Bridge 2

September 11th, 2010


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Pygmalion’s Galatea (see that smile?)
Was brought to life by his so potent art;
Abominating woman all the while
He gave that form to what possessed his heart.
Now who’s created, who’s creator, here?
Pygmalion finds his being in that act,
Beholds his dream in catching her first tear;
He finds, through her, a part of him he’s lacked.
And over both the classic myth presides,
More real than that poor artist’s fleeting soul,
Existing through the ages, like the tides,
To give a form to chaos.  So, his role?
Accept his fate–heed his fair lady’s call–
We live in myth . . . if we’re to live at all.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Summer, 1955]

“You were saying that oblivious cosmic accident governs our brief lives, Henry.  And I agree.  Yet, caught up in them as we are, things do often seem determined by fate.  I know Betty was born to be an actress.  That was her essence. You might work around theatre for years without meeting such a one, but are likely to know it when you do–and to remember it.  My first meeting with Betty, in old Baker Auditorium, was one of the most purely dramatic experiences of my life.

“Baker Auditorium always seemed enormous to me, with its high, arched ceiling, its balcony seats going up almost out of sight, and that long, straight aisle coming right down the middle.  I’m sure it would still overwhelm me if I could walk into it today, but it was hit by lightning and burned down a few years ago.  It had been built as a concert hall, early in the century, no doubt by some rich Baker who, through all the years he was making all that dough, thought he should have


been appreciating classical music–then, when he literally had more money than he knew what to do with, had tried to buy back the dream of his youth by building that mammoth tomb.”

Henry laughed at this.  “You’re indulging your prejudices, Jack,” he said.  “The building was probably financed by public subscription, designed by the best acoustical engineering science of the day, and named after a much-beloved, benign, white-maned professor emeritus of the music department.”

“You’re as likely to be right as I am, Henry.  Anyway, Baker Auditorium was the scene.  I’d been back from the Korean War for a year, had finished my BA in philosophy–because, when they analyzed the miscellaneous college credit I’d taken into the service with me, it was the easiest degree for me to get–and had begun work on an MA in theatre–because I’d discovered that theatre was fun, and still had plenty of GI Bill left.  And I’d just been given my ‘big chance’–to direct Shaw’s Pygmalion in the Summer Theatre program.

“My Fair Lady was going strong then.  Everybody was whistling ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning,’ or ‘I Could Have Danced All Night,’ or one of the other songs from that great show.  Even people in Kansas were coming to know the story of the professor and the flower girl, so I had suggested doing the play myself.  I was high on Shaw just then–for the first time.  I have been a time or two since, absolutely drunk on his work, and would be again if I spent the next two days reading him.  He’s one of the few  playwrights who’s actually more absorbing to read than to see on stage.  All those ideas–everywhere you look.  But the first time with any passion is always special, isn’t it?  Have you read any Shaw, Shoko?”

“No.  But I know something of those first passions you speak of, Jack . . . and I agree that they’re special.”

“And Jordan Simms–our inimitable, star-crossed Jordan–still had a year to go for his BA, and wanted to do Higgins


badly enough to stay and do it with me.  We’d both  returned to school from military duty the previous fall–which established a certain kinship–and had hit it off well from the first.  We’d found an apartment together within easy walking distance of campus for the summer, though we’d have to give it up when the kids who held the lease came back in the fall.

“It was probably more to keep Jordan there for the summer than in response to my arguments that they’d agreed to include Pygmalion in the schedule, along with a whole set of high-school summer-camp plays, being done outside, and the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, a faculty director was doing in the brand-new University Theatre.  So, I got Baker, and a set of memories permeated by its unmanageable vastness . . . and its touch of the sublime.”  I paused to look off across the lake, but no longer saw the boat with its water-skier.

“How I’d love to live that summer over again.  I had only directed two plays prior to that in my entire life, while Jordan had directed half a dozen–at school and for the Topeka Civic Theatre–so was pleased to point out that he was three times as experienced a director.  My most impressive theatre credit, by far, was the first off-Broadway production of The Teahouse of the August Moon that we’d done on Okinawa, but I’d also directed O’Neill’s The Great God Brown as a spring semester directing-class project in the small Experimental Theatre.  That was the first time I’d worked with Jordan, who’d dared me to do the play (again mostly so that he could play Brown) after I’d said it was unstagable.  Then he’d advised me about everything, showing me just how eminently stagable that play really is–and what a versatile actor he was.

