NOTHING WAS PLANNED
My parents' marriage was pretty much over by the time I was born. My father was away on a business trip when I was due, and when my mother picked him up at the airport with her large belly protruding over her waistline, my father looked at her and said, "You're still pregnant?"
Maybe he was kidding. But to a woman nine months pregnant I can see how this could sound harsh. In any event, I waited for him to come home and entered this world three weeks late, a whopping ten pounds, four ounces. My mother likes to say, with a laugh, that she's still recovering.
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Janice Marylin Gardner married Paul Eli Margulies in 1960 after meeting him on a blind date. A ballerina for most of her life, she was born in Brooklyn to Isabel, a pianist who had studied at the Mannes School of Music and was considered a "wunderkind" who would be one of the great hopefuls to become a concert soloist. Her dreams were quashed when she met my grandfather and found herself pregnant with my mother at seventeen.
My mother's father, Michael Gardner, owned a beauty salon on Flatbush Avenue. He was handsome and charismatic, nursing a bubbling charm with the ladies, not unlike the character Warren Beatty played in the film Shampoo. He was open about his infidelities in front of my mother, telling her this was their secret. In doing so, he made her feel special, made her his accomplice, having enough trust in her to keep this secret from my grandmother. She became his ally, too young to realize that she was joining him in his deceit.
My mother tells me ballet saved her life. From the age of ten she took the long subway ride from Flatbush Avenue to the School of American Ballet in Manhattan every day, by herself. Ballet shielded her from a home fraught with tension, alcohol, and an unhappy marriage.
She became a member of the American Ballet Theatre company right after ballet school and stayed with them for two years. At the time it was called the Ballet Theatre; it eventually became ABT. As she said, "I left because I didn't feel I was strong enough on my toes to go any further than the chorus. I just wasn't good enough to be a soloist."
Instead she pursued Broadway, television, and anything that would give her a decent paycheck where she could utilize her dance background. Her first Broadway show was 'First Impressions' with Polly Bergen and Hermione Gingold. She was a chorus girl and an understudy.
My mother was on The Fred Waring Show, the Johnny Carson show a couple of times, she toured with Sammy Davis Jr. She traveled with the General Motors Motorama show, making a living good enough to rent her own apartment in Manhattan. She was a great beauty, often compared to Ava Gardner. Slender hips, dancer's legs, deep brown, velvety eyes surrounded by dark voluminous curls.
She met Lee Guber (who later married Barbara Walters) when she was twenty-one years old. He was fifteen years her senior and nervous about the age difference, but they were together for three years. He championed her singing and dancing career with great coaches; she met Jule Styne, who saw her potential as a big Broadway star. "I didn't want it enough," my mother later told me.
At the age of twenty-three, she met my father backstage when she was in the original production of My Fair Lady. He was extremely handsome, smart, charming, and stylish. Proffering humor and intellectual conversation. After their first date, he walked her to the lobby of her Upper West Side apartment, hoping she would invite him up. When she bid him good night at the door my father gazed into her big brown eyes and said, "I can hope, I can think, and I can wait."
She had never met anyone like him. My father came from a good family. "He was Ivy League," she mused when reminiscing about their first date. His father, Irving Margulies, was in the leather business, mostly for upholstery. His mother, Henrietta Greenspan Margulies, was a lawyer. They lived in an impressive home in Riverdale, they were respected members of their community, they put both their sons, my father and his younger brother, Michael, through the private Horace Mann school in New York and then Dartmouth College, where my father majored in philosophy.
By the time my mother came into the picture, my father was newly divorced, having just ended a short-lived marriage, and had dropped out of Columbia Law School after one year. His explanation for dropping out: "I was always in the Philosophy Library, I had no interest in the law."