23. June 2014 · Comments Off on Honor · Categories: NM. Princes and Kings

I answer my phone.  Mr. G’s office, I say.  A woman tells me that she is calling on behalf of Mr. Darryl Zanuck.


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What is your call to Mr. G. in reference to?

Not Mr. G., she says, this call is for you.  Mr. Zanuck would like you to come and see him.  He is staying at the St. Regis Hotel.

We arrange for me to go there at 5 o’clock.  Bring your portfolio, she says.




Reception at the posh St. Regis sends me right up to Mr. Zanuck’s suite.

Darryl Zanuck opens the door.   He seems a little taken aback, as though I have materialized from a vision he had.

I am Darryl Zanuck, he says, come in.  He looks at home in a tailored smoking jacket with his initials, DFZ on it.

He takes my portfolio and sets it down on the coffee table.

Would you like a drink?

This is the first thing you ask a guest.  I say yes, and he goes to the full size bar on the side, where he mixes me a scotch and soda and something for himself.

I sit in an armchair.  He puts my drink on the coffee table.  He sits on the sofa across the table, sets down his drink, and gives me his whole attention.

You have that look, he says.  You can play any nationality except a Swede.   Your speaking voice goes with your looks.

I will find the right stories for you to star in.   I will choose the right script writers and the right directors.

He has already decided that he will make me a movie star.

He does not stop to take a breath.   Whatever we design for you to wear in the films, you get to keep.  Furs, gowns, anything you want.

My daddy sang to me

There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do, for you, for you,

I’ll make a string of pearls out of the blue, for you, for you…

My father couldn’t give me these things, but he gave me the essential thing.   I knew he loved me simply because I was his.

I almost never hear from him.  Yet once he wrote out of the blue to tell me that the pretty little girl upstairs reminds him of me.  All pretty girls will forever remind him of me.

I don’t need a father to give me things.   I can take care of myself.

I have not said anything at all, but Zanuck stops talking.  He has not taken his eyes off my face since he sat down.   He read my thoughts.

It is my turn.

How did you happen to call me?

Sam Shaw sent me your photo.   He is an old friend.   He saw your photo being processed in a photographer’s lab.  He thinks yours is the face I have been looking for since Gene Tierney.   I’ve said Gene Tierney was the most beautiful actress of her day.

Which photo did Sam Shaw send you?

This one?


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No, he says.  He picks another photo.  This one.

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Photo by Bob Ross


For this one I had a professional make-up artist try to make me look more oriental.   General van Fleet told me that Fox was looking for an oriental girl for Sand Pebbles.

He says you know General van Fleet?

Yes.   He is on our Board of Directors.  We have military contracts.  Sometimes I do work for him.

That part in Sand Pebbles is not for you.  It is not a starring role.  I gave it to a girl from Bangkok.    Somebody’s wife, he adds.

You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone.  You have a beauty all your own.   I will bring that out.   I will build you into a new star.

I am scheduling a screen test for you at the studio.   I want to be there.

He writes down a name and phone number on a slip of paper and hands it to me.    This is my assistant’s private number.   Call her if you want to ask anything about that.

I would bet that the camera loves you.  But we have to go through the process.

Sometimes the camera simply does not like someone.   No matter what we do.

You know, I can make even your aunt Milly look glamorous!

I laugh.  I don’t doubt it.

But Juliette?  You know, we had her nose fixed.  Twice.  Best plastic surgeon in London.

I never heard of Juliette.

The camera refused to cooperate, no matter what we did.  A look of regret, like a memory of some bitter and costly mistake, passes over his face.  He quickly shrugs it off.

He does not stop talking.  The man has some incredible force that propels him.   He is not talking about me.   That seems to have been settled.

Now it is about him, what he thinks, what matters, and what he wants to do in his productions.  How he likes all manner of sports, croquet, skiing, horses, hunting, polo.

Once, in a polo match, he held up his mallet to defend himself against a speeding incoming ball.  The ball broke his hand and smashed his own mallet into his face, breaking his nose and turning his face into a bloody mess.   He was finished with polo.