“He pulled out all the stops, was fantastic, and maybe thirty people saw it.  Thirty . . . maybe forty.  But the Shaw was the big time, in my mind, and I was really up for it.  I made a lot of mistakes, in handling the cast, in a hundred little


technical things, and learned better than to scatter a small audience in a big auditorium.  We probably should have done it in that Experimental Theatre, which we could’ve had, even if we’d had to turn a few people away.  Or out on the lawn with the high-school kids.  But I’m still proud of the show.  It was pretty good Shaw, and Jordan Simms’ Higgins still stands out as the finest performance I’ve ever seen on a college stage.

“And then there was Betty.

“If I close my eyes, I can still see her coming down that aisle–right at me.”  I did close my eyes–then opened them to look at Henry, wondering  how that sounded to a blind man.

He smiled and said, “For me that’s a way of life, Jack.”

“It was late in the afternoon of the day we were holding tryouts . . . June 1st . . . 1955.  I was sitting on the edge of the stage, talking with a couple of the kids on the tech crew, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coke, when she came in the big back doors and started down that long center aisle.  I don’t think she was consciously staging an entrance.  She might have been, once she sensed the circumstances, but I like to think of this as quintessential Betty, the novice entering the temple where she was destined to reign as high priestess.

“She was wearing one of those full-skirted cotton summer dresses that were so popular then, that sweep and swirl to any movement, but are tight in the waist and hips, short-sleeved and low-cut–but not too ostentatiously low-cut–descended from those German peasant dresses, you know, that define the body and liberate the bosom.”  I smiled at Shoko.  “Ah, yes, I remember it well.  It had a flowered pattern, I think.  You might remember it, too, Henry.  She still had it at Wellington, and the figure for it right up to the day she died.  She wore that deep auburn hair long then, caught loosely at the back with a ribbon–always a ribbon, never a clip–a style not much in fashion these days . . . which is a shame.


“I stopped talking, and might have put my cigarette out in my coke, as I watched her coming down the aisle, straight at me.  I had begun doing things in my mind with that dress until she got close enough for her eyes to pick up mine.  Then I quit that.  I was sure I must have seen her on campus, since I was a fairly dedicated girl watcher in those days, but not often–and never that close before.  I would have remembered the eyes.  I’ve never forgotten them since.  The dress was the vehicle for the body, important enough, but the eyes were the woman, the actress, where the spirit lived.  You’ve been on stage with her, Henry.  How would you describe her eyes?”

“Another challenge for a blind man, Jack . . . but thanks.  It’s a pleasure to try.  A lot of women have beautiful eyes, but of very different kinds.  Shoko’s enigmatic, gentle brown, for example.”  They smiled at each other, and, looking over at her, I had to agree that Shoko had beautiful, gentle eyes.

“You wouldn’t say Betty’s eyes were deep and dreamy, like limpid pools, suggesting exotic primitive sexual knowledge–though I like that.”  He smiled again, and Shoko laughed.  “Nor that they were penetrating and profound, as if they were reading the innermost secrets etched on your soul, nor so bright and alert that they caught the slightest movement within their peripheral range–though they could be those things, could assume those modes, as within the range of their infinite variety.  No, none of that really touches their special power.  Their color was distinctive–I remember that–and that was part of it, all right.  You might say hazel, but it was more a kind of green flecked with brown, her auburn hair setting them off like gems.  But I think it was most of all as an index of character, Jack, the candid, open quality on the surface, that said, ‘Here I am,’ making a point of it, without making too much a point of it, perhaps like that dress you just described, then eddying into ambiguity, echoing, ‘Catch me, if you can.'”


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“I like that, Henry.  After all that has happened, you can still see those eyes, can’t you?  Eyes that were all things to all men . . . and all women.  A kind of Rorschach test.  And, if they had me under their spell–from the beginning–they bewitched both of you, too . . . as I know very well.”

Shoko nodded.  “Yes . . . I loved her, too . . . and . . . when she looked at you . . .  her eyes were . . . special.”

