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Reading the Arts

Past Continuous: An Interview with Alfred Allan Lewis

One of the great pleasures of all the years I have lived in New York is meeting people a generation or two before me who have had extraordinary careers in the arts. In a place like New York, this is surprisingly easy to do. Many of them I met through my job as an editor at Opera News; many others I met while conducting interviews for my books; still others I met at parties or through mutual friends. A partial list would include Eileen Farrell, Margaret Whiting, Martina Arroyo, Elizabeth Wilson, Barbara Barrie, Elinor Ross, Brenda Lewis, Kay Armen, Marta Eggerth Kiepura, Rosalind Elias, Annie Ross, Joel Honig, Sonya Haddad, Cesare and Nicoletta Valletti. Professional encounters often blossomed into long friendships that have enriched my life beyond measure.

When I moved to Miami in January to begin a new job with Florida Grand Opera, I wondered if I would be still be able to meet artists with such a potent connection to the past. I shouldn’t have fretted about it; these people are all around us, in any city. Through our mutual friend Justin Moss, I met Alfred Allan Lewis, a prolific author and brilliant raconteur. Allan, as he is known to his friends, is a spellbinder in conversation. Recently, I sat down to speak with him about his remarkable career for From Claudette Colbert to James Jones to Bette Davis to Pola Negri, nearly every encounter Lewis has had seems to have been a memorable one.

BK: Allan, throughout your career, you’ve written an amazing number of books, plays, and scripts, all of great variety. But when you were young, you didn’t really think about a writing career, did you?
AAL: No. I wanted to be in the theater. I was very fortunate. My mother would take me to matinees on Saturdays and we would sit up in the top of the theater, the cheapest seats, and I saw the heads of very great actors. In college, I went to NYU, because at that point, NYU offered the only major in motion pictures on the Eastern seaboard. It was run by a man named Robert Gessner, who had some reputation. It never made me into a filmmaker. After a while, the whole process seemed to bore me. I graduated from college in 1950, when I was twenty‐one. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was walking up Broadway past what was then the Astor Hotel and the Astor Pharmacy, on the corner of Forty‐fifth Street and Broadway. And a man came out and said, “Hey! How tall are you?” I said, “6’2 1/2”.” He said, “You wanna work nights?” I said, “What kind of work?” He said, “In a show.” I said, “Oh. Sure.” I had to take an audition, and we headed down Forty‐fifth Street to the Booth Theater.

At the bottom of the stairs was a buxom, familiar‐looking platinum blonde. Very short. It was Mae West. She looked me over and threw a script at me and said, “Read these lines, honey.” The lines were nothing. Even I could do it. So I ended up playing The Champ in Diamond Lil. We played a week in New York. And then we went on tour. And part of the tour was what was called the “Subway Circuit.” There was live theater with big stars all over New York. We got to the Flatbush Theater, and my mother came to a matinee. She saw me cross the stage as The Champ, in tight black pants and a turtle‐neck shirt that gave me great muscles. I would walk across the stage and a waiter would say, “Hey, Lil—there goes The Champ. You wanna feel his muscles?” And her reply, always to great laughter, was, “It’s not his muscles I want to feel.”

After the matinee, my mother was waiting. We went to a restaurant and she said very little. She had a martini. She put her hand on my arm and she said, “Allan—are you sure this is what you want to do with your life?” I was sure.

Things kept happening. I kept acting, even though I wasn’t an actor. I had a good voice and a fairly good presence.

After that, I became Sam Wanamaker’s assistant while he was still in America, doing a series of plays. From there, I went on to be Shepard Traube’s production assistant on an Aldous Huxley play called The Gioconda Smile, with Basil Rathbone and a wonderful English actress named Valerie Taylor. It wasn’t much of a hit, but I enjoyed moments like sitting at the top of the Warwick Hotel with Aldous Huxley and his wife Mariah, and Aldous’s brother Julian and Edith Sitwell. While we sat there, they were very seriously discussing the lives of apes in Africa. (Laughs)

BK: Was Edith Sitwell unbelievably eccentric in person?

AAL: Well, she sat very still and very straight‐backed. She was certainly eccentric‐looking. But there was nothing more eccentric about her than the others. Aldous was at that point practically blind.

