Sunday, February 8, 2009

'Driftwood': Susanna and 'The Kids' dig in...

Vickie, Susanna and Kathleen.

There were many dozens of found letters from Susanna and her two sisters to their dad. From their 'adventure' at 'Driftwood' to, 12 months later, their drive across country for Susanna's rendezvous with diva Giannini and the HMS Queen Elizabeth for their tour of a post-war Europe and where 'the kids' were to try and make a go of it in New York City. Like I said in earlier posts this was an adventure that myself as the storyteller is difficult for me to 'get down'... the adventure, comedy, anguish and pathos of this time. I need to remind the reader (and myself), that I have never been 'officially' educated for what I am attempting to do here. I have been frustrated more often than not, knowing and feeling the 'meat' of this chronicle and writing about it with any degree of proficiency are two largely different things. I have been collecting, researching and writing about all this since 1996, writing about from 'whence I came.' The people that I write about here would become deeply troubled hence most of their offspring would follow suit as well. In my quest, I was amazed to find that the seeds for these pathologies would become discernible in the many letters to their father. I have shed many-a-tear for us all.

Remember the three girls; Suzanne (Susanna), Vickie (Baby) and Kathleen (Sister).

Letter from Kathleen to her dad-


Carmel, Calif.

Dear Dad,

I’ve been writing you a letter for the last three days but I leave it in my locker up at the telephone company every nite so I’ll write another. Vicki and I have been working there for the past week. It’s in Monterey. Have you found a job yet? How are you managing the rent? I hope allright. By the way have you sent any of our stuff yet? Do you know how much it will cost? We’re listening to the Fred Allen Show—it’s surely good! Suzanne is making meat loaf for dinner, we do eat in part of the time. I haven’t given Suzanne anything for her birthday yet but when I get my first check I’ll get her something.

We haven’t been doing much since we’ve been working, the movies up here are as old as the hills so we don’t go very often. We’ve sure seen some corny ones since we’ve been here. What have you been doing with your time?

Write and let us know the latest. I’ll mail that ‘other’ letter tomorrow.

Love, Kathleen



Dear Dad,

Just a hurried note accompanying a money order for $40 with the other $15, I wish you’d buy some Christmas tree lights and wires and tinsel—if you can and send it up here, you can’t get anything except a tree up here. Also if you could get a pop-corn popper. If that’s not enough money let me know. I’m going to buy a medium sized tree---fairly big one that sits on the floor (not a small one in a tank). So get as much as you can. Thanks –will write more later--- Love, Suzy.

From Vickie to her dad-

RFD 31a

Carmel by the sea

December 14, 1945

Dear Dad,

This is about the sixth time I’ve started a letter, however I hope to finish this one.

As you know Sister and I have been working for the telephone co. in Monterey for the past three weeks. That statement should suffice, as to my delay in writing you. Sister is still in her training and so it really makes it bad since our hours are so opposite, Sister has been working early shifts and I’ve been working the late shifts. I hate working full-time. It’s such a steady grind, especially when you work six days a week. Mrs. Soderstrom is the boss. She’s a typical German. A short, red-faced Hitler of the Monterey telephone office. I can’t stand her. She’s the kind that gives thanks for another day of bossing. I knew I wouldn’t finish this tonight. It’s one ’o clock and I have to get up at seven. Tomorrow I work 8:30 to 5:30 (that word Work is so repetitious).

How is your new job working out? You said something about joining the carpenter’s union in your last letter. So, now you’re just like all the rest, a union man. It’s beautiful up here, but we don’t get much of a chance to enjoy it. By the way did you finish my easel? I’ve been working with the pastels you gave me and I like them very much. If I ever do anything worthwhile I’ll send it to you. If you send up the stuff, I’ll put up for the shipment. I just heard a rumor that nylons are back in Los Angeles. We kids would love to have some. I can send you some money to get some. I doubt if Carmel will ever have any.