“Well, once those eyes zeroed in on mine I was caught.  She came up close enough to touch–though I wouldn’t have dared–and said, ‘Are you John Curtis?  Directing Pygmalion?’

“I acknowledged that I was.  She said she’d wanted a part in the Shakespeare play, had been over there reading and listening, but had finally decided it wasn’t for her.  ‘It’s a man’s play.  Politics and war in ancient Rome.  Is it true that boys played the women’s parts when Shakespeare was alive?’

“‘Yes, it is.’

“‘How strange!  Well, I decided they could have them.  Then somebody told me that the play you’re directing has an especially good part for a woman.  So here I am.  Is that true?’

“‘You haven’t read the play?’

“‘No, but we read a play by George Bernard Shaw in high school.  Androcles and the Lion.  I don’t remember the women’s parts in that as being particularly good, either.  Why don’t you do a play like Antigone . . . or Hedda Gabler?  Something with a really good part for a woman.’

“I thought to myself, ‘No, my dear, not Antigone.  Maybe Hedda Gabler.  Depends on what happens to those eyes when the passion’s up.  But Eliza Doolittle?  I think they may have sent you to the right place.’  As you know, she did do both Antigone and Hedda Gabler later–had a kind of fixation about it.  You remember her Hedda, don’t you, Henry.”

“Remember?  I was something like stage manager for her at the time.  I thought she was superb, of course.


“But she wasn’t as compelling as Antigone, was she?”

“Well, some critics saw her as ‘re-defining the character’–but I was out here negotiating her film contract . . . just read about it, and heard her and others talk about it, never saw it.”

“Most sort of damned it with faint praise, as ‘experimental,’ or ‘little more than a demonstration of range,’ which seemed to vindicate my earlier judgment.  I once told her so, but I don’t think she appreciated my critical perception, either.

“Anyway, face to face, there in Baker Auditorium, I knew she hadn’t been in any of the plays there at school that year, for that had become my turf, and I knew everyone who had been.  But I also knew–at first sight–that here was my Eliza.  Still, it was like getting the biggest fish of the day on the line and being afraid of playing it wrong and losing it.  And then there was the director’s responsibility to all the other girls who had read, to that sharp little brunette, Kaye Adams, in particular, whose work I did know from three previous plays, whom I had even dated a time or two, and who more or less expected to be playing opposite Jordan Simms that summer.  And then, well, of course . . . I needed to hear her read.

“‘I don’t remember seeing you in any plays this year.  Sure you’re ready for a leading role?  There’s a sister to . . . Freddy.  A less demanding part.  And Higgins’ mother.’  I couldn’t resist it, watching those eyes come alive, then simmer back.

“‘No, I haven’t been in any of the plays here.  I decided to  devote all my energy to my school work . . . and to major in psychology, not theatre.  My mother would prefer that, and she’s paying for my college education.  But now I’m not so sure.  Just going to classes gets a little boring . . . watching other people doing more interesting things.  I thought the summer would be a good time to test my other interests.  My advisor says I could even minor in theatre.  They’re using a lot of theatre techniques in therapy now, you know.’

“‘Oh, are they?  Well, what kind of acting experience have you had?  And where?’


“‘I had leading roles in three plays in high school.  First a musical, Carousel, though I’m not a very good singer.  Then The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  I was Elizabeth–in bed most of the time.’  I looked for the smile, but didn’t catch it.  ‘Then Strindberg’s Miss Julie, my favorite.  Mr. Harris chose that my senior year just so I could do it.  And he’s the one who talked to me about Hedda Gabler and Antigone.  So, I’ve had experience.  In my high school . . . in Dodge City.  More than any other girl while I was there.  I have the programs.’

“Miss Julie in a Western Kansas high-school–my God, how I’ve wished I’d seen her do that.  It challenges the imagination, doesn’t it?  ‘All right, Miss . . . what’s your name?’

“‘Elizabeth Martin Fredricks.  Everybody calls me Betty.’

“‘All right then . . . Betty.  Here’s a script.  You see where Eliza has the exchange with Higgins, here on page 29.  Let’s try that.  I’ll read Higgins.  Eliza is a flower girl, and talks with a cockney accent early in the play.  You know how that goes?’

“She nodded, but without conviction.  ‘I’m sure that I can get the accent right, if it’s important.’

“‘Well, Higgins is just mildly interested in her language–in her accent, not in her–with the undercurrent of Shaw’s ironic comment, of course.  Step up on the stage and let’s try it.’

“She had a lot of trouble with the accent, as I’d expected.  But Betty was never a good cold reader, anyway.  She came on strong, though, was really trying.  And she convinced me quickly.  I wasn’t sure how Higgins was going to feel about it, but I knew that I was ready to take on her language problems.  After half an hour of reading here and there–a little of ‘the rain in Spain,’ a little of the duchess–much more than I needed to make up my mind, I told her that would be enough, and asked for a phone number where I could let her know.


“She led with those eyes again–this time pure candor–then said, ‘Why not tell me now?  I get the part, don’t I?’

“I laughed.  ‘What makes you so sure?  We’ve had a lot of girls, with plenty of university acting experience, read today.’  She just kept looking at me, nothing but surface, until I broke.  ‘Okay, Eliza . . . Betty . . . Elizabeth Barrett Browning Fredricks.  You get the part.  But you’d better be good.  And punctual.  And behave yourself at rehearsals–not practice too much sophomore psychology on your poor old director.’  She looked at me and smiled.  ‘And I still need a telephone number . . . for emergency cast calls in the middle of the night.’

“I said that I wasn’t sure about Higgins.  Jordan had been there most of the day, listening to people read and giving miscellaneous advice, though he’d been more careful to respect my function as director than he had doing The Great God Brown, more careful than he would have been if I’d been more secure in the experience, I suppose–or hadn’t been his friend.  He had left, when most of the other people had, shortly before Betty came in, assuming that Kaye, the brunette, had the part.  She had a lot of stage energy, he had worked with her before, and he was more or less satisfied to have her as his Eliza.  He was reading Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln that summer, and looked up when I came in to ask what had kept me so long.  I told him, somewhat aggressively, about casting Betty.  Then it was his turn to just look at me.

“‘Betty Fredricks, you say.  Never heard of her, Jack.  What’s she been in?’

“When I told him about the high-school Miss Julie, he broke out laughing, but stopped just as suddenly, as he might have on stage, and said, ‘You must be joking, Jack.  You gave the lead female role–a damned tricky lead role where handling language is concerned–to a girl who’s never done anything but a . . . a high-school Miss Julie?  In Dodge City!


Dare one leave you alone amongst the co-eds?’  But then he caught me, before my wounded sensibilities could explode.  ‘All right!  All right!  You’re the director.  We’ll reserve judgment on how good a casting director you are until we see this girl in action.  But I’d keep a couple of the regulars in reserve for a day or two–if they’ll stand still for it.  Which, of course, they will.  That’s a damn good part, Jack.’

“I knew it was important to him.  He had to play off of Eliza.  An inexperienced girl could ruin the timing, ruin his own performance–ruin the play.  He was prepared not to like her, and I can’t say Betty swept him off his feet the way she had me.  He hadn’t seen her come down the aisle.  He first saw her dressed in jeans, stumbling through her lines at the read-through.  It annoyed me that she seemed more in awe of him than she had been of me.  But he was already well into Higgins’ character, so was overbearing and condescending to her, which probably had something to do with it.

“At first I felt as if I had Pickering’s role, coming between them in her defense.  But, as with Higgins, so with Simms, the girl began to win his grudging admiration through her hard work–she actually had her lines before he had his–and, finally, through her achievement.  It was obvious fairly early that she was going to be a great Eliza–had a spirit to match his own.  She could flare up for those stage arguments as if that red hair had caught fire.  And her ‘Aaooww’s’ were a thing of beauty.  She worked on the timing until the exchanges clicked perfectly.  It helped to be working with Jordan Simms, of course, an absolute master of comic timing, born to it–but she had to have it in her blood, too, to be able to follow his lead, to make it look so spontaneous.  It was Shaw’s theme working itself out before my eyes–Jordan bringing out the Eliza in potentia, as Betty only half understood what was happening to her, and how much her Pygmalion had to do with it.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“I saw a lot of Jordan Simms over the years–a lot of his Shakespeare–and still say Higgins was his finest hour.  They were awfully good together, an absolute pas de deux.  But, as opening night approached and he could see how good Betty was going to be, I thought I detected a certain resentment in him, as if he wanted to be the clear star in the production.  But I thought, ‘No, that’s part of the characterization, is Higgins, not Jordan.  He knows the better she is, the better he is, and is above such petty jealousy anyway.’  But I still remember the way he sometimes looked at her–as if he really did wish she’d break a leg.  But, by then, she would be smiling back at him.

