I am compelled to write about my friend Leone whom I loathed at first sight. True. I first laid eyes on her 40 plus years ago in an acting class in New York City. The class was a hard one to get into. All were very serious actors except for a hand full of tall Nordic looking models. The teacher couldn’t resist. Leone marched in one night in her silver wolf jacket, marched her 5’10 self in head held high and I sneered. What else could I do? Lying about being 5’ 4 with baby fat cheeks and freckles across my nose, I wasn’t predisposed to liking her. It could have remained that way if Wynn Handman hadn’t assigned us a scene from Uncle Vanya to work on together. Nothing like a little Russian melodrama to bring two girls together! It may have been love after our first rehearsal.
That was the beginning of Long Tall Leone and Little Annie. Not only am I on the shorter side of normal, but I am petite and wherever we went, and we went many places together, we looked like Mutt and Jeff.
Leone was an actress, and a good one, lucky enough to be tall, blond and beautiful and support herself by modeling. Because her passion was acting she was egoless about modeling and did everything from simplicity pattern catalogs to Glamour Magazine covers. This approach worked so well for her she made so much money that she bought a farm in Woodstock New York where I was lucky enough to spend several relaxed and yummy weekends. Early 70’s, it was amazing place to be.
Leone wore no make up on those weekends and made soup in the kitchen for hours and sewed curtains while her artist boyfriend Renaldo made plaster casts in the barn. In between we took walks or entertained guests like Peter Max and his girlfriend at the time, wonderful model / singer all around sweetheart, Rosie Vela, for tea on the porch.
Leone wasn’t the first nor has she been my last lesson in not judging a book by it’s cover.
She was also the Douche Girl.
One time riding the Madison Ave bus uptown with her she was angrily accosted by an elderly woman. I saw the woman , white hair and spectacles straight out of central casting. Squinting and muttering to herself, but since this was a NYC bus, I didn’t give it a second thought.
Suddenly the woman was out of her seat, white knuckling her worn black handbag.
“It’s her! It’s Her! It’s the Douche Girl! Get her off this bus!”
Spitting words like “filthy” “disgusting” “vile” she went at Leone who grabbed my hand and pulled me to the exit door as the driver stopped the bus.
We hopped off laughing, but let me tell you, it wasn’t nice, plus it was really cold out and we walked the rest of the way to wherever it was we were going..
Leone moved to LA several months before me. I always felt she went to set up our life and I came when she made it all nice and comfy for me. I really did although I’ve never expressed that to her.
Having just been in the movie The Great Gatsby, Leone was one of the last young actresses to be offered a contract from Universal.
She came, set up a beautiful two bedroom house with a killer city view above Sunset, furnished it from her crack of dawn treks to the Rose Bowl Flea Market every third Sunday.
Then I arrived. Divorced and anchor-less one suitcase in hand. Leone’s great pal, Susie Blakely, had moved a year earlier with the success of her iconic mini series Rich Man Poor Man. Susie, an amazingly generous friend included Leone in her life in LA and when I arrived Leone did the same for me. Susie had a great house with her then boyfriend Steve and had spontaneous Friday night get dinners that turned into parties as people stopped by.
Instant social life came with my small white room with the one window that looked out at fuchsia colored bougainvillea.
We lived in that house in the hills together for several years. We were a couple.
Not in that sense, but in the other just as important and deep. Sometimes I cooked and she cleaned. Sometimes she cooked and I cleaned. We helped each other run lines for auditions and borrowed each others clothes for dates. (OK I borrowed hers more. I rolled the skirts and pants up, belted or bloused the shirts. Mine where too small for her.)
I made it up by cleaning more. We both loved her black cat with the white chest Willow and she helped me raise the kitten I got named Speedy who ran away when her was one.
The only TV set was in Leone’s bedroom which was a sensual delight to be in with the soft pinks and Tiffany lamp. We snuggled onto her queen sized bed puffed up by pillows, eating our dinner out of big wooden salad bowls watching every night of Roots.
We’d go to a Saturday night party, leave after an hour stopping off at Aunt Tilly’s Health Food Store, for macrobiotic treats to binge out on while spending the rest of our Saturday nights watching old movies.
And we were happy..
She and I joked that she was auditioning husbands the way I was auditing for parts by the last year we lived together. One night she came home from roller skating ( 80’s LA , very fun those roller skating Monday nights ) with some friends woke me up and told me she met the man she was going to marry.
She did. Photographer, Guy Webster had just moved back to LA after living in Europe for several years. He’d started this cool little magazine, called WET, with LA artists and literati. Guy was photographing rock-and-roll bands and stars and running Wet Magazine out of his studio, which was the pool house of his parent’s house in Beverly Hills. Guy’s father was Oscar winning composer Paul Francis Webster. Guy’s mother, Gloria, a beauty in her day, welcomed all the commotion and constant parade of star-status actors, musicians, artists, models and friends coming to hang out. It was the place to be, Guy’s studio.
