ROOM FOR ENJOYMENT: Memoir of A Design Merchant

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You stood me up once. Now, at 18, she was under contract to Selznick, and her photograph had been published on the June 9, , cover of Life magazine. In the photo spread inside the magazine, she was likened to the Mona Lisa —they shared that secret smile. My earliest memories are of Ireland. Dad moved the family there in His first visit had been two years earlier, in , before I was born.

Dad had watched as the young members of the legendary Galway Blazers played a game of follow-the-leader that involved angry waiters swinging champagne buckets, and men leaping off a balcony onto the dining tables, as the music played on into the night and the whiskey flowed. Dad said that he had expected someone would be killed before the ball was over. In the days following, he fell in love with the scenic beauty of the country. Mum came into my room, wrapped me in a blanket, and carried me downstairs. The house was dark and silent. Outside on the front steps in the frosted night, Dad held Tony in his arms.

The sky was raining meteors. The famous combat photographer Robert Capa came to Courtown and was one of the first to take pictures of Tony and me as toddlers, crawling on a polished wood floor, wide-eyed, like two little birds that had fallen out of their nest. Tony and I would sit on the landing at the top of the long quadrangle staircase of Courtown House and watch Dad at work from above as he stalked slowly back and forth on the black-and-white inlaid marble squares that paved the hallway.

This was a serious process. His secretary, Lorrie Sherwood, told us he was writing and never to interrupt. I was five when we moved from Courtown House to St. Clerans, a acre estate in County Galway. Three miles outside the town of Craughwell, down a shadowy green avenue of high elms and chestnut trees, a stone gateway led to a generous courtyard with a two-story limestone cottage on the left, known as the Little House.

This is where we lived. The room Big House was a few hundred yards away, across a bridge over a trout stream with a little island and a gentle waterfall, where a great gray heron pecked hatchlings from the shallows on one leg. The Big House was in disrepair.

For the next four years, my mother worked on restoring the estate. Mum and Dad were united in this endeavor. Then, like a sleeping beauty awakened, the house would come alive, glowing from the inside, turf fires burning in every room. When Dad was in residence, Tony and I would go up to his room for breakfast.

The maids would carry the heavy wicker trays from the kitchen, with the spaces on either side for The Irish Times and the Herald Tribune. Dad liked to read the Trib column written by his friend Art Buchwald. Sitting on the floor, I would top off my customary boiled egg, and dip fingers of toasted bread into the deep-orange yolk. The tea was hot and brown in the cup, like sweet bog water.

Dad would be idly sketching on a drawing pad.

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It was generally a good idea to have an anecdote at hand, even though it was often hard to come up with one, given that we were all living in the same compound and had seen him at dinner the night before. At some point, he would toss the sketchpad aside and make his way slowly out of bed, casting off his pajamas and standing fully naked before us. We watched, mesmerized. I was fascinated by his body—his wide shoulders, high ribs, and long arms, his potbelly and legs as thin as toothpicks.

He was extremely well-endowed, but I tried not to stare or betray any interest in what I was observing. Eventually he would wander into the sanctuary of his bathroom, locking the door behind him, and sometime later would reappear, showered and shaved and smelling of fresh lime. Creagh, the butler, would come upstairs to help him dress, and the ritual would begin. He had a gleaming mahogany dressing room full of kimonos and cowboy boots and Navajo Indian belts, robes from India, Morocco, and Afghanistan.

Dad would ask my advice on which necktie to wear, take it into consideration, and arrive at his own decision. Then, dressed and ready for the day, he would proceed down to the study. My mother was out of her element in the rough West Country, trying to do everything beautifully. She was an exotic fish out of water, even though she made a good effort.

It was the dead of winter. The temperature was subzero. She put up a marquee in the Little House yard—Guinness and champagne were to be served. And oysters brought up from Paddy Burkes pub, in Clarinbridge. And a band. She was wearing a white taffeta strapless evening dress. It was twinkling with hoarfrost inside the marquee, so cold that no one could bear to go out that night.

I remember my mother, her eyes shining, hovering alone at the entrance as the band packed up their instruments early to go home. Dad was a storyteller. His stories usually started with a long, deep pause, as if he were reckoning with the narrative, his head thrown back, his brown eyes searching to visualize the memory, taking time to measure and reflect. Then the tale would begin.

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He talked about the war. At the Battle of San Pietro, during a documentary assignment for the War Department, the rd Regiment needed 1, new troops to come in after the initial battle. Steel cable had been stretched across the Rapido River to allow the troops to cross at night to the other side. But the Germans had struck and the soldiers had taken a terrible hit. On the opposite side of the river, a major stood waist-deep in the water, his hand blasted off, and saluted each soldier as he crossed.

