losses have been high the past couple weeks. First we lost Dee George.
I’ll miss her lovely pixie face, her wry wit, her laugh and
her poems. She even published a newsletter for a time, just because
she loved a good laugh and the delightful turn of a phrase.
Then there was Florido Testa. Flo and I parked in the same lot.
I kept track of which side of the lot I could park in, on which
day, using his truck as a guidepost. His wife Nancy told me he kept
a calendar in the truck. Why didn’t I think of that? He was
a hard working man, a contractor. He loved his work, it gave him
purpose. Often he’d present me with a fine cigar; a sense
of pride rippling through his generosity. I loved our neighborly
alley or parking lot chats. He was curious; head tilted, eyes inquiring,
interested in what you had to say. He was a good listener. He was
a good man.
The same day we lost Flo we lost Edith Lutyens Bel Geddes. I first
met Edith nearly 20 years ago. She was my neighbor. She was married
to Norman Bel Geddes, the brilliant Art Deco designer. His daughter
Barbara Bel Geddes was her stepdaughter.
Edith was a tough, strong willed woman and always a lady. She was
ageless to me, even as she approached 95. Physically she was small
and very beautiful, in Hollywood terms, she had good bones. I never
saw photographs from her youth, but my guess is she was a stunning
beauty; a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Garbo. She had a soft
quiet voice, the kind you leaned close to hear.
Edith was born in Brussels, grew up in London, spoke French fluently.
Returning to Belgium, she became a fencing champion. She lived in
London during World War II, ran a dress shop and found her love
of design. Edith had an exquisite eye for color and light and shape.
Following the war she came to New York. There she made and designed
costumes for theatre and ballet. She designed costumes on Broadway
for “The Crucible” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,”
“Anthony and Cleopatra,” Orson Well’s “Around
The World In 80 Days,” and many, many others. She worked with
Cheryl Crawford and Eva Le Gallienne, even with Edith Head on Alfred
Hitchcock’s film “The Trouble With Harry.”
She once told me a story about Broadway and film producer Michael
Todd, who was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. It seems
Todd had seen a play on Broadway that Edith had designed. He was
planning a show and wanted her to be the costume designer, so his
secretary called and made an appointment for Edith to come and meet
with Mr. Todd.
Edith loved poodles because they are so intelligent. She always
had two poodles; often their names were Anthony and Cleopatra. Edith
arrived for her meeting with Michael Todd with her two poodles in
tow. The secretary showed her into Mr. Todd’s office. Todd
sat behind a large desk. He had several dial telephones on his desk.
This was before push buttons and multi-line phones and long before
Todd, chewing on a cigar, was clenching three phone receivers in
his hands, sometimes speaking into one, sometimes into all three
at once. In the midst of his phone juggling act he motioned for
Edith to take a seat in the leather club chair directly in front
of his desk. Edith sat and waited. Twenty minutes passed. All the
while Michael Todd was discoursing, occasionally shouting into one
or more of the phones. Edith was becoming impatient and offended
with Todd’s insolence at keeping her waiting. The poodles
were also becoming edgy and restless, pacing and tugging at their
leashes. Finally Edith scolded the dogs. “Stop it, now. Lie
down,” she told them, speaking in French. They obeyed.
With that Michael Todd dropped all the phone receivers onto his
desk, jumped up and dashed into an adjoining office. He quickly
returned with several staff members. He ushered them to the center
of the room, pointed directly at Edith’s poodles and exclaimed,
“These dogs! These dogs speak French!”
Edith loved to cook. She taught me to poach fish, her favorite.
“It’s difficult to get a whole fish here at the supermarket,”
she would lean close, whispering as if she were imparting a great
secret, “I don’t know why, but they always want to cut
the head off.”
Edith loved to entertain. Gatherings on her veranda were joyous;
delectable food and drink, sunsets over the Catskills, captivating
conversation, laughter. The image of August Renoir’s “Le
Dejeuner des Canotiers” comes to mind. Had I been Edith’s
age in the 1920’s and known her, it would have been difficult
not to be in love with her.
Dee, Flo and Edith all shared one thing in common, a love of life,
a joy of living. Saroyan wrote, “In the time of your life,
live.” They most certainly did. We are poorer today that they
are gone, but richer in our souls for having known them.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.