elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,
elisa_rolle
elisa_rolle

Real Life Romance: Vincent Virga

I received this interview yesterday, I don't think dear Vincent knew it was the 5 years anniversary of my LiveJournal, but in any case it was a wonderful gift. I think the post you will read below is a piece of "history", the life of an author who made the history of Gay Literature on his own, but his influence is doubled by the fact he is the soul mate of James McCourt, the author Dennis Cooper described as "a true iconoclast, a devoted high stylist, and a holder of the unfashionable opinion that prose is a natural extrovert and beauty that deserves the brightest polish, the best accessories, the most extravagant costumes". I truly think this interview is way too much important for this blog, but Vincent Virga generously gave it to me, and I will greedily make it mine. I have often posted bios of very important LGBT people, but today I strongly recommend you to read this post, this is an original post you will not find anywhere else and I'm extremely proud to host Vincent Virga today, I think this is the best way to complete 5 years of blogging. I originally asked to Vincent to talk about his relationship with James, for my real life romance series, but I received way more than that.

Thank you Vincent (and James) for being my guest today. As I told you when I asked for this interview, I’d like to focus on your real life happily ever after, i.e. on your relationship with James. I read you met James in 1964 when you were both attending Yale, but to introduce this moment, I’d like to do a step further back.

1) When and why did you decide to attend Yale? There was a specific reason (family tradition, some specialization, …)?

Jimmy and I met at Yale Graduate School of Drama in the Fall of 1964. In my last year at St. Bonaventure University, I was cast as Hamlet by the drama coach, Mr. Nassir who had been a hugely successful drama student at Yale. I had played major roles in “Dramat” productions from my sophomore year with him, and at the same time I began producing & directing my own shows, which won Best Production of the Year three-years-running. Mr. Nassir encouraged me to go to his alma mater for an MFA. In fact, he insisted I go. He called and insisted they take me! I did not have to audition for Miss Welch, the drama teacher there.


St. Bonaventure University

I decided to go to Yale because the Vietnam War was in full swing and I did not want to be drafted. At the time, the theater seemed a natural place for me. I started playing leads in High School plays. I was able to write for the theater, adapt plays to fit various venues, direct, design sets, and, most importantly, form companies of students who loved working together under my leadership. I’ve always had a gift working with people and bringing out the best in them.

2) Were you already out when you met James?

No, I was not “out” at Yale. However, I had my first serious boyfriend when I was seven and he was seven. We used to go to the kiddie matinees for twelve cents at the Beacon Theater in NYC where I was born. We would hold hands (and other things) under out coats. I loved him and he loved me.


Beacon Theater

My father moved me and the family out to Long Island when I was ten. At eleven, I had my first “adult” love affair with a boy my age. Richard was divine. He taught me exactly what I needed to know–and how to do it–in order for me to be happy. It ended horribly when at a Roman Catholic Mission held at my R.C. grammar school, a missionary preached about going to hell for what I thought was a heavenly experience every afternoon after school with angelic Richard. I refused to talk to Richard ever again. What a horrid loss! I still grieve over this crime of the heart committed in the name of God. I came close to having a nervous breakdown and the pictures of me from that period are heartbreaking.
Next came my piano teacher. I was 17; he was 27 and truly, madly in love with me. I went to St. Bonaventure, sneaked myself into two majors–this was before computers–and got straight A grades, which allowed me to complete two separate majors: English and Psychology. During school breaks, I would go home to Peter who took me to Broadway shows and bought me clothes. Again, I ended it brutally after the priests in confession, who were always much too curious for details, threatened me with eternal death & damnation. He literally wound up in a hospital with a breakdown. This is not one of my shining moments on this planet!
I went through college with no sexual adventures. Several guys expressed their love for me, but I took it in stride. Never took it to heart or bed.