“As always, we had problems.  The boy I’d cast as Freddy headed for New York–a week before opening.  He was pretty good, too, but I never heard of him again.  I knew I wouldn’t.  Not after the curse I put on him.  I tried to replace him, but without much luck.  So, after Jordan insisted upon it, I finally took the part myself.  But I never felt comfortable in it.  Kaye, the girl I’d been thinking about for Eliza before Betty came down the aisle, was playing Freddy’s sister, and bitched around a lot–which was in character all right–but now could actually bitch at me right on stage, which Jordan, and then Betty, after he told her why Kaye was doing it, took as a huge joke.

“Still, it was Shaw, I had Jordan Simms–which assured it would be a great show–and I had Betty, who’d already become something like the idea of theatre incarnate for me.  The center of the experience, at least in memory, was working with her rare talent in what you might call the pristine moment of its theatrical innocence.  I was so hyper I could hardly contain myself from one rehearsal to the next, and knew this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life–if I could stand it.

“You might say that I had Higgins’ problems with the girl in reverse.  I had to turn my duchess into a flower girl, or get the Mid-West to talk like the East-End.  But Eliza was Eliza.”


“Betty could always adapt to a new language environment quickly, with sensitivity to its nuances,” Henry remarked.  “She was one of the few white actresses who could work comfortably with black actors during the ’60s in New York, not make adopting their idiom seem condescending, or a kind of parody.  I know you’ve heard plenty of good actors try it who couldn’t.  And then there was our experience in France.”

I agreed.  “Part of it was range of dramatic sympathy, the power to identify.  And then she simply worked hard, was never late for a rehearsal, and spent every minute there working on something–variations of costume and make-up, little bits of business, patterns of emphasis in lines–in this instance following the lead Jordan provided, that offered more direction than I did.  And it was obvious she knew that, too.

“Jordan was scrupulously careful about not trying to usurp my role, however.  It was always, ‘Don’t you think so, Jack,’ or ‘I may be wrong, but . . .’  I looked back on that nostalgically when I’d hear about his feuds with the big-time pros in New York.  I knew what he was doing, and why, and appreciated it.  By the time we opened, Shaw himself would have been proud of the production–which played to such small crowds that that big auditorium did seem empty.  It was almost as if we were doing it exclusively for one another . . . and we did become very close in the process.

“Betty, Jordan, and I were in the theatre before anyone else was and after everyone else was gone; we ate our meals together, and spent hours over coffee or cokes, talking about ‘our’ play.  When our Freddy ran off to New York, we joked about doing the same thing ourselves, together, and how we’d handle our domestic relationships.  But, through that whole time, I never took Betty anywhere alone.  Nor did Jordan, I’m sure–for they were hardly ever out of my sight.  All of our energy belonged to George Bernard Shaw.  It was great.


“And if not many people saw the play, some of the right ones did.  It definitely helped Jordan get the acting scholarship in England, though the people in the department already knew he was the best actor on campus.  It did even more for me, establishing a favorable impression going into my graduate program, which made it easier to negotiate other things.  But it did most for Betty.  From out of nowhere she became a star on campus.  She had come down the aisle to take center stage.  Dr. Gillis, who was directing The Rainmaker in the fall, had come opening night, and had then come back for both of the other performances–for he’d fallen in love with our Eliza.  He made sure she would be there for tryouts for his play, and was already talking to her as if he assumed she’d be majoring in theatre–to which she responded with her blandest smile.

