9-30-81 Dear Dad,
I’m very sorry for the long delay but my wife Sally has put me through hell. As I remember the last I told you Sally was stealing from tenants in the building we worked so hard to get, of course we were fired and I lost BOTH jobs because of it (12-80). Sally agreed to leave Eric with me and to move in with her parents (Orange County) and seek psychiatric care. Mom moved in with us to help out. In the course of about three months Sally would come to visit every two or three weeks. I desperately tried to maintain a family for my boy. On the night of 3/3/81 we were expecting Sally for a visit, I had to go to work. Mom was home alone with Eric. Mom was expecting Sally for her regular visit. The bell rang, mom opened the door and there stood Sally and two thugs. They proceeded to give mom a black eye (I have police lab photos) and Sally took Eric out of bed and made off with him. Mom managed to call me at work. And I was home in three minutes. I managed to catch the two thugs as they were trying to serve court papers on mom. A shouting match ensued me and the two thugs I told them all the things Sally had done to me (stealing and lying etc.) Their expressions changed completely, I then realized that Sally had lied to them too!! Still they were intent on doing what they set out to do; court papers suing me for divorce and suing me for custody of my son and a restraining order keeping me away from her parents house. I was verbally able to make one of them attack me. I defended myself and was not hurt. At the beginning mom called the police, they came long after they had all gone including Eric! This is all so very hard to put down on paper but I’m trying to give you an idea of what happened. The court date was 3/20/81. I obtained much evidence against Sally and her mental fitness. I could not afford a lawyer and Legal Aid cannot help in civil matters is what it came down to. The judge would not look at my evidence because my “legal papers were not in order.” Sally was awarded custody only on the strength of her father paying for everything that day in court. I was awarded a visitation that weekend, I picked him up that night and never brought him back and stayed on the run. Seven months later I got a message from Sally through a mutual friend of ours in essence saying she wanted to work it out with me alone. I finally called and she said basically what she told our friend. She begged me to come and see her at her job so we could work everything out. . We talked for four hours seemingly coming to terms. Threes days later Sally and the Orange County detectives were at my door arresting me and taking my son. I WAS LIED TO AGAIN! I spent 14 days in jail. Mom busted her butt to get me out. The Battle has Just Begun! In the meantime I’m desperately trying to find work, to get a good lawyer. There are also many positive things; the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera has been released with mom’s voice and pictures all over it but unfortunately it means another legal battle. By a twist of fate I’ve gotten a little involved with the L.A. Viennese Folks-Opera and the head’s name is Derek Scott who says he worked with you at the Pierre Hotel. They are all great fans of yours, he even remembers meeting Philip and I. There is so much more to tell. I can’t call because we don’t have a phone right now. If it’s all right write back and let me know if I can call collect and give you the whole story. Love Michael 1130 Colorado blvd Glendale, Calif. 91205.
Well not exactly. I did get a message from Sally that she would like to meet and discuss reconciliation. I was excited and wanted more than anything to ‘reconcile.’ Oh, that warm, familiar and hopeful haze again. We did meet at a bowling alley down near AL and June’s for several hours…. cozy like. Sally assured me that charges were never filed, that she pressured her father to hold off. If nothing changes, nothing changes. My head was up my ass (an unveiling chronic problem, to say the least).
Two days later Orange County detectives zeroed in on the Bell and took Eric from Susanna. I wasn’t there. Angry? Beyond hopeless? There isn’t a description really.
Several days later, I was coming home from a late night taxi job. Was pulled over by the Glendale police (the Opel-Kadette was missing a couple of tail lights). Cop ran a check and my nasty habit of tossing traffic tickets (moving violations) caught up with me. I was hauled in for several outstanding, multi-town traffic warrants.
That night while awaiting my fate in the holding pen…Police-Man was overjoyed to have found an outstanding felony warrant, computer posted in my name, “Wanted for Child Stealing….”
