"IT HAS been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the harsh progress of mankind," said the first Queen Elizabeth of England.
•TWO well-known amazing females died this week. One of them I knew very well. The other I never met but I loved and admired her from afar.
The lady I knew was actress Marian Seldes, just about the last of the acting grand dames and the kind of person the theater doesn't seem to produce anymore. Marian was imposing and seemed "very formal," but in reality had two truly great qualities -- a sense of humor and total kindness.
This actress played all sorts of types, however, it was her slightly "grand" manner in the latter part of her acting career -- as a kind of left-over dowager -- when I came to know her best. But I should note here that one of her outings on the recent stage had been against type. And it was one of my favorites. It was when she co-starred with Angela Lansbury in Terrence McNally's Deuce, where she was a middle-aged former doubles tennis star. You can look up her credits because we can't hope to deal with all of them here. After all, she was acting almost to the time of her death at age 86.
I knew Marian especially well after she married, late in life, one of my favorite writers, the famous Garson Kanin. (They were married for nine years.)
I find I depended a lot on merely running into her, because she almost always showed up where anything to do with the theater was going on. This was delightful. When meeting, she would invariably try to bow as if you were the one person she wanted to see. Then she wouldn't maintain formality, but she'd hide behind her hand, tittering, as if the meeting was an inappropriate but delightful happening. If you got a letter from her, you never knew what she was saying because her handwriting was impossible.
She was very respectful, always, of her "superior" friend Katharine Hepburn. Kate was dismissive, calling her "somewhat theatrical." This caused observers of the two great laughter because who, after all, was more "theatrical" than Kate when she wanted to be? Marian knew the star was devoted and possessive of her friendship with Garson. (He had written many of Kate's best-known films with Spencer Tracy. He and Kate fell out, but famously made up.) I thought, observing the two women together and apart, that Kate was just a tiny bit jealous of Marian's having married Garson. But Marian gave Garson a happy comfortable last nine years of his life. And Kate, I think, respected that they had wed, although she didn't have much use for marriage.
I recall being honored by being named one of the first females ever to be inducted into the Players Club. Helen Hayes led the names that included Lauren Bacall, Sylvia Sidney, Dina Merrill and others. Garson came up to me beforehand, asking, "Why isn't Marian on this list?"
I was shocked; she deserved to be more than many others of us. I protested to the powers that be. Marian was there, of course, and said, "I don't really care!" Nevertheless, she was added and there she is -- more theatrical and more deserving than all the rest.
I will miss seeing her "around and about"-- her formal bow on greeting, her sincere friendly kiss and her concern for whomever she encountered. And you could always count on Marian to elevate every gathering. When they dim the lights on Broadway, and maybe they have already done that, it will be a fine, fitting tribute.
Good night, sweetheart!
•THE OTHER WOMAN I will miss is the Duchess of Devonshire. I included her in my fanciful book about food and cooking titled Dishing. And I will deal with this wonderful woman later when my fevered brain can do her justice. She transcended even her many successful and disgraceful and newsworthy sisters. And she was the last real purveyor of Great Britain's aristocracy. I will also give her "recipe" for how to serve High and Low Tea.
•I have two letters here regarding the frailties of the Secret Service. Both food for thought.
From Linda McDonnell: "You recalled your own experiences of being scrutinized by the Secret Service to the max when visiting the White House, as it should be, you said. But you referred to yourself as 'a mere entertainment reporter'...But who would have thought a well-known member of a famed acting family would succeed in assassinating President Lincoln? John Wilkes Booth moved around Ford's Theater where he was well known. He appeared normal, with good social connections. Anyone might be used to harm the President. All the more reason for an overhaul of that department!"
Never thought of that, but I did agree with Duane Hampton when the New York Times and other papers print a floor plan of the White House. Naturally, it's available but why make it so easy? And easy to appear to unstable minds.
Come to think of it, some "freedom of the press" can be quite dangerous. Cable news constantly seems to be helping our enemies. Why tell that we use the first video of the Briton who cut the first western throat to figure out where it's happening? Maybe it wouldn't occur to ISIS that we use the background to identify who is who. (I'm sure ISIS went to pains after that not to give us any clues.) And why do we I.D. the killer as British; maybe he doesn't know that we know he is. For that matter, why bring it to mind that the next crime might be beheading civilians in the street? And saying that's what we fear.
The cable news and other more distinguished outlets tell too much about our plans, failures, and successes. No wonder some patriotic people lie to congressional committees.
A free country wants everything on the record and out in the open, but if we're at war???