Archive for December, 2010


Friday, December 17th, 2010

my idol and surrogate mother, Ruth Conte (google her as Ruth Storey)

That’s what most of her friends called her. Our relationship took a few years to really take off. The night we met, she had already been informed that I was her son’s new girlfriend, not sure if he mentioned that we were madly and newly in love. In the creative and interesting environment that was her living room, I felt inspired to perform the Israeli dances I had learned recently in a high school Middle Eastern dance class. Ruth and her friends seemed taken with me (enchanting was the word they used) and they got up to join me in the spirit of spontaneity. We were off to a great start. It would soon crash and burn and I will admit that it was all my fault.

Ruth’s son Mark and I slept in his mom’s apartment for days on end. We, or rather I, woke up late, very late, and sometimes cranky. I would walk into the kitchen, make myself some cereal, then walk away from the table, having not cleaned up. I also never really pitched in if there was a dinner party. I guess I came off as a bit of a princess. I guess maybe I was. My history is that I was enabled by my own mother, father too, and never asked to help around the house in any way. Never made to clean up, never told to pitch in with the dishes, nothing. In my home, dirty plates & silverware were miraculously cleaned and put away. It was a nearly perfect arrangement for me, except in the real world where I was to become less than an ideal houseguest. Of course, now, in my own home, I love and admire a good guest who enlists in helping out. But I never really was that person.

Mark Conte, on the lawn of Beverly High, very near Ruth\’s house

For a period of time we slept in Mark’s van in the driveway, using the bathroom and yes, not cleaning up. Finally, Ruth had had enough. She kicked us out. For good. The lesson may have taken me nearly a lifetime to learn, but Ruth did the right thing.

Forced to live together, Mark and I found a bungalow in what was then virtually an art colony on Santa Monica beach, close to the pier. In a row of bungalows stretching north, there lived artists, actors and musicians. Spawned from our group of friends here were Bob Englund (later to become Freddie Kruger), David Hasseloff and Ed Carter, who was then with the Beach Boys, and might have been the only one of us making an actual living. I came home from work one day to find Mark had redecorated our home with not just a “splash” of, but all red, including a red wall-to-wall Persian carpet and a small red picnic table. It was so charming and oh, so small. Ruth didn’t visit much and my relationship with her remained strained.

I was getting acting jobs and the more money I made, the more I thought we deserved a bigger, better ocean view. So, we moved up to Malibu, and now the waves splashed at our balcony. When Ruth came to visit I spent the time hiding in my bedroom. Silly me. But I was young and stubborn and didn’t realize what I was missing.
Ruth’s dinner parties were filled with the most interesting group of intellectuals and film makers: Walter and Carol Mathau, Jack and Felicia Lemmon, British directors Jack Clayton with his wife Haya, and Karel Reisz and his wife, the actress Betsy Blair (formerly married to Gene Kelly, himself a sometime guest). The actor Scott Wilson and his wife, Heavenly.  Roger Spottiswoode.  Ruth herself had been an extremely successful stage and screen actress under the name Ruth Storey. Her best friend, a psychiatrist from New York named Janet Kennedy, often came to stay for periods of time. (more…)