I was shipped to L.A. County Jail (future residence of O.J.) a place much like my old stomping ground Riker’s Island. But before I could face the music in Santa Anna, the “I hope you can read” place that kept me on the run, I had to first answer half-a-dozen Failure-to-Appear warrants in municipalities spread across Los Angeles County. Here I was… again, 10+ years later, answering the 5am wake up clarion of the cellblock. Daisy-chained to half a dozen other evildoers, bused about to various towns and holding pens, a forced showdown to pay the piper-of-denial.
This went on for 10 days or so. Then it was down to Santa Anna to face the felony rap. Sat in the Orange County Jail for two weeks before the judge would see me. Comparatively, the Orange County Jail was a ‘softer’ place; we had sun and air on the roof and Sara Lee German Chocolate cake (cripes, it sure looked and tasted like it). But I still wept and fretted, jails no fun, roof or cake.
My day in court came; the familiar mom was there. After some heavy negotiations between my legal aide guy and the prosecutor, the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. A fine with time served. $637.53. Three months to pay.
Still with mom at the Bell, I get a job as a security guard. Doing guard duty for ABC Studios; General Hospital, Barney Miller, Fridays, a take off of Saturday Night Live. Fridays is where I had my failed autograph encounter with Al Jerreau. Kept an eye on Michael Richards cutting his teeth (Kramer on Seinfeld). General Hospital was a fun set; I ate their catered food and met an actor who took voice lessons from my father years ago. The irony was never far.
I wanted so badly to be one of these people, felt so close, knew I had some talent, knew I had the “stuff “ even a technician…just needed a break. But felt so small, clearly less-than, beaten. If I could only get a break.
In the guardhouse, late at night I began to do what I had never done…write. I wrote songs and poems.
Songs that would rail against Sally with titles like “On Empty,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Keep it to Yourself,” “Stealing Love,” and “Till You Meet the Creature One Day.” Songs where I found the spiritual connection; “Position on My Mission,” and “Moon Love.” And my deep sorrow; “A Man Can Cry.” Then the heartstrings of denial and loss would consume me; “Try it Again,” “Looking Lonely,” “Inside of You.” Writing a firm“amen” after every composition. Set out listening to a lot of gospel, Andre Crouch’s “Don’t Give Up,” Playing it over and over. Tears streaking my face…. Don’t Give Up Michael. But sadly, it would be revealed that I was much more of a believer in the delusion of a Sally, Eric and Michael family than what any God could do. My spiritual awakening was an irksome process....until the feigned suicide attempt...much later on.
This piece grabbed my heart from somewhere, I copy it-
‘No man can possibly know what life means, what the world means, what anything means until he has a child and loves it and then the whole universe changes and nothing will ever again seem exactly as it seemed before.’ –Lafeadio Hearn. I write; “To Eric Michael, my light in the fog.” I treasure this notebook today.
Philip and Jimmy
Philip would go back and forth to New York staying with his East Coast young man lover Jimmy LightFoot…Jimmy was an African/American Indian who for many years worked for the Transit Authority and for just as long lived at 75th and Columbus Ave. Did have a gentle soul about him…just liked young guys, although never thought of him as a predator. Loved New York and practiced Puerto Rican “Black” magic, forget it’s name, a spiritual mix of magic, candles, powder formulas, icons and Catholicism. Philip and Susanna were ready recipients of Jimmy’s incantations. Jimmy cared for Philip and could always be depended on for a quick rescue.
