— Chapter Twenty-Eight: Cabaret —
Stewart made a reservation for Friday and Saturday nights at the Essex House on Park Avenue. The plan was for Stewart to pick up Carol at her house, walk to the 69th Street Terminal and take the subway to 30th Street Station, then the train to New York City, as he’d done for his first meeting with Whitney. Carol had requested a leave of absence from work on Friday, and was extremely excited about attending a live Broadway performance, especially of Cabaret.
Unlike Stewart, who had been to New York with his youth group at the age of 14, Carol had never been to “The Big Apple.” The furthest she’d ever been from home was Wildwood, New Jersey, the shore spot where her parents vacationed each year as she was growing up, so for her the show and shopping expedition with the ladies was a big adventure.
Carol also had never taken a train anywhere, except the local from Philadelphia a few times to visit a girlfriend in her drawing class at PAFA who lived in nearby Paoli, so she was going to makes sure that she made the most of her visit.
She had bought a few new things to wear for the trip at Lit Brothers, including a new dress, a travel outfit and a nightgown.
Although Stewart now had his own apartment, the two had only had sex there twice since he moved in. The furnishings were sparse, the bathroom tiny, and the atmosphere less inviting than the motel they stayed at in Media on New Years’ night, so the two were looking forward to a couple of nights of comfort and luxury while away. Stewart carried a new suit bag with him to safely transport his bell=bottom blue suit, white shirt and wide tie, all purchased at Lits. Pockets in the bag contained the dress shoes that he had bought for the party at the boathouse. He also bought khaki bell-bottom pants and a stylish madras shirt to wear for the trip and the luncheon meeting with Whitney and Lear, and had decided at the last minute to pack his latest Kafka art board in with his suit.
His plan was to take a cab to the Essex House and drop off their luggage, and then meet Whitney at his office at 11:15. Whitney was looking forward to providing Norman, Carol and Fran a tour of his art collection on the walls of his office before heading out to lunch, at which time the girls would head out on their own to shop and get to know one another.
Since the ladies had selected the Rainbow Room for their after-theater dinner, Whitney had arranged for the men to discuss business and have lunch at the Top of the Sixes, located not far from his office. The restaurant’s main attraction was the view of the city, rivaled only in later years by the view from Windows of the World on the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
It was a mild and sunny late August morning with light that carved shadows though crosswalks and beams of light between buildings, as the three men walked the short distance to the restaurant. Lear pointed at the facades of buildings he’d been in and recalled stories of his adventures in New York City after the War.
“Growing up in New Haven, I’d gone to school in Brooklyn, but it was only after serving in World War II that I became familiar with the city while working as a staff writer for NBC’s Ford Star Review, a variety and comedy radio show.
“Most of my life since ’55 I’ve lived in L.A., where I wrote and directed variety shows for Jerry Lewis, Gobel, Rickels and Martha Raye.
“I never had a lesson on writing or comedy... I just listened and learned from my family.
“The darker side of humor I gleaned from my flight crew while serving as a radio operator and gunner on a B-17.”
Stewart jumped in with, “My dad was a private in the Army in the Pacific, from ‘41 to ‘45. When he returned home he went back to his job in upstate Pennsylvania and drilled gas wells. When the wells dried up, my mother wanted to move back to Philly, and he never found work again. My Dad became a con man to survive. I don’t think he meant any harm to anyone; he just never found any other options.”
“If he had his boots on the ground, who knows what he endured.“ answered Lear. “I flew 52 missions and was lucky to survive, but I still have nightmares about it, and the killing I did from my seat in the plane.”
“My father used to wake up and jump under the bed when lightning crashed or a limb would fall,” said Stewart.
The restaurant was nearly empty when they arrived, and Whitney had arranged a table by the window. Whitney was surprised to hear that Stewart had been at the restaurant at the age of 14, and that he and his group had sat in the exact same location, the only difference being that they had looked out on the city at night.
Stewart let both men know that his earlier experience in New York had ignited a passion in him that seemed to be divining his path as he grew older.
