Friday, July 6, 2012


I have race prejudice. I tried to exorcize it when I wrote "Somebody, Woman of the Century," expressing my own feelings through the heroine of the book, Cordelia.

From age twenty till the end of the book, Cordelia's best friend, who becomes her "sister," is Rayella, a black nanny and maid.

Cordelia is in her seventies, when Kate, her estranged daughter, whom she hasn't seen for six years, appears unexpectedly. There's an awkward silent moment at the door then this:

Kate said, "I dropped in today to help the cause -- the Women's lib movement. Maybe get an article in the Elliot newspapers about MS. Magazine, or get an ad in the papers for free. You could help."


"You're the executive editor. You could tell the Elliots to make a news page for women. And get feature stories about the first female FBI agent, or the first woman Rabbi -- the progress we've made—girls in the Little League, girls training at NASA, a female's at the summit of Mt. Everest! You could write an editorial. You could be a spokesperson, Mom, and a leader for us!"

. . . Mom . . . not for a long time had Kate called her Mom with reverence . . . It took a moment before Cordelia said, "Kate, the movement is progress and important, but I'm a congresswoman. I have other priorities."

"Mom, women have been downtrodden for years!"

"So have the blacks." . . . what could she say, yammer about civil rights laws that weren't working, bombard Kate with facts showing that equality for women wasn't as important as all men are created equal . . .

"You're not black, Mom! You're a woman!"

"That's your feeling. Not mine, Kate."

Kate muttered through her teeth, furiously. "What a cop-out!

(The mother-daughter conflict continues, as part of the plot for the rest of this novel.)

Back in my grade school days in Winnetka, Illinois, there was a black boy in my class.. My classmates and I were shocked when we saw him at a desk in the front row, but he was smart. He certainly seemed to deserve to be there. Soon he started lunching with one of the girls. We sixth graders gasped, and whispered about it being wrong. Soon other issues diverted us, and they both disappeared -- she moved to another town and he stopped coming to class.

I didn't think much about prejudice till I got to New York City and was trying to be a dancer. Junior Ann Henry, a black girl, and I became a dance duo. Duke Ellington liked us, so did Louis Jordan. (You can read about the year I tried hard to be "black" in AIN'T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS.)

I didn't want to dance like any of the white dancers I knew -- they didn't thrill me. But Talley Beatty did -- he was a black dancer who had magic in his bones. So did Janet Collins, and Alvin Ailey -- he had it and so did Carmen de Lavallade. I wanted that magic in my own bones. It just wasn't there. I wondered if it was because I was white.

I had a head-on collision with another kind of prejudice when it came to gays -- the good-looking male dancers I hired for my Dance Drama Company. Again and again, I found these guys unreliable. I found them imitating what I didn't like about women --. exaggerated helplessness, that sibilant tone of voice that was excessively female, and those broken wrists, their ridiculous concern with a perfect hairdo, perfect outfits.

It didn't occur to me that I was prejudiced, that it was wrong to think the thoughts I "thunk." But when we had a flat tire, the men who could have, should have helped, sat cozily in the warm car, while we girls went out in the snow, to do the work.

Slam-bam! I was told by a friend who's in a lesbian relationship, that whenever I talked or wrote about gay guys or gals, I expressed old-fashioned race-prejudiced ideas. It got me thinking about remarks I made about various well-known creators in show biz. "Oh he's gay!" I would murmur, letting "gay" explain why so-and-so was successful, Was it because birds of a feather flock together -- the gays hire gays? Was it jealousy? Was it because I'm not gay, and not a top flight name in dance?

Apparently, grade school experiences, magic bones, gays. success in theater, and all that I heard and observed over the years -- all that prejudice stuff that's part of American culture -- is in me.

Touré, (he uses one name only), black American essayist, music journalist, cultural critic, and television personality, author of four books, including "Who's Afraid of Post Blackness," which the NY Times called the "notable book for 2011," said in an article in Time recently, "Inside the racist mind, bias is the complex neural play between emotions and beliefs... It's learned quickly, often after a single presentation, of an unconditioned stimulus in a fear learning paradigm." Quoting surveys, psychologists, and research, Touré proves how prejudice is ingrained in us.

I wasn't surprised to learn that 15 percent of Americans believe that blacks pose a greater threat to public safety than any other groups, and realize that my prejudices about gays is built on words in the air, hand-me-down ideas of what's masculine, what's feminine.

Okay, Touré, you're right. I'm prejudiced. Prejudice is a pair of gloves in my drawer that's filled with gloves I've sort of collected over the years.

I don't wear them all the time, but I sometimes I put them on them without thinking -- it's the weather, they look nice, sort of enhance the outfit I'm wearing. Without thinking, just reacting, when I see plays, like "Streetcar Named Desire," with blacks playing the leads, it seems wrong. In Shakespeare In the Park last year, when a black actress played the lead in "Measure for Measure" I was very aware, distracted by one black nun in a group of whites nuns.

I can't change. It's a conditioned reflex. I see a black person and it registers -- he's black, she's black. I hear someone's accent and I might think "Latino." Also, it registers if a person is fat -- I am prejudiced against fat people. I am prejudiced against women who wear too much perfume. Hey, I am even prejudiced against old people inching along, crowding the sidewalk when I'm in a hurry, or homeless people, sleeping on my street.

