NATIONAL WRITERS ASSOCIATION LOS ANGELES FEBRUARY 2011
Photo by Susanne Stoeckeler Kuznetsky
COMING OF AGE IN HOLLYWOOD
Dore Schary’s little girl tells all
Growing up as a child of accomplished parents is not always an ideal situation. There are a lot of pressures to excel, and a child of average ability may fall short. But that was not the case with Jill Schary Robinson, who published her first book, With a Cast of Thousands, in 1963. She recognized at a young age the advantage of growing up in a community that the rest of the world viewed with open-mouthed awe.
publisher but your own editor who’d read your pages, take you to lunch, tell you what worked and then what had to change. Publishing has changed now. Writers’ workshops may fill the role of the accessible editor. When I moved to London in the early 80s, I’d published five books and had a deal for a new one. I was away from New York, from editors and writers I was really close to. Then I had a seizure and lost my memory. Doctors declared I’d never write again. “You won’t remember what you’ve written on one page by the time you get to the next.” That seemed true.
She comes to writing by birth, with a famous Tony and Oscar-winning father Dore Schary, who headed MGM throughout the 50s and who was the only writer to ever run a film studio. Her visual artistic talent stems from her mother M. Svet’s influence, who studied at the Art Students League in New York. After she moved to New York, she wrote for Cosmopolitan Magazine, during the template Helen Gurley Brown years. Robinson also covered trials for the The Soho Weekly News. In 1974, her memoir Bed/Time/Story won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The novel Perdido established Robinson as a serious American writer. Vanity Fair described Past Forgetting as “the astounding chronicle of her journey to recover her memory.” This experience encouraged her to start the Wimpole Street Writers’ Workshop, which attracts some of the most original young writers in London. Robinson has reviewed books and written articles for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and American and French Vogue. Recently, she wrote a series of columns on being an American in London for the Daily Telegraph Saturday Magazine. Her Vanity Fair story on Roman Polanski was included in George Plimpton’s book, The Best American Movie Writing for 1998.
Robinson has taught Master Classes for the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts and has lectured on writing around America and Britain. She toured with her husband, the English writer Stuart Shaw, reading their play Falling in Love When You Thought You Were Through (adapted from their book). (The following is excerpted from Jill Schary Robinson’s website www. jillscharyrobinson.com)
Wimpole Street Writers’ Group Writers need two things: 1. A deadline. 2. Knowing someone who is crazy about our writing is waiting for these pages. When I started to write my first book, my father, Dore Schary, a writer and playwright, gave me a deadline. Three pages a week. When I’d read them to him, he’d tell me what was wonderful first and then say, “Now let’s take a look at a couple of other things.” In New York’s publishing world, later on in the early 60s, you not only had your
But just as in good stories when you think things are hopeless, I was asked to join the Fulbright Commission and to grant the Raymond Chandler Award every year. Perfect. I would read all the submitted mysteries. Ideal memory practice. At Fulbright-Scholars’ gatherings, I met young writers who were as unsure of themselves as I was. I remembered how my father had screenwriters over for brunch on weekends, and they’d read their work to each other. I may have forgotten how to write, but I hadn’t forgotten how to cook. So I asked the young Fulbright students to bring over three pages each week. “No pages, no dinner.” At first my grouchy Yorkshire husband would say, “Are those kids coming over again tonight?” Finally, he joined the group and we wrote a book together. By the time I moved back to Los Angeles from London, about forty writers had been coming to our house on Wimpole Street. Sixteen of them have been published. continued on page 2
JOIN US! FEBRUARY 19, 2011, AT MO’S RESTAURANT, 4301 RIVERSIDE DR, BURBANK AT 2 PM
Jill Schary Robinson Reading aloud gives us the assurance of our own writer’s “voice.” You know by the “feel” of the listening when the other writers are gripped. A good workshop is almost theatre. We silence down when it’s time to read. We come to know each other’s characters as well as we know each other. We have screenwriters, playwrights and poets. When you feel safe and close to other writers who believe in your work, you’re able to write stories you thought you’d never tell anyone. As you read, you catch that some of your favorite bits have to go. And we learn that the work we thought we’d finally finished, “that first draft,” has only just begun. We have two groups in California now. The Wimpole Street Writers meet at my place near UCLA where I can make dinner and the Blue Coyote group meets at the Will and Ariel Durant Library in Hollywood. Some of the original Wimpole Street Writers still meet in London. They will send comments and work to the website; the two workshops in LA will exchange notes with the writers in London. The California groups will meet and read
their works together at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this spring. Here, I believe we can build an exciting new community for serious writers to exchange ideas so real talent can flourish in this inventive twenty-first century arena. —Jill Schary Robinson, 2009
To view Robinson’s extensive bibliography, go to www.jillscharyrobinson.com Front-yard Buddha enjoys the snow in Palmdale.
