Naomi and Me

12 Apr

I’ve been thinking of Naomi a lot lately.  Of all those years a long time ago in California before the beginning of the end.  We were just kids raising kids.  Naomi was the real baby, only twenty when we met.  It was March and my girls were having a birthday party.  After the party I took a few of my little sugar-high guests across the street to peek through the fence to pet the goat.  Soon a girl appeared  from the house on the back of the lot, followed by a cute toddler who looked like she’d been cut out with the same cookie cutter.

We went to Las Vegas once for the weekend.  Naomi and me and Bid and Jim, our husbands.  Bid was there for some kind of Sparkletts convention, the company he worked for.  Jim and I just went along for the fun of it.  That first night Naomi and I got all dressed up in flowing gowns and high heels.   She was quite the beauty with her long thick hair and aristocratic French nose.  A real Stephanie Powers look-a-like.  We were so excited.

We sat in Bid’s car in the dark before we went into the casino, sketching out our gambling plans.  My husband asked me for two aspirins.  Absentmindedly I fumbled in my purse for the loose pills.  I handed him two.  After tossing down one without benefit of water, he began choking.  He squinted at his hand.  “Damn it, Laura,” he croaked.  “You gave me safety pins and one’s stuck in my throat!  Get me some water!”

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.  Except in Las Vegas, nowhere.  “I’ll get some,” I promised and tore through the dark to the closest restaurant, Naomi clumping along behind me.  Hysterically I begged for a cup of water.  Back at the car, the three of us  watched while Jim drank.  “More,” he whispered and we tore back to the restaurant.

“I’ve told that story a hundred times,”she told me years later.  “No one could believe you gave Jim a safety pin instead of an aspirin.”

Jim and Bid are gone now.  So is Naomi, recently taken from us in a tragic accident.  But in our memories she will always be alive.

Goggie and the Boat Ride

11 Apr

Arriving a week early for my Wednesday afternoon book club, I hung out with my surprised host and writer friend, Susan.  After a few jokes about my being early for a change, we got to the subject of books.  “I’m tired of reading so many depressing novels,” I told her.  “How about reading something funny for a change?”

“I agree with you,” she said. “I know you like to write funny stuff.  By the way, whatever happened to that story of yours about scattering your mother’s ashes?”

“Oh, that,” I answered. “It’s floating around somewhere.”

GOGGIE And The BOAT RIDE

When my mother died, she left a simple will. Among her requests she asked that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Somewhere My Love” be sung at her funeral, and that her ashes be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico. True to Goggie’s wishes, I arranged for the unlikely pair of songs to be sandwiched in between hymns at her memorial service.

The distribution of ashes was attempted one pretty spring day the following April. It took more than a little coordination to set the scene since it required 1. a boat, and 2. as many of the family members as possible. My daughter, Tracy, arranged for the rite to be held on a small cabin cruiser owned by her boyfriend’s parents.

Somehow I managed to assemble most of the immediate family that Sunday afternoon.  The six family members included Tracy, sisters Jenny and Lisa, plus baby Lauren, my seventy-eight-year-old father, and myself. Tracy’s boyfriend, Buzzie, was our captain.

Things began quite nicely. Buzzie pushed off from his parents’ dock, effortlessly maneuvering the blue and white cruiser through the quiet Intercoastal Waterway out into the choppy Gulf. On the bridge of the boat we exalted in the sunny breezy weather, all except for my father who remained shivering in the cabin below. With blood as thin as water, he can not bear so much as a whisper of a breeze, so wears three T-shirts and a Windbreaker, even on a ninety-degree day.

Soon we came to a likely looking spot where Buzzie dropped anchor. Ready to get on with our little ceremony, I went down into the cabin.  “Dad, we’re ready to scatter Mom’s ashes now,” I announced, peeking in.

My father looked up, confusion written all over his face. “Laura, I don’t think that these are your mother’s ashes.” He pointed to some hand lettering on the small cardboard box he held in his lap. “This printing says ‘Slatter,’ not ‘McClain.’  We got someone else’s ashes by mistake!”

“Oh, no!” I said.  Oh damn, I thought.

It was all my fault. Not one for detail, and not being able to read anything without my glasses, I had blithely signed for the wrong box of ashes at the funeral home.  Poor Goggie. Where was she? We had the ashes of someone named Slatter, and the Slatter family had Goggie, and God only knew what they had done with her.

I climbed to the bridge, guilty and miserable. The whole trip had been for nothing. Maybe we should just throw the ashes overboard anyway. What was the difference? Goggie was in heaven; she certainly wasn’t in some box.  She was probably looking down at us this very second getting a big kick over the whole disaster.

Frantically I searched for the right words to break the news to my expectant crew. But all I could think of were the lines from the Walt Whitman poem I’d been forced to memorize in the  sixth grade.

