Monday, September 3, 2012

TERRY CARR'S BOOK-IN-PROGRESS: HEY HARRY CARR WAS MY DAD TOO


I really want to talk about your book-in-progress site: Hey Harry Carr Was My Dad Too. Tell us about the name of it, and how it got started.

Okay. Well, I really don’t think of it as a blog I think of it more…you know what LET ME just tell how how it got started. A couple of years ago I was lying on my couch in a prone position with a photograph I’d had from the 1960’s of myself and my Dad’s third family in the back of this big two-story house in Seattle where they lived with this fabulous yard and I’m looking at this picture of him and my brother and my brother’s girlfriend at the time and my dad’s three little kids and a couple of kids from his second family…

[Laughing] Can I just interrupt for a second: you say “My Dad’s third family” so nonchalantly…

My Dad had three different families. And I’ve always felt the wanderer and the left out. I’ve always felt alien and as though I never had a home. It wasn’t just his fault, I mean my Mom was…you know, she was alcoholic and a little crazy herself. And I never felt a part of, and it’s driven me crazy all these years. It’s driven me down a bunch of really dark alleys, as a metaphor for the places I’ve been. Anyway, I get this email from a sister from the second family, a half-sister who I’d befriended. She’s ten years younger than I. And I get this email with a photo attached of us all when we were little! It’s a photo of me, my brother and my Dad with his second wife and their three kids and it’s almost identical to the picture I’ve been looking at of his third family. It’d been taken on the back steps of a big house in Seattle, only it’s a different big house, a different wife and different kids, and me and my brother. So I had these two pictures side by side, and I just had an epiphany. They’re both literally almost identical except everyone’s older in the third family. And it just hit me: No wonder I never felt like I had a home. I was visiting those families. I was a visitor. I was always a visitor. So I just went, Oh, no wonder. I feel like a visitor no matter where I go. I use those two pictures at the top of the site.

That’s what started it. I just had this huge epiphany. A long time ago I was taking a screenwriting course and my mentor used to say to me all the time, What does the character need? I could never think of it. I don’t know, I’d say, Does she need underwear? Does she need to go to the store? What do you mean, what does she need? What does the character need? I had the hardest time trying to figure out what he was trying to pull from me. And at that moment, lying prone with those two pictures side by side, I saw that what I needed as a character I needed to stop being a visitor and to make my own life.

So these things all coalesced together. And the thought just came to me, Harry Carr was my Dad, too. I added the “hey” later because I like the way it sounded and, it emphasized my “finally getting it”. So that’s how it started. And,I’ve moved so many times in my life it’s amazing I still have all these pictures.

So you grew up where and when?

I grew up…I was three when my Dad left. We were living in Santa Barbara, California.

This is Southern Cal for those who don’t know. So a Southern California story…

Yes. I was born in California, in Berkeley. My mother came from a rich family. Her stepfather was a millionaire and I grew up on this fantastic ranch up on Contra Costa County. Chickens and horses. There was even an elevator in our home. There were maids and there were soireés…she moved us to Santa Barbara to be with Harry, my Dad. He was in the theater and she wanted to buy him a theater. So she found him a theater there in Santa Barbara and bought it and we were there for I don’t know how long before he left in the middle of the night.

Wait? And you were only three?

Yeah.

So you learned all about the theater stuff in retrospect.

Yeah. Well I mean I don’t have recollection of it now but I do remember him having a theater. I remember things like play-acting and stuff. The place we lived in Santa Barbara was this huge, beautiful, wood, two-story home.

Wow.

Yeah, it was really something. But it was not a good life.

And your brother Jolly was younger than you?

Older. Three years older than me.

So he was six and you were three. And what did your mother tell you when your father left?

My mother didn’t tell me anything. My mother told Jolly to tell me what happened. That was how it worked. And he told me that Mom had told Harry to go get milk. And he came home with buttermilk instead. So she told him to leave. That’s what he told me.

Oh wow. So that’s what got implanted in your little three-year-old brain?

I was three and even then I didn’t believe him. Something about that…

Did not ring true. I mean buttermilk?

Did not ring true. Even then it didn’t…click. I just remember thinking…but I didn’t say anything. So it was kind of the beginning of my play-acting…

So did you grieve your father? Or…you were only three. Did you just think Daddy’s gone?

