Friday, January 20, 2012

Goodbye, Ruby

I opened up the latest issue of the UC Davis Magazine today to learn that Ruby Cohn had died.

Ruby Cohn, a noted Beckett scholar, was one of the first professors I ever had in graduate school. She taught in the Graduate Theater Department. When I saw a Beckett class in the catalogue I rallied to get in. I'd taken a lot of Playwriting and Drama courses during my undergraduate education. Rumor had it that she had also been his lover. How could I pass up the chance to learn from his muse?

Ruby Cohn was mean.
And old.
And humorless.
And hard.

I was the only Master's student in her class, surrounded by didactic Ph.D candidates. I was 23. They were...older. I was intimidated, SO intimidated. It didn't matter that I'd read "Waiting For Godot" for the first time in my AP French class in high school. Crap, "Godot" was the easy one. It was "End Game", "Krapp's Last Tape" and "Happy Days" that were the doozies. I think we even read his essays and novels. I had to write a 20-page paper at the end of the quarter. What could it have been about? I remember meeting Ruby Cohn one-on-one to go over a draft I'd written and I don't think she was impressed. I believe I even spelled something wrong and she looked at me with disgust.

Becket died in 1989 and this was 1992, so in retrospect, Ruby Cohn might have still been mourning his loss. I'll never know. All I know is that I strive to be the OPPOSITE of Ruby Cohn in my teaching. I am friendly, humorous and certainly NOT intimidating. Sure, I get mad at typos and misspellings but I don't glare.

Her obituary said she stopped teaching at Davis in 1992 so I probably was one of the last students to have her. I wish I remembered her fondly. Perhaps I remember her for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe, just maybe, on some weird, subconscious level, she's the reason I got into teaching in the first place. Stranger things have happened. (Just read Beckett)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Gem in my Own Backyard

Last weekend I went for a bike ride with a friend where we stumbled upon the Marion Davies guest house, still standing in Santa Monica. Marion Davies was the silent movie star and mistress to William Randolph Hearst.

From Wikimapia: (Wikipedia is down for the day protesting SOPA and PIPA!)
William Randolph Hearst might have been the first media mogul of the 20th Century. In his day, Hearst owned 28 major newspapers and 18 magazines, as well as radio stations and movie companies. Santa Monica’s Gold Coast was so desirable that in 1929, Hearst, one of the richest and most powerful men in America, commissioned Julia Morgan (the architect of the Hearst Castle) to fashion an estate on 4.91-acres of beachfront property for his mistress, actress Marion Davies.

Morgan created a three-story, 34-bedroom Georgian mansion on the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. It was accompanied by three guest houses, two swimming pools, tennis courts and dog kennels. Called "Ocean House" or "The Beach House," it was the grandest property in the neighborhood. Rumor has it the cost was $7 million dollars.
The mansion is long gone (The Sand and Sea club stood in its place for years, and now the Annenberg Beach House is there) but one of the guest houses remains. My friend and I entered the home and were met by a docent who imparted tons of information on the home, the couple, the architecture and Santa Monica geography.
It was a fascinating tour, replete with photos, original architecture, even original tiles. Next door, at the Annenberg Beach House is the original pool, also with original tiling.
I love being able to stumble onto Hollywood history.