Tag Archives: Relationships

Filmmaker Sue Marx realizes ‘Young at Heart’ (The Sequel)

Sue Marx short film Young at Heart

A scene from Sue Marx’s Oscar-winning short film, “Young at Heart.”

Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story?

You may already know part of this one…

Scene 1: 1983

Sue Marx was just out of surgery—but was determined to attend a party that night. Husband Hank thought she needed rest. Sue disagreed. “Schoenith parties were a Who’s Who in Detroit,” she says of legendary party givers, Tom and Diane Schoenith, owners of the Roostertail nightclub. At the party, a guest noticed blood on Sue’s white blouse. She introduced Sue to Dr. Yvan Silva, a fellow guest.

“Follow me,” Dr. Silva said. He led Sue and Hank to Receiving, the nearby trauma hospital where he was on staff.

India-born Silva had studied medicine in Bombay before moving to the U.S. for residencies. He was also the head of Wayne State University’s Surgical Residency program and later co-chair of surgery at Harper Hospital in the Detroit Medical Center, a position he’d held for years. At Receiving, Dr. Silva cleaned, numbed and restitched Sue’s wound.

“I’m going back to the party,” he said. “You go home.”

Dr. Silva refused payment. To thank him, the Marxes invited him to dinner. A divorced dad, he spotted the pool in back. Could he bring his daughters swimming? He did so a few times that summer. That was the last the Marxes saw of him for several years.

Scene 2: LATE 1970s

Sue’s mother had died. Father Louis Gothelf, 84, was bereft. He painted and fished, but nothing consoled him. Sue heard some local artists were taking a painting trip to England. She convinced her father to go. Sue says, “A fairytale began.”

On the plane, Lou sat next to artist Reva Shwayder, 83, a widow of several years. “They hit it off big time and talked and ate their way across the Atlantic.”

The tired group of artists arrived at their hotel on the ocean in Brighton Beach. Reva’s room was tiny with no tub. Lou’s was nicer. Reva moved in. By the time they got home, they were in love.

Scene 3: MID 1980s

An award-winning documentary film maker, Sue thought her father’s story would make a great film and “put a positive spin on aging.” She and co-producer, Pam Conn, raised the money and proceeded. Calling their film Young at Heart, Sue got George Burns to give her free music rights to his version of the song. The film “was the ultimate love story between two entertaining octogenarians. It brought hope to all who thought love only happens to the young.”

Two film festivals later, the film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Short. Reva and Lou attended the Oscars along with Sue and Hank.

They didn’t just attend. They won an Oscar!

“Oh, what a night!” Sue says as she recalls walking on stage with Pam to receive their statuette that night.

Scene 4: SEPARATE WORLDS

Sue continued with her career. She and Hank enjoyed a happy marriage and raised three daughters. In recent years, Hank suffered heart disease and died.

Meanwhile, Dr. SIlva continued with his medical career. Known as “the singing surgeon,” he had a voice like Tony Bennett’s and also sang at local nightclubs. He remarried. His second wife was stricken with cancer and died.

Scene 5: 009

Sue Marx and Dr SilvaYvan was singing at an event at the Townsend Hotel. Sue attended. Several days later, he called. They went out for dinner. “And that was it!” Sue says. “A new love story began.” Marx and Silva (several years younger) became a couple. Their daughters and grandchildren were delighted. All of their kids lived out of town. Sue’s friends became Yvan’s friends. And he became their medical consultant.

A new version of “Young at Heart” is playing out. When people ask Sue if she plans to make a sequel, she answers with an emphatic: “No. It’s the same story with a new cast. American born Sue; India born Yvan. Different and in love. What more is there to say?”

Just that they’re living happily ever after.

What brought this story to mind was my friend Bill Haney’s new book,  What They Were Thinking. In his latest memoir, Haney writes about Sue and other influential Michiganders he has known. His 16 subjects also include Dutch Leonard, Ernie Harwell, Jack Kevorkian, JP McCarthy and Denise Ilitch.

Bill opens the book with a quote of his own: There is more than one way to live a life, but the best way is with gusto.

