and the editor took me to lunch. Ms. Hellman knew the editor and stopped by on her way out to talk to her and I was introduced. She was a short compact woman cylindrical in shape and her expression had solidified into an imperious stare. Her small hard handbag dangled from her wrist. She did not gush as to how happy she was to meet me. She just waited for the introduction to be over. BTW, Myrna Loy who played Nora Charles in the movies made of Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man was friendly and engaging. I met her on a train from Washington to New York and she thought I was very brave to be traveling with three children under six. I kept thinking: 'Nora Charles thinks I'm brave.'
Even though she was cold and unresponsive, Ms. Hellman did not deserve the hand grenade tossed by Mary McCarthy who accused her of never writing an honest word including ‘the’ and ‘and’.

I met Betty Friedan crossing Bay Street in Sag Harbor on the east end of Long Island. Betty was extremely short and she had a very large head with those googly eyes. Again, I lost all sense and began gushing. She kept on walking and didn’t even acknowledge that I existed.

Rona Jaffe once gave me a terrific quote for my book Best Friends. You can imagine how happy I was when we wound up at the same party in East Hampton. I went over to thank her. She looked me over, said four or five cold words and walked away.

Maybe I met all these women when they were tired of talking or tired of living or tired of having people tell them how wonderful they were. I can see where that could happen although I still love it. But hey, they gave me something authentic to put in this column.

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