It’s a little more than a year since my good friend the actor Kevin McCarthy passed away – September 11th 2010. He was 96. He’d been a friend since I first went to work in Hollywood and I spent much of my time there living in his and Kate’s house in Sherman Oaks, enjoying liberal and sophisticated hospitality and something of the atmosphere of East Coast exile.
Kevin was the brother of the great novelist Mary McCarthy. Their parents had died during a train journey, in the great flu pandemic of 1918. The orphaning and subsequent trials of the siblings was a founding theme of Mary’s writing, and Kevin spoke of it.
Kevin studied at the Actors’ Studio in New York, had a great theatre and movie career, was close pals with the likes of Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut and many more, and was a great friend and mentor to me. (I once found a magazine photo showing Jimmy Dean sitting in front of him in an Actors’ Studio class – Kevin hadn’t remembered him as a fellow student).
Thinking about him a year after his death, I remember one of the outstanding experiences of my own frequent if intermittent exiles in Los Angeles. Kevin was a member of a lunch circle that met at Musso & Frank’s famous Hollywood diner. I was lucky enough to be invited along and play the foreign guest and whippersnapper.
Around the table in the leather-settee booth were some of the greats of the industry – Robert Wise, director of West Side Story and Sound of Music, Walter Seltzer, veteran producer and one-time business partner of Burt Lancaster, comic actor Pat Harrington, movie stalwart Jimmy Karin, Charles Jarrett, Bob King, Ronan O’Casey – and Kevin.
I remember a lot of white omelettes got ordered, and some serious cocktails. The stories were nonstop and hilarious. One had me embarrass myself by losing a mouthful of water I hadn’t had time to swallow before the punchline.
One of my greater Hollywood achievements was to get a laugh out of the group; when they started sharing how many of them carried a plastic card that showed a foreign undertaker that they had paid to repatriate their bodies if they died abroad. I inquired whether they got air miles.
Many of the group, perhaps most, are gone now. Kevin’s death was reported around the world. He’d been famous since his early days as the star of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but had done much else since.
He had become Montgomery Clift’s best friend and his Hollywood roots seemed to stretch back forever. He was older than my father but he existed in a time-frame all of his own, eternally energetic, friendly, optimistic, funny and encouraging.
It was – and may still be – a habit of Brits to somehow look down on Los Angeles and its assumed vulgarities, but I always enjoyed being there and indeed it’s the subject of a novel I’m about to publish (and dedicate to Kevin). For myself, my time with the McCarthys and my Musso & Frank lunches were highlights of my working life.
I’m having lunch at The Groucho with a friend next week but as I look around the dining room, I doubt I’ll hear the kind of laughter and overhear the fast repartee or the good-natured and sometimes hilarious overspill from seemingly bottomless wells of working experience that Kevin’s magic lunch circle generated.
Strip joint-owner Jack Ruby, the Dallas Mob, the CIA and the assassination of JFK.
Starring Danny Aiello and Sherilyn Fenn.
Directed by John MacKenzie.
Screenplay by Stephen Davis from his play Love Field.
See Ruby at the IMDB
Tommy Lee Jones stars as CIA officer Steve Daley trying to unravel the riddle of high-level KGB defector Yuri Nosenko (Oleg Rudnik).
The real-life espionage case that started a secret war inside the CIA.
Screenplay by Stephen Davis.
View the details for the film at the IMDB