He gave all his Argentine ponies to the West Point Military Academy.  But they had rules and insisted on paying.  So he charged them one dollar a horse.  Twenty horses for twenty dollars!

That is his kind of élan.   He is still feeling the spirit of that take-all act, even as he tells the story.  He loves the military, ever since he talked his way into the army and became a soldier boy at the age of fourteen.

The logistics of producing The Longest Day were like sending another whole army over there.  Maybe even more so!  He put everything he had, and then some, into making that movie.

I saw The Longest Day.   It was a huge hit.  Won two Oscars and many other kudos.

He did most of the talking, and I responded, sometimes with questions.   I see that he is, first of all, a man of action.

The surprise is that at heart he is a Midwestern kid who values honor, valor, loyalty, pluckiness, going after what you want against all odds and never admitting that you are behind.  You have to love that.

Yes, love.   He wants love.  Not just the love of home and hearth.   Not the playboy thing.   Most of that is exaggerated, made up by writers.  He knows too many writers   Not the as if love affairs either, which end in bitter disappointment.   What then?

To be understood, to be loved for himself alone and not for the things he can provide, not for access to power or luxury.

Are we talking about being loved, as the poet says, for yourself alone, as only God can love you?  This, from a mogul.   Or maybe it is from the heart of a long ago forsaken boy from Nebraska.   Still plucky, still not giving up the quest.

This man is asking for everything.  His intensity does not let up.

We talk like this for hours.

The drinks are untouched, melting in their glasses.  There is no famous cigar.  No interruptions whatsoever.

Then Zanuck stands up.   I do the same.

Will you have dinner with me at Danny’s Hideaway?

I want this conversation to go on and on.

But I hear myself say I am sorry but I can’t make it.

I can’t believe I said that!

His expression does not change.   I didn’t break the spell.

I’ll call you next week, he says.

Yes, next week is fine.

He says it will be my honor.

I spent about two hours in a hotel suite alone with Darryl Zanuck, and he did not so much as shake my hand.

I couldn’t explain to myself what happened and certainly not to anyone else.   So, over the weekend I told no one.

When I arrive at the office, I discover that everyone has heard that Darryl Zanuck scheduled a screen test for me.  All sorts of strange people are showing up at the office without an appointment, offering services.

I walk by a vice-president’s office.  A woman sitting across from his empty desk sees me, jumps out and blocks my path.   She wants me to know that her cousin works at a telegraph office.   She saw ugly cables back and forth between Zanuck and his ex-girlfriend.

I try to be polite to the ghoul.   Excuse me, but we have work to do in this office, I say.  I walk straight to the receptionist at the front.  Poor Roxanne is beside herself.  Nothing like this ever happens here.

I tell her to let no one wait in the reception area unless they have a definite appointment.   See that they get back into the elevator.  Call security if she must.

I get a call from Milton Blackstone.   You need a friend in the business to show you the ropes, he says.




Milton Blackstone




Been There, Done That by Eddie Fisher


Milton has just bought an apartment in a ritzy new building on the Upper East Side.  It has its own restaurant just for its tenants.   We eat lunch there.  The food does not live up to the décor.

His apartment has no décor.   It has one forlorn armoire and a couple of armchairs in the living room.  No carpets, no window treatments.

You turned down Darryl Zanuck?

Did you have other plans?

I don’t know why I said that I did.

I don’t mean dinner plans.    I mean, do you have plans to do something more exciting than to be a movie star?  I know girls, drop dead gorgeous girls, who would line up around the block, who would kill, to go to dinner with Darryl Zanuck!

I can just see you walking into Danny’s Hideaway with Zanuck behind you…all eyes are on you…you look so beautiful you glow…you have that  look, like a fresh, young Elizabeth…

This guy can sell salt water to Venetians.

Bring out the violins, Milton, you forgot the violins!   I am laughing.

And what is that look, anyway?  Zanuck said that too.

That look, my dear, either you have it or you don’t.   You have it.  Case closed.

Well then, what else is there for anyone to do?

When you smile, at a certain angle, that tooth in the back turns in just a little.  It creates a shadow.  Should get that fixed.

