For most of us our most attractive moments are due to being happy deep inside. So it was with Pam when we first met. At seventeen she was just entering the world at large as her own person, and all that was good was before her.
She had already a grand future in mind to become an actress in the theatre. Being born a princess along with the natural enthusiasm of youth, there had never been any episode in her life to make her believe she wouldn’t fulfill that destiny. Everything was going as planned as she methodically approached her goal: the summer before she had apprenticed with Jack and Richard, and the following spring she stared in the senior class play at the Chapin School to everyone’s applause.
Obviously the special reserved seating for her grandparents and family attending that performance to which I was invited indicated that everybody at that exclusive school knew who buttered their bread. I suspect that a lump sum was duly tendered so that this nice Jewish girl could enjoy the benefits of this old money, waspish enclave. Pam was not blind to the understanding of her special status and how these things really worked.
She also understood the social aspirations of her grandmother Mitzie, who was not thrilled when years before Si chose Pam’s very middleclass, earth-bound mother as his bride. Possibly she was more pleased with Si’s second marriage to the tall, sophisticated, waspish Victoria, an architectural historian in her own right.
I suppose Pam’s grandfather bought Conde Nast for the glamour it bestowed upon Mitzie as much as it was a wise diversification from investments in his newspaper chain that brought in the bulk of their revenues. Si’s brother Donald would eventually run that part of the business, leaving Si to attend to the more glamorous properties.
And, of course, Si had his own ambitions for Pam’s future. One evening in the grand painting salon he mused out loud the wish that maybe the then unmarried Prince Charles might be interested, to which Pam dismissed: “Oh, I’m sure that’s just who Prince Charles is looking for- a nice Jewish girl!”
That was the same year that Patti Hearst became a kidnapped fugitive, while Pam danced at some dive in New Jersey. At her mother’s on Park Avenue she previewed for us her costume. Her mother humored her willful child and looked over to me in dismay, possibly afraid of more alarming demonstrations. Trying reason, she suggested it a silly idea. Pam, pleased with herself was amused by our chagrin.
At diner on East Seventieth Street, Si announced that Newhouse Newspapers had just surpassed the Hearsts. Si was beaming. I said to myself what was I doing here caught in the silent charade of two generations’ incomprehension of the other.
Fortunately Si was oblivious to his daughter’s rebelliousness though he was concerned over his youngest son’s languishing in indecision and disillusionment. Pam, like her saturnine, ill-stared brother Winnie, who would spend his whole life resisting entreaties to take his place in the family fold, was dismissive of their father’s obedience in living the life his father S.I. had decided. (The family referred to Pam’s grandfather by his initials.) Si had become a clone in their ungrateful eyes , while his art collecting was seen as the dubious enterprise of self-aggrandizement.
They were quietly cynical and in truth contemptuous. It all was too much of an embarrassment- that and Mitzie giving Joe Papp a million dollars: “Do you know how much a million dollars is!”
Pam just refused to condone what was being presented to her. For she was already on guard against being pegged a Newhouse. She would become quietly outraged that any expectations be expected of her or that a responsible concept of purpose come with her privilege. Her eventual anger towards me was due to my never letting go of who she was. Pam only saw her family’s status an imposition to her individuality, when it was the very tool to assert her creative side. The unusual maturity that I had thought she had possessed was only a superficial gloss- a composure that hid an unappreciative child.
Once at a happy moment Pam showed me a luminous set of black and white photos of her with her father. Si was sitting in a pivotal spot as Pam twirled around him in orbit. The shots came from a view just above their heads. It was a delightful series of father and daughter charmingly teamed together. Never probably has either been captured with more glowing pleasure on their faces as in these photos taken in Richard Avedon’s studio. If I could have a memento, it would be one of these photos taken at a pristine moment the year before we met. It showed them simply as the happy father and daughter with whom I was made welcome. How long did that celebration last- not much longer than my brief ride past them.
Something happened that changed the glow of certainty on Pam’s face. She failed her audition for acceptance into the drama department at Carnegie Tech. Until then nothing had stood in her way. It soured her, and hardness came to the fore. The Pisces negative side swam against herself. Happiness that before had softened her expression became haughtiness and acerbity. She would not disguise that from me; she did not care to. From then on her actions would demonstrate self-defeat. She could not sustain her enthusiasm for her projects if her first attempts did not succeed. Perhaps her self-appraisals were accurate. But then again, maybe she just didn’t understand reading between the lines where all acts of creativity get triggered. It could not be forced, only received.