Monday, November 26, 2018

Clara's Story 4: Rumors and Romance Part 1



1994. Today my niece Betsy is visiting Dixon, Illinois where I've lived with my husband Rolland Metzger since we married twenty-something years ago. We married when I was 53, oy, I was almost an "old maid," and definitely I was slow at finding someone to tie-the knot with. But Roll was worth the wait.

Speaking of old, oy gavult I just turned 80. I’m not the gad-about I used to be, so Betsy has joined me in my home-hobby, looking through old photos, scrapbooks and what-not I’ve saved during my lifetime. Betsy found a picture of me dated 1934, with a note I wrote on the back How not to accept a proposal and she asks, “Aunt Claire, what’s the story behind this?”

“He wasn’t my type. I was only twenty and if I remember right – it was a long time ago when the photo was snapped – I was thinking: I don't want to date this guy. I hope he gets the message.”

Then she asked, “So you didn’t want to date that guy but I wonder, was there someone that you wanted to date, a cartoonist maybe? There were rumors..."

Involuntarily, I snapped back at her in a sharp, kind of shrill voice, unlike my usual warm and friendly way of talking, “What rumors?” 

She seemed reluctant to answer, but also bursting to tell me. My dear niece, who is like a daughter to me, is a bit like her mom Rose who loved to gossip and talk about other people's love lives.

Betsy's words came out haltingly, reluctantly, “My mom told Sue (her older sister) who told me…that you fell in love with the creator of the Little Lulu comic strip… that he wasn’t Jewish… and that he was married or maybe divorced.” She stopped, took a deep breath, and added, “Mom also said that Grandma LeBrint sent you to Los Angeles to break up the romance.”

Then she continued, “If not the cartoonist, Sue thought the romance might have been with Nelson Algren,” and she laughed. I had to laugh too. It was absurd! Nelson Algren, the author who had a long tempestuous love affair with Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer and author of The Feminine Mystic, who herself had a life-long love-commitment with the author and philospher Jean Paul Sartre.

"Can you imagine," I said, "Claire LeBrint mixed up in that romantic mess with those three very public very famous writers?"

Her last question broke the tension and I told her what I thought might have been the source of the Nelson Algren rumor. “Strange but true, the Algren family lived down the street from us in Albany Park and your mom and Aunt Mary (the oldest LeBrint sister) knew him. Nelson was Mary’s age and only a year older than Rose and the three of them went to Haugan, the neighborhood school together. Nelson was four or five years older than me and I didn’t know him. But being the literary type, at some point, I tried to read his book, The Man with the Golden Arm. I never finished it. It was too raw and real for my taste. But, I have to tell you: I’m flattered Sue would think I might have dated Nelson Algren.” I had to laugh again, “Me and Nelson and Simone and Sartre – imagine!” 

It was true, I had a romance with a political cartoonist when I was in my mid-twenties. He was twelve years older than me, single, and most damning of all – he wasn't Jewish. My immigrant Jewish mother banished me to LA to get me away from him. Had I continued with this man, it would have been a shonda for my mother. Shonda is the Yiddish word meaning a disgrace, a shame, a terrible embarrassment, a scandal not only for the family but also for the entire Jewish community. This may seem like an extreme reaction today, but most immigrant families in the old days insisted that their children “stick to their own kind,” to quote from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

I was a young gal seeking adventure when we dated. It was wonderful. We were in love. But more than that I was a good, mostly obedient daughter who could not go against her parent's wishes. So when it came down to it, I had to do what my mother told me and off to California I went.

I wasn’t about to tell Betsy about the cartoonist. I was happily married to my dear husband Rolland, so why would I want to open that can of worms? Now that I think about it, Rolland might be amused, not surprised at all. He knew that I had wide-ranging interests before we met and had dated quite a bit and that I had many adventures and was quite a live wire.

But I could tell Betsy about California, so I continued, "Yes, with my mother's encouragement I went to Los Angeles when I was in my twenties, to live there for a while."