BK: You were in another play with Basil Rathbone, weren’t you?

AAL: At that time—this was around 1950—51—there was a thing called ANTA, the American National Theater and Academy, run by a woman named Rosamond Gilder, part of a great literary family. She also published Theatre Arts Magazine. She was a wonderful woman. And everyone would drop by the offices of ANTA, which were upstairs in the old Hudson Theater building. You would stuff envelopes, do whatever was necessary. A call came in from what was then the Hotel Edison Theater. They were doing Julius Caesar, and Rathbone was playing Cassius. Rosamond Gilder hung up and said, “They’re having a call for Julius Caesar; they want actors with deep voices.” She looked around and pointed at me and said, “You have a deep voice.” I said, “But I”m not an actor.” She said, “They’ll never know.” And I went in and I wound up playing Cinna the Poet. My actor friends hated me, because I never looked for a job.

BK: And you had no training.

AAL: Never! And then my third triumph [laughs] came when Sam Wanamaker was doing Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea, with Luise Rainer and Herbert Berghof. There was a scene with tourists. The tour guide was Eli Wallach, and Annie Jackson played the younger daughter in the family. I was in that. So my theater career was Mae West, Shakespeare and Ibsen [Laughs]

BK: This was several years after Rainer’s film career ended. Was she hoping to re‐establish herself in the theater?

AAL: I think so. Why else would you do this? This was a two‐week, limited engagement, and her name was enough to guarantee a box office. Sam didn’t know how to handle her. She was intensely neurotic and insecure, and she had to be handled delicately. Sam was very mean. I would go back to her apartment with her. She would say, “Come and correct my pronunciation.” I would cue her. And her performance was lovely—delicate and nuanced. But Sam just beat the hell out of her.

BK: To what end?

AAL: Because she could be a pain. And he was wrestling with his own career.

I went to work for a publicist and we did a lot of publicity for a lot of Broadway shows—the ones that Robert Whitehead and Saint Subber did. They were our two clients. In the press office, was a woman named Maddie Blitzstein, a wonderful, funny woman who was Marc Blitzstein’s stepmother. I met Marc through her. We were at a party and he played some of his adaptation of The Threepenny Opera. I had a friend named Stanley Chase, who with Carmen Capalbo thought they would produce a Camus play. I said, “That will open on Wednesday and close on Saturday. I know of an adaptation of The Threepenny Opera. I’m going to introduce you to Marc, and if you approve of each other, I think that’s the thing you should do.”

It was funny, because the summer before I worked managing Lucille Lortel’s theater in Westport, The White Barn. When they were in trouble, because they wanted to extend the run at what was then the Theatre de Lys, I called her husband Lou Schweitzer and he said, “No, she doesn’t do anything she isn’t a part of.” I said to Stanley, “Why don’t you make her co‐producer, so you can bring the show back?” The original reviews of The Threepenny Opera were very bad. It was only when Brooks Atkinson came later in the run and gave it a rave that it picked up. It was originally reviewed only by music critics. Lotte Lenya was wonderful, but she was not a singer. The production had wonderful people in it—Bea Arthur, in an early role. At any rate, we did and she did, and then she bought the Theatre de Lys and modestly renamed it the Lucille Lortel.

A couple of years later, Stanley was going to take what was to be a legendary company that did Porgy and Bess for the State Department. William Warfield was doing Porgy. And Leontyne Price was Bess. We took that to Europe; I was the manager—the advance man. It was a disaster. It was called Blues Opera. It was by Harold Arlen, and it was really St. Louis Woman jazzed up. Anything that could go wrong with it went wrong. So in Paris, I got the American Embassy to charter a plane—otherwise, forty black actors were going to be stranded in Paris, because Stanley didn’t have the money to send them home. They went home, and I stayed on. And I began to write. This would have been 1959, and I had banked all of my salary and lived on my expense account. I had a hunk of cash, and the dollar was King in Europe. I lived in a little hotel on the West Bank, and I had a lot of friends. A great friend of mine was James Jones, who wrote From Here to Eternity. They had a great apartment on the Île Saint‐Louis. The Paris Review was starting. Bill Styron was always around. The gathering point was the Jones apartment. Every night was a party with big name people. One night there was a raucous party. Styron was there. George Plimpton. Bob Silvers. The whole gang. I left the party at the same time Jimmie Baldwin left. Jimmie turned to me and said, “The trouble with those cats is that they’re still looking for Hemingway—and he don’t live here anymore.” [Laughs]

BK: So by this time James Jones had written not only From Here to Eternity, but Some Came Running.