What do you do when life disappoints you? LaVonne Taylor
“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” —David V. Scott What better inspiration could there be for a writer than the above quote? Discover your gift, then pass it on. Isn’t that what all of us, as writers do? Our need is to communicate, to pass on for posterity, perhaps, what we’ve learned. My learning curve has increased over the last few months. The need to keep even with the new events in my life at times seems overwhelming, but writing about the experience helps. Once again, or should I say “still?” my life has been a steady onslaught of medical issues, the details of which, for brevity’s sake, I will keep to myself. The ailments are shared across the household—if it’s not my husband, then it’s one of the animal babies or myself. A constant parade to one medical facility after another continues. And the offices are packed with—of all things, if you can imagine—sick people! Now I have a better appreciation for why it’s called the medical “industry.” The upside of this experience, if it can be called that, is that I’m getting a crash course in caring for bizarre medical conditions associated with congestive heart failure in the elderly. The downside is the question: Will I ever be able to use the knowledge (or even want to) again in my lifetime? EVERYDAY HEALTH I’m writing again for the site called http://www.everydayhealth.com/blogs/healthy-agingand-me. I last posted in May 2010, but the staff back in Brooklyn, where the actual humans who administer the site are located, got back in touch with me in January and encouraged me to start writing for them again. How could I refuse? I’m so easy—just a little pat on the back and I’m there. I shoot for a weekly schedule of a new posting each Wednesday, although I’m finding even that schedule a bit daunting, with all the other demands on my life. Check the site occasionally, you will probably identify with and maybe even enjoy the quick read. This time around I’m using a little more personal voice. When I was writing before I was sharing what I learned from all the health reading I do. Since last May, life has slapped us around a little again and I’m now writing in a more casual voice—perhaps even introspective. I still want to focus on staying healthy for as long as possible, but the reality of aging has reared its ugly head. This week I’m writing about keeping a sense of humor when life disintegrates around us. JILL SCHARY ROBINSON We’re looking forward to welcoming the very talented Ms. Robinson to our midst on February 19. Please take a couple of hours out of your busy writing schedules to come and enjoy the camaraderie of our group and shake hands with Jill. POETRY & PROSE It was nice to hear from Mary Ports again. On page six, enjoy her poem “Beach in Winter” that I chose to illustrate with a portion of Great Wave off Kanagawa, the famous print by Hokusai (1760-1849). “My Violin” a poem by Virginia Weiskopf, Wanda Weiskopf’s granddaughter, with an illustration by the author of the poem, is delightfully refreshing. Some of our own homeboys are represented on pages four and five: Tom Howard with an excerpt from his project Mrs. Foley’s Flowers; Walt Meares with his hilarious story of “The Great Tulip Wars”; and Don Peyer with his appreciation of the mild California winters. IMPORTANT I have a new cell phone number: 661-406-4627. Please make a note for future reference. I will have it turned on throughout normal business hours.