I needed a break from this conversation, so I made us some instant coffee, and we chatted about plays we had seen, family happenings, and so on.


THE MOSTLY TRUTHFUL STORY OF MY TIME IN CALIFORNIA

I decided I would tell Betsy about California leaving out everything related to my romance with the cartoonist. It was a good enough story without that part, especially since it included my encounter with the actor Lee J. Cobb. 

And this is what I told her.

Our family knew the young Leo Jacoby, who took the name Lee J. Cobb when he became an actor. Cobb’s family lived in New York City. His parents had emigrated from Kishenev, Bessarabia in Czarist Russia (now Romania) where his father had worked with my father. This made our familes landsmen. It was the custom among immigrants to have landsmen stay while they were getting established in America. Some time in the 1920’s, the young Leo Jacoby took advantage of his parents’ landsmen status and stayed at our home in Chicago for a few weeks. I’m not sure why.

It was 1943 when I went to California. By then, Cobb was a movie star living in Hollywood. Mother must have gotten his address from his parents and assured me that he would be happy to help me get settled in Los Angeles. Mother thought it was only fair since he had stayed with us some years back. There were tears all around when I got on the Union Pacific train. It was my second train trip out West. The first was with Aunt Perle (my younger sister). We went to San Francisco and took a side trip to Los Angeles to visit cousins.

This time I was traveling alone. I was a little scared but mostly happy for the adventure of it all. I arrived in LA and took a cab to Cobb’s house, using money Mother and Father gave me to cover my trip and my first few months in California. The cab driver delivered me to a mansion in the Hollywood hills, set back from the road on what seemed like several acres of land. I was so sure Cobb would welcome me that I sent the cab away.

I stared at the place in amazement and wonder, and with great trepidation and some excitement, I rang the bell. Cobb answered the door! I introduced myself as the daughter of Abe and Anna LeBrint from Chicago. Before I could remind him that he had stayed with us when he was Leo Jacoby, he gave me a cold and stony look, as if I was a scraggly stray cat, and slammed the door in my face. Crying, ashamed and disappointed, I walked, lugging my suitcase, from Hollywood several miles down the hill, found a pay phone, and called Mother collect. She reminded me that we had relatives in LA who would be glad to take me in. Perle and I had met them on our trip out West, but they weren’t famous like Lee J. Cobb! My relatives welcomed me into their home. I stayed with them a month or so and then found a room in a women’s boarding house in Boyle Heights, the Jewish area of Los Angeles.

After I settled into my room, with sheer guts, persistence, desperation, and nerve, I searched for a newspaper job. And amazingly, I was hired as a part-time cub reporter for a neighborhood paper. Maybe they were impressed by my “credentials,” which included the night school journalism classes I took at Northwestern University in Chicago. Or most likely I got the job because young men were all off to war (WW II) and they had no choice but to hire a woman, even an inexperienced one like me. 

Next order of business was to find a synagogue with a Jewish Singles group. I was happy that the LA Jewish crowd at the singles group was eclectic and more freethinking than my Chicago friends had been. In the group were some aspiring actors, painters, and writers and other adventuresome transplants from all over the county, even a few from Chicago.

I was hoping to meet an attractive interesting Jewish guy, that we’d fall in love, and that I would be pleased to accept his proposal of marriage. I imagined we would live an exciting freewheeling California life. A gal can dream, can’t she?

However, again because of the war, there were few young eligible single men, emphasis on young, in the group. So sadly that dream had to be deferred.

As was my dream of having a career as a journalist. Being a cub reporter in LA where I knew no one and knew nothing about the goings-on there, and zero about how to be a reporter, no surprise that the job didn't last. But I easily found an office job, of course low paying – to be expected. Life in LA was good. I enjoyed my independence, being away from my bossy mother and my snooty snooping gossipy older sisters Mary and Rose. I missed Father who was sweet but ineffective. I didn’t miss the bookkeeping job I had at Father’s business, The Central Press in downtown Chicago. I was never meant to be a bookkeeper. I dreamed of being a creative writer, like I had been in my early twenties and secretly thought I might get back into theater, or maybe, since I was in LA, I might get small parts in a film or two. After all, in my early twenties, I had the lead role of Grazia in a production of Death Takes a Holiday.

