Trips to Felix
A dramatist and the director of many productions, including his own comedy, BORN YESTERDAY, and that moving tragedy THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, GARSON KANIN and his wife, Ruth Gordon, have made many rewarding trips to Washington for the sake of seeing Mr. Justice Frankfurter.
IN NEVER knew Professor Frankfurter of the Harvard Law School, and Associate Justice Frankfurter of the Supreme Court of the United States was a figure as awesome as his title, but Felix is my friend. He laughs at my jokes, even when they are feeble, disapproves of my far-out neckties and notions, chats with me on the telephone until our wives make us stop, answers every letter, and shares my problems. That he is some thirty years my senior has only now occurred to me. Felix is everyone’s contemporary.
To most men whose lives are bound up with the law, the theater world in which I live and work is a rocket-ship journey away, but Felix has made himself part of it, as he has with so many worlds within the world. For years I gave him a subscription to Variety, which he read completely and with enormous interest. Why should motion-picture grosses in Dayton, Ohio, interest him? Simply because everything does. Everything, that is to say, which concerns activity, aspiration, and creativity.
His subject is human beings; not in the abstract, nor in the mass, but one by one. Each individual who comes within his ken is a creature to be studied, observed, and understood. In Felix’s life there are no strangers. Upon being introduced to someone, he makes the comfortable assumption at once that they both are, and have been for some time, members of the same nonexclusive organization.
Ruth Gordon, as my wife-to-be, brought him into my life. (What a dowry!) She and I were a wartime romance and had tacit marriage plans. When, where, and how remained unanswered questions until a series of coincidences brought us both to Washington, D. C., for the same two-week period — she playing in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters at the National Theatre; I on an Army assignment to the OSS. The fates appeared to have spoken. We decided to wait no longer; Felix approved. Moreover, he volunteered to perform the ceremony. The day before it was to take place, he phoned to convey some dismaying news. He had learned that, although he was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, he was not empowered to officiate at a marriage.
“But why not?” I asked.
“Because,” replied Felix, “it’s not a federal offense.”
Across the years, I have had the good fortune of spending many hours with him. Because my memory is poor, and because I wished to preserve the essence of these rare times, I have habitually written down the gist of our meetings. Here is a sampling of some of the most recent of these notes.
FF said today that he knows of no attitude more rare than that of disliking a man and, at the same time, admiring his work.
Discussing-, FF says, “He has brains, but
He says, “The mode by which the inevitable is reached is effort.”
Scholarship. He talks this morning of his first American days, of landing at Ellis Island at the age of twelve, never having heard or seen a word of English. He began to go to school. He recalls a teacher — Miss Hogan, who used to chastise offending pupils with a simple uppercut. She ordered his classmates to refuse to listen to him if he spoke German, and thus he began to learn English. He found his way to the reading room at Cooper Union, not in search of education but of warmth. The Frankfurters inhabited a cold-water flat, and Cooper Union was heated. It was here that he formed his still firm habit of reading newspapers and periodicals of all kinds. He went on to high school and began to work toward one of the scholarships for the Horace Mann School which were being offered by Joseph Pulitzer. When the term ended, the principal sent for FF and informed him that, although his marks had been exceptional, he had just missed winning one of the scholarships. There had been an unusually large number of outstanding pupils that year. The principal went on to explain that since FF’s record was so good, they could offer him an education at the Horace Mann School at half tuition. FF points out that this was a considerable concession, the tuition for the year being $250. The training at Horace Mann was outstanding, and the graduates favored in job opportunities. But his father was barely managing to make ends meet, and the decision was finally made not to take on the added burden. After all, he could go to C.C.N.Y. for nothing, and that is what he did. He looks out the window, and there are tears in his eyes as he goes on.