I don't know how to eliminate prejudice.

But I can try to throw out the gloves.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


I'm memorizing the lyrics to this song from "Man of La Mancha."

My husband, John Cullum, played Don Quixote, the leading role. He performed the matinees for Richard Kiley, then replaced Kiley in the New York City production in the ANTA Washington Square Theater on West 4th Street in Greenwich village.

At night, instead of counting sheep, I repeat the words.

I love the words and the tune -- singing it in my mind is a way of blotting out worrisome thoughts about what I've worked on during my day.

The posts I'm writing for my blog echo at night. All the things we're hearing over and over -- what's wrong, what we can't do, should do -- about wars, the environment, what's not happening in Congress about voter's rights, taxes, paying off the debt, health care ... on and on goes the list of all the things that are blowing in the wind. I try very hard NOT to think about candidates, polls, election news -- I can't, won't want to write about them.

There's too much talk, too many opinions, blogs, interviews, blanket statements -- like advertising, it's selling a point of view. My point of view is just another point of view.

Nowadays, I write about "me" things -- daily doings, thoughts, happenings in my own personal life that relate to other people, but mostly it's thoughts about hopes and dreams.

Years ago, my husband and I used to walk downtown on Fifth avenue and sit in Washington Square Park and toss dreams at each other like pop corn.

I wanted a theater, a home-base for my Dance Drama Company. I wanted to do something in New York that would make me an important name in dance. John, who was auditioning in those days, hoping for a job on Broadway, thought about specifics -- the roles he wanted to play -- Hamlet, Macbeth, and there were rumblings in his soul about directing. I never heard John Cullum speak about being famous.

I was, at that time, working with other choreographers -- recovering from my ballerina dreams, and from the offer I got that disappeared. It was an offer I got from Lincoln Kirstein and the master himself, George Balanchine -- an offer to appear with the NYC Ballet. It didn't happen.

One day, after devouring more popcorn about theaters, I bought a notebook and started making a list about my home-base theater dream. I started putting down on paper what would be involved: A building, some source of money to help me create the actual theater -- a stage, stage-lights, box office, dressing rooms, seats for an audience.

What I didn't have was the ballets, the actual choreographies or dance-dramas my company would perform there.

We looked at buildings all around our neighborhood and Greenwich Village, and put down names of backers we knew, and names -- lots of things to do and try.

Hey, I did get a building. A well-known producer more or less offered to back me. We got connected to a fund-raiser, met VIP people. Meanwhile, John was ascending. He got a first job, then another and another. Yes, I got a great building, however things didn't turn out the way they'd been shaped and colored in my thoughts.

Even so, from that dream, came other dreams and specifics happened for the Dance Drama Company as well as for my "fame name" -- things that filled my head night and day. It still sits in my memory as WOWS -- wonderful happenings.

But win some, lose some, some rained out.

Do I have big dreams like that now? Well ... yes and no. Do you? It's a precious, sweet, wonderful time of your life. But I've been there, and I know the weather changes.

Anyhow, at night, instead of reviewing things that I've thought about during the day, I've been chanting "Dream the Impossible Dream." It lifts me, buoys me. I don't know the last verse yet by heart. I get to the third verse --
"... To fight for what's right without question of pause.
"... To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause --"

Then, I fumble around with the last verses that I can't seem to memorize. Then I go back to the beginning and start with the first verse again.

I keep reaching, I love the idea ... I love the feeling of reaching for the unreachable star.

Monday, July 2, 2012


What a picture! I wish I'd made it myself. It's been haunting me ever since I saw it in March, decorating an article. Newsweek photographer, Jesse Lenz, put it together from various sources.

Three good-looking "dancers," with hats, canes, spats and gloves in their hands -- Zuckerberg in the center, leading Zynga's Mark Pincus, and Google's Sergey Brin.

Google's dancer said, "We want Google to be the third half of your brain." Zynga's dancer is a Mobile Gaming expert, and Zuck -- wowy -- he's world famous -- lauded, given awards, respected -- deemed bold, called an innovator. He's an example to the younger generation of how to succeed in business.

I think he has tried hard to succeed -- he's a very smart star dancer, though, as a Facebooker, I am seriously annoyed with some of the changes he's made to streamline things for us, his 800 million users. We are buyers who came in to his theater, and grabbed the best seats -- though we don't pay cash to connect with friends, we pay by lending FB our names, and data.

Yep, there's Zuck in the center -- the lead dancer, who's got the dance routine down pat -- shuffle, hop, step, ball change. The other two dancers are happily observing, checking, and imitating him -- learning the routine from behind. Those tap steps are tricky.

Yes, a huge audience is watching.-- lots of them wondering if this very smart star, Zuckerberg, screwed up the IPO -- the initial public offering that opened the show. Some think the IPO was too fancy. Some insiders told other insiders that the show was going to bomb. Big money guys who back the big shows, backed away, while other guys rushed to buy, and learned, oops, they lost about 25%.

Hey, the show must go on. The trio's still dancing, performing full-out, though lawsuits are appearing. Hey, even if the leading dancer goofed, or one of his choreographers at Morgan Stanley goofed, he's dancing.

It's a big show! The show must go on, right?

But I don't like being in the audience. I don't like the theater or the stage set -- I don't like being on that yellow brick road, on the way to Gold City, where Zuckerberg, Pincus and Brin are heading.