I've been thinking a lot about the wonders of a great city recently. Not about the way they came about, the huge buildings making you feel like an ant among giants, the infrastructure needed to keep ten million people living and moving about it, nor the incredible influence that some people wield throughout the world from within it. It's about the ability to meet amazing people when you least expect it. That you can meet the son of James Agee at a party (true) or how you can sit in front of Nichols and May at a screening (I'll write about that one later) or just seeing the Bee Gees walk right by you on the street (that happened to Amy). So hopefully, this will be the first of a series of the joys of New York and some of the chance meetings we've had over our years living in or nearby the city. And pardon me if my memory fails me at times. I don't keep diaries and some of these events happened many years ago.
The first one that comes to mind was at a screening of a William Wyler series in early 1995. The Museum of Modern Art was projecting a few of his silent works that had been recently discovered and as such, needed a pianist for the film. Since he had performed scores for these films admirably a few months before in Pordenone (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is an incredible yearly event devoted to silent films), MoMA brought Philip Carli down from Rochester to perform them again. As we were friends and there was to be a reception after the film, Philip invited me to the screening. The film was presented by Wyler's daughter Catherine (a great friend to cinema) and, to my excitement, the still-lovely Teresa Wright. Amy and I had just seen Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT just a month or two before and it reminded me once again how this incredible actress had been the heart and soul of this (to my - and Hitchcock's - opinion, his best) film and still better, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. Her acting was effortless, it was always the character present on the screen and not the actress -- she seemed that her bags were always full. (It's Amy's and my reference to films where the acting and/or directing is so fake that it's the kind of movie where you can see that the suitcase of gold the character is carrying is obviously empty.) Ms. Wright told a funny story of working for Wyler (he seemed to have a sadistic streak) and she proved to be as charming and smart as her acting.
To my surprise (and consternation, since I like things to be familiar -- I'm not the greatest of social animals) the reception was not being held at MoMA, but it turned out to be a private party at Catherine Wyler's apartment in the sky around the corner from the museum. It was one of those modern, all-glass window apartment with magnificent views of the city. It was impeccably designed with beautiful modern art. I remember a neon sculpture of bright red lips. This might remind you of the great episode of TV's The Odd Couple, "Take My Furniture Please" (you can see it on YouTube) where Oscar refurnishes the apartment with two chairs shaped like a human hand, but you'd be wrong. It was really a lovely sculpture that fit the apartment.
The first thing I did when Philip and I arrived at the reception was to look around the room and then search for Teresa Wright. She was nowhere to be found to which I had mixed feelings. I was sorry I couldn't meet her but at the same time, what the hell was I going to say to this wonderful person that was going to be new or interesting. (Again, see above regarding social awkwardness, especially in those younger days.) So I talked to Philip for a while and then was there standing by my awkward self. A very nice, distinguished older man was also by himself and came up and introduced himself as Bob. We started talking about why I was there and he was interested on how I had become an accidental film archivist who was invited to a party by the pianist. After a short while, I got tired of talking about myself and asked what he did for a living. He said that he was a playwright and started telling me how he got started. He was in WWII in the military and while there, wrote a play that won a prize and he was on his way. He talked about those early days with some grace, and of course, I was wondering who was this man with such a great story. It was then that a mutual friend -- I believe it was Marie Nesthus from the New York Public Library's film division who knows everybody -- came up to us to say hello and said to me, "You must be a fan of Tea and Sympathy."
Well!... It took me a few seconds but I soon realized that "Bob" was Robert Anderson. He was indeed a fine playwright and at the age of nine I had seen the out-of-town tryout of "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running" at the Cape Ann Playhouse near where we vacationed. (Honestly, I can't remember much of that experience except I was delighted there was an operational shower on stage.) So, I pretended to be hip and cool and smart knowing all along who he was and told Marie, "Yes, I am!" So we three continued chatting like old friends when Bob turned to me and asked how I was finding the party.
I was enjoying their company so I told him that it was great being there but I was disappointed that I didn't get to meet Teresa Wright. Okay, there's many of you groaning loudly now. Everybody who knows theater or film knows that the two of them were married and by then divorced.... Except for me. I never really cared about such information. My expertise always ran towards cinematography, editors, and film stocks. Reading about stars was so... so... well everybody else did that. So honestly, I didn't know.
Then, Bob told me that he and Teresa came together and she was in the kitchen absolutely starving because no one had bothered taking her to dinner during the film. (Maybe she had wanted to see that rare Wyler film, but I was never certain on those facts.) He took me by the arm and said, "Let's go say hi." I quickly went over to my friend Philip and told him to follow me. He asked why, and I replied. "No time for questions. Just follow!"
At some point -- perhaps even later -- Marie told me that Bob and Teresa had been married but that their "divorce was made in heaven." They were truly great friends and remained so until her death.
So we went into the kitchen and here’s where my memory fails me. I remember her sitting on the floor when I entered but there had to have been chairs in the kitchen. I mean, really... why would she have been sitting on the floor?
I do remember that she had rummaged through her friend Catherine Wyler's fridge and found some cold chicken. She was happily eating away so I felt I was somehow disturbing her, but Bob quickly introduced me as a new friend and Philip as my friend.
Here's where you're going to hate me. I should be telling you about the incredible stories she had about Hitchcock or how she first met Bob, or how...
Sorry, that's not the case. We talked about how hungry she was. How she found the chicken in the fridge, and then what we thought of the movie that night. It was a wonderfully normal conversation.
I can say, that having met a few stars, that there's a reason why the cream rises to the top. Even in her 70s, she was still a beautiful, magnetic woman. Just as charming as you would expect.
