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Friday, July 06, 2012

"I don't know how to explain her" he said

A few days ago I received an email from one of Jonathan's old friends from Yale.  I was gobsmacked he was able to find me, let alone remember me at all this lovely man named Richard whose wife also attended Yale Drama School the same time Jonathan did.

Richard told me something very funny.  When Jonathan had people over to his apartment in New York for a dinner party - people he had not seen in many years - he usually asked me to come as well to be the "hostess."  I also had the facility to seamlessly fit into a group of strangers, a skill I had to learn in my early twenties even though meeting new people made (and continues) to make me initially very nervous.  Richard reaccounted this particular visit because it was the last time he and his wife saw Jonathan.  It was also a lot of fun.  Richard told the story about the head of the Yale Drama School directing a play they were all in and his heavily-accented English made the commend "Focus! Focus!" come out "Fuck-us! Fuck-us!"  This, of course, reduced Richard, Jonathan et al. to puddles they laughed that hard each time the director issued this command.

It was very cool to hear stories of antics on campus and off campus.  Richard and his wife came with two other individuals from those Yale days.  The stories were hilarious.  I sure wish I could remember some of them other than the fact they were very funny.  At one point Richard joined Jonathan in the kitchen and Richard told me the other day when he contacted me that he remembers asking Jonathan how the two of us got together.  Jonathan said to him "I don't know how to explain her."  Eventually, he told Richard that I first came into his life working on the one-man shows, then did personal assistant-type work for him and today, like other times, he just liked having me play the hostess with the most-ess.   This type of scenario played out many times during the course of our relationship over twenty plus years.  When friends came from Canada and he invited me over it was to help him stay organized and entertain.  I became friends with some of those friends and relatives over the years and later when regularly visiting Canada.  The really sweet thing about Jonathan is that he was very proper.  I was half his age and a woman.  That could be construed in a more unflattering light in his opinion.  Of course, anyone who knew either one of us knows it wasn't anything more than just a friendship.  But that age difference and gender made him uncomfortable at times.  He once told me that while touring with ARSENIC AND OLD LACE he felt that his co-star, Gary Sandy, wanted to be friends with him.  But the "problem" was that Gary was so much younger.  I sat there with my mouth agape.  "What does that have to do anything if you like each other?" I said.  He didn't answer, but that was an issue for him even though he would later cultivate friendships with people much younger than himself, much in thes same way his mother did.  She felt it kept her younger in mind and spirit.  He sought the same.

But there were still the awkward times when Jonathan went to meet someone and asked me to go with him, even though the person was a stranger to me.  Truth was, Jonathan was very shy in many respects and the one thing I could do was talk.  And talk I did, to keep the conversation going but know when to stop talking if the two of them got going.  It was common for the individual (friend or acquaintance of Jonathan's) to ask: "So, how did you two meet?"  I was never introduced in any particular way except as a "friend" and that aroused the curiosity of the asker.  I, of course, explained (since Jonathan would just sit there silent) that I was hired to work with him on the one-man shows and we became friends.  I didn't add that I had several friends much older than myself so a friendship with someone older like Jonathan wasn't anything new to me.  But it made Jonathan uncomfortable.  Sometimes if I was somewhere and he was with me he told me to introduce him as my "uncle."  So I did.

While I worked for Jonathan and was studying at a local acting school, sometimes Jonathan would write out a check to pay for my tuition, and give it to me.  At first, he was reluctant with this payment arrangement because he was afraid it would give the impression to whomever received the check that I was a "kept" woman.  That really concerned me though I was pretty sure no one else would think that for a single moment.  I assured him of this.  (I also "paid" him through writing and personal assistant services to give me voice lessons.  I "studied" voice with him for about a year.  In fact, he directed me in a show I did as part of my two year intensive acting program.)

So, keeping me a proper lady did hit snags now and then.  When I went up to Jonathan's place in Canada, I always helped him around the house and with the yard.  I enjoyed this.   We were sitting at the dining room table one afternoon along with our mutual friend, Kay Fry, and Jonathan complained that the web-like cocoons in his trees were going to eventually kill them.  He had some men out to eradicate these cocoons but he had a falling out with the local business and they would not come out anymore. (Falling out with people was commonplace with Jonathan as he had a quick temper.  But usually those relationships mended)  He wondered out loud if there was a way the three of us might be able to get the cocoons out of the trees.  Fifteen minutes later, I was climbing one of the stricken trees, Jonathan was standing at the base of the tree ready to catch me if I fell, and Kay was handing me up various implements to use in order to remove the cocoons.  He chided me at one point for "not having the right kind of shoes on to be in a tree."  As if I knew I was going to be climbing trees that weekend.

