In Tablet Magazine this month, I criticized Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Apology Festival; wrote a treatment for a romantic comedy about summer camp, female friendship, and presidential attorney Michael Cohen; checked out a modern American opera set against the backdrop of the Triangle Factory Fire and visited the site of the fire itself; and reviewed a new museum exhibit in Philadelphia about Leonard Bernstein’s life, music and activism.
(That’s Lenny and his sister Shirley in the Carnegie Hall green room in 1951.)
I wound up going into a research hole on that story — happens to me a lot — so here are two things I did not include in Tablet.
- Wow, Tom Wolfe’s 1970 New York Magazine article on “Radical Chic” (which uses as a jumping-off point a fundraiser for the Black Panthers at Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s apartment) has REALLY not aged well:
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. These are nice. Little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. Itâ€™s the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savor of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors dâ€™oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons . . . Deny it if you wish to, but such are the pensÃ©es mÃ©taphysiques that rush through oneâ€™s head on these Radical Chic evenings just now in New York. For example, does that huge Black Panther there in the hallway, the one shaking hands with Felicia Bernstein herself, the one with the black leather coat and the dark glasses and the absolutely unbelievable Afro, Fuzzy Wuzzy-scale in factâ€”is he, a Black Panther, going on to pick up a Roquefort cheese morsel rolled in crushed nuts from off the tray, from a maid in uniform, and just pop it down the gullet without so much as missing a beat of Feliciaâ€™s perfect Mary Astor voice. . . .
Uh, yikes. Many levels of yikes.
2. There’s an undated letter from Felicia to Leonard in the newly expanded and very satisfying online collection of Bernsteinalia in the Library of Congress. In it, she basically tells him to embrace his gayness, but not tell her about it.
If I seemed sad as you drove away today, it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and the whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. Iâ€™ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that itâ€™s not such a mess after all. First: We are not committed to a life sentence â€“ nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so). Second: You are a homosexual and may never change — you donâ€™t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do? Third: I am writing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L. B. altar. (I happen to love you very much â€“ this may be a disease, and if it is, what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the â€œstatus quoâ€ which exists now â€“ at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us â€“ letâ€™s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!
As for me â€“ once you are rid of tensions Iâ€™m sure my own will disappear. A companionship will grow which probably no one else may be able to offer you. The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express â€“ this marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect â€“ why not have them? I know now too that I need to work. It is a very important part of me and I feel incomplete without it. I may want to do something about it soon. I am used to an active life, and then there is that old ego problemâ€¦
We may hae gotten married too soon, and yet we needed to get married and weâ€™ve not made a mistake. It is good for us even if we suffer now and make each other miserable â€“ we will both grow up someday and be strong and unafraid either together or apart â€“ after all we are both more important as individuals than a â€œmarriageâ€ is.
In any case my dearest darling ape, letâ€™s give it a whirl â€“ thereâ€™ll be crisis (?) [sic] from time to time but that doesnâ€™t scare me anymore. And letâ€™s relax in the knowledge that neither of us is perfect and forget about being HUSBAND AND WIFE in such strained capital letters, itâ€™s not that awful!
Thereâ€™s a lot else Iâ€™ve got to say but the pill has overpowered me. Iâ€™ll write again soon. My wish for this week is that you come home guiltless + happy. F