“Think of it,” he says, “if I’d won one of those damned scholarships, I wouldn’t have had this grand life I have had. I wouldn’t have gone to the Harvard Law School. Horace Mann people went to Columbia. And that’s where I’d have been when Henry Stimson asked the dean of the Harvard Law School to recommend some bright young talent, since he couldn’t afford to pay them much. And the dean sent me down to work for Henry Stimson — the beginning of everything for me. Why, if I hadn’t gone to Washington at that time, I wouldn’t have met and married Marion. Working for Stimson, I was paid seven hundred and fifty dollars a year. In money, that is. I was paid much more than that in life.”
He says, “My views on capital punishment are well known, 1 am unalterably opposed to it. However, I would like to reserve its use for a single crime: that of picking up a brand-new book and cracking its binding when opening it.”
Holmes. He talks of the early Justice Holmes. “In those days,” FF reminds us, “the Court did not sit in the Supreme Court building, but in the Capitol building. Holmes would walk home, in all sorts of weather. He did this until he was well into his eighties. He used to pay a short call every evening on Henry Adams, who lived on the site of the present Hay-Adams Hotel. Holmes recalled that as time went by he found himself stopping in only every other day, then only once a week, then once a month, until he ceased going entirely. He explained why. ‘I find that my energies are too depleted by Henry Adams’ sterile skepticism.’ ”
FDR. He tells of visiting FDR in 1933. It was on the eve of FF’s departure for Oxford. FDR said, “Well, I probably won’t be seeing you for a year now, so before you go, have you any word of advice?”
“Yes, Mr. President,” said FF. “It’s this. If you don’t develop an opposition pretty soon, I advise you to go out and buy one.”
Fanny. He tells us tonight of how Justice Holmes and his wife reacted when he announced that he was going to marry Miss Marion Denman. He had, on an earlier occasion, brought Miss Denman to call. She had made a most favorable impression upon them, especially upon Justice Holmes, who had a singular appreciation of beautiful women. The first meeting was gay. Holmes told a slightly risque story. FF reminded him, teasingly, that Miss Denman was a minister’s daughter, whereupon Holmes threw out his arms, lifted his head to the ceiling, and cried, “Blessed be the Lord, for I have done some little harm today!”
Some weeks later, when FF announced to the Justice that he was going to marry Miss Denman, Holmes jumped up and shouted for Fanny. “Dickie!” he called. “Dickie bird!” (FF gets up at this point to give a brilliant imitation of Mrs. Holmes coming into the room. She was old and infirm and moved without lifting her feet from the floor.) As she came in, Holmes said to FF, “ Fell her! Tell her!”
“I’m going to marry Miss Denman,” said FF.
Fanny said nothing, but turned and slid out of the room. He and Holmes thought this behavior odd. Somewhat embarrassed, they went on talking about other things. All at once, Fanny returned. She held out her fists and asked FF, “Which do you think she would like? This?” She opened one fist, revealing a piece of jade. “Or this?” She opened her other fist, which contained a piece of amber. FF pointed to the amber and said, “This,
I think.” Fanny handed it to him, turned, shuffled out of the room, and was seen no more that day.
Nervous. FF kept using the word “nervous” today, and I began to think that it meant something different from what it does to me. I asked, “When you say a person is nervous, what do you mean, exactly?” He thought for a moment. “Why, a nervous person,” he replied, “is a person who makes other people nervous!”
Courtesy. He gets on the subject of courtesy and stays on it too long for me. Finally, I say to him, somewhat impatiently, “Oh, what the hell’s so important about courtesy?” He fixes me with one of those cool looks and says, “Courtesy, my boy, is the lubricant of life.”
Shrewd. A language discussion today begins with the use of the word “shrewd.” “Lincoln,” says FF, “was a shrewd man. He was shrewd politically.”
“Are you criticizing him?” ! ask.
“Of course not. When I say ‘shrewd,’ I mean that he was shrewd.” FF frowns in thought and says, “I remember once describing Jesus Christ as shrewd. Marion raised hell with me about it. Yes. We had a bitter disagreement. Oh, well. That was twentylive years ago.”
“I think Marion was right,” I venture. “The word ‘shrew’ is certainly not complimentary in any sense.”