Letters from Susanna to Philip and Jimmy, dripping with delusion (and sycophant back scratching)--
We Will Overcome!! Sept. 19, 1981 Glendale, Calif. 91205 Dear Philip—How does this hit you—and do you think you could come up with a really good idea, whether you could script it or not, with Jerry Lewis as a symphonic conductor and me as the soprano leading lady (about 45)? I have noted Jerry Lewis mellowing a great deal lately and I’ve seen him do some things on film lately that are pure genius. The French, you know think he is one. I used to hate him as a performer, but over a period of time (particularly since he’s older) have come to respect his talent. It would have to be funny in a subtle way (and he’s learned subtlety) I have no fundamental idea—just to have a marvelous conductor who is as mad as they all are. But is not the Jerry Lewis of old. He’s capable of moving you and his comedy today is capable of subtly. What my character in this would be? I have no idea except (whether she is funny or not) to be full of love and temperament. And of course the score would be full of beautiful music. Can you come up with something? He made a new movie recently (which I saw clips of on TV) in which he was superb. I don’t know the name of it, but I believe he directed and produced it. I have a strong hunch (and my psychic feelings have been extraordinary lately—as Michael can tell you), there is something here. Philip Castanza can provide you with the info on this recent Jerry Lewis movie and might be able to get it run for you. Please think about this as I know you have the imagination (original) for a true idea. I definitely am writing Russell Johnson and will send him a program of the festival in Beverley Hills, maybe my new record album of “Phantom” if I can get another one given to me, Lots of love to you TELL JIMMY---IF HE RETIRES AND COMES OUT HERE, WE’LL INCORPORATE! (If I hit it, of course—and I know it’s going to be so!) All love Mommy. Don’t forget to try Mickey Rooney, he’s working long and difficult hours—but his road manager don’t give up on. PPPS—Jean Arthur’s brother is a big fan of mine and is begging me to come out and autograph 300 stills of me. Which I will do! You know I love Jean Arthur and know her. She’s teaching acting in Northern Calif. And has my old “Driftwood,” in Carmel.
October 9, 1981 Glendale, Calif.
Dear Philip and Jimmy,
There’s so much to write and there’s so much happening this month I just don’t know where to begin. There have been several letters I’ve started to you and never get sent off because there was always more to come. First of all so many things happening for me to start work and sing again. #1is I must have (minor, I guess) surgery to remove a ‘spur’ on the left (up inside) my nose. I have complete faith in the doctor, which is a miracle for me, as I don’t like doctors in general or lawyers. This will be performed the end of this month or first part of next. He believes and so do I, its impacting the infection in my sinuses and causing the slight huskiness in my voice. Thanks God (and Jimmy) there is nothing wrong with my vocal chords! My hand is shrinking as is my upper arm and there is no reason for me not to sue that doctor for malpractice. The operation that will restore my hand to normal (and this comes from a doctor I really trust, miracle #2!) would cost $5000 and Medi-Cal would not pay for that. So I’m going to sue him to pay for it and ‘damages.’ The pain for 1 ½ years is enough, let alone the fact I cannot play the piano with my left hand. I’ve been extraordinarily psychic lately----so many things that I cannot enumerate. I also feel I can do great things, I don’t mean this in a stupid way—I mean with the help of God and my true friends I can sing more beautifully than ever I did before, be in command of myself as I never was in the past, and make life secure for you, Eric, Jimmy (if he wants it) and perhaps some minimum of happiness to people in the world. Please! I have not gone mad! All I need is my voice and I will do some good in the world before I die. I’m much tougher, in what I believe is the right way. And I will make everything better for us all (we may have to incorporate—after all he (it) doesn’t need money up there but we sure as hell need it down here. How about a remake of Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (Jimmy Stewart) with a woman in that tour-de-force role? Have you ever seen it? I saw it the other night. Capra’s not working and available. This letter is so crazy because I can’t explain the myriad of social engagements I have this month—all leading to my goal—our goal---getting Eric back. And getting you well Philip and helping to make all of us happy! Believe me, my whole soul is in it. All my love to you both, Mommy PS: Philip! An autograph seeker asked me to sign a special post office envelope and stamp w/ Al Jolson in his famous pose as “Mammy”--- I wrote on it “What a love!” and signed my name. Try and get it at the post office.
