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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. We get our New York Times a day late up here in Maine so I didn’t learn the terrible news until today
July 5, 1976
We get our New York Times a day late up here in Maine so I didn’t learn the terrible news until today. Last night on TV there were some pictures of the Israeli hostages arriving back at Tel Aviv airport and the tumultuous welcome they received. There were no shots of the commandos who pulled off the incredible rescue mission because evidently they’re a top-secret group and can’t be photographed.
Since July is my custody month with the kids, I pretty much had my hands full planning the fireworks display and just trying to be a father. Besides, the whole thing had such a fairy-tale aspect that I never imagined anyone I knew could possibly have been associated with it.
I certainly never dreamed that one of the two officers killed was my friend Jason Gilbert. He obviously wasn’t famous enough for any of the networks to mention him by name. But when the army released his picture, it was printed in the Times of July 5th. That’s when Dickie Newall called me from New York, knowing that I couldn’t have seen my copy yet.
My first reaction was disbelief. Not Jason, I thought. Nothing could happen to him. If for no other reason than because he was basically so good.
I needed time to pull myself together before facing the kids. So I told them to go to the village for lunch. I took a boat and rowed out to the middle of the lake.
When I got about as far away from shore as I could, I pulled in the oars and just floated. I tried to make myself confront the truth of what I’d just learned.
And what hit me hardest was how damn unfair it was. Because if there’s an Almighty before whom you have to justify your existence on this earth, Jason had the greatest reason for living of anyone I ever knew.
I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. So I just sat there and tried to make Sense of things, wondering what Jason would want me to do.
When I finally rowed back, I called his parents on Long Island. The housekeeper said that they had left for Israel on the previous night’s plane. To attend the funeral. Then I thought maybe I should go too. But when I asked, she told me that it had been scheduled for today. Apparently it’s Jewish tradition to have the burial very quickly. So as I was prattling mindlessly on the phone, they were probably lowering him into the ground. I thanked the lady and hung up.
When the kids got back in the early afternoon, I sat Andy and Lizzie down on the porch and tried to tell them about my old buddy. I guess they already knew him by name because everybody from Harvard remembers Jason as the great jock. And whenever two guys in The Class got to reminiscing, his name always came up. They listened patiently while I told them about my friend’s heroism, but I could see it was no more real to them than a John Wayne film.
I tried to make them understand that he had sacrificed himself for a cause. They still remained fairly impassive.
I also explained that it was that way in this country too before Vietnam. People went to fight to defend their principles. And then I tried to bring it closer to home by saying that was why our own ancestors fought the British in 1776.
Andy doesn’t like it when I mention this sort of thing. In fact, he was pretty unreceptive to my whole sermon.
He told me that I was incapable of getting into my head that the world has got to outgrow war. That no violence is ever justified.
Okay, I wasn’t going to press the point. I figured it was just a stage he was going through. What the hell does a spoiled teenager know about principles anyway?
Even Lizzie was getting a little impatient. So I concluded our talk by saying I had to go into town and buy some more fireworks.
This suddenly awakened Andy’s interest. He asked if we were making July Fourth a two-day holiday.
I replied that this was something special.
We were going to set off some flares tonight in memory of Jason Gilbert.
George Keller spent his first month as the President’s Special Advisor for National Security Affairs almost literally up in the air. He accompanied President Ford and Secretary Kissinger (with a gaggle of reporters) on voyages to Peking, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Cathy, of course, understood that these were not the sort of trips you could take your wife on. So she busied herself working in the ERA campaign headquarters and debachelorizing George’s townhouse.
As soon as he returned, Kissinger swooped him up again into an air-force jet heading for Russia to make a last-ditch effort at saving the SALT negotiations.
In their absence, the congressional attacks on Kissinger escalated. Ever sensitive to public criticism, the Secretary of State was in despair. One day George overheard Henry talking to Washington on the secure American Embassy phone in Moscow.
“Mr. President, with due respect, if I have so drastically lost the confidence of my countrymen, then I am prepared to tender my resignation.”