Enter Jimmy at Yale. When we met, I had never been to a gay bar. I had never tricked. When he told me late Spring 1965 that he was in love, I assumed it was with one of the other guys in our class. I can still see us crossing Chapel Street in New Haven going to my apartment after class having this conversation: Is it Bill? Is it Gary? Who is it?
”It’s you,” he said.
I was beyond stunned. There were no women in my life. There were no men in my life. All of that had been put on hold. I was a spiritual hooker, as I came to call myself. I was the center of the social life of my class at Yale. My apartment was the meeting place. Everyone loved me. Safety in numbers, no? I was offered a beginner’s place in Pearl Lang’s & Martha Graham’s dance companies. I came to hate Yale because the drama teacher was not a fan of my work and was pretty up-front with her rejections. I was contemplating transferring into the Director’s class where I knew I probably really belonged. But, then, Jimmy told me he loved me and I began to look at him in a different way. And then one Saturday morning when my roommate was away, Jimmy boldly slipped into my bed.


Chapel Street

We left Yale and went to the London School of Drama. I was still not fully committed to having a love-life with Jimmy though you would never have known that from the way I behaved with him. We were lovers, passionately and relentlessly and shamelessly physical with one another whenever possible, which was all of the time. I was still not altogether convinced I was gay. Then in Paris–of all unoriginal places!?–I told him while we were walking by the Seine that I had decided I didn’t think a life with him was a good idea. He said okay. He also said goodbye and walked away leaving me standing by the Seine. I followed him back to the hotel and watched him pack his bags to go back to London alone. And then the bubble of denial burst. I began to cry hysterically. He took me in his arms. Boy, did I cry! And what did he say?
“We all have to come out in our own way.”

3) When and how did you meet? Do you remember the first time you saw him?

I definitely remember the first time I saw Jimmy. It was the first class of the first day, which happened to be our acting class. We were sitting in seats in the main theater’s auditorium and he was chattering away with his neighbors. He had bright red hair and was making everyone laugh, completely at ease in his surroundings.
We were each asked to stand, introduce ourselves, and say a few words about ourselves and our interests. I don’t remember what I said in my acute nervousness, but it was inane and had to do with Barbra Streisand!? I horrified myself. Too humiliated to stay afterwards to mingle, I fled to the next class, which was Nagler’s Theater History class happily held in a dark, small theater because he showed slides. Well, Jimmy sought me out and told me how much he enjoyed what I had to say! What he should have said, and what he wanted to say, was that he found me adorable, enchanting, and very beautiful. (I know this from later conversations, just as I know that when he saw me naked in the changing room for dance class with Pearl Lang that afternoon he decided I was the guy for him or at least one of the leading contenders since he swears he went to Yale from being a stellar PhD candidate at NYU Graduate School “to find a man” and make no mistake about it! He knew academia was not for him. And he knew he was ready for love.)

4) How was your life during college? Were you living in a dorm or wherelse? Were you and James “boyfriends” and if yes, how this affected your life? (it was 1964, was it?)

My life during college was swell except for my sexual abstinence. As I mentioned, I signed up for two majors and one minor. I can still see myself in the Bonaventure gym not able to decide what I wanted to study more: English lit or psychology. I had not wanted to go to college. I fancied going to Manhattan and having a career in Something. I missed the city desperately. I did not play sports. I wanted to learn about cars but I was in a “Double A” class and we were not allowed to take things like “shop” or “mechanics” or “typing.” (Decades later when I worked at The New York Review of Books–which is where Susan Sontag became such a huge part of my life–I remember its editor Barbara Epstein not knowing how to work the phone’s hold button: serious intellectuals were simply not “mechanically inclined.” ) So, I figured typing would help me do Something in Manhattan and I insisted I be allowed to take it because I would need it for working on my college papers. (I got 99 on the New York State Regents in typing, which to the dismay of my teachers revealed I was mechanically inclined as well as not very good with languages. Happily, Jimmy spoke five!)

