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An attempt at nonfiction from a guy who has previously only published thrillers.
Everything herein will be, to the best of my ability, truth, whether emotional or verifiable.
Various famous people will show up, various laws will be broken, though the real business herein will be the creation of a time machine that will allow anyone who desires to walk back into a specific and peculiar moment of the past.
In 1973, my mother, the Academy award-nominated actress Grayson Hall, got a part in a new John Guare play, Marco Polo Sings a Solo, which was to have its premier in the summer season of a theater company on the island of Nantucket. Dark Shadows, a notorious daytime television show in which she’d played a significant starring role for several years, had ended two years before; the show had elevated her to a position of national recognizability, if not recognition. She had worked consistently since, bouncing back and forth between our apartment in New York and work trips to Hollywood, plays and television movies-of-the-week, with the occasional part in a film.
John Guare, now a playwright emeritus of American culture, was coming off of a very hot two years, having had back to back Broadway successes with House of Blue Leaves and the musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona. In Nantucket that summer he was a brilliant, funny conversationalist, a labyrinthine thinker at once soft-spoken and sharp as a razor.
I turned 15 that summer, an only child, prone towards overweight, self-effacing when I wasn’t uncomfortably loud.
A house had been rented on Union Street to domicile the play’s actors; mom had been offered a room therein, but had elected to take an apartment on the second floor of a house about a block further up the street. Thus it was that I was given the front parlor room of a grey shingle Nantucket centerhall house, and had as housemates James Woods, Kevin Mccarthy, Paul Benedict, and various other actors who were part of the Nantucket Stage Company.
I had a roommate. My best friend in the world, Matthew Gaynes, had grown up with me in midtown Manhattan; his family had an apartment on the 6th floor of my building, while my family was on 10. Matt’s father and mother were also in theater; George Gaynes, tall, blond, leading-man handsome with an operatic baritone that could shake buildings, has had a long career in television and film, most notably as John Van Horn, “The Tongue” who sings to Dustin Hoffman from the street in Tootsie, while Matt’s mother, Allyn Ann Mclerie, was in the original cast of On the Town on Broadway and became a reliable television and film presence, with stops along the way in All The President’s Men and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.
I was three months older than Matt, but he was the star. Taller than me, thin and athletic, with superbly ingrained manners combined with the facial structure of a Kurt Cobain or a Brad Pitt, Matt exuded a casual proprietary charisma I could not hope to match. His parents were Dutch and Scot/Canadian; mine were from Ohio and Pennsylvania. His aunt was a Baroness in France who had been painted by Balthus; my aunt had co-owned a beauty parlor in Philadelphia that always smelled of solvents.
Matt and his family had moved out of our building in 1969, across the country to a wonderfully odd wooden and glass hippy boat of a house on a pleasant block in Studio City. Our parents had taken great pains to preserve the friendship; we visited, his house or mine, west coast or east, most every summer. The summer of 1972, my mother had filmed a Movie of the Week, a monster movie called Gargoyles, in Carlsbad, New Mexico; Bernie Casey, an ex-football player who was a vibrantly funny man, played the lead gargoyle; he subsequently became something of an icon in blaxploitation movies. Mom got killed halfway through the movie. Matt had flown in from Los Angeles; the film shoot had taken over a large motel, and we shared a room on the second floor. Carlsbad had been a hot, dusty, hardscrabble town with not a lot to do for two 13-year-old boys; Matt and I spent an inordinate amount of time in a deeply classic broken-glass Western pool hall when we weren’t hanging out on the shoot. We got paid $7 an hour to glue ping pong balls and plastic scales onto the scuba wet suits that served as the gargoyles’ costumes. How actors were supposed to function while wearing wet suits in New Mexico in August was a running complaint; fortunately most of the gargoyles’ scenes were filmed at night, when the temperature was a little more amenable. The film shoot office had manufactured a completely fraudulent “New York State ID” for me, replete with an official-looking “government stamp” seal made from pressing a dime into a black inkpad. Believe it or not, this card enabled me to purchase alcohol unchallenged all summer long.
That was the summer of my first daily relationship with alcohol; by Nantucket the next year I was a pro.
[TO BE CONTINUED]