David Margulies, Girlhood Crush
He showed up in a jean jacket, sandals, jaunty scarf, and a blissful smile. It was the summer of 1978 and David was to live with us while appearing in a new play, the first year of the utopian Aspen Playwrights Conference.
David captivated us all. My family, slowly winding towards my parents’ divorce, was happy to have this sweetness, this gentleness, this man of play in our midst.
I spent the summer of my fourteenth year following David around the, then, tiny town of Aspen. Every walk from our house to the theater was a journey of surprise encounters and treasures found. With a daisy in his hair, David would stop and make conversation with anyone at all. He was charming and curious. What else is there? He also did a lot of yoga, so I have vivid images of him standing on his head all over the place: parks, hallways, dining rooms. Being with David was pure play in all its wonder. I fell in love with that absolute ease of engaging with the world, with people and with his work. As an actor, his body, his practice, his attention, his focus, his determination, his openness, his delight in the beauty of human imperfection, were all part of the work.
David had come to us from NYC where he was known to be a truly wonderful actor. The film, The Front, in which he plays a blacklisted writer along with Zero Mostel and Woody Allen, had opened two years before and his reputation was that of being a “real actor.” Not a star, but an actor, and one of the best.
The Aspen Playwrights Conference, started by three professors from the University of Cincinnati, had set up shop, leaving U.C. the same year we did. It was a dreamy group, pulling talent from the thriving New York City theater scene of the 1970s. Harold Clurman, of the Group Theater, was the Critic in Residence. Writers and directors and actors found refuge in their art through the process of work-shopping new plays. I was cast as Virginia Woolf’s niece, Angelica Bell, which meant I could be right there in the midst of it all. Harold in his white linen suit and beret, mischievously giving me acting notes, the actors exploring the text and characters while the writers watched and learned about their own work, all of us ingesting new pages of text every day, I was in hard-work heaven.
As it was the seventies and I was a young teen, I did a lot of embroidery on my clothing, mostly cut-offs and gauzy shirts. David asked me to embroider his beautifully worn-out jean jacket. I started happily, adding something each day: a pink flower, a purple sunset, a leaf. As the summer’s end loomed, David would remind me to finish, to finish, to finish. He had to leave. Maybe I did not want to think about the end, but more likely, I was just, as David said, reminding him I was fourteen years old. He was disappointed in me, I knew. And I felt awful for letting him down. He took the unfinished jacket home to NYC.
I don’t think I ever told him what he taught me that summer. I so wish he had known.
He taught me perhaps the greatest lessons for an artist: mundane hard work, engage wholly, finish completely, and play.
If I were to speak at his Memorial Service, I would do it standing on my head.
David Margulies February 19,1937-January 11, 2016