"My First Love"

By Danielle Flood
(continued from the Daily News Sunday Magazine Page)

which you move from one phase of your life into another. Suddenly you see someone. He lived across the street and I saw him all the time but this time was different. Maybe that's what 'Sleeping Beauty' is about."
First Love.
Elinor Guggenheimer, now 64, now commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer of Affairs, remembers that she couldn't wait for supper to be over so she could ride her bike around the block. Hank would do the same, only go in a different direction around the same block. 
"We would always pretend that we weren't looking for each other but always ended up finding each other. At that age, you're awfully aware of the other person. You don't say it, it's just there. It's an absorbing part of your life without becoming verbal."
It's that way for many people.DaniClip-FirstLove.JPG
Ben Vereen, the performer. Ben Vereen's first love was Mary Hellerman (little pigtails, spirals; "a black version of a young Shirley Temple"; quiet, reserved; always wore dresses, paid-pleated things, red; a bit knock-kneed; white socks, black patent leather shoes).
Chauncy St., Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, around 1952. Vereen is about 5; so is Mary. Vereen wears jackets with knitted sleeves, corduroy pants, "flap-a-flap-a" leather shoes and does a lot of climbing. 
Mary lives two doors down from him and he wants her to see him, only there are these five-foot wooden fences and the horizontal parts holding them together are only at the bottom and the top, so he gets himself a two-by-four, about two and a half feet long, and lays it diagonally against a telephone pole, moves back for the start, runs up the two-by-four and catches the first rung on the pole. 
Atop the fence, he's going to show Mary how well he can ride a horse. So he's straddling this fence.
His friends, Reggie and Paul, are playing throwing bricks over the fence. Move, Ben. "I just sat there. I was riding my horse so Mary could see; so I could see Mary. I refused to get down. I was doing my number. They were doing theirs."
Vereen, now 30, has a scar, less than an inch long, on his right forehead. "It kind of blew my image, getting caught in the head. Calmly. I climbed down calmly, the tears started to fall and the kids on the block were going 'Wooooooooooooooo.'
"A child has more pride than we do. A child, the main thing to do is to be grown up."
This is how Sylvia Miles, now actress, then 7, was trying to appear for her first love, Mark Landsman, who lived in her Greenwich Village neighborhood, on the day when she was standing in front of a penny candy store. Mind you, there were a lot more sidewalk trapdoors leading to basements beneath stores and apartments then there are now. Miss Miles is standing in front of one of these, only it is open and there is coal down there, and she is wearing a yellow dress and a bow in her hair and Mark is coming down the street with a bunch of boys. "I put my leg back to sort of make myself more glamourous (hand behind head, lashes batting). It was one of the great disappearing acts."
That scene took place at Prince St. and Sixth Ave.
Out west, in Hastings, Neb., around 1946, Sandy Dennis, then 8, now actress, discovers an advertisement in the back of a magazine. It is the clincher, the sure evidence of love: If she sends away for this spot remover and sells enough of it she can get a prize -- a gun and holster set -- for Jimmy Pettit (blond, skinny, about 8).
Spot remover, Mom? Dad? This powder, you rub it on and wet it...Miss Dennis' family had a lot of spot remover in the 1940's. 
A few years earlier and farther east, another family gets involved in a child's first love. 
Mansfield, Ohio, about 1943. Marabel Morgan, author of "The Total Woman," (who by the way advocates gun and holster sets for housewives if that is their husbands' fancy), is kissing Ricky. Both are about 5.
"I liked to kiss him but I also bit him a lot. I had a lot of hostility, so every time I had a chance I took a chunk out of his arm. My mother and Daddy had problems and I guess I just took it out on this little boy. He let me do it until his mother put a stop to it."
"When I drew blood."
"Some psychologists maybe could get a hold of it," said Mrs. Morgan. 
Some are married to their first loves. Joyce Bauer Brothers (18, five-foot-one, blonde hair almost to her waist) is upstairs, reading, at the farm her family used to go to at Kenoza Lake, N.Y., and her sister, several years younger, comes into the room "quite excited," and says, "I've just met the man you're going to marry."
"I said, 'Go away, don't bother me,' as you do to your kid sister," Dr. Brothers recalls. "She said, 'I really mean it' and she pestered me and I got up and left the book open. It could have been 'Gone With the Wind' for all I know. I do know I never finished reading it."
Milt, her husband-to-be, was downstairs. 
"He looked like the man I was going to marry," says Dr. Brothers. "His face looked right to me -- strong chin, strong nose, strong everything. Wavy black hair. Six-foot-two. It sounds terrible but I was always the center of attention then. If I would go into a room for example, automatically all the young men would be around me. Milt was a little stand-offish. Cool.