Stewart ordered an ice tea, as Lear and Whitney ordered martinis, each with two olives, and the talk quickly turned to business. Lear began to outline the status of the project that he’d only previously hinted about to Whitney and brought Stewart up-to-date.
“When Jock showed me the drafts you did of The Cargyls, I thought you’d gotten the idea from the same English sitcom as I did, but he told me that the series you had planned had evolved as you began to recognize the prejudices of your own family towards blacks and Jews.
“My dad was Jewish and he had prejudices against Catholics, Asians, and most immigrants. And of course he hated the Germans, and wasn’t too kind about the French, since they all hated the Jews. He and his friends couldn’t stand homosexuals, but they were fine about lesbians as long as they shaved their arm pits. That also was another strike against the French. A divorced woman was a disgraced woman, and she was always the cause of a divorce, and most likely a lesbian... and if not, she just wasn’t good at sex or had let herself go.
“There was always a reason to blame women. Even though he was devoted to my mother. Or maybe I just didn’t know any better.
“And I don’t believe it’s changed much over the past 30 to 40 years for most families.”
Whitney remained silent as Lear told his story. He knew that the wealthy did everything possible to cover up the dirt, as did he after he was caught multiple times in affairs he’d had while married to his first wife, Mary.
His flings with actresses such as Tallulah Bankhead, Paulette Goddard and Joan Crawford couldn’t be well hidden because the studios loved the publicity. And, after marrying Betsey, her ex-husband James Roosevelt and she had kept the lid on the adoption by Whitney of their two children Sara and Kate, who were also the grandchildren of the president, FDR.
Rich and poor, families had their secrets and cover-ups, so it was no surprise that a comic strip or a TV sitcom would soon be the medium to address issues left unmentioned in families of previous generations.
As lunch was being served, Lear provided the premise of the show he and his partner had titled Justice for All. A second pilot, made the previous February, was called Those Were the Days, which was started as an ABC project, but was bought by CBS when the ABC network got cold feet.
“Where it stands now, the studio show has been scheduled for airing the second week in January of ’71.
“Gleason was originally intended for the bigoted head of the Bunker family, but Carroll O’Connor, who is appearing in the pilot, had earned the part along with Jean Stapleton as Edith, Archie’s long-suffering wife. The supporting cast is still up for grabs, but we think the nod will go to Carl Reiner’s son, Rob.”
“So what do you need from me?” asked Stewart.
“I need writers,” answered Lear.
“But I’m not a writer, I’m a cartoonist,” responded Stewart, “and pretty much a novice at that.”
“What difference does that make?“ retorted Lear.
Whitney jumped in and said, “Stewart has a successful cartoon that he’s under contract to fulfill with Field Enterprises and needs to continue production of panels and strips into ‘71.”
“We don’t need him yet!” exclaimed Lear.
“Am I right to assume that you have no idea whether your show will last... even one season?”asked Whitney.
“I’ll make it worth his while.”
“What’s that mean in dollars?”
“What’s that to you, Jock? Are you his manager?”
“As a matter of fact, I am. But I’m also his friend.”
“Could I have a chance to speak?” interrupted Stewart.
Both Whitney and Lear turned from facing each other to focusing on Stewart.
“I’m new to all of this, but it seems to me that there are a lot of writers in Hollywood who have more experience than I do. If I’m not mistaken, any of them would be more knowledgeable about the topics you plan to address, than I am.”
“How old are you, kid?” asked Lear.
“I just turned 22.”
“All of my writers are over the age of 40. That’s why I need you,” said Lear. “And look at it this way, Jock. There’s no reason that after his contract’s up you can’t scale the frequency of his cartoons down.”
“Would I have to move to the West Coast?” asked Stewart.
“It would be helpful,” said Lear. “Unless you’re a peregrine falcon.”
Stewart thought of his relationship with Carol, and how a move to a place so far away would prevent any chance he’d have of holding on to her.
“Ahhh!” said Lear. “He’s thinking about the girl.
“I shudder to think of how many careers are ended...for the sake of the girl.”
Lear’s scathing insight into his personal concerns brought Stewart back to his own father’s drama of his hope for happiness and his future hampered by marrying Dottie... and completely lost to him after the birth of his son, Stewart.
