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Authors: Donald C. Farber

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I Hated to Do It: Stories of a Life

BOOK: I Hated to Do It: Stories of a Life
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Stories of a Life

By Donald C. Farber

I Hated to Do It: Stories of a Life
Copyright © 2014 by Donald C. Farber

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover design by Brehanna Ramirez
ISBN Mobipocket edition: 9780795344800

For Beautiful Vega

Our Lovely



Introduction: The Help I Needed, and It Came From Father Divine

1. My Dear Friend Kurt Vonnegut

2. Introduction to Kurt

3. Kurt and the Theatre

4. How Kurt Did It

5. In Memoriam



The Help I Needed, and It Came From Father Divine

When self-proclaimed “God” Father Divine heard that Justice Lewis J. Smith, who had sent him to jail for a year, died from a sudden heart attack a few days after sentencing him, Father Divine said, “I hated to do it.”

Father Divine, who was born in 1876, was an African American spiritual leader from about 1907 until his death in 1965. He founded the International Peace Mission movement, formulated its doctrine, and oversaw its growth from a small and predominantly black congregation into a multiracial and international church.

Father Divine was arrested in Suffolk County on November 15, 1931, for disturbing the peace with an unruly mob. In May of 1932 he was tried before Justice Lewis J. Smith at a trial moved to Nassau County, and on June 5, 1932, he was found guilty. Justice Smith sentenced him to the maximum of one year in jail and a fine of $500. On June 25, 1932, Father Divine was released on appeal, and later that month Justice Smith, who had said many nasty things about Father Divine, died of a heart attack. Father Divine made international news for his exploits and on occasion claimed to be God. As I told you, when Justice Smith died, Father Divine said, “I hated to do it.”

Annie and I were at a restaurant in Hudson in upstate New York with our daughter, Pat, her husband, Sal, and our friends Shelly and Lenny Barham. I told the story of Father Divine’s comment to Lenny, and he said, “What a great title for a book.” It was just what I was looking for. A great title for a book. And when Arthur Klebanoff gave me the support I was looking for and improved it with a subtitle, the search for a title to this book was over. I do believe in giving credit where due, so thank you, Father Divine. Since I just thanked God, do I really have to thank Lenny and Arthur too?

The autographed poster hanging on the wall in my office reads:

For Don,
Without whom this life would not be possible.
—Kurt Vonnegut

My Dear Friend
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was a very smart, complicated, enigmatic person. One should not try to understand or even make sense of some of his real-life conduct. Kurt made a valuable contribution to the literature and the thinking of our time. We should accept him and his writings, his thoughts and his humanitarian, caring philosophy for what it pretended to be. I select these words carefully because we know in Kurt’s book
Mother Night
he wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

This is not a biography. This book is not a compilation of information gathered from interviews with informed and pseudo-informed persons. This book is a few casual observations about a famous author’s interrelationship with his friend and attorney and the attorney’s wife. This is a telling of actual events in the lives of the parties, which could shed some insight into what were the thought processes of Kurt Vonnegut, née Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I had advised clients that no one wants to read about their relationship with famous people unless it is about their sex lives and getting that published by a respectable publisher is not easy. I convinced myself that because Kurt Vonnegut was such an important Author, I had an obligation to relate some things that have occurred that might give the readers some insight into the kind of person Kurt was.

I started writing the book about Kurt thinking that how important he was would be enough, and then the stories started spreading out to other people that Kurt and Annie and I associated with, many of whom were famous, and I found myself writing about some of the famous people we met and knew. I was wondering why I was not practicing what I had preached.

When some folks I have great respect for kept saying, “You ought to write a book about your experiences with all the interesting people you know,” my answer was always, “I have written seven books, one in a third edition, one in a fifth edition, and I am working on the eightieth update to the ten volumes I edit and write for LexisNexis, and enough is enough.” I always added that Annie said she would leave me if I wrote another book, though both she and I knew she was kidding. Not likely after our sixty-six—almost sixty-seven—wonderful years together.

I am now writing another book. I justify it by explaining I am not writing about the famous people we met and knew, but writing about us, about Annie and me and our relationship with these people, famous and some infamous, that we knew and still know.

What is ironic is that when I was in law school at the University of Nebraska and was elected to the
Law Review
and wrote my first article, the supervising professor didn’t think that my article about
polling was related to legislation, which is what the law is all about. His comment was that I could not write and that I would never be able to write. The works that I have written as set forth in the previous paragraph indicate that one of us was wrong, and it appears to have been the professor.

I Am One Lucky Guy

I am just one lucky guy. I met this lawyer in the lobby of our apartment building, you know the kind, a “Lawyer-Lawyer,” one who did all that dull stuff that lawyers were supposed to do, and he says to me, “Hey, Don, why don’t you retire?” And I says to him, “What would I do? I would just go nuts.” And he says to me, “Oh, you can read books and you can go to theatre and you can…” And I said, “That’s what I do now, and I get paid for it.”

I just said I am one lucky guy, and I have said that and keep saying it, and someone always cuts me off and insists that I must have done something to make it all happen and it’s not just luck. Well, go figure now, I was the only survivor of my company in World War II—the rest were killed crossing the Roer in Germany; pretty lucky. I met my wife and we have had sixty-six great years together, almost sixty-seven; pretty lucky. I have wonderful children, grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and they all not only talk to Annie and me, but I am under the impression they love us; pretty lucky. I am in a business I didn’t know existed, representing theatre people, all kinds of theatre people, some famous, the good, the almost bad, and the indifferent, but never boring; pretty lucky. I have written a bunch of books, taught all over the US and Canada, and I only had one student fall asleep on me while I was teaching; pretty lucky. Not pretty lucky; darn lucky.