The stories often took place in exotic locales, with an emphasis on wildlife. We begged to hear our favorite ones from The African Queen: the marching red ants that ate everything they came across, and how the crew had to dig trenches, fill them with gasoline, and set them on fire because it was the only way to stop the ants from devouring everything in their path.

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There was the story of the missing villager whose pinkie finger turned up in the stew. And the one where the whole crew was suffering from dysentery, which was holding up the shoot, until a deadly, poisonous black mamba was discovered wrapped around the latrine. Dad would laugh. Mum and Dad never told Tony and me that they were separating.

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And so I was confused when we first went to London. My Irish tutors and the Sisters of Mercy had not prepared me for the expectations of my new school. I was miserable there. For the next eight years, Tony and I went back and forth between London and St. Clerans on our holidays. Christmas at St. Clerans continued to be a grand affair. It rose, shining with colored lights, from the stairwell of the inner hall to the floor above, the star on top kissing the crystal globe of the Waterford chandelier.

Tommy Holland, a local farmer, was generally the designated Santa. But one year our houseguest, the writer John Steinbeck, was recruited and proved an admirable choice. He claimed to have swallowed copious amounts of cotton wool whenever he inhaled, but visually, he was perfect. I loved Steinbeck. He was kind and generous and treated me as an equal. One morning, he took me aside to the drawing room and removed a gold medal on a chain from around his neck and placed it around mine. He explained that it had been given to him years before, when he was a young man visiting Mexico City.

He allowed the monkey to spend the night in the bedroom. When the curtains were drawn in the morning, the room was destroyed. Clerans in She appeared to me totally mad, bounding around in velour jumpsuits. There was a girlfriend called Lady Davina, who had a very upper-class British accent. There was a pretty brunette American conquest who sent recordings of her love songs.

There was Min Hogg, who was young and arty, had long dark hair, and wore black most of the time. Min let me wear her fishnet stockings and high-heeled shoes, so I could practice walking like a fashion model, up and down the driveway. Later I came to recognize her as an actress he was seeing during the making of Freud, when I went to visit him on that set. And Valeria Alberti, an Italian countess. Very cool, a little boyish. She had piercing brown eyes, acne scars, and a good suntan. Dad would find this vastly amusing. How was our French coming along? How many fish had Tony caught? I was unfamiliar with the word.

It sounded French. From his lips, it sounded like a sin, worse than lying or stealing or cowardice. Now and again, I sensed intrigue and mystery among the grown-ups, with their raised eyebrows and whispering in the halls of St. Or Rin Kaga, a samurai warrior whom Dad had encountered during the making of The Barbarian and the Geisha, descending from the Napoleon Room, so-called because of its lavish Empire bed, in full kimono, with tabis on his feet. He spoke not a word of English but had shed a few joyous tears at breakfast when he was re-united with Dad.

Dad explained that a samurai was allowed to cry only a few times in his entire life. For me, who until recently had cried an average of three or four times a day, this was an extraordinary idea to ponder. Seated on the green corduroy sofa at the coffee table in front of the turf fire, framed by a veined Connemara-marble mantelpiece and Mexican finials, Dad sketched on white notepads in pencil and Magic Marker, his back to the great wealth of achievement on the bookshelves, which inspired and interested him.

A high level of accomplishment was like fuel. I would try not to appear too self-conscious or overly self-critical when I saw the sketch. But painting is isolating, and Dad was a social creature. Clerans three times a year, every year, over the school holidays.

A year older than I, strong and tall, Lizzie had skin like peaches and cream, thick corn-yellow hair, blue eyes, and Slavic cheekbones, and she shared my love for horses and dogs. Like me, she had a poodle.

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Mine was called Mindy; hers was Topsy. We had met one weekend when her parents took Mum and me to Bruern Abbey, the beautiful Oxfordshire estate of Michael Astor. Lizzie and I were in the pantry giving Mindy a clip, and it was taking forever to trim her fur. Upstairs the adults were having a dinner party. Mum and Natasha came to tell us it was time for bed, but we resisted. Often, when we were up at the Big House for lunch, Dad would beam when Lizzie Spender walked into the dining room. And Lizzie would blush. After lunch, Dad might recruit someone to pose for him up at the loft.

