A Letter From America

  • Posted on: 07/09/2018

As our chums Muriel and Jasper are experiencing difficulties with their website, we are helping them out this week.

To set the scene, it is September 1958 and Sebastian is a young actor living in Greenwich village writing home to Scotland, having received a letter from his Aunt. 

125 Christopher Street

 Greenwich Village

West Side Lower Manhattan

New York

My Dear Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper (and Mrs Travers, I know you will have steamed this letter open as I expect, as usual, you are not doing a lot),

Up Early with the Cock to See the Ship Dock

How simply marvellous it was to get your long, newsy letter from Dimitri when he and Cousin Lulubelle (once removed) docked at Pier 90. I got up very early with the cock to go and watch them sail up the Hudson on the Queen Mary – the world’s greatest ship. It was quite easy to spot Cousin Lulubelle waving, as her spectacles do take up quite a lot of deck space. Dimitri was hanging over the rails as it had, he said, been quite a rough passage.

According to Cousin Lulubelle, (who said she was surprised as she thought he was quite used to a bit of rough), it was not so much the swell of the drink that was the problem but five nights on Black Russians, “Sebastian, hunny child” she said, “Lulubelle done told him that it’s better to add a dash more kahula and hold back on the cherry. Landsakes! How many times I gotta issue ma warnings about too much fruit and vegaetables? It’s bayad for the digestion an’ ma faast food business.”

She certainly has an answer for everything. It seems, however, that despite a bit of rough, they enjoyed the crossing and both were asked to play a part in the Crew entertainment, “All the nice girls love a sailor” – an evening of not so traditional seafaring songs and sketches. Dimitri caused something of a sensation with his pas de trois, devised with the help of a pastry chef who specialises in custard slices and a stoker from Stockport who once met Marie Rambert. Apparently it has been many years since so many impressive balancoires have been seen below the water line.

Have You Seen Rear Window?

Cousin Lulubelle’s luggage took longer to come off than the third class passengers took to disembark. Dimitri said he could swear the stern of the ship went down a few inches as her hair pieces were lifted from the forehead cargo-hold. I think he is a bit overwhelmed by the sight of New York and says he cannot get the sound of Gershwin out of his head.

Once we were organised a fleet of yellow cabs took Lulubelle to the Waldorf Astoria and Dimitri and I came back to my new apartment here on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. I am sure you will be able to visualise where I live when I tell you that these apartments were used as the inspiration for the apartment where James Stewart was confined in Rear Window.

I have started to show Dimitri around the neighbourhoods. We have met up with Lulubelle a couple of times, but she is largely busy with business. Goodness knows what she will find to bring back to Scotland, but I am sure her rissoles in a bun with dill pickles are only just the beginning of a food revolution in Britain.

She has also been visiting that family of property developers of whom she is fond.  You remember Aunt, the mother comes from the Hebrides originally and they have a son called Danny or Donny or something, Lulubelle has taken under her wing. Says she’s “gonna turn him into a tycoon”. I got the distinct impression they were not very taken with Dimitri and myself. Like Lulubelle they know the value of every Wall Street Stock to the last cent.

Learning To Make An Entrance

I am indeed well and enjoying life in the village. It is as you say very gay and full of life.  I am enjoying my training in “the method”. It is based at The Actors Studio in what is known as the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ neighbourhood. Over the years it has had a number of different bases but in 1955 moved to its current home in an old United Presbyterian Church.  Funny that, when I think about it, as you once said Uncle Jasper, “for us Scots there is no escape from Presbyterianism. It runs very deep even when you think you have broken free.” Well all I can say is that it now runs some very influential classes.

A lot of people get the wrong idea about “the method” and think we spend our time living as our characters, eating gruel when we are playing prisoners etc, but it is more than that, it is a support and a training ground. It is where we can get practice, criticism and help from fellow members.

It is not easy to be a member; there are at least two auditions to get through. You might have heard of Joanne Woodward; she describes it as not an audition but “an inquisition”. Based on Stanislavsky’s ideas it is a chance to try new things and he never himself said “you must do it this way.”  It is not as some have suggested a “breeding ground for mumblers”. If you want to see it in action then look at Marlon Brando’s entrance in  A Street Car Named Desire when he interacts with Vivian Leigh, a classically trained actress. Now that’s the way to take a jacket off.

I met Miss Monroe there. She is one of very few non-members to be allowed to participate. They say she walks with one heel lower than the other to give her that wiggle. Have a look at Lady Pentland-Firth’s shoes, I think she does the same.

Great Days

It is always good to hear news of the Edinburgh Festival. New York is a great place for festivals and parades, for example the Easter Parade and St Patrick’s Day parades are well known and a Puerto Rican parade has been introduced this year for the first time. This was very popular and reflects the large number of people in New York who have come from Puerto Rico to live in the Land of the Free.

Unfortunately Dimitri was not here in time for this, just as he also missed the Great Day in Harlem.  I know you would have enjoyed this Uncle Jasper with your interest in jazz, as fifty seven notable jazz musicians have just been photographed all together in front of a brownstone. The picture was taken at around 10am on August 12 at 17 East, 126th Street and featured Count Basie, Gene Krupa, Pee Wee Russell and Dizzy Gillespie to name but four.

It is due to be published in January next year. It is unlikely that all these greats will ever all be together again. Made me think – how about ‘A Great Day in the Rural Bolt Hole’ or ‘A Great Day in Kelvinside’? Just a thought, you could fundraise for the Home for Fallen Women by selling copies. Of course Aunt you would have to be at the centre of both photographs.

Over And Out

I am taking Dimitri to Central Park with his new Hula Hoop and then we might go to the movies and see Elvis in King Creole. Later this evening a friend called Maya Angelou is taking us to the Harlem Writers’ Guild.

The rest of the week is taken up with rehearsals at the Cherry Lane Theatre where I am appearing in A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it’s a musical revue. One of the great songs is The Party’s Over. I rather think mine is just beginning.

Must dash, but I will write again soon

Your ever loving nephew

Sebastian  xx

P.S. I keep this picture by my bed, Dimitri can confirm on his return.

Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper