S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 May 13, 1972: 36-94

It is a strange experience reading entries in your own diary forty or fifty years after you've written them. I began a diary while I was an undergraduate at Harvard, in 1915. I have kept it up ever since. I don't know what impelled me to start it—perhaps an impulse to salvage each day from the void. Reading this diary—sixty volumes—which I have done in order to write this memoir, is far different from reading history. There the characters are all strangers and are all dead; here they are alive and present. Characters keep appearing whose very existence I had forgotten, and yet there they are, vivid ghosts, taut in their momentary preoccupations, damped, as I myself was, in the imperatives of now. Reading through these pages, I can foresee their destinies, their futures are laid out, I know all the crisscross lines at which my life intersected theirs. It is terrible to become possessed, suddenly, of all that foresight. By comparison, they seem blindfolded. As I myself was.

I once asked Somerset Maugham whether he would ever write his autobiography. He replied, rather sharply, "No. Never." I asked why not. "Because it is not possible to tell the truth," he said. More copiously than Maugham, Mark Twain expressed himself on the impossibility of writing an autobiography. His reasons differ from Maugham's. I borrow from a preface he wrote while standing morosely on the brink of the impossible:

What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible, thin crust of his world, with its scattered snow-summits and its vacant wastes of water—and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! A mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden—it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written and cannot be written. Every day would make a whole book of eighty thousand words—three hundred and sixty-five books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man—the biography of the man himself cannot be written.

I suspect that Twain, who was an embittered man, with many shattering private griefs, didn't want to descend publicly into the abysms to which his private thoughts led him. I was told by Brander Matthews, when I was in his drama class at Columbia, that William Dean Howells, who had the run of Twain's house, walked into his living room shortly after the death of Twain's daughter. Twain had fallen asleep on the sofa; Howells' entrance woke him. Howells was horrified at what he had done—committed the unpardonable sin of snatching a sleeping friend from oblivion and impaling him abruptly on the sharp spikes of reality. He cried out, "Good heavens, did I wake you?"

There will be no abysm-dropping in what follows, except for the descents made by others. What Mark Twain felt he couldn't do, I shall not presume to do. This will be a memoir—a category of writing much more relaxed and easygoing, more vagarious and permissive. By this time—seventy-five plus—I have had just about all I can take of myself. I am a mild manic-depressive, difficult at times to distinguish from an acute one. To show how far it can go, I will relate a simple incident. Not long ago—February—I woke up and smelled the polluted air that comes into my city bedroom. It was a mild morning; I thought that I sniffed, even through the sourness, an intimation of spring. Immediately, then, I felt the pain of past springs, the stifled upthrusting longings of spring which have no resolution. I took lien in February on the cruelty of April. I thought, This is going too far—to borrow angst from a problematical spring that I may not even live to see. I put forward sensible arguments, but the still unborn spring nevertheless had its way. The sinking of the heart persisted. What is a sinking of the heart? Is there a physiological change? Can it he registered on an electrocardiograph? Has anyone a clue?

An odd quirk of destiny has put a great many people in my way. I want, in this memoir, to return to them. I want to revive their company, to share it.

To be brought up in a poverty-stricken household, to know nothing but poverty in childhood and adolescence, is not so bad while you are enduring it; it is quite tolerable, in fact—at least, it was in my case. It is in later life that it takes its toll. In the Providence Street ghetto in Worcester, Massachusetts, everybody else was as poor as we were. The rich man on the hill, who had a stucco house with a stained-glass window, and who owned a Winton Six, was still devoured by a passion to become the president of the Providence Street Synagogue, directly across the street from us. He was illiterate in Hebrew and therefore had no standing. My father, on the other hand, who didn't have a penny, was learned in the sacred books and did have standing. There used to be an expression on the hill—"Does he know the little black dots?" The reference was to the symbols for cantilladon under the letters of the Hebrew texts. If you didn't know them, neither stained-glass windows nor Winton Sixes could save you. I realize now that the Providence Street community was a theological aristocracy, in which money gave you no status. But I have been haunted by dreams of poverty all my life, through all the years since I emerged from it. I dream that I am in hotel rooms without the money to pay for them. I dream that I am jobless and can't get a job. A favorite disagreeable dream is that I am walking, in a heavy rain, and carrying a leaden suitcase, from Boston to Worcester. When I get to Worcester, there is nowhere to go. Everyone is dead. I go to the Bancroft Hotel, go up in the elevator, and walk down a corridor. Exhausted from the walk, my shoes and my clothes soaking, I open a door, see a bed, and sink down on it. Then I see that the room contains somebody else's possessions. I must not fall asleep, lest the occupant come in. I struggle to remain awake. I fall asleep. . . .

I went for two years to Clark University, in Worcester, then switched to Harvard, to study playwriting with George Pierce Baker. Harvard was idyllic then. Forty-odd years later, I was invited to Kirkland House for a week "to talk to the boys." The difference between the Cambridge I had known and the one I saw in 1958 was shattering: the difference between a small, manageable town and a swollen segment of the Boston-Washington conurbation. After leaving Harvard, I used to dream, in many inhospitable, jobless years I spent in New York, that I would wake up in Weld Hall, on the Harvard Yard. And yet the two years at Harvard were a clouded fantasy. I was haunted by the incessant query: What would I do when I got out, how get a job, how make a living? Providence Street had got its licks in. My fears proved not to be chimerical; I did have a terrible time getting a job in New York—and in other cities as well.

I have a vivid memory of the June day when I sat in Soldier's Field in Boston waiting for my degree. It is of John Singer Sargent, magnificent in his scarlet robe and bright-yellow, nicotined mustache and beard, who rose to get his honorary degree; it was pinned on him by Abbott Lawrence Lowell in person. After Sargent and I got our degrees, I was assailed by a problem that I am sure did not bother Sargent but that had for years been eroding me: What to do next? With the production of a successful play, which came about for me eleven years later, you acquire overnight a new identity—a public label. But this label is pasted on you. It doesn't obliterate what you are and have always been—doesn't erase the stigmata of temperament. These I brought with me to New York, where they were deepened by years of unsuccessful job-hunting. I went to every newspaper office in New York, and then in Philadelphia and Baltimore. I had a half-dozen plays, but I was allowed to keep them. In desperation, and financed by my older brothers, I went to Columbia to get an M.A. in English. I joined a seminar in nineteenth-century French drama with Brander Matthews.

Matthews was a tall, thin man with rather wispy muttonchop whiskers. He was an established man of the world, easy and anecdotal, a friend of Mark Twain, 'Theodore Roosevelt, and William Dean Howells—in fact, of everybody whom most people didn't know. We in his seminar read a lot from and heard a lot about the two most popular French playwrights of the nineteenth century, Scribe and Sardou. As an example of Sardou's skill as a technician (or was it Scribe's?)—how quickly and easily he could establish his leading character as a sophisticated man—Matthews drew attention to a restaurant scene in which the protagonist enters and says casually to the headwaiter, "Good evening, Henry." This established, dexterously, that the hero knew his way around expensive restaurants. One day, I made the mistake of bringing into class a copy of the New Republic. Actually, I had a contribution in it. Matthews looked at the New Republic and said, "I am sorry to see you wasting your time on that stuff." As a staunch Republican and an intimate of Theodore Roosevelt, he had to do his duty. Still, Matthews was a kind man. He gave a classmate and me cards to visit the Players Club, which thrilled us, and he gave me an invitation to hear Henri Bergson lecture in English. I was startled by the immaculateness and decorum of Bergson's English. When I reported this to Matthews, he said, "It is the English of a foreigner who doesn't know English—only the English classics."

The M.A. gave me a leg up. My newly acquired knowledge of nineteenth-century Parisian play techniques qualified me for typing up and classifying the want ads for the New York Times. The hours were from three in the afternoon to three in the morning. I worked on the widest machine I had ever seen; it was like driving a truck. At three in the morning, I walked—it was then a safe and lovely walk—to my room, on West Thirty-eighth Street. I have forgotten how it happened, but from the third floor of the Times I crept up to the tenth and got a job with Dr. Clifford Smyth, the editor of the Sunday book-review section. I never learned how Smyth achieved his doctorate; maybe it was for marrying a granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne. One day, early in 1920, he sent me out to interview Siegfried Sassoon, who was here to read his "War Poems." I can't remember the printed interview, but this visit was the beginning of a friendship that long outlasted my job on the Times. After a few months, Smyth put me in charge of the "Queries and Answers" column. The flood of inquiries about obscure Midwestern poets began to bore me. I got the bright idea of sending myself inquisitive letters. ("What has become of Ambrose Bierce?") It turned out that "Queries and Answers" was the pet column of Adolph Ochs, the Times' publisher. He cherished it. He doted on the obscure Midwestern poets; he found their view of life uplifting. He put an end to my fascinating correspondence. The tenure I didn't have lapsed. I had been a Times man for about six months. I was prodded by the same old question: What to do next?

The involuntary leisure enabled me to spend a lot of time with Siegfried Sassoon. He had a leisure problem, too, but it was far different from mine. He was lacerated by a private agony. He said that when he got an idea for a poem it took him very little time to write it; what made his situation intolerable was that he therefore had so much time to brood over this agony. After I got to know him better, he confessed to me the source of his suffering. I think it did him good to have someone to confide in. I was then so naïve and uninformed that it shocked me, though I did my best not to show it.

Siegfried told me his story. His antiwar sentiments had led to a Parliamentary inquiry. What made the military scratch their heads in bewilderment was the perplexing fact that Sassoon's war record was recklessly heroic. He had twice been cited for bravery. But nothing is beyond the military mind. It came up with a solution: that Sassoon was crazy—they called it shell shock. He was institutionalized. Had it not been for the accidental presence there of a great man—Dr. William Halse Rivers, a famous English psychologist and anthropologist, for whom Sassoon's duality as a war hero and a militant pacifist was not in the least paradoxical—he would never, Siegfried told me, have lived through that experience.

I recalled a remark of Charles Townsend Copeland's in English 12, a writing course at Harvard—that poets wrote the best prose. I nudged Siegfried toward trying his hand at prose. I still have some pages, in his beautiful handwriting, of a novel he began that summer but never completed. The prose project kept our correspondence alive after he returned to England. The eventual result is an exquisite classic—"Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man."

Siegfried couldn't get over a feeling of strangeness in his position as a famous war poet who had been summoned to lecture in America. In his youth, up to the outbreak of the war, his life had been devoted to horses and to hunting; all his friends had been sporting people. To them he was known, satirically, as old Sieg. If they knew—and many of them must have heard of it—that he had written anti-war poems, they probably dismissed it as an aberration and wondered when poor old Sieg would return to his true vocation, foxhunting. Siegfried was sent to Marlborough and Cambridge for schooling. He had a hard time absorbing useful knowledge. Aware of this limitation, and in a gallant effort to make up for it, he spent a great deal of time, when he had to do papers, in illuminating the first letter of each paragraph. He supplied himself with pencils of all colors and with gold leaf, and devoted himself to imitating the lettering in medieval manuscripts. He found written on one of his papers, "Very beautiful the calligraphy, but, alas, no content." Siegfried was ploughed. He went back happily to his horses, and to his piano, at which he spent hours playing Bach and medieval lute songs. During all these years, he'd been writing poetry—a secret vice. That was his situation when he enlisted in the First World War. Up to then, he had never felt deeply about anything. What he saw in the trenches made him feel. The war poems were the result.

On a Sunday morning in April, 1920, I went to hear Siegfried read his poems in the Free Synagogue, in Carnegie Hall. Siegfried was tall, lithe, and extraordinarily handsome. He read quietly, without striving for effect—indeed, without inflection. I remember still the stunned silence that followed the reading of one of his poems. I copy it from the little book of his war poems that he left me when he returned to England:


Does it matter?—losing your legs? . . .
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after football
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter?—losing your sight? . . .
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter?—those dreams from the pit? . . .
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know that you've fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Except when he was away on his poetry-reading tours, I saw Sassoon constantly for the rest of that spring, and through most of the following summer as well. He lived in Westover Court, on West Forty-fourth Street, and he invited me to use his suite of pleasant rooms while he was away. Westover Court was a real-estate folly of Vincent Astor's. In a book published twenty-five years later, "Siegfried's Journey," Sassoon described the extra illumination in his room: "My nocturnal outlook was dominated by the Putnam Building, above which blazed the electric sign of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. Flanked by two peacocks whose tails were cascades of quivering color, about a square acre of advertising space contained the caption: 'Don't argue but stick it in your face.'" That was the biggest sign in New York; it dominated Times Square. There was a story about it: A New Yorker was showing the sign off to a visiting Englishman. As the Englishman seemed to be insufficiently impressed, the native filled him in. He said, "There are three hundred thousand electric bulbs in that sign." "But, my dear chap," said the Englishman, "doesn't that make it frightfully conspicuous?" Westover Court was an unlikely place to find in New York even then: four stories high, built around a court, with a tree in the middle. On winter nights, when you came home late, the bare branches of this tree would be covered with birds, who thought they were in a forest. Westover Court was a bachelor establishment, with small apartments; it was like a dormitory in a New England college. Actors and artists and singers lived in it.

I was avid to learn about the English literary scene; Siegfried took me to the heart of it. The Georgian poets, theretofore names to me, were all friends of his. His love for some of them—Edmund Blunden and Wilfred Owen, for example—was passionate. He read their works aloud to me; he talked for hours about their distilled virtues. I was delighted to hear him talk about Max Beerbohm, whom he adored. Whenever he talked about Max, he chortled with glee; he imitated his light, penetrating voice, and the stories he told illustrated the style, surgical and elegant, in which Max trepanned the pretentious and the pompous. Dr. Rivers, who, as Siegfried always said, had saved his life, had also made it possible for him to employ it. Rivers had told him he must get "an outside interest," and had suggested the labor movement. Siegfried had taken his advice. He had become actively involved. He was a friend of Harold Laski's, and he was introduced by Laski's American publisher, Ben Huebsch, into labor circles here. There was no one to whom Sassoon was more devoted than he was to Ben, who was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union. I was devoted to Ben, too; I have never known a kinder or more lovable man. He came to my aid once by giving me a part-time job on the Freeman, which he published, and which many literary people considered the best-written magazine in America. We saw a lot of Ben and of Louis Untermeyer. Siegfried hated Society; he had an instinctive prejudice against the rich, and resolutely turned down the invitations that rained in on him from the well-heeled.