Oh it was horrible. Because he was a big booming man. He’d come in the house and he had this big theater voice and he’d yell, Terry! Jolly! We’d come running and he’d lift us up in his arms and twirl us around and he’d play with us. And my Mom was a depressive. So you know…when he left, that was it. We just had her. And she had money but she didn’t have coping ability. She was depressed. She had me when she was 32. So she’s in her mid-thirties now, I don’t know what she’s going through, but she starts drinking really heavily around this time. So no, after he left, I don’t remember grieving, but I do remember thinking This is it. It’s over.

That you’re never going to see your father again.

No, just that whatever this thing that he brought…

The thing meaning the liveliness?

The liveliness, the joy…ironically her name was Joy but he seemed more in touch with it. Because he had no responsibility. I mean in retrospect if you don’t have to pay the bills, hit your monthly nut, yeah, you’re pretty carefree.

And he had left for another woman?

He left and moved out of state. And then a couple of years later she told us he was dead. Because I guess he didn’t send her child support. So for years I thought, both me and Jolly thought he was dead.

And then what happened?

And then I’m 13 years old and one day she tells Jolly and me, Your father’s not dead after all, kids.

Oh my God. You’re hitting puberty, too.

I’m hitting puberty. I already have kind of a boyfriend that I’ve been kissing. I don’t remember if we’ve been having sex yet. By the way I’m a complete delinquent by now. Jolly’s a delinquent and I’m a delinquent.

Meaning drinking?

Drinking, sexing, stealing. You know.
So she says, The old man’s not dead after all.

The old man’s not dead and…what did you think?

I just thought…What?

I mean were you glad?

I had no…at the time, I thought Great. Great! But at 13 I don’t think you have cognitive ability. You’re not able to add it up and say This means this or this means that. I mean we’d been living…even though my mother had money she used to worry all the time about money. Where’s that 35 cents I gave you for lunch? So somewhere in my mind I might have thought, Oh, Easy Street! I didn’t use those terms, but maybe life will be easier for us. Cause life was really hard. Jolly was a delinquent; he’d gotten us kicked out of a few apartments. So she had her hands full with us. And then it was Oh by the way, he’s got another family and they live in Seattle and you’re gonna go see him.

So the next thing I know Jolly and I are on a Greyhound bus up to Seattle to meet Harry and his second family. Harry told me later that the look on my face, that I looked so pissed off at him. And I was! Because he was standing there with his little blond wife and his three little blond kids.

Yeah…that must have been major

And then they took us to their big house by the lake.

And where were they making their money? Did she have money, too?

By this time he was working for Boeing, the aircraft place. And he was involved in theater. She was an actress. And he taught theater. So she taught and he also used to teach in New Orleans so they had a lot in common. She was several years younger than he. And I remember going out to dinner and the waitress looked at her and looked at him and said, What would this daughter like? One of those moments…They all laughed but nothing was funny to me.

How old was the wife?

I don’t know. He looked pretty good. He was a charmer and a handsome guy. But she was about twenty years younger.

And he couldn’t have been that old.

He was probably mid-forties. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I called my mother and said, You gotta get me out of here. I can’t stay another minute. I wanted to demolish all of them. And Jolly was like Oh isn’t this great? Aren’t the kids great?

And you were pissed.

I was pissed.

Okay, so then you went on with your life and…you were a singer.

Yeah. You know, I guess when you’re born into this kind of a family where you’re just kind of drifters, gypsy types…my Mom after Harry left, she married again, and we moved a lot. There was a lot of moving, once a year, even when we lived in the same town…I mean I could take you to Sherman Oaks [a city in the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the 101 freeway from L.A.] and show you fifteen different places where I lived as a teenager. So you know…she was married once before Harry, so her last, her third, husband lived in Springfield, Massachusetts and we moved back there at some point. This was before we re-connected with Harry. And they took me to an outdoor concert and I can remember…you come from New England, you know. It can be very magical as a young person, we’re at this outdoor concert by a lake, green grass, beautiful trees. And there was a little stage, concrete floor for couples to dance, and strings of colored lights around, and this stage, and the singer came out and she sang a tune and I just thought, Oh! I want that. I wanted to be on that stage and I wanted that feeling you have when you’re outdoors, that romantic feeling. But I ended up having kids myself. Before I was twenty I had three kids so at a later age I started following that musical dream.

TERRY AND JOLLY
I had grown up in the ‘60’s and had gone with one of the Beach Boys and had met a lot of the musical artists of that era, parties at Eric Burdon’s house…

And this is L.A. You’re down in L.A. at this time.

I’m in L.A. in the prime of the late 60’s when…I knew Jim Morrison’s girlfriend and hung out at Donovan’s house…[laughs]

It was an era, right?