Thanks for the insight, Bill.  And the memories.

(Whether you’re young at heart or body, please share your Godsign stories with me.)

A gift of true love: Are you a potential donor?

When Joan and Tom called their adopted infant their little angel, they had no idea how right they were. Or how, 39 years later, that baby would save Joan’s life.    

Joan had experienced kidney problems as a child. As an adult, she was diagnosed as bi-polar. Over time, taking Lithium helped with mood swings but damaged her kidneys. Joan’s doctor recommended a new organ. Until she could receive one: dialysis.

As anyone who has endured the wait for a transplant knows, finding a match is not easy. If a loved one will donate, the arduous wait can be shortened. Joan, from Alexandria, MN, had four sisters and three brothers. They grew up together on a farm. All were willing to donate a kidney to their beloved sibling.

For various reasons, none could.

Kidneys filter our blood. Three blood conditions must match for a donor to be approved. Blood types must be compatible. HLA, or tissue type, must, too. (HLA stands for human leukocyte antigen. Antigens are proteins on our cells. Six are most important. It’s rare to find six matching antigens. Anti-rejection drugs combat the problem.) Last, the cross match must be negative.  (The recipient can’t have antibodies that fight donor cells.)

Joan and Tom have one child. They adopted Brian when he was about 6 weeks old through Lutheran Social Service, an agency in Minneapolis. Brian’s birth parents were unwed college students. Brian grew up to be a terrific young man who eventually took over Tom’s four-generation family business wholesaling candy, tobacco and groceries.

Brian got tested as a potential donor. Amazingly, though Joan’s biological relatives didn’t work out as donors, her adopted son did.

Joan wanted to spare Brian. She was put on the donor list, warned that the wait could take three to five years. (Nearly one third of patients on the list die waiting.) After about a year, one morning at 3 a.m. Joan received a call. Someone was killed in a traffic accident. University Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis, where early kidney transplants took place in the 1950s, had an organ. Joan was second in line. She and Tom sped to Minneapolis and arrived in two hours.  Joan was prepped for surgery.

Then they heard: The first recipient proved compatible. They headed back home.

Blood tests showed Joan becoming dangerously close to end-stage renal disease. Meanwhile, anticipating that he might be his mother’s donor, Brian had given up tobacco and alcohol for the past year. Tom called Brian with an update. His son said, “I really want to do this for my mom.” 

Three weeks later, Joan and Tom and Brian and wife Drea drove to the hospital. Joan and Brian were prepped in separate hospital rooms. They donned gowns, lay down on separate gurneys, waited together outside nearby operating rooms.

As Tom recalls, “The second day after surgery, as Brian lay there with tubes and a catheter sticking out of his body, he might have had second thoughts. After that, he never looked back.”

The doctor who performed the transplant told Joan, “You got a good one.”

Joan says, “There’s something I say to Brian that expresses how I feel about him. ‘You didn’t grow under my heart. You grew in my heart.'”

Joan’s kidney is expected to last a lifetime. Six years later, she’s busy playing bridge (sometimes with your bridge-challenged author) and, as she puts it, “taking care of Tom.”

“Yeah,” says Tom.  “After 50 years, she’s still trying to remodel me.”

ARE YOU READY TO SAVE A LIFE?

Are you a potential donor? You won’t know if you haven’t taken part in one of the many  programs to connect donors with life-saving medical care. One way to find out more is to visit www.OrganDonor.gov, an online hub of information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Author’s Father Returns in Song She Sought for Years

Author_21

photo from Carol Jean Delmar

Writing a biography presents challenges for any author. Details elude. Disappointed by her inability to find the lyrics to a song that was central to her parents’ story, Carol Jean Delmar published her book without them.

LA-based Carol Jean’s biography of her Holocaust survivor parents, Franz Jung and Franziska Perger, is moving and well-researched. Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love is based on her father’s audiotapes and on Carol Jean’s travel to places her parents lived or visited. Franz was an opera singer whose extraordinary bass-baritone voice disappeared. He then rose to head the costume department at CBS. He supervised costumes for blockbuster films like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and TV shows including The Untouchables.