What do you want for Christmas? What anyone wants and gets are two different things these days. I don’t know whether you’ve heard or not but we’re on a budget. Suzanne has been handling it and doing very nicely too. Of course, we run over now and then which is understandable when you eat out as much as we do.

It’s funny how different Carmel is from Monterey, so close and yet so far. The two places are as different as night and day. I hate Monterey, it’s a horrible town, full of stupid idiots.

We don’t have near enough hangers. When you send the other stuff, don’t forget the hangers. Well I think I’ll close for now. Take care of yourself.

Love, Victoria

P.S. It took me three days between working hours to finish this monstrosity.

From Susanna to her dad-

Driftwood 12/19/45-

Dear Dad,

I received the bank statements today and after checking through them I have the horrible feeling that I’m really overdrawn, hence the money order for $100. I don’t know whether that will cover it or not- Please have them let me know. Also you might goose the trust co. for me. We have been on a strict budget up here and it really frightens me, it costs so much to just live! Of course, it’s worse now than it will be, as the kids hours are so conflicting that we can’t eat at home. And believe me, the money you can save by eating in! After sending you this $100 and paying everybody I owed, I have about $350 left out of the $2000. The only ‘unnecessary’ money I spent was to fix the kids room and buy things we needed in the house, such as unpainted chests for the bathrooms etc..(which I painted myself). Altogether I’ve spent about $200 on the house.. The rest was bills and living expenses. And let me tell you the food I’ve been eating lately is enough to make a dog sick! Especially after the players. But we have tried to adhere to a budget of $3.75 a day for food for the three of us. And we find it practically impossible. If you’re eating out at the worst dive, you can’t get a meal under 75 cents and then it’s just crapola. It’s really been tough. But if the kids ever get off this shift (Kathleen-7a to 4p - Vicki 1:30p to 10:30p) we can eat at home and pretty well too. But if I run out of dough in the next several weeks, the kids can support me. If I save enough out for the rent, we can get by somehow. Hell! I’d rather have a nice Xmas and starve afterwards. Anyway please deposit this $100 down at the bank. They sent back a check to a music store up here and it was quite embarrassing, I think that was rather cheap of them. The check was for $ 3.77-and they attached a slip to it checked “refer to maker”--whatever that means. There was nothing wrong with the check--evidently it was a gentle reminder to me that my account was overdrawn. They could have checked the space marked “insufficient funds” but they didn’t. Doing what they did amounted to the same thing as far as I was concerned, and I think it was lousy. I swear I’ll never have another bank account or checking account as long as I live---no matter how much money I make. I’ll have my dough in cash and investments. I think it’s the worst managed and dumbest scheme of them all. There is no way you can check and keep track of how much money you have at the moment...and further more I think banking in itself is the biggest racket of them all. If I’m ever wealthy I’ll have my money locked up in a safe in my house rather than let the bank have it. Those sloppy statements they send you; it takes a year to decode them. Oh well, I can console myself with the fact I won’t have to worry about it for a long time! Well I’ll write more later, I have to get this to the post office before 5;00-Love Suzy

PS we got a big kick out of your letter to Vicki! I figured out how to read it- we all went and stood in front of the mirror and read it.

From Susana to her dad-




Dear Dad,

Just a short note to tell you our bank-roll amounts to $3. Can you rush that dough up here? If you don’t we’re going to starve, and I mean starve! Whatever you do, don’t borrow from anybody! I’d rather starve. I’m sure Ryan will send money if you tell him the trouble. Anyway please hurry!

Love, Suzanne



Jan. 2, ’46

Dear Dad,

Received your letter today. Words really leave me in regard to Roger Marchetti. He’s nothing but a crook. I’ve already written the Superior Court---I hope it does some good. He doesn’t deserve a cent. I was really upset when I first read your letter---it just seems I don’t know anyone really worthwhile.

