My grandmother Mitzi introduced her friend Esther “Kitty” Buhler, who was a fellow writer and screenwriter, to the five-star General Omar Bradley, and they fell in love and married in 1966. The two couples – my grandparents, Sol and Mitzi, and the Bradleys – remained friends and would have dinner now and again.
I think I was nine or ten years old and visiting my grandparents in LA over the summer when they were invited to a dinner party at the Bradley’s home. Instead of arranging for me to stay with other family members, Mitzi called Kitty to ask if I could come along, and sure enough, the invitation was extended to include little me.
I didn’t have anything suitable to wear to such an occasion so Mitzi and I dashed out and bought something nice but my memory is it itched!
As we pulled up to their beautiful home, I was reminded to behave nicely and sit up straight at the dinner table, etc. Of course, I knew the drill. Whenever I was visiting family in LA I went with my grandparents and great aunts and uncles wherever they went – if that meant snoozing against someone’s shoulder in a booth at Nate n’ Al’s while they helped themselves to the bottomless cup and danishes, or nodding politely to conversations at dinner parties, that’s what I did. I had a comfort with much older people and was often the youngest in the room by 50 or 60 years.
It was from these experiences that I learned to listen quietly and subconsciously fell in love with old Hollywood through the many stories I heard about working in the ‘picture’ business.
As we moved into the dining room, I was directed to sit to General Bradely’s left. Suddenly I was nervous. I must have assumed I’d be popped in between Sol and Mitzi, quarantined away from the other adults, and someone important would sit next to the general.
I was awestruck.
Oysters in tiny glasses were served first and with my kid eyes they looked like exactly the last thing I wanted to eat. General Bradley must have been watching my reaction so he said:
‘Kid, you pick up that glass and every time I tap the table with my spoon, you swallow an oyster. Got it?’
Yes, sir! So that’s what I did. I loaded up the first oyster – TAP! Gulp!
Oyster. TAP! Gulp!
Oyster. TAP! Gulp!
I successfully ate a half dozen slimy oysters that way and got to see the famed five-star General Omar Bradley in action.
The rest of the dinner was a blur but I’ll never forget those oysters and the generous but commanding presence of one of the last of a breed of men who were true American leaders.
He died just a few years later in 1981. Kitty survived him by 23 years and only passed away in 2004.