The book has received lots of praise, including an inspiring note from E. Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl and president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He wrote that Carol Jean’s memoir was, “Gripping and beautiful … the musical culture that was a part of their being, the terror of having it all ripped away by the Nazis, is of course very familiar to me, and yet, as always, uniquely compelling to read.”

Serenade cover by Carol Jean DelmarStill, there was that lingering question of … that one song.

En route to Cuba, where Franz and Franziska lived while awaiting US visas, Franz sang at the Cine General Salom in Venezuela. Included in that concert was a love song Carol Jean thought was called, Sweetheart, Sweetheart, Sweetheart. She scoured music stores and bought sheet music; none represented the song in her head. She regretted being unable to track the song down.

This December, ten years after her beloved father died, Carol Jean felt especially lonely. Flipping through TV stations, she stopped on a PBS classical music station. The first video played was the song she’d sought, actually titled Will You Remember from Sigmund Romberg’s Maytime.

“Suddenly there it was,” Carol Jean says. “George London was singing it for the old Firestone Hour. I got the composer’s name, went to YouTube and found it. It was a sign. My father knew I was sad and lonely this past holiday season. I believe he was there somehow, sitting in my kitchen where he always sat for dinner, letting me know he was watching over me.”

In a clip she found from a 1937 movie, Maytime, Nelson Eddy sings the song to Jeanette MacDonald when she’s a young woman. Later, Eddy comes back as an old man—in MacDonald’s mind’s eye.

“That’s when It got eerie,” Carol Jean says. “In the book, my parents serenade each other with music, letters and poetry. I serenade them with my book. Now, suddenly my father was back, serenading me in a different way. He was telling me I’m not alone. My family is with me and everything will be all right.”

Days later, Carol Jean felt blue again. Lying in bed, she clicked on the Turner Movie Channel—and, what was playing?

Maytime.

She’d never seen the old film. At the end, the older couple watches a young couple walk away. “My heart started thumping,” she says. “It felt like my parents were happy together, looking over me, but telling me something I needed to hear. To go and live my life.”

By the way, in the refrain of Will You Remember, one line goes: “I love you in life’s gray December.”

Remember when Carol first heard the song? Go figure.

(Godsigns appear through all our senses.  Please send me yours.)

From Britain to Sarasota, Mothers and Babies Need Each Other

Teddy Bear and Pony photo.jpg A few months back, this irresistible photo showed up on the internet.  Hours after his birth on a farm in Britain, this foal was abandoned by his mother, perhaps because she had no milk. The foal ran from mare to mare, trying to suckle and being turned away.  The farmer brought him, scratched and dehydrated, to Devon-based Mare and Foal Sanctuary. There they named him Breeze, and administered medical care. The ordeal had traumatized the foal, and he couldn’t sleep.  A staff member got the bright idea to put Buttons, a giant Teddy Bear, into Breeze’s stall.  As you can see, Buttons did the trick.  Breeze found a replacement for his mother.

The story about the bond between mother and baby reminded of something I saw last winter.  I visited the Big Cat Habitat near our home in Sarasota, FL.  Big Cat is a sanctuary run by the Rosaire family, renowned animal trainers and rescuers of unwanted animals, mostly cats, for over 35 years.  I looked into an enclosure at a Capuchin monkey with pendulous breasts.  One of the Rosaires, who was standing nearby, told me the monkey’s story.

A little girl visited the sanctuary one day, holding a small stuffed teddy bear. Kylie, the monkey, grabbed the toy and took it to her house.  When the staff tried to remove it, Kylie began shrieking and flailing.  She grew so agitated that the visitor agreed to surrender her teddy bear. Kylie was so devoted to her “baby” that she grew breasts. Concerned, the staff called the vet. They could administer painful hormone injections, the vet said. Or they could leave the wanna-be-mama alone. They left her alone. She guarded her baby with devotion for about two months until it turned to shreds. By then, Kylie was ready to let her baby go. The tattered teddy was removed with no further drama.