We’ve been living on rice and pancakes and I’ve been making butter from the cream the milk-man leaves. When you said the Trust Co had sent $300, I guess you meant to the bank. Perhaps I have some extra money in the bank now. Will you find out and if so, have them send me a voucher check for what’s left in my account. The rent is due Monday and I can use the kids checks for that, but in the meantime we have to eat.

That’s’ all for now, my hand is so tired from writing the letter to the court. This pen is awful. Love, Suzy

I wonder If I’ve ever met anybody who has honor! I know I’ve never Known anyone who has.



January 5, 1946

Dear Dad,

Received both your letters today—the special and the regular.

Before I give you the latest news I want to warn you about Dick Lapham.

First of all as you know, he sent me an orchid with a personal card attached on my birthday, which was rather presumptuous considering I’ve never even seen him (this pen is terrible). Then Tommy wrote and said he was coming up here in January, saying he admired me very much—which gave me a vague idea about what kind of dope he was.

Well this is what I found out: Melvyn Martin, a friend who writes to me now and then and whom I like (he worked on “That Night with You”) wrote me and warned me. This Lapham kid, I understand, worked at Universal. He used to point me out to friends as “the girl I’m going to marry.” He’s the nephew of the Mayor of San Francisco, evidently his family has money. He spent $500 taking dancing lessons, a gymnastics course, bought a whole new wardrobe of clothes, and a new convertible—all with one intent: that of “wooing me and marrying me.” While some of this may have been exaggerated by Mel’s friends (they knew he knew me and asked him to write me) they nevertheless were sincere in trying to give me the lowdown on a dope. He evidently is an ass of the first water. Please steer him away from me. I have enough troubles as it is without getting mixed up with another male. He’s either very dumb and read this romantic process of getting a girl in the American Weekly, and maybe should be felt sorry for or he’s an opportunist who’d like to go with a movie star and then be dealt with accordingly.—use your own judgement---but keep him away from me!

We really have been eating nothing but rice and beans all week. The only cash we’ve had is the money I got for old beer bottles and some change the milk-man left for milk bottles. Of course, we’ve had all the milk and cream we need (I make butter from the cream) because we charge it. Also, I’ve been able to charge my gas and oil. I don’t want to open a charge at the grocer’s unless I’m desperate. The Kids still haven’t gotten paid---won’t until Monday. There are three eggs, a loaf of bread and coffee and tea, so we won’t starve over the weekend. I made some oat meal cookies out of the Quaker Oats that were left, and Vicki made fudge out of the cocoa, cream and sugar.

You know, I just don’t know when I’m going to get some good studying in. I have a another terrible cold and cough with that funny dry mucous that gives a laryngitis, I can never get it up—I just cough andcorrect ones, I’m wasting time. The only study I’m putting in now is with Usigli. I hope in the future it will be more often than it has been. He’s invaluable—I’m convinced of that. As a teacher and a coach I know I’ll never find one as good. We harmonize perfectly—his ideas are excellent, his sense of music marvelous. But where do I find all the other training around here that I need—I’m going to write Lester Horton, perhaps he knows of a dancing teacher up here that I could study ballet with. I know that I must study dramatics, if I can find a really good dramatics coach. Something has to be done about my speaking voice—it’s too “middle western.” I saw “That Night with You” again about a week ago, and believe me—I’ve got to be groomed.