Lear was aware that although he might be able to negotiate a deal with Whitney, he might not have a snowball’s chance in hell of enticing a love-sick boy away from his muse.
“I’m sure we can work something out,” Lear said before segueing to the subject of Cabaret.
“You know that we’re catching one of the last three performances of the musical tonight before it closes?” offered Lear to whoever might be listening.
“It’s a powerful play, and the timing for it in our country’s history has been perfect. I can’t imagine why it took so long for Fran and me to actually see it.
“And, Stewart, I applaud your charming young friend, Carol, for suggesting it.”
“Good seats were fairly easy to get,” commented Whitney.
“Cabaret’s success back in ’66 was another reason that I thought it may be appropriate for a show like All in the Family to be publicly accepted.”said Lear.
“Cabaret has Jews, homosexuals, and Nazis all in one story, with jokes about anti-semitism, and a theme that includes drugs and abortion. And it led to the acceptance the of Mel Brooks’ movie, The Producers, which was uncomfortably wonderful.
“Cabaret’s success proved that America’s changing... hopefully, over time, for the better.”
Whitney told his story of attending the Broadway opening of Cabaret in 1966. “Some of the audience walked out before the end of Act I, due to the suggestive nature of the words and lyrics. Then, as the weeks went by, Joel Grey’s dark portrayal of the emcee began to become more appealing to a wider audience, and won the world over.”
“I didn’t know that you’d already seen the play,“ said Stewart. “Carol would never have suggested...”
“Don’t worry about that, Stewart,” said Whitney. “It’s a great play and it’ll be wonderful to see how it’s held up after more than 1000 performances.”
Lunch ended at 2:00 for the trio of men, and Carol, Fran and Betsey hadn’t planned to conclude their shopping trip until at least 4:00 p.m., so after shaking hands with both men and thanking Whitney for the lunch, Stewart headed to the hotel to see if their room was ready and their baggage had been delivered.
He was given the key, and went to the 11th floor room, put the small suitcases on the luggage stand, and took off his shoes and laid down on the comforter. He propped two pillows under his head and scanned the view of the elegant interior.
Realizing that he wouldn’t sleep, he reviewed the meeting with Whitney and Lear, and reflected on the path prescribed for him by the producer to write for a television show without any knowledge of the industry.
Though he’d created concepts for cartoons, he was a student of neither drama nor humor, with minimal understanding of the racial and social divisions in America, and had achieved only a hint of success with a cartoon that only a month before had been destined for cancellation.
He rolled over on his side and contemplated how fortunate he was to have been discovered and selected for mentoring by Whitney, but also how uncertain future opportunities might be.
This type of success doesn’t happen for everyone, thought Stewart, knowing that at any moment, the road to fame, luxury and personal triumph could be dashed away by a single error of judgment, a fatal misstep, or an accident having nothing to do with his talent, hard work or dedication to his craft.
His thoughts turned to Carol, and what her response would be after he presented to her Lear’s offer and the possibility of him having to move to Hollywood. He then drifted off and slept until being awakened by the phone on the bedside table, which he picked up and answered with, “Hello!”
“It’s Jock. I just got back from dropping Norman at his room at the Plaza. I wanted to get your impression of his offer.”
“It wasn’t exactly an offer,” answered Stewart. “It seemed more like an invitation.”
“After you left, we talked money... and timing, and the offer seems solid, if you choose to take it.”
“It’s a lot for me to process,” said Stewart.
“I knew something like that might be coming, but one is never sure in the entertainment business,” said Whitney.
“Where are we meeting tonight and at what time?” asked Stewart, changing the topic.
“The doors to the theater open at 7:30, so we’re meeting for drinks at The Rum House on 47th Street at 6:30. Dinner’s late, so get some rest or you’ll be asleep before Act II.”
“I’m not in tune with the New York lifestyle,” responded Stewart.
“Neither is Lear. I have a feeling that he can fall asleep anywhere. I’ll take a nap at the office, and meet you and Betsey at the bar. We’re also spending the night at the Plaza.”
