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Tin Foil-Wrapped Manuscripts in Freezers and Other Tales

A few days ago,  I went to my dear friend Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s birthday party.

Funny thing was, I thought I was her only friend.

No, not really. I knew she had other chums, but I thought maybe they were just acquaintances.

No, not really. I knew she had other relationships, but I thought ours was the best of them.

Well, it turned out I was not the only person at the party.

It turned out that I had to share this wonderful woman with at least fifty other people, under the stars, on a very warm evening, at her daughter and son-in-law’s adobe/modern home, the dark gray pool of which was surrounded by brightly painted, Mexican-red, wooden chairs, and tables clad in bright yellow cloths, each topped with some very exciting orange flowers.

Here is how Betsy and I met. It was in 1976. We had both moved here to Los Angeles from New York City and our husbands were meeting for a business dinner and had brought their wives (us) along. While the men talked business (Oliver Hailey was a renowned playwright) Betsy and I began to chat. We discovered we both had two children, we both missed New York City desperately and we both loved books and were voracious readers.

“I am writing a book,” Betsy leaned in and whispered in my ear. “I keep it wrapped up in tin foil and hide it in the freezer.”

“Why do you hide it?” I asked, bending towards her so our husbands couldn’t hear.

“I don’t want Oliver to read it. Not until it’s all finished.”

Two years later, Betsy’s book was published. By then she and I were good friends. A month after her book arrived in bookstores all 9780140274363_p0_v1_s260x420over the United States, it hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Betsy was flabbergasted. I was flabbergasted. I suppose all of those other friends of hers were likewise dumbfounded. As was Oliver, her husband, when she took it out of the freezer finally and let him read it.

The book was called A Woman of Independent Means, and was published in 1978, the year Betsy turned forty. It was inspired by the life of her grandmother. She adapted it for the stage as a one-person play starring Barbara Rush. In 1995, A Woman of Independent Means became a six-hour NBC miniseries starring Sally Field. Betsy has since published three more best selling novels: Life Sentences (1982), Joanna’s Husband and David’s Wife (1986), (which she also adapted for the stage as a two-person play), and Home Free in 1991.

Six years ago, when my first-born daughter, Kathy, found me, the very first gift I sent her was A Woman of Independent Means, signed to her by Betsy. Now it is one of Kathy’s favorite books. In fact, Kathy, the daughter whom I might never have known, is an English teacher, the head of the English department at her high school, and has been teaching Betsy’s book to some of her classes. In fact, she ordered A Woman of Independent Means for her classroom from Portrait of a Bookstore, our family’s store (1986-2012), where Betsy was one of our best customers. And if that isn’t enough, Kathy and I penned a memoir together called Secret Storms (2013) and Betsy was the very first person to read our manuscript and give us her blessing. Betsy also came to the Jeff Probst Show and sat in the audience the day Jeff interviewed Kathy and me for 45 minutes.

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You just never know what is going to happen, do you? And then one day it does and your heart sings. Betsy writes four best-selling books, I open a bookstore and sell stacks of her books. Then after many prayers on my part, my daughter, against all odds, finds me 2,500 miles away, and we write a book together.

Doubt can wipe away the energy of life. Doubt causes things not to happen. Doubt, I remind myself daily, ties your hands, quiets your voice and slows down the heartbeat. Bold is the word of the day, every day. Bold should be spelled out on each of our foreheads so that it can seep daily into our brains, providing us with a constant reminder that all things are possible.

Anyway, my dear friend Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s birthday party was a great success.  Margaritas, (served up by a terribly elegant gentleman in his mid-eighties called Scottie, who has published a memoir about his years as a pimp for gay Hollywood stars in the 40s and 50s) were flowing, along with mind-blowing Mexican food, followed by a huge chocolate birthday cake.

Fortunately, after several of Scottie’s margaritas, I calmed down about the fact that I wasn’t Betsy’s only friend, because all of us together had a rip-roaring time. And a funny thing happened when we all began talking–not only did we seem to know all about each other, but it turned out that each of us had felt as though we were Betsy’s one special friend.

How do you figure that?

-Julie

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