I have this terrible cough, a repulsive hacking cough. It’s rained so terribly—for more than four weeks now. I just can’t take it, my resistance is so low now. Thank God the Kids uneven hours will be over next week—that will help some. There’s so much I have to do, it seems something always keeps me from doing it. I wonder if this is the right place for me to be. If I’m going to use this money to good advantage, it’s important that I put this money to good advantage, it’s important that I have extensive training in several subjects. Voice, music theory and orchestration, dancing, French and Italian (I should learn to speak both fluently) and dramatics. My days should be filled with study of these subjects. How am I going to do it? I can’t do it by myself now, I realize that. I must have teachers and the, you know in “Phantom” I was watched every second by Arthur and his dialogue coach “Jim” (really Joan) whatever her last name was, I can’t remember right this minute. That’s why my speaking voice was better in that picture than it was in the succeeding ones—and also why everything else was better in that picture/ They watched me every second. If only I had those same people on the other pictures. I’ll write Arthur to see if he knows anyone I could study with. “Jim” would be perfect for what I want., but she would be terribly expensive, I’m doubtful if I could get her at all—and then there’s the problem of living up here. But I must live here because of Usigli—he’s my most important teacher. He the one I will have for the life of my career, if I’m to have one.

He must always conduct for me—no matter what I do. A singer must have her own conductor-coach. He knows all the little things about your voice and limitations because he’s lived with it. It’s like a doctor—the better he knows you the better he can treat you. As for languages, maybe I could take a course at one of the colleges around here. But what I really need is to converse with someone all the time. Believe me it’s terribly important I speak Italian and French. It will help my music tremendously—it would give me a much better understanding of my roles and I would sing better because of it. I will never sing any kind of opera, even an aria for the screen, until I can speak the language I’m singing! That’s the honest way and the only way. Also, speaking other languages will help me to speak my own better than I do, and thus will improve my speaking voice which will in turn help my dramatics. You see, all these things must be done, and the bulk of them done before my money runs out. Because if I have to get a job I could never make enough money to pay for all thee lessons, although some would probably give me scholarships. If I can get most of it done before my money runs out, then I can get a job to earn my living, and study by myself the rest of the time. It’s so difficult for a singer—there are so many things he must do and learn in order to become an artist. First of all is health and certainly don’t have that now. I need a guide that sees I do what I should do. It’s impossible by yourself to get anything done. I have so little physical energy—which has run me down spiritually. My nerves were shot first and now I’m anemic and have no resistance to anything which in turn makes me melancholy, making me think to much. It’s a mess. Now is the time for me to get a hold on myself as this is the only time will have money.

I can see now what a terribly bad influence Turhan Bey was on me, and how weakening. I was so weak the last three years. Never will I let anyone influence me again. I swear it. And poor **Betty Mae! (Portia Nelson) The way I blamed her for so many things—and weak and dumb as she is, she never hurt me. But Turhan did and so did Barbara (George). Betty Mae sublimated herself to me and I leaned on her, letting her comfort and flatter me which she loved to do. But after all it wasn’t intended to be evil. It was my weakness to listen to it when she actually didn’t mean anything to me. But Turhan did mean something to me, and he’s Satan himself as far as I’m concerned.

He set out to break me down to his size. And that’s pretty rotten. And the cruel way I acted to Betty Mae! The way I listened to Barbara and broke off the friendship with her, just because Barbara was so jealous she couldn’t see straight. What a mess! Hell I’ve learned my lesson. I wrote Betty Mae last night and apologized—I know that won’t please you—but from my standpoint it was the honorable thing to do, that’s all I’m concerned with from here on in.

I can see now how love hungry I’ve always been. Which is pretty disgraceful when you consider how I had this big “ideal” and acted towards each of my “friends” as if he or she were it. I was a little 4yr old child playing a game with each one of them. I knew they weren’t it but I wanted to pretend because I was so starved. God! What a louse!

Well it’s better to starve and be honest. You’ll be happier in the long run, be more likely to get what you want in the end anyway. Well, maybe I’ll be a little better now than I was. Although, somehow I feel stained and ashamed of myself. I never thought I was dishonest.

