April 12th, 2000
Visiting Los Angeles used to be far richer for me before my writing and life mentor, James Leo Herlihy, packed up his goods and went home—just a year before the AIDS cocktails became available. Dispairing of his health, he took his own life. He had hospiced and eulogized many of his close friends in the years preceding, and his lover, Bill Lord, was the first AIDS death I’d ever heard of, in 1980. They all must be having one hell of a great party now.
I met Jamie on television, on the David Frost Show, in 1971. I was there (high on mescaline) promoting Living On The Earth. He’d just had a book published called Season of the Witch. He gave up writing novels soon after. He said that, at the time he wrote The Midnight Cowboy, America was asleep, and needed trajedy to shake it awake. But an overabundance of shock from the Vietnam war had blasted us awake, Jamie felt, and what America needed next was comedy, and that wasn’t his bag.
That is not to say he wasn’t a very funny man. He was endlessly, spontaneously witty, without ever losing a profound sense of compassion for humanity. A Pisces, like Anais Nin, whose confidante he was during the last twenty-five years of her life. He must have made her laugh, too. I mean, check out the finale from a letter he wrote me in 1979 (I pasted a photo of him over the middle of the letter in my scrapbook):
“Lovely Alice Bay,
“You’re a superb luminous, life-supporting example of utter scrumptuousity. I am thinking of resigning as head of your fanclub in order to devote fulltime to lobbying for you in Washington.”
He was not always so flattering in the mind-expanding discussions we had when I visited him on his hilltop in Silverlake, and I was grateful for that. When I announced I would be singing in public, he put me through a rigorous series of acting exercises. (He acted in films and off-Broadway in addition to directing and writing.) One visit, I was astonished to find a photograph of Marlene Dietrich’s face fifteen feet high at one end of his living room. “That’s the size I’m accustomed to seeing her,” he told me. I drew a portrait of him that day—his face occupying most of the wall of a room, with the Blue Angel lounging on a sofa in the foreground.
In 1989 came this, one of the last pieces of writing I received from him.
I found a web page from the University of Delaware on Jamie’s life and works.