A Death in Summer

by A. Jay Adler on August 5, 2010
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Among the many varied jobs of my misdirected young manhood – filling orders, on a rolling cart, in a watchband warehouse; selling wine to the upper crust of Manhattan’s Upper East Side; shuttling in my taxi among the island’s singles bars, heterosexual and gay, until 5 a.m., ferrying home the whacked out and the happily buzzed, the lucky and the not, and the tips to match, then falling asleep in my 8 a.m. sociology class at City College – was a job selling driving lessons over the telephone for the Automobile Club of America Driving School. We were a colorful crew, we voices in glass cubicles at Madison Avenue and Thirty Fifth Street, the better to be monitored, as well as overheard to be sure we kept to the script. We were future physicists and opera singers, only mildly bitchy and very kind, but unkempt and disheveled queens – just to wreck your typology – and voice artists who finally made the big bucks and left when his brother produced a landmark documentary history of the Olympic Games and gave him the voice over narration gig.

Amazingly, we mostly all liked each other, mostly because we were all committed to having fun through the long stretches of occasional calls, and then the madhouse ringing after the TV ads came on that were then, in the mid 70s, ubiquitous on the New York airwaves. We’d pop from cubicle to cubicle to share the latest absurdity of the latest call – sing or intone or render disquisition. Once, having asked according the script in which borough (of the city) the caller wished to take his lessons – consider my hands to have made whatever gesture over my beating heart your oath taking requires – the elderly Hispanic man with whom I conversed replied, “Oh, no, I don’t want de boorow, I want de caaar.” I quickly placed the call on hold and stumbled out into the corridor convulsed in laughter for all to see. Joined by my fellows for the cause of my attack, we were soon all in an uproar of hilarity, at which point I was stood straight and directed back into my glass booth like a woozy fighter pushed back into the fray.

On another occasion, having flirted quite stirringly with the young woman to whom I sold a lesson, I later inquired with the Bronx office manager, to whom I explained my interest. I was informed that the lesson had been canceled on account of the young lady’s not being able to fit behind the wheel. For the next week, in Auto Club offices all throughout the city, whenever the doldrums threatened, my erotic longing was invoked to lighten the mood.

But of all the fun-loving characters at the driving school, none was more so than Antony Alda, who could deliver the pitch and contort his face with a mock-heroic, lunatic sincerity for his fellows to see, above and beyond all other comparatively meager talents. Antony was the younger – by twenty years – half-brother of Alan Alda, both the sons of Robert Alda. Robert was a star of stage and screen in the 40s and 50s, and still working in later decades, though eclipsed in fame by his oldest son and little known to later generations. I was 22, then 23, when we worked at the driving school; Antony turned 19. He was attending Julliard and earning some money of his own.

For about two years, Antony and I were quite good friends, pitching in to paint each other’s apartments, commiserating with each other over the pains of young manhood. But while I was twenty-three perhaps some years older than I was, Antony was 19 going on 18. He was a born comedian and Antony – in impromptu pastiche, practical joke, or absurd insight – just wanted to have fun. Dramatically handsome with his face in repose, he had the broadest, toothiest grin I ever saw until I met Julia, and truth be told, maybe still. When he smiled or laughed, the mouth expanded to take up half his face, and his eyes flared very wide, as if God had just shared with him the ultimate scandalous secret.

I attended Antony’s wedding to Leslie Clark at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue and then the reception at the old Biltmore Hotel in Manhattan, across the street from Grand Central Station. (Amorously delayed with my lover at the time, we arrived in the church as Antony and Leslie were marching post ceremony up the aisle. Antony, who knew well my habitual tardiness, pointed at us as we scurried for a bench and laughed.) After the grand affair, Tony and Leslie repaired with all their peers to a hotel suite for hours more of celebration. I remember, still, Robert Alda, beaming in the joy of his youngest’s marriage, entering the suite and cupping my face with his hand in the beneficent pleasure he had to share with everyone that day.

At some point after, Antony and Leslie moved to Los Angeles. We lost contact. We were both so young, and the friendship had grown up around the driving school and its little community, and that was over. But then, maybe a year later, fleeing that terribly mistaken love affair and a life gone increasingly awry, I moved to L.A. too. My older brother, Jeff, had already moved out to seek his fortunes (in those days, it seemed everyone moved to California, or wanted to), and he and some New York friends had opened an antique importing and exporting business, and two stores. I went to work unloading forty-foot containers from England and making repairs at the back of the Abbott Kinney shop in Venice. Still have the bad back as a marker.