Speaking of Big Cat, we have some celebrities in the neighborhood. Two Big Cat occupants are current movie stars. Chance, a chimpanzee, and Handsome, a lion, are featured in the new Leonardo DiCaprio film, The Wolf of Wall Street. They play exotic pets brought into the office of an out-of-control stockbroker. Chance learned to roller skate for the part. Chance and DiCaprio “really liked each other and worked well together,” says Big Cat owner Kay Rosaire.

Kay calls her animals “professionals.” Their earnings help support the nonprofit sanctuary, which also houses many non-working animals.

(Please send me your Godsigns stories, whatever kind of monkey business they involve.)

After Hurricane Charley, These Shoes Were Made for Talking

Palm_tree

photo thanks to AndonicO

I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t love shoes. In Terry’s case, the quest for a pair of sandals also led to a meaningful encounter.

It was summer of 2004, soon after Hurricane Charley, the strongest hurricane to hit southwest Florida since 1960.  After wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, Charley hit landfall on the peninsula and devasted much of Port Charlotte.

Sarasota, where Terry lived and worked, had been spared. As do most of us when tragedy occurs, we feel saddened for those affected and grateful we weren’t among them.  But we go on with our lives. Terry went on with her busy life as a mom of three and part-time server at a restaurant. She was on her feet much of the day, often in a cute and comfortable pair of sandals trimmed with palm trees. Terry says, “I couldn’t go anywhere without someone commenting on my awesome sandals.”

Heading to her local Sears to purchase another pair, she was disappointed to learn that store no longer stocked them.  “I was so determined to have another pair that, out of the blue, i drove all the way to the Port Charlotte Mall.”  The 45-mile drive paid off.

Terry found another pair of palm tree-trimmed sandals. Still in the shoe department, rejoicing over her purchase, Terry spotted an employee who appeared on the verge of tears. She approached her and asked what was wrong.

“She must have sensed my genuine concern,” Terry says, “because she poured out her very sad story of all she had lost in the hurricane.” The department was quiet, and the two women spoke for about half an hour. After, Terry says, this formerly distressed woman managed a smile. Terry could see relief on her face. “I don’t remember what I said. Whatever it was must have been what she needed to hear. I think I gave her hope.”

Terry drove home on a high fueled by the chance to make a difference. “It was clear why I went so far to buy a silly pair of shoes. I had to get to Port Charlotte and be the shoulder this woman needed at that moment. I’m always happy when God calls me to serve.”

Thankfully, Florida has reached the end of what proved a mild hurricane season. We never reach the end of the season to help others.

(Have a good Godsign story?  Even if it’s not weather related, blow me away by sharing it.)

Artist Beatrice Wood Makes Our Mom’s (Birth)Day

Beatrice Wood with one of her famous young men, the artist Marcel Duchamp, at Coney Island in New York in 1917. (Photo in public domain.)

Beatrice Wood with one of her famous young men, the artist Marcel Duchamp, at Coney Island in New York in 1917. (Photo in public domain.)

Like most daughters, I think about my late mother often. Especially in October. Mom’s was born on Oct. 23. I treasure the memory of one birthday In particular.

In 1992, Mom was turning 70. She had been slowing down physically. Her left big toe had inexplicably turned up and out, impeding her ability to walk and necessitating clunky shoes. (If you have my book Godsigns, see Chapter 8.) Her normally vibrant sense of humor had dimmed.

To celebrate and cheer her, my sister Anne and I took her for a birthday weekend at a spa in Ojai, California. One night in Mom’s room, we donned T-shirts that read “The B Team.”(Mom’s name was Barbara.) We performed an original song about our mother and, after, wore our T-shirts to the dining room. Other diners (okay, maybe one) demanded we also perform Mom’s song for the group. As faithful readers know (see my earlier column Motown Fan Makes Her Broadway Debut), my sister has pipes! I croaked along, making up in enthusiasm for what I lacked in dulcet tones.

The next day we wore our B Team t-shirts on a guided walk around town.  Mom lagged behind, discouraged about her inability to keep up.