Then I remembered seeing the little article and publicity photo in the scrapbook Betsy and I had been looking through. We found it again and were both impressed with the young Claire Le Brint.





I knew Betsy had many more questions: Did I have copies of “Jettison” and my poem “on page three.” (I didn’t think so.) I’m sure she also wanted to know why and when I left Los Angeles and returned to Chicago. But I was done reminiscing and tired from our conversation. I told her we could continue at another time even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was most afraid she’d ask about the romance.

However, like me, Betsy seemed relieved to be done with our conversation. It had been emotional for her, asking such personal questions, and I bet she was tired too. And hungry. I know I was. It was getting to be dinnertime and Rolland, who had been out and about in Dixon, would be home soon.

I had to figure out whether we would have sandwiches or canned spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner. Betsy stayed for dinner and we had a little salad that I threw together, bread and butter, and the canned spaghetti, with Salerno Butter Cookies for dessert.  She left soon afterwards and drove the two hours back to her home in Chicago. She's a good driver so I didn't worry.

A FEW WEEKS LATER

After Betsy got home, she looked through the stories her mother Rose, of blessed memory, had written about growing up in Chicago. Betsy found one titled "The Lantzmen [sic] Who Stayed with Us," which included some about the young Leo Jacoby visiting the LeBrint family.

Betsy called to tell me that the young Leo was an award winning harmonica player before he got into acting and took the name Lee J. Cobb. You can bet we laughed about that! She sent me a  Xerox copy of the story. I include the part about Jacoby's visit below.

Excerpt from Memories of Childhood by Rose LeBrint Fuchs 
Our last lantzman was the best. He was a 17 year old at the time I was 17. He was not foreign born nor was he needy. He was on his way to Hollywood but wanted to see Chicago. He was the son of Ben Jacob [sic], the man who sent lantzmen to us from New York City. Leo … had won a harmonica contest, a popular instrument in those days, playing Ravel’s "Bolero." He won a week in Hollywood, to try out for Larry Adler’s harmonica band that played in the movies.

Nothing came of that tryout but Leo stayed with us again on his way back home and said he was going to be an actor. After a while he did make a hit … in the stage play “Golden Boy,” went on to Hollywood to play the same role in the movie, changed his name to Lee J. Cobb, a perfect take off of Leo Jacob, and made a fine living until he died a number of years ago.

I went to the library and found that Leo Jacoby was born in 1911 and died in 1976 after many years of being known by his professional actor name Lee J. Cobb.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Clara's Story 3: Becoming a Published Writer


During the late 1950’s when I was in my mid-30's, I scrimped and saved enough to take one trip to Europe. We went to Paris, that I remember, and to Switzerland. Probably also to London but I'm not sure. In the postcard, I'm wearing the flowered dress, happily eating with friends I met on the trip.

But…my dream of becoming a published writer and my hope of finding a nice single Jewish guy to hang around with and possibly marry – neither was happening. That is, not until Rolland Metzger of Dixon, Illinois came along. He visited Chicago some weekends to get culture and to see if he could find a nice Jewish woman to woo and marry.

In 1960 we two Jewish singles met and started keeping company.

Rolland thought I was wonderful and amazing, talented and full of life. He believed I could do anything I wanted. He couldn’t convince me to marry him until 1967, but in 1962 he helped me to follow my dream of being a writer. 

I had discovered the Famous Writers School correspondence course, founded by Bennett Cerf, a well-known publisher/author, and other "famous" writers. I remembered taking the course, that was all. Then I found several workbooks from the course and I see the advertising flyer with this Bennett Cerf  quote,“Do you have a restless urge to write? If you do, here is an opportunity for you to take the first important step to success in writing.”

Even though many years have passed, I remember the excitement I felt when I contemplated his question and my answer, spoken quietly (to myself), a resounding Yes!