My rouse to learn typing and my Double A track = college in the minds of all my High School advisors and, especially in the minds of my beloved mentor Angela Hughes, a sublime tenth-grade English teacher, and my Latin teacher Silvio Something who had gone to Bonaventure. As with Yale, I did not apply for college. My dad was a truck driver and money was very tight. I worked from my early teenage years, which convinced me I’d do just fine in NYC doing Something. In NYC, I would have the theaters, music, movies, etc. BUT, Silvio and Angela were horrified at the thought of my not going to college. At the last minute, Silvio contacted Bonaventure. They accepted me on the strength of my grades and my theater work and my “essay” on an under-the-wire application form. God only knows what I obediently wrote.
I was very popular in High School and very “outside” the most popular, glam group of football stars and cheerleaders who found me a sissy and in a “slam book” labeled me a “faggot.” I remember dutifully changing all the “fags” to “fabs,” etc. I consider this my first work as a visual artist!? I also think their typical suburban-American behavior toward a less-than-macho and very “pretty” boy had a great deal to do with my wanting to escape to the Big City where I could reinvent myself as Myself, which is one of the reasons cities exist and why “gay ghettos” exist, too.. (In my book Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations I write about a map of gay and lesbian communities in 1990s Boston by Tim Davis; I label it “Map as Subversive Urban Utopia,” and I quote from Didier Eribon’s great book Insult and the Making of the Gay Self: “Geographic distance, the search for different locations, the effort to inscribe oneself in a new space, are all conditions for reconstructing oneself.” It’s what Foucault called “the aesthetic of the self.” Yes, now I am convinced this was at the core of my decision not to go to college.
However, the universe was taking care of me. Looking back, I wish I had applied to Yale. Bonaventure was an easy ride for me. True, I worked fiendishly hard with those two majors and a minor in Philosophy. (The only D grade I ever got in college was in Logic, the nun gave me a D because I had A marks in everything else and I don’t think she could face my having to repeat her class with my “who-gives-a-shit-about-this-nonsense attitude.) I vacillated between becoming an English professor and a clinical psychologist; I could not become a psychiatrist because all the gore attached to med school made me faint, literally...I had to be helped out of a film on mouth cancer much to the delight of the med students who always cheered my theater work. Incidentally, fell in love with the head of the Psych Department; he was the most gorgeous, brilliant, red-headed Franciscan. Oy! Was it an accident that Jimmy was a red head?
I was given a study desk at the back of the library stacks where I spent most evenings alone with my studies. If the evening turned into a social event with people coming back to talk to me, I would retreat to a study room in the basement where talk was verboten. I was also given permission to have my dinner early with the great, superstar basketball team–they were on the cover of Time–and we were infected with TB by the cook. (Tom Stith, recently dead, and Freddie Crawford had their major-career potential destroyed; I was infected, too, but that is another story.) In a way, I became their mascot.
One of my friends rented a small duplex apartment in the town of Olean for assignations with his “townie” girlfriend. I used to slip away from campus on weekends when the place was free and spend nights there. I always went after the most beautiful young men in my class for my theatrical productions. Being a great listener and a superb tutor and very amusing and a true friend and enchanted by male beauty, I often found myself sharing the double bed in the one-bedroom apartment with these guys who considered me their best friend, which I was! We would talk through the nights often naked after using the many-nozzled shower. Having these “sexless,” intimate friendships satisfied the craving in me for male companionship.
N.B. I never fell in love with any of these guys. One fell in love with me and just before graduation we had one of those “drunken” quickies, which we immediately forgot. When he came to visit me at Yale, he met Jimmy, spotted our mutual attraction, and preciently said he was really happy I had met such a wonderful guy and wished me good luck with him. If I could live those years over....
When I was drafted into the Vietnam War years later, I went to see a psychiatrist to help me get free of the army; the military was desperate for body fodder and was ignoring all “gay” pleas. With the help of Dr. Giametti, I boldly confronted the military shrink about my being actively gay, told him I would have the kind of nervous breakdown he had read about in books, and was the only draftee sent home. In any case, Dr. Giametti during our visits told me I was the only man he had ever met in his decades of practice for whom sex & love were bonded, usually the province of women. (Hence the joke: If a glory hole existed in the women’s room, a note would be passed asking: “Do you love me?”)
I’ve come to accept it was only my not having fallen in love with one of those loving bedmates in college that kept those nights chaste or at least kept me from attempting to provoke genital sex one of those freezing winter nights with us snuggled under a single comforter together. I see those friendships as perfect examples of 19th-century homoerotic friendships, quite common until the macaronic word “homosexual” was invented in 1869 and such male intimacies were made socially suspect by doctors, ministers, and politicians on the lookout for “moral” issues to strengthen their positions during the middle-class ascendancy. And when I fell in love with Jimmy 46 years ago, monogamy was/is part of my character description.
I was recently asked by a very “experienced” friend if I was never “curious” about other men. Sure, I said, but I always bring the “buzz” home. (As one of my other friends told me: “I prefer to bring Buzz home!”) So, to each his own. This whole business of monogamy is actually discussed by Robbie at the end of Gaywyck.

