Saturday, February 22, 2014

Degrees of Seperation - Part two of Three - Katherine Hepburn

Our storyteller continued.

"It was the final day of the conference and my magazine was hosting a cocktail party at the Waldorf" referring to the legendary, world famous New York hotel.

A doctor approached him. He explained that he had written a paper and did not have the opportunity to present it at the conference. He wondered if the magazine would consider it for publication. Our storyteller agreed to take a look at it. The doctor said that he was staying with a friend just a couple of blocks away. Would he mind coming with him so he could give him a copy of it. They left the hotel and made their way to the home where the doctor was staying.

They entered through the kitchen, which, like many houses in New York, was several steps below sidewalk level. The doctor's wife and a maid were in the kitchen setting up trays for a party which would be taking place there. They doctor led our storyteller into a hallway containing a staircase and gestured to a room off to one side. He asked him to wait there while he went upstairs to get a copy of the paper.

Our storyteller admitted that hind sight can be 20/20 but he distinctly remembers the room having a certain feeling about it which made him wonder whose home he was in. In the room were two tables, each of which held a book with a silver foil cover. One cover read "To Kate, From Her Crew, The Philadelphia Story". He told us that he thought perhaps the homeowner had written a story about Philadelphia. Turning his gaze to the other book the cover read "To Kate, From Her Crew, As You Like It." Looking back at the first book he saw, on the cover, the signature of actor Van Heflin. Returning to the second book he gingerly lifted the cover. On the first page was a well known studio portrait from Katherine Hepburn's famous Broadway production of the Shakespeare comedy.

He heard a noise in the hallway and moved to the door. The stage and screen legend was descending the stairs. Ms. Hepburn was notoriously frightened and suspicious of the public. He, being unknown to her, caused Ms. Hepburn to stop and retreat back a couple of steps. He quickly stammered that he was with the doctor who would be coming down with a paper he had written for him to review. She relaxed and asked him if he knew where the doctor's wife was. After informing her that she was in the kitchen she thanked him and swept past him into the kitchen.

The doctor returned with the paper and began to point out what he felt were the most important areas of his study. Our storyteller, stunned,  didn't hear a word of what the poor hapless man was saying.

They returned to the kitchen to leave. As they passed through the room the doctor introduced our storyteller to Hepburn saying "He's the editor of "The Cancer Review".

Hepburn's father and brother were both doctors.

"The Cancer Review", she replied. "Yes, I know it."

He explained, still stammering, that he had to return to the party he was hosting at the Waldorf.

Hepburn said "Why don't you stay for our party."

He politely declined, explaining that he was the host of the fete at the hotel and was obligated to return as soon as possible bidding the group farewell.

The group In our kitchen sat in absolute, rapt silence. Finally my roommate found his voice. From his lips came two words.


Degrees of Seperation - Part One of Three - Edith Piaf

During my days in San Francisco, sharing a flat with 2 others, one was never sure who one would discover hanging out when returning home. One evening I discovered 2 gentlemen I was unfamiliar with seated in the kitchen with both my roommates and the younger roommates boyfriend. The boyfriend was studying film in L.A. while our roommate was studying nursing in S.F. while working part time at an organic grocery. They were both rather "natural".  The 2 visitors were friends of the L.A. boyfriend who had dropped by while he was in town for the weekend. One of them, in his middle 40's, had the somewhat leering nature that can occasionally be encountered in middle aged gay men. Myself, being occasionally referred to as "reserved", has found over the years that this behavior generally creeps me out. However, as he had led a fascinating life, traveled the world and began to regale us with tales of his adventures, I , for the moment at least, choose to overlook his lascivious nature.

He mentioned, quite casually, "Did I ever tell you about the time I met Edith Piaf and Katherine Hepburn during a trip to New York?"

 Having never met him I was quite certain that I had never heard it. Had I known him I am quite certain I would have remembered this story had I heard it before. All agreed that we were not familiar with the tale and so he began.

He was in New York, attending a conference. It was a medical conference, he was an editor of a medical journal at the time. Edith Piaf, the French chanteuse, was performing at one of the supper clubs common in posh hotels of the era. Sadly, most of these spaces are now used for storage. One evening, on a drunken dare, he was challenged to see how far he could get to seeing Ms. Piaf perform using only his wits. No money could exchange hands. Affecting a Texas accent he phoned the club saying that when he was in Paris he missed seeing Piaf by only a few days, he continued, saying he was in town on a per diem arrangement with a Dallas newspaper he currently worked for and could not afford the cost of seeing her at the hotel. Could something be worked out? Perhaps he could use his imaginary position at the paper to write a story about the performance.

He expected to hear a click as they hung up the phone, however, to his surprise he was instructed to come to the hotel and ask for Bruno.

Arriving at the hotel he saw a large bald man with the neck and shoulders of a bull. He approached him and said "Bruno I presume?"

"No" the bull like man replied, "Come with me, I shall take you to Bruno."

Bruno turned out to be a man of ordinary proportions seated in an office behind a desk. Bruno also, as it happened, had just married a woman from Texas and was in love with all things Texan, including, apparently,a certain Dallas newspaper where our storyteller had an imaginary job as a writer. Bruno mentioned several names at the paper. Familiar with their bylines our storyteller said of course he knew them and expounded on what a great group of guys they were. Bruno told the bull to escort him to the supper club saying, in French, "On the house." Our storyteller knew enough French to figure out what was said by Bruno and once seated in the club ordered an excellent champane and pheasant under glass.

The room had a lower level by the stage and raised levels on either side. He was seated in one of the upper levels. Piaf came onstage. She sang 7 songs. He said he could recite, to that day, which 7 and in what order. When she was finished she left the stage, ascended the steps to the area in which he was seated and disappeared behind a door just a few feet from him. A woman was seated outside the door. Dropping the affected Texas accent he approached the woman. He introduced himself saying that he had written the cover story in a fairly well known magazine of the time, showing her a copy of the issue, which he happened to have in his jacket pocket, and asked if Ms. Piaf would consent to an interview. The woman told him to wait and disappeared behind the door. Shortly the tiny figure of Edith Piaf emerged.

"Tonight" she told him, "I am very tired. This woman, she is my secretary. She will tell you where we are staying and how to reach us. Call me tomorrow and you shall have your interview. "

We sat about the table in stunned silence.

Finally one of us said, "And the interview?"

"I never followed up on it" he replied. "I felt so bad about the way I had scammed my way in I just couldn't!"