I lost my nerve until Rolland held my hand so to speak -- in reality, he sat next to me -- as I took the big step of enrolling in the course. I registered with the pseudonym Leva Missman, a very catchy name, don’t you think? I used Rolland’s Dixon address instead of mine in Chicago. I was apprehensive about attempting to be a real writer and needed the assurance that in case I failed, no one, not even the instructors, would know my real identity. I was grateful to Rolland for going along with my deception. 

 The first Famous Writers assignment was to answer the question “Why Do I Wish to Write?” The instructor returned my essay with some well-deserved critical comments. Oh boy, it sure stung to read criticism of my work. You writers out there will understand. Rolland had to hold my hand and sit by my side as I moved from being a writer-want-to-be to becoming a good, or at least a competent, writer.

The note identified with (1) includes great advice that I’ve taken to heart and reads:
“Use some contractions to provide a more conversational tone.”

Much about the course comes back when I find a folder labeled “Women’s Angle,” and I see the seven articles published in the National Informer newspaper.

Here's how it happened.

After my first essay, the pieces I wrote for Famous Writers were mostly about how women were taken advantage of at work, when shopping, by loan companies, and even at dancing schools. As I grew more confident in my writing, my instructor informed me it was time to submit my work for publication. He suggested I send one of my stories to the National Informer newspaper for their “Women’s Angle” column. The magazine’s motto was “Truthful News of All Facts of Life.” It sounded good to me. I submitted the story “How American Stores Cheat, Use and Abuse Female Shoppers,” under my own name Claire Le Brint. To my surprise, they accepted it. I hadn’t heard of the National Informer and hadn’t seen a copy, but no problem. I was to be published and paid for my work. I was ecstatic.

A check came in the mail along with a letter indicating that my story would appear in the September 23, 1962 issue. When I got a copy of that issue, I was shocked. The banner headline on the first page was RED CHINESE EAT BABIES! with the subheading in slightly smaller bold print Innocent Children Victims of Communist Prosperity. I skimmed through the paper. Most of the articles were patently false like the cover story, or super-trashy like we find today in the National Enquirer. But you better believe I was very proud of my article, which was “Truthful News of one particular Fact of Life.” I pasted the article on yellow card stock so I could keep it forever and jotted down the date and name of the publication. On the back, I wrote the headline and subheading, then I tossed that tabloid paper in the trash where it belonged.

I was appalled by the newspaper and most of the articles. Rolland and I conferred and we decided I might as well submit more articles to the Informer. The readers, we figured, needed at least some “truthful news,” if only they could recognize it. I was being paid and published, no small feat for a novice writer. Here are titles for the rest of my Informer articles.

·         Why Are Women Workers Treated Like Dopes?
·         How Dancing Schools Suck In the Suckers (wow)
·         Stupid Store Clerks Gyp Housewives
·         Housewives Ain’t As Smart as Retail Loan Sharks
·         FM Radio Becoming Lousy Just Like AM Radio??
·         How Business Places Hook Women on Free Gimmicks

So I, Claire Le Brint, had become a published writer! That was enough for me for the time being. Over the next ten years I was busy working, getting married, changing my name to Claire Metzger, moving to Dixon, getting used to Rolland, and traveling to Chicago with Rolland fairly frequently to take advantage of the city's cultural marvels.

But I will never forget the National Informer and my first big break. Can you blame me? What a story that is!

To see all Clara's stories CLICK-HERE

To see all blog posts go to http://betsywblog.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Clara's Story 2: REMEMBERING

1994. I’m 80 years old. I’ve slowed down and finally have time to look through my old scrapbooks and photo albums and the piles of stories I wrote. Some stories were published. Some were not.

I asked my husband Rolland to move the files and boxes filled with my writing into the dining room and to pull down the scrapbooks and photo albums from the closet shelf. They’re on the floor and on the dining room table -- no room for dinner but who cares? I was never much of a cook; the best I could do most nights was heat up a can of spaghetti and meat sauce or throw together some sandwiches.