5) If I remember well, at the time you wrote Gaywyck, you were already living together. Did you go living together after college? Can you tell us something more about your life at the time? Even simple things like your first home together, your day to day life…

As I’ve said, Jimmy and I met in 1964, became lovers in 1965, and moved to London where we lived in bedsits most of the time. Since so many of our Brit friends were in the theater, our being gay was no big deal. Remember, it was “Swinging London” and men had long hair, wore flower-print shirts from Biba’s, and were looking for adventures of all kinds.

I had gotten a visa as a temp typist. I went to work with a solicitor who offered to train me for the Bar. I went to work for the London Welsh Society and wound up running the place; I went from 7 Pounds a week to 70 Pounds a week and lunches with Lord Abadaire. One of my favorite jobs was as a kitchen porter in Tiffany’s, a disco in Picadilly Circus; the top floor where I took my breaks was exactly as it was when Edward II would visit clandestinely with his mistresses via a secret stairway. I was soon working the grill; the favorite meal was spaghetti on toast with my bolognase sauce, my chips, and with a friend egg on top! Then I was put on the bar and taught every possible “fiddle” by the Irish barmen. I’d walk home with pockets full of ill-gotten change, often enough for us to live on the whole week.


Picadilly Circus (by Elisa Rolle)

To be young in London in that period was “very heaven.” And to be in love, openly and passionately in love made it even better. (Doctor Giametti insisted Jimmy and I were so bonded because of this 4 1/2 year idyllic period.) One close actor-friend asked me “What do you two do?” He meant in bed, but I could not imagine anyone asking such a question and I innocently replied: “He cooks; I clean.” This remark was taken to be a witticism and it has haunted me ever since. What did we do? We went to the theater all over England three times a week–there were over 50 rep companies a quick train-ride away. We hitch-hiked all over the continent. We went to Covent Garden for opera and ballet. Jimmy was very close to the opera star/recitalist Victoria de lost Angeles and we went wherever she was performing to be with her. (Cartograhia is dedicated to Jimmy, Victoria, and Sontag.)