AAL: Yes. Some Came Running he finished when he was courting his wife, Gloria. He gave us all a copy. And when he said, “What did you think?” I said, “I thought half of it was brilliant. It was the best writing about Middle America since Sinclair Lewis. But the other half, when you’re giving us lessons in how to drive and how to drink and all the things you learned when you became successful—that was boring!”

BK: What was his reaction?

AAL: Ha! At that time I had written a novel. I got a good reaction to it, and I got a scholarship to Yaddo, the artist colony in Saratoga, New York. Jim Jones wanted to prove to me that he could write a very controlled book, and the day before I left for Yaddo, he gave me his new novella, called The Pistol. It’s much forgotten, but it’s brilliant. Very controlled. I said to him, “You proved your point. It’s a wonderful book.”

James Jones and Bill Styron were professional Southerners. They went to Civil War battlefields and graveyards together. I remember we were all in East Hampton—Jimmie Baldwin was there, too—and it was the week that Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner came out. Everyone thought it was wonderful, and I said, “What did you think of Nat Turner?” Baldwin said, “How dare that little Southern liberal write about our hero and motivate him by wanting to get into some white girl’s pants?” He was furious. And when Sophie’s Choice was published, I happened to see Jimmie again. He said, “What did you think of Sophie’s Choice?” I said, “What you thought of Nat Turner. How dare that little Southern liberal write a book about the Holocaust in which the only Jewish person is a psychopathic killer?”

BK: Who else was at Yaddo when you were there?

AAL: Nell Graham, a wonderful painter, was there. There was one guy, a sleepy‐eyed guy, who was working very hard on his novel. He said, “I work all night, so don’t worry if I sleep all day, because I’m getting stuff done.” It was Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather.

BK: Were you able to work in that environment?

AAL: It was wonderful, because you had your room, which was marvelous. You had breakfast, and you took your little lunch box, which had an apple, a sandwich and a thermos of coffee, and went to your studio. At that time, people went from colony to colony to colony. Katherine Anne Porter was there.

BK: Did you know her?

AAL: Very well. Early on, she wrote a story, “Maria Concepción.” I wanted to make a play of it. I had a friend who later became the chief editor at Crown, who introduced me to Katherine Anne Porter. She was such a beauty. But she was a bitch. Never did a good word pass her lips about anybody.

BK: She was a good friend of Eudora Welty, but I think a lot came attached to the friendship. I think she drove Eudora Welty a little bit crazy at times.

AAL: Well, what happened was that Eudora Welty drove her crazy by becoming so successful! [Laughs] She was supposed to be a nice young promising writer who sat at Katherine Anne’s feet.

So, as I said, I had my press agent days, and I went to Paris. I wrote a play, A Beautiful Friendship, and a friend of mine sent it to Audrey Wood, who said she wanted to handle me, which was very nice. I moved to London, thinking that it would be easier to get a production of it in England. It got a lot of options, but it never was produced. Probably wasn’t all that good. And then I started to do television in London and extended my stay a few years. It was the early 1960s. London was beginning to swing. I’m a writer who works in the morning. I don’t particularly like to work in the afternoon. In London, with the licensing laws, you could live the most wicked life you could imagine and still be home by midnight, so it suited me fine.

Then my mother was dying, and I came to America in 1964. I had met Claudette Colbert through a woman who as a friend of mine in Paris named Ginette Spanier [director of the House of Balmain, one of Paris’s leading fashion houses].

BK: I read Audrey Wood’s autobiography, which I thought was fascinating. How closely did you work with her?

