Posts tagged ‘L. Jerome Stanton’

The Man Who Gave Me His Wife

Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton Pohl, 1966.

Carol Metcalf Ulf
Stanton Pohl, 1966.

During World War II, Jay Stanton signed on as radioman with several convoys on the Murmansk run. This was one of the most dangerous jobs there were but Stanton survived. After the war he settled for some years in the largely sf community in Manhattan.

I didn’t really discriminate Jay from others in the community until he married a tall, blonde, very good-looking woman named Carol Metcalf Ulf. (At the time I admit I thought Jay might be running a little luckier than he deserved.) The two settled down in a small apartment in Chelsea. Jay took a job as an assistant to John Campbell on the stumbling science magazine Air Trails and Science Frontiers, and began showing up in evening sessions with his guitar, accompanying anybody who wanted to be accompanied in anything they wanted to sing.

Often his wife, Carol, was singing with him; she had an untrained but quite good soprano voice. However, what she preferred to do, most evenings, was walk over to the Village and sit in one of the bars for a few hours, listening to music and chatting with the musicians.

The most outstanding character of Jay Stanton, you need to realize at once, is that in some ways he was an almost pathologically kind and generous man. Many a husband would prefer to have his bride stay home at night instead of inhabiting Greenwich gin mills without him. Jay apparently accepted it with calm. If this woman he wanted to make happy preferred the gin mills he let it be so. Of course, most people would begin to suspect that this sort of thing was warning of a marriage in trouble.

Most people would be right, too. I wasn’t very surprised when one night I came home to Red Bank — Judy hadn’t thrown me out of the house yet — and discovered 386 West Front Street had a new boarder. Apparently Carol had applied to Judy for shelter and Judy had been generous. It did have one, I believe, unanticipated result, though. Carol and I became friends. It started, if I remember, one morning when Judy wasn’t around and I was out on that grand porch singing to the river, and the next thing I knew we were singing duets. Singing them pretty well, too.

And it went on from there. It went on sufficiently well that, a few months later, when Judy did at last kick me out and I moved into a tiny flat in New York’s East Village, Carol moved with me.

That was not the most amazing thing, though. The most amazing thing was that Jay accepted the changed circumstances with good grace, and, actually, tangible help in moving into and furnishing the flat.

Does that strike you as odd?

Most people would say yes, for abandoned husbands do not commonly behave as amiably and kindly as Jay was wont to do, But Jay was a far kinder organism than the rest of homo sapiens. If there were any areas of greed, or rage, or regret anywhere in his soul I never saw them betray themselves in acts.

Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison was a good friend for over sixty years, a fact I’m sure of because I remember when we met. It was way back in the 1950s, when my then wife and I lived in a huge basement apartment in the East Village. We made the best use of it, too, hosting pretty large and sometimes a bit noisy parties, mostly for the local science-fiction community and blessed by the fact that basement doings were inaudible above ground. I can’t pin down the exact date, but at one of those parties two young people knocked on the door whom I had never seen before. “We’re the Harrisons, I’m Harry and she’s Evelyn. Jay Stanton said we could come,” the man said, sounding unsure of himself.

I said, “Of course you can. Coats go in the first bedroom, food and drinks are where the noise is coming from. I just heard the elevator door so I’d better stay here a bit, but you go and mingle.”

So that made two historic events for that evening — one being the first time I saw Harry Harrison, the other being the last time I observed him being diffident. By the time I got back to the party he had three or four people around him, all clamoring to be taught how to say dirty words in Esperanto.

We became friends quickly — in fact, a particular kind of friends, something akin to a double-dating foursome except that we were all married, Harry to his then wife Evelyn, me to my own then wife Judy Merril. We seemed to have a lot of interests in common, and Harry in particular liked to talk about the art and business of writing. He wasn’t himself a writer but instead an artist, mostly of comics. I supposed that was simply the normal fannish interest, with a touch of wanting to do illustrations for the magazines.