One late afternoon, heading back to Jeff’s Malibu apartment without him, so without transportation, I was hitch hiking home up the Pacific Coast Highway. A sedan that decided late to stop for me pulled over some distance up the road. I ran in its direction to see the driver and passenger emerge and begin to run toward me. It was Antony and Leslie.

“It’s the Arn!” Tony shouted. We reveled in the happy serendipity that would have been a delight to any person, but was a wonder of the universe to Tony. The two of them were at that moment headed to Robert Alda’s Sunset Boulevard apartment, at the boulevard’s end on the coast, for dinner with Alan and his family. I had, of course, to join them, and did. Alan had not been at the wedding, so I met him only that evening – the far older brother, whom Antony, the kid, wanted to be funny for his friend, but who, a sober adult, preferred not to perform over dinner. It was, instead, a lovely and warm family gathering.

The three of us spent time together again. Leslie confided to me that there were early difficulties in the marriage. Antony had a band, and, staying up late, jamming and cutting up with his friends – as if he weren’t, quite, married – was leaving Lori feeling the marriage neglected. Antony, despite the opportunities that might have been open to him for an acting career, wanted to make a life as musician instead, He never told me specifically that he wanted to make a different way from that of his father and brother, but it would be surprising if that didn’t play some role in his choice, however unaware he may have been of it.

It was a happy reunion for the three of us, but after only three months in L.A., I decided not to run away from my troubled emotional life and the life I really wanted, which was in New York. I went home, and I never saw or spoke to Antony or Leslie again.

Sometimes over the years, especially after the internet changed all our lives, I would search for what I could learn of Tony. It seemed he never made it big as a musician, at least as leaving one’s name in public records is a sign of it, and he did act. He did a MASH with his father and brother. He had a recurring role on a Soap. I think there had been a pilot or two, never picked up for production. That was about all I could learn.

A couple of nights ago, in preparation for the visit of one of my oldest friends from New York – l live now, oddly enough, in Los Angeles – I was doing some research into activities that she and I and another old high school friend who lives in L.A. might pursue during the week. I was looking into some theater we might see, checking out the latest show at the Mark Taper Forum. It is Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and I noted, on my computer screen, that in its cast is an actor named Ian Alda. Of course, I had to investigate.

Though I have lived in Los Angeles, now, for eighteen years, I never sought to find Antony, whom I last saw over thirty years ago. This had nothing to do with Tony. Julia, like the small town girl she is, though living far from that town, lives with her past as beside the houses of her neighbors on their quiet street. They are all there beside her each morning as she exits the door, a continuing part of her life, and the nourishing, ever expanding and growing community of her history. For me, the past is like the great, dark urban metropolis from which I emerged. The homes of friends can be found there, and the sunlight and music of childhood, but there are also old, forbidding houses at the end of lonely streets, dark alleys where bad things happened, interesting neighborhoods where something was lost and that I just stopped visiting. When something ended, and lots of things ended, I didn’t go back to it.

Sure enough, I quickly discovered from the many links that appeared before my eyes, that Ian Alda is Antony’s son. The twenty year old, the exuberant boy whom I remembered, had naturally not frozen in life as he had remained frozen in my memory. He had a grown son, probably not that far from the age at which I remember the father. And then – oh, I imagine it would be a sight, to look at the eyeballs of a face scanning the search results on a computer screen, rapidly wandering, darting and shifting – a word among all the random words jumped out, as if it had become bolded and raised from the screen – the word “died.”

Antony died last year, just over a year ago, on July 3, 2009, at the age of 52.

By now it was about 2 a.m. People who get emails from me, if they check the time, will know that I stay up late. I sleep only a few hours a night. For me, these days, feeling the press of time and of things to be done, and like a character in a story I’m currently working on, “sleep is just time taken away, death making deposits on a layaway plan, but I don’t want to sell.”

I searched more. There wasn’t much. Antony and Leslie had not made it. Tony had married Lori in 1981, and they divorced in the early 90s. There were some rumors about how he died. I found nothing authoritative, but the blog of friend said it had been from a liver disease. At 52.

And then I found the video on YouTube that had been made for Antony’s memorial service by his sons – he had two sons, the other named Zan. I caught up in this meager way, a little, on Tony’s life. There were photographs and home movies, excerpts from TV shows and films. In most of them, he was very much the young man I knew. Near the end, I got to see the man I never knew, forty and older, now no longer alive. People left comments, loving and appreciative. Someone wrote something about Tony not always having made the best choices in life. I know something about that.

It was now 3 a.m. and my sorrow was deep and discombobulated. Memory. Antony was only 20 years old for me. How could he have died? Somehow, I had entered A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.”