When I was fifteen, I was not only lucky to play the tympani in the orchestra with Jascha Heifetz, I was just one of the few in Lincoln, Nebraska, who owned a putt-putt. For years Cushman Motor Works had manufactured farm machinery in Lincoln, and then when the Depression hit in the thirties, things went bad for the farmers and Cushman was not selling farm equipment. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, and then a young high school student put a Cushman motor and a seat on a scooter, and the putt-putt was born. This was the beginning of the moped industry in the United States. They probably had something like them in Italy, but no one here had any knowledge of them. The Cushman Motor Works was so appreciative that they gave the young man who thought of the idea a new putt-putt.

It is not an easy job for a fifteen-year-old to convince his mom and dad to let him spend $130 for a motorized scooter. I convinced Mom that it was safe because it was a scooter and the driver did not straddle the thing but the driver’s legs were free to get off easily, and I would never drive fast, anyhow. Convincing Mom meant Dad would go along. Since we were poor and it was right after the Great Depression, convincing Mom to give me the $130 was the next job.

Cushman Motor Works, whose name you can find on golf carts and motorized small postal carts, was saved from bankruptcy, and I putted my putt-putt all over Lincoln.

From the Suburbs to New York City

When we moved from Merrick, Long Island, a suburb of the city, to the city, our life became more and more exciting. In my wildest dreams as a young guy in Lincoln, Nebraska, I never dreamed that I would know a person like Harvey Breit, who was a book editor for the
New York Times
. When I was in college, I read
The Naked and the Dead
by Norman Mailer, but the idea that someday I would meet Norman Mailer because of his friendship with my friend Harvey Breit was beyond my wildest imagination.

I grew up not as a sports hero, not as a star of the basketball team, but as a nerdy star of the debate team, a senior speaker at graduation, a reader of Kant and Schopenhauer. All of a sudden Annie and I were the close friends of soon to be very famous Kurt Vonnegut, and as time went on, friends with David Markson, Estelle Parsons, Lucie Arnaz, Larry Luckinbill, Lynn Redgrave, Ed Bullins, Langston Hughes, Carole Shelley, Rochelle Owens, and the already very famous Duke Ellington. How could I have imagined that I would ever meet Norman Mailer? How could I have imagined that I would be talking on the phone with Gore Vidal? How could I have dreamed that Annie and I would own an old stone house built in 1650 in upstate New York and that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz would come to our house with Tommy Tune and a whole lot of famous people for the marriage of their daughter, Lucie, to Larry Luckinbill?

I didn’t have time to be starstruck. Annie and I were just busy throwing parties, raising the kids, and doing our thing.

My Wonderful, Wonderful Wife

I met Ann Eis in 1947. Ann had just graduated from Barnard, and I had just finished one year of law school at the University of Nebraska. A few months later we married and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Annie and I were not at all bothered that we had known each other only five days when we decided to marry. Her folks were bothered and who could blame them? Their only child going off to Nebraska, of all places, married to a poor law student who had finished just one year of law school and whose only income was from his service in World War II. Even I, in retrospect, can understand their misgivings. But it all worked out better than well.

While I was finishing law school, Ann got a job teaching mathematics. Annie had never taught and had no teacher training, and fresh out of Barnard she ended up teaching calculus to a class at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Her teaching was interesting, if nothing else. She turned in a failing grade for the star of the basketball team, obviously unaware what the consequences of this would be at a university that prized athletics more than one can imagine.

Next thing we know, Annie is thrilled to get an invitation to lunch with the head of the Alumni Association, a Mr. DuTeau, who had a Chevrolet dealership. Annie was so pleased that someone would be welcoming a Brooklyn gal to the Midwest and would be taking her to lunch. When Mr. DuTeau asked Annie if she knew what she was doing in flunking Bob (last name withheld to protect him, but don’t know why we should), Annie said she knew. He never came to class and never took an exam. Of course, Annie was not about to change the grade, so Bob was taken from her class and put in another class. He continued to play basketball and later ended up playing baseball for a New York team, but that didn’t last very long, as the rumors were that he got lonesome for Nebraska.

After the year of teaching at the U of N, the job was no longer available and she landed a job teaching all six primary grades in one room in a little schoolhouse twelve miles outside Lincoln. It was a hoot. The telephone operator answered all calls in that town of 120 and obviously listened in more than occasionally, because it was not unusual for the operator to ask Annie how my cold was and did I have a fever, something she could have only learned on the line. It really was an inbred town, with one general store, one post office, two churches, and two bars.

The school had no indoor plumbing, which, of course, meant this gal from Brooklyn had access to the outhouses, as did the students. It was cold in winter and impossible in summer. At the end of the day when Annie knocked on the apartment door coming from Pleasant Dale, the school’s town, I would open the door and she would say, “Get out of the way.”

After a year of living in a basement apartment on the edge of Lincoln, we were lucky enough to find a one-bedroom apartment right on campus, across from the Student Union. We managed to pay the monthly rental of fifty dollars each month, and it was so convenient that friends often ended up in our living room, which was about the size of two card tables. The kitchen, a remodeled closet, had room for one person standing up, and the bathroom, also a remodeled closet, was about the same size. But we were happy.

BOOK: I Hated to Do It: Stories of a Life
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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