After poetry, Siegfried's second passion was music. Ben Huebsch and Louis Untermeyer arranged evenings of chamber music for him. He and I went to Carnegie Hall concerts in the winter and to the Lewisohn Stadium concerts in the summer. One bitter afternoon, I took him uptown to meet a college friend's sister, Emily Gresser, who was a concert violinist. We had a pleasant time at the Gressers'. Emily's father, a nineteenth-century Russian liberal, seemed to be awed at meeting Sassoon. He asked questions about his ancestry; Siegfried didn't appear much interested. Mr. Gresser ran to the bookshelves and brought over the "Samson-Talmid" volume from the Jewish Encyclopedia. He confronted Siegfried with pages about the Sassoon family, enlivened by engravings of turbaned ancestors in India. One dignitary, with an immense white beard and a magisterial expression, did seem to appeal to Siegfried. Staring at his ancestor, Siegfried murmured, "Sweet character, isn't he?"

I got free tickets for a play that had an engaging actor in it named Lynne Overman. I induced Siegfried to come with me, as there was no concert he wanted to go to that night. In the first act, very tight, the character played by Overman goes to see some friends off on a boat to Europe. At the party in their cabin, he gets drunker. The second-act curtain goes up on the man fast asleep in an unoccupied cabin. There is a long pantomime. The man wakes up. He looks around the unfamiliar environment. He sees a strange, round window. He gets up, walks groggily to the window, and peers out. He is bewildered. He returns to the bed, picks up the telephone, and says, "Say, clerk, what's the idea of all this water?" Neither Siegfried nor I ever forgot that line. We used it in all sorts of situations that seemed incredible to us.

Siegfried kept asking me to come to England. I longed to go; I had never been abroad. I longed to see the London theatre and its marvellous comedians. I knew everything that was playing there and who was in it. Without any belief that I should ever be able to manage it, I said I would try to come. I was jobless, and had a gnawing suspicion that I would never get a play on. I had too many plays now; it seemed pointless to keep writing more. In "Siegfried's Journey," Siegfried describes our meeting in New York and how, when it came time for him to leave, we discussed the improbable project of my coming to London. "Somehow," Siegfried says in his book, "I couldn't foresee Sam Behrman as a successful writer." Neither could I. Nevertheless, it was fun to talk about my visiting England, as it is to wander about in any fantasy. I asked, if the impossible should happen, where I might stay, as though there were no hotels in London. This lit Siegfried up. "You'll stay where I once stayed—at 40 Half Moon Street," he said. "You'll be taken care of by 'Dame' Nellie Burton. You'll wonder how you ever managed before you met Burton." I inquired about the house at 40 Half Moon Street and about Burton. "Hazlitt lived there during his last days in London," Siegfried said. "Later, Robbie Ross lived there. Robbie was, like Rivers, my great benefactor. I can't tell you what he did for me—for everybody, in fact. He got Heinemann to publish my war poems. He apologized to me for helping me. 'Forgive me,' he said, 'but I am an incorrigible chaperon.' Arnold Bennett, who loved him, said to me, 'Our friend Robert is the most indirectly creative character I have known. He causes works of art and letters to occur.' Robbie was just on his way to Australia, to advise the museum people in Melbourne. The next night, before dinner, he died. Gosse said that he 'wore himself out in deeds of active kindness.'"

Siegfried's speech came in little spasmodic geysers. "Robbie . . . he loved to support lost causes. . . . The stupendous thing about Robbie was . . . his loyalty. . . . I've seen heroic acts on the battlefield. . . . But I think loyalty is the greatest heroism, the noblest; it's a steady, unheralded thing . . . it goes along without fanfare. . . . It is unrecorded . . . unrewarded . . . except by those who remember it. And, you know, Robbie, he was a great conversationalist. . . . He'd stand there . . . I can see him now . . . in front of the fireplace in the parlor at Half Moon Street." Siegfried smiled in recollection. "One night . . . we were playing a game . . . improvising epitaphs . . . what epitaph we'd want for ourselves. . . . Robbie, you know, was always jumping in . . . flushing his friends out of troubled waters. For his own epitaph Robbie picked 'His name was writ in hot water.' He was Oscar Wilde's literary executor . . . he was with him in Paris when he died. When Wilde's body was exhumed . . . the men were about to lift his body with their spades. Robbie stopped them. . . . He got down into the grave and lifted the body in his arms. . . . Yes, Robbie was loyal."

As for my future London caretaker, Dame Nellie Burton, she had been, Siegfried told me, Robbie Ross's mother's lady's maid. It was Ross's mother who had first owned the Half Moon Street house. When Mrs. Ross died, Robert inherited the house. He also inherited Dame Nellie. When Robert died, Dame Nellie inherited the house and Robbie's friends—among others, the Sitwells, Lord Berners, and Siegfried. When Sacheverell Sitwell married, his wife became, in effect, Dame Nellie's daughter-in-law. Dame Nellie let the upstairs rooms. Lord Berners had rented one for a while. So had Siegfried. I asked for a description of Nellie. "I can't describe her," said Siegfried. "She's indescribable. She's Shakespearean. You'll just have to meet her. You see now, don't you, that you simply have to come to London?"

This remark made me feel that out of caprice, through some failure of the imagination, I was perversely rejecting the most beguiling of invitations. And yet the chance did come, improbably and grotesquely and much sooner than I could have anticipated—not through my selling a play of my own but through a play that someone else had sold.

I saw Siegfried off when he sailed, in August. Two film stars, Jack Pickford and Alma Rubens, who were standing at the rail of an upper deck, had the excited attention of the crowd. Pickford was so drunk he could hardly keep his feet. "In the morning, he's going to have hard work recognizing the water," Siegfried said.

There followed a series of sleazy jobs. Two of them I got by answering Times help-wanted ads on Times stationery. This gave me the aura of a veteran journalist. One was from a Houston oilman who had got his photograph in the Times rotogravure section because he had flown his own tiny plane from Houston to New York. He hired me to publicize his oil wells in Burkburnett, Texas. I went to Houston, and flew in his plane from Houston to Burkburnett. That flight and the return one induced a nervousness about plane travel that is with me yet, When I got back to the Rice Hotel, in Houston, I got into a hot bath and stayed in it for hours; the tub was stationary. The man's name was S. E. J. Cox. I inspected his holdings at Burkburnett but was unable to form a critical judgment on them. Mr. Cox had a handsome office in Houston, and a staff. His general manager was an impressive-looking, soberly dressed middle-aged man who was a Christian Scientist and was in God's confidence. I returned to New York with him. He took me to Christian Science meetings, at which he gave testimony. Close though I was to the Times as an ex-employee, I couldn't get the Burkburnett enterprise on the front page—or, indeed, on any page. The job lapsed. Another employer was a man named Finch whose older brother had an important government position in Washington. I got the feeling that he was jealous of this successful brother and wanted to outdo him in distinction. His idea was to send news abstracts to country papers throughout the United States which didn't have the A.P. wire service. I had to get to his office at three every morning to abstract from the early editions of the New York papers. He actually got some subscriptions, but not enough to pay his office rent or me, though I was getting very little. Mr. Finch was a serious, well-intentioned man who wanted the whole country to be on the qui vive, He was very sad when he had to acknowledge defeat.

During all the six or seven years I worked for the Times and Mr. Cox and Mr. Finch, I was also working on various plays. I was enticed by a scandal that rocked Johns Hopkins University late in 1920. It concerned Professor John Broadus Watson, the leading behaviorist psychologist in the United States. He was forced to resign from Johns Hopkins because of a nonacademic relationship with one of his pupils, whom he later married. Unfrocked, Watson joined the executive staff of the advertising firm of J. Walter Thompson. He spent the rest of his now affluent life conditioning the behavior of the consuming public. This seemed to me a social waste. I wrote a play about it, called "The American Way." The influence of advertising in American life—and this was before the day of radio and television—interested me profoundly. The first encouragement I got in New York came from Francis Hackett, then associate editor of the New Republic He printed as a "light middle" a piece of mine called "The Advertising Man"—the piece I didn't dare show Brander Matthews. (A light middle was a brief, light article. That one of mine made the point that advertising was the Fifth Estate; it was reprinted not long ago in a New Republic anthology of its first fifty years.) When the scandal broke about Professor Watson, I felt I had a concrete and dramatic story to pin my feelings on: the confusion of standards which condemns a valuable citizen, because of unconventional sexual behavior, to put his talents to second-rate, and even anti-social, uses.

"The American Way" brought Jed Harris into my life. My agent, Harold Freedman, sent it to him in Chicago, where Jed, who had made it known that he was looking for plays to produce, was then press-agenting some show. Harris wrote to me to say that he wanted to produce it, and would, as soon as he could raise the money. But he couldn't raise the money. Moreover, he reported that the established managers to whom he submitted it with the offer to co-produce it with them couldn't get excited about a play whose chief character was a professor. There was something about professors that seemed undramatic to them. Similarly, a great many years later, in Hollywood, I urged Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" upon Winfield Sheehan, the production head of Fox Film Corporation. He sent for me after he'd read it. The book was before him on his desk. He shook his head. "Listen, Sam, nobody ain't going to take no interest in no Chinaman," he said.

A few years later, Jed did find the money for a play by John V. A. Weaver called "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em." Harris was then unknown, and he came to New York to produce it. He asked me to be his play reader and press agent. I knew nothing about this highly specialized vocation. The dean of New York press agents, Richard Maney, who was an entrancing character and a very nimble writer, took me in hand. He tutored me. No one could have been greener than I, but on the first Sunday, surprisingly, I got a lot of stuff in the papers. There were then fourteen papers in Manhattan, and about sixty theatres. The theatre was the great entertainment medium for the United States. "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" closed after a modest run, but it was a critical success.

Jed, who has been inactive in the theatre in recent years, became an apparition in the city. There was a Svengali look about him, and also a propulsive., avid look. He was very dark and very thin, and handsome in a saturnine way. He was highly articulate; he talked about the theatre, about acting and directing, in terms of fine arts that had so far been only rudimentarily explored. He had a corrosive humor and was an infectious storyteller. He wowed everybody, and was for years an obsessional subject of conversation. Plays and novels were written about him. Actresses swooned over him; they lived only to be directed by him, and some even died as a result of it. At least one beautiful actress of distinguished family was said to have committed suicide over him. That added to his prestige and amplified his legend. There was gossip of seductions. Every script came to him, and any star he wanted. By the time he was thirty—in 1930—he had made a million dollars, and had the New York theatre, which was then the American theatre, in the palm of his hand. Those in his orbit became his devotees, and for quite a while I was in his orbit. As his legend grew, so did his belief in it. In the end, this credulity undid him.

Jed's phenomenal career really started from a dingy play script brought into the office one morning in 1926 by Philip Dunning: "Broadway." Dunning was a friend of mine, and he asked me to read it. I did and Jed did. Jed decided at once to produce it. How to finance it? Jed made a suggestion. How about my giving it to my friend Crosby Gaige? The pains of those years were mitigated for me by the friendship and hospitality of Crosby and Hilda Gaige. Crosby Gaige had been a partner of Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, who had three theatres on Forty-second Street and two in Chicago. Gaige had a paneled office in the Selwyn Theatre Building, on West Forty-second Street, with a pornographic collection in the drawer of a Sheraton desk. He was tall, affable, and enigmatic. Jed and I often wondered about his being in the theatre at all; his chief interest was in real estate, and I suppose that was why the Selwyns found him useful. He was bookish; his hobby was collecting first editions of living English authors. He had "contacts" with them—with, among others, Arnold Bennett and Liam O'Flaherty. He had a beautiful country place, Watch Hill Farm, at Peekskill, on the Hudson. Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, Arthur Krock, George Kaufman, and Moss Hart, and the Lunts, Gregory Kelly and his wife, Ruth Gordon, and many other actors and actresses were steady weekend guests— you could meet almost anybody at Watch Hill Farm. The croquet court was the scene of passionate tournaments.

Hilda Gaige was slender, with questing blue-green eyes and shimmering chestnut hair. There was sympathy and affection between us always, and, on her side, an unwavering belief that I would emerge from press-agentry. She had a wonderful laugh. She was elfin—an adorable elf with a shadow over her. I wondered for a long time about the shadow. It came to me one day: it was her husband, it was Gaige. For reasons I was never to learn, she was afraid of Gaige.

I brought Jed and Gaige together. Gaige read the script, though Jed said that Gaige had no equipment for reading a script and that Gaige's enthusiasm for this one was simply an echo of his own. They made an arrangement to produce the play together, each putting up half the production cost. In about the third week of rehearsal, on a Sunday morning at Watch Hill Farm, Gaige took me for a drive. He told me about the financial arrangement he had made with Jed for "Broadway." "I put up my half right away," he said. "That's what we're going on now. But so far your friend Jed hasn't put up his half. Not a penny so far from him." Gaige made it clear by his inflection of "your friend Jed" that Jed was my friend and not his, my responsibility and not his. But the play opened soon afterward—directed by Dunning and George Abbott, who by then had become a co-author—and was an enormous success. Everybody connected with it tasted euphoria except Jed. He was eaten with resentment that Gaige owned half of it. On the surface, things went on amiably between the partners. Jed liked Hilda, and she worshipped him, as she worshipped all creative genius. She took him to a tailor to dress him up to his newfound station. He was, she assured him, very handsome, and it would be apparent to the world once she had provided him with some decent clothes. He had always been a genius, but henceforth he would be a well-dressed genius.

I saw a great deal, in those days, of Arthur Krock. We had practically adjoining offices—he at the Times and I at Jed's, in the Selwyn Theatre Building. Krock was a theatre buff; he was teeming with ideas for publicizing Jed's show. He was fascinated, as everyone was, by Jed. He was a regular member of the Gaiges' weekend set at Watch Hill Farm. He was fond of Hilda and had what I thought was a not completely admiring intimacy with Crosby. A sentence in my diary for November, 1926, reads, "A publicity idea of Arthur Krock's for 'Broadway,' a picture-story series for the Evening World, sent me scurrying." The Evening World ran the story, and Arthur was pleased to see his brainchild in the flesh. In the four and a half decades since, I have not seen him at all. Having no longer to devise publicity ideas for "Broadway," he has employed his time becoming eminent on his own.

