Today in My History2000: Light Just One Little Candle
2001: Inertia Challenge
2002: Sex and Tim Tams
2003: The Glass Man Cometh
2004: I'm Too Sensitive
2006: Yan Yuhuan Gets Drunk
2007: Mabel Finds a Home
2008: Anybody Can...?
2009: I Can't Even Imagine
Books Read in 2010
"Dirty, Sexy Politics"
Recipes for Cousins Day Drinks
VIDEO OF THE DAY/WEEK
Arthur Turns 90 from Bev Sykes on Vimeo. ...and on You Tube
Most Recent on My Cousins Day, August 2010
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LOSS AND DISAPPOINTMENT
7 October 2010
Woody died the other day. It seems that there are entirely too many deaths in my life these days. And I still don't know how I'm feeling about Woody's death. I feel empty and yet there has been this cold hand wrapped around my stomach ever since I found out. The hardest part is reading all of the glowing accolades about what a lovely "gentleman" he was and how much he was loved by people...who really didn't know him all that well.
You see, Woody and I had a very checkered past. He was the lead tenor for The Lamplighters at the time we were writing the first Lamplighter history. I remember the first time I saw him on stage in Ernest in Love. This guy I'd never seen before walked out on stage and took command in a way I had never seen it taken before.
When we were writing the history, all 3 of us wanted to interview him, but I got the nod because Woody's partner, Phil, was the best friend of a very good friend of mine. I'm not sure how that got me the solo interview, but I sat there in that Victorian mansion that Phil owned, with its red walls and two grand pianos and huge photo by their neighbor, photographer Ruth Bernhart, and we chatted as if we'd been friends forever. Woody and I were both Judy Garland fanatics, Phil and I both had been friends of my friend Ginger for years. It was destined that we become friends.
We did a few things together (I remember going to a North Beach club to see a mutual friend perform), but mostly we visited at their house for one reason or another. I remember cooking a 7 course Chinese dinner for them when I was taking lessons from Martin Yan--no easy feat in a kitchen with, I kid you not, 12" square of counter space. Period. I also remember making the wedding cake for their friends, whose reception was held at Woody & Phil's house.
At that time, Phil was having a lot of health problems and was in an out of the hospital a lot. I decided I would curry favor with Woody if I paid more attention to his partner than to himself. And in the weird way such things work, I ended up a better friend of Phil's than of Woody's.
To help keep Phil's spirits up during his many hospitalizations and recoveries, I began writing to him every day. Sometimes more than once a day. It became a joke between us. When the two of them went on vacation, he would send me the address of their hotel, so I could keep the letters coming. He would usually call me from wherever they were at least once when they were on vacation.
When they sold the Victorian and moved to the East Bay, and I started working in the Lamplighter office, I stopped off for coffee with Phil every few weeks on my way to San Francisco. Mostly I didn't see Woody because he would still be sleeping when I left, but occasionally he'd wake up and I'd be there. One night he and I indulged our Garland passion by watching a pirated copy of A Star Is Born (before it was released legally on videotape). We went to parties at their house and once Woody gave a private concert for Walt, me and a couple of other people, with Phil at the piano and Woody singing.
When I look back on this period, some 25-30 years ago, in the light of all that I know now, I realize that Phil was on so many medications he really wasn't in his right mind all the time. I remember visiting him in the hospital and not realizing that he was in the mental health ward until long after he had been released. I also see, now, why Woody began to find me an intrusion rather than a friend. At the time I was completely oblivious to all the signs that were there. I was so incredibly naive in those days.
It all blew up when Gilbert died. Gilbert was my best friend in 1986 and Phil would have been my second best friend. I was bereft and Phil was worried about me. He told me to contact him at any time, night or day, for anything...and then when I did, it threw him into a panic and he wasn't sure how to behave. An incident came up about the scattering of Gilbert's ashes and who would be permitted on the Neptune Society boat that would take us out into San Francisco Bay. I was explaining the problem to Woody and Phil and Woody made a very hurtful remark to me. I was so shocked that I just got up and said I had to leave. I walked out of the door and Phil followed me, saying he would talk to Woody and straighten things out. Those were the last words he ever spoke to me.
The day I returned home from taking care of Gilbert's family and all of the funeral stuff, I returned to a letter from Woody saying that I had been in intrusion in their life for a long time and that I was forbidden to ever contact Phil again. I totally fell apart. I tried to get to them, but he had built an impenetrable wall. I never tried to call them, but found out many months later that he had changed their phone number to an unlisted one.
Shortly before all this happened, he had borrowed a VHS tape from me, one of the few of Gilbert in performance. I desperately wanted it back and I asked Ginger if she could get it from him for me. His response--it is still etched into my memory today, 25 years later--was "if I give it to her we'll never be rid of her. Tell her to go fuck herself." The last word I ever had from Woody.
In the "chutzpah" department, he also said that if we were going to see him in his current play (he knew we had purchased tickets before Gilbert died), that I was not to speak with him after the show. As if I would even think about going to see that play!
Phil died some years later and I cried for the lost opportunity to ever renew our friendship, as improbable as that would have been. I hated him for being such a weakling and for letting Woody dictate to him who he could and could not see. Phil was the guy with the money, the guy who supported Woody in the manner to which he had become accustomed, able to live without working, to perform and not have to mop floors to earn a living. Yet Woody had the power over Phil that he would cave when Woody issued the dictum. Ginger told me that Phil wouldn't even discuss me because "it was too painful."
Years later, Woody did one last performance with The Lamplighters. I didn't know if I wanted to see the show, but I was curious. I was somewhat pleased to see that the handsome young tenor was now a fat, bald old man, though still with the same charisma.
After Lamplighter shows, it is customary for the actors to go into the lobby and greet the patrons, but I just couldn't do it. I was trembling with rage and in tears just seeing him walk out of the theatre and I snuck out a back door, crying, and sat in the car waiting for Walt, who did visit with him and said that Woody told him to tell me hello. That made me even more angry, that Woody could be so cavalier about it--as if he had forgotten all the unpleasantness.
So when this news of Woody's death came, I just felt numb. The person who wrote it to me delivered the news as something funny and as if I would be gleeful about it. I'm not gleeful about it. Any death is sad. There was no possibility of our ever reconciling. It was the last thing I would have wanted. But his death stirs up all those old memories, questions about what went on with him and Phil after our break up, and sadness, again, at what might have been and never was.
This many years later, I can accept my own complicity in how things came about, but I am 67 years old and in those 67 years the person who inflicted the deepest hurt was Woody...and I can neither feel happy, nor sad at his death. I can only hope that I can, some day, bury all the hurt feelings.
In the "disappointment" catgory, today was the day I'd been looking forward to for months. The annual NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) seminar at the Sacramento Convention Center. I walked around that damn center for thirty minutes trying to find where it was being held and nobody knew anything. I finally called NAPP (fortunately I had a brochure with me) and found out that the thing has been postponed until December. Somehow I was never notified. But Sally, at NAPP was very nice, rescheduled me for December and extended my NAPP membership by three months to make up for my ordeal.
NAPP may be one of the few organizations around that actually still cares
about its members!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Woody, as Count Danilo, with Rosemary Bock as The Merry Widow