The first thing I see is my Roosevelt High School graduation yearbook and I remember….
My birth name, Clara Le Brint, and my nickname “Topsy,” given to me by friends because my hair usually curled every which way.


Inscription: “Luck success & what-not to All Clara Le Brint Topsy"

Sometime after I graduated from high school, I changed my name from Clara to Claire, more American, more grown up. Today I think Clara is a romantic name, fanciful and interesting. It reminds me of my youthful dreams, which by the way did come true, just not how I could have predicted.
💠

I used to be very busy working, writing, volunteering, helping friends, meeting new people, and traveling. But I’m not doing that anymore. I’m too old, too tired. Don’t argue with me. Wait til you turn 80, then tell me how you feel and what your life is like.

My life these days is not very exciting. I have nothing to do except sit quietly at the Dixon (Illinois) Senior Center or visit with Rolland when he’s at home. Roll is eight years my junior and still out and about with activities, hobbies, and paid work as a part-time accountant and tax-preparer.

So here I sit at home, at the table and I pick up one thing, take a look and put it down and pick up the next thing. Nothing is in order. 

I find a three-page handwritten biography titled The Life of Claire Metzger, written by a Dixon friend in 1991. I remember when we met and she asked me lots of questions about my life and wrote this story. Right away, two little white lies jump out at me – the year of my birth and my age when I met Rolland.

The world was blessed on April 5, 1933. Claire Metzger, formerly Claire LeBrint, was born in Chicago, Illinois.

…When Claire was 34, she met her husband-to-be Rolland Metzger at a Jewish Temple. They didn’t mean to meet; actually, Claire was there to meet another boy to watch a play, but she was stood up and Rolland came up to her and asked if she wanted any coffee, and they both stayed for the play. After the play, Rolland asked Claire if he could walk her home because they had found out that they actually lived on the same street and she accepted. So every time Rolland came into town they would see each other.

My dear friend and biographer (so sorry I have forgotten her name) insisted that my life story start my birth date including the year, which I told her was 1933, even though I was born in 1914. She also insisted that we include my age when I met Rolland. I fudged that one too. We met around 1960 when I was 46, not 34! I never told anyone in Dixon my age, rather I told them I felt “ageless.” My Dixon friends and admirers thought I was younger than my real age, so there was no harm done.

Whew, I’m glad the truth is finally out. I’m an old lady now so what do I care if you know my exact age. I’m still a bit confused about the age-thing and you may be too. So I had Rolland, who is a math whiz, make this chart for us.

April 5, 1914
Clara Le Brint born
After high school, I changed my name to Claire
June 14, 1922
Rolland Metzger born

March 25, 1967
Claire and Rolland marry
Claire 53 years old, Rolland almost 45
1994
Claire writes her life story
Claire 80 years old 

💠

Rolland’s weekday home was in Dixon, where he had a Civil Service job as a Research Psychologist at the Dixon State School/Developmental Center. Most weekends, he came to Chicago and stayed at the house he inherited from his parents. Like me, Rolland went to Jewish singles functions hoping to meet a future mate. And it happened – eventually. We got to know each other when Rolland asked to walk me home. His Chicago home was a two-story brick cottage on Roscoe Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood and I lived a mile down the street in a “tight little career girl (studio) apartment,” as I called it in first published piece “The Painting Went Up.”

For six years, Roll repeatedly asked me to marry him and for six years, I put him off. I had been single for so long, checking out Jewish men and rejecting them as marriage material, or being rejected (or stood up!) by them. When Rolland came along, being indecisive by nature and having been on the look-out for so very long, I couldn’t make up my mind about him. Finally, in 1967, I gave in. He was too nice a guy to let go. But I was plenty nervous, and I shared some of my worries with him in a note sent ten days before we married.

Note mailed to Rolland March 14, 1967 (transcription below)

Dear Roll –
   Please never ask me to make a decision late in the eve – or night – It wearies me, and invariably I feel pressed and pressured. Probably you do too?

