Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/27/2012

Meet David Diamond (July 9, 1915 – June 13, 2005)

Lana

Lana

Last night I tried to watch the 1962 movie Who’s Got the Action? starring Lana Turner and Dean Martin, directed by Daniel Mann. The one-line zinger for its IMDB listing is, “The most riotous bedtime story in years!” It’s available for streaming on Netflix, so I was watching it on my sofa with my laptop conveniently situated, Duh!, on my lap.

Of course, I fell asleep after about fifteen minutes—no reflection on the movie. It’s what almost always happens when I try to watch a movie on my lap. So why on earth would I be watching an (almost second-rate) movie made when I was in high school, starring an actor I can scarcely abide (Dean Martin)?

Because its other star is Lana Turner.

No, I’m not suddenly having a “gay boy” coming of age experience and becoming infatuated with a female Hollywood icon. Or am I?

I can’t tell how I know this, but the composer David Diamond claimed that in the 1940s Lana Turner was his best friend in Hollywood. I can say that, in a letter dated Nov. 82, Diamond’s good friend, composer Ned Rorem (b. October 23, 1923) wrote to Diamond that “We’ve been reading Lana Turner’s book with pleasure.” The letter, like all correspondence between the two that Ned Rorem has published, is signed with great affection: “Dear David, I love you” (1). The “we” is, of course, Rorem and James Holmes, his life partner.

The Lana Turner book he refers to is her then recently-published autobiography, Lana: the Lady, the Legend, the Truth—not the new slick biography pictured here(2). It seems logical, although I’m not going to say it has to be true the way conspiracy theorists on the History Channel proclaim their theories to be true because they have decided it is so, that Ned and Jim would have been reading the book—and mention it to Diamond—because Diamond suggested they read it. They knew, at the very least, it would interest him. Unfortunately the book is not indexed, so I will have to read my newly purchased copy in its entirety to see if Lana mentions David.

It doesn’t really matter if she does. David Diamond knew everyone (well, almost everyone) who was anyone in the world of the arts in the mid-20th century. That’s what one can surmise, judging from reading the secondary material (and it isn’t much) readily available about him. What is readily available confirms Diamond’s almost gad-about life as an openly gay man when there hardly were such persons.

One of the most interesting tidbits (that I have yet to substantiate from any other source) is from the recent biography of George Gershwin by Howard Pollack. He says

[Gershwin’s] An American in Paris subsequently became one of the most performed and recorded orchestral works of the twentieth century . . . However, the work received far wider exposure as the featured ballet of a 1951 MGM film, An American in Paris. The movie was conceived by producer Arthur Freed, who knew the Gershwins and . . . imagined a musical about two young American artists in Paris—a painter and his composer sidekick—modeled after Gershwin and David Diamond (3).

Diamond in Paris

Diamond in Paris

I will soon be in possession of the book My Father & I – Memoirs of Actor Joseph Schildkraut, purchased on EBay for entirely too much money. However, it is inscribed to “Dear Davey,” as in Diamond. Few of us remember who Joseph Schildkraut was, but at one time (around 1940?) he was one of those used-to-be-very-famous Hollywood silent screen actors. However, the New York Times on November 20, 1936, reviewed the movie The Garden of Allah starring Marlene Dietrich. The review lists supporting actors.

Basil Rathbone and C. Aubrey Smith are excellent in fleeting supporting rôles. Joseph Schildkraut is a gay and lively Batouch; John Carradine a truly foreboding sand diviner; and Tilly Losch a pleasing Ouled-Nail girl (4).

Why do I have the book? Another bit of David Diamond stuff with which I hope to piece together lively and fascinating articles about Diamond. How did he know Schildkraut? Was Schildkraut gay in more than the traditional sense of the word? Did Diamond know Dietrich? Rathbone? Carradine? Schildkraut went on, of course, to play Otto Frank, Anne’s father in The Diary of Anne Frank, both on Broadway and in the film. All of this is part of the gossipy sort of stuff I love about David Diamond.

Diamond had something of a friendship with Jack Kerouac. In her new Kerouac biography, Joyce Johnson tells of their first meeting:

Diamond, a notorious gossip who had bragged to Stringham about his friendship with Alfred Kazin and who might be especially generous in advancing the career of such a good-looking young writer, was the contact Stringham had in mind. The meeting with Jack went almost better than Stringham could have predicted, with Diamond, who made no secret of the fact that he was gay, immediately dropping the names of Aaron Copland, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Lana Turner. . .(5).

However, the friendship did not turn out well because the “notorious gossip” somehow managed to insult Kerouac.

Beneath the phrasing of Diamond’s “insults,” he’d heard a message that struck at what little sense of belonging he had recently acquired—the implication that a Canuck like Jack Kerouac could never be welcomed into David Diamond’s rarefied world of elegant and supposedly mature artists. Diamond had insulted his family, Jack felt, and even his God. Soon he was referring to Diamond as his “Faust” (6).

And so, these are some dribs and drabs of the mounting volume of material I have about David Diamond. Little of this makes sense yet, and certainly very little of it can I claim is scholarly. But I’m too old to write about such things as the analysis of musical form. Besides, no one reading this would be interested. So at this point I will keep my writing to the lighter side of Diamond’s life until I can piece together something scholarly to publish in real journals.

The Cutie Diamond

The Cutie Diamond

In the meantime, back to Lana. The first of her seven husbands (eight marriages) was Artie Shaw, the big band clarinetist. David Diamond taught Artie Shaw composition. Perhaps all of Diamond’s “gossip” was not made up.
______________
(1) Rorem, Ned. Wings of Friendship: Selected Letters, 1944-2003. Berkeley, CA: 2005.
(2) Turner, Lana. Lana, the Lady, the Legend, the Truth. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1982.
(3) Pollack, Howard. George Gershwin: His Life and Work. University of California Press, Jan 15, 2007 (442-443).
(4) J.T.M. “The Music Hall’s ‘Garden of Allah’ Is Technicolor Triumphant – ‘Tarzan Escapes’ at the Capitol — Two Films Open Here Today.” Movie Review. New York Times, November 20, 1936.
(5) and (6) Johnson, Joyce. The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.

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Responses

  1. […] for—what else?—material relating to the real subject of my research, the American composer, David Diamond. He found listed on EBay a book, the autobiography of Joseph Schildkraut, with an inscription by […]

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  2. […] of the Epiphany or Gismonda. But the question is even more confused. W.H. Auden was a friend of David Diamond. I’ve known Auden’s “For the Time Being” since I participated in a dramatic reading of it […]

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  3. […] beat poets were my favorites in high school and college. I’ve written about Kerouac in earlier posts. I once tried writing on a roll of toilet paper (being as susceptible as the next guy to urban […]

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