All too soon, Bob told Teresa it was getting late and they had to leave. They said their goodbyes and soon departed. Philip and I remained at the party a while longer, but then I left to go back home and tell Amy about my wonderful experience.
Bob and Teresa and I didn't remain friends forever. That's not how things happen, at least for me. I never even saw them again. I had my own life and they had theirs. But when Teresa died in 2005 and Bob died in 2009, I did have left that memory of a wonderful evening in New York City.
And now, perhaps I can ask my best friend and partner, Amy, to write about the first time we met Fay Wray! Or perhaps Nancy Gerstman.
Milestone does an enormous amount of research for most of the films we distribute. Sometimes there's years and years of gathering of materials (books, letters, newspapers, magazines, photographs, etc.) and extensive interviews to write each one of our press kits. And many times, we're still revising them 20 years after the fact! Yet there remains several mysteries in Milestone's distribution career and now one of them can be answered! Out of the blue, Clifton Cardin, the "Official Bossier Parish Historian" wrote to us with his research. He took it on himself to discover what happened to the star of ON THE BOWERY, Ray Salyer. All we knew was that he disappeared. Now, with Mr. Cardin's permission, here's the rest of the story...
"Ray Salyer Life
Ray Salyer was born Dec 3, 1916 in Ashland KY to Shankland Salyer and Florence Hill. Shankland had been a soldier in the 26th US Infantry shortly before Ray and his twin brother were born. Military records show Shankland had been both a musician and barber. Ray and Roy were the middle children in a rather large family.
Shortly after Ray and Roy were born, the Salyer family moved 446 miles to Lumberton, NC.
During most of his childhood, Ray witnessed America’s experiment with legislated morality, Prohibition, while the resulting gang warfare ravaged the country. There is very little doubt Ray had relatives back in Kentucky involved with white lightning. The Ashland area they came from has been documented by none other than singer Billy Ray Cyrus as big in the moonshine manufacturing and distribution.
Between the ages of 7 and 12, Ray undoubtedly followed along while his father preached on the Methodist Circuit in North Carolina. His father then got a job as assistant manager of the Met Life Insurance office to support the large family. Ray’s oldest brother Lester joined the Navy and moved out of the family home.
Soon after, something happened that may have affected Ray. His oldest brother, Lester, who had joined the Navy came “home” on furlough. While in Lumberton, he stole an automobile, drove it to Fayetteville, and returned. He soon ran out of gas and left the car. Witnesses provided police with enough clues they soon tracked it to Lester, who pleaded guilty of the larceny.
Ray was an active Boy Scout earning merit’s, accommodations and such when he was a young man.
Ray’s first foray into infamy occurred when he was just 14 years old. He and bunch of other Lumberton boys went skinny dipping in the Lumberton River. Two boys started across the river, but one panicked and drug the other under with him. Roy and Ray came to the rescue, retrieved the youngest boy from the bottom of the River. Brought him to the bank and performed CPR. The boy coughed up water, and soon began breathing. The boys were declared heroes and were nominated for the National Life Saving Award from the Boy Scouts.
During this time, the Salyer family moved 75 miles away to Wilmington NC, so Shankland could become manager of the Met Life office there.
When Ray was 18, in 1934, Prohibition was repealed.
By 1940, Ray had married his true love Gaynelle Swister. They had several children….
Ray joined the US Army, August 11, 1941. Sources suggest he was in the first waves of D-Day and went all the way to Berling at the end of the war. Today we would recognize Ray as having PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or shell shock as they called it then.
It has been said that Ray did not return to his wife and left them to fend for themselves.
The movie, “On The Bowery” brought more problems for Ray. He was offered $40,000 to become an actor. Ray turned them down. Soon after he was found, beaten, nine ribs broken and his left hand smashed. He had learned the dark side of the Bowery. His comrades did not like the attention he brought their hideout.
Where Ray went after that, is unknown.
In 1963, after his children had grown, his wife Gaynelle Swister Salyer filed for divorce in Florida. As soon as the divorced was granted, she married another man.
It is known that Ray returned to New York, possibly the Bowery area. For on Oct 6, 1963, he died from the affects of his life. He apparently drowned in his own vomit. His youngest sister, Frances paid to have his body returned to North Carolina, where Ray was buried next to his family.
It is an irony that his son, Ray Allen Salyer died at 38 years of age.
His wife, Gaynelle lived until 2003, and is buried in Florida. Her obituary lists four children, but it is not know if the were Salyer’s or Rollings."
First thing to know: I have an amazing sister. She knows me from way back—all her life, actually—and she is a kind and loyal friend. So, when she started to suggest that I get back to making art, I had to at least listen. She had been taking drawing classes and feeling really good about flexing new neurons and skills. And she knew that in my deep dark past, I had loved to draw and that I always loved to look at art.
But truly, I was terrified. Making art—strike that—trying to make art is really personal. It can be astonishingly liberating. But it can also be painful. I remembered that feeling of trying to do something and the utter frustration of just totally failing. I knew art could make me cry with helpless rage at myself, the drawing, everything. And my everyday adult existence allowed me to go day to day without that kind of angst. Did I need to invite it back into my life?
Maybe. I did feel an emptiness following the death of my father and the subsequent Sisyphean job of settling his estate, selling his apartment, finding homes and buyers and galleries for the art, books, rugs... I was worn out just remembering it all. And with our only kid in high school, I could foresee an empty nest in my future. And it sounded like fun—scary fun, but still.
Luckily for me, I actually did know where to start to look for a class. When he was younger, our almost-grown son loved to take art classes at a school in a neighboring town. So I knew that The Art School at Old Church was a welcoming place that treated art and would-be artists with love and respect. Even better, I knew and liked the director, Maria Danziger, who had become a friend when Dennis and I ran a film series at the school years before.