George sat with bated breath, wondering how Gerald Ford was reacting to Henry’s latest histrionic offer to step down. Someday, he thought, they’re going to call his bluff and he’ll be out. And somebody else will be Secretary of State.
From February on, Washington began to focus increasingly on domestic affairs. For Gerald Ford this meant currying public favor for the upcoming election in November while holding off the threat from Ronald Reagan to usurp the Republican nomination.
George Keller’s problem was even more literally domestic. Cathy wanted to start a family. While he argued that they had plenty of time, she countered with a reminder that she wasn’t getting any younger.
“Don’t you have the urge to be a father?” she coaxed.
“I’d be a lousy one. I’m much too selfish to give a kid the time.”
“Aha then you’ve actually thought about it.”
“Yes, a bit.”
In fact, he had thought about it more than just a little. From the moment they were married he had been aware that Cathy aspired to motherhood.
All their friends had children. Even Andrew Eliot, who had jokingly remarked, “You ought to try it, Keller. I mean, if I can do it anyone can.”
Yet, something visceral in him recoiled at the prospect. Cathy sensed his misgivings and wanted to believe that they were caused by his own abrasive relationship with his father. So she tried to reassure him that, if anything, he would overcompensate to his child.
To some extent she was right. But that was only part of it. Deep within him was an avenging fury warning that he was too guilty to deserve to be a parent.
Kissinger and George were sitting in the wings during the second debate between President Ford and his Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter, on October 6, 1976.
They winced when Ford fumbled with the ill-considered statement that Eastern Europe was “not under Soviet domination.”
At this point Henry leaned over and whispered sarcastically, “Nice briefing job you did, Dr. Keller.”
George shook his head. The moment the debate ended he asked Kissinger, “What do you think?”
The Secretary of State replied, “I think that unless there’s an immediate revolution in Poland, we’re all out of a job.”
Kissinger was right. On Election Day, the voters of America sent Jimmy Carter to the White House and Gerald Ford to the golf courses of Palm Springs. Washington would now be a Democratic town — at least for the next four years. And those closely allied with the Republican cause like George Keller had no place in it. Ironically, George’s office would be taken over by his first Harvard patron, Zbigniew Brzezinski. (He wondered fleetingly if he hadn’t choosen the wrong horse.)
Cathy was secretly delighted at the turn of events, since she hated her native city. And she was jealous of her husband’s mistress, politics.
After his initial disappointment, George started looking for a new career. He rejected invitations from several universities to teach government and several publishing houses to write a book about his White House experiences. As far as he was concerned, they were by no means over.
Instead, he opted to become an international trade consultant to the powerful New York investment firm of Pierson Hancock. The potential remuneration was beyond his wildest dreams.
As he joked to Cathy, “Now I’m worse than a capitalist. I’m a plutocrat.”
She smiled and thought, wouldn’t it be nice if you became a parent, too. And with maternity in mind, she convinced her husband that they should live in the country.
George at last acceded and they bought a Tudor house in Darien, Connecticut. It meant a lot of commuting for him each day, but at least he got to read the papers thoroughly before arriving at his office. To discover what was happening in the world that he no longer helped to run.
Two years after moving up from Washington, he had more money than he knew what to do with. And his wife had the same plethora of empty time.
Despite George’s urging, she did not take the New York Bar exam and seek a job with a metropolitan law firm. Instead, she qualified in Connecticut and took a one-day-a-week lectureship at nearby Bridgeport University law school.
George pretended to ignore the significance of her desire to remain at home. And Cathy’s sadness was compounded by a growing bitterness that he didn’t trust her enough to believe she was taking The Pill. Such lack of confidence is hardly conducive to a good marriage. And indeed, theirs was fast becoming a very unhappy one.
George sensed her increasing discontent and, instead of confronting it, deliberately fashioned a lifestyle that managed to avoid the issue. He began to work later and later — and come home drunker and drunker.
The New Haven Railroad may have been falling to pieces, but the scotch in its club cars still held many a commuter together. Or at least gave George that illusion.