AAL: I wrote a play that she handled called Violets are Blue. Everyone loved that play. She sent it to David Susskind, who optioned it for a lot of money about two days after he got it. He was waiting for Kim Stanley, because he thought she was the only actress to do it. Kim Stanley wanted to do Othello, with Tony Richardson, so she wasn’t accepting anything. So David Susskind sent it to Mike Nichols, who turned it down. I met Mike a little while after, and asked him why he turned it down. He said, “I don’t even open an envelope if it comes from David Susskind.” Things like that happened. At any rate, I knew Claudette, and became quite friendly with her lover, a woman named Verna Hull. My mother was dying, and Verna suggested that I write a play for Claudette. I did. It was called Diplomatic Relations, and lo and behold, she wanted to do it. And we did it on tour, with Brian Aherne and Irene Hervey, who was Allan Jones’s wife and Jack Jones’s mother.

Claudette was a bitch beyond being a bitch. Ladylike Claudette could swear like a sailor. Morton DaCosta, who had done Auntie Mame, was directing it. And Elliot Martin produced it, and he had just done Never Too Late. There I was in high cotton, as they say. And Irene, who was a lovely woman, said, “I have a dress that I had made for Jack’s opening at the Persian Room in New York, and maybe I could wear it in the party scene in your play.” And she brought it in, and it was much too elaborate, so we were about to tell her that it wasn’t right, at which point in sailed Claudette, who said, “All right, Irene—let’s see that dress.” She showed it to her and Claudette said, “Oh, honey—that’s a dress only a whore would wear.”

BK: Nice. How did she get on with Brian Aherne?

AAL: Not well. At the end of the play, the character Brian was playing leaves her. He is a married man, and they have had this romance. And there was a chance of his running for political office. And in those days, a divorce would mean the end of his career. And months before, Claudette would call me in New York from Hollywood and she would say, “I’ve been re‐reading the play, and when that @$%^sucker walks out on me, the whole audience is going to think he’s a #&@ %.” Sorry, but I don’t say those words, not in an interview. There was also a line in which she says to her daughter, “Without love, it’s only fornication.” Nice line. She said, “I don’t say words like ‘fornication’ onstage!” I said, “Claudette, say anything you want.”

BK: Did she make lots of demands for changes?

AAL: Constantly. When we opened the play in Palm Beach, it got terrible reviews, and it deserved them. We worked on it for a week and then came to Miami, and The Miami Herald called it the funniest play since The Man Who Came to Dinner! But by then she was unhappy. She said, “Why does everyone get laughs in this play but me?” And I said, “Because you have cut all the laugh lines you have!”

BK: What do you think was the source of her difficult personality?

AAL: First of all, she had a difficult mother who ruled her life to the day the mother died. And Claudette was very conflicted about her sexuality. Two lovely ladies, I was told by Radie Harris, had taken her over and introduced her to the theater. And when she got her first big part, she turned her back on them as if they didn’t exist. And then she got to Hollywood. She wasn’t a Hollywood beauty, and the people in Hollywood made things worse by telling her that only the left side of her face was photographable. She had wonderful taste, and she was a good painter. But she had that insecurity.

Morton DaCosta blocked from the script before we even went into rehearsal. It didn’t work with Claudette. Wherever he sent her, she always floated up to the bar. DaCosta said to me, “Why does she do that?” I said, “Because it’s the only place on that set where she can show the left side down.” She was a very elegant, handsome creature. But this had been so drilled into her. All of these things added up.

There was a guy [actor Norman Foster] she was supposedly married to in New York. Then they went to Hollywood, and she met Joel Pressman, who was a surgeon, and fell in love. So the first guy, who everyone thought was her husband, wasn’t really married to her. She said, “We raced over the border to Mexico, with reporters following us. We lost them, we got married, we came back, and got a divorce!” And this fellow ended up marrying one of Loretta Young’s sisters.

Claudette was such a hypocrite. Verna and she lived in the same apartment house on Sixty‐fourth and Lexington, with adjoining penthouses. They each had separate elevators downstairs, and they would go up in their separate penthouses, and pitter patter across the servants’ entrance from one apartment to the other! Their houses in Barbados were also next to each other, and there was a door in the garden wall. Verna said something very scathing about Joel Pressman, who had just died or was about to die, and that was too much for Claudette.

