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At Home With a Ghost - 18

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

1977 summer’s end found me onstage at the New York Public Theater, presenting my new material to Joe Papp, his wife Gail Merrifield, and his creative staff. I’d composed a scene called “Boys’ Bunk” between two pubescent boys, one who just wants to sleep and never get up, and the other hopped up on hormones and terrorizing his bunkmate with gross descriptions of his body’s changes. Followed by a ballet.

The director was myself. I’d never staged anything or worked with actors before. I chose to cast a couple of boys in their early 20’s instead of actual 13-year-olds. It worked because both performers had a lot of kid still in them and seemed age-indeterminate. The sleepy boy was played by Gedde Watanabe, later to be unforgettable as the foreign exchange student in “16 Candles.” The hyper boy was played by Tom Hulce, fresh from “Equus” on Broadway and destined to play Mozart in “Amadeus.” They were outrageous fun to work with, and the workshop went over great. Joe immediately decided that I should write and direct a full-length show, to be produced the following summer.

In the audience, aside from Joe & Co., were assorted friends and curiosity seekers, plus my mother. Seated behind my mom and unbeknownst to her was the married man with whom I was having a deep love affair. He was three years younger than my parents. If you had suggested he was a “father-figure” or even “grandfather-figure,” I would have retorted, “So?”  If you had deplored May-December romances I would have laughed and said, you got it all wrong; I was born in December and he was born in May.

I knew the odds were poor that he would leave his wife and we would wind up together. But ya never know.

But…what if you could know? That’s why I went to a lot of psychics.

I was by now addicted to clairvoyants. Any time I heard mention of a good one, off I went. Palmists, astrologers both Eastern and Western, mediums, numerologists, channelers; readers of runes, espresso grounds, cards, charts, chop suey (not kidding), wrist pulses, token objects. I encountered two different spirit guides, an ancient Chinese sage who was clearly bogus and a celestial being with an unbearable personality.

I took notes on each session; thus I had a permanent record of their predictions, so that I could review them later in the future to assess the percentage of accuracy. The good ones had a 25-30% rating. The only one with a stellar record was Frank Andrews, but his readings got markedly less accurate after the first three times.

I also developed a case of ESP envy. How did they do it? I wanted those powers, too.

Because Frank Andrews was grateful that I sent him John and Yoko as clients (Yoko eventually put him on retainer as her private on-call psychic), he and I became friends. He began teaching me how to read Tarot cards; I hoped they would wake up my own supposedly dormant psychic abilities.

To test all these clairvoyants, I asked them each the same question: Was I going to get the guy or not? It demanded a simple up/down answer, yes or no. Thus, when the day arrived that I knew the answer myself, whether I had won or lost, I would also know which psychics were good, and which ones I could rule out.

The psychics were evenly divided. Many counseled me to get out now, or my heart would get broken. Others told me to hang in there, the married man would be mine one day.

One of them suggested that I wasn’t supposed to know. I considered this a cop-out, but then again it engendered a bigger question: what’s the point of knowing the future? If it can’t be changed, then you’re just sitting around waiting for it to happen, bored and checking your watch, like knowing the ending of a movie within the first five minutes. And if the future can be changed, then how can it be predicted?

The other pitfall was, if you believed a prediction, then it had an influence over your actions. You would look for signs; start nudging things along, rushing toward the goal you assumed was yours. Living with high expectations is both exciting and nerve-racking. And then, what if you find out the prediction was wrong? You stand to feel like a giant idiot.

I came to refer to this heightened anticipation of a known future as Louis Malle Syndrome.

Around 1980 I went to a psychic who predicted with certainty that I would have an affair with a French producer married to a famous American woman. In the end, his marriage would explode in a highly public manner, I would be roundly vilified, but when the wreckage cleared we would be together and happy at last.

I told a friend,  even if I'm passionately in love with this French guy, whoever he is, I just don’t know if I have it in me to bust up another marriage.

My agent was trying to sell my second book to the movies. He sent it off to Candice Bergen’s agent, who wanted to read it for her to play the central character.

Not too long after, out of the blue, her French director-producer husband Louis Malle called my agent in person. He liked the book – what did we have in mind for it? My agent, somewhat surprised, said that the script had been sent to Candice. (Apparently it had been put on Malle’s desk by accident.) But it would be great if Malle could direct and his wife star in the production. Malle said he would get back to the agent.

I called my friend in a fever of excitement and dread: “Oh my God, it’s happening already! It’s Louis Malle! ”

“Oh no,” my friend moaned. “Poor Candice. She’ll be devastated when you run off with him.”

“I can’t help that. He’s handsome, and I worship his early films. I’ve seen 'Murmur of the Heart' three times. I speak French. I could easily live in France.” 

It was clear what would happen next: I would take a meeting with him. There would be instant intellectual rapport. As we worked on the script together, try as I might to fight it, our attraction would grow until it could no longer be denied. And then, ka-boom.

What did transpire was: nothing. Louis had his agent call mine to say that he and Candice had long ago decided that they would keep their careers separate and not work together. This project was not tempting enough to change their minds. My agent asked if Louis could see directing the film without his wife. But the door was closed. My agent surmised that Louis was put off that my book was sent to her instead of him.

I never did meet Louis Malle. But I had wasted a lot of emotional capital on expecting I would, my mind running amok in the future instead of staying safely tethered to the present. A state now defined as: Louis Malle Syndrome.

But back in 1977, I had no clear expectations for my affair with the married man. The psychics had differed widely on what would happen. And so I groped forward into love’s shadows without knowing. As we are meant to.

(Final note: I only see two clairvoyants now. One uses Tarot with astrology and his counsel is always calm and wise. The other is a well-known medium, the most talented psychic I’ve met since Frank Andrews, and I’m pleased to call her my friend. She says I’m going to be a best-selling author. I’m waiting.)

 

 (To be continued)

 

Candice Bergen

         Candice and Louis