I was in the midst of writing a blog last Friday (which was to be followed by several chores in the house) when a package arrived at my front door. Taking my time opening it as to enjoy every second of anticipation, I read Robert Franklin’s (the president of McFarland Publishers) letter several times before taking out a book. Even though I had already seen the cover and proofs, I was thrilled with its glossy and handsome presentation. I put all of my chores on hold (which wasn’t too difficult) and walked down the street to a charming tea house here where I had a bowl of soup, some finger sandwiches, and blackberry tea on ice. My friends who work there were teasing me, asking if I was reading my own book. “Of course,” I replied.
Today, I am doing those chores (giving baths to our pets, mowing the lawn, and cleaning the first floor of the house) but first I thought I would write the above news as well as dedicate this blog to my friend, Mr. Gable.
When I first began my research for The Peter Pan Chronicles (back in 1990), I was running to the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center almost every other Saturday. On one occasion, as I was exiting the building with a bundle of books under my arm, I ran into an elderly man with white hair, mustache, and the most gravely voice I had ever heard. “Why are you reading about Marilyn Miller?” he asked me with a directness that was a bit disconcerting.
“I’m writing a book about Peter Pan,” I answered somewhat timidly, “and Marilyn Miller played Peter in 1924.”
Without missing a beat the man excitedly told me that he had seen Marilyn Miller on stage, he had worked as a scenic painter at NBC while Mary Martin performed her version of Peter Pan there, and, get this–he had a collection of photos of Mary and Marilyn that I might want to use in my book. We exchanged numbers and a few weeks later I was invited to Mr. Robert Gable’s apartment in NYC where he shared his space with a black cat and his huge and fantastic collection of scrapbooks.
For the next few years while I was still living in Staten Island, Mr. Gable came to our house for holidays such as Christmas and Easter, he attended school plays I directed, and together we would traipse to paper shows (something new to me). My favorite times, however, were at his small apartment (the toilet was in the building hallway and his bathtub was in the kitchen which, with a flip top, also served as a kitchen table) where he shared stories about Marilyn Miller, Mary Martin, Judy Garland, and his favorite, Ethel Merman.
Mr. Gable was there on opening night for two Peter Pans (Arthur and Martin) on Broadway; he was there for Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy with Merman; Rosalie with Marilyn Miller, South Pacific with Martin; and he was in the audience for Judy Garland’s appearances at the Palace and Carnegie Hall as well as her Judy Takes Broadway midnight recording session for Capitol Records. I would just sit and listen, spellbound to his wonderfully detailed accounts.
Mr. Gable passed away a few years ago; I still miss him. When I moved down to Virginia I would try to get to NYC at least once a year to visit him. On one such visit, Dale came along and we had dinner with Harvey Schmidt and Mr. Gable, who were best friends (both had been scenic painters at NBC). You see, Mr. Gable introduced me to Harvey who arranged for me to interview Mary Martin. Harvey, of course, composed the music for The Fantasticks and later, I Do, I Do and Grover’s Corner for Mary. I know that Mr. Gable would be tickled pink with the new, Peter Pan On Stage and Screen, and like a father, he would be proud of me.