During that period, I developed a telephone phobia, which has stayed with me. I have never since been able to dissociate the ring of the telephone from the imminence of danger. "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" hadn't required much tending, but a big hit is demanding. Jed would call me up at two or three in the morning to berate me for something I had done badly or failed to do at all. A telephone call I got one morning, though, was from Osbert Sitwell, about whom I had heard a good deal from Siegfried. Siegfried had asked him to get in touch with me. Sitwell was in town only for the day; he had to go to Washington. Could we meet for lunch? I said that I'd love to but that I had a lunch date with Jed Harris. Sitwell said he'd love to meet Jed. We made a date. Sitwell was young, very handsome, full of vitality and good humor. He had the look of a Hapsburg prince. He at once told me Siegfried's news: that he was working on a prose book, and seemed very happy and absorbed in it. I said I was glad to hear it. Sitwell, was full of curiosity about the play Jed was doing; he loved the theatre and listened with absorption to Jed's satirical account of "Broadway" and the actors and the "dictated" performances—dictated, naturally, by him. I asked Jed to tell Sitwell a funny story about a Jewish ham actor—a tragedian with a big voice and no talent. Jed loved to tell stories and went to it. Sitwell was delighted. Jed's success with the British aristocracy temporarily mollified him. He had been very angry with me that morning. The moment Sitwell was gone, he let me have it.

Although the New York theatre was a multifarious enterprise then compared to what it is now, it was also cozier then. Production costs were not high. There were three or four extra-string critics on each of the papers, since there might be several openings each night, but there were only ten or twelve accredited producers. Most of them invested their own money in their productions, as the Theatre Guild did in its first, glowing years. (Much later, things had changed to the point where George Kaufman told me that to finance a play of his he had to appeal to a hundred and four investors—all strangers.) There were marvellous actors who could play high comedy—a genre that has practically passed out of existence. (For a time, Philip Barry, Arthur Richman, Paul Osborn, and I were the only American writers of high comedy.) There was Holbrook Blinn, an actor of such skill, subtlety, and magnetism that I am sure he could have matched the famous English specialists in high comedy—Charles Hawtry, for instance. There was Ina Claire. (Arthur Richman and I were both lucky enough to have Ina in our plays.) There were press agents who were beautiful stylists. There was Richard Maney. Above all, there was Samuel Hoffenstein. He was press agent for Al Woods, an unwashed and illiterate one-eyed manager who had made a fortune producing melodramas. Woods would get on boats to Europe at the last minute without baggage, or even a toothbrush, He was a well-known character. The producer Sam Harris was a character. So was William Harris. (They were unrelated to each other and to Jed.) There was David Belasco, who was a clerical fake; there was Arthur Hopkins, who was a genuinely spiritual man. I used to wait for Sundays to read Hoffenstein's publicity pieces about Al Woods. They were based on the assumption that Al was a shy, scholarly man who locked himself in his office to decipher palimpsests. Sam would invade Al's lucubrations with vulgar monetary information—how the Wednesday matinée had sold out, what this week's gross, barring accident, would certainly come to. At the mention of money, Al would shrink away. He would implore Sam to leave him alone with his studies, but Sam wouldn't go. The fun came from the fact that the cozy small town knew about Al. We didn't know, as we laughed over these pieces, that their author was to write "Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing," a book that was found on Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's bed table when he died. There was the producer Henry Miller. Arthur Richman was a friend of Miller's and used to stay with him in his house in Connecticut. Miller had a limousine with the biggest tonneau Richman had ever seen in his life—a special model. Driving into town one day with Miller, Richman said, "Do you really need a car this size?" Miller, melancholy, stared at the vast empty space. "I know," he said. "It's beginning to get on my nerves. It's like a Wednesday matinee in Baltimore." There were playwrights, and there were plays, and, on a level of their own, there were plays by Eugene O'Neill. The theatre in the twenties was organic, lively, and multifariously cozy.

With the money pouring in from his half interest in "Broadway," Gaige took a magnificent apartment on Fifth Avenue. It had a walnut-panelled living room. I went up there to inspect it; Hilda showed it off to me. She was forlorn. She drew the curtains and lit the drawing-room lights to show me how it would look at night. Suddenly, she gave up. She sat down and stared at me. "I can't," she said. "Do you think I'm terrible? I've got to leave Crosby. Haven't you known it?"

"I didn't know it was as serious as that."

"You'll be my friend, won't you You'll see me through it, won't you?"

When I left her, on the way downtown, I saw it as an inescapable fact of life: walnut panelling could not patch up an unhappy marriage.

A new excitement arose. "Broadway" was going to London. Jed asked me to prepare a glossary to explain the esoteric Broadway argot to English audiences. I was longing to go. Jed vetoed it—because, I think, he knew how passionately I wanted to go. I could feel my hope of seeing London and seeing Siegfried again crumble. Hilda knew how I felt about going. The idea of the trip had made a great change in her. She was wildly excited. She had a consuming interest in the English Royal Family. She read and read about them. She knew their homes, their most distant connections, their habits. She forgot how unhappy she was. She was transformed. She asked me up to dinner with Gaige. At this dinner, Gaige droned on, mostly about the eccentricities of my friend Jed. Halfway through, Hilda couldn't stand it. She burst out at him. "Why don't you tell him?" she cried.

"Oh, I've been working up to it." He addressed me. "You're coming with us," he said. "You're going to do that glossary in London." He lifted his wineglass. "Let's drink to the voyage. For Hilda and me, it'll be a second honeymoon. Won't it, darling?" Over his wineglass, he winked at me.

In December of 1926, we sailed on the Majestic, formerly the Bismarck—an emolument of the First World War. The ship was immense, luxurious, confident. It had swimming pools and Ritz dining rooms. Few of the passengers gave any thought to its history or had any curiosity about it. The other day, I read about this journey in my diary. I was astonished at what I found; it was like reading someone else's diary. I had been a great admirer of Joseph Conrad; I had read most of him. But until I read this diary I had forgotten that on that journey I met Richard Curle, one of Conrad's closest friends—indeed, his literary executor—and that he talked endlessly about his hero. Curle—his name, his appearance—had vanished from my consciousness until he made this reentrance.

Philip Dunning was on board. I worked with him on the glossary for the ignorant Londoners and helped him prepare the play script for publication. He was a very decent man, in a state of shock over the bonanza that had overwhelmed him. Novelists with a first success have usually had years of writing experience behind them—short stories or journalism or other novels—but you can have a theater success without such experience. Dunning had simply hit it, as you might strike oil or a mining lode. The London company was on board, second class. We were constantly watching rehearsals. A fellow-employee, Paul Streger, was there. He was ambitious to be a director, and Jed had sent him to take charge of the company. This was a boon to me. At home, Streger and I and Herman Shumlin, another Jed recruit, had formed a triumvirate to console each other under the lash. Shumlin and Jed had grown up together, in Newark, New Jersey. They were boyhood friends, before their lives really got started, and when their lives did get started, the friendship ruptured. It took each of us a long time to alleviate the traumas that were inescapable when one was employed by Jed. From my diary I see that I was forever trying to escape from the frantic social life of the ship and from rehearsals of "Broadway" to the privacy of my cabin, to work on one or another of three plays I had on tap. I wonder now how I could have worked on them with such intensity. Couldn't I see that they were dubious ventures? I couldn't. I didn't suspect how inadequate these plays were until they were produced. But then you have to believe in what you're doing while you're doing it, no matter how deluded that belief may be. The trouble is that when you get older and your critical faculty sharpens, the generation of excitement over an idea becomes less and less frequent, until, finally, it is extinguished altogether. I once asked Maugham why he had stopped writing plays. "Because I no longer get ideas for plays," he said. He meant, of course, ideas he could believe in.

Always on the scent of first editions, Gaige spotted the name of Richard Curle on the passenger list. Curle had been in America lecturing on Conrad. I still don't remember what Curle looked like—only that he was a morose man, who seemed to be carrying a burden too heavy for him. He talked incessantly and with tragic concentration about Conrad. He had been with him on his last day. Curle had arrived at Conrad's country place the night before. Conrad, who had been suffering from attacks of rheumatic gout, which had tormented him for years, had gone to bed, but they sat up into the early hours, talking. Conrad, Curle said, was a great talker, and that night he was at his best. In the morning, after breakfast, the vein continued, and Conrad, in wonderful spirits, insisted on driving Curle to see his new house, about eight miles away. He became ill again on the way. They turned back. The next morning, he was dead, of heart failure. "On this ship on this very ship—he returned from his American visit, and I met him at Southampton," Curle said. "He was adored by your people. It was touching for me, deeply touching, after my talks about him, to have your countrymen come up to me—yes, they come up to me and they make me feel that because I loved Conrad . . . well, they looked on me as a friend because they loved him, too."

Alone in my cabin after one of these sessions with Curle, I brooded about Conrad's death. Curle had said that Conrad's mind was teeming with ideas that he longed to set down on paper, and that he was tortured by the conviction that he never would—a conviction Curle did not share, because Conrad's conversation was so vigorous that Curle could not associate it with death.

Gaige invited Curle to dinner with us. I asked Curle an unfortunate question. I asked whether Joseph Conrad had ever written a play.

"He hated the theatre—despised it."

"Didn't he admire Ibsen?" I asked.

"He despised him. He called him 'an old fake,'" Curle said.

"So he never wrote one?" said Gaige.

"He did, as a matter of fact. 'The Secret Agent.' Dramatization of his own novel."

"Did it succeed?" asked Gaige.

"Disaster. The whole thing nauseated Conrad. Nothing about the theatre could he stand."

"I hope that you don't share Conrad's aversion to the theatre," Gaige said to Curle. "I'd very much like you to see the rehearsal of the play I'm doing in London. It will be valuable to my young friend here, as he is preparing a glossary." He turned to me. "Whatever Mr. Curle doesn't understand you'll have to explain."

Curle, who perhaps felt a bit ashamed that it had slipped his mind that he was with a theatrical crowd, and feared that he had been perhaps too vehement about Conrad’s contempt for the theatre, said he'd love to see the rehearsal. Hilda begged off. I sat with her for a few minutes. A steward handed her a cablegram. She tore it open. She began burbling with delight. "Wonderful! Seats for the last performance—Gerald du Maurer. I never thought I'd get them! You'll come with me."

"What will Crosby be doing?"

"Oh, he's seeing some English author. Imagine! Our first night in London—and 'The Last of Mrs. Cheyney'!"

Hilda was as elated about Sir Gerald du Maurier as she was about the Royal Family.

I had had, all my life, a nostalgia for England. On the boat train, I had a thrill of recognition when I found that we were in Surrey. I knew Surrey—its fields and its sheep and its houses—from the photographs in Country Life, which I used to study in the periodical room of the Worcester Public Library. I never missed an issue either of that or of the Illustrated London News. The streets of London were strange but familiar, too. In a deep sense, it was a return. I had grown up, on Providence Street in Worcester, in the nearly constant company of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. When the taxi turned into Half Moon Street, I recognized it and felt snug in it; it was exactly my idea of what a London street should be. The parlor-maid who admitted me took me upstairs to my room. She told me that Miss Burton was expecting me and would soon summon me for tea. I drew the curtains back and looked up and down the street. I was pleased to see at one end of it the shop of Trumper's, the hairdresser, because Siegfried had told me, with a certain fine edge of reproof at the self-indulgence, that Osbert Sitwell sometimes went to Trumper's twice a day. I was in a state of scarcely controllable excitement. I was in London! I had dreamed of it—tried, with some success, to imagine it. I had gone innumerable times to see friends off who were going to London, but that I would ever be going myself was not conceivable. Here I was. There, actually, was Trumper's, an appointed servant of His Majesty.

Presently, I heard a light tap at the door. It was the maid. Miss Burton was in the parlor, awaiting me for tea. I went downstairs. Siegfried had not prepared me for the Presence that greeted me. Dame Nellie was short, almost spherical, with a large expanse of face and innumerable chins. She had prominent blue eyes, an encompassing smile, and an expression of benevolent innocence. She was highly decorated; spangles and ornaments of odd shapes were pinned to her bodice. She had a mass of gray-brown hair piled up in a minaret; semiprecious, pale lights gleamed from the minaret, too. It was a congeries of ornaments and unclassifiable styles, but somehow I was soon aware that Miss Burton securely dominated her effects—that she had a style of her own. There was a quickening reassurance in her directness; you felt that she was a force of nature—that nothing could swerve her from a decision or a loyalty. She became a fixture in my life at that moment and remained so.

Miss Burton welcomed me warmly.

I asked how Siegfried was.

"Oh, you know 'im, 'Is usual—broodin' an' moodin'."

A tall, middle-aged, ectoplasmic, lemonish man made a tentative appearance. Miss Burton introduced him. "Mr. Fleming. 'E's in rear double. I'm sure you'll 'ave plenty in common."

Miss Burton held a chair for me. Mr. Fleming sat opposite. Miss Burton took command at the head of the table and began to pour. It was an immense tea. I had never seen such a lavish tea: plovers' eggs, meat sandwiches, bread and butter with strawberry jam, crumpets, scones, and a heavy cake that looked like a Christmas cake.

"Mr. Fleming is a Theosophist," Miss Burton said.

Mr. Fleming's head, perched on a long neck, nodded vehemently, as if pulled by an elastic. I had not yet heard Mr. Fleming say anything.

From where I was sitting, I was looking directly at the fireplace. I began to populate this room with the artists who used to come in late at night for advice and encouragement from Robert Ross—poets, painters, composers, playwrights. I saw Ross, a keen-eyed, subfuse figure, standing in front of this very fireplace coining epitaphs.

But Miss Burton was dredging around for subjects that Mr. Fleming and I had in common. " 'E is, in fact," Miss Burton was saying, determined that Mr. Fleming should not be underrated by a visiting American, on whose previous conditioning you could not count, "a very 'igh-placed Theosophist."

Mr. Fleming, busy at the crumpets, made a deprecatory gesture and shook his head.

"We do a bit o' crystal gazing 'ere and there, don't we, Mr. Fleming?"

Mr. Fleming, agog over the plovers' eggs, nodded.

"And would you take it amiss if I told Lieutenant Sassoon’s friend 'oo appeared to us one day in the crystal?"

Mr. Fleming shook his head.

Miss Burton leaned a bit across to me with a stentorian whisper: "Mme. Blavatsky."