“Thanks, Jock. You’re going to have to help me with my decision, but only after I speak with Carol. Some separation is good for a relationship, but 3,000 miles may be a bit too much to keep us together.”
When Carol arrived at the room at the Essex House at 3:45, Stewart was fast asleep in the bed on top of the coverlet. He looked so peaceful that she tried not to disturb him as she dragged her packages through the doorway and into the room.
Stewart stirred, but then rolled over back to sleep, and she removed her purchases from the bags and stacked them on the settee. She opened the minibar and grabbed a seltzer water, and then watched Stewart as he appeared so peaceful while asleep, a sight she rarely had seen since Stewart seemed constantly in motion.
She went to the opposite side of the bed and lay next to him thinking how thoroughly she’d enjoyed her day, and getting to know Fran, who she soon discovered was forthright and brutally honest. After listening to Carol’s story of her pregnancy and the loss of her husband in Vietnam, Fran confessed that she was born to an unwed mother up in Hudson, New York, and was adopted by the Loebs, who changed her name from Evelyn to Frances. She had married twice before she wed Norman, and had recently worked with Eugene McCarthy on his campaign for President.
Betsey acknowledged that her life was quite different from both of theirs; that she grew up privileged, that she was at one time married to FDR’s son, and was the daughter of Harvey Williams Cushing, a socially prominent neurosurgeon who served as a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale Universities.
Despite her lineage, Betsey was down to earth, and worldly wise, and melded nicely with Carol and Fran in their assessment of men, life and the role of women in politics, society and the preservation of the planet.
Carol had had no idea of what to expect when first meeting the women, but was pleasantly surprised by the experience, except that she had spent far too much money at Saks Fifth Avenue, and eaten way too much for lunch, and was glad that they’d be having a late dinner.
Stewart woke up to find Carol lying next to him completely clothed and watching him.
“Hi!” he said.
“Hi!” she answered. “How was your lunch?”
“Bewildering, And yours?”
“Fun! But I spent a fortune.”
Stewart smiled at that.
“I was a little concerned that I might not fit in, but the ladies were great. I loved every moment of my afternoon.”
“Where’d you have lunch?”
“At the Plaza, where the Whitneys and the Lears are staying over. I don’t know what I had to eat, but whatever it was, it was great.
“How about you?”
“We went to the Top of the Sixes and had a window table with a really great view of the city. And from what I think I understood, I was offered a job by Norman Lear as a writer for a new show scheduled for TV next year.”
“Did you take it?”
“I already have a contract, remember. But apparently Whitney thinks I should take the job. The problem is that it’s in Hollywood, and I’d have to relocate there.”
“Well, you haven’t spent much for that crummy apartment you have in Springfield. Are you going to take it?”
“I really don’t know, Carol. I can’t imagine living 3000 miles from you.”
Carol got up from the bed and took the pillow she was using as a head rest and swatted him with it.
“What do I have to do to let you know that neither you nor I are ready for a commitment that could ruin both of our lives!”
“I understand, but...”
“But nothing! If I have to break up with you completely, I will, for both our sakes.
“You’ve told me over and over about your parents and the mistakes of your father, and your mother, and you still don’t get it.”
“But I love you.”
“No. That’s need, not love,” said Carol.
“I want to be everything I can be, even if I can’t be as wonderful as the magnificent Stewart Little. And you, you talented son of a bitch, need to continue on your journey. I never....do you hear me...NEVER want to be blamed for your failures.
“Those ladies I met today have their acts together. They know who they’re married to, and also know that they’re independent of their husbands, and are important on their own. I applaud them for that!”
Stewart knew that he should stay quiet, so he waited for more... but there was silence.
“Now, we’re not going to meet the Whitneys and the Lears until 6:30, so you can get some more sleep... or I can take a shower and we can enjoy this beautiful suite and each other.”
Stewart wasn’t really given a choice, and he knew it, so he said, “Go take a shower.”
Carol smiled and began to take off her clothes as she walked into the bathroom.
“If you’d like to join me, I’ll wait for you.”
“Be there in just a moment.”