That was my bad guess. The truth came out considerably later, when he turned up one day with a manuscript in his hands. “Want to read it?” he asked. I said, “Sure,” although I didn’t really. (It is no fun to have to tell a friend in what ways his story sucks.) That problem didn’t come up, though. The story had a good premise — something about machines that traveled underground as well as submarines did underwater. What’s more, I was only a couple pages into it when I realized it was actually quite a good enough story to make me wish I was still an editor myself so I could accept it on the spot.

I told him how much I liked it and asked if he wanted suggestions on who to send it to. “No,” he said. “I showed it to Damon and he bought it for his new magazine.”

“Huh,” I said, and added, “I thought you were going after a career in illustrating, not writing, for the magazines.”

He gave me a smile. “I was, but you talked me out of it.” I must have looked puzzled, because he explained, “Remember those times when you were talking about your average budget for the old Astonishing Stories? You said you paid around fifty dollars per story, average, and when I asked what you paid for an illustration you said. ‘About five.’ Right then is when I started trying to write.”

 

It was a decision made in heaven, because look at what came out of that man’s typewriter over the next years. Just the novels were fine, starting with Deathworld, and going on forever. And not only science fiction, because along came Stonehenge (with Leon Stover), a historical novel, and a fine one.

I lost touch with Harry from time to time over the next years, owing largely to his experimenting with living in other countries, starting with Mexico, then moving across the Atlantic. He did show up in New York now and then for a visit, but when he and his second wife Joan (and their recently acquired two small children, Moira and Todd) wound up in Denmark, they stayed for years, coming back to America only when they discovered that their children were learning Danish faster, and better, than English.

That didn’t last, though. By the time Todd and Moira were beginning to get good in their native tongue, Harry had another yearning. He really hated to pay income tax. What’s more, he and I had from time to time discussed the very attractive standing offer the Republic of Ireland had made to any foreign-born but part Irish person, which was instant citizenship and the chance to take advantage of Ireland’s grant of waiver of all income tax for professional artists, including writers. Each of us having the required minimum of at least one Irish grandfather, we were both eligible.

For me those chats were fantasy, because America was the only country I was willing to call mine. Harry, though, was made of sterner stuff With a little help from Anne McCaffrey, who had taken the offer years earlier, and after some talks with Irish embassy people, all of a sudden Harry was miraculously transmuted to Irish and, wife and kids included, was living in a little town outside of Dublin. And Irish he profitably remained for the rest of his life.

Part 2 to come.

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Judy and Merril in happier days.

Judy and Merril in happier days.

Well, let’s not draw this out any longer than we have to. Judy asked if I wanted to buy the house back from her, I said yes, Judy went off roaming somewhere, I don’t know where, and my new Significant Other, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, and I began moving ourselves in.

There are a fair number of details about that period that I’m not sure I remember right in the area of what happened before which. One of those things is where the kids, Merril and Ann, were at that point. I think most probably that at least at first all three of them were with Carol and me. (Three. Judy’s Merril, our Ann and Carol’s Karen, daughter of her marriage to L. Jerome Stanton.) And for a time there, I don’t think a very long one, Judy and I were tolerating each other.

Then we weren’t.

We disagreed over how we were going to share Ann’s time, somewhat civilly at first, and then very uncivilly. I don’t know how that would have worked out, because it was around then that Danny Zissman appeared at my front door, and he was the bucket of gasoline that set our fires roaring,

Danny was Judy’s first husband, Merril’s father. Unknown to me, he had been having his own troubles with Judy, over custody of Merril, and he was fed up. He had been talking to lawyers, he said, and, on their advice, he was about to sue Judy for Merril’s custody. He thought he had a pretty good chance of winning, on the evidence, he said, listing fifteen or twenty things Judy had done, but he wanted to make winning a sure thing. Which it would be if I would join him with both of us suing Judy at once.

Oh, that was the siren song, all right.