Actor Paul Picerni, friend of Nwala, passes suddenly
Paul Picerni, actor and author, and previous presenter at Nwala meetings suffered an unexpected heart attack at his home in Llano, California, and passed away in January. He will be missed by all of us. He was an extraordinary character actor that worked for many years in movies and television. He’s survived by his wife Marie and their six living children and ten grandchildren. Following is the write-up on him that appeared in the November, 2007, issue of Views.
Nwala Rental Library Before you run to the bookstore or library looking for the next good read, think of Nwala. As a fund-raising effort, we have started a library rental service. This includes audio and visual media as well. Contact LaVonne @ 661-406-4627 or via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. See a partial list of available titles listed below. Rental is only a dollar per read, and returns are handled on the honor system. SEVEN DEADLY SAMOVARS, Morgan St. James, fiction HOPE’S BOY, Andrew Bridge, memoir NEVERLAND: JM Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, Piers Dudgeon, biography MY COUSIN RACHEL, Daphne Du Maurier, fiction REBECCA, Daphne Du Maurier, fiction WITHOUT LYING DOWN: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood, Cari Beauchamp, biography 206 BONES, Kathy Reichs, fiction
Paul Picerni, center, in a scene from The Untouchables. Robert Stack in his role as Eliot Ness is on the right. When Paul Picerni hit Los Angeles in 1946 he had just finished a stint in the US Army. World War II had ended and a hopeful world was beginning to rebuild. Years of childhood matinee watching had made him decide long ago that he wanted to be an actor. He attended Loyola on a GI Bill as a drama major. While there he struck up a friendship with John T. Boudreau, the entertainment director for the Los Angeles Rams, who hired Picerni to be the emcee for the pre-game and halftime shows, which he did for the next 29 years. One day in October of that same year, he walked into a dance studio and met the love of his life, Marie. They were married in mid-August of 1947 and remain together to this day. “Cupid’s arrow struck my heart and has been there ever since,” he says. Picerni worked with many great actors, such as Burt Lancaster, Errol Flynn, Eddie Murphy, Charles Bronson, Vincent Price, Telly Savalas, Peter Falk, Lee Marvin, Cloris Leachman, and Patricia Neal. One of the most well-known, though, was Robert Stack with whom Picerni shared the screen for four years on a weekly television crime drama called The Untouchables. Picerni played Lee Hobson, the sidekick to Stack’s character Eliot Ness. Burt Lancaster said to him one day “You know, Paul, you’ll never be a big star.” Crushed, Picerni asked why. “You’re too friendly,” Lancaster answered. “You say hello to everybody, no matter who they are.” Picerni allowed that maybe Lancaster was right. “I never did become a big star. But I sure had a lot of friends.” Picerni was pleased that he got to tell his story. He credited the loving support of his family for his success. “We had eight children in nine years,” he says, “With each baby came another step up the ladder of my career. That’s why I called my book Steps to Stardom: My Story.”
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, Stieg Larsson, fiction THREE-STORY COLLECTION BY RICHARD YATES, Everyman’s Library, fiction THE DEFECTOR, Daniel Silva, fiction MOSCOW RULES, Daniel Silva, fiction MAMBO PELIGROSO, Patricia Chao, (bound galleys), fiction I, ALEX CROSS, James Patterson, fiction THE WHOLE TRUTH, David Baldacci, fiction BREATHLESS, Dean Koontz, fiction ECLIPSE, Stephenie Meyer, fiction RULES OF DECEPTION, Christopher Reich, fiction THE GHOST WAR, Alex Berenson, fiction POWER PLAY, Joseph Finder PIECES OF THE PUZZLE, Jo Ann M. Colton (member), fiction The cover banner photo by my friend, Susanne Stoeckeler Kuznetsky, was shot during one of her many hikes through the Malibu Mountains. This area has been under siege for many years from commercial interests. So far it has been kept safe through the efforts of the Nature Conservancy.
