Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I've never been able to do one of those blogs that's just about one thing. Even my film blog occasionally breaks the 4th wall. That said, I'm playing with the idea of writing an occasional series of essays about people and things I miss. Starting today.

Helen Merrill: a remembrance
She was a literary agent so vividly an agent, with her German accent, her wobbling lisp, and her glistening white pageboy, her clients couldn’t stop putting her in their plays, and would-be clients couldn’t stop mocking her in their novels. There was no nice in her, but plenty of kind. When my father got brain cancer, Helen would take me and my sister Liz out to dinner at the Empire Diner and make us eat hot fudge sundaes while she smoked and smoked and smoked.

Helen used to take pictures for a living, and that life was still all about her. A Diane Arbus photo of retarded children floated above her desk. Pictures of Anthony Perkins at his most broken and beautiful on the wall. They had once lived together, platonically. Small dolls that looked like KKK members sat on tables, daring you to say something. Play scripts everywhere. She called her favorite clients by diminutives. “Chrissy” was her favorite. Once, she said I had the same ingratiating manner as Sigourney Weaver…at a funeral. It was a compliment, Helen style.

The last time I saw her, she sat alone at a play by one of her clients, about the collision of WASP and Jewish cultures in the 1950s, called “The American Plan.” I was going to go up to her at intermission, but by then, she'd fallen asleep in her seat, so deeply, I feared two things: that she was dead, and if she wasn’t dead, that she’d bite my head off if I woke her. But her head snapped up as soon as the play began. And I missed my chance, for good.


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