“But it was obvious that she was neatly hooked.  The experience had been exhilarating for her, too.  The irony was that, as her interest in majoring in psychology faded, she began to demonstrate remarkable skills as a practical psychologist.  She almost always got her way, with everyone.  Even during those last rehearsals for Pygmalion, she would sit quietly, listening to Jordan and me talk about some problem, like an admiring disciple, then, with a single suggestion, leave us just looking at her, wondering why we hadn’t thought of that.

“But, as always happens in theatre, suddenly it was over.  As if from habit, for a week or so, the three of us continued to spend our time together.  We discovered they could both beat me at tennis, but that I could beat either of them to the other end of the swimming pool.  We went to movies together, or, what we preferred, watched old movies on TV in one or the other of our apartments, where we could eat popcorn, drink beer, and compete with each other in clever critical comments.

“Then, just as suddenly, Jordan decided to ‘go home’ for two weeks, ‘to check in with mother before fall semester,’ and


left me alone with Betty.  We hardly knew that Jordan had a mother–he so seldom mentioned her–though he had told me that she was a widow who had moved from Topeka to Estes Park, Colorado.  And Estes Park is a perfect place to spend a couple of weeks at the end of summer.  But I was still surprised.  I also thought it strange that he invited the young fellow who had played Pickering to go with him, but not me.  He may have assumed that I wouldn’t be interested so long as Betty was staying at school.  If so, he was right, of course.

“I still had a father here in California at the time, but had no impulse to ‘go home’ to visit him.  More surprisingly, Betty had a mother living in Dodge City, yet had no plans to go home, either.  Her mother had made the trip to Lawrence to see the play, in fact, a bright-eyed little woman I remember very well–though I would never have guessed that Betty was her daughter.  Still, since she was paying Betty’s college expenses, she might have expected her to come home.

“I asked Betty about it, and she said, ‘Mother and I don’t get along that well . . . not for two weeks!  And I have other reasons for not wanting to go back to Dodge.  I left for good when I got out of high school.  I talked to Mother about it when she was here, and, though she didn’t like the idea, she agreed I could stay . . . the apartment’s paid for, after all . . . to get a head start on the fall semester, if I’m going to be in plays.  She’s not sure she likes that, either, but, when she heard Dr. Gillis talk about how much he liked my Eliza, she could see that’s what I’m going to do.  I told her I’ll probably even major in theatre.  We understand one another, I think, but don’t need two weeks in Dodge City to argue about it!’

“Betty did go back to Dodge City that fall . . . when her Mother died.  It was some kind of heart problem, though I think she was only in her forties.  Betty went back for the funeral while we were rehearsing The Rainmaker, and I think


it hit her pretty hard.  But she kept her feelings to herself, wouldn’t talk about it much . . . even after we were married.

“I told her how guilty I felt about encouraging her to stay with me, when it would have been her last chance to see her mother alive.  She said, ‘Well, how could we know that, Jack?  And I just would have argued with her the whole time I was there–trying to get her to move away from Dodge!  What did she have to hold her there . . . after my father left?  But she’d grown up there–had friends and church–and wasn’t going to leave.  So I did.  Yes, I’m sorry Mother died, but I wasn’t going to go back to live in Dodge City.  We both  knew that.'”

“I didn’t realize Betty had grown up in Kansas,” Shoko said.  “She always seemed so sophisticated to me, so much a New Yorker . . . from the time I first met her.”

“I don’t believe she’d ever been out of Kansas before we met . . . though I may be wrong.  Her mother being so comfortable in Dodge City probably did aggravate that natural impulse in any young person to get out and see the world.”

“I think Betty might also have had something going with her high-school drama teacher . . . Mr. Harris? . . . the one who directed her in Miss Julie,” Henry said, “and had definitely decided to disconnect from that.  I remember something she said when we were leaving Wellington about never letting anyone tie her down to some little town.”

“Hunh . . . maybe.  What must it be like for a  small-town high-school teacher to discover that kind of diamond in the rough?  I’ve never been to Dodge City, never met Mr. Harris, but now I’d be tempted to go try to look him up.  I wonder if he’s still there, still teaching high school . . . still looking for another Betty to bloom in one of his classes.  I’d like to know more about her as a high-school girl.  He’d probably be willing to talk about it . . . don’t you think?  Though maybe not to tell everything.  Did Betty say whether or not he was married?”