The ring The day I got my engagement ring I planned to go to lunch with my fiancé, Leonard Howard. I was 26. We had ordered a ring but it had to be sized and we were going to meet first at Tiffany’s. That morning, my Women’s Wear Daily editor, Miss Jacobs, had all these invitations on her desk to different events.
an excerpt from Mrs. Foley’s Flowers, by Trudy Mulcahy Howard, edited by Tom Howard
cording to the rank of their publication. Since my boss, Tibby Taylor, was the top gun, I was in the first seat at the head of the table. This woman, whose clothes were being shown, was Emily Wilkins, clothing designer. She had been doing Junior Miss and now she was doing Teen age and she had quite a following and was very publicity conscious.
The whole office was abuzz about my ring. When Miss Jacobs discovered I was going to Tiffany’s, she said, “Since Tibby Taylor is out sick and you are going to be at Tiffany’s you could go around the corner at one o’clock to cover this fashion event at the St. Regis Hotel.” It was a big day for me, getting this diamond ring, but Len understood we had to call off lunch because he had been in the business.
I sat down in the first seat, assigned to Women’s Wear Daily and next to me was this intense woman wearing a turban and a lot of rings, Lois Long from the New Yorker. She was very short and alert. As soon as I sat down, Lois Long spied my new acquisition which had 21 pave diamonds. (It was really a dinner ring, but I chose it and it was pretty extraordinary.) Next thing I knew, she had ordered champagne for all the press. (I didn’t drink when I was working because I didn’t think it fit in with my image as a female journalist. I hardly drank at all.)
On the roof of the St. Regis was a long table with assigned seating. Guests were seated ac-
Lois asked me if I was going to continue working. I told her I had this weekly column
and that I determined to keep on writing it. (I had started “Talk About Careers” while I was at Seventeen. One reason I went to Women’s Wear was I thought Seventeen wouldn’t want me to do the column. They had recently brought a law suit against Bette Betz who did a book, but I didn’t tell Lois that.) Lois puffed away on her cigarettes, drank champagne and interspersed her questioning of me with all these great details about the clothing line, urging me to drink too. I was trying to write as fast as I could and not choke on the cigarette smoke (to which I was allergic.) She said her first job at the New Yorker was to go incognito and report on cafe society. Nobody knew who she was. As she leaned in to put out her cigarette on my butter plate, she was saying, “When I was married to Peter Arno,” and “When I was married to this one and that one.” She had been married four or five times! Even with all those husbands, she managed to drag herself all the way to the top, but I can imagine my mother telling me, “If you want any tips on married life, don’t go to a woman who’s been married five times!” .
The great tulip wars By Walt Meares Marge and Bud live near Chicago. It’s a beautiful area, dotted with forest preserves, and home to small wildlife. Marge raises tulips. Tulips come from bulbs, and bulbs look suspiciously like food to some of the local animal population.
trap and release the captured animals in another location. They bought a “Have A Hart” trap and began “Operation Save the Tulip Bulbs.”
The squirrels, in particular, are an observant lot. They must have watched her set out every bulb, because they dug up most of them. The squirrels discovered that tulip bulbs really weren’t great food, but they did make pretty good exercise toys.
Alas, these urbanized squirrels were superb navigators and a few short blocks simply wasn’t a problem to them. They either found their way back or told a lot of friends about the good pickings at Marge’s place.
Marge and Bud got pretty frustrated over the whole thing. They talked to their local nursery owner. They talked to animal control officers. They talked to animal rights groups. And they talked to environmentalists. They consulted everybody but the ACLU.
Well, Marge and Bud solved this little problem (they thought) by taking the trapped squirrels and releasing them in a forest preserve several miles away. It was a nice, humane way to handle the problem; give them a nice, new natural habitat. Marge never read Sun Tzu on the Art of War. The squirrels obviously had. As the capture count mounted, some different kinds of animals turned up in their trap while the tulip bulb casualty count continued to rise.
