“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies… & I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
This afternoon I caught Annie Hall (1977), the Oscar winning Best Picture and very possibly my number one film of all time. I have seen Annie Hall at least a dozen times, but watching again, I was flooded with memories of my own version of this comedy. I think this is what makes a film truly great, when a very specific story feels universal.
We met “cute” in the stationary store at ground level of the ASCAP Building across Broadway from Lincoln Center. I gave him the eye, he glanced at me, and then we managed to be in the same aisle looking at the same journal notebook. This is how cruising was done before that Internet thing. He was Brooklyn born, Jewish, neurotic, seeing a shrink, smart, and funny. He was a former rabbinical student, but setting out to be writer. He was also named Stephen. He was very handsome, he looked like a young Frank Langella, and he seemed to me to be the definition of cosmopolitan. We kissed within minutes of meeting, but didn’t have sex until our fifth date. I was impressed. Any sort of restraint was new to me.
Our relationship was right out of Annie Hall, a film we saw together at the Carnegie Hall Cinema. I was, of course, playing the Diane Keaton role. At the time, I even dressed in thrift shop clothing with vests and hats. I was eager to be a true New Yorker, but hopelessly West Coast and a Wasp. He showed me a NYC that I wouldn’t have discovered on my own.
Stephen took me on a tour of the homes and haunts of famous writers: Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Chaim Potok, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mel Brooks, Herman Melville and more. We made visits to the Plaza Hotel, Algonquin Hotel, The White Horse Inn, The Chelsea Hotel, Washington Square, Brooklyn Heights, and Greenwich Village. We made frequent stops for martinis.
On a beautiful spring day, Stephen and I walked from The Cloisters to The Battery, 11.5 miles of Manhattan history. We started drinking in Midtown, stopping about once an hour to “refresh”. Then we went back to his huge floor-through, pre-war two bedroom, book-filled apartment across from The Bronx Zoo, where we smoked joints and watched the Academy Awards, which were held in March in those days. Rocky won Best Film over Network and Taxi Driver that year. I was beside myself with grief and could only be consoled with three hours of making love… NYC style. Stephen was “gifted”. We even had sections of our love affair that were filmed in animation, with a score of Gershwin tunes.
Stephen and I broke-up over geography and because we had a dead shark on our hands. He had no need to leave the five boroughs of NYC, and I was exhausted from having two jobs, and just barely getting by in that toughest of cities. The naked ambition of my associates, fellow students at HB Studios, and every waiter that I encountered, was foreign to my own laid-back California demeanor. I sang Seems Like Old Times at an Upper East Side piano bar while Stephen watched and listened. He walked me home in silence. I moved back to my beloved West Coast.
The breakup was emotional, but necessary. We did not stay in touch. If we had stayed a couple and tried to make a real go of it, I think Stephen and I might have also lived Husbands And Wives (1992). I swore that I would never fall in love again. But, two years later, when I least expected, I met and fell for another man who would eventually become my husband and we lived happily ever after… but I still think about Stephen and our year of living Annie Hall. We lost contact. Maybe he will read this.
“That Sex Was The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Without Laughing.”