HOW WE MET

JAY AND FRAN LANDESMAN
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The author and publisher Jay Landesman, 77, was born in St Louis, USA. During the Forties he edited the New York counter-culture magazine Neurotica. In 1950, he married Fran Deitsch, then moved back to St Louis to open a cabaret and theatre bar. In 1964, he came to London. He is writing the third volume of his memoirs. Songwriter and poet Fran Landesman, 68, was born in New York. She has written songs for Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand, and has published five collections of poetry. The couple live in separate parts of the same house in Islington; they have two grown-up sons

JAY LANDESMAN: I first saw Fran at a party, but we met about two days later in Washington Square. It was March 1950. I was with my friend Anatole Broyard, taking in the scene of Morris dancers and street entertainers. Fran was sunning herself in the empty fountain about a yard away. Anatole said hello to her - he already knew her - and introduced us. Then he decided he wanted to play hand tennis. He asked me to go and buy a rubber ball from the shop, and I said I would if Fran would walk with me.

By the time we got to the shop, we had fallen in love. In fact, we never went back to the park - we just went up to her place and had a good time. I remember that she had short blonde hair, good teeth and a perfect gum line; she was extraordinarily beautiful. I also thought she was bitchy, acidic and rebellious. I had sworn I would never marry again - until I saw Fran. I'd had a wartime marriage which had ended that year, and I was in New York, 28 years old, and getting laid at a phenomenal rate. Six months after this vow of bachelorhood, I married her.

Fran didn't want to marry me at first. We really met under false pretences - she was under the impression that I was more rebellious than her. But I'd just come down from a trip of bohemianism and rebellion; and I wanted to make money and settle down. I was a nice Jewish boy.

We married in July 1950 and moved out of New York after two years. I knew that if we had stayed, there'd have been too many distractions. Also, by that time, the Beat generation had moved on; I'd really gone to New York to publish my magazine Neurotica. Fran and I moved to St Louis, and opened up a bar, called Crystal Palace, where Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand would come and perform. It was a creative atmosphere; Fran and I were both writing at the time.

I suppose that over the years, we've changed from a very unmonogamous couple to a faithful one. I used to have affairs, although we'd never talk about them. We were very committed to each other despite the affairs, and neither of us ever felt threatened.

Fran wasn't interested in children when we first got married. In the end, I said, "I could divorce you if you don't have any," and we started a family. Then she fell in love with motherhood; I think children bind a marriage. When we moved to London in 1964, it was like coming to a world we always hoped to find. We became mates with Peter Cook and his wife; we learnt a lot about London from his living room.

We've got closer in the last few years; shared times is what holds people together. I've always put a lot of energy into our marriage; it's been the most important thing to me. I have been on the brink of many successful careers, but I've never been ready to make a commitment because I knew it would threaten my family life. Fran's been a great editor on my three books; she cuts out any overblown self-appreciation. I also think she's one of the great songwriters of her time.

I used to behave badly and do things like not bother to come home for dinner, but now we disagree over different things. I hate the movies she likes; I don't like the television as much as she does. I like to drink and go to the Groucho Club, and she doesn't.

We both have a dark, gallows sense of humour. I think she's unconsciously funny - she's much wittier than I am. Every morning we walk through the park to a cafe for breakfast and kiss every once in a while. It's as though the relationship's started over again.

FRAN LANDESMAN: I remember meeting Jay in Washington Square, and having no idea who he was. I didn't know he was editor of Neurotica magazine, which was considered quite hip back then; I just thought he was a beautiful young man. Anatole treated Jay like a kid brother, and said, "Go buy me a rubber ball." And Jay said, "Not unless she goes with me."

I went into this store with him, and one of the first things he said to me was, "I think we ought to see each other every night." From then on, we did. With Jay, I never even had to wait for the phone to ring. It did take away something, however: part of love is that terrible thrill of not knowing, but Jay was mine from the day that I met him. He was so handsome, I couldn't believe he was interested in me.

There's a side to Jay that's wicked, but there's another part that is smart about life-moves. At heart, he was a nice Jewish boy. I was 23 years old, and he told me I was already an old maid. He wanted to marry me immediately, but I said no. He said, "You'll be sorry, I would have made you a great husband." I panicked and thought, "He's right." Although I liked him, I had no respect for the institution of marriage, and I didn't want children. I married Jay because I didn't want to lose him. I thought, "I can always divorce him. He'll make a good first husband."

After we got married, Jay and I moved into an apartment near the Museum of Modern Art. Everyone would come round to our pad; writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Jay was worried about me hanging out with them - he thought I might stray. I remember Kerouac saying to me, "Be my girlfriend - I'm a poet and I'm lonely," but I didn't believe it for a minute. Jay and him were like two good-looking studs.

After we left New York, we opened the Crystal Palace bar in St Louis; at that point I never thought the marriage would last. I was always looking at other men over his shoulder. It wasn't that I wanted to leave Jay - I just wanted what was forbidden.

One day, his friend sat me down and told me about all the girls Jay had had affairs with. I was so relieved; I thought, "He's like me. Thank God." The marriage became more relaxed after that. We would both bring lovers back to the house and live like one big, happy family. I knew Jay was never going to leave me - there wasn't anyone who seriously threatened me.

I've come to admire the way Jay keeps our family life together. He's been a good father to the boys. Left to my own devices, I might have let things fall apart. Jay has always been crazy about children - when our babies started to cry, the two of us used to race to change their diapers.

Jay created me. When I met him, I was a square bourgeois Jewish girl. He bought me into a new world that was much more interesting. And he introduced me to bohemia, which I was born for. We like each other more now that we don't sleep in the same room; Jay lives down in the basement. Having separate rooms means when you see each other, you're on your best behaviour. We used to have brutal fights but the bitterness has gone; these days we're kinder to each other. I couldn't live without him now. !

Comments