the late seventies I was working as a TV reporter in LA.
One day I did a TV interview with a man who mentioned the
the course of the conversation. The Durants were friends
and neighbors in the Hollywood Hills and when I said I was
an admirer he arranged for me to go to tea.
I hate tea; but how many admirers own salt-stained copies
Story of Civilization that had weathered forays onto the
hot beaches of
the Gulf Coast? Those were my seaside thrillers and the
far more important than the kings and killers that made up
week or so later I went to their huge, Spanish-style mansion
Los Angeles. An ancient, black Cadillac stood - clearly in
limited use if at
all - in the courtyard. By now the Durants occupied only
the first floor of
the house. Ariel appeared in a frumpy floral dress. Her "other
tossed carelessly over the top of a door. Around her neck
was the Medal
of Freedom they had been given by the Government.
of course, was dressed to the nines.
were charming, both still very sharp and tried to understand
why I was there in my Seventies, loud double-knit
finery. After we chatted
a while she urged him to "show Geoff the body," gesturing
to a sunporch.
Indeed, through the glass doors I could see what
looked like a gurney with
a sheet covering a - human form ? Impishly she snatched
off the sheet
There stacked up were fruits of their original research...piles
and piles of
papers, pamphlets and books all carefully arranged
to look - feet, chest
and head - like a corpse. A great joke on visitors.
prompted a loud argument over where all that was going to
their deaths. One argued fiercely it should go to
Stanford; the other
insisted with equal heat it would go to UCLA. It
was obviously and old
battle in which Ariel thought she had the final word.
She said sulkily
she was lots younger, he'd be dead first, and the
stuff was going to
talk with geniuses is hard. I asked questions about their
but I certainly had nothing to say they'd care to
hear. Pressed, I allowed
that I'd like to write a history book about King
Stephen of England. Will
looked puzzled. "Who ?" "Stephen," I
said, "You know, 1135-1154...
'Christ and all his saints slept' and all that. Followed
Heny the first."
Nothing. "Oh, you know," she said impatienty. Well,
no. So she fetched
a reference book so he could reacquaint himself.
After running through
a few pages, he slammed it shut and scolded me for
wanting to write
about such a nonentity. "Why write about him?" "Um
- because no one
else has." He spread his hands out in a broad gesture
you see ?"
a tour of the shelves and shelves of copies of all their
many languages it was time to go. I produced my salty
copy of Our
Oriental Heritage for them to sign. Briskly he wrote: "To
with cordial regards from Will &.......Durant." And
he handed the book
to her, pointing to the blank space he had left between
Will and Durant.
Then he softly prompted her. "Put 'Ariel' there," said.
And he dated it.
mean, the book was a treasure by itself. Now it's priceless,
as was the