FF bristles. “But what’s that to do with shrewd?”
“Two forms of the same word, no?”
“Of course not,” he insists, and we are off into the dictionaries — small ones, large ones, and the tremendous Oxford with its cross-references. He finds an essay on the word “shrew” and reads it aloud. He is astonished to find that a man can be a shrew, and that it has to do with small animals, ferrets of some kind. Now it leads to the word “shrewd,” a form of the word “shrew.” He looks at me. “Imagine you being right,” he says.
We get onto other words. He says there are some he cannot bear. He calls them “tired words,” used so much that they have lost their meaning. He explains that he is constantly at his clerks to avoid these words in preparing briefs. He laughs as he relates that it has become a custom for his departing clerks to leave a memorandum lor the incoming clerks about “all my eccentricities and idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, and each clerk finds new ones, and by now I suppose it must be an enormous, fat lile, because there have been about Jorty clerks, and each one has doubtless discovered something!'”
He is troubled by “lawyers’ language,” as when they speak of “the thrust of an argument.” He dislikes the words “seminal” and “impact.” Worst of all — “semantic.” The other day, a counsel answering a challenge from the bench said, “Oh, well, that’s just a matter of semantics.” FF snapped down, “Of course. All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them. So it’s useless to say, ‘Oh, well, that’s just a matter of semantics.’ ”
The illness. He tells us that on November 24,
1 958, his physician. Dr. Walter Bloedorn. was doing a routine checkup. FF had been having some unimportant pains, but had done nothing about them, since he knew that this examination was forthcoming. When it ended, the doctor said, “Well. I’m afraid we’re going to have to go right over to the hospital.”
FF said, “I see. Do you suppose I’ll have to be there for a while?”
“Yes,” the doctor replied, “I expect you’re going to have to be there for quite a while. I’ll get an ambulance.”
“Is that absolutely necessary?” asked FF. “I have my Tom downstairs. Couldn’t he take us over?”
“All right,” said the doctor.
They got into the car and drove to the hospital, where they met with Dr. George Kelser, who advised a confirmation of the tests. FF said to Dr. Bloedorn, “I’ll ask only one favor: that you go over and explain this situation to Marion, so that she doesn’t have to get it on the telephone or in the wrong way.” The doctor agreed. FF said, “Look here. I want to ask you fellows something, and I’ll be guided by your opinion and advice in the matter. Do you think I should sit down right now and write out my resignation from the Court?”
Dr. Kelser said. “No, no.”
Dr. Bloedorn said, “No, there’s no need for you to do that.”
FF said to Dr. Kelser, “Now, it would be impossible for you. Doctor, ever to know anyone more ignorant of the structure and function of the human body than I. I don’t understand anything about what’s happening. I’ll do exactly what you tell me. I’m placing myself in your hands because I simply don’t know. But let me ask you, am I now, as a result of this, permanently damaged?” He laughed as he added, “Is there, in fact, going to be a crack in the golden bowl?” Dr. Kelser smiled and said, “Oh, dear me, no. It’s nothing like that at all.” He went on to explain the coronary occlusion, the reasons for the bed rest and lor the various medications, explaining that nature was going to create a new channel to take the place of the one which had been dammed. This might take some time, but when it had been accomplished, he would be as good as he was before, perhaps better.
Recalling it now, FF is gay and says it all worked out precisely as they had said. “I’m planning to live as long as Charlie Burlingham.” He chuckles. His friend, C. C. Burlingham, lived to be one hundred and one years old.
Shaw. FF tells about an encounter with George Bernard Shaw. A dinner at Lady Astor’s, followed by a debate. FF says, “I can’t report it honestly without seeming immodest, but I must tell you that I made mincemeat of him.’ He smiles. “Of course, he made the mistake of choosing the wrong subject — the American Constitution.”
Fie quotes A. E. Russell as saying, “I believe that experts should be on tap, but never on top.”