I cringe with this one....viscerally overwhelmed with 'gag reflex.' I will always be amazed at how 'denial' can turn someone, a decent-soul.... into a malignant mad man.
12/23/81 Dear Dad, Just got your card yesterday and was very glad to hear from you. Well since my bad news letter to you many things have changed, for the better I must say! Sally and I have gotten back together; I think we love each other more now than ever (my prayers were answered). All the events of the past year could fill a small horror book but I feel our determination is equaled in working it out. I do hope that one day that one-day we can spend a holiday season or any season together and you can see your grandson. Who will be four 1/13/82. He’s just beautiful. Mom is attempting a comeback; about two months ago she made an appearance at the National Film Institute Convention in Universal City along with Lana Turner and many others. The response and support has just been incredible along with financial help from local fans. She’s been getting calls from all over the country, Europe and Australia! This just seems to be the tip of the iceberg. I can’t possibly put it in one letter all that’s happened. I’ll try to write once a month and let you know everything. I pray the next year gives health and happiness to you and Masako. Merry Xmas! All my love, Michael My new address: 6871 Franklin Ave. Hollywood, CA. 90028
My father… in red ink…crosses out “my new address” and writes “void.” I guess from when he tried to write back a month or two later.
Mom was always just about to re-ignite her career, was always on the verge; offered guest spots on ‘Love Boat,’ soap operas etc.* But would get sick or something when reality got close.
I don’t know about Philip but I always believed her…any day now for years. Accompanied her several times to these functions and the response was impressive. At one, Bob Hope spoke; we sat with Ann Gillian, as Susanna signed autographs. Susanna did garner attention. Countless times I would imagine my new car, my new condo, and my return to Rome. Denial can be so textured, vivid, a wonderful fuel source.
Here’s a short story Philip wrote about three months before he died, Collected among the huge piles of memorabilia and chaos in my mother's apartment. It recalls a distant day on Eighty Duece (I left punctuations/phrasing as they were, Philip and I never did learn the 'correct' way to write):
A Perfect Day-
I woke up earlier than mom and michael one sunday morning when we were living in apt 3A so I guess I was about 8 years old because we lived for two years in each of three seperate apts at 32 w. 82st. The very first thought I had was “I wanna walk Barney to the east end of castle lake, where i could sit on the rock with him and have the sun on my back while I coaxed him to go swimming. It was a beautiful summer’like spring morning so I only wore a short sleeved blue and white patterned shirt, blue jeans and sneekers. Mommy always said once I got somthing in my head-somthing I desired-I either achieved or got it (or died as children often do in their imaginations). So anyway I quietly got up and asked Barney if he wanted to go bye’bye. He said “sure” the way only Barney could. So we softly left. We did exactly what I wanted to do. Boy, it was a beautiful day. And mom, to this day doesn’t know that Barney went swimming unless she reads this or you tell her or both. I don’t snitch myself. For me, at that time, this kinda thing was MY own paradise. Just a few blocks from home and I WAS home. and viceversa. when I got back we didn’t see anybody except a few kids I knew ftom accross the street. I began talking to one of them who was a year or so older than I and he had a pretty big plastic toy truck. It was about the size of Barney’s head. He asked me if I would trade Barney for the truck. I said no. BARNEY LOOKED INDIGNANT. He was though, glad to be home when we got upstairs ‘cause mom and michael were awake and he (barney) was dry and naturally sniffing in the kitchen. I don’t remember the rest of the day but I do remember the night.
Michael and I had pushed our beds together and seeing how we had the television in our room and the next day was school my brother and I got under our quilt and sheet covers and mom and Barney lay in between and we watched The Late Show movie about a British highwayman with all the lights off. Boy, that was a great day.The TV was like a fire’place telling a story. It was love it was home it was peace. and I’ll never forget it if I lived to be 200 years old. Just the four of us. it was home. The Result?
Thirty two pointless failure laden years.
My dear Philip, Pointless? Not at all.