THE SEESAW GIRL AND ME is Dick York's memoir, and I've never read anything like it before. It consists of very short close-to-metaphorical stories, conversations with the reader, snippets of plays (complete with stage directions), straight accounts and anecdotes. The reader is bombarded with images, ideas and whimsical thoughts - from childhood to middle-age - again and again. It is rather like the old fashioned process of making a coloured print. First one colour is applied, then another and another - until gradually the whole picture appears in fascinating detail. It is highly original and very effective.
Dick York was brought up in a loving but poor household in Chicago. He met his future wife Joan (or Joey) when he was a teenager. He was talented and gradually established a career for himself in radio, film and TV. But an accident on a film set tore the muscles on his back and they never healed properly. He subsequently suffered bouts of such nauseating pain that he became addicted to painkillers. After a particularly bad period of not sleeping he had a seizure on the set of 'Bewitched' and this ended his television career in 1969.
By this time Dick and Joey had five children. Without work, they seemed to quickly return to poverty. They had to resort to being cleaners to earn enough to live. There are pictures in the book which vividly illustrate this change in circumstance; before the seizure Dick is svelte, smiling, and at ease with Elizabeth Montgomery on set. Joey, at thirty five, is strikingly similar-looking to the York's on-screen wife, the glamorous witch, Samantha: blonde, slim and very pretty. Just six years later, in 1975, the two are utterly changed: overweight and dressed in shapeless clothes, they look, nevertheless, very happy as they hug their first grandchild.
Dick York recorded his memoirs and then gave them to an interested journalist, Claudia Kaehl, who turned them into a book. I suppose this accounts for its unusual structure. Dirk York proves himself to be an outstandingly eloquent speaker: here is what happens when he loses a quarter which he needs desperately for tuition at school.
'So I looked at everything. Everything. The banks of snow, the little sticks of bushes sticking up through the snow, little pieces of leaves, piles of dogs...'
'Everything, he could see everything, he could see other kids' footprints on the way to school he could see everything he could see everything but that fucking quarter WHERE WAS IT? And he looked and he looked and his calm grew from alarm to total panic and frustration and then anger. And then he screamed out loud: "If you're really there, if you're REALLY THERE, show me where it is!"
'And there it was. There it was. The tiniest black line in a deep bank of snow. A tiny line couldn't possibly be that quarter - or could it? So he brushed away the snow brushed away the snow brushed away the snow brushed away the snow. And there it was.'
'And there he was, stuck with the truth. And he's been stuck with the truth ever since: There is something, or somebody, or everything, that delivers quarters on demand.'
This is a tale of the triumph of the human spirit; towards the end of Dick's life he had a happy and productive period helping charities for homeless people. Dick and Joey had hard times, but they fought the world together, and eventually they had something of a triumph. It is this union that is the main theme of this book - an account of the enduring love of Dick for Joey; and Joey for Dick.
Thanks to Debra Hamel for the competition in which I won this book (Debra's review, which is well worth reading, is here). I don't normally select memoirs to read - but I'm very glad I spent several hours today reading this one.