He just can’t help himself.  He is a fixer.

Listen, he says, Danny’s Hideaway is not some little bistro, you know.    It is swanky and all the rage.   Sure, it has private alcoves to hide away if you want.   But when you walk in, it is like Maxim’s in Paris.  It is an announcement to tout le monde.

I am not ready for an announcement.

In Milton’s apartment there are at least two totally empty rooms.  One of them has a huge pyramid of papers – envelopes with windows and without, opened and unopened, newspapers, and file folders, all dumped on the floor.

He doesn’t have to tell me that something is stressing him out.  But I am surprised that he has woman trouble.   I don’t know what I thought, but there was never a man-woman vibe between us.   I know, because I spent a lot of time around priests.

Turns out, Milton has an obsession.  When he was a young man he met a sixteen- year- old showgirl.   She wanted to go on a junket.  He didn’t want her to go, but she went anyway.

What he feared happened.   She met an older man and never came back.  She married this man, who seemed to have been well off but not wealthy.

For more than thirty years, while Milton grew to be one of the most powerful public relations men in the country, and very rich as well,  he kept track of her and mooned after her.  He couldn’t have her, but there was no other woman he wanted.

After her husband died, he rushed in, courted her and married her.  It has been disastrous.

He is still trying desperately to win her back.  She is taunting him with divorce.    He laments, do you know what she said on the phone?   We are in splitsville, she said.   Who uses words like that?

Milton’s favorite word is perception.   Perception is everything!  What he knows about perception philosophers have no idea.

At least when Milton is walking me through the twists and turns of show business, he is not obsessing about his marriage.  He is vibrant, clever, and he can be as entertaining as any of his clients.


I get a handwritten letter from Stella.  We are not really friends, and I didn’t even know she has my address.   Stella writes that she heard I met Darryl Zanuck and that he scheduled a screen test for me.  She is very excited for me.  She asks me to write back right away and tell her all about what happened.

I always suspected that she was at those classes to keep an eye on me.   Now I know for sure.  It is the first sign that there is trouble at Fox over Zanuck’s scheduling my screen test.  I ignore Stella’s letter.

Then I get a letter from Bob Wise, returning the photos I left with him.   He thanks me for letting him see my lovely photos.  He is returning them in case I want to use them again.

Something’s going on at Fox, I tell Milton.  I also tell him about my having met before with Skouras and Bob Wise.  I never got around to telling Zanuck any of that.   From me Zanuck knows only that General van Fleet had told me about the part in Sand Pebbles.

I smell palace intrigue, Milton says.  You must call Zanuck right away.

I demur.   He said he will call me.

In the meantime, I have to make a decision about my apartment.   My lease is running out.  I don’t want to sign another three-year lease because I don’t know where I will be living after my screen test in Hollywood.

My friend Julie will buy most of my furnishings, but I have to decide soon.  Milton says he has the perfect solution for mine and his problems at the same time.

He asked his wife to come to New York to talk things over.  She would not stay in the unfurnished apartment, so he made a special deal with a hotel on Central Park South for a room for her, just for a few weeks until she can pick out some furniture for the apartment.

When she found out that it was a room and not a suite, in a chic but not grand hotel like the Plaza or the St. Regis only steps away, she saw it as a step down and refused to come.

She has standards to maintain as Mrs. Milton Blackstone.

I think it’s ridiculous.  All the hotels in that row on Central Park South are high end.  Recently we held an industry benefit luncheon in one of them, and it was elegant.

Milton says again, in this business, perception is everything.   He and Eddie had a public falling out.   His wife’s turning her nose down at the hotel accommodations he arranged for her would fuel the perception that his wife is dumping him, and that his stock is falling.

This kind of perception has a way of rapidly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.   In this business people see a fall from grace as contagious.   The people that matter avoid you because they think they’ll get sucked into your vortex going down the drain.  It even happened to Frank Sinatra.

The worst mistake at this point is for him to leave a vacuum.  Someone will fill it with negative rumors.  He wants to fill that vacuum himself before that happens.

How about moving into this hotel for a while?

Me?  What will people think?