Some time later again while visiting Jonathan we were doing something in the front yard and he stopped to look at his water spouts, noting that he had to get them cleaned out as they were cluttered with leaves.  We were standing right by the garage and I said "If you help me with the ladder, I will get up there and clear out the gutter."   He stood there, stunned, looking at me.  "What?" I asked.  "Well, you can't do that," he said.  I asked "Why not?"  "Well, you're a lady . . ."  Only a few months earlier he had no trouble with my climbing up a tree but climbing up a much shorter distance and on a stable ladder he didn't want me to have any part of.  I didn't laugh because I didn't want that sensibility of his made fun of.  He felt strongly about that at that moment so the gutter didn't get cleaned out by me.

No wonder he couldn't explain me to other people.  I was a vacillating entity.


Cheryl said...

What an enjoyable post. That Jonathan's inability to "explain you" came from his own sense of propriety and worry about how people might perceive things is something I can actually imagine easily about him, and you really brought it to life for us. That episode about his musing aloud about the cocoons in the trees and his chiding you for not wearing the proper shoes when you addressed the problem had me laughing out loud. Thanks for sharing these reminisces of your friendship with a most interesting man.

Linda Dachtyl said...

I find it strange in this day and age, that some people just assume a relationship is "their definition of it" concerning male and female..or close same gender relationships for that matter.

I think it's more so with people a generation back or so....but not always, but I would assume Jonathan's attitude was more from social conditioning from his generation, not a reflection on him personally or he would have just limited himself concerning his friendships. Obviously, he didn't most of the time.

I have experienced this kind of questioning myself from some people as I work with and am friends with a lot of men. Women, too, but I guess some people...those who have never experienced the richness of being close friends with people of the opposite sex especially...with it NOT being the "soap opera drama" they are drumming up in their idle minds..... are limited in a lot of ways otherwise, too. I find it unfortunate.

Frankly, I don't personally care as in my experience, I find people like that to be pretty shallow in a whole lot of other ways, but that's our generation's view as opposed to his, IMO. I still run into people though in my generation who can't really fathom opposite sex friendships that are "just that". I recall one for instance where I had to spend a lot of time with a male friend on business things and was surprised to learn what we supposedly "had been doing"...LOL...oh well....!

Jonathan's big heart shows too in him helping you with your college tuition. Thanks for continuing to share these stories with us.

The shoe/ladder stories are cute. Sometimes you just have to say..."well, ok" ;-)

I know you shared some things about prepping for his parties with him guiding you on the right choices of wine and cheese in another blog. I would be curious as to what those were in his opinion if you care to share that as that's a personal interest of mine, too.

Nancy Kersey said...

I've had several friendships/relationships mischaracterized so I've learned to not be as sensitive to it.

I suppose the basic Frid's Kitchen tip re cheese and crackers would be onion stuffed olives, huntsman cheese and some cheddars on light crackers, never ritz.

Linda Dachtyl said...

Sounds like a good snack. Any wine suggestions?

I'm immune to "talk", too concerning my personal relationships and figure if people want to entertain themselves with fantasy, they should just go to the drugstore and buy some cheap romantic fiction.

However, I wonder if some of them can even read for starters...

Ivelisse Diaz said...

Good Morning Nancy:

If is sent this to you already, please forgive - my PC is acting up something fierce. Thank you for the latest blog entry on Mr. Frid. The story is charming and we the fans appreciate these remembrances. I know that we always enjoy your continued insights into the person you knew, and that is great storytelling in the best JF tradition.

I wonder if I may ask a question? Did Mr. Frid ever get to Scotland and meet the McGregor kith and kin? He made mention of having met the Frid relatives back in Kent during his repertory days.

Thank you in advance for all future stories.

Marilyn said...

This is the first time in my life that I am watching D.S. My mom watched it and she talked to David Selby on the phone but I thought Barnabas was too grouchy and mean. Now I really enjoy it. Anyway I believe JF was a true gentleman and meant every word when he told Julia she was domineering and meddlesome and he would not tolerate it as modern men do. I know it was in the script but I believe he felt that way. I also could see his shyness from the beginning.
I wish so much that I knew him.

~~Marilyn~~oh my email is
not redlions11

Anonymous said...

I love reading your reminiscences about Jonathan Frid. I'm very curious to hear more about what kind of help he gave you with voice work, if you remember and feel like talking about it. I do a lot of study of the voice -- my own and other people's -- and I've become fascinated by this aspect of Mr Frid's work. Though I never met him, in my mind he's become something of a muse of voice work; when I'm feeling too lazy or discouraged to practice, his example inspires me to get off my butt and get back to work. I would treasure any scraps of information about how he approached voice training. -- Karen VH