Authors: Lorna Luft
Tags: #Biographies & Memoirs, #Arts & Literature, #Actors & Entertainers, #Composers & Musicians, #Television Performers, #Leaders & Notable People, #Rich & Famous, #Memoirs, #Specific Groups, #Women, #Humor & Entertainment
I was painfully jealous. I felt as if I had been replaced in my mother’s affection, and I desperately wanted to return to the days
before Joe was born. I had never been jealous of Liza; she was nearly seven years older, and she spent a lot of time at her father’s house. Liza and I lived in separate worlds at that age. Her presence never threatened my position as my mother’s baby. Joey was another story.
My jealousy led to a crisis when Joey was about a year old. I’d resented his presence in our home. I would stand next to his crib and stare at him when he cried, wondering why he didn’t shut up, wondering why he was always crying and squawking. Eventually I just couldn’t take it anymore. One night when he was crying, I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night and went over to his crib. The little intruder was lying there, making that awful racket again. I’d had enough of the noise and more than enough of Joe, so when he continued to cry, I decided to do something about it.
I climbed over the crib railing, into the crib with him. I still remember bending over him, staring at his face in the darkness. Joe was a beautiful baby, round and plump by that time, with a head full of blond curls. To me, though, he was the enemy, the creature who had stolen my parents. After staring at him for a moment, I suddenly lost control. Overcome with pain and anger, I began scratching at his face, gouging as deeply as I could with my fingernails until blood was running down Joey’s face. His screams awakened the nanny, and the next thing I knew I was being pulled out of his crib, and all hell had broken loose.
I had really done it. I got the spanking of my life, and my mother was too angry to speak to me for days afterward. I don’t blame her. At three I was too young to understand the seriousness of what I’d done, but I did when I grew up. I could have seriously injured my brother. Forty years later Joe still has a deep scar under his eye, about three-quarters of an inch long, where I scratched him that night. At the time I not only hurt my brother but made everything worse for myself, because now everybody loved the baby even more and was angry with me. Life seemed barely worth living.
My father tried to help. A couple of days after the “incident,”
we flew to New York and he took me out to breakfast at Lindy’s. My mother had told him, “Take your daughter out of here,” because she was still so angry with me. My dad thought it might help if we spent some time together, just the two of us. I think he knew how miserable I was.
Dad carried me into Lindy’s and introduced me to Milton Berle, who was sitting with friends in a nearby booth. My dad vividly remembers how I looked that morning. I was dressed up in a little blue coat, white gloves, white stockings, and little pumps. Dad says I looked “cute as hell.” He asked me what I wanted for breakfast. In full pout, I told him “nothing.” He went through the whole menu item by item: You want pancakes? No. You want eggs? No. And so on and so on. No matter what he named, I said I didn’t want it. I wasn’t going to be bought that easily.
Finally my dad gave up and ordered his own breakfast. He was furious with me by that point. I sat next to him and stared at him in angry silence as he polished off a large meal. Every now and then he’d offer me a bite, but I’d have none of it. I was miserable, and I was bound and determined to make everyone around me as miserable as I was. If my parents were going to keep Joey, I was going to make them pay. My dad finished his breakfast and paid, and as we walked out of Lindy’s, a woman approached us and asked if she could take our picture. I said, “No pictures, please,” as I’d heard my mother say many times.
Dad glared at me and said, “Stand there and have your picture taken.” I saw that picture once. I’m standing there, holding my father’s hand, looking as if I’d like to strangle someone.
It wasn’t the last time I made my parents angry. Joey and I were in the living room one afternoon when he was a toddler; my dad had fallen asleep in the chair nearby. Somehow Joe got hold of a big pencil with soft brown lead, and he started drawing on the carpet. The carpet was very light, so the pencil marks stood out clearly. Joe started scribbling on the white carpet. Now, I was old enough to know better, but instead of trying to take the pencil away from Joey or waking up my dad, I just let my brother keep drawing. The whole time he scribbled, I kept thinking, “This is
great. Boy, is he in for it. He’s going to get in so much trouble when Dad wakes up.” By the time Dad did wake up, the carpet was a mess. Unfortunately for me, though, my plan backfired. When my father saw the pencil marks and realized I had sat by the whole time and let Joe do it, he was angrier with me than with Joe.