Covent Garden

Again, this was before computers so when British Immigration Officers asked us for 4 documents in order to extend our visas, we sent 3. Six months later they would return the 3 and ask for the appropriate 4. We would send a different 3. A year later we would be summoned and would bring all 4; our visas were always extended. I was actually sent by mistake the equivalent of a Green Cart. I got a job as a Civil Servant typing letters to Americans telling them they could not come live in London without going through the proper channels!?
We returned to the U.S. for a wedding and I had worked to get us back to London. I became the youngest manager for the Golub Brothers, the company selling orange juice and other goodies in theaters. I was actor/manager of a small rep company, the “front” (unbeknownst to me) for a thriving porn business on the (locked–“Keep Out!”) top floor. We were living on Mott Street where my (deadly-serious) Mafia connections by my father’s first marriage kept us safe....
Back in London, we lived as openly as we had lived in Manhattan, returning permanently to the U.S. when Ted Solotaroff bought Jimmy’s story Mawrdew Czgowchwz [pronounced “Gorgeous”] in 1971, and put it on the cover of New American Review 13 with a gorgeous cover design by Lawrence Ratzkin. I just gave to the Beinecke Library at Yale, when our papers were acquired for its Modern Literature Archive by Tim Young, the telegram Ted sent to Jimmy in London during a postal strike: MAWRDEW CZGOWCHWZ DAZZLING STOP. LETTER FOLLOWS GPO STRIKE. STOP. SOLOTAROFF. STOP.
Back in NYC permanently in 1971, I needed work. On first returning, Jimmy and I spent a few months in the Connecticut house of his childhood (Queens) friend Larry Powers who wanted to sell the house; in return for my “fixing it up”–I actually glossy-yellow wallpaperd the living room without a single glue bubble–we had free board. Larry had bought from Fabulous Felines the most perfect white Persian cat who is the basis for “Cael” in my Gaywyck Trilogy. I also acquired neighbors there who play major roles in my second novel, A Comfortable Corner.
In NYC, we soon moved into a studio at 72 Irving Place. It belonged to a friend from Yale, Robert Landau, and I took over his lease as Robert Landau. I eventually became the super of the building as Robert Landau after a visit from the owner, a visit that took place while Jimmy simmered in the bath tub behind a drawn curtain waiting for the landlord to leave.
I did some text research for a book on comparative religions, which won the National Book Award but more importantly got me a job in the Eat/West Bookstore where I spent much of my salary on Japanese novels (in translation) and books on Japanese history. Through a friend, I met Sharon Delano who worked at The New York Review of Books and I became the chief typesetter. The ultra-liberal journal was run like a sweat shop. Out of it came my friendship with Sontag who helped me move Jimmy’s first book Mawrdew from Simon & Schuster, publishers of New American Review, where it was not being appreciated to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux and to Michael di Capua who adored it and who helped make it the classic it has become. (Ironically, it was the first book by a living author to be published in The New York Review Classics Series.) Ironically, because I was fired for “not fitting in,” i.e., arguing about how badly we were treated and how badly we were all being paid–all white-washed by my being unjustly accused of stealing from petty cash.
Actually, this turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.


Irving Place

Living on unemployment–even though I was fired!–we rented a house from a friend out in Hampton Bays. For years, I had been sending my mom modern “Gothick” romances gathered from S&S. That summer I read a few. Lo & Behold! The villains were gay men! The secret in the attic was not a crazy wife but the husband’s being a faggot!! And I was sending this crap to my mother?! Outraged, and inspired by the beauty of Nabokov’s Lolita, I wondered what would happen if BOTH the main characters were gay men. Wouldn’t all the conventions apply? Did genres have genders?
I sketched out my idea for a gay Gothic novel on a single sheet of a tiny pad from the Hampton Motel. (It, too, is now in the Beinecke Gaywyck file, along with all the notes and the different drafts.) By summer’s end, I had my hero Robert Whyte Gaylord travel from his upstate home to Gaywyck on Long Island. I remember reading it and thinking: NO! Too fast! Slow down! So I started again and got him in Chapter One out of upstate NY.
Back in NY I made two phone calls looking for work. One was to Larry Powers, who owned a very successful PR firm. The second was to Gypsy da Silva a friend I made at Simon & Schuster, the publishers of New American Review. Larry was in Europe. Gypsy introduced me to Michael Korda who needed a researcher for his book Success. Had Larry hired me I would probably never have written my books, become fabulously rich and fabulously cynical with a manse in East Hampton and a condo on Gramercy Park. I have a tendency to be glib; I would have throned in PR. Instead I have a publishing career with over 150 picture sections–those glossy inserts in non-fiction books–researched, edited, and designed by me–the only person to wear that triple crown, such as it is, and it’s nothing like the Pope’s jeweled version of that hat, I assure you. The list of my books is on my website, though the latest: JFK by Chris Matthews has not been added to the list yet. I also have 8 picture books of my own. I became a picture editor with a lie to Michael Korda who wanted to keep me around, but that is really another story.


