07/14/05 - alan jay lerner's father

In today's excerpt - we meet Broadway playwright and star Alan Jay Lerner's father, the wealthy and charismatic founder of Lerner's Department Stores.  Lerner's father had routinely discouraged and minimized Alan's Broadway career something that preyed on the son's spirit.  This excerpt picks up from that point at a time when the father was severly ill:

"On another occasion I was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of An American in Paris. I was not present at the ceremony because my father was being operated on the same day for the forty-ninth time. (I remember the number clearly, because when he signed the official form giving permission for the operation and saw on it: “Number of operations: 49” he wrote underneath: When it gets to fifty, sell.”) Although he never said so, I knew he liked me being there before an operation. Besides, in all honesty, I never thought I would win. No screenplay for a musical ever had before. After his operation, he was, of course, heavily sedated and not expecting to regain consciousness until the morning. The Academy Awards were being broadcast at eleven o’clock, New York time. To my astonishment I won. On the way home, I stopped by the hospital and told the nurse that when he awakened would she please tell him the news.

“ 'Oh,' she said, 'he knows.' I was bewildered. 'How?' I asked. 'Well,' she said “'at five to eleven he came out of his coma, reached over, and turned on the radio.' After he heard that I had won, she told me, he turned it off and lapsed back into unconsciousness. The next day, however, when I went to see him he never mentioned the incident nor congratulated me.

"But one day, when I was pushing his bed into the elevator to take him to the operating room, he wrote to me [he could no longer speak]: 'I suppose you’re wondering why I want to live.' It was precisely what I was thinking, and I nodded. He wrote another note and just before the nurse took him away, he tore it from his pad and stuffed it into my hand. The operation he had before him was a brute, and there was a strong possibility he would not survive it. So for a few minutes I did not think to read his note. Downstairs in his room, I suddenly remembered it was in my hand and I opened it. It read: 'Because I want to see what happens to you.'

"He died a month before I began to write My Fair Lady. I know how much it would have meant to him and I know how much his absence meant to me."


Alan Jay Lerner


The Street Where I Live


W.W. Norton & Company


Copyright 1978 by Alan Jay Lerner


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