“You’re the oldest!” he told me. “What did you think you were doing? Joe’s just a baby. He doesn’t know any better!” Once again, I was in trouble. Life can be tough when you’re the big sister.
I must have driven my father crazy, but he was remarkably patient with me. All my memories of my dad during those early years are good ones. He was one of those dads who would throw you in the air and roughhouse with you. We had a big trampoline in the backyard, and Dad and Liza and I (and Joe when he got big enough) would bounce around on it together. Leslie Bogart or Sammy Cahn’s kids or Dean Martin’s kids would come over and jump on the trampoline, too. It was great. I thought my dad was the strongest man in the world. I remember him chopping down a tree in the backyard at Mapleton. The tree was really big, a tall eucalyptus. One weekend a couple of guys came over with a big electric saw, and my dad cut the tree down. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. My dad was a regular Paul Bunyan.
It was always fun when my parents were around. When they had to go out of town for Mama’s concerts, it seemed too quiet until they got back. Every now and then, Joey and I would be allowed to go to one of our mother’s concerts, and that was the best of all.
Concert nights were very special occasions. Joey and I would be dressed up in our best clothes and driven with our nanny to the theater a little while before the performance. Our nanny would take us backstage to our mother’s dressing room, where Mama would give us a kiss and then send us out front with the nanny while she got ready to go on. Guards would escort us to our seats in the front row, and then the concert would begin.
Those were amazing, magical evenings. My mother was
electric onstage, and I vividly recall the extraordinary power she had over her audiences. They would laugh and cry and cheer for most of the evening. My mom would look down at us regularly as she sang, and sometimes she even sang to us. That was really special. At some point in the performance she would bring us up onstage and introduce us to the audience. There is a famous picture of her lifting me up to the microphone at one of her concerts to say hello to the audience. I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. The concerts never ended until way past our bedtime, and sometimes, in spite of the excitement, I would fall asleep before it was over. Joey, though, never fell asleep. Small as he was, our mother’s concerts so enraptured him that he would sit wide-eyed through the whole thing, his little legs sticking out over the edge of the theater seat. He remembers those early concerts as the best moments of his life. His face still takes on a nostalgic glow when he talks about them.
My parents went out a lot at night in those years, but they gave a lot of parties at home as well. Sometimes we would give a barbecue outside in the afternoon, but usually the parties would be at night, dress-up parties with lots of celebrities. Kay Thompson would come, and the Bogarts, and Roger Edens and Frank Sinatra. To me, of course, the people who came were just friends of my parents. At that age I hadn’t seen their movies; I hadn’t even seen most of my mother’s movies. It’s not as if Frank Sinatra arrived in a sailor suit, ready to sing and dance for us. He was just Uncle Frank to me. The first one to arrive was always Roger Edens. I loved his deep voice and southern accent, and I’d go running to meet him when he came through the door. He’d always pick me up and throw me in the air and carry me around. He was the kind of man you could climb on if you wanted to be held, and he would pick you up and give you a hug. Humphrey Bogart, on the other hand, was something else entirely. Climbing on Humphrey Bogart was unthinkable, even though he was my best friend’s father. When he came in the door, it was always just “Hello, Mr. Bogart,” and remembering my manners.
My parents felt very strongly about good manners. Liza and Joe and I were always told to be very polite, especially to adults. My mother was determined that we be respectful and well-behaved. She detested what she called the “B.H. [Beverly Hills] Brats,” and she would give us a sharp remark and a swat on the bum if we were rude. She had a way of looking at us with her big black eyes that made us straighten up. She was always the shortest adult in a room, but nobody crossed her, certainly not me.
I had to go to bed before the parties got started, so the preparation was the best part for me. I got to stay up long enough to watch my mom put on her party clothes and makeup. It fascinated me to watch her turn into a movie star. Then I would go in the other rooms and watch the staff get things ready for the guests. The big den next to the living room was the center of the festivities. Card tables would be set up near the bar because the men always played poker. I still remember the smell of cigarettes and cocktails in that room the next morning. My dad always made his famous clam dip, which was delicious, and I got to taste it. My mother always put on records, usually her own or Sinatra’s, so the room would be filled with music when people arrived.