Leone and Guy married and moved to Ojai where they had two daughters, Jessie and Merry. Their farmhouse was on beautiful tree-studded acreage and became a haven for their LA friends, which included me, when I, single, needed a place to nurse a heartache or have a vacation. Guy moved his photo studio to Venice and has worked from Tuesday through Thursday every week for 31 years. They have a beautiful life that my sweet, sweeeet friend Leone has orchestrated and run for 30 odd years. Both of their grown daughters are well and thriving in their careers,
Leone gave up acting to be a full time mom. Along with it she’s had other jobs from being on school boards, mediating for the Superior Court Of Santa Barbara, and is a political activist extraordinaire.
Leone and I speak on the phone every few months. We have spontaneous lunches or visits, and send loving emails with news. Leone started painting and emails me pictures. I write something and she’ll comment; “right on, Annie” or “loved that, Sweetie”
Guy and Leone went on a book tour last fall with Guy’s new book, Big Shots. Guy looked so good, tan, fit, grey buzz cut and stubble, drinking wine and signing books in LA, NYC, Boston and DC. I went to the book party in NYC hosted by good friends from Martha’s Vineyard where they’ve lived every summer for 25 years. The party was beyond gorgeous in an amazing art filled townhouse near Washington Square Park. It was jammed with fans and friends and both Guy and Leone looked happy and healthy. Leone, who, as mentioned has been painting and had her first show at the Porch Gallery in Ojai last year, put her painting on hold, choosing to enjoy every moment of this ride with Guy. She was shinning that night. Both of their daughters were there with friends and are both beauties in their completely individual ways. They each have, to me, a mix of both Guy and Leone’s looks. They, and their friends, are creative and au current people in their 20’s.
I like to think like Leone and me when we first met.
Guy felt like shit after the book tour. Tired and short of breath. They were back in Ojai with Guy still doing his Venice run. A doctor there said it was pneumonia and kept refilling Guy’s antibiotic prescription.
Last April still tired and puffing Guy and Leone go to a pulmonologist in Ventura who says he , the doctor, has the good news and the bad news. Good new: Guy’s lungs are fine. Bad news: it’s your heart I’m sending you to a cardiologist in this building NOW.
In he goes , the cardiologist says he needs heart surgery yesterday , that he has major blockage and the next day he was in Cedars having heart surgery. Boom boom boom just like that. From maybe I should see a pulmonologist and stop taking all these antibiotics to THE table at Cedars.
The surgery went very well. The surgeon , Leone , the girls all the friends , everyone is relieved and happy and then…Guy has a stroke the next day. Life, as Guy and Leone have lived it, was is changed forever in however long it took that stroke to do it’s thing. Which was to paralyze his right side but not his speech or brain Thank God. No leg or arm and hand movement though. Six weeks later Guy left Cedars in a wheel Chair equipped with a walker and full time home care. Very little to nothing was told to them about what to expect.
No one warned them of the trauma 6 weeks in a hospital bed half paralyzed can do to a psyche . The first couple of weeks to say the least were daunting. Leone credits her Ojai and LA close friends for the dinners , calls and visits daily.
She was overwhelmed with taking care of Guy’s photo and book business, equipping the house for handicap access as well as keeping up with his motorcycle business.
Did I mention that Guy has a Motorcycle Museum that holds his collection of world renowned Italian racing bikes that motor cyclists from all over the world come to see?
Or, that Guy kept telling Leone how much he was looking forward to the end of his book tour so he could go on a motorcycle trip by himself for a week, before meeting up with some biking buddies?
Leone, always a take-charge girl, has been on the job 24/7 since they were first sent to the cardiologist. True to the way she walks, erect, shoulders back and her feet firmly arriving first, she is the gal you want to get any job done.
Disciplined? The woman’s been on a swim team 3 days a week doing drills for 21 years. We used to laugh about what a Yankee/Pilgrim Warrior Woman she was. Not laughin’now.
When I went to see Guy at Cedars, Leone and I left him for a half an hour to get a sandwich. The nurses had just moved Guy into a chair to sit up for an hour.. We weren’t gone more than a half an hour. When we got back Guy was lying down in bed watching TV. Leone strode in, took in the scene. saying “Up! Up! Up! What is this! Come on girls, don’t let him be lazy” to the two nurses on duty. She said it with that lighthearted snappy tone of hers said with a little laugh but she means business. Leone the Lioness ; wife /caretaker/best friend /constant companion. Nurse Ratchet when she needs to be.
I was up in Ojai six weeks ago and he seemed to be doing OK. He was sitting up with the help of his care taker/nurse , atattooed woman I’d say in her 50’s who probably used to be a heavy smoker. We were out on their front porch and his spirit was better than when he was in Cedars . He looked thin and there wasn’t any sparkle going on. I was just so thankful his mind and speech were clear, but he didn’t look like he’d be out and about so fast.
