Monday, February 16, 2015

My Alter Ego

This is how I think I am...

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a movie star. I was in a few amateur theatre productions, and I wanted to major in theatre when I left for college. I had many adventures in the theatre department, played some good roles, and always imagined I was going to make it either in the movies or onstage. My first husband joined me in this fantasy, as we planned to capitalize on my talent and both be famous one day. His dream was to be an opera impresario--I didn't know what that was, but it sounded good to me.

My name would have to go. I tossed around a number of stage names--one of them I liked was Robin Graham. Graham was my mother's maiden name and is my brother's first name. Mary Lois Timbes was cumbersome and didn't have the right ring to it.

Lately I've thought what-if. What if I had taken the name of Robin Graham, not married early, not had a baby at the age of 22, not taken the turns I did in life. What would have become of Robin Graham, the movie star?

For one thing, she would have lived in California. She would have worked with actors in her age group--Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Sam Waterston, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandan. She would have learned acting with strict teachers, shed some of her inhibitions, stopped biting her fingernails, taken voice training, and learned to sing. She would have been coached on how to sit for photographs so she would not always looked strained and awkward in snapshots. She would have had a first-rate shrink or two.  She never would have gotten the least bit fat. She would have exercised regularly and eaten minimally. She would weigh about 30 pounds less than I do at this point.  By now she probably would have had work done on her face and maybe her body. She would know how to enter a room in an unforgettable way.

But. She never would have had that extraordinary daughter that Mary Lois Timbes got. She wouldn't have lived in Geneva for six years as wife of the head of public affairs and advertising of DuPont Europe.  She wouldn't have started two theatre companies and written three books. She wouldn't have two strapping, good-looking grandsons with potential to do everything. Whatever Robin Graham's fun-filled life would have been, it wouldn't have been as rewarding as the one Mary Lois Timbes Woods Vann Adshead has had.

I've decided to keep Robin Graham alive in my imagination, however. I like thinking about her. Then one day recently on Facebook somebody posted the picture above, with my face photoshopped on a publicity still from Into the Woods. The slim young waist with its cheerful head made me instantly happy. It's what Robin Graham would look like. It's what I think I look like.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Dying of the Light

A Recent Picture
Some people live with us forever. We think of them often, and we regard them as vital, dynamic, swirling about in their own lives, on top of their problems and at the top of their game. We know there are ups and downs, but, because of their resilience and resourcefulness, they live in our imaginations as always charging upward.

Such a man was Mort Gordon, who hired me for my first job in New York City, a young woman with a smattering of newspaper experience, hoping to crack the city one way or another.  It was with great sorrow that I learned of his death Friday at the age of 87. His was a strong and happy spirit, and he was a light in the lives of many who knew and worked with him. I had not seen him in over 40 years, but he remains as vivid to me anyone I've ever known.

Mort was one of the co-editors of a trade newspaper, and I was to be secretary and editorial assistant to him and Herb Blueweiss. Mort was tall, breezy, sexy--and Herb was short, balding, bookish, and somewhat enigmatic. The two were close friends, symbiotic in their mutual admiration, and together they created an atmosphere of casual competence in the newsroom. The company was Fairchild Publications and the newspaper was a men's wear and textile industry outlet called Daily News Record.

Mort was a good editor and a gentle guy with people; he was the one we’d take our stories to if we had a problem.
Exactly as I remember him
He cut a wide swath through his segment of the men's wear industry--furnishings--meaning shirts, ties, and accessories. He was liked by the staff who worked for him and the men and women in the industry he wrote about, because of his big personality and his sincerity with people.

Fairchild was housed in two buildings, back to back. The front door was at 7 East 12th Street, an entrance into a modern if characterless building where the sleeker publications were produced. A plain lobby housed a front desk and a bank of three elevators. If you took this elevator to the third floor you were in the world of Women’s Wear Daily, full of chicly dressed young women at desks with typewriters, reporting on the future of hemlines, and a few hapless males writing about the business side of the women’s fashion industry.

If you were going to the Daily News Record office, you had to make a trek through these desks on past the fey characters of the art department on the right and through a passageway to the back building. This structure was decidedly old, housing some geezers who wrote columns called “Words at Random,” and “Cotton Grey Goods,” as well as some serious guys discussing such topics as the necktie market, textile machinery, the staying power of the “mod” fashion in the youth market. You would also see a passel of merry pranksters looking for their next big journalism break. As a secretary, I fit cozily into that latter category.

You could also enter DNR the back way, up the stairs or in the creaky old elevator in the shabby 13th Street building. At that end of the room were the financial desk, the legal reporters, and a smattering of other market desks.

I worked at DNR off and on for some six years from the mid-60’s until the early 70’s when I left for good for the greener pastures of public relations, but I left having made the acquaintance of some of the most interesting characters of my life, and having made some friends I still see today. There is a surreal quality to my memories of the place. Every reporter, every editor, even the copy kids—all were distinct in his or her view of their employment. They took their work with a grain of salt, but basically performed it well. It took some doing for an incipient novelist to call on the little knitting mills producing men’s sweaters and report the company’s financial and marketing plans. Mort Gordon was responsible in no small for the tone of the place--he managed us all in the best sense of the word.

A native of Philadelphia, Gordon graduated from Temple University with a B.S. in journalism. After service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, he returned to Philadelphia went to work as a reporter in Fairchild’s Philadelphia bureau. He was a born salesman, and soon moved up the ranks at Fairchild to become publisher of Men's Wear Magazine, a prestigious industry publication. After he left Fairchild he had a long career in the business of licensing men's wear products.

Mort had suffered from pancreatic cancer, and yet he kept his upbeat attitude until the end, still playing tennis and probably flirting with the nurses. I'll always think of how happy I felt when he'd stream into the newsroom, always nattily dressed, usually with just the right amount of a light cologne, a ready laugh, and a good word.