It was an era and I was fortunate enough to be a witness because…definitely, I was in the in crowd. But I wasn’t…like everything else, I wasn’t predominant in it. My M.O. was hang at the periphery. Just be here on the edge. Look, see, watch, observe. Don’t make any loud noises. So I was very quiet and withdrawn. But I was attractive and I was the girlfriend of a Beach Boy and my best girlfriend was married to one so we had access to this kind of life going on here.

And do you think that the hanging at the periphery was partly a function of…it seems it would be such a trauma with your father that…what that would give rise to in me would be Don’t ever put your roots down too deeply because you don’t know…

When they’re gonna be pulled up.

Yeah. And you don’t know when people are gonna leave and so you don’t want to be in the middle because that’s gonna be really painful

Yeah, I’d definitely say that’s an accurate depiction of my mode, of how I functioned. Which is unfortunate because I probably had a lot of opportunity that…I called myself shy. People used to say, She’s shy; she doesn’t talk too much. And I was shy. But I didn’t know I was shy because I was still recuperating from that incredible loss that I’d had. And the ramifications that I perpetrated on my own after that. Now I look at it more like I was just…I was unable to occupy myself. The trauma stopped me from occupying who I was. And now I think of it in terms of just stepping into who I am and being there no matter what.

One of the things that still haunts me today is later on, much later on, my singing took me to the Comedy Store of all places. And I did comedy with a guy by the name of Fred Asparagus. We did the main stage. We had skit comedy with music. So we’d do characters and music. Nobody was doing that at the time. And eventually that group broke up and this and that happened, but Fred died at a very early age. He was a big fat Chicano guy so he had a heart attack. And they had a service at the Comedy Store. And I went. And everybody was there. Robin Williams, Andy Garcia. And I was there, too. I was there because I was a part of his life. But I never felt like I was there. So I didn’t feel I had the right…someone even said, Terry, do you want to come up and say a few words? And I said No. And to this day I regret that. Because whatever it was that was holding me back, from stepping into myself, was still there at that age. It’s taken me a long time…and a lot of it is writing this, putting together this, I guess it’s going to be a memoir now. Of this puzzle that is The Harry Carr family.

That’s just what I was thinking, that the writing is part of stepping into yourself. Which has taken decades to get here, right?

Lord have mercy.

And as you say, a lot of twists and turns. Now what about Harry’s third family?

Harry’s third family…he had met his third wife, Anne, in New Orleans, where he'd gone to live for several years before returning to Seattle. She was a dancer. And they hooked up and had three kids. And around the time he was starting with Anne and his third family, I was separating from my husband and had already had my first child. I was seventeen and a half at the time. Anyway, Harry would come into town, and we’d get our kids together…I hoped to find some kind of relationship with him. I’d somehow blocked out everything that had happened previously. Years later, after he retired, he brought that family, his third, all the kids, the youngest was 5, so you’re looking at daughters ages 5, 7, and 9, from Florida to Ojai, California.

I’m living in North Hollywood, working at Paramount Pictures in casting. And my Dad wants to get back into acting. So…

You got him a screen test…

I’m thinking God, if I can make his career happen…

This will inure to my benefit maybe…

Yes! And I was overweight. I was depressed. I was eating myself to death. And coming up every weekend to Ojai, trying to ingratiate myself to the family…

Which is about an hour north of L.A. right?

Yeah. And I have pictures of myself where I’m almost unrecognizable I’m so big.

Wow.

Yeah. And it was a dark time for me. Really really dark. Something was happening and I didn’t know what it was…

[Together] Do you, Mr. Jones…

So but what happened was that I got to know that third family a lot better than I had the second.

And how many kids were there in that one?

There were three in the second and three in the third and then me and Jolly in the first. Harry had eight kids in all.

And what was Jolly doing at this point?

Oh Jolly was lost. We both really…were thrown to the wind. We were both discarded.

And your mother was?...

My Mom had died when I was 32. So Jolly must have been 35. You know, Jolly and I both took fantasy as the route out and he never woke from his. And at some point I landed. And he never did.

