wOw’s Question of the Week


Tell us: who’s the most surprising friend you’ve ever made? And why?

MARLO THOMAS: The most surprising friend I ever made was Uta Hagen. I took her master acting class a few years before she died because I had read her last book and was intrigued by the exercises she had created. After class I always had a question and we would talk for while. She was so smart, intuitive and generous . And then one night we walked around the corner for a drink — red wine for me and a big vodka for her. And then it became a habit after class, always with her little dog G.B. ( George Bernard, as in Shaw.) We talked about the work and men and regrets and always the work and our love of it. She was fun and bawdy and tough and truly adorable. I just loved hanging with her. She gave me a picture and a book of Duse, which I will always treasure.

LIZ SMITH: The most surprising friend I ever made was/is the great Shakespeare authority, Harold Bloom, of Yale. He is a highly-respected religious authority and what he doesn’t know about the Bard isn’t worth knowing.

When the movie of “Shakespeare in Love” was released and I was writing about it a lot, Mr. Bloom decided he wanted to meet me. I went downtown to his house on Washington Square and spent the most exciting literary hours I’ve ever enjoyed.

He was, of course, often totally over my head in speech and thought, but if I would just admit my ignorance and ask a question, he seemed to enjoy answering it. He told me that my kind of everyday modern popular approach to Shakespeare was the kind of “exposure” the Bard had always wanted – an everyman kind of  public appreciation. We discussed the movie, too, which he had liked very much.

Harold Bloom and I became pen pals, and the last time I saw him was in the New York Public Library where I seem to remember he was being made a “Library Lion.” He introduced me to his wife who was charming and seemed to be about his age, perhaps a little younger. I inquired of her, “Are you Harold’s trophy wife?” She found this very funny. So now I know exactly what to say to older married women.

I would like to recommend Harold Bloom’s great book “The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages” circa 1994.  It’s out in paperback.

SHEILA NEVINS: The most surprising new friend I have is Liz Smith. When wOw gave me a chance to know her better, I quickly joined up. For years prior I had read her columns and giggled over her books. She had pluck and wit, and her carefree attitude toward celebrity intimidated me. How could any kid from Texas not bow to fame? For this Lizzie person was impressed only  with quality and, though names courted her, she never curtsied. She was interested and curious about everything. She knows history and trivia and devours all kinds of books. Courteous to a fault, she sat at a table at some event questioning the help — seemingly totally bored by the glitterati. Once she casually introduced me to someone and said I was talented at what I did. I felt then that I was. I told her she was my aging role model — a cane to her would be a magic wand. Age was a number. Surprising indeed because, though I am deeply fond of her and admire her good-heartedness and generous spirit, it took me years to get the gumption to say even “hi.” Now Liz, she ain’t no Joan Of Arc, but she listens to her own voices. I love this dame, and only wish I’d had the blades to break the ice years ago. Liz teaches the punch to women. She’s a fair fighter. She’s a knockout.

JUDITH MARTIN: I would say that  I was rather surprised when my syndicate told me that Jessica Mitford wanted to fax me an etiquette question. It concerned her sister’s difficulty when traveling between London and her country house: There was no convenient bathroom, and would it be proper for her to stop on the side of the road? The sister’s name was not mentioned, but I replied that while it would be a treat for other commuters to glimpse the Duchess of Devonshire squatting in the bushes, it might cause traffic tie-ups, so perhaps we should get her one of those things that medieval ladies used  when they spent the whole day in church.

A correspondence developed, and Decca, as she was called, and her husband, Bob, visited when they were in Washington. One time she called to announce, “You’ve heard of mid-life career changes? I’m making an end-of-life career change,” and sent me a CD of “Decca and the Dectones” singing in a San Francisco club. I love it — she sounds just like an energetic, elderly English aristocrat. Soon after, she visited on her way to a club date in New York, and I asked if I could audition for her back-up group.
“You don’t have to audition,” she said. “You can be in it.”
“You don’t understand,” I said, “I can’t carry a tune.”
In her grand-lady voice, as if it were a point of pride, she replied, “Well, neither can I. Just come along tomorrow.”
To my everlasting regret, I said I couldn’t just then but would love to another time. Then she died, so there was no other time. Probably no one will ever again make me such an offer.

