• Gary Seigel

Haskell and the Golden Globe Award 1966

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

[An exclusive excerpt from the Journals of Haskell Hodge]

My biological father invited me to see the premiere of Dr. Zhivago at the Lowe's Capitol Theatre in New York, but at the last minute he cancelled. “I’m in India. The entire crew has dysentery.” He’s always coming up with inventive excuses. “I’ll be back next month, Haskell. However, don’t miss this film! It’s going to win the Golden Globe. Two tickets will be waiting for you at the box office.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single friend to join me. I made the mistake of telling Sheldon and Debra that it was more than three hours long and based on a 592-page novel, translated from the Russian.

Why can’t I keep these facts to myself? I had never seen anyone roll their eyes like those two.

Mom, the steadiest of dates, said she had to work, so I went by myself.

It was a rainy evening. Thunder and lightning. Flooded intersections. I maneuvered the wet streets under an umbrella and barely made the 7:00 p.m. start time.

I told the box office to give my extra seat away. Fortunately, the lucky person who grabbed what may have been very last ticket for this New York exclusive turned out to be one of my mother’s old friends, Gypsy Rose Lee, the famed burlesque star. In fact, she claimed she was the most famous stripper of all time. Mom knew her from a movie they both were in (Ali Baba Goes to Town), and more recently Natalie Wood played her in the film version of the musical based on her memoirs.

She sat right beside me in a fur coat that smelled like wet dog.

In fact, her first words were, “I wish my dogs were here.”

In a sense they were, but I kept my mouth shut.

“This will be just divine, having you sit next to me. How lucky am I to land a ticket. We’ll hold hands. Cry. Laugh. Schmooze.” As soon as the overture began, she beat her hands against her chest. “This is going to be a big, bold and unashamedly emotional experience. Brace yourself, darling.”

When Pasha (played by Tom Courtney) charged the German forces in an act of certain suicide, GL gasped: “Oh my God! Someone that sexy better not die this early in the movie! Plus, I think he’s up for a Golden Globe! His part can’t be this brief, can it?” In one of the most intensely emotional scenes — when Lara and Zhivago are finally brought together, cuddling in a sleigh, the balalaika music playing ad nauseam in the background — GL whispered in my ear and kissed my cheek. “I’m going to faint – this is so beautiful! Don’t you just love Julie Christie and Omar Sharif? Have you ever watched a more gorgeous couple in all your life?”

As we walked out of the movie theatre, she was humming, of course, “Lara’s Theme.” “The score is a ‘shoo-in’ to win best soundtrack, and this film will nab Best Picture at the Golden Globes and probably sweep the Oscars too. You agree?”

I agreed. I told her without any hesitation it was the finest film I’d ever seen.

Now, only ten days later, my mom and I were standing in the lobby of the Gottliebs’ posh townhouse on Fifty-Second Street. The living room was jammed with men in suits and tuxes, women all decked out in beaded dresses or black gowns, and in the very back of the house — in the sunroom, laying on a divan, her legs extended, French-kissing two Chinese hairless dogs —was GL …Gypsy Rose Lee.

I separated from my mother and stood in a corner, all by myself, watching the star holding court. On the floor were a dozen people sitting or kneeling, all quite entranced by her stories. Some sat cross-legged. Others leaned against each other, anxiously awaiting the grand dame’s assessment of the latest Golden Globes nominees. I decided not to wave or even indicate I was there. I’d just listen.

“Oh my God, three-and-a-half hours of Russian soggy claptrap!” She announced. “Virtually no sex, horrible acting. The clothes are more 1965 than 1917, and I’m telling you –Lean missed the boat. He should have gotten Jane Fonda to play Lara, not to mention that that Sharif character wore a terrible wig, didn’t seem Russian at all, and had no chemistry with Julie Christie.”

Was this the same Dr. Zhivago we saw together?

. “And Geraldine Chaplin? Don’t get me started. If it wasn’t for her cover story in Look, she never would have gotten this part. If you ask me, this movie should never have been even nominated for a Golden Globe. The best movie of the year? I think? A Patch of Blue!”

The group of them nodded their heads in agreement. Some even applauded her bold prediction.

“A little film, made for a shoestring, but what a wonderful, lovely message.”

I liked A Patch of Blue and appreciated Shelley Winter’s portrait of a racist alcoholic mother, but how could GL dismiss what a few weeks ago she dubbed one of the great cinematic experiences of her lifetime?

Shortly after midnight, Mom and I trudged home, once again finding side streets to avoid the crowds of Times Square. After all, it was New Year’s Eve.

“You’re so quiet. Haskell. What’s wrong?”

“I am stunned. GL loved that movie as much as I did. What made her change her mind? I feel like the whole evening we spent together was a fraud, a hoax, a big lie.”

“Oh, darling. She was just playing politics. Sometimes, it’s more fashionable to put a film down than to appreciate it. In the den, where I kibitzed, you should have heard what they said about The Sound of Music. A movie for imbeciles. Sugar-coated corny romantic nonsense, and yet, I loved that film.”

“Me too, and Dr Zhivago is insanely good. They’re the two best movies ever made!”

“Don’t say that so loud. It’s not very fashionable to admit that we enjoy popular films. When I predicted Lawrence of Arabia would win Best Picture, some friends stopped speaking to me for a whole year. No one gushes over the obvious. They will say things like Last Year at Marienbad is a masterpiece, when in truth they slept through the whole damn thing. If I were you, Haskelah, should you attend parties like this in the future, never let on that you like something that’s truly popular. By all means, keep it to yourself.”

(This exclusive entry from Haskell’s Journal is only available in this blog. If you’d like to read Haskell Himself, it will be available wherever books are sold beginning January 19, 2020.)

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