Hackett. He looks at me tragically and says, “You know that since 1 saw you last I’ve suffered a severe blow. A severe blow.” Something about his fixed expression conveys that he is about to pop a joke, so I play straight for him and say, with mock solemnity, “Oh. yes, I know.
His voice cracks as he adds, “I’ve lost my beloved friend Francis Hackett.” It is not a joke after all. FF is shattered. He insists that Hackett died of a broken heart, of a massive frustration involving his play Anne Boleyn. A rich American dilettante had promised to produce it in America, and the Hacketts, in need of money, counted heavily upon it. FF says, quaking, “ That man — that louse-boob — broke every single promise he made and betrayed my friend.” He is far more disturbed by Mrs. Hackett’s difficulties than he is by his own. Felix.
Audrée. He has turned his hospital room into a sort of laboratory, where he studies men and women. He looks out the window as he says, “I have had a serious experience here.” I assume that he is speaking of his attack, but it turns out otherwise. “You saw that nurse who went out a while ago? The tall, pretty, blond one? Audree? We’ve been spending many hours here together, and I’ve had an opportunity to find out a great deal about her life. She is a devout Catholic. Look here. I have spent a good deal ol energy attempting to avoid prejudice. But the dogma of the Catholic Church, or of any other denomination for that matter, has always put me off. Now this girl, this Audree — I have never known generosity of such quality, or such rare kindness. Oh yes, far, far beyond duty. Overwhelming courtesy. And I have been asking questions, delving into the matter, trying to discover the wellspring of such superior behavior.” He sits up and leans forward. “Do you know what it turns out to be? Can you guess? Simply this — a practical application of her Catholicism. I’ve never known anyone who practiced a religion, whose everyday life is based upon a religion as much as this girl’s is.” He leans back and smiles as he continues. “I told Dean [Acheson] about this — remember, he’s the son of an Episcopal bishop — and Dean said, ‘Well, that’s a damned sight more than can be said for you and me, Felix.’ ”
Eichmann. I say to FF, “Ruth came down today because she especially wanted to see you, but I came to ask an important question.” He looks at me, ready. I have often seen that open, poised expression on his face as I watched him on the bench. “The Eichmann execution,” I say. He nods immediately. I continue. “I know that you are opposed to capital punishment, yet you supported the legality of Eichmann’s capture in Argentina and of the trial itself. Now, does your stand on capital punishment obtain in this case?”
FF begins slowly. “I don’t know what my views would have been or what position I would have taken had I been called upon to decide whether or not to prosecute this man. The idea of a death sentence in this case is meaningless, because one does not, cannot, mete out punishment for a crime such as his. There is no punishment imaginable which would be commensurate with the crime committed.”
I remind FF that a delegation of forty or fifty Israeli scholars, scientists, artists, and intellectuals, led by Martin Buber, called on the President of Israel in an attempt to get him to stay the execution. FF jumps at this and asks, “Really? Are you sure? Did that happen? I had not heard.” He is pleased by the news, even though the appeal was unsuccessful. It seems to him important that such an effort was made.
The attack. Later, at the house, Marion tells what happened this time. She blames it on “that damned wheelchair.” She means the chair in which he works in his chambers in the Supreme Court building. It has ball-bearing casters on it so that it can be moved about easily. She believes it to be a bad chair, causing him to work in cramped positions. Working away, he slumped over and fell onto the floor. Fortunately, Mrs. Douglas, his secretary, happened to come in. She found him lying there, mumbling, but could not make out what he was saying. She called Tom and the first-aid man at the Supreme Court building. They lilted him onto his couch and sent for Dr. Kelser, who arrived in about ten minutes. He gave FF some glycerine tablets and other emergency treatment, then went with him in the ambulance to the hospital. The other doctor, Bloedorn, went to the house to inform Marion. She tells us that she has been to the hospital three times. FF calls her every evening at seven o’clock.