MARY WELLS LAWRENCE: We were on my boat in Italy, near Brindisi, on our way to Venice where guests would join us. I was hustling about, putting out new books and magazines and good Italian chocolates. It was a little dark, because we were traveling and lights were out in most of the boat.

I carried chocolates down to the lower level where the big guest rooms are and as I stepped onto the lower hall floor, I fell through the hatch, a large steel framed opening that is only opened for boat work. The engineers working on the hatch had tossed back the carpeting that usually covered the top when it was closed, as they were not expecting anyone — so that when I fell through the open hatch under the carpeting they were stunned and slow. They caught me as I almost disappeared into the sea and, in panic, didn’t know what to do with me hanging there.  The captain came running and everyone took hold of some part of me to raise me — but the problem they faced was that a hatch had a steel rim, like a frame, with a sharp edge. To lift me up through it was very dangerous indeed. But hanging there, I finally insisted they lift me. They did. And the steel rim of the hatch removed all the skin of one leg and half the skin of the other. It is impossible for me to describe the moment. I was rushed to the hospital in Brindisi with two legs that looked like shapeless hunks of hamburger.

Brindisi has a large hospital, and I was rushed to the emergency area. It was midday and as I, utterly stunned, was being rushed there, a man came out of the hospital heading for his car in the parking lot. It was very quiet. He was on his way home. No one was around. He barely noticed our small group. But out of nowhere, out of Brindisi’s silky sunny sky, he heard a very large insistent voice say: “Follow that woman!”  He looked around. There was absolutely no one in sight except me being pushed through the door of the emergency section of the hospital. The man was not a religious man. But the voice had been loud and commanding and, he says, it simply had to be the voice of God. So he turned around and followed that woman – me – into the hospital.

He, Luigi Marasco, turned out to be the head of the burn division and the plastic surgery division and a man with a booming heart. He relieved the terrified emergency doctors, took over with calm sureness, pulled magic papers out of his cabinet –new-age papers created to prevent infection and stimulate healing and, as if with a wand, he relieved my hysteria.

He adopted me. He came to the boat in the marina every day for two weeks. Then he came every four weeks. Then every six weeks. Bringing magic papers and lotions. I refused to look at my hamburger legs for a month or more.  But when Luigi told me I could look at them, I did — and they looked bad, but not impossible. That was 2005.

Luigi Marasco adopted my legs as part of me and insists on inspecting them regularly.  They now look very much like they did before I fell through the hatch. There are a few scars — but few.  The shape of both legs is exactly the same as before I pranced down the stairs towards the hatch. And he and I have had time to get to know each other very well. And to feel a permanent, deep, loving friendship I can’t imagine having with anyone unless I fell down another hatch.

12 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Am I the only one that believes that some things in life are just meant to be .  .  . that two people whose lives are on the same track may be destined to meet?  I certainly have found it to be true more than once.  . but this story — well, it takes the cake.

    How should I begin?  One night some years ago, I heard that NOVA was to have an hour-long program on the penguins of Antarctica, hosted by the world’s leading expert on one particular penguin – one that I too knew well.  As I listened, I found the scripted commentary sprinkled with errors – not huge, but errors nevertheless.  After being on many Antarctic expeditions myself, my own mind had been a sponge.  

    Carefully, I composed a lengthy letter to the expert, telling him that I had solid information that certain crucial statements made were probably not exactly correct.  For four months I heard nothing.  And then a letter came, saying that he had sat with my letter, not knowing how to respond as no one had EVER offered vital information that he had not known.  He actually said he was stunned.  (I too was stunned that he actually answered!)

    Letters flew back and forth across the country.  I knew he was thinking:  Who IS this woman has so much information?  He asked if he could call to ask more questions.  .  . but when we spoke, it was with the ease of old friends.  The calls came every Sunday morning for THREE years – long long calls,mostly about his subject (and mine) but intertwined with lots of verbal glimpses of our travels and our own lives.  

    It was time we met.  I was heading for Monterey; he was the head of a study of elephant seals just north of that city on the coast.  OMG, elephant seals was another subject I could hold my own on after many close encounters in the polar regions.  This was bound to be special.

    Of course, we really hugged when we met, both delighted to find we were the “real” — as well as scientific — kindred spirits that the years of phone calls had seemed to tell us we were.  We laughed a lot.  We were on the same page in how we felt about life — but still had the neverending stories or questions to throw out on our own observations, underwater and out, of our pursuit (well, only one of them for me) of these beautiful birds and their babes.

