Dee, Flo & Edith

The losses have been high the past couple weeks. First we lost Dee George. I’ll miss her lovely pixie face, her wry wit, her laugh and her poems. She even published a newsletter for a time, just because she loved a good laugh and the delightful turn of a phrase.

Then there was Florido Testa. Flo and I parked in the same lot. I kept track of which side of the lot I could park in, on which day, using his truck as a guidepost. His wife Nancy told me he kept a calendar in the truck. Why didn’t I think of that? He was a hard working man, a contractor. He loved his work, it gave him purpose. Often he’d present me with a fine cigar; a sense of pride rippling through his generosity. I loved our neighborly alley or parking lot chats. He was curious; head tilted, eyes inquiring, interested in what you had to say. He was a good listener. He was a good man.

The same day we lost Flo we lost Edith Lutyens Bel Geddes. I first met Edith nearly 20 years ago. She was my neighbor. She was married to Norman Bel Geddes, the brilliant Art Deco designer. His daughter Barbara Bel Geddes was her stepdaughter.

Edith was a tough, strong willed woman and always a lady. She was ageless to me, even as she approached 95. Physically she was small and very beautiful, in Hollywood terms, she had good bones. I never saw photographs from her youth, but my guess is she was a stunning beauty; a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Garbo. She had a soft quiet voice, the kind you leaned close to hear.

Edith was born in Brussels, grew up in London, spoke French fluently. Returning to Belgium, she became a fencing champion. She lived in London during World War II, ran a dress shop and found her love of design. Edith had an exquisite eye for color and light and shape.

Following the war she came to New York. There she made and designed costumes for theatre and ballet. She designed costumes on Broadway for “The Crucible” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Anthony and Cleopatra,” Orson Well’s “Around The World In 80 Days,” and many, many others. She worked with Cheryl Crawford and Eva Le Gallienne, even with Edith Head on Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Trouble With Harry.”

She once told me a story about Broadway and film producer Michael Todd, who was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. It seems Todd had seen a play on Broadway that Edith had designed. He was planning a show and wanted her to be the costume designer, so his secretary called and made an appointment for Edith to come and meet with Mr. Todd.

Edith loved poodles because they are so intelligent. She always had two poodles; often their names were Anthony and Cleopatra. Edith arrived for her meeting with Michael Todd with her two poodles in tow. The secretary showed her into Mr. Todd’s office. Todd sat behind a large desk. He had several dial telephones on his desk. This was before push buttons and multi-line phones and long before cell phones.

Todd, chewing on a cigar, was clenching three phone receivers in his hands, sometimes speaking into one, sometimes into all three at once. In the midst of his phone juggling act he motioned for Edith to take a seat in the leather club chair directly in front of his desk. Edith sat and waited. Twenty minutes passed. All the while Michael Todd was discoursing, occasionally shouting into one or more of the phones. Edith was becoming impatient and offended with Todd’s insolence at keeping her waiting. The poodles were also becoming edgy and restless, pacing and tugging at their leashes. Finally Edith scolded the dogs. “Stop it, now. Lie down,” she told them, speaking in French. They obeyed.

With that Michael Todd dropped all the phone receivers onto his desk, jumped up and dashed into an adjoining office. He quickly returned with several staff members. He ushered them to the center of the room, pointed directly at Edith’s poodles and exclaimed, “These dogs! These dogs speak French!”

Edith loved to cook. She taught me to poach fish, her favorite. “It’s difficult to get a whole fish here at the supermarket,” she would lean close, whispering as if she were imparting a great secret, “I don’t know why, but they always want to cut the head off.”

Edith loved to entertain. Gatherings on her veranda were joyous; delectable food and drink, sunsets over the Catskills, captivating conversation, laughter. The image of August Renoir’s “Le Dejeuner des Canotiers” comes to mind. Had I been Edith’s age in the 1920’s and known her, it would have been difficult not to be in love with her.

Dee, Flo and Edith all shared one thing in common, a love of life, a joy of living. Saroyan wrote, “In the time of your life, live.” They most certainly did. We are poorer today that they are gone, but richer in our souls for having known them.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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