I felt I was under false pretenses with Mr., Fleming and Miss Burton. Theosophy was not in my realm. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know who Mme. Blavatsky was. Miss Burton made things worse by adding a cubit to Mr. Fleming's stature in Theosophy. "'E 'as the very 'igh regard of Mrs. Besant," she said. "In fact . . ." Miss Burton cupped her mouth with her hand. "Not only," she said portentously, "did Mrs. Besant come 'ere to sec Mr. Fleming but she brought . . ." Her voice dropped, as if she didn't want herself to overhear. "She brought Messiah!"

The parlormaid came in and whispered to Dame Nellie.

"Oh, yes," Dame Nellie said to me. "Lieutenant Sassoon on the phone for you, Brenda will show you—in the 'all."

I followed Brenda into the hall. I told Siegfried that I had to go to the theatre. I promised to come to his flat, in Campden Hill Square, right afterward. I made my excuses to Dame Nellie and Mr. Fleming, went to my room to dress, and took a taxi to the Berkeley, where the Gaiges were staying, At dinner, I told Hilda about the wonderful new experience I'd just had meeting Dame Nellie. She made me promise that I would take her to Half Moon Street. We taxied to the theatre. As the cabby held the door open for us, he sighed. He looked very melancholy. He said, "It is indeed the last o' Mrs. Chynee!"

Hilda adored the play. She was starry-eyed. She missed no scintilla of the somewhat narrow panoply of Sir Gerald's public behavior. But it made me restive. I was impatient for the streets of London. I wanted to roam them, to possess them. The last thing I wanted to do that night was see a play; I resented the play for keeping me off the streets. I longed to see Siegfried and Campden Hill Square. (How idyllic that sounded in itself! ) From there, I determined, I would walk back to Half Moon Street, no matter how late or how far. The play over, Hilda and I joined in the fervent farewell ovation given to Sir Gerald by his admirers. When I said good night to Hilda, I told her I was going to see Sassoon. She longed to meet him as well as Miss Burton. I promised to arrange that meeting, too.

In the taxi, I looked for the street signs. I was aware, suddenly, of the joy of not being encrusted in numbered streets. To go up Broadway or Fifth Avenue is like tracing a trial balance; there is no mystery in arithmetical sequence. The streets of London had caprices of their own; they took no dictation from the rigidities of arithmetic. I tried to memorize the streets as I passed them, in order to facilitate my intended walk back from Siegfried’s apartment. The taxi began going up. Campden Hill Square was a plateau. As I climbed the stairs to Siegfried’s apartment, I heard, on the piano, Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue—Siegfried's charming welcoming ode, because he used to play it all the time at Westover Court. I used to tease him over his "fumbled fugues."

After we had greeted each other, he said, "Osbert told me about meeting you in New York. Jed Harris made a great impression on him. He was very taken with him."

"Oh, Jed makes a great impression on everybody. He's a fascinating character."

I sat on the sofa. Siegfried pulled up a chair. He offered me a cigarette. "You look well, Sam. How long has it been?"

"Six years. I was glad to get Sitwell's message about your book."

"Yes." He pointed to a mass of pen-written manuscript on his desk. "I've been struggling. I find I can't do it unless I shut myself off completely. Ghastly life."

"I got a bad report on you from Miss Burton."

"What did she have to say about me?"

"She says you're broodin' an' moodin'."

Siegfried slapped his knee hard; he always did that when he was greatly amused. "Leave it to Burton! No one can sum up the truth in a few words the way she can."

"But explain to me about Mr. Fleming. I am a little confused about Mr. Fleming. Does Burton believe in all that crystal-gazing stuff?"

"I'm sure she thinks it's all flimflam. She's a realist, if ever there was one. About Fleming she says, 'Mr. Fleming, 'e belongs to the spirit world; 'e's a man of the spirit, but 'e likes 'is food regular.' She's a great character part. You ought to write a play about her."

We both sat for a moment in a marvel at the phenomenon of Burton.

Siegfried said, "What's new with you—about your plays? Any luck with them?"

"Harold Freedman's got the Theater Guild to take an option on one of them."

"What does that mean?"

"They pay me five hundred dollars for six months. They're supposed to produce it by spring."

"This spring?"

"I hope so."

"That would be wonderful."

"Meanwhile, here I am where I want to be. In London. And I am, I'll have you know, a lexicographer." I explained to him about "Broadway" and my job of translating its dialogue for the English.

He looked at the clock on the mantelshelf. It was after two. "You must he tired. I can always go back to that thing." He pointed to the pile of manuscript.

"What are you calling it?"

"'Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man.'"

"I'd love a look."

He got up and picked up a chapter. "About fifty pages. Take 'em along to Half Moon Street. They'll put you to sleep." He slipped the fifty pages into a manila envelope.

"Fine," I said. "I was going to walk, but with these I'll take a taxi."

"You'd better. It would be a considerable walk. You'll find a taxi rank—bottom of the square. Will your lexicography permit you to have lunch?"

"Of course," I said. "My staff does the heavy work."

"Naturally. Friday, I'll take you to my club."

We said good night on the landing. Campden Hill Square was asleepan expanse of darkness. I walked to the corner and found a taxi. It was cold. I let myself into Half Moon Street with the key Miss Burton had given to me, found my room, with the bedside lamp on, undressed, and got into bed. I was startled. There was something warm and furry in my bed. I jumped out to investigate. It was a flat, hot stone covered with a fur wrap. It was a mercy. I said a prayer of thanks to Burton, stretched out comfortably, and immersed myself in Siegfried's memories of the—to me—least likely of enterprises, foxhunting. I'd never heard of anyone in Worcester, Massachusetts, who engaged in so bizarre an occupation.

I was entranced. I slipped mesmerically into Siegfried's handwritten fifty pages—scarcely an erasure in them. I had never before read anything that brought so close the feeling of the earth, its scent and taste, its contours, the zest of open air, the voices of birds and animals, the lives of foliage, hedges, flowers, the excitement of the chase, the community of horses, dogs, huntsmen, and grooms galvanized by a single impulse, their consciousness merged in sky and forest. In Worcester, somehow, though it was surrounded by nature, there was, at least around me, no cult of nature. There was also in Siegfried's impassioned pages involvement with golf and cricket. I came nearest to him when he wrote about cricket, because it reminded me of the involvement of my crowd on Providence Street in our scratch baseball games on lopsided, gravelly sandlots. But the chief delight was Siegfried’s humorous sensitivity to the people of his world: the grooms, the farmers, the clergymen, the noble lords who mastered the hunts. What struck me was the homogeneity, the classlessness. The Horse was the cynosure. When I finished the fifty pages, I fell into a dream. What must it be like, I wondered, to have been born as Siegfried was born, in the English country, in an established hierarchy, with these fields and wealds and streams and forests to roam and hunt? Mr. Gresser, the father of the girl violinist whom I had taken Siegfried to see, had told me when I next saw him that the Sassoons were the oldest Jewish family in existence—that compared to them the Rothschilds were upstarts. I began to muse on this. My family was as old as Siegfried's; there are no age differences in human families. What Mr. Gresser must have meant was the oldest recorded Jewish family. When I asked my father about his father and his father's antecedents, I couldn't find out very much. My father himself didn't know. He came out of darkness, out of mystery. The ancestry he knew was traditional, impersonal. There were no people in it, no individuals, nothing idiosyncratic. There were historical concepts. Carnage. Persecution. No people. Victims. No games. Escapes. I scanned a sentence before I put the light out: "Rooks would be cawing in the vicarage elms, and Burley, with its huddle of red roofs and square church tower, was a contented looking place." Worcester looked neither contented nor discontented—just somnolent. I fell asleep trying to effect a transposition of locales: What must it be like . . .

The next morning, just before noon, Jed telephoned. He had arrived the night before from Paris. He had called me; I had not been home. He had just called the Gaiges; they were out shopping. There was something in the way he said this that boded ill. By this time, I knew him well. They were out shopping on his time, and even at his expense. I could tell that he resented their presence in London; the detail that Gaige had financed the entire production constantly escaped him. He was in a bad mood. So was I. I had, just an hour before, received a devastating cable from Harold Freedman. It was open before me. It read, "Guild unable to produce play this season. Think can get them renew option. Maurice Wertheim wants to see you on return. No hurry. Best Harold."

Jed asked me to meet him at the Strand Theatre, where "Broadway" was to open. I said I'd be there. I took the cable back to my room to ponder it, though there was nothing much to ponder. It had killed two dreams; the intertwined one was of the moment when I could tell Jed that I was quitting. It was a dream the three of us shared—Herman Shumlin, Paul Streger, and I. We lived for the moment when we would give up our jobs. I decided I wouldn't tell Siegfried about this cable; it would distress him. I wouldn't tell anyone.

I found Jed at the Strand with a Captain Troubridge, the manager of the theatre, and John Balderston, the London correspondent of the New York World. They were both eating out of his hand. Jed was in wonderful spirits, fed by his conquests, and was perfectly charming to me. Balderston had dramatized, very successfully, Henry James's unfinished novel "The Sense of the Past." Balderston called his play "Berkeley Square." It was later to run in New York with Leslie Howard—an enchanting performance—and was now running in London with Jean Forbes-Robertson and Lawrence Anderson. Everything was milk and honey. I owed Captain Troubridge and Balderston a lot just for being there. They didn't know what they had saved me from.

I was to see a great deal of John Balderston and his attractive wife, Marion, on this visit and on subsequent visits to London. Balderston worshipped Jed. Indeed, Jed's effect on people was extraordinary; the forward thrust of his personality, the physical embodiment of his total self-belief, was hypnotic. He simply knew that he was destined for mastery, that his success with "Broadway" was merely the first rung of a career in which he would be omnipotent. And it was so—for a long time, it was so. No managerial personality in the theatre since has so magnetized attention as Jed did for a decade. He was so articulate about the plays he produced that he gave the effect of directing them, even though he engaged directors. Jed became bewitched by England and the Parliamentary system. One day, sorting out his ambitions, he said to me, "You know, I think of settling down in England. And, you know, if I did, and if I went into politics, I think I could have the same career Disraeli did." I repeated this one day, as a kind of joke, to John Balderston. To my surprise, Balderston said, with perfect gravity, "I have no doubt whatever that Jed could."

My friendship with Siegfried enabled me to shuttle between Captain Troubridge's office in the Strand Theatre and the elite of the London literary world, to which I had no valid admission ticket. Siegfried invited me to go with him to a tea party at Sir Edmund and Lady Gosse's. The cable from Harold Freedman about the rejection of my play by the Theatre Guild made me more than ever conscious of having no admission ticket. There was a great crowd; I heard storied names—Edith Sitwell, Geoffrey Scott. What was I to do? How was I to survive? I felt completely out of my depth, a yokel who had stomped into a Parnassian séance. Gosse was talking about "my substantial political victory in Italy." Was Gosse running for office in Italy?

Was it a private joke? Then Gosse rose to greet me, a tidy man with a booming voice. His gray hair was parted in the middle; he wore a patch over one eye. Siegfried told me later that he changed the patch from eye to eye as it suited him. Gosse went on to tell of a transatlantic crossing he'd made to America after the Civil War. The passengers all ate at one long table. He told of the super-elegance of an American lady. There was a great salmon in the middle of the table. "'Do you mind, Mr. Gosse,' she said, 'if I assist the salmon?' I wondered what she thought she could do for the salmon that the salmon couldn't do for itself."

My life was saved by Lady Gosse, who spoke as softly as her husband boomed. She took me into her confidence about an indiscretion of Viscount Haldane's. She told me of a great party at the Duchess of York's, and Viscount Haldane's inspiration for getting out of it. He made a tour of the drawing room admiring the pictures; he admired and admired, till he found himself out in the hall. "Wasn't it wicked of him?" she said, smiling delightedly at me behind her hand. I'd have liked to sit with Lady Gosse forever. Siegfried took me away, though, to show me an early Sargent of Gosse and a caricature of Swinburne. We returned to the tea table. I sat beside Miss Sitwell. I got fixed on her fingernails. Her hands were beautiful, the nails abnormally long and of what was then a strange color—pale silver, the color of a fish's belly. Gosse was talking of her verses in a just-published book. He made a critical comment on one poem. Miss Sitwell bridled. Gosse rolled over the bridle. To console Miss Sitwell, I asked her whether she would care to go to the opening of "Broadway." She said she'd love to go. Miss Sitwell was impressively cozy. Siegfried and I took her home. In the cab, she expanded on Gosse's effrontery; I was rather astonished at the ferocity with which she attacked him. "He rapped me on the knuckles as if I were a schoolgirl," she said. Then she remembered that I had invited her to the opening of "Broadway." She asked Siegfried if he would take her. Siegfried consented.

"Broadway" opened at the Strand Theatre two nights later. The house was full, the audience dressy. I sat with Anita Harris, Jed's wife. I saw Siegfried and Edith Sitwell. I saw Richard Curle with Hilda. I saw the Balderstons. I saw Arnold Bennett—a hero of mine, because I greatly admired "The Old Wives' Tale." "Broadway" is a gutter play, about the lowest forms of human life, set in a degraded cabaret frequented by rival bootlegger gangs with guns at the ready. I wondered how this genteel audience could respond to it. When I looked at Curle, I wondered, What would Joseph Conrad, who despised Ibsen, think of this? That it was better than Ibsen, probably. What was Arnold Bennett thinking? I was never to know; he does not mention this first night in his published journals.

I spoke with Siegfried and Miss Sitwell in the intermission. Miss Sitwell said she was having a lovely time. Gaige, Hilda, and Curle joined us. Miss Sitwell and Siegfried begged off coming to the Gaiges' opening-night party at the Berkeley. Jed was threading the lobby, eavesdropping on comments. Hilda waved to him. He waved back but did not join us.

At the party, everyone felt that the play had gone very well and would be a hit. Balderston telephoned a newspaper from the party and had St. John Ervine's notice read to him. "It's a money notice," he announced.

At one in the morning, Jed said he was leaving, and asked me to go to his suite with him; he was also staying at the Berkeley. When we got there, he called room service and ordered coffee. He was quite amiable. "One thing about you I'll never understand," he said, "is how you can spend so much time with the Gaiges."

"I like them very much," I said "Gaige has always been very kind to me. I love Hilda."