You mean he never recovered from being six years old and having your mother say Tell Terry Dad went out for buttermilk…

He was the type of guy…everybody loved Jolly. Everybody loved Jolly. He worked at Paty’s in Toluca Lake, this coffee shop. And you could just walk down the street…Toluca Lake then, not so much now, but then was really a small town. Like Andy Griffith lived there. Literally, he lived there, he’d come into Paty’s. Jonathan Winters too. Just a sleepy little town and Jolly practically ran Paty’s. Everybody knew him and everybody loved him. But you know, he never wanted to look at anything that was reality. He refused and I can remember when our Mom died I got the call from the hospital and he’d been there before me and I was walking in as he was walking out and I was just devastated and he had this easy-come, easy-go look in his eye like Well, babe, she’s gone…

I mean my immediate thought was Okay he’s not going to be able to help with anything. And somehow I became the practical person, just by default. It was sort of my nature because I had the three kids, to take care of business. But I couldn’t count on him, I knew, because he was just in la-la land. I don’t even think he was on drugs. He’d just checked out. That was his way to deal.

And then he died, right?

Yeah, unfortunately, when he finally came to, it was with a brain tumor. He had a seizure in the bathroom at Paty’s, God bless him. They took him to USC and I’ll never forget the fear in his face. I mean he woke up to the nightmare. He woke up to learn he had an inoperable brain tumor.

Thereby corroborating Do not wake up. Because when you do it’s gonna be horrible…

Yeah. All of us, we all pulled together and he ended up dying in a hospice and Andy Garcia brought Cachao there, this hospice on Sherman Way [in the Valley]

Cachao was?...

This bass player, this Cuban bass player. So they brought Cachao in, and congas and bongos and they ended up playing there for the whole day for Jolly and all the other hospice patients…

Ohh…they sang him out, in a way.

It was hard. And he was so…once he realized it was his last time here…he was so gracious. He wasn’t remorseful. He said, Babe, it’s gonna be fine.

Sometimes people wake up even if it’s for a day, before they die, and it’s like, That’s who this person was this whole time…

He was pretty amazing. I mean who of any of us can say what we would have been like under those circumstances? But his true nature came out. And it was generous, and kind, and funny. He’d crack jokes…

Well look at his name.

At his memorial everyone was singing his praises and I got up and said…

Jolly was a pain in the ass?

Jolly and I had some rough times together. There were really some not so good times I remember…I loved him but I was glad I said it. It wasn’t for him but just for me to acknowledge…Jolly was great and Jolly was hard.

So…the whole idea for the book, I love that at the beginning you said What does the character want?

What does the character need.

What does the character need.

And it’s interesting because I have all these half-siblings. We’re on Facebook together. And none of them have this…

Urge…

Nobody has else has this urge…and I just thought, Well I’m the one to write this because I’m the one who needs it. This is my need. They don’t have it. Ironically the third family, the daughters where he stayed with the wife till he died, those daughters have only married once and are all still married. The daughters and the son from the second marriage have divorced, none of them had kids.

So you guys…you and Jolly….

I was only married, and divorced, once, but Jolly was married three or four times.

You two suffered the deepest abandonment.

Yeah, Harry left in the middle of the night and left a note. He didn’t even have the balls to tell my Mom to her face.

TERRY AND JOLS
So this deep urge to just sort of make sense of it.

Something about…it may sound kind of hokey, but you’ve got this coloring book. And you’ve got all the outlines of things. But when you start filling them in, it’s helped me to be in the place where I stand. Or stand in the place where I live. Which has been my dilemma all my life. So yeah, the writing of it is filling me in.

And even though the overarching project is a memoir, you have a blog. Called heyharrycarrismydadtoo.com. And tell a little bit about…you took some time off to write.

Yeah. Luckily, because of the economic downturn. I mean I was probably the only one who said Oh, I have to be laid off? How sad…You know, I’ve had a novel in mind. Since I started that screen-writing class, I met this man who completely put the fire of writing in me. He made me want to write like nobody’s business. I even had the jones for him for a long time and people used to say, I think it’s some kind of transference, Terry. And I’d say No man…he inspired me like no-one else. And I can’t tell you why that was, or what chemistry that was, but he ended up mentoring me. And it took me two years to refocus my own brain from all those years of drug and alcohol use was pretty well…

Short-circuited.

Yeah, I didn’t have a capacity for analysis. I just didn’t have it. It took me two years with him, drilling into me the idea of story and development and character…and I was just on fire with it. And I’ve been that was ever since. I still have a couple of screenplays in me that I want to write but I turned to fiction and I took the time off to write this book which was a shortened version of 1969 and my experience here in Southern California with my ex-husband and my children and the Manson murders and the people I knew…so I wrote that, I wrote that, I did several drafts, and I sent it out and I’ve not gotten anywhere with it, yet, but I’m also writing another piece of fiction, a novella that I’m working on now that I’m really into as well as this memoir or narrative non-fiction. So I’m on fire with writing and there’s just no getting out. I’m in…

There’s no escape.

