- Tom- Tom
One night in the fall of 1969 I was brought to a gay bar in Chicago by David Trent, a man I’d recently met who was introducing me to gay life. As we walked in – this was my second or third gay bar visit – David looked across to the bar and said, “Oh, that’s Chuck and Richard and Edward Albee.” ALBEE. Good God. Required Reading in College. Famous Genius. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Theater of the Absurd Master.
Quick introductions were made. The tall man in the center of the three had a mature imposing authority about him, just as I imagined Edward Albee would have. As David was engaged in lively conversation with Chuck Woodward and Richard Barr, Edward’s producers, I turned my attention to the preppy young man who stood shyly aside. He had amazing long eye lashes and a soft gaze with a paradox power to bore into your head. He seduced by listening. He seemed guarded in our conversation and his discretion led me to think that he might be the “boy” of one of the other men – most likely Edward. He quietly suggested we go to another bar where we could be alone. What illicit meeting lie ahead?
David and I said our good nights and left. Outside, David asked, “So – what did you think of Edward Albee? I said that I’d been so impressed to meet him, wished I’d talked to him more but wasn’t really much a part of their conversation. “I was flirting with the young quiet guy . . . “ David stopped me, “And who do you think you were talking to?” I admitted that I had wondered. “I just made a date to meet him at another bar.”
Gushing with apology as I approached Edward in the second bar, I admitted. “I’m so embarrassed. I was rattling on like a school boy . . . talking about my life at school . . . and now. I can’t believe it. Now I’m talking to you. Edward Albee.” Shortly, we were up in his suite atop the Drake Hotel. 11 West occupied one quarter of the top floor of the hotel overlooking Lake Michigan. He told me that depending on the length of his stay somewhere, he’d bring some of his art to replace the hotel’s. In the morning, I awoke next to Edward who was propped up on his pillow writing a new play in a very tiny red ink script on a yellow pad. Seascape. I was in another world. And so began a schoolboy’s romance with a searingly brilliant artist that would affect my life profoundly. And he did it so effortlessly. He accepted me as someone he could talk to.
Our romance was intense and unsustainable. But over the years, we remained friends. I got to know Jonathan Thomas, his late lover of thirty-five years and was happy he’d found a devoted companion. I’ve told Edward what a monumental gift he gave me in our brief affair. I was a law student from the middle of America with distant dreams, fascinated by people who made magic in our culture. I grew up wanting to be an artist but had no route into that world. Edward was a conduit to the best of the best in all the arts. He took me on a whirl wind tour of culture introducing me to giants in every field. So many stars wanted to know him and he gave me a place at their table.
Edward’s appreciation of art, music, crafts, film – everything – set the bar high. He gave me a master’s class in art, culture and life and showed me how to integrate my passions, first by teaching me the meaning of being an art patron rather than just an art collector. He told me, “When I walk into someone’s home, I can immediately see if they are inquisitive, or merely acquisitive. If the former, I will see many beautiful and interesting things that I do not know. If they are merely acquisitive, I will recognize everything and likely know its price.” I use that observation to evaluate everything in life.
I took this photo of Edward in Central Park in the winter of 1969 with one of his wolfhounds – Harry – and his little Lhasa Apso – Pucci. I’ll save the details of our affair – including our own Walpurgisnacht – for another time. Just now, I’m awash with feelings of enormous gratitude for the good fortune of my time with Edward. So much of who I am, what I know and what I appreciate came from him. He challenged me. Certainly, my life as an artist began with loving him.