Posts tagged ‘Ballet’




I was getting almost accustomed to being almost single again.

That is, I don’t mean that there were no female people in my life. There was Carolie Ulf, taking care of the kids just as though her daughter and I were still obsessively married.

Then there was Marge, the surgical nurse who supervised the operation on my nose and didn’t seem to mind, or even notice, the way it smelled while it was healing, and Bea from the folk-dance group I had begun taking my kids to now and then. Take them all in all, it was surprising how many basically single but not unavailable youngish women I turned out to know once my wife Carol was no longer obscuring the view.

That’s not even counting the Bantam office. There, people weren’t asking me why I bought Dhalgren anymore. They were jealously curious to know instead how I had been able to tell that this peculiar and highly sexual bunch of pages was going to have legs, for legs it was beginning to have. 50,000 copies sold, 80,000, and the books that were on the shelves from the original print order were melting away and the production people were on the phones ordering more, and quicker.

I was as surprised as anybody. In my own world of bookselling dreams I had thought that Dhalgren might turn out to be a sleeper, a book that might have a modest early sale, but a sale that kept on coming and maybe growing slowly, and then, as more and more people discovered it, growing less slowly all the time. But there was nothing slow about the way customers kept appearing and searching for copies to buy.

That was quite a good feeling to have. I found myself spending a little more time in the office to enjoy it., maybe three days a week instead of one or two.

  Continue reading ‘And the Day Came’ »

The One That Went Right, Almost

'The Space Merchants' by Frederik Pohl and C.M. KornbluthThe Space Merchants was actually the first science fiction novel that Cyril Kornbluth and I wrote, and it pleased us both greatly by becoming a quick success. We scored good sales and got a ton of reviews, mostly good.

And in the fullness of time, I got a phone call from a man named Arnold Perl. He said he had just read the book. He thought it might have some possibilities that might not have occurred to me, and would like to discuss them. And why didn’t I drop by his house in Alphabet City — a pleasant residential section of the lower East Side at the time, not yet carved into drug kingdoms — and have a chat?

If you are a more sophisticated person than I was in the 1950s, you know who Arnold Perl was. I didn’t. He had to tell me. He was the fellow who had taken a book of short stories by Sholem Aleichem, Tevye’s Daughters, made it into a Jewish theater play … and then encouraged the process, together with Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick, who fiddled with the milkman’s story and added some great songs — and everything else it needed to become Fiddler on the Roof, pretty much the biggest and best musical event to hit old Broadway.

And what he was wondering, Arnold said, as he poured me another cup of tea, was whether something like that could be done with The Space Merchants.


Now, I can’t honestly say that I knew just what was being offered to me, but what I did know was just a tiny bit worrisome. I didn’t want to disappoint this nice man, and I was well aware that I knew nothing about playwriting. Ah, not to worry, Arnold said. He wasn’t looking for a finished script. What he was hoping for was glimpses — a short story, even a single page from a story, a confrontation, a discovery. An idea.

Or a song.

Or a dance number — I was after all, I was a big ballet fan, wasn’t I?

Nothing that had to attain the professional standards of theater, though.

So I did it. I said I’d give it a try, and as I wandered down from his place in the East Village, the ideas were beginning to condense themselves out of what had been that amorphous cloud that these things come from. So I waited for the ideas to hit.

No “If I were a Rich Man” came to me out of my gymnastics, not even a long and empty length of railroad track. But I was, I thought, beginning to catch the rhythm of the process. One notion — a song and dance about a major surgical procedure — stuck in my mind for a while. What did that have to do with the future of the advertising business? Nothing.

What did Arnold say when I showed it to him? He said, “I’m glad to see you’re loosening up.”

Was any of this stuff real story material? I don’t know, but sometimes I would get a feeling that there were useful images coming along, any minute now. My big sorrow was that I had to do it all by myself, because Cyril had died some months earlier. If he had been around, the whole process would have been at least twice as easy and at least twice as good. But he wasn’t.

And then one morning the phone rang at a shockingly early hour, and it was the office of my film agent, H.N. Swanson, on the line. I don’t mean it was Swanie himself. It was one of his large number of assistants and associates and assorted other human beings who inhabited the two-story walkup that was his office.

