Books about family relationships were the links for yesterday's Washington Post Book and Author Luncheon at the Sheraton-Park Hotel.
Brook Hayward, daughter of actress Margaret Sullivan and producer Leland Hayward, spoke of her widely admired memoir, "Haywire," and related how, written "for my own benefit, a form of analysis," it had prompted different kinds of questions from women and men.
"Women ask, 'When did the disintegration of your parents' marriage begin?' while men ask, 'Why did you write the book?'"
Now the mother of three, the eldest 20, Hayward declared with some passion: "People shouldn't be allowed to have children until they have been taught, trained to communicate with, to hear children. With all our advantages, intelligence, wealth, fame, we all talked a different language. I envy Mr. Rosenfeld."
Hayward was referring to Stephen S. Rosenfeld, a Post editorial columnist whose "The Time of Their Dying" concerns the deaths of his parents, within five months, from cancer.
From this experience Rosenfeld found his family's always-close life had grown even more emotionally enriching as all realized the imminence of the deaths. "We, the children, all arranged to take turns every week going home to Pittsfield. "Go hope," Rosenfeld urged, "be there. Nothing happens on the phone."
Tony Hiss of The New Yorker staff and son of Alger Hiss, related how "Laughing Last: Alger Hiss" is an accurate title because "My Dad is a happy man today. As a reporter, it was easy for me to ask him questions which I could not as a son. He never lied to me, I could trust him as a son. He always was a sucker for hard luck stories and that's how we got into his troubles."
The subject of playwright Garson Kanin's novel, "One Hell of an Actor," published last month, is a forgotten California actor he first heard about in 1940, the bachelor-father of a family that never did get to know their relationships.
"I kept asking questions and tracking him down for 35 years," declared Kanin. "The most unbelievable source I found was a waiter in San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel. He described performances before the earthquake, er fire, and when I began to doubt, he told me he was 100 years old. He retired 18 months later because 'I've got other things to do.'"
Old hotels also prompted Kanin to recall that when he and his wife, actress Ruth Gordon, last saw the Willard Hotel it was the dilapidated ghost of its former self. "We were married there 35 years ago and it depressed me. Not Ruth. She said: "Isn't it great? Our marriage has outlasted the Willard!'"