"A lot of good that'll do you." He was smiling. He had anticipated this conversation. He had decided to play it friendly. "I've bought a play. 'Coquette.' I'm putting Helen Hayes in it. That'll give you a nice little job when you get back."

"Not me. I'm quitting."

"Hecht and MacArthur are working on a terrific play for me. Chicago newspaper life. 'The Front Page.' What I've seen of it is terrific. You'll have a ball with that. You'd be very foolish to quit. I've read your plays. You'll never get anywhere with them. They're thin."

"The Guild doesn't think so."

Jed looked at me pityingly. He was silky. "Poor, deluded boy. Why do I call you boy? You're at least five years older than I am. I don't like to break it to you. But I'd better, to keep you from making a mistake. You know, I'm a master of espionage. My spies are everywhere. I know what's going on in every office. The Guild will never do your play. They have other plans. You'd better stick with me."

"There's one thing you don't understand about me."

"There are many things I don't understand about you." Jed sipped his coffee. "Your devotion to the Gaiges, for instance."

"You keep harping on the Gaiges. You forget that Gaige has financed this whole production. You never put up your share. Is that why you hate Gaige?"

"You're a stooge for Gaige. You're in love with Hilda. Just because she hates Gaige doesn't mean she'll give you a break. Get on to yourself."

"I'm on to you."

He got up, walked over to me, and said quietly, "If there were no penalty for homicide, I'd kill you."

I left. I walked down the hall to the lift. I was blind with rage and frustration. Jed was right about the Guild. Harold Freedman's telegram was the proof. I wondered whether the Gaiges' party was still on. I had left my overcoat in their suite. I went back there and rang the doorbell. Hilda opened the door. She looked very tired. She managed to smile at me—wanly. "Party's over. Crosby has gone to bed."

I apologized for intruding on her. "I'll just pick up my coat and run."

"Please don't. Sit for a minute and talk to me. I feel sort of— What did Jed have to say?"

I followed her into the drawing room. I sat wondering how I could edit Jed's remarks to make them presentable. She sat opposite me in a big armchair, her hand over her face. I decided how to edit Jed. "Oh, he's very high. Full of plans. He's got Helen Hayes for a new play he's doing, and he's crazy about another one, by Hecht and MacArthur. It's all about Chicago newspaper life. He . . ."

I saw then that Hilda wasn't listening. She was crying. She had given up, her head in her arms. I got up. I wanted to do something for her, to say something. I felt that the best thing I could do for her was to leave her alone. I went into the hallway, picked up my coat, and left. I walked to Half Moon Street. Second honeymoons, I reflected, were no more solace than walnut panelling.

The following morning, I went down to what Max Beerbohm called "the street of the ship-shops" and got myself a second-class cabin on a ship sailing next day. I rarely make a decision without regretting it. This was not a decision; it was a compulsion. Freedman had cabled me not to hurry, yet I was hurrying. Jed knew about my vacillations and was counting on them. That's why he had told me in detail of his inviting prospects. But while these conflicts were going on in my incorrigibly wavering mind, I went through all the motions—paid for my ticket and put the seal on the compulsion. Siegfried, I knew, was about to visit Thomas Hardy, and I went at once to Campden Hill Square. I told him that I was going back to New York and that I had quit Jed. He was sorry about the former and glad of the latter. Then he began talking about Hardy. He venerated him beyond every other living writer. He described the village of Dorchester, in which Hardy lived; his simple house, surrounded by trees; his friendship with his beloved sheep dog, Wessex. Siegfried conveyed the simplicity and the greatness of his idol. He showed me some of Hardy's letters to him; the qualities he adumbrated were in the letters. "'True Thomas,' Gosse calls him," Siegfried said. He told me he was leaving London. There were too many distractions there for the work he wanted to do. He was going to look for a suitable country house he could buy, where I could come to stay. On the chimera of this next visit, we said goodbye. I must let him know about my play; he would let me know about the house.

On the way back to Half Moon Street, I wondered, What must it be like to be going to the Hardy country on such a bright morning, to be welcomed there by its creator and proprietor? At Half Moon Street, I found a message from Hilda. I called her. I had left her, early that morning, weeping. Now she was excited. She told me that Crosby had left for Paris, but that wasn't what she was excited about. She was excited because Captain Troubridge had called her from the theatre to tell her that the Prince of Wales was attending the performance that evening. She must, of course, go, and I must take her. I had intended to spend the evening packing, but I promised. I sought out Miss Burton to tell her my problem. She brushed it aside. She was sorry I was leaving. So would Mr. Fleming be. "'E 'as taken a shine to you," she said. As for the packing, she had always packed for Robbie's mother, and, she didn't mind telling me, "she 'ad more to pack than you 'ave, and she always said, 'No one can get so much in so little as you can. 'Ow do you do it?' she'd sy. I never let 'er watch me."

I granted Burton similar privacy. I carried my briefcase down to the study, took out my notebook, and tried for several hours to work. But my thoughts kept wandering to the simple, tree-surrounded house in Dorchester, to True Thomas and his sheep dog.

Captain Troubridge provided us with seats in a box, and we saw the Prince of Wales plain. He was, as a matter of fact, extraordinarily handsome and debonair. Hilda drank him in. She was a bit ashamed of doing so, but we were at a considerable distance—the Prince sat in an orchestra seat. We both noticed that the audience left him in peace; no one ogled him.

Hilda was upset when I told her that I was leaving the next day, but she didn't try to stop me. She knew how unhappy I was working for Jed, and she approved of my quitting him. To dispel the gloom, she said, "And I haven't even met Burton. Tell you what—I'll pick you up and take you to the boat train. I'll come early, so I can meet her."

In the morning, Burton knocked at my door. "Mrs. Gyge." She started downstairs. I followed. I was a bit apprehensive about her meeting Hilda; she had one day said to me, "I 'ave to sy I don't like women very well—they're fair to the eye an' rotten to the core. I'm speakin' general. An' that way I don't like 'em. I won't use their tricks." Nevertheless, she welcomed Hilda with enthusiasm.

Mr. Fleming was standing at attention in the parlor. He was presented to Hilda. He took to Hilda. It was the first time I'd heard Rear Double say anything: "I don't believe, Mr. Behrman, you've ever seen my room. I have some mementos I would like to show you before you leave. Won't you both do me the honor?"

Hilda and I said we'd love to. All three of us followed him upstairs. He ushered us into his room. It was a very commodious room, somewhat dark, with shaded lamps. There was the smell of incense. The effect of the room was Oriental, Indian: buddhas; brass vases, heavily scrolled; ivories. There were three large photographs, elaborately framed in what looked like teakwood.

Burton pointed out to us the photograph of a dark, lowering lady with a deadly serious expression. "Mme. Blavatsky," said Burton.

As if compelled by her hypnotic expression, we all stood before Mme. Blavatsky.

Mr. Fleming breathed her name, staring at her reverently. "Dear Mme. Blavatsky. Dear Presence. She was often here, wasn't she, Burton?"

"Indeed she was," confirmed Burton. "In and out."

Mr. Fleming then stood, in a votive attitude, before the photograph of an incredibly graceful and handsome young Indian. "I hardly need say who this is," Mr. Fleming said.

But Burton did. "That's Messiah," she said crisply. "Looks it, don't 'e?"

Presently, Miss Burton was hugging me goodbye.

Hilda and I took a cab. I hadn't told Hilda about Harold Freedman's telegram. I hadn't the heart. At the train, she said, "Where will you be when you get back?"

"I don't know."

"Leave word at my apartment—address and telephone number."

"I will, of course."

"Goodbye, darling. I just want to tell you a little plan I have—have had for a long time for you. Your play will be a great success—I know it will. The minute it happens, I'll find you a nice apartment. I’ll furnish it for you. You'll leave those mangy rooms you live in and walk into your charming apartment—your first home."

I ran onto the train.

On the way to Southampton, my thoughts were full of Hilda. I saw her beautiful blue-green eyes when she said goodbye to me. They were misted, not for this parting but for her own sorrow. I remembered the conjecture that Jed had flung at me about my being in love with Hilda. I was thirty-three. Hilda was at least ten years older. Jed couldn't have been more wrong; I am sure he knew it.

In my small cabin on the ship, I sat down and lit a cigarette. I tried to face the future. On a stupid impulse, I had made myself jobless. I was again prey to the perennial erosion: What next?

The year before that, I had been introduced by an old friend and collaborator, J. Kenyon Nicholson, to the well-established and esteemed literary agent Carl Brandt, of Brandt & Brandt. Nicholson, with whom I had written three plays, was from Indiana and was a friend of the Hoosier novelist and essayist Meredith Nicholson (not related), who took an interest in Ken Nicholson—or Nick, as he was known. Nick was an extremely personable young man, and Meredith, who was the author of a successful novel, "The House of a Thousand Candles," thought that his own agent, Carl Brandt, might help him. Nick and I had this in common from the start: we didn't want to write literature, we wanted to write plays. Therefore, Carl Brandt, in his turn, introduced us both to Harold Freedman, whom he had just engaged to start a drama department for him. Carl told me long afterward that he couldn't for a considerable time understand why he had engaged Harold Freedman for a selling job. In the first place, no one he had ever met was less theatrical, in approach and style. Harold spoke almost inaudibly and with great difficulty; every sentence was interlarded with "er"s. He was practically inarticulate. He was also Scottish. His family had emigrated from Scotland when he was a boy, and settled in Pennsylvania, where they had a go at farming. That didn't work out. His parents and his three brothers moved to Washington and started a wholesale industrial-paper business, which still exists, and became very successful. Harold came to New York and enrolled at Columbia, where he majored in chemistry, with a side glance at drama. After his graduation, he joined the Washington Square Players, which was the matrix of the Theater Guild. It was hard for Harold's friends to imagine him as an actor, but he was one for a time. In any event, the connection proved valuable, for him and his later clients, because he came to do a lot of business with the Theatre Guild. Among his early clients were Robert Sherwood, Maxwell Anderson, and Philip Barry. It was a useful connection for the Guild, too: at a moment when it found itself in the financial doldrums, Philip Barry provided it with Katharine Hepburn and "The Philadelphia Story."

Harold carried reticence to the point of mania. For him, secrecy was a way of life. He regarded the commercial Broadway theatre as a kind of stock market, where careers could be made or broken by the drift of rumor. I had been with him for a long time, and he had sold many plays for me and written many Hollywood contracts, before I knew where he lived. If we were going uptown in a taxi, he would get out at a street corner, so that I wouldn't know which house he lived in. I was with him for a month in London once. I saw him constantly, because he was arranging a contract for me with Alexander Korda. I didn't know till I returned that his wife, May, who by that time was a friend of mine, had been there all the time. This foible of secrecy became a kind of trademark for Harold. Stories about it were rife. The director Guthrie McClintic was fond of telling how Harold called him one day and said he had something to speak to him about. Guthrie asked Harold to meet him on the stage of the New Amsterdam Theatre, where he was rehearsing. Harold came, as had been arranged, at five o'clock. Guthrie dismissed his actors and called Harold over. Harold made sure that the last of the actors had gone, but he still seemed insecure about transmitting his secret. He looked around nervously at the vast gloom of the New Amsterdam stage, lit by a single ghost light. Guthrie saw that Harold was nervous. Who could tell what spies were lurking in the shadows? Guthrie took him into Marilyn Miller's dressing room. Harold closed the door, which Guthrie had left open. By this time, Guthrie had begun to lose his temper a bit. He demanded communication. Harold leaned close to him and began to communicate, but, as Guthrie told it, "his voice was so goddam modulated that I couldn't understand a single word be said."

One episode involving Harold is an office legend at Brandt & Brandt. Carl Brandt had employed a young man of prepossessing appearance to come in and learn the business. He had been a football star in college, was very good-looking, genial, and a snappy dresser. He stayed about a year and decided that he would do better in Hollywood. He did. He married film stars. On his last day at Brandt & Brandt, he went around to say goodbye to everybody. Coming into Freedman's office, he put out his hand, and wrung Harold's with Rotarian fervor. He said what a pleasure and privilege it had been to know Harold and to study his working methods. To show his gratitude, he made a large offer. "Now, Mr. Freedman," he said. "Is there anything I can do for you in Hollywood? I'll be only too happy to do it." Harold's whispered answer was distinct. "Yes," he said. "Don't mention my name."

Harold's secrecy fetish, in an odd way, generated confidence. Though he drove film executives and the local managers crazy, they trusted him. In Hollywood, visiting a friend, I met an august film tycoon. He asked me whether I had an agent. I said I had, and told him who. He was abashed. "Oh, have you got an agent!" he said. Harold was religious. He had high ethical standards; he expected the people he dealt with to live up to them. When they didn't, he remembered it and made opportunities to even the balance. The delinquents found themselves living up to standards that they had never professed. In time, Harold's stable of leading playwrights here and in England made his position very powerful. Terence Rattigan had an almost filial devotion to him. Harold represented John Osborne. In a coffee shop one day about fifteen years ago, I was asked to join Herman Levin (the producer of "My Fair Lady"), the writer Harry Kurnitz, and the actor Martin Gabel. Levin was very funny on the subject of the martyrdom involved in dealing with Harold Freedman. The pivot of his grievance was Freedman's inhuman choice of a summer place—an unmapped spot called Deer Isle, in Maine. Only Freedman would choose a remote place like that in which to spend the summer. First, there was the difficulty of getting him on the phone. It was always busy. Harold was always talking to Italy or to London. Then, when you did get him, there was the problem of understanding what he said. To converse with him, said Levin, was to be cradled in hesitation. I used to visit Harold summers in Deer Isle. It was indeed a difficult place to get to; after you thought you had arrived, you still had several hours to travel. Harold would be on the phone all day and into the night: to Ischia, where Terence Rattigan was on holiday, which meant that he was working on a play; to Manchester, England, where a play of Enid Bagnold's was opening; to San Francisco, where Ina Claire was living. There is an amusing caricature of Harold by Will Cotton that shows him grappling with a couple of telephones, both of which he is answering simultaneously, his eyes looking in every direction. Harold did not represent actors, but he did cosset them. In 1932, a play of mine called "Biography," which was about to be produced, urgently needed a star. Finding one presented a problem to which Harold devoted himself. I was in the Belasco Theatre one evening. In the intermission, I found Harold waiting for me. He had come to give me the glad news that he had persuaded Ina Claire to play "Biography." He performed a similar service in the case of another play of mine, "No Time for Comedy," winch urgently needed a brilliant leading man to play opposite Katharine Cornell. He provided Laurence Olivier. It was an enjoyable moment for him when he was able to tell me that he had persuaded Noël Coward to do Alfred Lunt's part in my first play, "The Second Man," in London, and, thirteen years later, that I could count on Rex Harrison for Olivier's part in the London production of "No Time for Comedy."

