Sunday, April 11, 2010

My trip to Dixieland (sorry)

About a year or so after my ex and I separated I did what any frustrated, lonely divorced man in his early 30s would do, fly across the country to meet a woman I met online. Notice the word sane is nowhere in the previous sentence.

I was new to the internet and the chat world had completely hypnotized me. Also, I needed to get out of town and see a bunch of old friends.

So off I went for about ten days to Los Angeles. I'd arranged to stay with a friend who lived in Los Feliz while this internet woman and I planned out our time.

Those particular plans were dashed within 45 minutes of my arriving. But that's perhaps another blog.

I spent my 10 days hanging with friends and mostly catching up with my friend, Tess, at her apartment.

Tess was/is a costume designer and at the time was working in Names, a play that posed a hypothetical scene between Elia Kazan and other members of the Group Theater, the night before Kazan named names at the HUAC. The role of Stella Adler was played by Dixie Carter.

The production had developed a tradition Tess told me. On weekends, between matinee and evening performance, the cast and crew of the show was invited to Dixie and Hal's "house" for dinner. Tess said "Come to the matinee, you'll be invited, trust me".

Now I wasn't going to say no, but I felt sheepish about the idea of getting a free lunch at someone's house whom I didn't even know. Seemed a bit classless to me, but Tess told me not to worry about it.

I was not a big Dixie fan. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike her, but I only knew her from Designing Women, a sitcom I liked but only watched now and then. I had been a big fan of her husband, Hal Holbrook for many years.

Anyway, I saw the show and became a Dixie fan almost instantly. Her portrayal of Stella Adler (whom I'd also met at one time though briefly) was spot on and very moving. And her presence was undeniable.

After the show I had every intention of politely getting on a bus back to Los Feliz. It just felt too rude to me to do otherwise. But I did got backstage to talk to Tess. Tess introduced me to the cast bit by bit which of course included Ms. Carter. Tess told her I was an actor friend from college visiting from New York etc. and Ms. Carter asked how I liked the show.

I told her pretty much what I said here, and asked if she had known Stella Adler. She hadn't. I became a bigger fan as I said "Well, that just makes your performance even more amazing." She smiled and then put her hand on my shoulder and said "You're coming over for dinner, aren't you?"

There was a certain sternness and elegance in this question. Later I learned that Tess had already told Ms. Carter about me and had even said "he's probably going to leave first as he's kind of shy". So it seems she was being somewhat proactive..and terribly kind. It was obvious that she adored Tess. I was just lucky enough to be a friend of hers.

20 minutes later I'm at the mansion, being introduced to Hal Holbrook, and their chef who had made a delicious meal of spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. 20 some odd people walking around the yard, the beautiful pool and land.

I sat by Hal Holbrook and listened to him tell the story of how he couldn't mount this horse on one of the westerns he had done.

I have pictures of this day, but apparently they are in storage. One is a very nice pic of Dixie with her chef and another of Hal telling this story.

There's a lot I remember and a lot I've forgotten. A-it's a long time ago and B-I was rather ossified by the circumstances.

Dixie Carter was classy, full of grace and elegance. Hal was more down homey in his feel, but just as full of grace and his own elegance. They seemed quite the couple.

My fandom of Holbrook was fortified by meeting him, my fandom of Carter almost created from scratch that very day.

I never saw either again after that afternoon but I always remember that day as one of my life favorites.

It's very sad to think of the world without Dixie Carter in it. One less note of class on the planet.

My thoughts and sympathies to Mr. Holbrook and the family.

Rest In Peace.


T- said...

What an amazing story. Lucky bastard.

Mandy said...

I have always been a fan of Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook. I can only imagine what that evening must have been like. That is a great story.