The book. We talk about Felix Frankfurter Reminisces. Marion tells us that FF insists on the royalties going to the editor. She says, “You know, Felix has always had this strange antipathy toward money. He’s always trying to think of some reason not to take a fee, or an honorarium, or a payment. He feels victorious when he avoids money. I suppose he has a feeling that there’s something wrong about making money.”
The hospital again, after two weeks. There has been a depressing deterioration. It may be that we were expecting too much, but last time we found him sitting up in a chair, chipper and jovial. This time, he is flat on his back. He looks pale and fatigued. He lacks energy. His rate of speech has slowed, and the volume of his voice has dropped several decibels.
There is a photograph of Marion on a table a few feet below the foot of the bed, placed there so that he can see it easily. “One of the nurses,” he says, softly, “spoke of Marion’s beauty.” Several other people have done so, and Justice Harlan, who has been visiting Marion regularly, reported to FF that she looks more beautiful than ever before. FF tells this to Marion on the telephone.
Marion: “Well, people come here, and then they leave and say foolish things.”
FF: “Why do you call that foolish? I think you’re very beautiful.”
Marion: “Well, you’re getting quite foolish, too.”
FF: “Marion, you must learn to face the truth, even when it’s pleasant.”
There is talk of Holmes today and of Mrs. Holmes. FF mentions the great admiration which William James had for her. This reminds me, and I say teasingly, “Those James letters you recommended. Thanks. We’ve been searching for them everywhere, and it turns out they’ve been out of print since 1920.” He bristles slightly and says, “No, no.” I give him my information: “A two-volume edition published in 1920, edited by Percy Lubbock — out of print. There’s been a more recent one, a single volume of selected letters, and we’ve ordered it. Anyway, why do you want us to read them?”
He thinks for a moment before replying. “After you have, you’ll know why. They’re very fine and they have importance.” He pauses. “There is one he wrote to his sister. She was ill. It was serious. Heart, I suppose; cancer, perhaps — and she was suffering. And he wrote, telling her that if at any time she felt that she wanted to put an end to it all, she would be justified in doing so and why. It’s a marvelous letter.” He pauses, and says, suddenly, “They were not edited by Percy Lubbock, but by his son, Harry. When you go to the house, go into the sitting room, and on the bookshelves on the lefthand side over by the window you’ll find a lot of biographical material, and among the William James books you’ll find these two volumes of letters. I’ll let you cart them off if you like, if you promise to return them. Thin, blue books,” he adds. I protest that it would be too great a responsibility to have them and to worry about returning them. “No, no,” he says, “take them.”
Later in the day, at the house, I go downstairs and make my way to that familiar room. There on the neglected bookshelves, exactly where he said they would be, are the two books. We take them back to the hotel and read them, each of us one of the volumes. Very late that night we see what he meant.
R asks him about his earliest American theater memories. He thinks hard before he says, “I suppose it must have been the Irving Place Theatre, run by that fellow Conreid.”
I say, “Yes, Heinrich Conreid, who later directed the Metropolitan Opera Company.”
He regards me. “How would you know that?”
He is fascinated to learn that one of my classmates at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts was the granddaughter of Heinrich Conreid.
He looks at the ceiling, contentedly, floating in recollection the Irving Place Theatre; plays by Lessing, Nathan the Wise; Nazimova; Minnie Maddern Fiske as Becky Sharp and in The New Fork Idea by Langdon Mitchell. Remembering makes him happy. He reaches out and clutches the air before him as though picking an image from the stream of memory. “I shall never forget,” he says, his list still clenched, “Eleanora Duse taking her curtain call. I don’t remember the play — isn’t that odd? — nor anything about it, but I do remember the moment when she came before the curtain to bow. She did it with — with— ” He wants a certain word. It does not come at once. He struggles for it. Clearly, no other word will do except that one which he has momentarily mislaid. He lights for it. At last it comes. He says it, a syllable at a time. “In-eff-able. She took her bows with ineffable charm. Another? Forbes Robertson in Hamlet. My!” He smacks his lips. “Unforgettable. His presence, his voice; and when he recited ‘To be or not to be,’ the accent, the feeling — I shall never forget it.”
