Sometimes what appears to go wrong ends up being right.
After college, Uncle Sam trumpeted his bugle for our three years of army service. Where we joined the dozen soldiers integrating a black battalion, since our 201 files showed not a whit of prejudice. And where, sadly, we all lost our hair wearing those heavy steel helmets. Wives and girlfriends complained, but the commanding officer shouted, “Shut up … you’re in the army now!”
New York then beckoned, where we began peddling our novel, All I could See From Where I Stood, published by editor Bill Raney at Bobbs-Merrill.
As we began looking for work, our college sweetheart, now a reporter for Fairchild Publications, suggested we hustle our bum to midtown to see a gentleman named Bill, who was hiring writers for his news syndicate.
We jumped. Imagined writing about the ethnic bakeries on Ninth Avenue or the four seasons in Central Park.
No, no, he said. “We want celebrities.”
Who knew from celebrities after our college days and life in the military … ?
Any friends who know a celebrity, Bill wondered.
We phoned our girlfriend, asked if she knew any. No.
Our parents, we recalled, had acquaintances who had dined with Gypsy Rose Lee, the strip tease “artiste.”
Call them, she insisted. Nothing like a woman to get a guy moving.
To our bewildering surprise, the friends of Gypsy Rose Lee said she would be happy to help an army veteran with an interview.
We phoned Gypsy nervously; she wanted to meet the next day. “I’m leaving town for a holiday.”
On the dot of noon, we arrived at her East 60th Street townhouse, where she was barefoot. Seated at a card table, wearing Bermuda shorts and a knotted white blouse. Answering fan mail on a portable typewriter.
Full of life, she offered a beverage, and enthused about traveling to Wisconsin to fish for muskellonge, a fish she liked to cook with lemon and white wine, herbs, and with the Lekas and Drivas olive oil from Greece, which she swore was the best (as did our Mom).
Gypsy, we discovered, was a talker. No interruptions, please. She relaxed when fishing with the clean air surrounding the the freshwater lakes of Wisconsin.
We attempted to ask about her career as a stripper. Fishing was all that mattered.
We worried. Syndicate Bill specifically wanted information about her strip teasing career on the road, how the men in the audience behaved, etc.
Phones rang and she was summoned to another floor for a meeting. Thanking us, with good luck wishes, and a peck on the cheek as she bid goodbye.
We called our girlfriend, admitted the difficulty of the interview. “Tell Bill the truth,” she advised, and we did.
Bill seemed annoyed. “You blew it … how many people get to meet Gypsy Rose Lee and you were the lucky one … everyone wants to know about her baring all on the strip tease circuit. You missed a golden opportunity.”
Like tossing a bone to a dog, he shrugged, “Well, write something about it, and let me see what your style is.”
We figured we’d give up. Our sweetheart begged us not to.
Sitting down with our trusty Hermes typewriter, we typed the title, Gypsy Goes Fishing.
We held on to the feature for several days, finally mailed it with a hopeless sigh.
No word during Week One. None from Week Two. We assumed we were a lost cause.
The call came at the end of Week Three.
“We love this … a fresh take on a very special lady. We like your style, and will pay you $50. And we’ll nowfind the celebrities to interview.”
Within weeks, we were interviewing Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Bennett.
As we noted earlier, what may seem wrong may become right.
Fast forward to some years later when we were on an extended stay in Los Angeles as ta young roving editor for Town & Country Magazine. Profiling the high and mighty and the colorful and exciting happenings on the West Coast. Or whenever.
One evening, friends picked us up at The Beverly Hills Hotel. They were invited for drinks nearby. Dinner later in Chinatown.
Our hostess, if you can believe it, was none other than the incomparable Gypsy Rose Lee.
Twittering birds nestled in her antique birdcages.
Cordial greetings were exchanged.
We decided to keep quiet about our encounter for the news syndicate.
Gypsy was fun beyond fun, with charming friends, and she suggested we ride in her Rolls-Royce for the trip to the Chinese joint which she favored (“as did Mae West”).
With her curious spunk, she wanted to know about our varied articles for Town & Country, and asked if we would fly to San Francisco and appear on Monday through Friday afternoon talk show on the Bay Area’s most popular TV channel.
Our television interview went so well, she invited us to return. And then again. We found ourselves flying PSA back and fourth ($30 round trip), laughing a lot with our new friend Gypsy.
“You don’t have to be naked to look naked,” she claimed. “You just have to think naked.”