BITS and PIECES # 43

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February 27, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 43

Hello again from Luquillo,

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you, all — some health issues have been pestering both Pam and I, requiring pesky tests and time-consuming doctor visits — so, as a consequence, my writing (and Pam’s abundant master level hand-knitting projects) have recently suffered temporary slowdowns…

A couple of weeks ago my voluble ‘e-pal’ Paul Herriott told me that his Canadian confrere Christopher Plummer’s Tony award winning performance in the 1997 Broadway production ‘Barrymore’ had been filmed at some point, and thus made available as a movie…

Paul generously lets me ‘peek over his shoulder’, on occasion, to vicariously (and somewhat enviously) share anecdotes from his long list of encounters with theatre, movie and television personalities amassed during his long career as a TV advertising executive in Canada (you can read about Paul on his website: paulherriott.ca)…

I swiftly discovered the Plummer film on Netflix (actually, full disclosure requires me to reveal that it was my wife, a much more accomplished ‘techie’ than I, who did the research and subsequent downloading of the film to our ‘Roku device!)…

Viewing Mr. Plummer’s insightful portrayal evoked some vivid personal memories of Mr. Barrymore while in the ‘September’ of his turbulent life, and how his close friendship with my father (and mother), happily extended to my sister and me…

The brief account that follows is an attempt to recapture three of these delightful episodes as best as I can, and thus bring them back to life for you to assess, after so many years have passed…

MR. BARRYMORE…

On weekends, during his declining years, actor John Barrymore and his pal, artist John Decker often enjoyed hanging-around by the swimming pool at our Beverly Hills home — they would arrive in the afternoon, retire to canvas chairs next to the pool, swapping stories and re-living past adventures, while slowly sipping drinks concocted at dad’s rumpus room bar. In the late afternoon they would de-camp, occasionally returning at nightfall when they would relocate to the rumpus room to reminisce while drinking and playing billiards…

During their daytime visits, mom would confront Mr. Barrymore, shake her index finger sternly in his face (always a bad sign), cautioning him to ‘kindly modify’ his ‘colorful’ language whenever my sister Patricia and I were within earshot – he always gracefully acceded (he admired mom immensely — but, was also, I suspect, a bit fearful of her…

On several occasions, when he was securely ‘in his cups’, so to speak, he would insist upon moving from the rumpus room’s billiard table to our front hall, so he could ‘honor us’ with an impromptu reprisal of the death passage from Shakespeare’s Richard III, one of his many memorable Broadway triumphs…

Unsteadily climbing the stairs to the second floor landing, he would pause for a moment as he mystically transforming his body to frighteningly mimic (without makeup or any prosthetic device) Richard’s withered leg and hunched back. Then, as we stood spellbound, he boomed-out Shakespeare’s powerful words, and, when finished, hurl himself down the stairs to ‘die’ spectacularly in a sodden heap in our front hall…

My sister and I would respectfully stand-by at the foot of the stairs, first-aid kits gripped tightly in our perspiring hands, ready to bandage and splash with mercurochrome, the invariable bloody nose and shredded knee and elbow skin resulting from the fall – Mr. Barrymore would recline theatrically, with back of trembling hand pressed to ‘fevered’ brow, fix a steely gaze upon us, and declare in funereal tones “Good physicians, pray do what ye must to overhaul these shattered bones – but first, pray hasten to fetch me strong liquid sustenance”…

My sister and I looked forward with breathless anticipation to these infrequent dramatic episodes – never dreaming that in ‘volunteering our medical ‘expertise’ we were ‘appearing’ in some of the last performances of one of the era’s illustrious thespian…

One afternoon around the same time, I was chasing our hyper-active Irish Setter ‘Pimms’ around the grassy area leading to the pool, not paying attention to where I stepped, when I tripped over the exposed root of the lemon tree that was part of a garden that bordered the swimming pool (which Pimms and I had been warned repeatedly to avoid at all times), resulting in a tiny, but deep wound at the front of my right ankle (the resultant triangular scar remains to this day to remind me of our rebellious insubordination)…

Mr. Decker and Mr. Barrymore, distracted from their afternoon discourse, jumped (perhaps ‘staggered’ is a more apt simile) to my assistance.  Mr. Decker removed a rather doubtful looking handkerchief, stained with layers of paint as well as other unidentifiable detritus and began to stanch the flow of blood…

Not to be outdone, Mr. Barrymore flung open his battered leather briefcase, removed a bottle of watered-down vermouth, pulled the cork, and regretfully poured a small portion of the contents on to my wound, muttering “That should kill any germs — look what it’s done to my liver”…

I bit my lip manfully, and parroting Mr. Barrymore’s Richard III, placed a wavering hand to my brow, hoping for my mother to appear…

Which she did — surveyed the situation swiftly and accurately — out came the index finger wagging sternly — a curt smile appeared and disappeared, politely dispersing the reprobate first responders back to their chairs, while she whispered softly “filthy rag, and who knows how many horrible germs live on the lip of that awful vermouth bottle?”

I limped after her to the kitchen, where Ada, our cook washed my wound with soap and water, applied mercurochrome and a huge white bandage — befitting my status as a wounded warrior…

After a stern lecture from my mother (backed-up by Ada’s head nods was dispatched back to the swimming pool to thank Mr. Decker and Mr. Barrymore for rushing to my aid…

They accepted my gratitude, somberly, with no lectures or recriminations — and I loved them both all the more for that kindness…

One night not too long after the ankle incident, and after a night of schmoozing around a blaze crackling in the fireplace in dad’s study (it was November — even in southern California the nights can be blessed by a hearth fire) — Mr. Decker and Mr. Barrymore prepared to take their leave — Dad called for a taxi to carry them back home (Decker to his studio off Sunset, and Barrymore to the Garden of Allah (I believe) — dad waited with his two fellow ‘miscreants’ on the flagstone walk bordering our front lawn — the taxi failed to arrive — Barrymore became agitated, opened his briefcase which was filled with bottles of watered-down vermouth (all he was allowed to consume at this advanced stage of liver decomposition), extracted a bottle, solemnly uncorked it and took a long thirsty draft, and declaimed lustily (and repeatedly) “A horse, a horse! – My kingdom for a Horse!” — Whereupon, actor Gene Lockhart (June Lockhart’s father), who lived directly across the street, flung open his bedroom window with a loud crash and shouted “Shut up and go home, you drunken bum.”  Unfazed, Barrymore replied “Come down here and fight like a man, you corpulent Canadian coward”…

 Fortunately, the taxi finally arrived to spirit Mr. Barrymore and Mr. Decker away before the altercation matured into violence…

Some months before he passed on in 1942, Mr. Barrymore told my mother that he considered my father to be his best friend. My mother responded “Jack, you have so many friends — why is Alan so special? Barrymore thought for a moment, and then replied “Lorayne dear, I guess it’s because he never attempts to explain me to anyone – he just accepts me as I am”

Fond memories such as these continue to erupt from my creaky brain pan — causing me to smile as each one burbles to the surface…

© 2014 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 43

  1. mkhulu says:

    Thanks. Great tales.

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