Suburbia without children was stultifying. All of Cathy’s contemporaries were busily involved in the activities of their offsprings’ lives, and at lunch discussed little else. Thus, she felt like a double outcast. An alien among mothers, and a stranger to her own husband.
“Are you happy, George?” she asked one evening, as she was ferrying him from the train station.
“What kind of question is that?” he asked, slurring his words slightly.
“I mean, aren’t you sick of pretending that everything’s okay between us? Don’t you hate having to travel all the way out here just for boring old me?”
“Not at all. Get a lot of work done on the train.…”
“Come on, George, you’re not that drunk. Why don’t we discuss our so-called marriage?”
“What’s there to discuss? You want a divorce? You can have a divorce. You’re still a good-looking girl. Find a brand-new husband in no time.”
Cathy felt too upset to be angry. She pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center, so that she could concentrate on this crucial conversation without crashing into a tree.
She then turned and asked him straight out, “So that’s it, then — it’s over?”
He looked at her and, in one of his rare expressions of true feelings, said, “You know I really don’t want to make you unhappy.”
“I thought it was I who was making you miserable.”
“No, Cathy. No. No. No.”
“Then what is it, George? What’s come between us?”
He stared straight ahead for a moment, then half-buried his face in his hands and said softly, “My life is shit.”
“In what way?” she asked quietly.
“In every way. I’m taking it out on you because I’m miserable doing what I’m doing. It’s like running on a treadmill. I’m going nowhere. I’m forty-two years old and already a burned-out case.”
“That’s not true, George,” she said sincerely. “You’re brilliant. Your best years are still ahead.”
He shook his head. “No, you can’t make me believe that. Somewhere along the line I missed my chance. Things are never going to be much different than they are right now.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. “George, what we need isn’t a divorce, it’s a second honeymoon.”
He gazed at her, and consciously reaffirmed what he had always known subliminally. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
“Do you think we have a chance?”
“As you boys say on Wall Street, George,” she smiled, “I’m still bullish about our future. All you need is a little ‘sabbatical’ to give you a chance to get a second wind.”
“A sabbatical — from what?”
“From your unquenchable and temporarily frustrated ambition, my love.”
The Kellers’ grand tour of Europe was not quite the total holiday that Cathy had wanted. But it was enough to rekindle hope for the future of their relationship.
To begin with, she taught George his first lesson in how to enjoy life. To take satisfaction from what he had already accomplished.
For in every country they visited, high government officials welcomed them in royal fashion. And it bolstered George’s ego to see himself still respected, even though he was out of office.
In fact, his political antennae proved to be shrewder than ever. In London, he and Cathy dined with Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, M. P., who would be leading the Conservative Party in the next general election. She complimented George’s views on geopolitics, and Cathy’s hat.
The same was true in Germany and in France, where the newly installed foreign minister, Jean François-Poncet, entertained them in his home — a Gallic rarity.
Their final stop was Brussels. While Cathy was out doing some last-minute shopping, George had lunch with his old colleague from the NSC days, Alexander Haig, now Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. With his usual candor, the general pronounced his judgment on the current White House occupant.
“Carter’s really messing up. His foreign policy is a disaster. It’s an experiment in obsequiousness. We’ve got to behave like the superpower we are. That’s the only way to make the Soviets respect us. I tell you, George, Carter’ll be a sitting duck in 1980.”
“Who do you think we’ll run against him?”
Haig replied with a sly grin, “Well, I’ve been thinking of giving it a shot.”
“That’s great,” George responded with shining enthusiasm. “I’ll help you any way I can.”
“Thanks. And I’ll tell you something — if I make it, my Secretary of State is sitting right here at this table.”
“I’m very flattered.”
“Come on, Keller,” said Haig, “can you name anyone more qualified?”
“No, frankly,” George responded mischievously.
He could have flown home without a plane.
If in the 1960s Danny Rossi had become a household name, in the late 1970s he became a household face. His charismatic visage was now beamed regularly into millions of homes, thanks to an enormously successful — and prizewinning — series of musical documentaries made for Public Television.