“O Captain, my Captain, Our fearful trip is done. The ship  has weathered every rack, The prize we sought is won.”

Buzzie took the setback the best. Without a word, he pulled up anchor and headed back to shore. Downcast, I sat in in silence until we reached Buzzie’s house.  (To be continued!)

Richard Erdman

9 Apr

I forgot to add that Sharon Randall’s husband is successful long time actor Richard Erdman. He is known for such classic movies as Objective, Burma! (1945) with Errol Flynn, Anything Goes (1956) with Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor, and The Men with Marlon Brando (1950) to mention a few. Mr. Erdman currently appears on the NBC hit comedy Community.

Actress Sharon Randall – Inspiration for Double Take antagonist

9 Apr

Sharon Randall is a ninety-year-old actress who has had a long career in film and on stage as a lyric soprano and star. Born Janice Chambers in Chicago in 1923, we recently reminisced about her beginning in show business.

Laura: Sharon, as you know, you were the inspiration for the 1950’s film star Laura de France in my recently released YA novel Double Take. How does that make you feel?

Sharon: Flattered. How did you find out about all of this?

Laura: Your sister Dale.

Sharon: Oh, dear.

Laura: She didn’t tell me all at once, just a little here and there. I was fascinated with her stories about you as a child star at MGM. Tell me, how did you get started?

Sharon:  We grew up in Chicago.  And at that time Zeppo Marx heard me sing and was very impressed.  He knew one of my teachers. When he went back to California, he arranged for a contract for me at MGM.

Laura:  Oh, I remember Zeppo.

Sharon:  Zeppo was the agent.  He wasn’t really part of the group. He was wonderful. Anyway, he arranged for my contract.  I was at MGM for about, gosh, two or three years.

Laura: How old were you then, Sharon?

Sharon:  About twelve.

Laura: Twelve? Then you were just a little girl. 

Sharon: I was.  I did a couple of pictures there … Young Doctor Kildare and things like that.  I also did a lot of tests for Judy Garland. She was so beautiful and terrific. Mickey Rooney was there too, but Judy was my favorite.

Laura: Dale said you were considered for Judy’s role in the Wizard of Oz.

Sharon: I don’t think I was really considered, but I did a lot of tests with the actors, especially Bert Lahr, The Cowardly Lion.

Laura: So how many hours a day did you go to school?

Sharon: We went to school in the morning from nine to twelve.  We had a wonderful teacher named Mary McDonald.  What a nice lady.  It was very exciting! Such a good time.

Laura: Were you there with Elizabeth Taylor?

Sharon: No, I met her though.  I was gone by then. She was much younger than I. She studied with my teacher. Gene Reynolds was there, too. He was such a wonderful child actor.

Laura: What about Margaret O’Brien? Did you work with her?

Sharon: I don’t think so, but I knew her.

Laura: What about your mother?  I understand she started you and your sisters Dale and Carol out in show business. You all took acting lessons and singing lessons, did you not?

Sharon: Not together. I was much older. My father inspired me as singer. He had a beautiful tenor voice. 

Laura:  What happened after you left MGM?

Sharon: I began doing musicals like The Boyfriend and Song of Norway.

Laura: So you travelled?

Sharon: Yes, Chicago and New York.

Laura: I have a picture of you when you did Song of Norway. How old were you then?

Sharon: About twenty-one.

Laura: I see how much you and Dale look alike.

Laura:  How did you meet Dick?

Sharon: Now, that’s a very interesting question.  Maybe we should save that for another interview.

 

Writer’s Block?

10 Feb

I really don’t get writer’s block often. When I’m coming up with nothing I let it go and just let my subconscious work on it. Take a walk. Take a bath. Take a nap. Chances are by the next day something good will surface.

When my mother, Marguerite McClain, a prolific romance writer, was stuck, she’d soak in the tub. And when she got out, she was unstuck. Don’t try to force it. It will come.

Samuel Beckett

5 Feb

I just got around to reading an article about Samuel Beckett from an old issue (March 2012) of The New York Review. Beckett’s the author of the famous play Waiting for Godot..

Apparently Beckett wasn’t an immediate success. Here’s a quote from his publisher about an earlier work. “Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas.”

Also from Beckett himself:  “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

I’m inspired.  

Happy New Year!

4 Jan

It’s a new year and time to start tapping on those keys. Somewhere I’ve read that procrastination is either fear of failure or fear of success.  So if it’s fear of rejection slips that’s stopping you, just remember one of my favorite writing stories.

In  1977 a frustrated writer by the name of Chuck Ross decided to conduct an experiment. Choosing  author Jerzy Kosinski’s award winning novel  Steps, he typed up the manuscript and began submitting it to publishers.  All fourteen of them turned him down, among them Random House, the novel’s original publisher.

Feel better?