We were playing at the Coconut Grove here in Miami, and she said, “Have you spoken to Verna today?” I said no, and she said, “Well, she tried to commit suicide last night. Verna had not come down when Jack had come down; she didn’t want to be there at the same time. I called Verna and she said, “It’s nothing. I took an overdose of pills by mistake. And Gloria Safier came over and I said, ‘I didn’t mean to kill myself, for God’s sake.’” I said, “That’s right. Because if you had meant it, you would have succeeded. Now cut the shit, Verna. We’re in trouble down here.”

I went back to Claudette and I told her that I said to Verna, “Now cut the shit.” She said, “You did? Well, you know, she’s a good friend of mine, but she sometimes gets so possessive.” And I said to Claudette, “Now you cut the shit.”

At one point in the rehearsals, she was still upset about the fact that the man, played by Brian Aherne, was leaving. I had not rewritten it for him to stay. And Claudette said, “Well, you know, if a man loves a woman…” and Brian said, “But if a man is in a situation like this, where the entire life he had built would tumble down if he stayed, he might leave.” And she said to him, in front of the whole company, “Oh, Brian—what would you know about love?” And he turned red, and he said, “Well, Claudette, you have your own opinion, but I would not talk about love, were I you.”

BK: And she got it.

AAL: Everyone got it.

Claudette had the gift of killing the laugh lines, because she would chuckle as she said them. Even in film. If the actors laughs, the audience won’t. Diplomatic Relations was done later with Anne Baxter. It was successful, but what Anne didn’t have that Claudette did have was a sense of timing. Anne didn’t, but she was quite good in it.

Bette Davis was another of the actresses who wanted to do Diplomatic Relations. There was a new producer, a guy from Texas with a lot of money. It was arranged for us to come to the apartment Bette was staying in and see her. She had the script and liked it. It was a rainy day. Stretched across one wall was a bar with anything you could dream of. She said, “You’re not supposed to drink until the sun goes over the yardarm. Sun didn’t even come up today. What do you want?” We had drinks, and this terrible little producer was fawning over her and at her knees, saying, “Whatever you want.…” We never heard from her again, and I met her some time later through a mutual friend, and I said, “Why did you suddenly disappear?” She said, “That was for your good and for my good. That guy was saying, ‘I’m a rug. Walk on me.’ And when anyone says ‘Walk on me’ … I walk.”

BK: I was fascinated to find that you were a scriptwriter on the early days of Dark Shadows. It was a staple of my childhood; my schoolmates and I used to hound the bus driver to hurry up if he wasn’t going to get us home by 4:00 so we could tune in. Joan Bennett starred in it, and I later wrote a book about the Bennett family.

AAL: Very funny thing. I was on Dark Shadows early on. There were no vampires yet. No Barnabas Collins. There was a thing called The Phoenix: it looked at you and you turned to fire. And Joan played the head of the family. But Joan had an engagement in Chicago to play S.N. Behrman’s Jane for three or four weeks. So we had to write her out temporarily. We put her in a trance. And we did cover shots of the whole family gathering: “Is she all right? Will she ever be well?” We did that for the entire time she was gone doing the play.

BK: I remember, because my mother didn’t like Joan Bennett. She didn’t think she was very good. And my mother was passing through the room while I was watching one of those episodes, and she said, “How will we be able to tell when she comes out of the trance?”

AAL (Laughs): Your mother was very mean. Joan was a very nice woman.

I remember that when Myrna Loy’s autobiography came out, and there was a party. I went with Radie Harris. There was Joan and Myrna and another movie star of the same vintage. And Radie immediately sat down next to them. And the press agent, John Springer, came up to me and said, “Allan, can’t you get Radie out of there? We want to take a picture.” I said, “Did you ever try to separate Theodore Roosevelt from Mount Rushmore?”

BK: How long did it take you to write an episode of Dark Shadows?

AAL: Three hours. Another writer came up with the plot and I wrote the dialogue. Three hours. Thirty pages here. Typewriter here. Thirty pages here. Done. Put it in an envelope and send it off.

BK: You had done other serials before.

AAL: Yes, I had done The Doctors.

BK: Did the producers tell you to go at a very slow pace?