"He's very bright and that appealed to me. He had just come from war and he was competent in dealing with the world, with people."
What singer Tom Jones likes about his first love and wife is that "she understands me." But what attracted him to her in the first place when he was 14, back in Wales?
Legs. "Great legs" emerging from beneath the short raincoat of a girl, about 13, playing marbles on the street in a small Welsh mining town. At the nape of her neck, beneath her hood, Tom Jones could see Melinda was blonde. "I was realizing it was really something different then. She was Catholic and I was Protestant. That was strange because we didn't talk to Catholic kids. It was difficult. She went to a different school."
Natalie Wood was on her way to school at the Twentieth Century studios between acting in "Jackpot" and "Miracle on 34th Street" when she first saw her first love.
She is 10 and she is walking in the studio hallway with her mother. She notices a boy, 18, and remarks to her mother how attractive he is.
"And it was R.J." That is what Natalie Wood calls her husband, Robert Wagner. "He looked pretty much the way he looks now, except a lot younger. Athletic looking. He was the perfect all American
boy with the tennis racket in his hand. I suppose I got that image from the movies more than anything else. There's sort of a romantic look about him that appealed very much to me then and still does. I think the word is natural. Open and natural were the qualities. That was the first time I felt I was in love."
Maurice Nadjari married his first love too. What got them together was the misspelling of the potato capital of Maine. 
Nadjari and Joan are in the same geopolitics course at City College. There is a quiz. "We exchanged papers for grading purposes and Joan got mine. She marked me wrong because I had misspelled one of the syllables in the name of the potato capital of Maine and my recollection is it's Aroostook County and I think I wrote Arooster County. I asked why she marked me wrong.
"We talked a lot thereafter. She's very bright and has a good sense of humor. She used to joke about people in the class, some of our professors. Before that there were passing fancies. She was the first strong attachment. It molded my life."
The first love of Anthony Scotto also took place in a classroom, but it happened differently.
1947. Scotto, now vice president of the International Longshoremen's Association, then 13, is watching music graphs in seventh grade at P.S. 142, Henry St. and Third Place, Brooklyn. But his head keeps bobbing up from the music sheets.  "I couldn't keep my eyes on the musical notes because of Mrs. McDermott, my music teacher, I fell in love with her; she had the biggest set of..."
Yes. Memories.
Some are clearer than others.
The first love of Neil Sedaka, singer-composer, was Adeline Horowitz. They were 5 and went to public school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. "I used to hold her hand in the auditorium. Hard. And I started to sweat. She was too popular. She was called on in school to stand up in class a lot. There was also Ellen Berland at Lincoln High School. ("She used to write me anonymous letters. Huh. She denied it.") There was another love in summer camp. Then a Roberta Tillis. Back to Adeline. Adeline, he decided, was his first love.
The first love of Eliot Janeway, economist, 64, was Ethel Barrymore, Falls Village, Conn. Around 1926. Janeway is 13 or 14. He is staying with his older sister, Ruth Gordon, who is a great friend of Ethel's. It is morning. Miss Barrymore, in her 50's, arrived the night before. The sun is shining. Janeway is in the yard. He sees her in her bedroom window. What does he say to her? Arms wide, he says, "Wherefore art thou..."
"She was not just an aloof queen of the theater. She was a vibrant woman. She was very intelligent, interested in everything I cared about -- politics...Theater people are not always informed about the real world. She was. Ethel, Miss B. had the beauty and intelligence of the ages."
Ask a first deputy mayor who his first love was and he'll tell you what his first love is.
"New York City," says John Zuccotti. "I enjoy New York. I loved it as a kid."
There was, however, a girl in the sixth grade.
Reporter: What was her name?
Dep. Mayor: Sandra. I don't think I should say her last name.
Reporter: What did she look like?
Dep. Mayor: A cute little girl.
Reporter: What color hair?
Dep. Mayor: Blonde.
Reporter: Eyes?
Dep. Mayor: Brown eyes.
Reporter: Weight?
Dep. Mayor: Skinny. They were all skinny in the sixth grade.
Reporter: What school did you go to in the sixth grade.
Dep. Mayor: St. Joseph's.
Reporter: That's what it was called? St. Joseph's what?
Dep. Mayor: St. Joseph's Academy.
Reporter: Where?
Dep. Mayor: In Greenwich Village.
Reporter: What attracted you to her?
Dep. Mayor: Because she was blonde. (Pause. My wife says that's an anti-feminist comment.
Reporter: What was her personality.
Dep. Mayor: Nice and sweet.
Reporter: How did she show that? How was she nice?
Dep. Mayor: She had a nice personality, intelligent.