He says that Archie MacLeish came in to see him a few days ago. Answering FF’s question as to his present activity, he said, “I am writing another play. I’ve been at it for a long time.”
“What sort of a play?” asks FF.
“Well, I suppose it might be described as a patriotic play.”
“Good,” says FF. “You couldn’t make it too patriotic for me.”
Solicitor General. FF tells of Herbert Swope’s going down to see FDR in 1932 to urge upon him the appointment of FF as Attorney General. FDR took it under consideration but decided against it. Instead. he offered FF an appointment as Solicitor General of the United States, which he deemed more important, even though it does not carry Cabinet rank. “Still,” says FF, “Solicitor General may be the most interesting legal job in the country.” FF declined, but came to Washington to discuss it with the President. The President urged him to accept, saying, “I want you on the Supreme Court, Felix, but I can’t appoint you out of the Harvard Law School. What will people say? ‘He’s a Red. He’s a professor. He’s had no judicial experience.’ I won’t be able to do it. I’d never get it by. But I could appoint you to the Court from the Solicitor General’s office. So take this job, and do it as well as I know you can, and then I’ll appoint you to the Court.” FF remembers that he declined again, saying, “Franklin, I believe it to be a faulty rule of human conduct to take one job in the hope or expectation that it is going to lead to another job.”
Furthermore, FF points out that he thought there were others who could handle the job of Solicitor General, and that he felt it was more important for him to stay at the Harvard Law School and continue to train young lawyers. (FDR later did appoint him to the Supreme Court from the Harvard Law School, and although people said precisely what FDR expected them to say, nothing prevented FF from being confirmed and from having a long and honorable career on the Court.)
He muses quietly for a few minutes and says, “I’ve turned down many jobs in my life.”
Ruth asks, “Do you regret any of them?”
His answer is immediate and firm. “No, not at all. Not a one.” He looks at her. “There’s one job I wish I could have had and — but that one was never offered to me.”
“What was that?” asks R.
“Well,” he explains, “it would have had to do with meeting when I was a much younger man. When I was still at Harvard.”
R smiles and says, “You wouldn’t have considered that a job, would you?”
FF presses her hand and says, “I’d have turned it into a job!”
For the third time this summer we go down to Washington to see FF. An extremely hot day. We find him out in the garden of his house. Ralph, the new orderly — a young Negro with a mustache, bright eyes, and a determined manner — is looking alter him.
We start on a high note. FF looks well, better than last time, and we tell him so at once. His left arm is in a bandagelike sling, with an odd foam-rubber handle close to the elbow. I ask at once, “What’s all that?” The question, I fear, angers him. He replies snappishly, “It’s a sling! Haven’t you ever seen a sling? What’s so remarkable about it? You had slings when you were a boy, didn’t you? Well, this is a sling.” I notice that the arm is, at present, useless, without mobility. From time to time he moves his left arm with his right.
His flare-up passes, and he begins to talk about Ralph, his newest interest and enthusiasm. “I picked him out pretty fast over there at the hospital,” says FF. “An exceptional young man; discreet and courteous and so kind. He carries me into Marion’s room every evening. When I expressed some concern as to the difficulty of this, Ralph said, ‘No, no. It’s no trouble at all. It’s a great pleasure to be able to put a man and his wife together.’ I said to my nurse the other day — the beautiful one — I said to her, Miss So-and-so, I know that a stunning girl such as you has many beaux, and I am equally sure that since you are what you are, they are fellows who come from fine homes and who were educated at Yale and Harvard and Princeton and Johns Hopkins. But I am certain that not one of them has the grace, or the elegance, or the manners, that Ralph has.”
He talks about his new training, about learning again to walk. He points off and says, “You see that railing there? Well, that’s where I walk. All this is interesting and important to me. We have to know what we are capable of. It’s a matter of learning limits and coming to understand weakness and strength and balancing one against the other. I’ve never known a more fascinating time. You see, the last time I was learning to walk, I had no awareness of what a remarkable act it is.”
