Part One: Journey Without a Map


The trick is to know when it’s over. The trick is to stand up and back away from the table. Not to pretend to yourself that you have to do this one thing while you’re waiting to do this other thing.

This is my life, what the hell, not somebody else’s. This is it, big casino. Pay dirt, numero uno: the big game. The rudest thing that can happen to you is that you fall away while you are still trying to figure out who the hell you are.

It is not so easy to be a dissenter and it is so easy to follow a trend, religion, fashion, picking up your feet and letting them dangle off the rear flap on the bandwagon of someone else’s cause. The Masai saying, “Before you give up all that you hold dear, be sure that you have something of value to replace it with,” is not always sound advice. Even though I had it all, in some people’s eyes, there was nowhere to look. There was nothing there. I’d already decided I could get along without money so what else was there?

You have to know when to discard. Stand up and step away from the table. Push away from it. The table will always be there.

Marilyn Monroe would call. Not because I was a star but because I didn’t want to be one any more. I was leaving. I didn’t want to be in Hollywood. And by not wanting to be there, I had turned her down. She would call. She seemed so intelligent. She sounded like a jilted lover, she spoke clearly and well. I was the only one who could play the part. I felt that I had dislodged something balanced in her.

But I was leaving. The director, George Cukor, legends galore, did not call. But he was livid. He told someone, ”McKay doesn’t even know how to walk.“ Which meant, I would imagine, that I was not a proper star, which I wasn’t, and that I shambled, which I did. And anyway, television did not turn down features. There was a public relations department at Twentieth Century Fox and Frank Neil, a sweet man, a rosy-faced Irishman was assigned to me. His rosy complexion made him look permanently embarrassed on another level of embarrassment. He called me Boss and whenever I’d appeared on the cover of a small magazine, TV Guide, he’d tell me that that issue, the one with my picture on the cover had broken their all-time sales record, which was increasing anyway every week because television sales were increasing every week. Frank Neill would come to where we were shooting and ask if I would have lunch with the Boston Celtics, the Shah of Iran, the ex-president of France. I‘d get up to the studio commissary moist from a 110 MPH hurricane created by a Republic fan, or scraped by splintered wood, dodging bullets from a miscreant, and unfold my napkin and dine.

After a hundred of these episodes, when Frank Neill found out I was quitting Paradise, he thought it odd. He came to me and told me that because it had been such a hit and had meant so much to so many people and that because I was getting more fan mail at 20th Century Fox than anyone, including Marilyn Monroe he would tell me, that he could arrange for me to have my name set in brass letters, in terrazzo, bordered by a brass star and placed on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard. On the sidewalk! He said it would cost $640. I don’t know if I was expected to grab the check.

It had dawned on some genius at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce that if they put enough names of movie stars, TV stars, radio actors, cowboys, movie dogs and horses on their sidewalks, tourists would enjoy strolling on their grubby strip. It was no honor. Of course, the last place I wanted to be remembered was set in stone under the scuffing shoes of tourists on the Hollywood Strip. Maybe in Nathaniel West’s time Hollywood had a sad, glamorous, horror that he found fascinating, but by the 1960s it had been reduced to la scum de la scum.

I thanked Frank and told him how honored I would have been, but that I was on my way. He thought that odd, too. I told him I was a reductionist. I was leaving. I had a passport. Under profession I had not written actor. I had always firmly denied it.

The sun has set from the sea across the lawn, the last light in the sky burns like a great fire over the horizon. Memories are written in sand, as justification, vengeance, explanation, vilification, therapy, compulsion, salve, vanity. Mine are written from love.
My frailest memories collide soundlessly with my strongest. I can see the dead face that’s haunted me for years and then there’ll be the girl swirling her skirt in Santa Ynez. It makes no sense. It is the city, the sea, and the forest, they are always there. The sun has set. I turn the table lamp on. It will be a good night to write. Speak to me.

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