It has been urged against Harold that he preëmpted the functions of management—that he was a frustrated producer. He was not; he was a functioning producer. He had all the fun without having to bear the ultimate responsibility. He was one of the few men I have known who have done exactly what they wanted to do and have had no wish for extension. He was powerful and he knew it. He was pleased with being, for all practical purposes, a one-man business. He could have sold out to the giant corporate agencies for a very large sum, but he was never in the least tempted. He enjoyed the way of life he had made for himself. He lived in the Volney Hotel, on East Seventy-fourth Street, for thirty-five years; he built a house on Deer Isle because he had lived in a boarding house there in his vacations while he was still at Columbia. He loved the theatre. He loved plays. His loyalty to his clients was unflagging. When they died, this loyalty seemed to intensify; he worked unceasingly to keep their plays in motion. He had a very shrewd notion of the capacities and the limitations of all the producers. He did everything he could to supplement their limitations. These were sometimes so wide that they made Harold the virtual producer. But he never wanted to be a real producer. I once said to him, "You know more about the inside workings of the theatre than anyone else. Why don't you write a book about it?" "Because I can't write," he said. When he got difficult plays on—Mary Chase's "Harvey," Enid Bagnold's "The Chalk Garden"—and they were well received, he savored the joys of successful management. The vast success of Jean Kerr's "Mary, Mary" almost made him complacent. In my own case, be persisted with "The Second Man" after it had been rejected by every management in New York, including the Theatre Guild, which finally produced it. An odd quirk of Harold's relationship with producers was that although in many instances he liked them and they liked him, he became their deadly enemy when a play he had sold them was in production, which was when their limitations, from his point of view, began to show, The source of the quarrel could he major or minor—publicity, what Harold thought an inept casting, a dress or a pair of shoes worn by the ingénue—but the intensity was fixed, and it was maximal.

Harold's sudden death, in February, 1966, affected his older clients grievously, and, for all I know, his younger ones also. Is it proper for an agent to build up so potent an influence over his clients that they feel crippled when he dies? Whether it is proper or not, his clients were certainly grateful for his influence while he was alive. Irene Mayer Selznick, in a letter to her friend Enid Bagnold after Harold died, spoke of his death with indignation. "How dared he!?" she demanded. I apologize to the shade of Harold Freedman for not complying with the request he made of the willing Hollywood-bound young man in the Brandt & Brandt office, but his life was closely and constantly intertwined with mine. From the day in 1925 when he began to sell my first play until the last day of his life, when he called me at five-thirty in the afternoon to advise me about a perilous project I threatened to embark on, he was omnipresent. In this last conversation, he asked me to think over the suggestions he had made; he would call me in the morning to check. In the morning, he was gone; he had died in his steep.

When I got back from London, at the very end of 1926, I found Nick established in a nice job. Because we had written three unproduced plays together, he had been chosen to teach dramatic writing at Columbia. He was also established in a grisly rooming house on West Thirty-sixth Street. As I was jobless, I moved in with him. Nick now had academic friends—girl students attracted by the looks of the Professor, though they were repelled by the looks of the Professor's quarters. The horrified glances of our friends at what they beheld after climbing four flights of uncarpeted stairs made Nick and me feel that we should put up some kind of ameliorative sign. I happened to read a novel by Gilbert Cannan about an English pacifist who was being sent to jail for his unpatriotic utterances on the eve of the First World War. His friends gave him a farewell dinner. One of them made light of his impending incarceration. "We are going to prison! Bah! What is that?" he said. "One must live somewhere." The last four words struck me as a possible motto for our room. Nick agreed. We had them printed on a strip of cardboard, signed Gilbert Cannan, and tacked it up on the wall.

Nick and I wrote a series of stories about our fellow-boarders; some of them were printed in the Smart Set. We planned to make a book of them, and have often regretted since that we didn't. We were interrupted in our Balzacian labors by two accidents. A play written by Nick on his own, "The Barker," was produced and was an immediate hit. It had Walter Huston as its star, and it presented, to a famished American public, the alluring Claudette Colbert. Not long afterward, "The Second Man," which I had written on my own, was produced and was also a success. We took down Gilbert Cannan's sign, but we held on to it in case we should need it again.

The three plays Nick and I had written together were now, owing to their distinguished authorship, produced. They failed. Still, the production of these plays—the innumerable rewrites, the rehearsals, the tryouts—kept Nick and me and Harold Freedman fairly busy for quite a spell. One of them was produced and directed by Winthrop Ames, a grandee whose family had a town in Massachusetts named after it. Winthrop Ames was a director of great sensitivity. He kept asking me to rewrite the second-act curtain line of the play he was putting on. Nick was busy rewriting one of the other plays. I wrote nine curtain lines for Ames. He didn't like any of them. Neither did I. I never saw the play except in Mamaroneck.

Nick and I took these failures lightly. It is easier to stand failure in the lee of a success. I was swimming in plays. Novels were sent me to dramatize, and plays by fledgling authors (how narrowly I was now removed from them!) for the same purpose. By that time, I had made considerable headway with the adaptation of a little anonymous English novel that had somehow fallen into my hands and captivated me. It was "Serena Blandish: or The Difficulties of Getting Married," by "A Lady of Quality." Whoever she was, she certainly had it. The book is enchantingly written, with irresistible style and humorous invention. It also has a tough awareness of the metallic facts of life. I asked Harold Freedman to get me the dramatic rights. I had gone to work on it even before he got them and before my first play had opened.

Back from England in early 1927, Jed Harris, whose mind it had slipped that my plays were thin, had gone for the idea of "Serena Blandish" when I told him about it. He decided that it was a starring vehicle for an uncannily skillful actress, Ruth Gordon. I have said that the New York theatre then was cozier than it is now. Alexander Woollcott helped cozy it up. He idolized Jed Harris. "Why don't you face it, Aleck? You are in love with me," Jed said to him once. "I am afraid that you suffer from delusions of grandeur," Aleck said. Noël Coward arrived from London. "I've simply passed out over Jed Harris," he told me. He applied to Jed the sobriquet Destiny's Tot, and this stuck to Jed for quite a long time.

One day, in the subway station at Times Square, I ran into Marc Connelly, by then a well-known playwright. He was excited. He had some-thing to tell me. He walked with me to Jed's office. He'd read a book by Roark Bradford, "Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun," which had completely entranced him. He had already begun to dramatize it. He began rhapsodizing about it: a fish-fry; colored cherubs; all the characters colored, including De Lawd, who pays them a visit; "a whole mess of firmament." I'd known Marc for some years, and I'd never heard him so excited about anything. It did sound entrancing. I told him so. I said I'd speak to Jed about it.

"He'd be wonderful for it," said Marc.

I told Marc to go back to work, and repeated my promise to speak to Jed.

At dinner that night in Dinty Moore's, I told Jed about my meeting with Marc. I told him the idea of the play—that it sounded just up Marc's street and altogether entrancing. Jed was skeptical. Marc had a reputation for dilatory work habits. "Marc'll never finish it," he said flatly. "He can talk a play, but he'll never write it."

"I think he will. He's very hot on it. With some encouragement from you, I'd bet on it."

"You know Marc!"

"Call him up. Offer him an advance. It'll turn the trick. I'm sure of it."

Jed thought a moment. "What's his number?"

I gave him Marc's number. Jed went to the telephone booth. When he came back, he told me, with sardonic intonation, that Marc said he had enough done so that he could finish the play in six weeks. "I told him that was too fast—to take three months. What'll you bet that's the last I'll hear from I him?"

I wouldn't bet.

One Sunday night perhaps four or five months later, I went to some kind of benefit at the Theatre Guild. There I ran into Marc Connelly for the first time since the day I had met him in Times Square. I asked him how he was getting on with Jed and with "Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun," by now retitled "Green Pastures."

Marc looked grim. "It's all off with Jed and me," he said. "Here. Read this letter Jed sent me."

He handed me the letter. I read, "Dear Marc, I cannot go on with your play, because you appear to be taking too great an interest in the production."

I was astonished. I looked at Marc.

"That's all you have to read," he said. "The rest just compounds my felony."

I finished the letter and gave it back to Marc. "Too bad," I said. "What are you going to do?"

"Find another producer. Have got one reading it this minute. I'm not worried. It's the best thing I've ever done." He smiled, his natural sunniness restored. "I've dug up a dream actor to play De Lawd."

We parted.

I went home troubled by this. I was troubled by the possible effect of this letter. The success of Marc's play, as of all plays, was problematical. That was not the point. Jed was rolling in successes, but wasn't it reckless of him to write a letter like that to a well-known and functioning playwright? I sat down to write in my diary; I noted the meeting with Marc, conveying my troubled feeling about it. My concern for Jed rather surprised me. Was I fond of him? Whether I was or not, I was fascinated by him. At his best, he was irresistible. No matter what else one might say, Jed was a primal force, an artist. He was not, as so many producers are, an assembler, an exporter-importer; he was an innovator.

But much happened before that. My first chore on my return from London at the end of 1926 had been to have lunch with Maurice Wertheim, one of the directors of the Theatre Guild. There were six of them—Lawrence Langner, Theresa Helburn, Lee Simonson, Helen Westley, and Philip Moeller were the others—and they were an unusual group of people. They were all, in the best sense, amateurs. No individual or group since has done for the American theatre what the Guild did. It brought the New York theatre into the twentieth century. It demolished the cliché that nothing in the theatre can be accomplished by committee; it accomplished everything that way. It produced Eugene O'Neill and Shaw, even to the eccentricity of devoting three evenings to "Back to Methuselah;" it taught an audience to come to the theatre at four-thirty in the afternoon, go to dinner, and return for the rest of the play, and, moreover, it made the audience like it. At the beginning of January, 1927, it had four hits, two of them by Sidney Howard. It had produced plays by Georg Kaiser and Franz Werfel. It was very successful; its directors had long since lost their amateur standing. They maintained it within themselves.

It was now, though, about two years since my first interview with Theresa Helburn, at the Guild Theatre, on Fifty-second Street. A small woman, she sat behind a glass-topped desk in a small office. Underneath the plate glass was a great ruled chart spotting the Guild productions all over the United States. Someone once said that Terry was the ablest executive in the United States—that she could have run General Motors. She could have. Terry smiled at me and said, "Well, we like your play." I thought there I was, but I didn't know Terry—not for a long time. I was to learn that she was not self-indulgent. She didn't put on a play just because she liked it. It had to be a passion. And even if she was impassioned, she was helpless unless her colleagues were equally impassioned. She would sigh, and reflect on the intractability of people—how difficult it was to move them to passion.

At last, Harold Freedman had got them to promise that they would do my play for a spring tryout. Maurice Wertheim had now invited me to lunch at a place I had never been to—the Bankers' Club, at the top of a building down Wall Street way. I had always found Maurice warm and friendly. I got from him vaguely the feeling that he would like to be hail-fellow-well-met but didn't quite know how. This was appealing. His appearance was the totality of correctness: beautifully dressed, of course, and manners in the pink of courtesy. He was good-looking. He had a short, flat-surfaced nose; he looked like a middle-aged kitten, a kitten with worries. I knew that he had been sent by Terry to break the news to me that they had to postpone my play, and that he didn't at all like the assignment. Mr. Wertheim began to explain. They were, at the Guild, suffering from an embarrassment of riches. Their plays were too successful. Therefore, the actors playing them were tired; they had overworked them. They had overworked the Lunts. The Lunts demanded a holiday, and they deserved it. Here was the nub: they wanted the Lunts for my play, and the Lunts wanted it, too—Alfred had told him personally that my play offered him the best comedy part he had ever had in his hands—but they were adamant about going to Europe in the spring, and if they did my play, they could stay in it only seven weeks.

I said that I'd rather have seven weeks with the Lunts than seven weeks without them.

Maurice said he quite saw my point of view. Did I see his?

By this time, I was having a good time with Maurice and found myself liking him very much. I left him without knowing the fate of my play but with a nice feeling that I now had a friend who belonged to the Bankers' Club.

One morning, the phone rang. It was Maurice Wertheim. His voice was less modulated than usual. He seemed excited. "Well," he said, "we've had a board meeting. You said you'd rather have seven weeks with the Lunts than seven weeks without them. We're giving you seven weeks with them. Starting April 11th."

I could tell that he was elated, even triumphant, at being the transmitter of this news. I thanked him.

"Call Terry right away," he said. "See her today."

I said I would. I called Harold Freedman to report, then called Miss Helburn. At two o'clock, I went to see her in her office. Miss Helburn, her hair lavenderish, greeted me warmly. She had a disarming smile.

Terry turned to my play. It had not been easy, she said, to get Miss Fontanne, who was triumphantly playing the star part in "Pygmalion," to follow it up with a small and subsidiary part in my play. Her wish to give her husband the chance to play the leading part had helped. The Guild was going ahead, and was happy about it. Should the play go over, the Guild wouldn't necessarily have to close it when the Lunts left. It could be recast and—with the help of Gray's Drug Store, a cut-rate theatre-ticket emporium—perhaps run all summer. I asked how you could possibly recast the Lunts. It wouldn't be easy, said Terry smoothly, but it might be contrived. Who would come to see a play in which the Lunts were not, I inquired dolefully. The vast audience that had never seen them, she said, as well as the selecter audience that had missed them in their brief engagement. She made it seem that the brevity of their engagement was an advantage, since it increased the audience that hadn't seen them. She was extremely adroit.

I went to a pay phone across the street to call Harold Freedman. He laughed when I told him how Terry had transformed the horrid prospect of replacing the Lunts into a rosy vista. He knew Terry very well and appreciated her.

The moment I left the phone booth, I ran into Lee Simonson. He greeted me robustly. "You've seen Terry? Then she's told you! I'm delighted. I love your play. I wish I were doing the set for it. Congratulations!"

I thanked him.