Gramercy Park

My routine was set. I did my picture work all winter & spring; then spent “the long season”–four months–in a rented house in East Hampton writing my novels. When I told Jimmy I wanted to write he said: “I was wondering when you would begin.” For many personal reasons, I put Gaywyck aside and began A Comfortable Corner, which is about recovery from alcoholism, not from the pont of view of the alcoholic but from the “co-dependent” side of the disease. When I finished the first draft I knew I needed to return to Gaywyck. I arranged to take a cheap summer rental on the North Shore of Long Island from a publishing friend. I also moved out of Irving Place and 18th Street into a one-bedroom rent-stabilized apartment on 22nd between Lexington and Third, literally around Gramercy Park. Jimmy and I are still living at 145 East 22 Street today, 35 years after I signed the original lease.


145 East 22 Street

6) Even if romance is one of the bestselling genre, it’s not considered high literature, quite the contrary. In the '70 I think it was even worst. What was the general reaction among your friends when you decided you wanted to write a Gothic Romance (Gaywyck)?

Alone in that funny, little house on the North Shore I completed the first draft of Gaywyck. By then I knew I wanted to use as many genre devices as I could manage to insert organically, as well as famous quotes from movies and novels and plays–all quotes taken from heterosexual situations, i.e., “I’ve never seen so many beautiful shirts!” from Gatsby. And “Nobody’s ever called me ‘darling’ before,” from Now, Voyagers. In fact, at one point I was stuck; I turned on the TV and there was Charles Boyer telling Irene Dunne to put herself–not him–at the center of her life. Zip it went into the novel at a critical point. “He is ready for a love affair but not for love,” from All That Heaven Allows also came in handy.

Most importantly, I did not want the book to be camp. I constantly reminded myself that Jane Eyre was a revolutionary work. On its publication, it was banned from pulpits and vilified in the press. Why? Because Jane has the balls to say no to being kept by Mr. Rochester. She has the audacity to proclaim she will take care of herself! A woman claiming to be independent? Revolutionary! So why couldn’t my brave, bold Robbie fall in love with another man and not even be slightly fahtootsed by the event. Robbie says as Olivia does in Twelfth Night when she is struck by love mysteriously: “Let it be.” And why the hell not, I asked myself and Jimmy who could not have agreed more with Olivia.
When I completed the fifth draft and felt ready to show it to someone besides Jimmy, I gave I to his agent Elaine Markson who loved it. She declared it a perfect romance. ‘Everyone will love this book!” Well, 35 rejections later, all claiming “gay people don’t want romance. If they did there would be books out there catering to the need.”
I had a friend Gwen Edelman who was an editor at Avon Books. Gwen had been an editorial assistant at S&S to a famous female editor who fell madly in love with one of her authors. Though a freelance person, I had an editorial office at S&S thanks to Michael Korda. Relentlessly herero, Gwen came to me to discuss her confusion over the love notes she found attached to the bouquets of flowers arriving on her bosses desk. Truly open-minded and open-hearted, she quickly became delighted by the traditional signs of love she saw in this untraditional relationship burgeoning before her startled eyes. So, I had Elaine sent Gwen Gaywyck.
One summer’s day in 1979, Gwen (whose father owned a house in East Hampton), visited me in the house Jimmy & I rented on Spring Close Highway. She loved my book. HOWEVER, she lived next door to a gay bar where a manikin of a male torso wore a torn leather jock in the window. She could not believe Avon Books could market my book to a gay market: “Gay men don’t want romance. If they did....”
I told her I was most definitely a gay man. And I wanted romance. In fact, I had loads of romance. Jimmy was the most heavenly romantic. She knew us both. She loved Jimmy. She said she would present the book to Bob Wyatt, editor-in-chief of Avon Books, a gay man. Bob loved Gaywyck. The only problem was the title: it had to go. I proposed a dozen other (awful) titles and finally begged for my original one. The book, with its glorious, classic Gothic cover but with two men, was published in 1980. Liz Smith held it up on her TV news segment and told the world: “I love this book!” Armisted Maupin told his readies: “Read the son of a bith. You’ll love it! And a bookstore in Texas had a bullet shot through its window at the book’s display. And bookstores all over the country had to post warnings at the cash register that the book was a gay romance: please look at the cover closely.