    No, this wasn’t the end.  When we weren’t in Antarctica where he spent tons of time, we wrote and called.  “Same time, next year” to meet seems our destiny.  It began with NOVA and the friendship still remains strong.

    By the way, this is not just any researcher.  . he is THE top in the world on his subject.  He even has a large mountain named after him that can be pulled up in the atlas.  And not too many years back, he was named the Explorer of the World by the Explorers Club of New York (THE best in the world also!!)

    A surprising friend?  Of course, as this story’s beginnings blow me away.  But to have found this fascinating, truly amazing explorer whose exploits never fail to enthrall me — and find he has become my special friend?  I think we both believe we are truly blessed. 


    • avatar xelagirl says:

      Just want to send a hello and let you know that since you introduced me to your daughter and wheels went round, I now live and teach in Guatemala.  Thank you for an interesting entre!

  2. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    My Mother.  At some point in my early 30’s we went from being Mother/Son to best friends.  I can’t tell you the exact moment it happened, or any one thing that stands out as the trigger to the transformation, but at some point there it was.  We had lunch once a week, just the two of us.  She was wonderful.  She gave advice when I asked for it, or just listened when that was what I needed.  She taught me how to just listen as a friend.  Being an alpha-male, of course, our first instinct it to “fix it” and that is always not what your friend wants/needs.  She and I had the same sense of humor, and there was never a time I could not make her laugh or vice-versa.  Even during the most serious or sad times.  I confided in her and she confided in me.  We shared secrets.  We loved each other for everything each other was and despite everything each other was, but with never a hint of judgement.  When I lost her a couple of years ago, of course it was hard, but it was doubly hard.  I mean, who do your turn to when you lose your Mother?  Your best friend of course.  So it was a double loss.  I still sometimes (though less and less) pick up the phone and start dialing when I have “news”.

  3. avatar Maggie W says:

    Touching tribute by the Count. For years, my mom and would always call one another at 7:00 on Sunday evenings. On Sundays, I often look at the clock and just wish. My mom passed away in 2005 and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and long to hear her voice. I have so much to tell her and always will. 
    In 1982, we were fishing in Cozumel. The charter boats all had good luck that day. As we came in, I saw a young woman on a bicycle waiting for the boats. I struck up a conversation with her, although my Spanish at that time was limited to a handful of nouns. She was there hoping a boat captain might part with a fish. Within a few minutes, she had received two fish. As she biked away, she suddenly circled back and invited my husband and me to her home that evening to sample her fish.
    That evening was so spectacular and the food also. We dined outside under the stars with a couple of dgs snoozing at our feet. Maria and her mom were the chefs. Maria’s fiancée, Joseph, was there. Her father, the mayor, was there along with her brothers , sisters, grandparents. Shy neighbors dropped in to meet the Americans. It was an evening to remember. Four months later we returned for Joseph and Maria’s wedding. Over the years, we have kept in touch, visited , and in 1996, we spent New Year’s with them.
    I have often thought the world would be such a better place if everyone had a touch of Maria in them. She is one of the most unassuming persons I know. Maria is happy with her life and happy to share what she has with friends, family, and strangers like those she met in 1982. There is not a materialistic bone in her body. Her ever present smile and curiosity about the world are her trademarks. My life has been enriched because I was fortunate to be on that pier one fall day in 1982.

  4. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    I was pregnant with my son, Robert, when two older sisters adopted me because their grandchildren were in Cleveland, Ohio and my family was elsewhere. Sarah and Beckie became surrogate grandparents to my son and more family than friends until they passed. Their wisdom and patience helped over some very rough spots when Robert went back in the hospital. I am a better person because they were in my life.

  5. avatar D C says:

    I had to think on this one a while, and I have come to the conclusion that my husband’s oldest friend (since junior high) is the most surprising friend I have ever made.  I met my husband during college (he was at one school, me at another).  We were introduced by the girl that happened to be dating my husband’s best and oldest friend.  It was supposed to be “get my friend a date for the weekend”.  When our relationship became more, the friend started telling my husband that I wasn’t worth all the time he was putting in.  My future husband was spending a lot more time on me than he was on his buddies, and since I lived 3 hours away, he spent a lot of weekends coming to where I was instead of hanging out with the guys.  Eventually he came around though, and he is “Uncle” to my kids, and like a brother to me. 