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

I thought that if I searched for Tony on the internet, I would find him there as I knew him, cyberspace and its universe of information somehow a reflection of the lies that memory tells, a place where time stops to preserve what we seek there, a Valhalla of eternal youth and promise.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Finally, I sought the sleep I resist.

* * *

Before Antony was married, he and Leslie lived for a time in New York in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. They invited me to have dinner there with both their parents. Just the parents, Antony and Leslie, and me. Tony wanted me to meet his father. And his father, he said, just had to meet “the Arn.”

When it came time for the dinner itself, I was told that the parents wanted to serve the young people. Tony and Leslie and I would eat first, and only after, the parents. I can’t recall anymore what I thought of that. It was a spacious apartment, so the three of us sat at a large dining table while the elder Aldas delivered to us what were pretty meager portions of soup. The conversation was a bit stiff and subdued. Then Robert Alda and his wife served up the main course, for each of us a plate with a single slice of beef, a couple of small new potatoes, and a few leaves of lettuce. Tony commented on how good the food looked.  I began to cut into my single slice of beef, when the room became a din of laughter.

“Did you see his face!”

“He was trying so hard to act normal!”

“He couldn’t believe his eyes!”

Antony was pointing at me, his mouth wide as a cave, his eyes ablaze with the joy of a joke. He was cackling. “Look at the Arn! He was just going to keep quiet and eat it!”

In a moment, bowls of pasta and salad, a side of beef, bread and cheese and wine all flowed from the kitchen in a hubbub of talk and laughter and the pleasure of the delicious practical joke hors d’œuvre that had been served.

I felt very loved.

* * *

In 2001, Antony wrote and directed a film called Role of a Lifetime, starring Scott Bakula and himself. There is an excerpt of it in the memorial film. Tony’s character says to Bakula,

“Isn’t it funny how you never know you’re asleep until you wake up? Like, if you didn’t wake up, you’d never know your were asleep.”

AJA

———-


18 comments

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul J. Biondi July 24, 2013 at 3:06 am

I Love Tony and aways will. I had the GREAT oppertunity to play music ,record and hang out with him in Los Angeles. I aways think of him and all the wonderful people who’s lives he touched. Paul J. Biondi
(541)746-6222
Eugene, Oregon

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David Carrell July 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Lori, Ian, and Zan Alda are my cousins. I am very grateful to a Facebook friend who sent this blog to me on this date, 7/21/13. I realize it was written three years ago, but I just saw it for the first time, today. I was deeply saddened when Tony (Antony) passed away. Though Lori and Tony had divorced years before Tony’s passing, Lori was always very attentive to Tony’s needs, especially when Tony became ill. He welcomed her attention to his needs. He trusted her, depended heavily on her, and knew she had his best interest at heart. Tony was very kind to me. He was able to get me into NBC Studios in Burbank to watch a taping of “Days of Our Lives” where he portrayed the role of Johnny Corelli. Tony was able to get me backstage and the office areas of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Tony was also able to get an audience seat for me to see the show during taping. It was very interesting to see the pre-taping rehearsals & sound checks of Diana Ross. Mel Brooks was the other guest. It was fun to banter with him (Brooks) in “the green room.” Tony was a fun-loving, humorous, witty and charismatic person. He loved his family and his friends. This blog by A.J. Adler and the kind comments are heartwarming to me, and I am sure they are appreciated as warm tributes to Tony, by Lori, Ian and Zan.

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patty & cabot abel May 2, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Lori, if you are out there…… Remember us?? Braces & straight teeth? I have always thought of you two so many times over the years. I hope all is well for you. So sorry to hear of Tony’s passing. With all my love. Patty

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Rob January 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Sorry I’m only seeing some of these earlier posts for the first time as they bring back memories from my misspent yute in NYC.

I only met Antony through M*A*S*H reruns, and I remember that episode. Alan and his father had to perform an operation together, but their characters were feuding over procedure ( I think). And each was wounded and had use of only one hand. Antony was the medic who kept urging them to cooperate for the sake of the wounded soldier. So they operated together, one using the right hand, the other the left. Can’t say for sure, but I seem to remember that episode mirroring real-life in some way.

This is a true gem, Jay.