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“She didn’t really say anything at all about him, Jack,” Henry said.  “I don’t believe I’d even heard his name until now.  I’m just speculating from what you’ve been telling us.  I imagine it was, mostly, as you say, wanting to get away from the small town she’d grown up in.  The university can seem pretty liberating to a kid who feels like that.  It did to me. But it sounds like Betty’s father might still be alive.”

“He may even have tried to get in touch with her,” Shoko said, “about a year ago.  After an article about her in one of the national magazines, there was a letter from a William Fredricks, from somewhere in Wyoming, that really upset her.  But she just tore it up, and told me not to worry about it.”

“So, another lead to the mystery men in Betty’s young life.  I’d like to meet him, too . . . to see if I could see any of her in him.  How many Fredricks could there be in Wyoming?

“I’d also have liked to spend a long afternoon with her mother.  But I never saw her again, have just the one memory of that energetic little lady.  I think we’d have gotten along fine, that I’d have been comfortable living next door to her in Dodge City.  I wonder what kind of influence she might have had on our marriage.  Or on Christine . . . if she’d lived.  But I doubt it would have made much difference.  Betty and she evidently did live in different worlds together–which must have been as frustrating for Mrs. Fredricks as for . . . well, as for Mr. Harris, finally . . . or for any of the rest of us.”

But I had been struck by the personal application of Henry’s comment.  “That’s a sobering thought, Henry, to think I might have been following in the footsteps of her Mr. Harris, helping her to escape, only to be left behind.  I was more conscious at the end of that first summer of how much she and I shared, like that feeling that we had both left home for good.

“But I was also surprised to discover how apprehensive I was to be alone with Betty–at first–to realize that I hadn’t


been, that we’d been chaperoned by Jordan, and had always had the play between us as a psychological cushion.  I thought we’d come to know one another pretty well, but, as so often  in later years, suddenly Betty seemed to be a different person.

“Evenings, we’d go to movies, or summer concerts, or maybe just off somewhere–but not up to either apartment, where we were each living alone, as if we were not so much avoiding that as saving it . . . if that makes sense to you.”

“It does, but it sounds more like you than Betty, Jack,” Shoko said, with a smile.

“And we’d go to the park in the afternoon, and read.  Betty already had books for fall classes, but her French was good enough that she read about half of Madame Bovary, left over from an earlier French class.  We might hold hands, but were more likely to cross bare feet–a nice memory–or one lie with eyes closed while the other one read to him–usually Betty to me.  We seemed comfortable together, but I was never comfortable with that feeling, having felt more secure when we were actress and director, or Eliza and Freddy.

“We began to influence each other’s reading–but didn’t read any more Shaw.  It was only after Betty left me that I went on another Shaw jag.  I followed her lead, rather.  I read my first Freud in those two weeks, then tried interpreting Betty’s dreams . . . the way Freud had young Dora’s.”

“Until young Dora got sane enough to quit telling him her dreams–to quit going to see him at all,” Henry put in.  “It’s interesting that Betty directed you to that little study.”

“She’d actually taken her psychology courses pretty seriously.  But I assumed she was just making up her dreams as part of the game we’d begun to play, and so I was as bizarre as I could be in my interpretations.  One day she described a dream she’d had holding hands with an unknown woman as they parachuted from a burning airplane.  I’d just gotten to the


lesbian relationship with her father’s Dodge City mistress when her laughter died and she was looking into my eyes from someplace in her spirit she hadn’t let me into before.  I wasn’t sure whether to reach out to touch her or to run.

“She said, ‘I never even met his mistress, Jack.  He ran off with her before I was old enough to know him very well.’

“I stopped and stared back, just as seriously, with ‘Oh, I’m sorry . . . I  didn’t . . .’

“Then she began laughing again, like the pixie she was, saying, ‘Oh, Jack, don’t believe everything I tell you.  You don’t, do you?’  But she didn’t say any more about her father . . . or his mistress.  Her mother was the only member of her family I ever met.  And she only met Grace from mine, had left me before Dad died.  Laura met Dad once, shortly after we came to California . . . then went to his funeral with me.