First there was a baker’s dozen of programs on the instruments of the orchestra. This was followed by a history of the symphony. Both, of course, had book tie-ins, and to the many strings on his bow Danny now added that of bestselling author.
“Maria, I’ve got to talk to you seriously about Danny.” They were sitting in Terry Moran’s office at the station.
In the three years she had been working for WHYY-TV, Maria had risen from assistant director to full-fledged producer. And it was rumored that the station president would soon elevate her to program director.
Their glass of sherry together on Friday afternoons had now become a weekly ritual. They would go over various crises and indulge in fantasies of what they could do if only they had a bigger budget.
“I feel I have the right to say this,” Terry continued, “because now you’re not some neophyte. And to put it bluntly, I feel Danny’s being unfaithful. To Philadelphia, I mean — and us. Look, I can understand why he’d want to film his first series at KCET in L.A. He directs the Philharmonic there, and there’s a huge pool of TV talent in Tinseltown. But why the hell did he have to do his history of the symphony in New York?”
“Terry, you can’t imagine the pressure they put on him at WNET. Besides, I think Lenny Bernstein was working behind the scenes.”
Moran slammed his desk. “But dammit, man for man, our orchestra’s as good as theirs, if not better. That series earned a fortune for the supplying station, and we could really use the dough. Most of all, I feel Danny should show some allegiance to the city that first made him a conductor. Don’t you agree?”
“Terry, this isn’t fair. You’re putting me on the spot.”
“Maria, you’ve known me long enough to realize I play fair and square. I’m not talking to Danny Rossi’s wife, I’m complaining to my business partner. Objectively speaking, don’t you think he should do his next TV project here?”
“Objectively speaking, yes. But I —” She grew self-conscious and could not continue her sentence. Though in the past months she had received more genuine warmth and support from Terry, she still felt an atavistic loyalty to the man who was legally her husband.
“I mean, from all those interviews I read in the papers, you and he make those big career decisions together.” Moran hesitated and then added, “Or shouldn’t I believe what I read?”
Maria grew reticent and wondered what else he had been reading in the press.
Actually, there had been times, after a long session in the cutting room, when she had almost felt brave enough to speak to Terry of her domestic unhappiness. After all, he had already confided in her. She knew about his divorce, which had shaken his staunchly Catholic parents. And how badly he missed his children.
These long conversations had made her realize that they were both reluctant to leave because neither had any real home to go to.
Still, she had been too shy to initiate the conversation, assuming — perhaps hoping — that sooner or later Terry would broach the subject.
And now here they were perilously close to trespassing on the most intimate details of her personal life.
“Why so silent?” he inquired amicably. “Or are you thinking of the best approach to catch Mr. Rossi in our butterfly net?”
“I’ll be frank,” Maria began. “I’m a bit reluctant to broach this with Danny because it kind of blurs the lines of demarcation between our separate work and our… marriage.”
She hesitated. And then suddenly added, “Hey look, on second thought, I agree about his loyalty to Philadelphia. I’ll bring up the idea of his doing a series for us, if we can come up with a concept.”
“Well, Maria, you’ve got the creative brain. What do you think Danny Rossi should do for a television encore?”
Instinctively she knew. “Well, if I can say so, he is one of the best pianists of his generation —”
“The very best,” Moran interrupted.
“Anyway, I would think he’d be the perfect person to do the history of keyboard music.”
“Something like ‘from harpsichord to synthesizer,’ ” Terry replied, kindled by the notion. “I think that’s absolutely fantastic. If you snare him, I’ll squeeze every penny from our budget to give him the lushest deal this station ever offered.”
Maria nodded and stood up. “Of course, he’ll probably say no,” she said quietly.
“Well, if he does, I’ll love you all the same.”
To her surprise, the idea excited Danny. “I’d have only two ironclad conditions,” he said. “First, the tapings have got to be tailored to fit the days I’m already committed to being in Philly.”
“Obviously,” she agreed.
“And second, I want you to be the producer.”
“Why me?” she asked, somewhat taken aback. “Wouldn’t that be uncomfortable?”
“Hey listen,” he replied, “if we’re going to match the level of the other series, I’ve got to have the best possible studio team. And you are without question the savviest producer they have.”
“Have you been reading my clippings?”
“No, I’ve been running some of your videotapes late at night. I think your work’s terrific.”
“All right, Rossi,” she replied, unable to mask her delight. “But I warn you — you play temperamental artist with me and I’ll shoot the whole damn thing from your bad side.”
“Okay, boss.” He smiled. And then added, “Hey, we could tout this thing as coming ‘from the team that brought you Arcadia .’ ”
Maria lay awake that night wondering what was on Danny’s mind. She hadn’t thought her argument was that persuasive. To be honest, however good their studio facilities now were, they were still no match for New York or L.A. And was that quip about Arcadia anything but a casual joke?
They had been so happy in those Harvard clays, their collaboration animated by their passion.
“How does he do it?” an astounded Terry Moran exclaimed, as they sat side by side in the control booth.
“Well,” Maria answered proudly, “he knows the keyboard repertoire backwards and forwards. And, as you can see, he loves to drive himself.”
Even she had not been able to persuade Danny to devote a fill day for taping each of the thirteen episodes. To the amazement of the crew, who bad never seen such prodigious energy, he insisted on doing three hour-long programs in a single day — and night — session.
“God, where does he get the strength?” wondered the engineer. “I mean, I sit here at the end of the day with my face melting on the control board. And he’s out there talking and playing like some virtuoso Peter Pan.”
“Yes,” Maria agreed thoughtfully, “there is a bit of the Peter Pan in him.”
But there was more than that. There was Dr. Whitney’s cocktail, too. In fact, Danny could no longer fly on merely one weekly injection. So the doctor had provided him with capsules that included, among other things, Methadrine to tide him over.
The second program of that session, an hour on Chopin, was musically and verbally flawless. With typical Rossi bravado, he’d left the hardest segment for the very end: an introduction to that keyboard acrobat, Franz Liszt.
Danny was munching a sandwich in his dressing room when Maria poked her head in.
“Mr. Rossi,” she said, “I don’t think you could possibly top that one. Why don’t we wrap and do Liszt next time?”
“No way, Madame Producer. I want to finish this taping with a tour de force.”
“Aren’t you tired at all?”
“A bit,” he confessed. “But when I see camera one light up, it’ll turn me right on.”
“I bet you wish Liszt were still alive, Danny.” She smiled. “I somehow think you’d like to see his face when you outdo him at his own cadenzas.”
He rose, walked over, and kissed her on the cheek. “See you on the floor in fifteen.”
Danny showered, changed clothes, redid his makeup, and walked down to appear punctually at 8:30 P.M. for his third and final taping of the day.
The first half-hour went with metronomic perfection. Danny sketched Liszt’s childhood in Hungary; his father’s early pressure on the boy; his debut at the age of nine; his lessons with, among others, Salieri — Mozart’s nemesis — and Czerny — Beethoven’s greatest pupil — who so admired the young boy’s talent that he refused any fee for his lessons.
Watching his face on the monitor in the control room, Maria could not help but feel that at this moment her husband was thinking of his own teacher, Dr. Landau.
And so it continued, with colorful accounts of the great pianist’s conquests first of Paris, then of London — all before he was sixteen.
“It was at this point,” Danny commented, “that the young musician began to feel the strain of his endless schedule of travel and concertizing. He was, one may say, a jet-setter before the invention of jets. In fact, it was scarcely yet the age of the railroad. And it took its toll.
“When he went with his father to the seashore to recuperate, the elder Liszt, also weakened by their travels, contracted typhoid and passed away. His final words to his son were, ‘Je crains pour toi les femmes,’ roughly translated, ‘I’m worried about what women might do to your music.…’ ”
Staring intently at the monitor, Maria suddenly felt her heart beat faster. Could he possibly be talking to her? Could he be saying in public what he was afraid to say in private? That he had wasted his youth on empty promiscuity. But at last was changing… growing up? She now realized why he had left this program till last. For he knew that — perhaps for the first time in his life — he would be speaking from the heart.
They stopped for technical reasons, tape changes, and even one or two muffed lines. Thus, it was well after ten by the time they reached the most difficult part of the broadcast.
Danny was explaining how Liszt deliberately created music so difficult that only he himself could play it. And in fact, when his pieces were published, he had to revise and simplify the music for the hands of normal mortals.
It had been Danny’s devilish inspiration that, at this point in the program, he would play from the original manuscripts to show how the great man himself might have sounded.
Knowing what a challenge lay ahead for her husband, Maria called a ten-minute break, during which she made the crew double-check everything. She wanted no mechanical foul-ups, lest a perfect performance by Danny require a retake because of some technical failure. She also wanted to give him a breather to gather strength at this late hour of the evening.
At last they resumed.
“Rolling, Danny. Anytime you’re ready,” came his wife’s voice through the loudspeaker in the studio.
They began the sequence with a relaxed medium shot of the pianist explaining what he was about to do. The camera then reverse-zoomed slowly into a long shot of him sitting down at the keyboard. Then, at the most dramatic moment, they would move in over his shoulder for a close-up of his hands.
At 10:45 P.M., Daniel Rossi attacked Franz Liszt. And was beaten back.
He had chosen as his first example the soloist’s entry in the E-flat concerto. But for some reason — which he ascribed to fatigue — his left hand kept slipping in tempo as he raced the length of the keyboard.
After three unsuccessful retakes, Maria called through the mike, “Hey, Danny, it’s after eleven. Why don’t you knock off and finish it first thing in the morning when you’re fresh?”
“No, no,” he protested, “I want to wrap this damn series tonight. Just give me a short break.”
“Take five, everyone.”
Danny returned to his dressing room and immediately reached into his makeup kit for one of Dr. Whitney’s “megavitamins.” He then sat down, looked at his reflection framed by a dozen light bulbs, and tried to take deep breaths to relax.
And then he saw it. The thumb and forefinger of his left hand were trembling involuntarily.
At first he thought it was a mere reflex, a compulsion to drum the damn Liszt fingering into his system. But no, even with a conscious effort, he couldn’t stop the shaking — except by covering it with his right hand.
He tried to reassure himself that this was merely tiredness. He had, after all, been working for nearly ten hours. But it was not with any real sense of confidence in his own explanation that he once again appeared on the studio floor.
On the way from his dressing room, he had hit upon a subterfuge that would at least get him through this night’s ordeal. For if he indeed had a problem (which he kept telling himself he did not), he wasn’t about to share it with the taping crew of the Philadelphia Public Television station.
“Hey, Maria,” he called, “can I see you for a second?
She hurried to him.
“Listen,” he whispered to her, “could you have the director change his shot plan a little?”
“Sure. What do you want?”
Danny then motioned with his right hand. “What if, when he pulls back as I start to play, he pans around and shoots me from the top of the piano? That would be a pretty dramatic shot.”
“Maybe,” said Maria. “But I don’t think he’d be able to get your hands in from that angle. Isn’t the whole point the fact that you’re doing these really difficult fingerings that only Liszt could manage?”
Danny sighed wearily.
“Of course. Yes. You’re right. But between you and me, I’m exhausted. I’m not so sure I can get through the stuff without having to stop a million times. This way, if I mess up, we can always overlay the sound with some of the practice cassettes I’ve made.”
“But, Danny,” she pleaded, “that seems like such a shame. I mean, I know you can do it. I’ve heard you in the studio at home. Why don’t we just wait until tomorrow?”
“Maria,” he said sternly, “this is the way I want to do it. Now help me, please .”
To the consternation of the director, the taping was completed with the camera shooting down on Danny’s face.
And so it did not take in Danny’s hands, as once again his left failed to keep pace with the right. None of the crew noticed this subtle discrepancy. But Danny did.
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