Midnight ramblers

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  April 8, 2010

Another of our common denominators was the late director/playwright/poet Timothy Mayer (“The Barnum of Brattle Street”), for whom I worked as an actor, alongside Stockard (then Susan) Channing, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Woods. Mayer used to call Wolf “The Commander” (later, Wolf wryly confesses, James Taylor told him that Mayer called him that, too). Midnight Souvenirs’ “Thick as Thieves” features classic Mayer lyrics:

Butcher’s walking down the street
Thinking I’m a piece of meat
Like to hang me on a hook
Cut me up and call a cook
Keep those bastards ’way from me
I’m getting sick of thieves.

What was Cambridge in the ’60s like for you?
There was a time when an artist, painter, musician, poet could live in the shadows of Harvard Square and go to small bookstores, sandal shops, Cardell’s and have Welsh rarebit, and go into Mandrake’s [bookstore] and roll into Ferdinand’s [French bistro, where I had my first tête-à-tête with Bishop], or even better yet, getting a five o’clock martini at Chez Dreyfus and having the French salade with the vinaigrette. Or, having chop suey at Young & Yee’s. And rolling down toward Tommy’s Lunch or Elsie’s, which was frequent.

Bill [Alfred] I had met through Ed [Hood], who was working on the complexities and textures of love within Shakespeare — a kind of heady jump for me to make — and then again through Faye [Dunaway, Wolf’s wife in the 1970s, who starred in Alfred’s play Hogan’s Goat]. It was Bill that got Ed re-instated back to Harvard.

And Lowell?
Bill invited me to dinner one day, the “odd-man-out dinner” it was called, and I had knocked on the door at seven o’clock, or maybe it was six, and the bells were going, the chimes off Athens Street. And Bill, he was rushing in the kitchen and getting lamb chops and things ready, and he said, “Please sit down and say hello to Cal,” and poured me a cocktail, and I was sitting on the couch with this gentleman and I nodded . . . gazing off into the light and in the reverie of what a well-made martini at that hour can do, and he said to me, “What do you do?” And I said, “Well, I do music.” He said, “Music — you’re a musician?” And I said, “Well, yes, I guess you could say that,” and he said, “What do you play?” And I said, “Well, it’s not classical — it’s rock ’n’ roll.”

All of a sudden, this peaceful face frowned, and you could see him, you know . . . and I said, “Well, what do you do?” And he gave me this look that could melt a large iceberg, and at that moment, Bill yells from the kitchen, “Dinner’s on!” and we proceeded where I was pretty much ignored for the first part of the dinner by this Cal. And as it got into more wine and the evening progressed, we started yakking and, um, I think the ice was broken when I said, “Well, what the hell is the big deal about the big white whale?” Well, by the end of the evening, we were fast friends, drinking well into the evening and Bill read some poems and Cal read some poems and it was one of those great nights, because it was the moveable feast, the innocence of it all and it was in the Square.

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