AAL: There were no instructions. An actor had to get the script and memorize it, and it was shot the next day. In The Doctors, the producer asked me to write a long monologue in which one of the characters asked me to tell, without it being pedantic, what had happened through the years. I gave him the monologue, and he said, “This is great, but I can’t do it overnight. This takes work.” In those days, people on soaps drank a lot of coffee, and very little liquor! There was no swearing and nobody really seduced anyone else.

On The Doctors, there was something funny. We had a medical expert from Harvard go over the scripts to make sure we were right, medically. We asked this guy for a disease that would almost kill a child, but he would survive after a long time—because that was part of the plot. So he gave us a disease, and we wrote it for the kid. And someone called us the next day and said, “You know, that child isn’t going to live. There is no cure for that disease.” So we invented a doctor who had invented a cure for this disease that worked most of the time, but through something else, he had killed someone, and he was disbarred from the medical profession. He drank too much. We got him up to the New England town where this took place, and our hero said, “I know his work. Let’s let him try this, because nothing else is going to work.” So we did it. The child was saved. Then we put the doctor in a car and sent him over a cliff and killed him, so that we wouldn’t get letters from people who had children with the same disease saying, “Where do we find this doctor?” Which would happen in soaps! We killed the husband of one of the actresses—we killed him because he wanted too much money—and she got condolence cards from all over the country. That’s how powerful the soaps were at that time.

BK: Allan, you have written so many books. I was speaking with Michael Korie, the lyricist of War Paint [the new Broadway musical about the rivalry between cosmetics queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden.] He spoke very warmly of your biography, Miss Elizabeth Arden, and said it was quite helpful.

AAL (laughs): So why don’t I sue? When I read about this, I thought, how are they going to do this? Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden never met. Tom Lewis was Elizabeth Arden’s husband, and he really put her cosmetics into department stores and helped to make her a great success. He had helped to build this business, but she owned it all. She discovered him having an affair and she divorced him. She gave him a contract that said that for seven years he could not work in the cosmetics business, and she would give him $50,000. Back in 1932, that was not a bad amount of money. He accepted it. The day the seven years was over, he went to work for Helena Rubinstein. After he finished with that, someone said, “Tell me, Tom. What was the difference between Elizabeth and Helena?” And he said, “I’ll tell you something. If I had a stroke and was lying on the floor, Elizabeth would walk over me and Helena would walk around me.”

BK: Your book contracts were with various publishers.

AAL: Yes. After I did Diplomatic Relations, Gloria Safier had been my agent. And she was a good friend of Larry Ashmead, a marvelous editor, who was editing the autobiography of Pola Negri. This was in 1968. They had paid her $250,000 to write it, and they had nothing from her! She said she needed help. Gloria suggested me and said I was wonderful with women and knew all about the movies.

We met her in the Edwardian Room at the Plaza, and Larry said to me, “Remember: when she starts talking about ‘Rudy,’ it’s Valentino and not Vallee.” (Laughs) We met and talked, and I made an arrangement with Larry that he would pay me something like $5,000, and I would do the first chapter, and we would see where it went from there.

I wrote the first chapter. She loved it. She said, “Only one thing is wrong.” She had a friend who died of tuberculosis and they were both studying the ballet, and I invented a scene where the friend is running her hand through the lake in the park in Warsaw and says, “I would like to be like a swan and float, float, float.” She said, “Only one thing wrong. I say that. There’s enough tragedy: she dies.”

BK (laughs): So veracity wasn’t the key here.

AAL: I invented so much of her background. I said to her at one point, “Pola, there must have been a man—a lover, a boyfriend, something. She said, “No, nothing—I had to work so hard to get Mamma out of slum.” So I invented this lover named Joseph Podemsky. I wrote the chapter in which he appeared and I sent it to her, and she read and loved it. She said, “Is only one thing wrong. You say he had an aquiline nose. As I remember, it was straight.” (Laughs)

She was very nice. I liked her. We would come to New York once a month or something like that. She always stayed at the Sherry‐Netherland Hotel. I would meet her there at 9:30 or 10 in the morning. At noon, she would stop and say, “Is time to have martini.” And she would order lunch. She would call them and say, “What is plat du jour?” And she would turn to me and say, “Always order plat du jour. Is always fresh.”

BK: I love the title: Memoirs of a Star.

AAL: It was supposed to be called Memoirs of a Movie Star. But she said, “I am more than movie star. I am a star.” She was very funny.

BK: As someone who is active in book publishing now, it’s mind‐boggling that she would have gotten $250,000 as an advance. Was there any prayer of getting it back?

AAL: I wouldn’t think they would get two cents back! I invented all along the way. Margaret West [the San Antonio oil heiress] was her lover. And I went down there once, when she couldn’t come up. She put me up in a lovely hotel right next to the Alamo. I said, “Now, Pola. I will handle this any way you want. But what about Rudolph Valentino: wasn’t he gay?” She almost climbed the wall of the hotel. She said, “No, no. Everyone has it so wrong. Everyone thinks Rudy and I were friends and Margaret and I are lovers. Is other way around!”

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  1. A totally intriguing and erudite interview. Mr. Lewis is a fascinating man and Brian Kellow’s questions were very compelling.

  2. I loved this interview. Mr Lewis has fascinating stories to tell. I hope he’s working on his autobiography right this minute.

    • Thanks, Seamus. Yes, there are plenty more where these came from! Every encounter with Allan is one to remember.

  3. Brian — this was a wonderfully compelling interview with a modern‐day equivalent of a Renaissance man. Bravo! Here’s hoping you find more like Allen in Miami, just waiting to recount their fascinating backstories to you.

  4. An amazing interview — what a life and what history not to mention memory! Did he like the opera world? I read this several times and loved it! Bravo Brian and I’m sure you can’t wait to meet up with him each time. OK, I’m old, but why can’t this generation be interesting like this? Thanks for this!

  5. WHO KNEW? What a great interview with this fascinating gent, and boy, you are the perfect guy for the job. Not many journalists today could bring this breadth of knowledge into play. You really knew the right questions to ask, and how to pursue the right topics and keep him going. The inside scoop on Pola, Mae, Bette, Claudette–what a treat! Maybe some day you’ll bring us a Part Two.

  6. Delightful interview with Lewis, an author whose books I have enjoyed. Pola Negri’s fabrications lead me to think that one day they’ll find her birth certificate and it will read:
    Maizie Glutz: Canarsie!
    As for Colbert, maybe Noel Coward was correct when he said: “Claudette I’d wring you neck if you had one.”

  7. Sebastian Spreng

    July 22, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Such a deserved interview, thanks Brian, he is a Miami treasure like you are now, lucky us!

  8. Wonderful interview. You have a gift for creating a safe place for your subject to open up and share. Your questions help spark remembrances for the interviewed and give us (the readers) the experiences they have had in an art that interests so many of us. Thanks Brian!

  9. Wonderful interview! Just pure pleasure. Thank you!

  10. Happy to have found you on Facebook, I went on to read your interview with my dear friend Alfred Allan Lewis. Allan and his late husband, Ralph Lutrin were regulars at New Theatre, which I co‐founded with my wife, Kimberly in 1986. In our last season (2006) we staged Allan’s LADIES AND NOT SO GENTLE WOMEN, which he adapted into a play for us (from his book of the same title) with Kimberly in mind. We now live in Cincinnati but remain in touch with Allan. Thanks for doing this interview with a Miami treasure and thank you also for starting your blog. Please put us in your followers’ list so that we can continue to read your posts. And, sometime, check mine out.

    • Thank you so much, Rafael. You can just click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button above, and you will automatically receive notifications of my new posts. I’ll check on yours right away. Many thanks again–

  11. Dear Brian,

    I hope this finds you well. I greatly enjoyed your interview with Mr. Lewis, especially when he mentions Ginette Spanier and Claudette Colbert.

    I am currently working on a biography of Madame Spanier, and am having a difficult time finding someone who knew both of them.

    I would be honored to speak with Mr. Lewis, over the phone. Or I could email some questions. I’m not looking for anything formal really, just any memories–How he met Madame Spanier and subsequently Claudette Colbert? How he would describe the two? What their friendship was like?

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Very best

    • Dear Ms. Cutler,
      I would be happy to put you in touch with Allan. Let me email him and see if he’s willing. Many thanks–

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