One holiday he asked Lizzie if he could paint her portrait, but later, down at the Little House, I begged her to say no. I did not want Dad to focus any more attention on her. The following morning I took her over to his studio and showed her his paintings. We were all in the study late one summer afternoon. Dad was drawing; the light was dim and soft. One of the maids, Margaret, came into the room to lay the turf for the fire, then moved to turn on the lamps.

Dad held up his hand as if to stop time. Our features softened as the color deserted the room, and outside the sun set beyond the riverbanks. He told Tony and me that he would be having a meeting with Maria Callas, whom he was interviewing for the part of Sarah, and asked if we had any advice. Later, when they met, Dad recounted our observations to Ms. Filming The Bible was without doubt an immense task for a director. Dad worked on it for close to three years.

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The outcome of the Free Harbor fight would irreversibly change the fate of Brighton Beach and Terminal Island but, there was little to dull the era that Graves reflects upon in his book. Large indeed! The home was three stories and had both a sun porch and a balcony. The most important style element seemed to be an adherence to the weekend getaway attitude of the island. According to Terminal Island historian Geraldine Knatz, most of the homes on Brighton were given names rather than numbers to indicate location. Years later, when the post office came to Terminal Island, the house was bestowed with an address, N.

Seaside Avenue. The lack of a breakwater to protect the island from the ravages of the Pacific Ocean shaped life and concerns on Brighton Beach. While weather was generally mild and pleasant, storms and swells would cause havoc on the island, particularly the summer storms. Graves noted that the summer thunderstorms in the far reaches of the bay were a magnificent sight to behold from the comfort of his front porch yet they regularly changed the landscape of the beachfront:.

Another storm filled it up again The ocean will occasionally, on short notice, become very ugly. For days great big breakers will roll into the shore. A Sanborn map of Terminal Island indicates that a small home was situated next door on the property to the west but, just 6 years later, a revised Sanborn map indicates that the structure was no longer there, possibly a victim of the summer storms.

On a more positive note, the absence of the federal breakwater allowed residents like Graves, his family, and their friends, to sail to Long Beach, Catalina, Newport or Balboa unobstructed and get an amazing view of the mainland. One evening, on a return trip from St. Nicholas Island, just off Catalina, Graves caught an unobstructed glimpse of San Pedro Bay that was so clear he believed it could only be a mirage:. The Brighton community embraced aquatic leisure: swimming, fishing which grew even more pronounced after the Brighton Beach pier was built , and boating were among the popular pastimes.

As the area grew in popularity, a bathhouse, pier and commercial structures sprang up along Terminal Beach, just east of Brighton. No small boat without sails should ever be caught in the middle of that channel, as frequently as storms come up quite unexpectedly. Children were ubiquitous on the island. Brighton families, whether residing seasonal or year round, often had multiple children and they could be seen running unobstructed down the boardwalk to the bathhouse and concession stands on Terminal Beach.

Graves and his five children only three would survive to adulthood relished their summers on the island and he describes the general atmosphere of Brighton as family friendly and a good environment for kids:. The beach receded gradually, and the water was quite shallow until one got out a considerable distance My family, and especially all the children, enjoyed our summers there very much. The banking business that afforded Graves the ability to have a summer home on Brighton was nearly 25 miles away in Los Angeles meaning that, inevitably, he would have to make the trek back to the city.

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In returning to L. The weather would seem to disappointingly shift as soon as he left the Harbor:. While living there I would often take the train for Los Angeles, with the sun shining brightly, and before we reached the city we would be enveloped in fog. The halcyon days of Brighton Beach did not last, of course. For years, the Brighton Beach homes stood untouched as the shoreline slowly moved south. Commercial dredging to expand the port facilities slowly filled in what was once water and the shoreline moved approximately one mile south of where it was originally located.

The wealthy Brighton Beach homeowners sold their once beachfront property to working-class families and many of the larger houses became boarding homes for laborers who held jobs as fishermen, longshoremen and cannery workers. In front of our house, where the water used to come within 25 feet of it, it is now at least a mile to the water. Graves sold the house to Mr. Frank Kiff and his wife, Mae. Kiff was the postmaster on Terminal Island while his wife served as the assistant postmaster. The couple lived on the property until when Terminal Island was taken over by the Navy and everyone living on the island was forced to leave.

The house was demolished shortly thereafter. No matter what I was out on this deal, I feel that I was amply repaid by the pleasure which it gave us, and especially the enjoyment which my children and their friends had there. Looking northeast towards Brighton Beach likely taken from the Terminal Beach pier. San Pedro Bay Historical Society. Los Angeles Harbor Department.