Vincent and James, December 1987, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1121689)

And I received a phone call at 2 A.M. from a young boy in the Midwest who was going to kill himself over his love for his male gym teacher but at the checkout counter of his local A&P he found Gaywyck. (The book buyer probably had not looked at the cover.) The boy was calling from a phone booth on the highway to ask if it was true that men could love each other and have a life together. I told him in my experience it certainly was possible. And at a smart event at a major poetry society, some of America’s most renowned poets sidled up to me to confess sotto voce how much they loved the book. I will never forge the lovely Tim Dlugos collaring me at a restaurant in the East Village to tell me how he read the book “under duress” and could not put the thing down. He was stunned by how good it was!
Thirty years later, people are still stunned by how good it is. But a few years ago, when it was out of print, Elaine sent it to a young editor at Plume. He found it unreadable: “Why would anyone want to read anything like this?” Meanwhile, I now get emails from men telling me how the book changed their lives. Well, it certainly changed mine. I was out Big Time. I had never told my parents I was gay BUT I was living with Jimmy and reminded them of that fact whenever I visited and they asked me who was watching the cat. One afternoon at lunchtime, they put on the radio and heard me on NPR talking about Gaywyck. (Richard Howard has a great story about driving across America with his lover and hearing me on the radio and screaming with joy, literally screaming with joy!) Meanwhile, the Mfia Don and his wife also loved it, but that is another story’s other story.

7) If you had to move tomorrow in a very small house, what object of your life together with James you would absolutely want to take with you?

If I had to move into a very small space I would take Jimmy’s 25th anniversary gift to me. It’s a small silver card tray from Tiffany’s with an inscription: Yale Yule 1964 - 1989.  Our first Christmas together at Yale I gave him a Zippo lighter inscribed “Yale Yule 1964.” And I’m the so-called romantic? Jimmy is capable of unconditional love, the rarest of gifts to give to anyone.
I would walk in the door of our new smaller apartment wearing my Paloma Picasso simple, small, delicate pearl pendant on a thin gold chain from Tiffany’s, which was my 35th anniversary present. Forty was a ruby still needing to be set. I’d carry that in my pocket. The 45th was a crossing on the Queen Mary 2. It was a year late and came because I had eye surgery and could not fly. It also commemorated our two crossings on the Ile de France when we youngsters going back and forth to London. We always carted so much stuff we could never have flown, though once I flew wearing two winter coats and carrying a cast-iron frying pan in my luggage. I still have that well-seasoned pan with which I’ll prepare flounder for tonight’s dinner.

8) You and James are living in the Hamptons now, aren’t you? How is your life today, your day to day routine?

