For some reason I was lonely, even though my dream of being a professional actress was coming true.
He seemed lonely too.
One day he was just there. He appeared in the lobby of the Maiden Lane Theatre on 44th Street. I was rehearsing my first New York City show, a revival of Under the Yum Yum Tree. He was pleasant looking, tall, a bit overweight. He had graying hair. I was 23 years old. He was in his mid 60s.
He wanted to be with me.
We didn’t talk much, although we made good company on strolls through the theatre district, lunch on park benches, and once—between a Saturday matinée and evening performance—on the couch in the manager’s office at Maiden Lane. That afternoon we lay there next to one another—that’s all. Just being close to someone was life-giving.
One night after the show, he took me to Lindy’s around the corner from the theatre. We had a chef’s salad and Lindy’s famous cheesecake. He said he knew the owners. I wondered how he knew them. Were they of the infamous “Spaghetti” family? Did he work for them in some way? And then a couple of days later, he came to find me at Maiden Lane. Marianne, another cast member, and her husband, who happened to be the director, told him not to come around anymore. Maybe they thought he was too old for me. Or that he was a gangster. Like me, they viewed him with vague, perhaps unfair suspicion.
I never did see him—Gene Tunney—again.
A world heavyweight champion boxer, Gene took the crown from Jack Dempsy in 1926. In his youth, he had been called the Athlete for Christ. I wonder who he was the athlete for, in mine.