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A Man Called Dad : A trumpet-playing professor; a screenwriter with rules all his own; an eccentric actor whose silences can wither a man; a doctor forever chasing a dream; an ex-sailor who finally comes to his son's rescue . . . sort of. Five writers recall life with father. : Where Did He Get His Rules?

June 14, 1995|AMY EPHRON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Amy Ephron is the executive producer of the movie "A Little Princess."

My father never taught me anything particularly useful. When I was little, he used to read me poetry. T.S. Eliot. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Vachel Lindsay because he liked the rhythms of the language. He never bought me anything practical like socks or T-shirts, but I could always talk him into getting me a party dress. When I got older and I would sometimes check into a hotel, there would often be flowers waiting for me in the room.

"Women should always have flowers waiting for them when they check into a hotel," he said to me. It was sort of nice that there were flowers there, but sometimes it was depressing that they were from my father.

Although he had a fairly good ethical sense, I often wondered where he got his rules. I remember once when I was going to New Orleans for the weekend, he didn't call me up and yell at me that I was having a "date" in New Orleans, he called me up very concerned, and said, "Honey, don't take any blue jeans to New Orleans. New Orleans is trashy, but it's not that kind of trashy; it's high heels and dresses trashy."

A few years later, I moved back to Los Angeles from New York and rented a small house in Laurel Canyon. Daddy was horrified. "You can't rent a house in Laurel Canyon!" he said. "Laurel Canyon is full of 'love nests.' " (Actually, I thought it was full of dying rock stars.) But after some cross-examination, I gathered that he was referring to a time in the '40s when movie stars kept little houses there for assignations. (That's a star map I'd like to have.)

Shortly thereafter, he began to be incapacitated and we moved him to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills. I remember dropping him off there as though I were dropping off a child at a strange boarding school. "Everyone looks so old," he said.

About a year later, my sister Delia got a call from him. "Don't be mad at me, honey," he said. "I couldn't take it anymore." He told her that he'd checked out of the hospital and had flown to New York and checked into a hotel. Delia was hysterical. It had been very difficult to get him into the motion picture hospital. He wasn't in his right mind, and she was convinced that they wouldn't take him back, and that we wouldn't find anywhere else to put him.

But the weird thing about his story was that the hotel he told Delia he'd checked into hadn't existed for 40 years. It turned out that he hadn't really left the Motion Picture Home, he just thought he had. And he kept calling the nurses' station as though it were room service and ordering Scotch and soda.

When I called the home, I reached a nurse who was at her wits' end. "We don't know what to do," she said. "He keeps ordering Scotch and soda, and then he calls back really mad when his drinks don't come."

"Well, couldn't you just put ginger ale and soda in a glass with ice and bring it to him in his room?" I suggested. "I don't think he'll know the difference."

"Oh," she said. "We could do that." And it worked.

I wished I'd told her to put on a dress and high heels, but I didn't think she'd understand.

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