Reporter: Was she the prettiest girl in the class?
Dep. Mayor: No. She was the second or third prettiest.
Reporter: Was the prettiest girl in the class blonde? Or was the second prettiest if she wasn't Sandra?
Dep. Mayor: No.
Let a first deputy mayor's son overhear his mother tell his father that a reporter wants to know who his first love was and he'll have his own answer.
"Obviously," says Zuccotti's son to Zuccotti. "your first love was your mommy."
Trish Van Devere, actress, says her first love was her father's.
"He had the ability to enter a child's world. My mother was very impatient. It was 'Unhuh, unhuh,' and I'd say 'Mother you're not listening to a word I say.' But he would really enjoy a child's world. We used to do goofy things. Make up little play games, go up to the lake. He'd teach me how to swim. We would do quiet things together. My mother was always making me be an adult. 
"My father was quiet, soft-spoken. My mother, my hand was always slipping out of hers." Miss Van Devere's father died when she was 9. "He was well into his 40's when I was born. A Piscean. He was born March 7th and I'm March 9th. He doted on me a lot. When a child deals with something beyond comprehension, you're forever trying to make up for that loss."
How did that first love and loss influence Miss Van Devere?
"I guess I've always looked for a daddy figure. Had my father lived he would not have been on such a pedestal. The deprivation of the natural course of a relationship does things."
And was her father similar or dissimilar to her husband, George C. Scott?
"Similar, a little bit. There's a certain sense of security in him being there the way my father was. They're built somewhat in the same way, and they have the same light, light, transparent sort of blue eyes. And gentle. Tremendously gentle, Scott. And semi-neurotic, which is unavoidable."
Comparisons. The girl named Sandra is similar to Zucotti's wife in that she is quiet and soft-spoken. The boy named Hank and Mrs. Guggenheimer's husband are "both athletic and both eye-crinklers." And Dr. Brothers says one's first love tends to have the characteristics of one's mother and "one's first love and eventual love are similar in personality."
And definitions. "Everything that you are is everything you've always been," says Mrs. Guggenheimer. "So the meaning of first love is that it's part of the preparation for all that follows."
Ed McMahon, of television, says first love is important because "it sets the style of the way you treat all of the women you are involved with in your life."
To some, like Sedaka, first love is associations, like those conjured by an old song. "Adeline was always sitting in the first row, first seat and she was the prettiest girl in that school. Those things stay with you forever. Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. Some kid who brought chopped meat. I can't eat cream cheese and jelly sandwiches anymore."
To Earl Monroe, basketball player, first love means first hurt.
South Philadelphia. 1956. Earl the Pearl is 11. He sees this girl, Clara, 12 or 13, at sixth grade graduation exercises. She is five-foot-six with "short curls all over," and she has good legs and the Pearl has always been a "leg freak" and "everybody else wanted her."
His family has a corner grocery store and Clara comes in for cold cuts and the Pearl gives her, for free, candies, soda and potato chips. "Whatever she wanted was all right by me. But our stock was going down and no money coming in and my mother caught up with me.
"I had about that time, a friend down the street with a family that had opened a supermarket. I lost her about then."
The Pearl and Clara got together again briefly when he had just graduated from John Bartram High School. "She didn't want me to go away to college. I was thinking, 'Wow!' I just left. I didn't tell her I was leaving or anything.
"From her I formed a protective shield around myself because I didn't want anybody to take advantage of me or hold me back from doing my thing. To tell you the truth it was really only until the last seven or eight years that I really opened up to women."
From time to time, the Pearl saw Clara again. Once he saw her at a game in San Diego. Another time he dropped by her house in Philadelphia when he heard she was in town, but he never stayed long enough "to pick her mind."
Zuccotti never did look up Sandra. "It just never entered my mind. After all if you tried to get in touch she wouldn't remain first love.
"First love is a memory, not a reality.
"First love means someone who makes an impression that stays in your mind and one day someone calls you up and says, 'Who was your first love?' and that memory comes to mind."
And Hank. What of Hank. Hank died at 17 as the result of an accident that occurred because he was an athlete, which is one reason why Mrs. Guggenheimer was attracted to him. He died as a result of an infection he got from a punctured eardrum -- he was a swimmer and he hit the water wrong. In those days there were no antibiotics.
And Mrs. G? Mrs. G is left with Mrs. G., who happened to be her "second first love," and with a feeling.
The first love feeling is "very terrible and marvelous at the same time. Terrible because he might look at somebody else. Marvelous because you haven't before had any of the hurt of love or the excitement either. First loves are painful but fun."
Copyright 1977 Danielle Flood
















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