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.
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.