  6. avatar Mary E. Sayler says:

    My Father.  He was always there for me regardless of what I did.  I was the eldest of three and my Mother and I were too much alike so our relationship had its ups and downs, although she too was there for me when it really counted.  While Mom taught me all the Housewife chores, Dad taught me all the skills I need to take care of myself–knowing what is wrong with my car, changing tire, fixing the toilet, a leak in the sink, etc.  He told me there was nothing in the world that I could not do.  One of his biggest lessons was that every problem had a solution and that you had no right to complain if you couldn’t take the time to find a solution to it.  Dad died in January 2009 at 95 years and I know that I will never again have a friend like him.  He and Mom were the best examples of how to be a good, meaningful person I could have ever had.  I miss them both but Dad in particular because I had more time with him and he was my light on the road of life.

  7. avatar Community Manager says:

    Lovely answers and comments from all.  Beautiful!

  8. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    My mother died when I was 23 and as she was exiting someone else was entering who would become someone I will always regard as not only a treasured friend but as my second mother. 

    Her name was Eleanor Searle Whitney McCollum and she wrote an autobiography titled Invitation to Joy: A Personal Story which is in constant circulation despite being out of publication for some time. I occasionally will order a copy to give to someone. Sometimes there is an inscription from her. Sometimes from someone else. It is currently available on Amazon for a penny. I find pennies on the sidewalk all the time. And tell myself someone just ordered another copy to give to someone and god sent me the penny to remind me of all she meant to me. And of the absolute faith I found because of her. She gave me three copies along the way. Each I gave to someone else.  Spreading the joy perhaps.  And it was and is joy. She went from blind faith to absolute faith which is the one thing she left me of our friendship that I value more than anything else.  Ours were certainly different paths. But the same. We both believed deeply in god. I blindly. She absolutely.  I now absolutely as well. 

    She would go on to find love a second time and a new life in Houston after she wrote the autobiography. I asked her once why she never wrote a sequel.   “You are all my sequel.” 

    When I first met her I suspected she wanted to save my soul. She was known affectionately as the Auntie Mame of Christianity.  I, of course, had no desire to be saved. I was having too much fun.  In the end, she saved my soul without my realizing she had.  And I suspect she saved many others. Her story of finding absolute faith is now a penny. But absolute faith itself, which I have because of her, is priceless.  As is each penny I find on the sidewalk.

  9. avatar Linda Myers says:

    I have been reading the comments this week and thinking about this question. Surprising I would take as maybe being an unexpected friendship from the way you met maybe?
    For me, one would be a black girl in the seventh grade. I had just been moved from a very rural type area to Des Moines at 12, started in a huge junior high much larger than even the high school where I came from and a quick wakening to another way kids interacted. The beginnings to meeting Portia was in the gym locker room after class one day when for some very stupid reason on my part I let my mouth get into a discussion between her and another girl. We were both stubborn and within minutes I had engaged a fight between myself, her and the other girl. By the time it was over all three of us bought a suspension, great way to start a new school.
    After returning from our three day out of school think tank time, there she was in the hallway. I froze when she walked towards me, at maybe 100 pounds and pure muscle she had landed some serious punches a few days before. She just looked at me and said “your not bad”. From that day on and for almost the next three years before we chose different high schools, we became great friends. I lived two blocks west of Drake Stadium and she lived two blocks east, with the stadium grounds being a place to meet. During high school our paths rarely crossed again. The last time I saw her was when my oldest daughter was a baby and I had taken her to the ER one night. While in the waiting room they brought Portia in on a ambulance for a drug overdose. Sadly probably 1/2 the friends I had at that time, never lived really to adulthood. Drinking and drugs took them out of this world. She was wild, special, a great friend that halted any bigotry in me for a lifetime.

  10. avatar Laurie Deer says:

    The most surprising friend I ever made is relatively new in my life, I met here over a year ago through our children.  She is very kind, strong willed and witty.  She invited my husband and I to a dinner party with an eclectic group of friends and I had one of the best times ever.
    Despite her suffering the death of her husband and a dear friend, she still manages to smile, have fun and live a very interesting life.