Simonson was a medium-sized, dark man with a black mustache. He vibrated with energy; he gave the effect of a projectile about to he shot out from something. "We were all happy yesterday when we settled it finally about your play," he said. "You have a strong ally in Wertheim. Phil Moeller will direct it beautifully. We feel that you are our author." He dived across the street into the Theatre Guild.

I wanted more than anything to go home and collect my thoughts. Once there, I sat and thought. Well, here it was! Meeting Simonson gave me a clearer notion of the Theatre Guild. He said he wanted to do the set for my play. Why didn't he? He was a sixth of the producer. The whole, evidently, preferred Jo Mielziner, who did it. Terry! I couldn't get over Terry. She was very sophisticated, with lively humor. I had an intuition that her colleagues were children to her. She humored them. In the succeeding years, as the Guild did many of my plays, this first impression was confirmed, constantly and entertainingly illustrated, established.

One day soon afterward, my phone rang. It was Jed, in high dudgeon. "When in the hell are you going to get on with those 'Serena' rewrites?" he demanded. "The play is in poor shape. I don't have the nerve to send it to actors!"

I told him that I was going out of town the next day to work on it—something I had just decided.

"I've got a great idea for Martin," he said. "Aleck Woollcott thinks it's a stroke of genius. A. E. Matthews. Do you know him? He could charm a bird off a tree. The part's so goddam marmoreal—Martin's such an inhuman bastard. Aleck says Matty'll take the curse off it."

I added my congratulations to Aleck's on Jed's stroke. Mollified, Jed went on, forgetting that he was ashamed to send the play to actors, "And I've got a great idea for the Countess—Constance Collier. Aleck thinks that's great, too."

I joined Aleck.

"Constance says she'd love to play it. All I need is a script."

I promised to get him one. I repeated that I was leaving first thing in the morning.

"Where you going?"

"Woodstock, Vermont."

"That's hell and gone out of the way!"

I said that that was why I chose it. "Guild's trying out your play, I hear."

"Yes. In April."

"How long will the Lunts be in it?"

"Seven weeks."

"You're an idiot. So is Harold, to let you do it. If you'd saved the damn thing for me, I'd have given you a regular production. I've been casting it. Thought of putting Lou Calhern in it. He'd be perfect for it. How stupid can you be—you and Harold both? Call me tomorrow from that swamp in Vermont." He hung up.

I had discovered Woodstock through an accident while staying, as a paving guest, at Aleck Woollcott's satrapy—an island on Lake Bomoseen, Vermont, about a half hour from Rutland. He had fallen in love with the island. He bought property and built a house there. As it was inconceivable to Aleck to stay anywhere alone, he developed a scheme: he would fill the house with his friends and, since he could not himself afford to entertain on such a scale, charge them seven dollars and fifty cents a day. I went up for a week, which was about all I could afford. 'When I got there, I found Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, and Harpo Marx. It was very pleasant. Aleck presided at all the meals, which were good, and talked. It was all he asked; I had never seen him as happy or in such good form as he was at Bomoseen. He was possessive; he didn't like any of his guests to go to the mainland. The island was small and a bit claustrophobic. I had a longing to tread the streets of Rutland once, and asked him how I could manage it. He heaped scorn on me for entertaining such a vulgar impulse. A half hour or so in Rutland made me quite willing to return to the island. Aleck was excited about starting a series of pamphlets on public questions; he bemoaned the absence of pamphleteering in this country and wanted to enlist Ben Hecht for this. "Broadsides!" he would cry, "What this country needs are broadsides! To arouse controversy!"

At the weekend, two women arrived—Cornelia Otis Skinner and Eleonora Mendelssohn. On Saturday, Miss Skinner wanted to take a drive to show Vermont to Miss Mendelssohn. Aleck consented to this. I went with them. Miss Mendelssohn was a German actress of great beauty. She had been a member of Max Reinhardt’s company at home and had appeared in several plays in New York. While we were driving through the beautiful countryside, on a perfect day, Miss Mendelssohn became suddenly ill. Greatly concerned, Miss Skinner directed the driver to go to Woodstock, where her father lived. He would get a doctor Miss Mendelssohn could rely on. I was quite excited at the prospect of meeting Otis Skinner. He was a hero of mine. I had seen him in the Worcester Theatre as Colonel Philippe Bridau in a play adapted from the French, "The Honor of the Family." I had never forgotten his swashbuckling entrance, late in the first act. Things were not going at all well for the family, but the Colonel had such immense authority and decision that you knew he would turn the tide. It began to turn with his entrance. I had also seen Otis Skinner at the Colonial Theatre in Boston as Hajj, the beggar, in Edward Knoblock's "Kismet." I remembered him lying on his stomach by a pool, holding an undesirable character under the water and vaingloriously defining himself: "To the Caliph I may be dirt, but to dirt I am still the Caliph!"

We drew up in front of a modestly substantial house on a tree-lined street. Mr. Skinner opened the door. He and I went to the car to help Miss Mendelssohn into the house. I was engaged in a piece of business with my hero. I felt as if I were following a stage direction. Indeed, I was—Mr. Skinner's. He was very definite and decisive in his direction, and immensely gentle. I was surprised at his size. I had remembered him, from the stage, as gigantic; he was an elderly, worn, and thoughtful man of medium height. He looked like a university professor at the end of an exhausting seminar. I remembered what an Englishman, W. Graham Robertson, who had been a friend of Henry Irving's, had said to me when I asked him whether Irving was tall: "He was tall when he wanted to be." Mr. Skinner must have wanted to be tall on the two occasions when I had seen him. The doctor arrived. I wandered to the back porch. I looked down at the river that ran along the back of the house. My eyes followed the river. Just a few houses above, it curved away and ran under an iron bridge. The back yards between the houses and the river were all garden. I walked back into the living room. Mr. Skinner was talking to his daughter. He got up when I came in.

"I've been looking at your river," I said. "It's so beguiling."

Mr. Skinner's face lit up with pleasure. "I'm glad you like it," he said. "We love it."

"Could I—do you think . . ."

"Take a ramble? Of course. Do. It'll soothe you. The doctor is with your friend. He's very good. Don't worry. He'll have her right in no time. Do take a stroll."

Cornelia encouraged me, too. Mr. Skinner took me to the front door. "Follow to the bridge. Cross the bridge. Then follow the river to the next bridge. We are rich in bridges." He smiled. "But come back to us." I had never encountered so benign a presence.

As I walked down the street, I could hear the river. Some of Mr. Skinner's neighbors had very large houses indeed. To the right of me ambled the village green. Beyond the green I saw a great porch-enclosed wooden building. The Woodstock Inn. It was built in the eighties, and looked it. Ladies were sitting on the porch in rockers. The street curved to the left to the bridge. Crossing the bridge, I stopped and looked back over the gardens running down to the river, including Mr. Skinner's. Looking the other way, I saw the uptown, or upriver, bridge. I walked toward it, about half a mile. The houses on this side of the river were less manorial—just nice houses among trees and flowers. The road curved and was intermittently hilly. On the left, covering the side of a hill, was the village churchyard, well-populated but spacious. When I got to the next bridge, I stopped again. The river was turbulent here; I looked down on its cavorting. Walking up the incline from this bridge, I passed a series of very handsome houses and a beautiful church. Who were the people who owned these houses? Presently, I found myself treading a sidewalk. The street of residences had become a very leisurely business street: a drugstore, a market, a specialty shop. Some of these had benches in front of them for the weary. When I got to the end of this street, I found myself back on the green and facing the Woodstock Inn; the river almost encircles the town. I understood why Mr. Skinner had chosen Woodstock to end his days in.

For the next forty years, the Woodstock Inn was to be my working home. The walk I had just taken was to become my fixed walk, day and evening, for all those years.

When Jed hung up that day in 1927, I put in a call to the manager of the Woodstock Inn to make a reservation, and was promised Room 202. What a succession of managers I have dealt with since! I have outlived so many of them.

I arrived in Room 202 after a long trip by bus to White River Junction, from which I took a taxi to Woodstock. The village had done nothing to make itself accessible; you had to be single-minded to visit Woodstock. But I found a bridge table in Room 202 for my typewriter; the manager had kept his promise. There was also a message from Harold Freedman. I called him. He had had a letter from the author of "Serena Blandish"—the Lady of Quality. She was very much upset by the nomenclature of several characters I had added. In my first draft of the dramatization of her book, I had called one Roderick, with the comment from another character that his name conveyed a rugged strength that did not altogether conceal the hard fact that he was a poor weakling. I had called another—out of fanciful reaching for a highborn English name—Ottoline. Roderick, she wrote Harold, happened to be her husband's name, and Ottoline that of one of her friends. She was very much upset. Harold must write her that I would change these names. I changed them on a pad beside the telephone while I was talking to Harold. I told Harold to write her that the deed was done. I still didn't know who the author was. I asked Harold to tell me. He said he would another time, and hung up. (Eventually, he told me it was Enid Bagnold.)

For a period of several weeks, I walked the bridges daily and sat in my large room, full of light, going over the packet of notes I had gathered on the play: from Jed, from Aleck, from David Burton, whom Jed had engaged to direct it. The weeks went by. I thought I would like to live here the rest of my life. I had friends in the village: the drugstore man (New York papers, cigarettes, magazines, telegrams); the lady in charge of the Woodstock library, a tiny, ivied old brick building next to the Inn; the barber; the chauffeur supplied by the Inn, who kept the shoe store. He was a native and a charmer. He told me of bitter rivalries among the local hierarchies; they were intricate and fierce. He had an animus against a special hierarchy he always referred to as the Ladies on the Green. These ladies owned the beautiful houses that had made me wonder at their opulence on my first walk through the village. The ladies were very rich; they came from Chicago, Boston, and Detroit. They were a power; in fact, they were the power. A Hollywood company had proposed shooting a film in the village. Everybody was excited—the drugstore man, the Inn people. Everyone thought how great it would be for the village. But the shoe man was skeptical. He had told them, at their Rotary meetings, not to let themselves get excited. "The Ladies on the Green will never allow it," he said. And, indeed, they didn't. The film offer was refused. Another town grabbed it. You could do nothing against the Ladies on the Green. They were ruthless. They had the power. They objected to the film on the score of its morality. As my chauffeur repeated this, he snickered scornfully. He knew them all; he knew their private lives and their diversions. Who were they to talk about morality? Situations like this made him cynical and bitter. The only thing you could do, he said, was to love your family and make as good a living for them as you could. You would get no help from the Ladies on the Green.

Jed called me frequently. He was very amusing—in good humor, because things in the theatre were all going his way. I would read him scenes written in longhand; he would ask me to type them up and send them. He would tell me all the gossip, and stories about Aleck's avid interest in "Serena Blandish." Aleck greatly admired Ruth Gordon; the fact that she was going to star in the play made his interest in it more than avuncular. Jed's comments on the works of his rival producers were trenchant. For most of them he predicted early closings. Then he would, without false modesty, enlarge on the felicities of his own productions.

Snow came. The snow got so heavy it was no longer practical to walk the bridges. This was a deprivation, but I could still visit my barber, whose shop was on the second floor of a building down the street from the Inn. He was a grizzled oldster, wiry and full of general comment. I complained to him about the snow and the bridges. "This is nothing," he said. "You should have seen this past Christmas." He pointed to the window. "Snow come up to there. At lunchtime, I jest walked out that winder. Saved me the stairs."

When I finished rewriting "Serena," I celebrated by commandeering the local philosopher and shoe man to drive me to the Hanover Inn, on the Dartmouth campus, for a festive dinner. I had already stolen away there several times for a treat. The food at the Hanover Inn was excellent; they served hot corn bread, which was delectable. I enjoyed strolling around the Dartmouth campus and visiting the library.

On the day I was to leave for New York, I was delighted to get a call from Alfred Lunt. A gourmet and a chef himself, he inquired how the food was at the Woodstock Inn. "Simple but bad," I said. He sympathized. He had been going to a cooking class, and he was beginning to feel some confidence in his own authority. He would make it up to me when I got back. He would give me a bang-up dinner. Alfred had always fascinated me—on the stage and since I had got to know him personally. He had tremendous strength shadowed by tremendous vulnerability.

Alfred began to talk about "The Second Man." "Lynn'll be magical in it," he said. "We love it, but probably they won't like it." His voice swerved off at the dismal prospect of what "they" would do to it. I had noticed that Alfred often referred darkly to an invisible and malevolent force that existed, seemingly, for the sole purpose of destroying him. I had teased him about this before.

"Who are 'they'?" I asked. "The Ladies on the Green?"

"Ladies on the Green? How charming? Tell me about them."

Alfred fell in love with the Ladies on the Green. A villager himself (he grew up in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, a village not far from Milwaukee), he loved small-town intrigue and small-town gossip.

"You must get Lynn to tell you her story of the lady on our green in Genesee Depot." (The Lunts lived in Genesee Depot now.)

He'd bought a suit in London to wear in my play, he said. It rather shocked Aleck. "He calls it my purple suit," Alfred said. He said he practically knew his part already—not from studying it but from reading it.

"I am doing it just to say one line in it," he said.

I asked what the line was, but he wouldn't tell me, and never did. "It would spoil it for me if I told you," he said.

This was one of the first of a number of conversations I had with Lynn and Alfred over four decades. They have wildly humorous imaginations. Their feeling for human idiosyncrasy is instinctive and unerring, their gift for echoing it uncanny. Their repertory is practically endless, encompassing their vast experience—offstage and on—with an international assortment of people ranging from the Genesee Depot lady on the green to Winston Churchill.

Some weeks earlier, in New York, Maurice Wertheim had called me up to invite me on a yachting cruise. He had chartered from Claude Graham White his yacht, Ianara, for an August cruise along the coasts of Norway and Sweden. He was inviting ten people. Would I like to come? I am never able to think on the telephone. I said yes, since my vocabulary becomes restricted to this one word when I am asked anything on the telephone. As soon as Maurice hung up, I knew that if my play failed I would be in no mood for yachting trips. Well, August was still a long way off.