   So I beg you – in all things don’t set up deadlines or rushes lest good judgement give way to exasperation and error.
Love,
                C

After we married, I never had to “make a decision late in the eve, ”  but sometimes, especially when we were planning trips (for tax conferences or to visit family out of town), he did “set up deadlines” but his good judgement  ensured there were few insurmountable errors.

Much to my surprise and delight, basking in Rolland’s love and support, I followed my life-long dream of becoming a professional writer. I became a News Correspondent for the Rockford Register Star and also had feature stories, play and book reviews published in the Dixon and Rockford papers, the Chicago Daily News, and some national magazines.

In my piece about Yasha Kaganov's painting, "I reflected. We are caught in the trap of the city, for years, for our working lifetime, but there is still hope, says the painted canvas, if we don’t forget there once was a dream."

I am forever thankful to my dear husband Rolland for helping me make my dreams come true. 


To see all Clara's stories CLICK-HERE

To see all blog posts go to http://betsywblog.blogspot.com/









Sunday, August 19, 2018

Clara's Story 1: A Working Woman's Dream (The Painting Went Up)

Aunt Claire's portrait hangs on my living room wall. 
Claire was a single working woman when the painting was done, by her friend Yasha Kaganov.



Along with the painting, I framed an article written by Claire about Yasha's portrait. I don't know where or when the article was published. I often look at the painting and contemplate what she wrote about her life in the article. I invite you to join my contemplation by considering the questions Claire posed and her reflections about "our working lifetime."

Did (Yasha) see me as creature made for sunlight and open places?
What am I doing in a closed-up little office and a tight little career girl apartment?
 I reflected. We are caught in the trap of the city, for years, for our working lifetime, but there is still hope, says the painted canvas, if we don’t forget there once was a dream.





Aunt Claire was my mother's sister. Claire was born in 1914 and died at age 87 in 2001. She was single until she finally met the right man, Rolland Metzger, and consented to marry him in 1967, after a long courtship. 

Claire was 52 years old and I was 23 when she married Rolland. From then on, until she died, we were close and she was  a big part of my life.

I knew of her life with Rolland but I knew nothing of her life as a single working woman, until Claire died and I inherited the painting, along with many published and unpublished articles and stories written by Claire. Among them was the undated, unattributed newspaper article, The Painting Went Up. A better title might have been  A Working Woman's Dream. 

Claire's life is a story worth telling, with many ups and downs, or as Claire put it, "(My) life is so full of twists and turns."  

To see all Aunt Claire stories CLICK-HERE

To see all blog posts go to http://betsywblog.blogspot.com/


Friday, February 9, 2018

First Prayer: Asking for Rest and Comfort

In 1995, I started to write prayers in my journal. They sometimes comforted me. Here is the first prayer I wrote, along with the journal entry that inspired its creation.

November 1995 -- My 86 year old father is staying with me, I hope temporarily.  He is sleeping in the living room of my one bedroom apartment.  My father is very depressed and is sleeping 24 to 36 hours at a time.  I need something to get me through this difficult time.  The idea comes to me that I need to pray and I write this prayer to the universe, hoping God or the universal spirits will help me.


Take it Easy Today
Spirit of the Sun and Moon –

Help me. Remind me that this is a new day.
As I open my eyes, help me to see the colors and objects I enjoy.
Remind me that Lizzie my cat and my family love me.
As I get up remind me that I can take it easy today
    I have done enough.
The trees rest in the winter,
    the leaves which have fallen become nourishment.
Let me get nourishment back from the universe today.
And give me comfort today.

I pray to be open to receiving on this day. And direction comes:

Keep trudging – if that is all you can do.

May I walk the beauty way.

Lead me to the pastures where I may rest.

Amen

Regarding the last three lines of my prayer
"Keep trudging..." is of unknown origin (the Universe?)
"May I walk..." is from a Native American chant.
"Lead me..." is a riff on the 23rd Psalm.

For additional prayers and to read about my prayer journey, go to  http://betsysprayers.com