Read an excerpt below, in which Mary describes her first encounter with her lifelong friend, Stephen Sondheim.
Steve and I played a game the first time we met. This was at Highland Farm, Oscar Hammerstein’s home in Bucks County, in the summer of 1944. Steve was one of the semi-orphans and sad strays with rotten parents whom Ockie and his wife Dorothy were always quasi-adopting, including the fey and fascinating Shawen Lynch and the mysterious, haughty Margot de Vaulchier, who was either a royal descendant of some unidentified mini-kingdom like Liechtenstein, or maybe an escapee from Staten Island – who knew?
I guess I had come with my parents; maybe Daddy and Ockie were working on Carousel, which opened on Broadway the next spring. Anyway, there we were: a thirteen-year-old girl, fat and ungainly, as my father kept telling me, and a fourteen-year-old boy genius with a crazy narcissist divorcée of a mother who’d put him in military school – which he loved.
With nothing in common except R (me) and H (him), what do you do? You play chess. Three games. He beat me fiendishly, took no time at all. Once we ran through that, we went to the piano, where he played either Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris. I didn’t know those Gershwin things, oddly enough. Growing up, I only went to Daddy’s musicals; at home, he never played Gershwin records. He didn’t play records much in general, but in specific he didn’t play Gershwin, the only composer he might have envied – well, maybe not the brain tumor part. Or maybe even that.
I was dazzled by Steve, completely stunned. I knew right away he was brilliant; he just reeked of talent. Which, not illogically, was always the biggest turn-on for me. I married two tall, blue-eyed men, but the ones I had the most fun with were dark. And, boy, was Steve dark. He wasn’t obnoxious, but impatient, a bit snappish. Pleasant, but not boy-girl pleasant. I was just a body there. I don’t think he thought I was as bright as he was, and he was right. He knew I wasn’t up to his standards. But nobody was. Later, we did become almost equals, except in the brain department. But at that moment I thought I would never be as infatuated with anyone again. Which turned out to be true.