“Fred?” said the voice on the phone. “Swanie says some English people called Redifusion Television are offering $750 for the film rights to The Space Merchants and what do you want him to do about it?”

To be continued. . . .

Related posts:
Me and the Biz
Me and the Biz, Part II (continued)

Jane Fonda in Barbarella

There were four other books that I rescued from the Ryndam’s library. My interest in two of them was generated by the Ryndam’s unexpectedly lavish store of American classic films. I had had no warning such a treat was in store.

But while I changed for dinner one evening, the stateroom TV stopped me cold. A young man was standing his ground against a powerful older one. I didn’t know either man by name, but I was pretty sure that the young one was a struggling composer desirous of being taken on by the Maestro di tutti di maestri di balletto. And in just a moment — wait for it — yes, there was Moira Shearer to apply to that same company as a dancer, looking as dewy and darling as any human female had ever been.

There was no doubt. We were right at the beginning of that greatest of ballet films ever made, The Red Shoes. Of course I was a little late for dinner that night, as I was on more than one other night that month because the classics didn’t stop coming. Patton. The Wizard of Oz. The African Queen. Fantasia. Cleopatra.

And then the one that turned me to the Ryndam’s bookshelves, On Golden Pond, starring Jane Fonda, playing the estranged daughter of Henry as well on the screen as she did in real life, with Katharine Hepburn playing the totally loved mom — but that was only casting. The first time I had seen the movie, I had been interested in some newspaper chat about Hepburn being critical of Jane for politics, Fonda disapproving of Kate for switching her own career to black so she could devote every minute of her time to loving and caring for Spencer Tracy, the man who meant her life to her, but couldn’t divorce his Catholic wife to give her a ring.

These are two of the greatest film actresses of any century. One would like to know what drives them. This one would anyway, so I checked out Kate by William J. Mann and My Life So Far by the Fonda woman herself and began to read. The first couple of chapters of My Life went well enough, not least because they covered the Barbarella period of Jane’s career, and it is quite rewarding to even an aging man to help Roger Vadim calculate how many centimeters of fabric can be removed from his wife’s costume to produce the maximum of pink-skinned gorgeousness.

Kate, on the other hand, offers no such rolls in the hay. Kate is dying. The roles, the lovers, the headlines, are all over now. All the roaring fireplaces in her house are shut down because there is oxygen in the house. The end is approaching.

Well, you say, why not? Could not a great book be written about the death of a loved person? Of course it could. Just not by Mann. Too bad. This could have been a good book, but perhaps better with a different author.

There remain two books, both pretty much picked up by chance, and both highly recommended by me. I had had no idea such a volume as Elizabeth’s London existed, therefore couldn’t go looking for it as I might otherwise have done before watching Shakespeare in Love. It tells you all there is to know about how Elizabethan London filled its shops, emptied its latrines, and dealt with its criminals.

I should on the other hand have expected the existence of a book like Paris 1919 if I had thought to look for it, because surely someone would have tried to express all those complex interactions of victors and vanquished that did so much to assure that there would be a second World War worse than the first.

It is easy to point out areas where the victorious Allies made mistakes, harder to know how they might have avoided them. Take Woodrow Wilson’s bargaining position. When the American navy first landed in France after the Armistice, he was The Man, and his word was law. A little later — when American Republicans were tired of being ignored; when secret deals that removed chunks of populations from one state to another could no longer be kept secret; when wartime promises had to be repudiated (catastrophic! Or kept, even worse), that worldwide writ was running thin. Unfortunately, Wilson didn’t seem to know.

Even worse was one other thing he didn’t seem to know. Georges Clemenceau and Lloyd George did: In November, the German high command had pled for a truce not because they were bored with fighting but because they were being crushed by huge, fresh Allied forces. Total defeat was about to happen at any day. With the Armistice, though, everything changed. The Germans had time to lick their wounds, while the victorious Allies began sending their troops home.

Before long, the numbers favored the Germans. If fighting had resumed and those German troops had returned to the assault on Paris, there would have been very little to keep them out.

Related post:
The Book Place