Our homes together have always looked alike, no matter the shape or size of the space. Books, books, and more books; books on pretty much every subject. Books, books, and more books. (I’ve just dispatched over 2500 books from my sister’s Long Island basement and about 500 from the New Your apt to New York’s Strand Bookstore, and over 6 dozen to the local library here on Capitol Hill.) And there are still books, books, and more books in both our New York and Capitol Hill apartments. On the phone recently with Fran Lebowitz, I mentioned the books and she said she has over 8000 books in her place: “They are like fruit flies,” she said. “You buy a plum and suddenly you have a house full of fruit flies!” Jimmy recently reminded me: “Books do furnish a room.”
Besides the books, there are (and always have been) many pictures on the walls: oil paintings and original art in various madia, prints, photographs, posters, etc. Along with what I think of as our lares and penates. Around my writing area are Valentino, Clara Bow–Robbie becomes a silent-film director in Children of Paradise (Gaywyck 3) + a lobby card from Sirk”s All That Heaven Allows + a photo of Marilyn in an Actor’s Studio class glowing like the planet Venus in a dull-orb cluster + a small Japanese ukiyo-e magazine print of Hatsuhana Prays Under a Waterfall with its link to the climax of Children of Paradise + a postcard of Ganesha from the Freer + an 8x10 of the students being hosed in Birmingham in May of 1963 during the Civil Rights “Children’s Crusade”–a symbol of courage in the face of great odds for me + a newly unearthed 1980 photo of Jimmy & me in a bliss state on the lawn of our rental in East Hampton with me holding the newly-arrived cover for Gaywyck and Jimmy holding up that week’s New Yorker with his “Kaye Wayfaring in Avenged” story in it + a color print of Caravaggio’s St. Matthew and the Angel to remind me I do not write my books alone + a news photo of 4 baby swallows peering over the edge of a nest in County Mayo–one of the wonders of my Irish summers + a still of James Dean in his Rebel Without a Cause dressing room flirting outrageously with Perry Lopez who seems on the verge of jumping on Dean’s face + a birthday card from Jimmy assuring me on the outside beneath a glowing youth’s face “You will always look young and beautiful...(inside): To Me.”
Around the room at a quick, cursory glance: A poster from Vertigo + inscribed pictures from Joel Grey, the Clintons–I was their picture editor, Sontag, Victoria de los Angeles. There’s Leontyne Price taking her final bow at the Met + Fred and Ginger swaying together eternally in Swing Time + Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis & (of course) as Dorothy with that Wicked Witch of the West + Suzanne Farrell & Balanchine rehearsing–I was obsessed with them in my NYRB period + Hitchcock stamps framed + Jimmy in front of the Guggenheim at Bilbao & in front of a tractor at the Agricultural Fair at Enniscoe House in Crossmolina, Ireland, our new summer home starting next year + Setsuko Hara + Louise Brooks + a signed poster of Satchmo and Billie Holiday by Phil Stern + many stunning photos of trees in Los Angeles by George Haas with whom I did a beauty of a book on the subject. And there’s more, much more–all artfully arranged, natch–but you get the scene. (There’s also a Micronesian stick chart like the one in Cartographia on page 236.) Jimmy and I live in Manhattan and in Washington, D.C. We came to D.C. in 1995 in order for me to work with the Library of Congress and Alan Brinkley on Eyes of the Nation (1997, Knopf), and then on Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations (2007, Little, Brown), which took 7 years. We’ve stayed in D.C. because it has become our writing studio and is much more conducive to doing work than our New York apartment, which is still our permanent home..
For over twenty-nine years, we have spent our summers in Ireland. East Hampton was our summer and winter get-away home for decades, well before “The Hamptons” was invented by real estate moguls. But the rich summer people in “The Hamptons” became too gross to even fly over nevermind live amongst.
Ever since we spent 24/7 together those first years in London, we both find it difficult to be apart for any length of time. It’s always fun for the first few day but then neither of us sleeps well in beds alone, etc. I have become the U.S. Representative for a major collection of historical documents in County Mayo, where we live, and that has led to a whole new career for me on both sides of the Atlantic.
My “vision” was always that I would be able to write my fiction as my primary occupation with picture work being less a necessity and more a chosen delight or challenge. Well, the gods above me, who must be in the know, have made this my current way of life. I am profoundly grateful for my life. I feel blessed. After Children of Paradise, I hope to complete a large novel called Theatricals begun many years ago and waiting for me with a full first draft in need of a serious rewrite, etc., etc., etc. It’s about the theater in Ireland and America in the 1850s and 1860s with its climax at Antietam. And next May my third Civil War book will be published by Norton: Civil War Sketch Book. It’s about the sketch artists who documented the war at a time when the camera shutter was too slow to capture action. There will be a piece on the book in next May’s National Geographic Magazine, which just may help sell a few copies....
Jimmy is working on the first volume of his memoir, Lasting City, as well as on two pieces of fiction. He was invited to submit a piece to Triplecanopy, an online journal and we both now feel launched in the 21st century: him with that piece in the loveliest of cyberspace worlds and me with Kindle Gaywyck.
Tags: author: james mccourt, author: vincent virga, real life romance
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