On Ralph again. He reports that Ralph said to him, “Now, Justice, would you do something for me?” FF: “Of course.” Ralph: “Well, when you’ve got your visitors and it’s time for them to go, don’t add another paragraph.” He laughs and remembers that Marion used to call him “a doorhanger.”
“Of course you are,” says R. “It seems to me I’ve spent more time on your doorstep while leaving than I have inside the house.”
The President. He has an interesting announcement. This Thursday at five o’clock, President Kennedy is going to call on him. I gather that he is pleased, but he shifts the focus onto Ralph’s reaction. “Ralph.” he reports, “has been anxious about all this and keeps working on plans for the occasion. Where to sit and how. What to serve and when. He said to me: ‘Now we’ve got to talk about this, Justice. I want to make sure you don’t get too excited.’ And I said, ‘Look here, Ralph, when you’ve known me longer, you’ll know that I’m not the kind of fellow who’s going to pee in his pants when the President comes! After all. I’ve known this young man since he was a kid, and I had a good deal to do with his education.’ ”
R: “Do you sleep well?”
Felix: “Oh, yes, perfectly. 1 have a bad night now and then — two since I came home — but Ralph says, ‘Justice, I’m a young man, and T have good health, and I have more bad nights than you do.’ ”
All through this garden visit, a neighbor has a hi-fi on about as loud as it will play. A single side is repeated again and again: the overture to West Side Story. It booms, it rattles the windows, it irritates me. FF, when I complain of it, looks at me with some surprise. It does not occur to him to question his neighbor’s right.
Ralph is in and out all through the hour. There appears to be anxiety about visitors. We start to leave, but Ellen comes out. There is talk of food, of the difficulty of putting together satisfactory menus. FF has lost interest in food. (He, who used to sit with us and devour eight courses with joy and raise hell when anything was less than perfect.) Now and again, Ellen reports, he gets to hankering after some small thing. The other day she went all over Washington looking for what Felix described as “Kosher sturgeon.”
Ralph again. Plans are made for the evening. We are to return at eight o’clock to visit with FF and Marion. A long good-bye. I kiss the top of his head, and we are off. For the first time since I have known him, he has let us go without delay. I have the feeling that he is glad to sec us go. We are tiring him.
We go to Magruder’s to buy champagne, and to the Staffer to get a bottle of Chanel eau de cologne for Marion. After dinner, we return to Georgetown, stopping on the way at Duke Zeibert’s restaurant to pick up an enormous strawberry cheesecake. Bearing our gifts, we arrive at the house a few minutes before eight o’clock. R goes up the front steps, I follow a minute later with the cheesecake. At the front door, I find her standing in the entry talking to Ralph. I hear him say, “Yes, I tried to phone you at your hotel.” A sudden clench. Something has happened. What? It jigsaws itself together. FF had been worn out by the visit in the afternoon, and Ralph explains, “I had to put him out.”
Marion is asleep. I sense that a facade is being presented. that something else has happened. Whatever it is, there is to be no visit tonight. We leave (he gifts. In any case, bringing them is something we do for ourselves more than for them. Ralph continues and reveals a bit more. I begin to see what FF sees in him. A strong, determined, efficient man. He says, “I see him gelling tired out, because when lie gets tired out, he gets to perspiring — you know, sweating? — up here around on his forehead. I noticed that happening this afternoon. He gets pale sometimes, too. He always wants to do too much. He’s one of those. I keep telling him, ‘Now you just take it easy, man, because you know this world wasn’t made in a day,’ and I say to him, ‘Now, you’ve been sick, but now you’re not sick anymore. I know all about that because Eve been sick, too. And I know what it is to have to convalesce and get better after. You’ve been sick, but you’ve got to put it out of your mind now. You’ve got to stop thinking about it and put your head on what you have to learn. You’ve got to learn to walk again just like a little baby. You’re just going to have to learn it. It’s only natural that you can’t walk after being in bed as long as you’ve been. It’s just something to learn.’ ” (Ralph talks the right sort of nonsense.)
