On the morning of July 15, Lucille Kahn telephoned. "Gloria Swanson wants to meet you. She has always been interested in psychic developments. Can you come to my apartment tomorrow night?"
It turned out that Lucille and Gloria as young,
aspiring actresses had been close friends back in the days of Old Broadway.
Lucille abandoned her acting career to marry David Kahn; Gloria had gone
on to Hollywood -- thence to become THE Gloria Swanson of tremendous and
worldwide fame -- and later the mistress of Joseph Kennedy when he was ambassador
to Great Britain.
"Gloria is very careful and particular about
food, you know," Lucille went on, "because she nearly died from
eating mercury-laden fish in Portugal. I'm getting the freshest fish and
strawberries. I'll call you back later with your instructions."
"Well, yes. You have to collect her at the theater and bring her to my apartment."
I had only $40 to my name, not enough to hire a
car to stand by. Then there was the problem of WHAT TO WEAR since the weather
was hot as Hades and I was fatter than ever. I finally decided on a nice
suit made of good blue denim. I had to let out the pants a little.
But I struggled into all of this, and in the theater district found a taxi and explained the situation to him. He agreed to stand by with the meter running.
I then proceeded to follow my instructions -- which
were harrowing. I had to report to the stage manager of the play BUTTERFLIES
ARE FREE in which Swanson had the lead role. I finally managed to do this.
He said Swanson was expecting me and I was to wait in her dressing room
backstage and then went off without telling me where it was.
I forget how I found her dressing room. Soon the
play was over. I could hear the applause and curtain calls. Then I heard
Swanson screaming at some one outside the door, and she steamed in. "WHO
the fuck are YOU?" she demanded. I explained, totally intimidated.
"SIT THERE," she pointed, "I'll be right with you." So, I SAT, sweating up a flood. She went behind the proverbial dressing room screen and changed almost in full sight of my eyes which didn't know where to look.
When dressed, Gloria was still muttering about
something. She shoved two bottles of cologne or perfume into my hands. "HOLD
THOSE," she commanded. So I HELD THOSE.
Then, without warning: "Well, come on," and she left the room with me trailing.
When we exited the stage door at the BACK of the
theater (our taxi was waiting at the front, a block away), there were at
least 200 people waiting for autographs.
At this, SWANSON turned into the kindest, most considerate Bird of Paradise. She gave me the two bags she was carrying -- and which weighed a ton each -- and started signing playbills left and right.
The taxi meter was ticking away.
What would happen if I didn't have enough money? GOD!
Finally, I didn't know what to do -- except push
through the crowd, take SWANSON firmly by an arm, and say loud enough: "We're
going to be late for the next appointment." Then I simply dragged her
out of the crowd, apologized that the taxi was on another street.
Finally, we were in it, and on the way to Lucille's
apartment building. "So," Swanson said sweetly, "tell me
everything about yourself." I did my best.
Arriving at Lucille's building, I paid the taxi
off -- and had $2.50 left. And I knew I had to take HER home in another
The three doormen at Lucille's apartment building took one look at WHO was coming through the door -- and virtually bowed down at her passing, not one word being exchanged. I followed up the rear with the tonnage of the two bags.
So we got into the elevator -- and Swanson saw the two bottles I was still HOLDING.
"WHAT ARE you doing with THOSE?"
"Well, you asked me to hold them back at the
"Oh, JESUS CHRIST. Give them to me." She put them in one of the tonnage bags. "I hope YOU KNOW WHICH APARTMENT we're going to."
"Yes, I know the way."
"Isn't it this WAY?" she asked.
"No, Ma'am, it's THIS WAY."
Lucille was a bit slow coming to the door. "JESUS,"
SHE said. "ARE YOU SURE this is the right apartment??"
The door opened, and the two girls fell into each other's arms, and Lucille then closed it -- with ME still outside of it. In NY apartment buildings, doors LOCK when they close. I waited -- and waited -- and finally had to ring the bell AGAIN.
Now there were drinks. Swanson didn't DRINK. I
DID. Lucille DID. We sat and chatted. Lucille began telling HER about me.
I sat and listened.
Then we moved to the table. I seated Swanson, sat myself, and picked up the pink napkin. Lucille began bitching about the trouble she had gone through to get all the special and EXPENSIVE foods Gloria would like.
"My DEAR, you shouldn't have bothered. I only eat my own food. I've brought a thermos of SOUP with me."
"WHAT!" Lucille screamed. "You're
NOT eating MY food?"
I opened the wine and poured myself a large glass. The cat fight went on -- and then went on some more.
I was VERY shaken. I guzzled the whole glass --
and poured me another. I tried politely interrupting. Neither paid me any
So, my brain in a red haze with blue spots in it, I grasped for WHAT TO DO -- and then without knowing what to do I stood up and SAID: "WHAT THE FUCK is going on HERE???"
Both SHUT UP like obedient daughters. SHE ate her
SOUP. Lucille and I ate the sole almondine and fresh strawberries. We chatted
as nothing had happened. I got quite tipsy, as did Lucille.
We "dished" the American Society for Psychical Research, we dished everyone and everything -- and SHE finally decided to have a glass of wine. SHE got tipsy -- and HER famous red lipstick got EVERYWHERE, on napkins, the table cloth, on the glasses -- and, somehow, on my SHIRT.
THEN -- Lucille brought out the champagne. We toasted the future of psychic research. I laughed. Lucille went into her tiny kitchen to putter. SHE and I stepped out on the small balcony overlooking Central Park. We necked. It was ALL SO NATURAL AND WORDLESS.
Red LIPSTICK now EVERYWHERE.
I felt like I had stepped into OZ.
Lucille gave me money for the next TAXI.
It was the SAME taxi -- the driver of which said it was his honor to wait and didn't charge anything.
Letter dated July 18, 1972 from Swann to Swanson:
"It was indeed a pleasure talking with you last evening, and I am greatly
appreciative of your time. Enclosed are the several items we talked about.
I hope they are interesting to you. Again, if there is anything I can do
to support your work, please ask. Best wishes for the summer in Portugal
and your future."
Swanson telephoned to say I was too fat. She gave
me HER macrobiotic diet. I tried it for ten days -- and ended up so weak
I had to crawl on hands and knees to the toilet. But I lost about 25 pounds.
Gloria went to Portugal for the rest of the summer. I gained about 25 pounds. When she returned, we thereafter talked at least once a day by telephone.
Swanson was later to become the biggest jewel in
my espionage system. She knew everyone who was anyone, and everyone wanted
to know her if they were no one or whatever else they might be. But she
was a very big gun -- and I utilized her only if and when all else failed.
Her interest in psychic matters was profound and well-grounded.
She really knew how to play HARDBALL. I learned from her.
She terrified everyone, and wouldn't be nice if they were terrified. If they were not terrified, she could be as sweet as plum pudding. She couldn't keep a house boy or maid for more than five days. This drove her to destraction.
SHE was magical.