The important thing is that they don’t think what I don’t want them to think.  Let them talk, let them speculate.  Trust me your stock will go up!

I think you are corrupting me, I joke.

Don’t worry.  I won’t show up.

I am not worried.

I say whatever special rate you got for the room I know I can’t afford it.

It is paid for.  That was part of the deal.  You can leave after a few days, or weeks.   It won’t matter.

Okay then.

I move into the chic hotel.

Milton is urging me to call Zanuck.    I know that you don’t belong to anybody, but I’ll wager there are battle lines drawn around you at Fox right now.  You’ve got to call Zanuck.

As I go out the door, he calls after me.

Call Zanuck, and wave to me on your way up!

But I won’t call Zanuck.  Isn’t he the man of action?  Let him work it out.   Or not.  It’s beginning to wear on me.

Milton convinces me that I should at least get in touch with Sam Shaw, who may know something.  So I get in touch with Shaw.  He comes by with his camera.  All he claims to know is that Zanuck went back to Paris.   Always the photographer, he shoots a bunch of photos.

I go to work downtown every day, but I miss having my own apartment.   I miss my friends.  It is hard to explain what I am doing, until I know myself.  It hasn’t been much more than a week, but I feel I am in limbo.  I hang out mostly with Milton.

Milton takes me to visit Jennie Grossinger in the hospital.   She is seriously ill, but she jokes around for Milton.   She is a plucky lady.

Then we go further uptown to another hospital where Milton introduces me to Dr. Max Jacobson.   He regularly gives Milton shots of a “miracle” concoction he customizes for each patient.  Dr. “FeelGood” has many celebrity patients.

Milton enthuses about these shots, how they perk him up so that he can stay up all night if he wants to.  That rings a bell.  Once, in my last year at college, I had neglected to read a book on the Russian Revolution until the day before a scheduled test.

My friend Regina said she had some miracle pills that would keep me awake all night.

I took the pills.  I read all night.  At one point I looked in the bathroom mirror and saw that my pupils were completely dilated.  I finished the book by morning and went straight to the test.  It was a pop quiz on the book.  All those Russian names, and I still got an A.  Then I went home, collapsed on the bed, and slept all day and through the night.

The next day, I forgot everything, as though I never read that book.

What was in those pills, Regina?  Speed, she said.   No, I mean the name of the drug.   Some kind of amphetamine, she said.  I promised myself that I would never touch the stuff again.   I don’t want something in my brain that produces knowledge that flickers and then is gone.   It is alien to the way my brain works.

I worry about Milton taking those shots.   Oh, Dr. FeelGood puts in a lot of vitamins and good -for- you wishful thinking, but the main ingredient is methamphetamine.

One night, Milton calls me and says come and meet Elizabeth.  Her lawyer, Aaron Frosch, is here too.   Eddie isn’t here.   We have been working on the divorce settlement details, you know.  But we’re done for now.   Come and have a nightcap with us.

At that moment, I decide that show business is not going to be my world.   Elizabeth is not going to be my friend, and I will not need a lawyer to the stars like Frosch.

I am done.  It wasn’t meant to be.   Milton has already told me too many personal stories about Elizabeth.  I would rather keep my childhood memories of her movies.   I would remain just another fan of Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, forever up there on the screen.

I invent an excuse, and I go to bed.

There is still one thing I need to do before moving back downtown.

I call Zanuck’s personal assistant at the number he gave me.  No one has actually told me that a screen test was scheduled, although lots of people knew, including Stella at Fox.

His assistant asks me to come to her office, and please bring my portfolio.   She is a sweet woman, but she has been put into a difficult position.    She says that she has not scheduled a screen test.   She tries to tell me that she is really the one who decides who gets screen tests.    Then she looks through my photos and asks to keep one in her file.

It is pathetic.  She and I know that Zanuck decides.  Why can’t she just say he changed his mind?  She could have done that on the phone.  Why are we doing this kabuki of shifting the blame on her?  I am puzzled, but I move on with my life.  A few months later, I got married.

One evening in 1971, my husband and I are having dinner with J.B. Fuqua and his wife Dorothy.   Fuqua is buying a company from my husband’s group, and he has picked this restaurant.

