Monday, April 21, 2014

The old guy in the corner

I think I've mentioned my weekly trip to the Venice Beach boardwalk where I meet a few other film industry types, mostly a director, an agent and me with various "guest appearances" by a few others now and then. We eat at Figtree for the last 20 years or so and the waiters know our outside table in the corner no matter how cold it gets.

Well, it's more like "California cold" which means mid to low 50's.

This is where we met Jule, the 90-year old former World War 11 pilot who flew in the Pacific campaign in 1944-45. As I've mentioned Jule wanted to write a book on his time in the Pacific and asked me to help. To date, we're pretty close to finish and Jule, at 90, is as energetic as anyone I know. He's sharp, rides a bike and continues to serve on several committees in Santa Monica.

There was also a couple who were in that age range and they would often sit near us and sometimes have a comment or two on politics or arts. Eventually we would also become friends. He was Alexander Eliot, sporting a very long grey beard and his wife, Jane, was a Canadian so that bonded us.

A few years ago we noticed Alex alone and, at that age, we knew Jane was gone. Alex retreated to inside the restaurant and found a place in a corner, out of anyone's way. I would always step inside and tell me about my two books and screenplays and he would always enjoy my stories of writing for the movies. 

But he rarely talked about himself.

Then, a few weeks ago, when I dropped inside to say hi, he was with a woman who told me that his "memoirs" had become a book. I was happy to hear it but I realized I knew little about him. The woman said to go to a website his children set up for him.

That day I went to to his website and also to Wikipedia. And I couldn't believe what he had accomplished and whom he knew in his almost 100 years.

Alex came from Cambridge in a family of knowledge to say the least. He was the art editor
for Time Magazine from 1945 to 1960 and he wrote numerous books, mostly on mythical subjects as seen from a practical view, one book was called "The Timeless Myths: How Anicent Legends Influence the Modern World." 

Needless to say his work was way over my pay scale as they say. He produced a film called "The Secret of Michelangelo" for ABC. Alex won a Guggenheim Fellowship and moved with his wife to Spain, then moved to Greece and Japan (told in a book called "Around The World By Mistake"). He studied Zen Buddhism then moved to Rome and England.

Alex came into contact with Matisse, Picasso and a good friend, Salvator Dali.
He published 18 books and hundreds of essays and once said "Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible."

Yesterday I saw him again and told him I was writing about my travels across the U.S. and Canada, far from all the trips and voyages he did. Alex laughed when I told him the title of my book was  "How To Not Get Beat-Up In A Small-Town Bar" 
and he laughed and said he liked it.

It all makes me wonder about the people I may have missed by maybe not saying hello or listening to someone I didn't know. I know that one day Alex won't be in his corner spot and so I will pay more attention to him each time I hit the beach.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story; isn't that amazing?
    We sat near that couple for a few years with nothing more than hello and goodbye.
    I always thought they looked like a couple from an Ingmar Bergman movie, maybe playing distant relations of Max Von Sydow.
    Isn't it a shame that we followed stories about the shenanigans of the so called stars of the silver screen when there was a wealth of knowledge and experience right across from us.
    Reminds me of the time Samuel Becket died when we found out that he used the same Paris coffee shop every day and would speak to anyone who sat with him and wasn't such a recluse after all.