“THE DAY I MET A MIDNIGHT COWBOY”
A Hollywood Memory
He approached me at the service counter.
Clutched in his hand : something in a small paper bag.
The shy little man spoke elegantly; he was thinking about custom framing an item of personal importance and sought my expertise.
This was 1986.
I’d abandoned Hollywood in 83’ fleeing my fanciful dreams of an Art career, shambling back into the womb of my hometown in Fort Worth, Texas.
On the edge of my “Cowtown” I was managing an Art Gallery and frame shop. I may as well have been a balloon salesman on the dark side of the moon.
I had plenty of downtime, however.
I could read, write and - best of all - play out loud my record collection as I
Performed custom-framing tasks for a few locals who patronized this little shop on the edge of nowhere.
I’ve always been a person who savors meeting interesting people.
This man in the tweed coat clutching a crumpled paper bag appeared to be just such a prize!
For one thing ...
There was an elegance behind this man’s words of great interest to me. Don't ask me why----why do dogs chase cars?
We briefly chatted--nothing earth shaking--but not ordinary chit chat by any means.
He introduced himself.
A question popped into my head. I couldn’t help myself.
“You’re a writer.”
He froze as though I had told him he was under arrest.
Odd reaction, I thought.
He made a face and reached into his coat jacket--the kind with patches on the elbows--and produced a business card he deftly proffered. . . as though I had asked for it.
Before I read this card, I gave him a once over glance.
He looked to be maybe 70 or so and almost certainly a boozer. You know the look.
He had prominent cheekbones, ears that stood out on the sides of his head, a calming baritone voice and deep circles under amazingly intelligent eyes.
There was a glint behind those curious orbs; the eyes of somebody who’s been places and seen things.
I lowered my gaze to his offering.
His card held a tiny line drawing of a court jester with two things under it.
"Easy Does It."
What was I supposed to say?
I lifted my eyebrows a little. He could tell I’d never heard of him.
He changed expressions and spoke quietly.
"I wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY, does that count?"
I snorted involuntarily. Instantly regretting it sounded like an accusation.
"Waldo Salt wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY." (I asserted warily.)
He shook his head sadly, "How well I know."
The know-it-all inside me added abruptly, "His daughter, Jennifer Salt, was an actress in the film."
He cocked his head and squinted.
"How do you know these things?"
He inquired with genuine curiosity.
I use to show off a lot back in those days.
The only reason I knew Waldo Salt wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY was that I owned soundtrack recordings by John Barry. He’d also composed THE DAY of the LOCUST. (Another Waldo Salt screenplay.)
How often back then I would sit with the album cover in my hands as I listened and read the credits and liner notes. A ritual.
“I pay attention.” I decided I could play coy.
He quickly changed the subject but didn't seem offended by my challenging tone.
He rummaged inside the crinkled paper bag and extracted a small lapel pin and slid it across the counter.
"What do you suggest for a frame?"
The pin was not quite round. It felt like gold. On top it read “Easy Does it” and on the bottom, “First Things First.”
I found out later from a friend, it was connected to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Quickly I offered a couple of choices for a shadow box frame and suede mat. There would be a spacer for the glass--sort of like an award or presentation. He quietly nodded, pointed to his choice and I wrote up the sale.
A week later, one of my favorite people, Carol Ann Raines visited my shop. She had been a mentor in all things art, music, and writing when I was a shy and scrawny teen with no social graces.
She believed in my talents and encouraged my pursuits. Carol Ann collected 'interesting' people as she went through life. I was a part of her collection.
"Terry, I need to pick up something you framed for a friend of mine named Easy Davenport."
I couldn't help myself, I laughed and blurted: "Oh, you mean screenwriter Waldo Salt."
Carol Ann's face contorted into astonishment. I had floored her!
"How in the world did you know that, Terry? He keeps his identity a secret. I'm the only person he has told because he and I go to the same A.A. meeting."
Well, now it was my turn to be floored.
For a different reason
I had not the least clue my mentor Carol Ann was any less than perfection itself.
Was she saying she was an alcoholic? Secondly--she corroborated the little man’s claim - he was REALLY Waldo Salt!
Quickly I sorted priorities and decided not to react.
There are days in your life you will remember forever after. This was turning out to be exactly that sort of day.
"I know things, Carol. I'm mysterious"
She flashed a radiant an appreciative smile at my humor.
Carol Ann began to regale me with all manner of mind-boggling details about Mr. Waldo Salt.
In the early 1950’s Waldo Salt was blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to testify in Washington before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.
Although he later won Academy Awards and other honors, he remained bitter over the loss of others' careers and his own ordeal.
It turned out he had written some pretty famous films, too.
HUMORESQUE, ETHAN FROME, THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, COMING HOME.
Sadly, during the dark years of the Hollywood Blacklist, there were several uncredited rewrites on THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and he did not return to writing under his own name and earning film credits until the early 1960s.
As I listened to Carol Ann, I gave a long, loud whistle hearing all this infamous history pouring out.
"Why do you suppose he told you who he was, Terry?"
"From a few words of conversation. . . I figured out he was a writer. I nailed it.."
She looked like a doting mother whose son had made her proud.
"All any of us want in life, Terry, is to be truly known for who we are."
As it turned out, Waldo Salt would die the very next year, 1987, from lung cancer.
The day I met him and spoke to him, he did not seem well. In fact, he seemed wearily resigned to fate.
There was a bit of the court jester in his banter and always the hint of a smile that never quite came out to shine. He was sort of like the sunny day that never was.
I’ve discovered a conversation mentioning Waldo, with writer Joe Eszterhad (Basic Instinct.)
“I learned this trick from screenwriter Waldo Salt (‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Day of the Locust’). He’d finish his script and then tear six or seven pages out of it and turn the script into the studio. The studio execs would sometimes — not always — notice that something seemed to be missing from a sequence and suggest that he fill it in with some scenes. Seemingly acting on their suggestions, he would then put the pages that he had torn out back into the script. The studio executives would then praise him for listening to, and acting upon, their suggestions.” —Joe Eszterhas