I’m in the throes of Julie Salamon’s new biography ‘Wendy And The Lost Boys’ about writer and award winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein that up until the night before last I couldn’t put down.
I asked myself, why when it’s so great am I avoiding finishing it?
Then the reason dawned on me.
To keep her alive, that’s why.
Right now it’s 1989 and she has just won ‘The Pulitzer Prize’ and ‘Tony Award’ for her play ‘The Heidi Chronicles.’ She is ‘The Toast of the Town’ well on her way to becoming a household name compared to the likes of Neil Simon, high honors never before given to a 38 year old Jewish girl especially one who never thought much of herself.
I left her on stage at The Plymouth Theatre the day she won The Pulitzer kissing all the actors appearing in Heidi while receiving a standing ovation. How happy she must have been to be accepted and lauded so unanimously probably for the first time in her whole adult life.
If I don’t go on to the closing chapters she can stay right where she is taking her bow through all eternity. Oh, if only she could.
For those of you who don’t know, Wendy Wasserstein died on January 30, 2006 at age 55 from cancer. She was a single mom with one child whom she gave birth to at 48. In ‘Shiksa Goddess,’ a collection of her best essays, you can read the touching story reprinted from ‘The New Yorker’ about her daughter, Lucy Jane’s, difficult and in some ways miraculous entry into the world.
That’s the main reason why it feels as though we all knew Wendy, the constant and unabashed candor in everything she wrote.
I long to write that openly, a quality not easily owned by any writer but she certainly inspires to at least become better at it.
What I like about Salamon’s book is that she doesn’t always sugarcoat Wendy. In The ‘Heidi Chronicles’ for instance, when her heroine describes herself as a ‘humanist’ as opposed to a ‘feminist’ she was slyly cluing us in, giving us a glimpse of the real Wendy who suffered from low self esteem and the tendency to please too eagerly. Her mother, an eccentric pain in the ass, wanted grandchildren more than statuettes attesting to her youngest daughter’s grand achievements never for one minute letting her forget it.
She mourned an older brother sent away due to mental illness she was never allowed to know.
She stoically buried loved ones speaking at their memorials.
Her relationships with men were painful and disappointing. She battled weight and wasn’t always nice to the significant others of her close friends she often betrayed by using their personal confidences without permission in her plays and stories.
Rather than display remorse when exposed Wendy would giggle nervously worried you’d justifiably hate her resigning from the friendship that despite her own disloyalty, still meant the world to her.
Wendy was complicated, lonely and inherently sad.
She worried what the world thought of her never quite believing she was loved, accepted and admired.
Learning Wendy wasn’t perfect only endears her to you more; Flaw meets flaw on the page like reunited relatives.
I liked that she loved good hotels because I do too. Travel excited her and she loved parties often being the belle of the ball. She was generous and bighearted and adopted shelter cats.
I’ve been known to eat big bags of candy when I’ve been depressed and also tend to fall in love with my gay boyfriends, I’m just too ashamed to admit it.
I have a personal story about Wendy I’d like to share.
It was New Year’s Eve 1997 and I was at Chris Wasserstein’s house, Wendy’s former sister-in-law, feeding her animals. She was a neighbor needing a favor because the whole family was in East Hampton for the funeral of Wendy’s beloved older sister Sandra who had just died from cancer the day before.
While I was there the doorman came up with a beautiful floral arrangement for Wendy’s nephew Ben. It was his birthday and despite her grief over her sister she didn’t want him to think she forgot what day it was. I remember how moved I was thinking wow, how sweet is that? In the midst of her sorrow she still thought of this young kid.
8 years later when I saw the headline from a newspaper vending machine that Wendy had died I remembered that story.
Involuntarily I started to cry. Steve, who owns the Viand Coffee Shop, came out to see what was wrong.
“Someone I loved passed away,” I found myself saying.
I then came home and reread ‘The Heidi Chronicles.’
“Are you a feminist?” she asked Heidi.
“No, I’m a humanist,” she said.