He continues. “Now, I know you’re his friends, good friends, so I want to tell you something, promise you something. I’m going to have him walking right hack into that court!”
We have been to Washington again to sec FF. This time our opinions of his condition differ. R feels that he is greatly improved. My impression is that this is an illusion, caused by his perfected techniques in dealing with his situation.
FF tells ol Dr. Herrman Blumgart’s questioning Dr. Reiser (in FF’s presence) about the case.
Reiser: “Well, sir, as you sec, he has only limited use of his left leg and of his left arm.”
Blumgart: “No matter. The world has never counted much on this one’s abilities as an athlete.”
The remark delights FF. He taps his forehead and says, “Nothing wrong here, you see, nothing at all.” He goes on to say that he now wakes early, thinks his thoughts, and by the time Mrs. Douglas arrives, is ready to spill out a How of dictation.
Marion is concerned about FF’s newest preoccupation: making arrangements for his funeral. '‘It worries me,” she says. “I must ask the doctor if this is a common occurrence in these circumstances. In all our years, I have never known him to give so much as a fleeting thought to the subject, and now he simply won’t get off it. Where. And how. And who. I suppose it’s because he has seen so many services botched. It troubles him to think that his may be. But, of course, it’s most unpleasant. One of the things that seem to worry him is the religious aspect. He is afraid that somehow there will be prayers or words spoken by a rabbi. He says he wants no such meaningless hypocrisy; that right or wrong, for better or worse, he left the synagogue when he was fifteen and has never returned. He recalls that he sat there one morning, looked about him, and realized that the ritual and the prayers meant a great deal to the others and nothing to him. And he felt that he was desecrating the temple by his presence. So he left and has not returned. He wants the service held here in the apartment, and he wants the list of people invited to be limited, and he knows exactly the sort of ceremony he wants, and above all, no prayers.”
When it is time to leave today, FF points at me and says, “I want to see you privately for two minutes before you go. In the study.” The two minutes turn into twenty. The subject: his funeral. He says, “When the time comes that we must, as Holmes used to say, ‘bow to the inevitable.’ I want to be certain that what happens is right.” He goes on at length, outlining the arrangements: who is to speak, who is to attend. “And I want you,” he says, “to see to it that none of my instructions are violated.” He gives me a commission to execute in New York with regard to the musical aspects of the services. I promise a report. Finally, he names the last of the speakers.
“Do you know why I want him?'' he asks.
“Because he is my only close personal friend who is also a practicing, orthodox Jew. He knows Hebrew perfectly and will know exactly what to say.”
Remembering Marion’s account, I am astounded. Have I misunderstood? I ask, “Do you mean a prayer of some sort?”
“Well, of course, you nut, what else would he say in Hebrew?”
“Then you do mean the Kaddish?”
He waves me off impatiently. “Oh, I don’t know, and neither do you, but he’ll know, and he’ll do it beautifully. Let me explain, t came into the world a Jew, and although I did not live my life entirely as a Jew, I think it is fitting that J should leave as a Jew. I don’t want to be one of these pretenders and turn my back on a great and noble heritage. I don’t want to — how do they say it? — pass! Like that thoroughly reprehensible — well, never mind. That’s why. So there’s going to be the Hebrew.”
I have been trying to handle all this casually, but all at once my resources fail and I become lightheaded. FF looks at me. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing. Warm in here.”
He grasps my elbow and shakes me. “Look here,” he says, “I don’t expect any of this to be necessary for a long time. A long time,” he says. “I simply want it understood now. But listen to me. Before I’m in the grave, I’m going to be back on the Court. Did you hear me?”
“You bet,” I whisper.
His strong right hand clutches my elbow with uncommon strength. It is painful, but I cannot move away. His eyes are brighter than I have seen them in years, and he is smiling as he says, “I am going to be back on the Court before I am in the grave!”
Let us pray.