I wasn’t at all sure Danny’s own case was as strong as he thought it was. His list of Judy’s misdeeds included some pretty trivial stuff. But there was also some stuff that might sway a judge, and I could see that the two of us suing her together would help both our cases … and, oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have this aggravation out of the way forever? So I mulled it over and then I said I’d join him.

 
I think there is too much suing of people for one thing or another, and I didn’t really look forward to all the bad stuff that was sure to come. I have only very rarely done that sort of thing in my life. Even now I would like to avoid suing that wretch for his vicious book if I can. I had those same feelings about joining Danny’s suit. But I got busy, and began to prepare for testifying.

The bad things began to happen right away.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 7: When It All Hit the Fan’ »

Unfortunately, by the time Judy’s novel came out, the stresses in our marriage were growing, and Judy and I were clearly finally heading toward a (hopefully civilized) divorce.

Before we reached that point, though, we still had a few good years. It looked as though, at whatever cost to our conflicting principles, we were able to function as married people and parents, and so we do what couples like us always did at that period in American life. We began thinking about buying a house.

So we spent quite a few weekends roaming around, mostly Southern Connecticut, northern New Jersey, western Long Island and so on. Judy picked the ads out of the newspaper listings, but there wasn’t much — at a price we could afford.

But Inga Pratt saved us. We had been spending occasional weekends at the giant house Fletcher and Inga Pratt owned, and called the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, on the Jersey shore. When Judy mentioned that we’d been house-hunting she said, “I know of some places. Want to go for a ride?”

We did.

It took Inga a little while, but she came through. She drove us to 386 West Front Street in the part of Middletown Township called River Plaza (though it always had a Red Bank mailing address), and there it was. Thirteen rooms. On an acre of land, with twelve or fifteen great trees. Surrounded on two sides by a pretty good-looking river, with a beautiful broad porch on those sides so you could sit and watch the river. Or play ping-pong, or have parties or whatever, because that was one fine porch. We could even afford it, because it was astonishingly cheap — though that didn’t matter much because I was a veteran and thus entitled to, among many other things, mortgage guarantees.

True, it did have a few little problems and quirks — problems like it was eighty or ninety years old and was going to represent a steady drain of payments for repairs and maintenance, quirks like it had nine bedrooms and each one had a lock on the door, this I think because of the fact that in World War II it had been a whorehouse for the GIs in Fort Monmouth.

We bought it, and began moving in.

I have to say that, in spite of probable sooner or later marital discords and what were a few newly worrying financial concerns, I loved the house. I had a great sun-drenched, third-floor room, overlooking the trees, lawn and river, for an office, with one just like it that wound up as Cyril’s.

Red Bank was a useful little town, too. It was across the river, but the bridge was right at the foot of our property, so it was about a ten- minute walk to the railroad or bus stations, about fifteen or twenty to Red Bank’s stores, rather decent public library, movie theaters and, say, McDonalds. There was no reason we couldn’t live quite happily there.

 
Well, one reason. Judy no longer wanted to be married, at least to me, and then time came when she wanted me to move out. The children? Oh, they would stay with her.

I didn’t know then, and don’t know now. what the precipitating thing was that moved her to that point. I don’t think she had taken up with Walter Miller yet, and if there was any other significant man, I didn’t know it. But, of course, the signs were beginning to multiply. We had simply stopped getting along very well.

Should I have refused to leave? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t. I left.

The next year or so of Judy’s life, I can’t write about very well because I was little involved

As for me, it wasn’t all bad. I took an apartment around the East 14th Street neighborhood in New York and lived my life. This included meeting, and a few years later, marrying, my fourth wife, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, who at the time we met was married to my good friend L. Jerome Stanton. I’ll tell you all about them, but this isn’t their story or, for that matter, mine.

It’s Judy’s, and in Judy’s life the next significant thing that happened that I know of was that one day she offered to move out of the house and sell it to me.

To be continued.

 
Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9