April 1, 1961
I know that Bea, being a nice person, will forgive me for this, she probably never knew.
It began in the year 1959. I had recently arrived in New York from Toronto, and insisted on renting an apartment right in the middle of the theater district, on 47th Street at the edge of Eighth Avenue, which meant right on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. Before renting, I asked the lady sitting outside on a garbage can in a scruffy old raincoat, the superintendent of the building, whether this was a safe place to live. She answered that I could judge for myself, her son had been murdered down the road just a short time before. She shrugged and I laughed, thinking this was just New York humor, and put down my deposit. It was later that I found out that her son Robert had been the victim in the Umbrella and Cape Man murders. That became a famous case, happening as it did right after the close of “West Side Story”, and so similar in its mood.
Above me lived Jon Voight, a very aspiring actor, we’d go racing off together to make the rounds, and I got a job downtown on Bleeker Street at “The Premise”, working in the kitchen alongside Dustin Hoffman.
More than a year went by, and because New York was where we wanted to be, I went back to Toronto to sell our little house which we’d rented out just in case, and on returning found my wife acting in a very peculiar way. She was playing endless Frank Sinatra records, singing to them, and crying a lot. She explained to me through her tears that she was having an affair with an actor then appearing in “The Tenth Man”, almost across the street, whose name was Gene Saks. He was married to Bea Arthur, who knew nothing about it, and while I was in Toronto, there was a huge blizzard which prevented his coming in across the bridge from New Jersey to spend the night with her.
My then wife was six years older than me. She was always a bit of a mystery, as older wives tend to be, and I probably should never have married her, but . . . whatever.
Was my wife telling me the truth? And was she sorry? Did she regret this? Would she change? The answer was a no, she simply did not love me any more. Not believing a word of this, I vowed to go and see the play, what kind of a man was this, who could woo her away from me, Superman?
The next day being a Saturday, I went to watch the matinee from high up in the Gods, armed with a pair of binoculars. I studied his face, his body, very carefully. He was a runt! It couldn’t be!
After the play was over, I went round to the stage door, I had to meet the man, but hadn’t the slightest idea what to say. I talked my way past the stage-door keeper, and went up a couple of flights to his dressing room, and knocked. He came to the door, face covered in cold cream; I said I needed to speak to him urgently, about Kay Hawtrey, my wife. He told me to wait outside, where I stood for what seemed like an eternity before he came out.
Now the theatre was completely empty, and he told me to follow him. He steered me past the dressing rooms, down 2 flights of stairs, past the stage door, on into the wings, and on to the stage, which was now lit only by a work light. He positioned himself dead center, placed me to his left, and only then did he speak, and ask me very politely what it was I wished to say.
I told him that I knew he had been on the road with my wife in a play by Robertson Davis, Love and Libel, and that my wife had fallen in love with him, and was this true? He said be assured, young fellow, that we may have kissed a little, but there was nothing to it. He suggested that she might want to see a psychoanalyst.
And so I returned home, happily believing what I wanted to believe, and told my wife what had transpired, and that I did not believe a word of what she had told me. She was aghast. I noted the date, April 1.
The marriage, having lasted a barren seven years, did last a little while longer, and on our very last night together, a night of true tenderness and farewell on my part, little Jonathan got to be conceived.
And that, my friends, is a true actor story.