As usual this letter has been about no one but me, when actually the kids are going through a lot too. They feel suspended and can’t seem to find their relation to anything else. Which in a sense is growing up. But in all our cases it’s more than that. With the family situation having been what it was and Mother being like she was, we’re having a lot to overcome. They were never taught self-discipline, which is the first thing a child should learn. Why, I was thinking the other day—I didn’t brush my teeth until I was 14yrs old! Because it was never stressed at home so I never did it. There was never co-operation or co-ordination when we all lived together, we’re suffering for it now. None of us had any sense of duty except you. I see now how difficult it was for you to hold down a job and keep the home fires burning too. Now that I’m older and can understand, my sympathy really goes out to you. You have a great virtue Dad, and that’s patience. Ill spit in the eye of anyone who calls that weak. You’re not weak! It’s a fallacy that Mother started the whole nasty idea because she lacked the virtue herself and resented you having it. She is the weak one. And believe me they don’t make them any weaker. Listen, the truly good and virtuous man is the one who bears his soul to his misfortunes, not with resignation but with sensitivity to his pain through nobility and greatness of spirit. Remember, “a multitude of great events if they turn out well will make life happier, while if they turn out ill, they crush and maim happiness; for they bring pain with them and hinder many activities”. Aristotle said that, you should listen and feel happier! You are a patient and good man, I learn a lot from you. Blessed are the weak, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. I think you are terribly strong, and I wish I were as strong as you are spiritually. You have great honor. I think you are a great man. I consider you to be the only friend I have, the only person I can trust. You are the only person I know who has great sensibilities who would sacrifice himself for me. That gives me solace and comfort. I just looked up at my watch, I have to go and pick up the Kids, so will have to close, I guess its about time! Love, Suzanne

**Betty Mae Nelson changed her name to 'Portia Nelson'. She became a well-known cabaret singer in New York City, actor and composer. During our early years after my mother and father's divorce on the Upper west side, Portia would help my mother with money, food and furniture. I remember Portia vividly during these times as a little boy. In 1996 it was meeting Portia on the line of the Town Hall theater that would become the strange and mystical 'synchrondipitous' moment that started this whole thing. I will try to cover it more thoroughly in a later post.

Double click on her obit to read in full.

Letter from Victoria to her Dad--

RFD 31 A

Carmel by Sea

January 6, 1946

Dear Dad,

We received your letter a few days ago—sorry to hear you had so much tough luck on the way back. I suppose you should thank your lucky stars you made it home in that hunk at all. Has your union been living up to its expectations? Incidentally speaking of unions, the union girl tried to induct Kathleen and I. I don’t believe in unions the way they are now. They just go to one extreme which isn’t helping economical conditions in the least. About a week and a half ago we went to one of their union meetings, when we asked the girl who was representing the union a few questions she sputtered around and finally had to admit, she was ignorant to what she was representing. It seems ridiculous to organize against something you don’t know anything about. Most of the girls signed automatically when they were told of the $5 a week raise (they pay $1.50 every three months to the union). They say they’ll strike if the raise doesn’t come through. The more they get the more they want. With salaries rising to such exorbitant amounts it simply means inflation. Oh well, I really don’t know where it’s all going to end. These damn unions are just breeding selfishness in people.

The way we’ve been living has been ridiculous. Kathleen is in one of her inspirational feats at the piano, while Suzanne is cooking the first meal we’ve seen in days. It’s no joke, we have been close to starvation this past week. However all is well now, Suzanne opened an account at Nielson’s Grocery yesterday. Our stomach’s will be ‘re-adjusted’ as soon as the steaks are done. Tomorrow Kathleen and I will receive our checks, so don’t worry. Well I guess I’ll close for now, I’ve got a wash to do, which is a long drawn out process since we have to heat our water. The man hasn’t come to fix it yet.

Love, Victoria

Kathleen, Susanna, Vickie.

Susanna co-starred opposite Turhan Bey in three Universal films:

'The Climax' with Boris Karloff, 'Frisco Sal' and 'Bowery to Broadway.'

With Boris Karloff-'The Climax' (1944- Courtesy-Universal)

With Turhan Bey (courtesy Universal)

With Turhan Bey circa 1988

No comments:

Post a Comment