That afternoon I proposed an outing. Suzanne Hilberry, the great Detroit gallerist, had shown me the work of Beatrice Wood. One of the best ceramicists of the 20th century, Wood led quite the life. She had affairs with Henri-Pierre Roche, author of Jules et Jim, and his friend artist Marcel Duchamp. She knew Picasso and Brancusi and many avant garde artists. She was dubbed “the Mama of Dada.” More recently, she provided the model for Rose Dawson Calvert, the 100-year old fictional narrator in the movie Titanic.

I remembered hearing that Wood lived in Ojai. She practiced Theosophy and followed Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, who lived there.

So, I called.

A distinguished-sounding man answered. My heart leapt when he agreed to our visit.

The sweeping Santa Ynez mountains rose above Wood’s low-slung white stucco house. The gentleman I’d spoken to turned out to be tall, elegant, and devoted to Ms. Wood. He guided us to the studio. We found a small woman, nearing 100, thick white hair pulled back. She wore a sari and dripped with Indian silver jewelry. She was writing in a ledger, recording formulas for glazes. She showed us some of her recent clay folk art. “Sophisticated primitives,” she called them. A few of her vessels were scattered on a ledge, though none of the exquisite iridescent vases for which she was famous. (A luster chalice was recently on Ebay for $8,000.)

We asked her about how she had maintained such amazing creativity for so long. (She kept going until nine days after her 105th birthday in 1998.)

She told us, “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.”

Cover of I Shock Myself by Beatrice Wood

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Then, she asked about us. We told her about our ourselves, our families. About Mom’s birthday. Anne said she wanted to bring her mother-in-law back to meet her. Wood said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I’d much rather meet your husbands.”

As we were about to leave, Mom said to her, “You must be so proud of yourself. You’re a world famous artist. Look at all you’ve accomplished.”

Wood didn’t miss a beat. “Barbara,” she said, “all I do is make pots. Look what you’ve accomplished. You’ve raised these two amazing daughters. You’re the one who should be proud.”

I’m always moved by the power of words. Wood could not have created anything more beautiful than her parting words to Mom. Our mother left that studio higher than the tallest peak in the Santa Ynez.

Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are.

(Please share your Godsigns stories with me—especially if they’re about chocolate or young men!)

Novelist Karen Kingsbury Meets Her Hero Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart, photo by Allan Warren released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Rod Stewart, photo by Allan Warren released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Novelist Karen Kingsbury visited New York City to meet with her publisher. Her novel, The Bridge, had become a best seller; her publisher signed her to a 10-book deal. After, she was walking the High Line elevated park on Manhattan’s West Side, thinking how she wished she could share the news with her father. Her dad, her “first and biggest fan,” had died six years earlier.

She murmured, “Have I told you lately that I love you, Dad?”

The line came from her father’s favorite song: the Rod Stewart version of “Have I Told You Lately.”  Her dad called her when he first heard it.  It summed up his feelings for his family, he said.  “Whenever you hear it, know that I love you.” They continued to call each other whenever and wherever they heard the song. “It connected us,” Karen says.

The title was engraved on her father’s headstone.

Walking with daughter, Kelsey, and son-in-law, Kyle, Karen thought this was “one of those moments when Dad would have been so proud of me, and I couldn’t share it with him.” To distract herself, she suggested taking a picture. She stretched her arm out, trying to hold the camera far enough away that she, Kelsey and Kyle were all in the frame. A man passing by offered to help. He was dressed stylishly in jeans and a sweater, had spiky blonde hair and spoke with an accent.

As the man walked away, it dawned on her.

She sped after him. “Excuse me, sir!”

He turned around.

“Are you Rod Stewart?”

“Sometimes,” he said.

She told him about her dad’s favorite song.

Tears filled his eyes. “Can I give you a hug?” he asked. He pulled her to him. “You made my day.”

Karen writes about the encounter in the August issue of Guideposts magazine. She concludes: “Just when I was missing my dad so badly, the rock star who sang our song crosses my path? Really? You could never plan or even imagine something like that!  But Someone had.”

(Thanks, Linda, for passing along this delightful Godsign story.)