As for Automobile Club of America… unforgettable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0hC0BzuD28

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Karen Hammer January 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I met Antony in a music theory class at Juilliard in 1975. We were only friends for a short time–he and I and another friend named Rodrigo, talked and laughed and got to know each other pretty well. He was a lovely person. Genuine, beautiful, a smile to end all smiles, and a wonderful soul. I was very sorry to hear of his passing, and hope so much that most of his life brought him joy. Thanks for the post about him. (-:

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Mary Ann Carroll Hopkins October 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

Thank you for the post. I too looked for information about Tony. I dated him for 2 years in Rome. I was attending MaryMount. The rides on his bike thru the city, watching his band play. Sunday dinner with his family.
I just found out that he had passed 5 days before my father. Tony was a very funny sweet guy I always wanted to know wht happen to him. He was far to young. He will forever be in my memory.

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Nick Parrella October 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Great recounting of your time with Tony Jay. I too was very close to Tony in the long ago years of high school at Notre Dame. In fact I see DeSabatino left a comment. Hey Roberto, Tommy Thomas told told me about his visit with you. But Jay, you really nailed Tony’s smile. It was warm and wide. I lost touch with Tony shortly after his marriage to Lori. I had just joined the Air Force and the last I saw of Tony was when I visited him and Lori in Van Nuys, CA. Tony was working with his band. They sounded good, Tony always had a nice hook in his songs. Anyway thanks for sharing your memory Jay, I have always thought about Tony though the years and so regret not getting to see and talk to him anymore. I have some memories though, what memories they are.

Tony Forever,

Nick Parrella

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A. Jay Adler October 2, 2012 at 1:27 am

Nick, it is very gratifying to receive the comments this post does from people who knew Tony at varied times in his life and whom he so clearly touched. I have meant to respond to all who have commented, and failed to sometimes. I know how much this post is read – a lot, and regularly – and it pleases me to know that it has become a kind of meeting place for people who fell away from his life, as people do fall away from each other over the course of their lives. I got to reconnect with Leslie, Tony’s first wife, as a result of this remembrance, and I got to know Lori just a little bit too. I can only imagine Tony pleased by it all.

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Inge Duncan Williams July 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I wrote a fan letter to Antony around 1968 or 1969. We were both the same age born in 1956. I saw him in a TV move I think for Disney. I sent him a picture of myself & he wrote me back a pretty long letter. The return address was Flushing, NY. I asked my to write back but I don’t think I did as we were in the process of moving to another state & I just bought a horse so I was preocupied with all that. What a handsome man he turned out to be. He died way to young. I’m hoping someday I will come across that letter. It was so sweet. Inge Duncan Williams

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Robert DeSabatino July 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Tony and I were in high school together at Notre Dame School in Rome. We were very good friends….I would often go to his house and jam with him. When we graduated, he went his way and I went mine. I saw him briefly in New York in 1975 where he invited me to stay with him for a few days. I joined the Navy in 1978 and a year later, I was back in Rome at my favorite English speaking movie theatre, the Pasquino, when I run into Tony and his girlfriend. We spent a wonderful week together at my grandfather’s house in the Abruzzi. When I left the service, I tried to reconnect with Tony but to no avail. Couldn’t find him. And now he’s gone….RIP amico mio.

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Antony with an H July 12, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Thank you for sharing your memories. The mark of good writing is when the reader is left with feeling as if they were there, kudos. Having grown up (a dubious proclamation to be sure) in NYC I had to endure those Leo Weiser commercials which is actually what led me here (blame Leo and Google). What a sad yet enjoyable diversion your story was. Thanks again, Anthony

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A. Jay Adler July 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Anthony, thanks for your comment. It’s gratifying. I won’t ask what possessed you to search for Leo Weiser on the web, but I will tell you that I met him once. On some sweltering special occasion night in 1975, he treated all of the phone operators to dinner at the long touristy and already well-faded Mama Leone’s.

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robert May 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I knew Atony for a short time as a teen. He used to hang out with a friend in Bayside NY in the early 70′s or so.
Sad to hear of his passing.

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Don Frabotta December 14, 2010 at 8:00 am

I’m in shock. I just found out…one year and a half after the fact.
I had worked with Antony on Days Of Our Lives and had also worked with his father, Robert, years earlier on the same show….and had worked on a pilot written by Alan….they all had that same laugh and smile and love of life. Thank you for your story. I only knew him the time he was on the soap, but he stayed in my memory book…and will.

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A. Jay Adler December 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Don, it’s a remarkable human trait to want to share grief with others, to receive some solace from doing it. You felt the need to offer your feelings; I feel somehow bolstered a bit by your doing it. Thanks.

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Lynn white August 13, 2010 at 7:43 am

A beautiful tribute, and beautifully written.

Still, I am glad we got to hear you tell the story over dinner .

Best,

Lynn

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Maureen August 6, 2010 at 6:31 am

This is a terrific post, Jay. I both laughed and grew very, very quiet.

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