ABOUT ME

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I swear to tell the truth.

Submitted: October 23, 2016

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Submitted: October 23, 2016

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The early summer of 1973 was an exciting one for me. 
I headed for Toronto (from Montreal) and attended a two week semininar.
The Writers Workshop, given under the auspices of York University.
I was exposed to some exceptional talent.
 
Jack Brundage, aka John Herbert, the playwright, (Fortune and Men’s Eyes)and I became good friends.
‘Fortune’ was translated into many languages, and performed all over the world. The filmed version achieved huge success.
 
We corresponded for  several months, and in one of my letters, I  wrote Jack that I was planning a trip to London, England in the Fall.
 
He wrote back saying that he was going to be in touch with a good friend of his and tell her about my planned journey. The following week he sent me her telephone number, and told me I should  call her on arrival.
 
His friend was Elizabeth Salter, a wonderful woman in her mid fifties, who had presided over The Writers Workshop in Toronto several years prior.
 
Arriving in London, the very first thing I did, after checking into my hotel, was book theatre tickets for the week. There was much to see.
 
 From the brilliance of Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Sir Ralph Richardson performing in ‘Lloyd George Knew My Father’ at The Savoy Theatre, to the mundane  and dreary musical version of ‘Gone With The Wind’ at The Drury Lane. (I walked out!)
 
In fact, every evening of that week, save for Thursday,  had a theatrical event planned.
 
 If I had thought more carefully about it, the very first thing I should have done, was to call Elizabeth Salter.
 
 
When I did call, that Monday night, Elizabeth was very gracious on the telephone. She told me that she was expecting my call, and that she was looking forward to meeting me. Jack had written  warmly about me.
 
She told me that she wanted to cook a home- made Australian meal , inasmuch as she was sure that I had been eating restaurant meals for the past week.  She knew that I had spent the prior week in  Paris. 
 
She asked if Tuesday or Wednesday night might suit me.
I was embarrassed. I had to decline, telling her that my only available evening was Thursday.
 
“Oh dear”, she said, “that’s the one evening I have an engagement . I am going to try and rearrange Thursday, and hopefully we can share a meal together. Please call me again tomorrow morning, Lionel.”
 
I called Elizabeth the next morning.
 
“Thursday evening is fine, my dear.” She gave me her address on Fitzjohns Avenue, and we set the time for six, that Thursday evening.
 
I arrived promptly at the designated hour, with an armful of flowers, and a bottle of wine.
 
 
Elizabeth responded to my knock on the front door. She was elegantly dressed in a long black velvet skirt, and white silk blouse. She was lovely.
 
As she welcomed me into her home, and ushered me into the salon, she said “I’ve prepared everything myself. I let my housekeeper off for the afternoon” I hope that you are hungry, Lionel”
 
The evening was to be a wonderful event of story telling, and getting to know one another. 
Elizabeth’s  salon was filled with photos and portraits. One particular portrait stood out.
 
 A large painting of Dame Edith Sitwell.
 
While drinking red wine from crystal goblets, Elizabeth told me that she wrote ‘Who Dunnits’ for a living, but that her main love was the writing of biographies. 
 
Elizabeth had been Dame Edith Sitwell’s private secretary and companion from 1957 until 1964, the year that Dame Edith passed on.
 
 
 
Over second helpings of wine, Elizabeth told me wonderful stories about her years with Edith, and brothers  Osbert and Sacheverell  .
 
 As the evening progressed, she told me that two years prior, in 1971, she had published a biography on Daisy Bates, an Irish woman who emigrated to Australia in 1863, and worked among the Aboriginals. Daisy was in every way, a very controversial figure. She went on to tell me, that as soon as  ‘Daisy Bates’ hit the bookstores, Katherine Hepburn had expressed an interest in arranging for the film rights. She felt that the character of ‘Daisy’ was perfect for her.
 
Although the film was never produced, Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Salter remained close friends. They shared a mutual love for the game of tennis, and played as often as they could, when Hepburn was in town.
 
(Years later, Elizabeth was injured in a tennis match, almost losing an eye.
She wrote me telling me that I was the only one of all her friends back in Canada, who acknowledged the accident, even though she had written everyone about it.) 
 
Katherine Hepburn was in town, playing it very low key, with no publicity regarding her stay in London. As Elizabeth told me that night, Miss Hepburn had been trying to avoid any contact with Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin, for several years.
 
Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon were very close friends in the
 1940’s. They had collaborated on some of the best Tracy/Hepburn films ever produced.
 
For religious reasons, Spencer Tracy had never divorced his wife Louise Treadwell, and they chose to live separately for many years. Their lives were kept as private as  possible, given the Hollywood lifestyles of the day.
 
When Spencer Tracy died in 1967, weeks after completing ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ , Miss Hepburn extracted a promise from the Kanins: Neither of them would ever write about their personal times together as friends. 
 
In 1971, Garson Kanin published ‘TRACY AND HEPBURN’ (AN INTIMATE MEMOIR.)
 
Two years later, Katherine Hepburn was still trying to avoid them.
 
It was Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth  told me, who was kind enough to rearrange her Thursday evening,  so that I could  be entertained.
 
(P.S. If it had been the three of us at dinner, it would have been a disaster. I gawk terribly.)


© Copyright 2017 Lionel Walfish. All rights reserved.

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