Memories of Will Durant
The first time I
met Will Durant was on a Sunday afternoon in the
spring of 1954.
My husband and I
had announced our engagement, and were invited to the
Durant's hilltop home, "Casa de la Vista,"
on Briarcliff Road in Hollywood.
seriously observed our then young and eager faces. He
talked about the secret of a happy marriage. "We
have no secret formula," he smiled, "I can
only advise you to love each other and respect each
other's differences." He glanced at his beloved
Ariel, a twinkle in his blue eyes, "Never go to
bed angry at one another." He continued gazing
at his wife, "Tell yourselves - This is for
life!" He cleared his throat, "When Ariel
and I married in 1913, Whitman's words were on my
lips as we left the baffled judge in the City Hall.
"Shall we two stick to each other as long as we
live?" Ariel, standing behind Will's rocking
chair, piped in, "To the very end!" The
same words she had answered him on their wedding day.
I had studied
about Will Durant at school. His Story of
Philosophy had been on our required reading
list. It was inconceivable to me that this great man
of history, literature and philosophy would take the
time to walk us to our car. His white-peppery hair
shone in the sun as he kissed my hand, bidding
"goodbye, come back again soon." At that
moment, I was completely in awe of the slight
mustached gentleman who, in my eyes, was nothing less
than a giant.
in his poem "If" said:
you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch.
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much.
Will Durant walked
with kings an never lost the common touch. He always
cared for his fellow human beings. He was a true
friend and was most appreciative of any attention
bestowed on him and his dear Ariel.
Among my treasures
is a typewritten letter dated November 7, 1977:
Rose, Ben and Family,
writing with just one finger available on my
right hand; my sprained wrist turned out to be
broken. Can't have everything! Sweet of you to
send that birthday card.
you all be as happy and fortunate as you are
This short note
tells it all: The quality of the man, the goodness of
My visits to the
Durant home are forever engraved in my memory. As I
drive into the circular driveway, I can see the
profile of Will through the window. As usual, he is
working at his desk, sitting in his rocking chair.
Before I can ring the doorbell, he is already outside
leading me towards a chair near his work desk. He
returns to his rocking chair. The table attached to
it is his work desk. I visit with him for a few
minutes before joining Ariel in the kitchen. There
are books everywhere. The familiar scent of a room
well lived in and warmth reaching us from the
approximately ten o'clock in the morning. Will has
already been at his desk for a few hours. On this
particular day is working on something called
playing with it," he laughs, "we are in the
autumn of our lives," he comments wistfully,
"the leaves are falling." He pauses,
quickly adds, "Sister Ethel came in from the
East. She arrived yesterday. You know she is always
here for my birthday and Thanksgiving." His face
brightens like a small boy. "I am looking
forward to the turkey feast she will prepare for us.
I walk through the
foyer past the bookshelves filled with rare
collections. Past the photographs of daughter Ethel
as a child. Another of Monica, their granddaughter,
at her graduation. I marvel at the beauty of Ariel
and the debonair Will in separate portraits by George
Hurrell (1927). Also separate portraits of Ariel and
Will receiving the Medal of Freedom from President
The aroma of
vegetables simmering on the stove permeates the
house. His lunch read and waiting, Will passes the
kitchen; enters the sunny breakfast room. He stands
at the window. The view is magnificent on this clear
October day in 1978. The hill in the back of the
house is covered with a rust and gold carpet of
foliage. Tucking in his napkin over his tie, he keeps
up with world events by reading Time and Newsweek
from a magazine stand stationed in front of him.
The moments I
spend with him are precious, for soon he will be
taking his nap, until four o'clock, then back to the
rocking chair. A morning shared with Will and Ariel!
How lucky can I be? It is time for me to leave.
I recall with fond
memories the evenings we sat in front of their
television set, watching the World Series. Will
cheered on the underdog. He loved baseball and often
joked about the sport being his other
"love." However, the most memorable evening
spent watching television was an interview with the
Durants. The program was called "Follow Up"
with Sandy Hill.
The Age of
Napoleon was ready for release in 1975. While we
watched the Durants on television, the real life
Durants were debating the question at hand. Ariel
played the devil's advocate; challenging him, her
voice raising, her eyes dancing with excitement. His
calm, controlled voice would meet every challenge,
answering her point by point. They would laugh
together then go on to the next question. The love
and respect they had for one another was like no
other I had ever witnessed.
Will Durant was
honored by Pepperdine University. It was his 92nd
birthday. A Dual Autobiography had just been
released. The place was the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in
Beverly Hills. When the birthday cake was brought up
to him, Ariel coyly said, "Make a wish." He
looked directly into her eyes - as thousands watched
- "Why should I?" he quietly asked. "I
have everything I have ever wanted."
Their marriage was
the least likely to succeed for they were totally
different. They came from opposite backgrounds. Will
Durant was French-Canadian and a Roman Catholic who
had become skeptical of religion. Thirteen years
older than his fourteen-year-old pupil when they met
at the Ferrer Modern School in New York City. Ariel
Durant was born Ida Kaufman, Russian-Jewish lineage.
Her parents had separated. They were poor immigrants.
She was a child without discipline or education. She
hated the public schools. When she discovered the
libertarian experimental Ferrer Modern School, she
was hungry for guidance. She had a keen mind.
Everything excited her and she was full of life. She
laughed, sang and danced through the days; while her
quiet and reserved teacher fell in love with her.
He was a man of
philosophy, history and literature. She, a young girl
with "ears open to the world, the voice of the
future." Ariel would often comment that it was
their differences which allowed them to grow. It was
that growth which led to a lifetime partnership as
collaborators of The Story of Civilization. The
eleven-volume enterprise spanned over a period of
forty years. They worked from early morning until
late night, seven days a week. They covered ten
centuries; reading, re-searching over five thousand
books and writing more than two million words. Will
wrote in long hand, Ariel, researched and carefully
catalogued notes on colored paper. It had been their
lifetime dream and labor of love.
"Death is an
incident in an extended existence," wrote Will
Durant on the back of a blank, bank check (also among
my treasures). "Death makes life possible"
was his message during the last public appearance in
Will Durant, in
his 96th year, joined his beloved Ariel in death,
thirteen days after her passing. Neither mourned for
the other; for he was not informed of her death.
Somehow, I feel, deep down in his heart he knew. He
could not be without her.
inseparable in death as they were in life.
thanks to Mrs. Levy for the permission to include her
essay on this site.