“Anyway, I got the chance to look into those enigmatic eyes a lot during that two weeks, as they began to reflect mine from closer and closer range.  The boy-girl chemistry was working, if somewhat slowly for such ideal circumstances–all alone, wonderful summer weather, and nothing to distract us.  I still wonder how Jordan had sized up the situation.  And what would have happened if he’d asked Betty to go with him?  I knew how fascinated he was by Betty, too, having already begun to see her much as Higgins sees Eliza, as a medium for the expression of his own spirit–beyond this one play–as something of his own creation, a projection of himself.  But how did he feel about her as a female?  I wasn’t sure.”

“Jordan liked to cultivate that kind of ambiguity . . . until the very end,” Henry said.

“And he was astute enough to know that it may be an advantage to be absent.  We talked more about him–at least I did, after having lived and worked with him so closely the previous six months that I’d come to consider him my best


friend– than we did about each other.  So he was still with us . . . an abiding presence.  Although Betty didn’t talk so much about him herself, and was somewhat disparaging when she did, her eyes would sparkle when I did, particularly about his plans to go to New York and become a professional actor.

“‘How I’d love to do that,’ she’d say, ‘but how does a woman do such a thing?’  She was envying Jordan in absentia.

“And I thought Jordan probably felt confident that he could spot me two weeks alone with Betty and then come back and take her away if he wanted to, that, having manipulated her spirit on stage, he knew his power over her.

“But, in spite of this hovering presence, we did talk about ‘us’ some . . . on those long summer evenings.  As you may have observed, I have a tendency to be overly analytical, and working with Shaw, then reading Freud, probably contributed to my delinquency.  Betty picked up on that, and, enjoying the game, played it with real spirit, was already the better analyst.

“But, behind this screen, we were just doing what young fellows and girls who spend hours walking by the lake, going to movies, sitting in parked cars together, fall naturally to doing, talking about the mysteries of life and the cosmos as a way of feeling one another out.  Shaw and Freud had just given it an extra intellectual dimension.”

I looked at Shoko, and it was as if I were telling this part of the story to her alone, as if Henry were not there at all.

“Then, one night in the car, near the end of those two weeks, I did reach out, to kiss Betty, and she kissed me back, with such passion that the rest of it didn’t seem to matter.  I felt I had plunged in, over my head, deep into unknown waters . . . and that she had, too, that it was as much her idea as mine.  As we came up for breath, I looked into her eyes and saw a permutation I’d never seen before, though it’s there in close-up in one scene of the film we made of the countess’s life.”


Shoko almost whispered, “Yes, I know the scene.”

“I read complete submission.  The dilated pupils told me as clearly as her pulsating body that she was mine if I wanted to take her.  In the next few months I often condemned myself for not having accepted what she was offering on the spot, in the purity of the moment.  But I thought that I was exercising admirable moral strength.  I was twenty-six and she was still a teenager, an innocent sophomore.  She was mine, and I would protect her–even from me–even from herself.  I’d save this passion until it could be sanctified, would cradle her in my arms and keep her safe.  The psychology of a moment like that is strange, but I felt its truth strongly, holding Betty closely, knowing she was mine, and saving us both from our animal passion.  It was a sublime experience.  Do you believe that?”

“Yes, I do, Jack,” Shoko answered, “. . . and you were right.  That’s the way it should be.”  Henry just pursed his lips and shook his head, as if trying to fit this story into what he knew about Betty . . . and me.

And this time it seemed that I was responding to him.  “No, I was wrong.  But, in my unbelievable naivete, I thought I was right.  I thought Freddy had gotten the girl because he appreciated her more than Higgins did.  Eliza was mine, I thought, soaring on the idea, and I must cherish her.  Ah youth!  Ah humanity!  Whomever I’m misquoting sure knew what he was talking about.  But I still cherish the memory of the whole summer that that kiss climaxed.”

I looked out across the lake.  I’d seen the boat and skier a time or two, but they were out of sight again. “Where has the boat gone?” I asked.  “I thought it would be coming in.”

Shoko responded, “No, no.   It’s not even noon yet.”

“They’ve just begun to play,” Henry added.  “Go on with your story, Jack.  There’s plenty of time . . . and I’m enjoying  your early portrait of Betty . . . the innocent sophomore.”


Assignment for Bridge 3:

Read The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash, or, better, see the film version with Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.