It was midnight and I was in the shower, letting the hot water pound on the back of my neck and crying. I was 16 years old and worked across the street at a theater in a morality play called "The Drunkard."
The show had been open for three months, and somehow we were becoming the thing to do, the place to be. The play was a serious one on the curse of drink, and we played it seriously.
The gifted Galt Bell, who produced and directed, adjured the cast to play the show in the manner of the actors of an earlier period. Seriously, no tongue-in-cheek.
"Respect your material," Galt said, "or no one else will."
(One time there were more than 60 productions of "The Drunkard" playing in the United States. They all died because they played it tongue-in-cheek and telegraphed the laughs.)
Galt was right, and his advice to respect your material holds true across the board.
I was delighted to be an actress and a freshman at Mount St. Mary's College.
So why was I crying? Because when I came home from the theater, I picked up the mail and found a dove gray envelope from Mademoiselle magazine.
This was a whole new concept--a magazine for young women. No dress patterns or meatloaf recipes. Just things that would interest women from about 18 to 30.
The letter said that the magazine would like to buy an article I had sent to it unsolicited--very much an over-the-transom submission. I knew no one at the magazine.
My tears were of pure delight. I left the apartment and went from the Silver Lake area to Castle Rock above Santa Monica to meet a bunch of my friends who were having a weenie roast while the ocean waves thumped on the sand.
They were almost as excited as I was and asked all the right things about my article, which was called "This Little Pig Went to Market." It was about my working in a large downtown department store in addition to doing the show and going to college.
I cried for joy again about 10 years later when I sold my first piece to the Los Angeles Times op-ed page.
It was Christmas Day, and Santa Claus had made me a happy girl. The piece was about having a Christmas birthday. That was 22 years ago.
This is my last column. I'm writing you to say goodby. I have written this column on shipboard, written it in Ireland and telephoned it to the Los Angeles Times' bureau in London. I have written it sitting beside a hospital bed at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and sitting in bed in a hospital room in the Huntington Memorial in Pasadena.
I have written on an airplane and in an automobile, and every time I see my name at the top of the column, I feel the same sheer exaltation.
Some were better and some were not. But they were all the best I could do. I can honestly say I have never turned in a piece of deliberately sloppy work.
I want to tell all of you readers how happy you have made me. Your letters and cards have made me ecstatic. I have tried to answer your letters, but I didn't get a fraction done.
Through the column, I have met marvelous people.
Hume Cronyn wrote me a letter when I published a piece on Watergate in the New York Times. I met Norman Cousins and Norman Corwin, and I'm still starry-eyed about both of them. That goes for William Windom too, one of the world's fine actors.
You have all made me happy and paid me in full for the columns, even those written in blood.
I want for you love and laughter and happiness. I want for you a spring filled with dawn birds and with fences draped in wild roses.
For every kind word you have written to me, may each one come back as music when you need it most.
I wish you love and dreams and courage when the wind blows down your back.
Have the new year filled with hot dogs and football and laughing children.
May you have everything you want, at least most of it so that you'll know that having a little empty place inside is not always a bad thing.
May you have loyal friends, know a good dog and hear a wafting dawn breeze.
Here's to it all, baby. May we do it all again.