There's no escape.

And the memoir sort of sprang up in the midst of writing fiction.

I never considered myself…I always loved fiction. I’ve always loved stories, movies. Anything made up I’ve always been attracted to. And I never thought my story or anything I might have…It may have had something to do with that stance I used to take of not being able to fill my own skin. But I just didn’t consider myself as…

Having a story.

Having a story. And I covered that up by judging…

People who had stories.

People who had stories! Who thought they had a story. That’s always the deal. Actually you helped me by encouraging me to see that maybe there’s a story here. And I know about narrative. So maybe I can tell the story narratively without making it so much, you know, me, me, me. And that’s what I’m endeavoring to do.

And you’ve got all this great archival material. You’ve got photos, report cards, playbills…

I’ve got a letter from my brother to my mother telling her she drank too much and that was her problem. You know, Sorry, Mom, but I have to tell you the truth. You drink too much. And at the end of the letter he says Oh, by the way, I just found some LSD…

Good one! By the way, can you buy me a bottle of Stoli?

Yeah, he wasn’t even aware!...

You drink too much, Mom, and I’m gonna go drop some acid.

And that’s another thing. I’m very into image. And the pictures I have…that’s why I started writing it virtually. Because I could place pictures with text and fill in the story. I have such great photographs. Realistically, I doubt whether a publisher…because it’s expensive to reprint…but I thought I want to tell the story with pictures and text. So now where I’m at with it is I’m using the website as a template for a pitch and I’m sending it to a couple of agents and we’ll see where that goes.

Right. And what about all the half-siblings. Do they know about this and what’s their general feeling of being written about?

All the daughters from the third family, the ones who lived in Ojai, are fine with it, they think it’s great. The second family, the half-sister who’s ten years younger than me, was a little prickly about me using pictures. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t use any pictures from her cache, from her part of the family. She’s a writer as well and my feeling is maybe she didn’t want…She’s been writing about her mom, which I think is great, such a well of stories…

Her mom was the actress. And my half-sister ended up working in stage and film. So no, I haven’t got a lot of encouragement from them. But I don’t need their encouragement. I just need my own. I stopped needing other people’s encouragement awhile back. But thank you for yours.

That’s beautiful. Maybe just one last question. Because both you and I came to writing somewhat late, later let’s say. And maybe that’s it. Especially if you come to it late, you really have to be your own…you really have to encourage yourself. It’s not anyone else’s job, for one thing, and it’s just not gonna happen for another.

What did I read somewhere, by some author…nobody’s going to care as much as you do about your writing and you just have to get used to it. There’s always this expectation. Because you care so much about it. Like you said, it’s your heart. But nobody else is going to care like you do.

And there was a book out recently, I’m horrible about remembering names and titles, but the woman was talking about older age. And she lives in England, she was interviewing this older woman, in her 80’s and she, the author, said she went into this woman’s house and she had such vitality and so was so alive and vibrant…nothing was shut down. And the author thought, I wonder why this woman is so fired up? And after they had their tea and their crumpets, the woman said, Oh I want to show you my art. And she took the author upstairs and opened the closet to these…several canvases. These beautiful canvases. And the author got it The woman was painting. Art was keeping her vital.

Yes.

So lucky me. Lucky you. Because I feel like that fire is keeping me vital.

///////

From Hey Harry Carr Was My Dad Too

HARRY COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD

“Kids,” mom says to my brother, Jolly and me one afternoon at our dinette table, “I was mistaken about your father being dead after all. He’s alive.” At thirteen-years old even I know dead men don’t return.

“Can we see him?” Jolly asks.

Mom lights a menthol and tosses the match into her empty coffee cup. I study her face to see how she’s gonna respond to this one. She takes a puff, grey smoke drifts from her mouth and circles her nostrils, her lips tighten; she nods yes.

He is alive! Hope inflates me like helium.

“By the way,” she says, her voice faint and distant. “He’s got another family.”

Jolly and I take the bus from Los Angeles to Seattle to see Harry. The picture on your right is from that visit. The stunned brunette gawking at his three cute little blond kids, our replacements, is me, Terry, his first daughter.

The photo [below] is of Harry’s third family, the one he starts after leaving the one he left us for. I’m the hippie in a headband.

1 comment:

  1. Hers is a blog that leaves you wanting more. It's so good to hear she's writing a book.

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