They didn’t want to kill the little animals, so they tried the simple things they’d learned. They erected scarecrow-like figures and hung shiny aluminum pie plates that moved with the breeze and flashed in the sun. Theoretically, all this would startle small animals and birds and deter them from invading local gardens. Nothing worked. These were urban squirrels, wise to the distractions of motor cars, airplanes, kids, squirrel-haters and other things. What possible problems could such childlike toys create for these worldwise squirrels?
Twenty-six squirrels and two possums later, the squirrels brought in the heavy artillery. Marge and Bud went out one morning to see what they’d caught, and there, sitting comfortably in the trap and staring at them was a skunk. Fortunately, he was facing them and wasn’t ready to express displeasure at being in a trap. continues at top of next page
Finally, Marge and Bud saw a humane solution. They would buy a
An obvious question for Marge and Bud, the household general staff and army, was how to release the skunk without taking heavy damage in what they regarded, until now, as a simple backyard police action. It was an especially vexing situation because the skunk had made himself at home by pulling enough dirt and twigs into the trap to make it a comfortable place to spend the day—and wait for more of the food used to bait the trap. There followed a careful planning and strategy session. Marge figured out how they could open the trap “at arm’s length” and let the animal go without exposing themselves to his retribution. They set out to execute the plan. The skunk didn’t cooperate; he was too comfortable in his nest. Nothing moved him and they didn’t want to risk his retaliatory strike weapon by upsetting him. Another conference and another solution. How about a garden hose used as a water cannon—carefully aimed from a safe standoff distance? Yes, it would work. Only the humans would take any damage—a few wet clothes in the worst case, hopefully no skunk odor. It worked. The skunk left without further incident and the war settled back to a campaign of bulb attrition. New squirrel tactics and technology now came to the fore. After several unsuccessful days of squirrel trapping, Marge and Bud set a special watch. Lo and behold, they found that the squirrels had perfected a method of snatching the bait from the trigger mechanism without springing the trap. The tulip war is at a standoff. The squirrels leave every other bulb alone. There is no “Final Solution” in sight, just an uneasy accommodation, while Marge, Bud and the squirrels ponder a new backyard order. .
Frigid past enhances love of south bay warmth By Don Peyer After living here in the South Bay for 56-plus years—including nine in Hawthorne and 47 in Carson—I don’t think I could live any other place. I have lived and visited many places in the world and nothing compares with living here, period. I was born in North Dakota and, thankfully, I didn’t live there long because whenever I went back to visit, the hot summers, the windy prairies, the drifting snow and the cold winters made me happy to just be “from there.” Weather in different parts of Minnesota was not any better. The snowy, frigid winters and steamy, humid and hot summers were more than I could bear. Many times my twin sister and I walked the mile to school with our backs to the wind to protect our faces. Summer evenings were often spent outside on the blankets under the Milky Way, swatting mosquitoes until the house cooled down enough to go to bed. A year after we married, Jokki and I bought a small house on the bank of a lake outside of Minneapolis. If you weren’t thinking, you could describe it as a little bit of paradise in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Sometimes it was. Other times it was like living in the monsoon belt when wind and rains battered our house on the lake, blowing out the front windows while we cowered beneath our sturdy dining room table. Two of these cyclonic happenings hit us exactly to the hour one week apart. Another time, while visiting my grandmother on her farm, we stood by the front windows, scared out of our wits, as the huge trees in her front yard snapped off and crashed to the ground. In winter, the cold winds seeped around the storm windows, causing us to coax just a little more heat out of our oil-burning furnace. Our oil tank was forever running dry, which required one more fill and another. Spring seemed farther off with each snowfall. In midwinter I could walk uphill to my garage on the surface of the hard-packed snow that covered the fence. My car was backed into the garage so I could take a run at the snowy road
