Friday, November 30, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Didn't Show Up
Isaac Bashevis Singer reveals, in intimate
detail, a near encounter with a movie star, his
brush with the international press corps, his
pursuit of pleasure, and other wonders.
BY ARTHUR J. MAGIDA
Special to The Jewish News
Marilyn Monroe is coming! Marilyn
Monroe is coming!" Isaac Bashevis Singer
scurried about his apartment, repeating,
almost as if it was an incantation, that the
blond bombshell was on her way from
Hollywood. Singer put papers away, wash-
ed dishes, made his bed. Usually, he is not
one to keep his apartment neat. The man
is a writer, a story teller, the recipient of
a Nobel Prize. Surely he has other things
on his mind. But when Hollywood comes
to West 86th Street, there is reason to
celebrate. When Mrs. Joe Dimaggio
comes, there is reason not only to paint the
town, but even clean the apartment.
Singer hadn't been to the movies in
years. Most of the film stars he knows are
from a generation ago. He remembers
Greta Garbo and Clark Gable and, of
course, Marilyn Monroe (who could forget
her, with her whispery voice and lumines-
cent skin?). He barely remembers anyone
"Marilyn Monroe is coming!
The big day finally came. The doorbell
rang. Singer opened it and peered into the
hallway. False alarm, there was a woman
out there, but her figure wasn't quite
Monroe's. There wasn't even a strand of
that famous blond hair. The woman put
out her hand.
"Mr. Singer, I'm glad to meet you. I'm
The upshot of that meeting, of course,
was Streisand's film, Yentl, a movie that
earned mixed reviews from critics and sca-
thing reviews from Singer. The encounter
also gave Singer more grist for his greatest
passion: story telling.
Isaac Singer loves to tell stories. Stories
are his life. Stories are his love. Often, like
his story of meeting Streisand, his stories
gently poke fun at himself. Often, they
gently poke fun at the rest of us. One story
that Singer relishes happened when he was
swamped by reporters after, his Nobel
Prize was announced.
"They all asked me the same questions,"
Singer said recently. 'Are you happy? Are
you surprised?' I said, 'Sure, I'm sur-
prised.' About happiness, I didn't want to
have discussions. So I said, 'Yes, I'm hap-
py.' This went on for maybe half an hour.
Then came in a new reporter and he asked
the same questions: Are you happy? Are
you surprised?' I said to him, 'How long
can a man be happy? And how long can
a man be surprised? I've already been sur-
priskl. I've already been happy'."
He's a charmer, this man with the white
alabaster skin and the slightly pointed
ears that would serve him well if he ever _
played Puck in "A Midsummer Night's
Dream." He alludes, ever so tactfully, that
his days as a skirtchaser are not over. He
amuses himself and his audience with wry
and tender jokes about himself, the
modern world, the Poland from which he
emigrated 35 years ago and the crazily
frustrating microcosm of the Yiddish
press in which his work still appears before
it is translated into English.
Who would have suspected that the en-
chantment and impishness of Singer's fic-
tions would have worn so well on their
author? Impishness in not what one usual-
ly expects from an octogenarian, a time
when sobriety and somberness and infir-
mity may prevail.
None of this for Singer. He is full of
energy: "As long as God gives it, I'll take
it." He is also full of disillusionment, most
of which doesn't find its way into his
"As a young man, I was disillu-
sioned with the whole world. I am still
disillusioned. I can't criticize the Almighty
— He knew what He was doing. But just
the same, after thousands of years of hav-
ing the Bible and having all those
philosophies, people are still killing each
other. Reading the newspapers every day
to see what's going on in the world is a real
pain. While human intelligence grew over
the years, the human character did not. It
is actually retarded."
But most of all, it seems, Isaac Singer
is full of pleasure. One suspects he courts
pleasure as longingly and as intensely as
a younger man — a much younger man.
Just after he turned 80 last July, Singer
told an interviewer that although he has
a home — he "still steals some of [his]
bachelorhood pleasures." Asked over
breakfast last week what these pleasures
might be, Singer smiled.
"What can they be? I'd rather not go in-
to it. The fact that you are 80 years old
does not mean that you are impotent or
that you cannot love. If you are a healthy
person, you are the same as when you are