Lawrence Langner called me. I had had various conversations with this protean man. He was Welsh, dark, and handsome. He came here, when young, from England and started out as a patent lawyer. By this time, he had his own firm—perhaps the leading patent-law firm in the United States. He was one of the founders of the Washington Square Players. He wrote plays and books, and had the courage to engage in acrimonious exchanges with Bernard Shaw. He held his own. On Broadway, he was known as the Persian. This was because he was so volatile that he was intangible. He was thought slippery; the truth is that he was absentminded. He couldn't remember names, or even identities, so what were thought to be insidious evasions were, I came to see, genuine and innocent lapses of memory. Many years later, at the opening of my play "Jacobowsky and the Colonel" at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, I was standing with him and Miss Helburn in the lobby of the theatre. Looking around the lobby, Lawrence said, "Oh, there's Gene O'Neill's son. Teaches Greek at Yale. I want you to meet him." He hailed O'Neill, who came over. Lawrence said, "Oh, Gene, I want you to meet . . ." He couldn't remember my name. We had by then been working together for almost twenty years. I supplied my name, and things went along. (I told this story when I spoke at his funeral, and it got a titter of recognition from his friends in the congregation.) His mind was always teeming with large ideas. He was a remarkable man and a very decent one, with a strong, mystic faith in an underlying impulse toward justice. In the headlong rush of his activity, he found time to build and start the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut, and also the Westport Country Playhouse. When Lawrence died, in 1962—not long after Miss Helburn, in 1959—the Guild died, too. Lawrence, in his phone call, spoke to me about casting. What would I think of Margalo Gillmore for the ingénue As I adored Margalo, both onstage and off, I said that would be fine with me.

In the middle of March, Miss Helburn called to tell me that rehearsals were about to start. Here it was at last!

There is really nothing in the world so heady for a writer as theatrical success. It is instantaneous. It is unmistakable. That must be why so many novelists yield to the temptation to have a go at it. But it is (in spite of what many practicing novelists say) much more difficult to write a good play than it is to write a good novel. Many novelists have found that out. The author of a well-received novel never knows whether his book, even if it sells, is also read, Nor does he know where his reader yawns—at what page he may decide that he wants no more of it, and throw it aside in disgust. The novelist's audience is invisible; the playwright's is right there with him. With a successful play, the author is reviewed every night, and is in no doubt about what kind of review he's getting. Robert Sherwood once wrote a novel, and complained to me that it was reviewed under the heading "Other Books," and that was that. Sinclair Lewis was a friend of mine. Somehow, though I read most of his novels as they came out, I didn't read "Babbitt" till long after it was published. While I was reading it, with excitement and admiration, I was also reading a play that Lewis had just written and was hacking with his own money. It is a quirk of my temperament that I am always lost in admiration of people who can do things that I can't do—like solving mathematical problems or writing novels. Reading "Babbitt," I felt distress that Lewis should abandon a field in which he was a master for one in which he was inept. His play was no good at all, and I knew that he would lose every cent he was putting into it. The very day I finished "Babbitt," I went to dinner at "21" and was hailed by Lewis. He was having dinner with the company that was rehearsing his play. He came over to my table. He was swimming in euphoria. I decided to be severe with him. "Look, Red, I've just read 'Babbitt.' It's—well, you know how good it is. Tell me, why should a man who can write a novel like that bother with plays?"

Lewis saw that I was serious. He sat down. "Listen," he said. "Do you know what a novelist's life is like? I sit up there in Vermont for a year writing a novel. When it's finished, I write to my publisher to tell him I've finished my book. He, to be nice, says he'll come up to see me. He comes up. That's it. Hell, I'm gregarious. I like people!"

With a schoolboy's grin of delight, he went back to his table in an ecstasy of gregariousness. The blueprint of disaster which those in the know had diagrammed for his play was followed exactly. The last time I ever saw Lewis, before he went to Italy, where he died, he told me what that particular venture had cost him. Gregariousness came high.

The heady experience of being present at a successful first night of one's own play came to me on April 11, 1927, when the Theatre Guild produced "The Second Man." The play had an extracurricular advantage working for it: it had only four characters and one set. The Guild did well by it: the four characters were played by Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Margalo Gillmore, and Earl Larimore.

I owe this play to the most tenuous and untraceable of accidents—to the chance reading of a sentence. I have never been able to remember where I read that sentence. It was quoted somewhere—perhaps in a newspaper, perhaps in some literary review—from a letter of Lord Leighton's. The part of the sentence that impressed me reads, ". . . . for, together with, and as it were behind, so much pleasurable emotion, there is always that other strange second man in me, calm, critical, observant, unmoved, blasé, odious." I wrote a short story based on Leighton's second man, which appeared in the Smart Set. One winter, stuck for an idea and jobless, I dramatized this short story. It took three weeks for me to write the play and almost two years for Harold to sell it.

It wasn't till 1928, when I went to London for the English production of "The Second Man," with Noël Coward in Alfred Lunt's role, that I found out who Lord Leighton was. I met a lady who had known him, as she knew everybody—Sibyl Colefax. London is very hospitable to new playwrights; Sibyl was one of the first new friends I made there, and she remained my friend till her death. She'd been very excited, she told me, when she read the excerpt from Lord Leighton's letter in the theatre program. She had never before seen it; she wanted to read it all. She demanded to see the whole letter. As it had not been written to me, I couldn't supply it. But she told me how characteristic even this excerpt was of Lord Leighton's eroding self-dissatisfaction. He was, at the end of the nineteenth century, wildly successful, he had everything—very good looks and vast success as a portraitist. He was president of the Royal Academy. But this excerpt from a letter of his confirmed a suspicion she had entertained about him: that he wasn't taken in by his success that, like the protagonist of my play, he knew he was second-rate. He was not deceived; he knew. His career could be summarized as Harold Nicolson summarized Lord Curzon's: "He had successes but no success."

A quarter of a century later, I was to run into Lord Leighton again. This was in the Villino Chiaro, Max Beerbohm’s little house in Rapallo. We were going through Max's book of caricatures "Rossetti and His Circle." Suddenly, there was Lord Leighton.

I said to Max, "But he's the man who gave me my first play!"

"I'm glad he did that," said Max. "He gave me this caricature. He was one of the hollow men."

The caricature is a masterpiece. Lord Leighton is handsome, elegantly bearded, and cravatted to perfection. Rossetti is lying on a sofa; you see only his slippered feet. Leighton is haranguing Rossetti's feet; they are so relaxed that you are sure their proprietor is asleep. You are sure also that Leighton doesn't much mind; he is listening to himself. He is trying to induce an "up-and-do" attitude in Rossetti:

Think not for one moment, my dear Mr. Rossetti, that I am insensible to the charm of a life recluded, as yours is, from the dust of the arena, from the mire of the marketplace. Ah no!—I envy you your ivory tower. How often at some Council Meeting of the R.A. have I murmured within me that phrase of Wordsworth's, "The world is too much with us!" But alas, in all of us there is a duality of nature. . . . You smile, Mr. Rossetti, yet I am not disemboldened to say to you now, as I have often wished to say to you, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "Come over and help us!" Our President—I grant you in confidence—is not of all men the most enlightened. But I, in virtue of what is left to me of youth and ardour, conjoined with the paltry gift of tact, have some little influence at Burlington House. Come now!—let me put your name down in our Candidates' Book.

I was awfully green when "The Second Man" went into rehearsal. We were to open "cold," without a road tour. We rehearsed on the top floor of the Guild headquarters. The day before we started, I had a long talk with Philip Moeller, my director. He directed five of the eleven plays I did for the Guild over the next twenty years: two for the Lunts, one for Jane Cowl, two for Ina Claire. I was lucky to find Phil Moeller; he suited me perfectly. He was a restless and volatile character, impassioned about art. His great love was music; he studied scores, and when he was directing a play he was animated by ideas of counterpoint and harmonic structure. In one scene of "The Second Man" he had Lynn sit at the piano and play a haunting passage from "Der Rosenkavalier"—this at a time before that music had become familiar through repetition. He wrote plays himself. One, "Madame Sand," was well received critically, if not popularly. He was quirky, mercurial, and impulsive. He blurted out what was in his mind. This sometimes caused outbursts of temper between him and his actors, or his authors. He never retreated; he relied on Miss Helburn and Mr. Langner to patch the differences up. Mr. Langner sometimes made things worse, but Miss Helburn was infallible. There was an innocence about Phil Moeller. He lived alone, saw very few people. Miss Helburn used to be exasperated with him because he never went to the theatre. Aside from his directing, he cared about nothing but music and painting. When anything pleased him, he became incandescent.

The Guild headquarters was a transformed private residence. The top floor, where we rehearsed, must have been the ballroom. The stage manager had chalk-marked the floor, indicating the doors and windows—and the staircase and the gallery, for the hero lived in a duplex. In this area Phil Moeller deployed his actors. I sat in a chair on the sidelines to watch. I was fascinated to observe how, for these virtuoso actors, the stage space was measured in inches for each turn, each approach, each retreat. They had to consider how their faces and bodies looked from all directions and from all angles. Half the time, I didn't know what they were doing or why. As for the words, they sounded like so much gibberish. At one point, during a murky passage, Lynn came up to me. "I suppose it all sounds like nothing to you," she said. I admitted that it did, rather. "You see," she said, "we're not thinking of the words now, just the movements, but I promise you—it'll be all right." She smiled at me and squeezed my hand. I have never forgotten this little errand of mercy. Alfred Lunt's readings—and not merely on the first day—were very casual, only sporadically vital, and, in the main, uninterested. I didn't know what his performance was to be like till the opening night. Some days, Lynn advised me not to come at all. I took her advice.

And then, suddenly, it was over. The play opened. I sat in the first row of the balcony and got a headache. It is the only time I have ever gone to an opening of my own in New York. Harold Freedman came up during each intermission to tell me how he thought things were going. As I watched that first performance, I realized that I'd had not the remotest idea of what Lynn and Alfred could or would do. The illuminations of the script provided by the actors dazzled me, because I had not perceived them during the rehearsals. Lynn's part was a small one, but now, in the performance, she gave it overtones that I hadn't known were there. For example, I had written a line for her about another character, who bored her: "He never has anything interesting to say." What I heard was "He never has anything interesting to say—never, never, never, never, never": a perfectly graduated diminuendo of "never"s, conveying an endless vista of boredom, the last "never" faint (but audible), faint with the claustrophobia of boredom. Alfred, all the way through, had the audience mesmerized; he did what he wanted with it—made it laugh and made it listen. In his last scene, on the telephone, when the character played by him calls up the character played by Lynn to win her back, at the moment when he says, "Thank God you're laughing," the audience laughed. Later, in his dressing room, Alfred told me what a lifesaver that laugh had been.

Just before the curtain fell, I saw an element in the play which I had not written—certainly not consciously: the dramatization of a terrible moment, a watershed moment, when you face nullity. The non-hero has been abandoned by the older woman who loves him and by the young woman whom he, if he had been less practical, might have loved. He has just seen the younger woman out. My stage direction reads, "He leaves the door, goes to the telephone." That walk from the door to the telephone shafted a light on the play and the character which I had not foreseen. It was a moment of self-confrontation, of complete awareness. Why hadn't he taken a chance? Why hadn't he tested himself? Perhaps he was better than the louse he knew himself to be? When he picked up the telephone to get back what he didn't want, Alfred's eyes went insane. By arrangement, Harold Freedman met me before we went backstage. We took a turn around the block. We were both under the spell of Alfred's terrifying little walk to the telephone. He'd made Calvary out of an innocent stage direction.

The reviews, with one exception, were enthusiastic. The exception was Aleck Woollcott, in the World, who said I was like an outsider peering through the plate-glass windows of an opulent house to observe how the well-bred inhabitants behave. I was solaced for this by a review in the Nation by Joseph Wood Krutch, who went all out for the play. One of the daily reviewers said the problem of selection facing the Pulitzer Prize committee would be greatly eased by this production. But the committee spurned an easy out; it preferred the hard way. Nor has it ever deferred to me since, though I have nudged it about twenty times. I was solaced also by the fact that the play sold out at every performance. At the end of the first week, Alfred sent me a telegram in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I had gone to see my mother. "We sold out last night with thirty standees," Alfred wired. "That's pretty good for Good Friday." My first royalty check exceeded a thousand dollars. I stared at this check with incredulity.

What would "The Second Man" come to if it should he beautifully produced now? It would probably seem very old-fashioned and, in Jed Harris's word, thin. But for a time it had—and gave me—a lively reputation. Years later, during the war, when Harold Ross asked me to go to England to describe London in wartime for The New Yorker, I went to see Somerset Maugham, then in New York, to ask his advice. He gave me a letter to H. G. Wells. In it he introduced me as the author of "The Second Man." And just a few years ago I wrote a fan letter to Frank Swinnerton, because I had greatly enjoyed a reminiscent book of his. He answered with a charming letter in which he said that he was happy he had entertained me, because I had entertained him with "The Second Man." He wrote as if he had seen the play a week before. Actually, he had seen it when it was done by Noël Coward in London in 1928.

Those few hours in the Guild Theatre on April 11th changed all my circumstances for the rest of my life. I was deluged with offers. My diary lists them. Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vanity Fair, asked me to write twelve pieces for him—one per issue for a year. I began to get film offers; they came rapidly. I put them off, because none of the material that was offered appealed to me. At about this time, I met Harold Ross. I loved him from the day I met him to the day he died. He asked me to write for The New Yorker, then two years old. I wrote a profile of George Gershwin. It was a vertiginous time. I found myself in a millstream of sociability in New York and in London: incessant contact with great theatre stars, with rich people and social people; at posh hotels, at parties, and on yachts. But through it all I never shook off the plaintive counterpoint of my origins—the memory of my parents, and their poverty. An odd illustration: Late one night, in Copenhagen harbor, on Maurice Wertheim's yacht, I'd been unable to sleep. The captain had invited me to join him on deck when I felt like it. I dressed and went up. He was a most agreeable man. I stood beside him as he steered the elegant, slim white craft through the shipping in the harbor. There was a moon; the scene was serenely beautiful. But I was not present. I was, unaccountably, in my father's insolvent grocery store in Worcester, Massachusetts. An itinerant huckster had advertised a show to be given in Mechanics Hall. Wonders were promised. Most of the boys in the Providence Street grade school were going. I longed to go. I asked my father if he would give me the admission price—fifteen cents. He looked at me with pain in his eyes. He had to refuse. I saw how keenly he wanted to give me the fifteen cents. He then told me he was going to be forced to close down the grocery, since it was doing so badly. I left the captain and the moonlit shipping and went back to my cabin.

(This is the first part of a three-part article.)

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