I am sitting next to Dorothy.   While the men confab about business, Dorothy tells me that their eighteen- year-old son recently died in a motorcycle accident.   His father bought him the motorcycle for his birthday.   It is a somber thing to talk about at dinner, but I realize that this is weighing heavily on her.   I don’t mind listening.

All at once, I realize that we are at Danny’s Hideaway.   I have never been here before.   Restaurants change; this one may not be the same as when Zanuck asked me to have dinner with him here.  But we are in an alcove, much as I once imagined it to be.

Dorothy’s sadness is reminding me of stories I have been hearing about Zanuck.  He was ousted from Fox in an epic struggle like that in a Shakespearean tragedy.   The wife he left long ago but did not divorce opted for payback and voted her block of stock against him.   His son voted against him.   His power stripped from him, they say his health and his mind are deteriorating.   It has only been about six years since I met him.

I feel a mixture of deep sadness, pity, and something like regret.  I don’t regret that I followed the path that led me to my husband.  And yet, I feel for Zanuck, as though I should have gone to dinner with him and somehow forestalled his fate.

Dr. Lowen says, you were drawn to the wounded king, but he was the wrong wounded king.


thisColdnightKing Lear by William Shakespeare

It was not until the 1980’s, when I read Zanuck’s biography written by Mel Gussow, that I realized why everyone had behaved so strangely, those many years ago.

Gussow writes that after the ugly breakup with Greco, Zanuck drank heavily, refused to see his friends, and gradually fell apart.

“Ridiculed, cuckolded, he was no longer the power, the tycoon, but just a small, lost man cracking up in Paris…Situation hopeless -unless a miracle happened.” 

Even though all his six independent films were flops, he was called back to save Fox from financial ruin.   Part of the deal was his producing The Longest Day.

“The Longest Day may well be the most important event in the life of Darryl Zanuck.  It changed his life, saved his life, and saved the life of Twentieth Century Fox as well, which is why he made it as if he was fighting for his life.  Before The Longest Day, he was a washed-up, played out producer.  After The Longest Day, he was one of the most powerful men in the movies…so powerful that he revived an almost defunct organization and established a dynasty.”

But he almost lost The Longest Day.

While Zanuck was producing and even directing The Longest Day in Europe, back home Fox was “split by dissension and facing possible bankruptcy”.  The management made Zanuck and The Longest Day its scapegoats.  They wanted to scrap the picture and take their losses.

This time, Skouras was on Zanuck’s side, but by then he had lost all control.   He frantically called Zanuck back from Europe to plead his cause.

As he faced the board of directors, Zanuck had fierce opposition.

“Outnumbered, outflanked, and seemingly defeated before he began, Zanuck got up and began fighting with his mouth.”

He defended his picture for four hours.  “He was boiling,” one executive said.  But the enemy was implacable.

General van Fleet came to Zanuck’s defense.

“He lost his temper,” says Zanuck.  “He practically called them idiots.  He had landed in the first wave on D-Day.  Usually at board meetings, he never said anything, but now he said, ‘This picture will make more than any other picture.”   

General Van Fleet won.

It wasn’t just the picture he saved.  General van Fleet saved Zanuck’s life.  Zanuck was on the battlefield, shot down and bleeding to death, and General van Fleet ran out under heavy fire and picked him up and carried him back.

Now I know what happened.   Milton was right.  Perception is everything.   I was incredibly naïve.

I did not consider that assumptions were made when General van Fleet planned a strategy with Skouras to meet me and cast me in Sand Pebbles.

I did not consider that turning down Zanuck’s dinner invitation would make him try to find out who took precedence over him.

Of course, he thought it was General van Fleet.   What could he do?  He backed off in as gentlemanly a way as he could.   That’s why everybody was doing that kabuki dance.

The last thing Zanuck said to me was, “It will be my honor.”

Darryl Zanuck was a man of honor.

So was General James A. van Fleet.

Milton Blackstone was something else.   I love Milton.   For a short, crazy, critical time, he was my guardian angel (whoever sent him).

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