Glenn Close, Did you have a happy childhood?

Theater people all come from difficult backgrounds. I heard Glenn Close didn’t though. Her father was a doctor.

My mother made the observation once or twice a week fro a good forty years: Glenn Close was the only actress in the business who had a "happy childhood." So it follows the subtitle for the collection might be:

Glenn Close, did you or did you not have a happy childhood? I have to know.

Glenn Close's father, William, had been a surgeon, at one point running a clinic in the Belgian Congo, serving as personal physician to Mobutu Sese Seko. That in itself does not sound like the makings of "a normal upbringing," although my bias to some extent has been observing first hand the effect of the all encompassing medical vocation. Not insignificantly, upon his return to the States,  Dr. Close joined a cult. One can infer, perhaps wrongly, there was little pretense of normalcy within the Close family unit. Once at University, interestingly, the future actress chose a double major of theater and anthropology.

My mother's contention was no one in their right mind would select a career on the stage. You have to be damaged in some way, she'd say and maintained her befuddlement in the case of Glenn Close. That the actress's father had been a jungle doctor who enrolled his family in a cult not only did not seem odd to her but upheld an idyllic air.

In short, I would be obligated on my mom's behalf, were I to encounter Ms. Close, say in Times Square,  to grab her by the arm and ask: Did you have a happy childhood? And were she unwilling to respond, I'd have to follow her for as many blocks as it would take, pressing further: Did you, did you, did you, did you?



My parent's dialogue will be enclosed by quotation marks, although what follows represents an inexact accounting, some of it hearsay, some factual, most of it theatrics in its own right, all best reviewed without scrutinizing the delineation of that which is truth from that which is fiction. My folks referenced real people, well known ones from time to time, but most of these individuals have passed. I cannot verify the accuracy of their histories but don’t have any reason to doubt them either.

Let others write books about the theater and do their research. This is not one of those books. I'm not qualified to write one of those anyway. and I don’t want to bore anyone, especially myself. 

I did attempt at one point to formalize the process and interview them. This back fired.

As soon as I pushed record, both were on their best behavior. And to be honest, what they said wasn’t very interesting. It would generally paint a picture of saneness, health and insight into mundane matters, not their world view of shittery and treachery, espoused at all other times.

My father was worse than my mother.  He'd rub his chin and smile politely.

“You would like to ask me questions? I’m curious. What sort of questions?”

After a while my mother would forget that she was being recorded and start going off. She would be fine after that, her usual self, recounting her version of the truth. I believed little of what she said as it was hysterical, not in the sense of being funny necessarily; it was that too; but in the classical association with the affliction of hysteria.

Dad was cunning and always on his guard when it came to potential exploitation or issues of presentation. He remained suspicious of human motivations at all times and was just as much of an actor as my mother, and by extension, just as much a survivor. So if you believe in the psychology of how certain successful couples find one another, they found each other within their circumstance. I posit they were theater people by nature.

My mother, at the start of each recording session would start speaking of wholesomeness, then her father, work ethics and little else. 

With a microphone placed in front of either, their affect adjusted, not as if they were reading from a script but something close; the Freddy and Ann who would be seen for all posterity. These personas did not represent who they were wholly, only in theory, so I abandoned that approach and just continued to write things down without calling attention to the fact that I was doing so.

My mother and father lived through an era of the theater now gone. Their memories become precious in that regard, as their experience of it all was intimate. In that respect, transcribing the dialogue and thoughts has relevance. Having grown up a one person audience of sorts, I contend, and would like to explore, how theatricality informs human commerce at all levels, whether acknowledged or not. In the United States, for instance, the power of theatricality is unprecedented: the skills of an Actor has supplanted those of a Philosopher King. We elected Ronald Reagan to two terms, a man who spent his formative years, not in the study of law, but honing his skills as a Sportscaster.

My parent's turn of their phrase derives from hysterical memory, my own and theirs, aided by audio tapes. My father, thankfully, was obsessed with the act of recording and maintained several hand held mini or micro cassette recorders in working order at all times. A drawer of twelve units upon his death was recovered along with many others scattered about his study. He hoarded mini cassettes as he hoarded other units of storage media, and just about everything else in his life.

In summary, the installments offered here comprise an anecdotal and orally transmitted history of the theater overheard and filtered by me, making objectivity problematic although, in respecting the material enormously, I have tried to present these two lives as poignant, and at times incredibly funny, performances.

The living room couch was my theater seat; there I listened and scribbled notes, in doing so protecting myself in the only way I knew how from being swept up into the drama.

My job was to write down what they said.