I’d get to greet the very first guests, but then it was time for Joe and me to be in bed. Just about the time everyone got there, I’d have to get ready for bed. My nanny would whisk me away, put me in my nightgown, and take me back to my parents only long enough for a good-night kiss. Then it was off to sleep for me and Joe. People like to imagine me half asleep on a couch taking it all in, but it’s not true. (Frank Sinatra is the one who sometimes slept on the couch.) Liza got to stay up later because she was older. Sometimes she fell asleep under the piano, but I never knew because I was sound asleep myself. My mother usually sang at my parents’ parties; it was one of her favorite things to do, and Roger Edens would accompany her on our piano.
It was at one of those parties at our house, in fact, that the idea of the Rat Pack got started. My parents would have these
parties and invite everyone on the Hollywood “A List,” but they never invited the columnists. My parents didn’t like the press, and they saw no reason why they should have to invite these people into their home. Some of those they excluded were very powerful people who were used to being catered to. Columnist Sheilah Graham, angered by her exclusion from the guest list, referred to the guests at my parents’ parties as “that rat pack” in her gossip column. Irving “Swifty” Lazar (the famous literary agent and good friend of my parents’) thought the term was really funny. Instead of being offended by the reference, he suggested that they adopt it as their nickname. Swifty had little stickpins made, shaped like rats, with rubies for eyes, and he gave them to my parents and their friends. After that they would wear the rat pins when they came to our house, which must have made Sheilah even madder.
The adults weren’t the only ones who got to have parties. The kids got to have parties, too. It seemed as though it was always someone’s birthday. However, all the parties seemed to be catered by the same Beverly Hills rent-a-party company because every single one had the exact same format and the same cast of characters. I laughed when I saw Christina Crawford’s birthday party in
because I recognized it; I swear it was the same party.
The parties were always held outside. This was southern California, remember. The caterers would arrive early and set up a carousel and some tables and chairs in the backyard. Then the children would arrive. There were usually fifteen or twenty of them, with their parents, so there were about forty people altogether. The kids always wore their best dress-up clothes. For the girls this meant party dresses and little white socks with black patent leather shoes. The boys wore little suits, and we all put on party hats. The celebrity mothers would all wear the same outfit, too: slacks with flats and those big, baggy blouses. I have a picture of me and my mom, with my best friend, Leslie Bogart, and her mom, all leaving one of the birthday parties together. My mom and Betty Bacall are wearing almost exactly the same thing, the uniform, as I like to call it. The only difference is that Leslie’s mom is wearing a scarf.
They always served the same lunch, creamed chicken on toast, really disgusting and a very odd choice for kids. There were always clowns to entertain. We’d play games and ride on the carousel and blow out the candles on the cake, and finally we’d open the presents. Every year it was the same. It really was a case of “If you’ve been to one Beverly Hills party, you’ve been to them all.” Joey didn’t have many parties there because he was so young, but Liza did. The older kids got the same basic party, with the exact same caterer, just a slightly older version, which meant creamed chicken but no clowns. Liza’s parties were with Candice Bergen, Mia Farrow, Gail Martin, and their celebrity parents, and so on and so forth. Same place, same thing, slightly older cast.
Not that I would have attended Liza’s party, you understand. People always want to know what I remember about Liza when she was young, and the answer is, “Almost nothing.” You have to remember that she is seven years older than me (nine years older than Joey), and when you’re little, that’s a huge difference. Liza was at school all day and was usually off doing things with her friends in the afternoons. A lot of the time she was at Vincente’s. Even when she was home, she was busy with her own things. What preteen girl wants to play with her preschool sibling? Sometimes the generation gap was especially obvious. I remember sitting at the dinner table with the nanny one night when Liza came racing to the dinner table late. My parents weren’t there; I think they were out that night. Liza seemed nervous, and as she dived quickly into her food, I noticed a strong menthol smell coming from under the table. I leaned down to look under the table, and there were Liza’s legs, all smeared with this awful-smelling white stuff that was partly scraped off. I had no idea what it was. I straightened back up in my chair and started to say something when I saw Liza look daggers at me. She didn’t say a word, but it was clear to me that if I said anything about what I’d seen, I was dead. I clammed up and ate my meat loaf as best I could amid the odor of menthol. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I’d witnessed my sister’s first, failed attempt to shave her legs.