Hello treasured friends. This is a strange and winding road, this life. This summer, my family and I traveled to Normandy, France. The photo above is of Etrétat, a picturesque town there. I first fell in love with Etrétat watching Lupin on Netflix, based on Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar. My obsession with French began when I was seven when I was sent to a French summer school. (Yes, my dad had to construct a traditional French dress for me to wear at our graduation ceremony, and yes, he stapled the hem.) I also heard my mom singing in French growing up. I love the language and am a subscriber to frantastique, a very loose and fun way to practice a little every day. So imagine my surprise while reading — actually listening to the audio book — Mel Brook’s All About Me, and finding that Mel spent part of World War II in Normandy. I had no idea of his service. I didn’t anticipate the gravity I’d feel in Normandy and the D-Day beaches. Countless stories of unparalleled heroism and bravery. My daughter and I stood in awe of the wall that lists the Righteous Among the Nations at The Shoah Memorial in the Marais district in Paris — more than 3,900 names of individuals who risked their lives to save Jews in France. As I consider what is currently happening in our country and beyond, my fear takes refuge in these names.
One thought leads to another
While listening to Mel’s book, All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business, I was transported back to my childhood, not only because I had the unforgettable opportunity to be on set with Mel and my dad on Young Frankenstein, but to revisit all the comedians Mel worked with leading up to his filmmaking. Sid Cesar, Imogene Coca, and Howie Morris were my father’s favorites. We watched them and “Your Show of Shows” over and over. A strange coincidence, early in my acting career, around age ten, I was directed in a commercial by Howie Morris! For Safeguard Soap of all things! In the car, listening to Mel read, with that one-in-a-million voice that he has, in my mind’s eyes, I saw so many of the brilliant sketches he quoted. When Mel referred to the sketch “This is Your Story” on “Your Show of Shows,” I recall the joy of watching that sketch with my dad! Dad watched sketches like a scientist would watch a strangely growing petri dish. Intense, and then his laughter bubbling up, that rush of laughter filled my heart so fast. I loved when he was laughing. He’d ask me, wondering, “How did they get that popcorn to fly in a perfect arc during the sketch? Genius!” Clapping his hands together with a huge smile. Dad was always crafting and fine-tuning roles and props, his happy place. Inventing. I helped him occasionally, taking polaroid pictures for William W. D. “Bud” Prize on “Fernwood Tonight” and such. Hearing Mel talk about dad in “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein” was bittersweet. I miss him so. Get Mel’s audiobook at Multnomah County Library. Do y’all know about Libby? Thousands of free eBooks and audiobooks. That’s where I got it, although I did buy a copy for a friend at Broadway Books, a local bookstore my dad also adored!
Shared loss is breaking
And now my parents have left this mortal coil. Photos may pop up unexpectedly on my cell phone, or I’ll see them in those infamous Facebook anniversary celebrations, or my dad may appear on late-night television in a flash. And I am alive. We are separated and connected. I remember my dear parents as we continue to work on our short, animated documentary film, “Mourning Has Broken.” We are heading down the home stretch. I wrote a note to Bob Hicks at Oregon Artswatch and asked if they’d be interested in writing an article about it, and lo and behold, they were. A lovely human contacted me, Hannah Krafcik. After a few e-mails and a lovely coffee date, a beautiful article was published last week. Hannah wrote: “The film will take shape as a short, animated documentary, with direction and creative production by Oregon Media Lab’s Jackie Weissman and Jen Tate. It will layer contributions from artistic collaborators that give it a unique dimension: Dick Titterington’s song, “I Never Could Know” — which is dedicated to his late son — will act as the “heart and soul” of the film. Meadow’s artworks will anchor the film visually, and Jenny Kincade will spirit this element with animation. Mars will offer vocalization inspired by her late parents (her mother, Barbara Diamant, passed in 2021). Interviews with all four of these collaborators will be threaded throughout.” You can read the full article here.
Make mine music
Music. I realize that not only do I have several audiobooks or hardcopies that I am enjoying simultaneously, but I also enjoy the beauty of lyrics. Last week I performed with the wonderful Darrell Grant and Eric Gruber at The Leach Botanical Garden, which, if you haven’t, you must, and if you do, e-mail me; I’ll drop over. It’s in my neck of the woods! But I digress. Lyrics. The song that sticks with me and satisfies my francophile tendencies is Autumn Leaves. The lyrics I sing are by Johnny Mercer, by way of a poem by Jacques Prevert. (Les Feuilles Mortes) The music is by Joseph Kosma. Do you know it?
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburnt hands I used to hold
Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall
C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble
Toi qui m’aimais et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais
Moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare
Ceux qui s’aiment
Sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis
Singing this song reminds me of the gravity and simultaneous beauty of loss.
Jusqu’à ce que nous nous retrouvions chers amis.