leading up to the highway on my way to work. It was a problem for the starter to just turn the engine over in below-zero weather when oil in the crankcase of my 1936 Pontiac reached the consistency of Jell-O. I discovered this one day when I tried to add oil and the oil sat like a lump in the bottom of the container. One day when my car wouldn’t start, my brother-in-law said, “No problem. We’ll take my car.” This didn’t work out either when his engine wouldn’t turn over. “Never mind,” he said. He got the crank out of the trunk of is 1935 Chevrolet. Even brute strength wouldn’t turn over the engine. I think that was one of the last cars to use a crank, as automobile engines became bigger. We hustled down to the corner and caught a bus into Minneapolis, which meant we arrived at work late. Later, I found a kerosene lantern in my garage. I lighted it every night and set it on the engine block under the hood and covered the hood with a blanket to hold in the heat. Finally, something worked. My father, who lived in a small town and could walk to work, eliminated this problem by putting his car up on blocks in his garage for the winter, which meant not going anywhere farther than how far you were willing and able to walk. Toward the end of winter, the city streets were layered with ice. Deep troughs were worn in the ice where the tires ran, which made driving hazardous. A trip out at night to the movies was not appealing, driving in the dark with fogged windows and slippery streets. Night life during much of the winter was almost nonexistent. Even driving to work could be hazardous. That goes for other northern states and some southern states and many other countries plagued with snow, ice and slush. Summers are much too short in these climes. I have traveled to all seven continents. I’ve been where it snows in both the Arctic and the Antarctic summers. I’ve been in the tropics where it is hot all year around and where insects abound and where screened headgear
is needed, and I have been bitten by fire ants crawling up inside my pant legs. I want none of this where I live. I like it where the soft ocean breezes blow and the rain falls gently. If I want snow, I’ll drive up a mountain.
BEACH IN WINTER In winter, not much company For chilling swells upon the sea As white gulls wing the purple sky And screech their lonely echo’s cry.
Weather isn’t everything, but the weather in the South Bay pleases me. There are other places in the world with Mediterranean climates, but they are not America. Some are dangerous places with bad governments.
Few sun-bathed beauties now are seen In brief bikini’s, tall and lean Or dancing children splashing free While screaming, laughing merrily.
Here in the South Bay we have it all: beaches, theaters, parks, museums, and mild climate. Nearby, for our enjoyment, are the deserts, the mountains, the snow in winter and more. .
VIEWS is a print newsletter distributed to the members of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Writers Association and online at www. issuu.com/the-taylor-trust/docs. Meetings take place at 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month, except for July and August, at Mo’s Restaurant, 4301 Riverside Drive, Burbank. More info at www.nwala.org. OFFICERS President – LaVonne Taylor Vice President – Joe Panicello Secretary – Arturo Ruiz Treasurer – LaVonne Taylor CHAIRMANSHIPS Fundraising – LaVonne Taylor Historian/Photographer – Madelyn Beck Hospitality – Mary L. Ports Membership – Jack Clubb Views Editor – LaVonne Taylor For more information, call: 661-406-4627 Or send e-mail to email@example.com See website at www.nwala.org In July of 2007, NWALA mascot, Spunky St. Jude, an abandoned and dying kitten selected the right person to be her rescuer. Arturo Ruiz gently scooped her up and brought her home. He could not be her forever home provider, however, so she was subsequently adopted by chapter prez, LaVonne Taylor, where she now lives a life of graciousness and ease with four siblings (as cats are meant to do).
Hokusai, (1760-1849) The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising, which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
One hardy surfer rides the waves, Lone fisherman, the weather braves. Two friends are strolling hand-in-hand Along the beach’s sandy strand. Cold winter’s eve down at the beach Provides some fun if one can reach For roasted hot dogs, marshmallows With cold, numb fingers, frozen toes. December’s beach in winter’s chill For some, might give a wondrous thrill But I’ll stay home and curl right up To warm my bones with “Poochie Pup.” — Mary L. Ports
THE VIOLIN The little girl played her violin The little girl danced with her violin Of course she loved her violin with its soft and lovely sounds She thought of her violin every second Day and night All her songs kept in her head ‘til morning’s light How she loved its beautiful sound. —Virginia Weiskopf
Art executed at age 6, called “Virginia’s Violin and Bow”