When I was a baby, I won second prize in a beauty contest. I don’t look like this anymore:
I was born in Los Angeles to Mr. and Mrs. Harry and Lila Kiesel.
Childhood and my Teachers
This was the thirties, when I learned to be lonely. West Adams, L.A. No freeways. No smog. No car. Very poor. My father looking for jobs. Worked in produce markets: 12 hours a day. When we couldn’t pay the rent we moved away at night. School was Virginia Road. Those teachers I loved who cared for me: Mrs. Tomasavich, 4th grade (Mrs. Tomato Patch); Jean Garrison, 5th grade, whose longhand on the blackboard was so beautiful; Ethel Burroughs, B6, who sent me into other rooms to read my plays and poems; Vera Edwards, A6, who treated me as a son and died early.
Mt. Vernon, a horrible junior high. Mrs. Hooten a Southern Lady who taught English and called the kids: “Darling.” Which kids made fun of but which I adored. Martha Dill, Drama. I wrote skits she had me read aloud. High School: Dorsey. Blanche Garrison, Creative Writing. No single desks: tables and chairs. Treated us as adults. Aunice Campbell Moore: Drama. She entered me in the State Shakespeare Festival doing a speech from Richard III with which I won First Prize. These women were my mothers. They still live inside me.
The Luck of My Life, Therapy and More
At twenty, at college, studying psychology and philosophy, I met someone who introduced me to the works of Wilhelm Reich. He was going to New York to become a patient. After reading Character Analysis by Reich, I decided to do the same. I wrote Reich. Reich replied, saying he was now doing research and recommended a psychiatrist he had trained whom I could contact. I went to NY, saw A. Allen Cott, a therapist in Forest Hills.
Moneyless, I found a job in Manhattan at Planter’s Peanuts, Times Square, where I learned to roast nuts before a vast window and a vast audience. (A block away was the famous Camel Cigarette billboard containing a hole which emitted smoke from a happy smoker.)
From 9 PM to 3 AM I roasted all kinds of nuts and made enough money to rent a $7 one room in Upper Manhattan and enough to pay for sessions with Cott at $10 a session. I told Cott I was a writer and had brought with me a manuscript of fables thinking I would try to reach a publisher, which I showed to Cott. One night, Cott staring at me in front of my window, came in the store and said: “One of my patients knows William Steig. I asked her to give your manuscript to Steig. She did, and here’s a letter for you she just gave me. From him to you.”
This story is to be continued… visit back soon!
I have met wonderful friends over the years, but have lost track of many. Where are you, dear friends?
Sophie Galperin (West Adams)
Mark Golden and Lulu
Irving Dick (Virginia Road School, LA)
Adele Kubo (Minneapolis, parent of one of my students)
Spencer Kubo (Minneapolis, my student)
Charles Myers (Los Osos, CA)
Eleanor Rosenast (Bonny Doon Rd., Santa Cruz, CA)
Mary Carvellas (Actress, Drama teacher)
Sheryl Freiburger (Milwaukee, my student teacher)
Bill Kaufmann (Stillwater, MN)
David Silver (therapist, San Francisco)
Chet Handler (neighbor in Los Angeles)