Jeff and I went up to visit this past Sunday. I said we’d bring dinner. Leone said to come to the house at 6 after Guys massage and we’d go out.
Go out? Wow! Really? He’s come a long way Baby! And it’s all due to Leone. She let the caregivers go a few weeks ago, rolled up her sleeves and is getting her man back. It is amazing how far he’s come. Love heals and so does Long Tall Leone. She knew her customer. Guy is brilliant, and we all love him madly, but Gloria raised a real Jewish prince. Guy would’ve wrapped those care takers around his finger and still be flat on his ass if Leone hadn’t have taken on the job.
Being with them both last Sunday night was again a testament not only to the power of love, but to the power of our human spirits.
Life can change on a dime…a penny…and we either meet the challenge or crumble.
Being with Leone, watching her with Guy, loving and tender at moments, and demanding of him when she needed to be, scenes from my life with her came flooding back to me. Things I’d forgotten.
The convertible Karman Ghia she bought and completely reupholstered herself. The time we went to San Francisco with her parents and got robbed in our hotel room in the middle of the night. Her screaming woke me up. She was running out of our room in a t-shirt and her underpants screaming “You Get Back Here Right Now” at the guy who had just stolen our watches and earrings from the night stand in between our two beds.
( screaming “Get Back Here you Mother Fucker” until she lost him)
Us on the couch in our Leone-made-gorgeous- living room. I’m biting my nails, tears rolling down my cheeks while Leone is on the phone checking to see if the man I have a humongous crush on is back from London, as I’ve heard, and just not calling me.
Leone desperately trying to squirm down to my size so I could give her a hug and comfort her broken heart, while she cried and I told her that whoever he was wasn’t worthy of her, and Mr Right was on his way. ( He was …Guy was in the process of winding down his life in Europe and heading home )
The birthday parties we threw for each other so we each got presents, gift ho’s that we were!!!
Just writing about those years and the life Leone and I shared fills me with so much awe my fingers are shaking as they hit the keys.
Leone made and gave me a home, my first home in LA. It was a beautiful home where I grew to be myself. Her generosity and staunch personal ethics permeated my life and set an example for me. We laughed, we cried, we told each other all of our secrets and kept them secret. We were a great couple.
I’m writing about Leone because as a writer often I’m compelled to write about ordinary people, everyday people, people who I hope my readers will be inspired by. To me Leone is such a person. I don’t know what my life would have been without Leone in it, but I can’t conceive of being who I am today and having the life I have without her love, help and example.
Her current story is one a lot of my peers may sadly relate to in some form or other.
One moment one can be whislin’ Dixie making plans for where we want to go for Xmas vacation and then, WHAM, one’s filling out reams of insurance forms and calling the handyman to build a ramp.
Here is a true scene from Sunday night.
We, Jeff and I, are heading towards the door with Guy behind us holding on to his walker. We are in a long narrow-ish hallway that leads into the kitchen area from the back family room which has always been Guy’s domain with the couch and huge flat screen TV.
Guy lifts his hand and points to a cane in the corner and says, “Leone makes me use the cane and walk from here into the kitchen if I want to get fed. If I don’t walk, I don’t eat. I call her the General!”
He is smiling as he says it. I hear the Guy I‘ve always known and loved. I hear and see something else, though, which is a glimpse into their journey. A new depth in their love, appreciation, and commitment to each other. I see it in Guys eyes and the way they sparkle like a baby’s when he talks about Leone. I see it in the way he reaches for her hand whenever she is near.
Watching him it occurs to me that their house feels back to the way it’s always felt, except for me last visit when it felt dark and there was a layer of fear and unease.
The house was light and warm. Uplifting to be in, and it was again! Quietly in a subdued way but it was good.
And Leone…the softest, pretty-est, most angelic general in the universe, looks back at her Guy with those same eyes. Patting his head while passing behind him, she lingers and the pat becomes a gentle massage. Lingering, before she continues on with her job of rebuilding their lives.
She’s a life maker, that’s what she is, my friend Leone.
And I’m thinking that whatever it is we said we wanted to be or trained to be or thought we’d be, actor, model, painter, priest, being a Life Maker, helping yourselves and others create and maintain a good life is the ultimate. Thank’s for helping me make mine. You long, tall, Life Maker, you.
Sharing and caring the best travel tip. An airbnb in Malibu on Bluewater . One bedroom , beautifully furnished, wide lawn with a bench looking out at the ocean. Above bang for the buck.
Great weekend fall getaway.
Sorry this was so long…am working on brevity. After unpacking.
We have left our beautiful Little Harvester,( which is what the neighbors call our street) house and are en route to the next Malibu rental. For a year. This next Malibu moment will be for a year and then… who knows !
A huge shout out to the woman who went to Barcelona to learn Spanish this summer and rented us her house. Good on you girl for going, freeing your house to be my intro to life in the Bu. My dream come true!
Be well, Happy Jewish New Year to all and happy day to ever body.
As usual sent with love