In case you weren’t near any news or media yesterday, I’ll start by saying we lost a brilliant man early on Saturday, April 9th, 2011. Filmmaker Sidney Lumet passed at the age of 86 from lymphoma – a tremendous loss for anyone that loves film in any way.
Countless tributes and news clippings have already amassed in the short time since and will rightfully so continue in the days, months and years to come. I come at this post in a somewhat personal cathartic measure to shed a small light on a part of his life that all the tributes won’t.
Sidney Lumet was my uncle-in-law during my 5 yr. marriage to his nephew. My husband’s father could have been Sidney’s twin, they had the same mole on their cheek, their teeth aged the same way, and they seemingly bought their much-needed eyeglasses, from the same provider. In the years that passed and certainly now, I can’t look at a picture or interview of the famous man and not think of the other.
They were not close, it was an odd family structure, in fact my husband was adopted and his father, Ed, was basically ousted from his side of the family for marrying an Irish Catholic and converting from their Jewish heritage in the name of love. But you couldn’t take the genes out of the man. Ed’s Jewish heritage both haunted and animated him, and rubbed off onto everyone he knew.
Ed was several years older than Sidney and suffering from his own form of cancer when I met him and became part of the family. My husband and he also went a very long time without speaking, but after losing his Helen to the same disease years earlier they reconciled and I came into the picture.
Ed was an artist and master in his own field of iron working. He literally built an empire in Philadelphia, making wrought iron fences and railings and I’m sure that most still stand today. He was also a master storyteller and candid as hell much like Sidney, and though they weren’t close, he told impassioned stories of Lena Horne and New York theatre every time we visited. His eyes would literally sparkle through the same damn, huge-rimmed, coke bottle glasses.
I had a special connection with Ed, sure I was new in his life, but we could speak without words and be precisely on the same page, I was an artist and he loved that because so was he, and I believe he and I were the only ones that understood that because most blue collar jobs, no matter how well they paid, were ever considered art. My husband chortled a patronizing laugh every time Ed would clap his big powdery hands together and launch into a family yarn. My husband was also an entertainer with a modicum of success, but he yearned to be a writer. Ed prodded him to get in touch with Sidney, but even though he was adopted, he shared the family stubborn pride, the one of wanting to prove themselves on their own merits, with the help of no one. Something Sidney and Ed both succeeded at beyond even their own dreams.
The last time I saw Ed, he would soon pass – I knew.
He was at the tail end of a few week hospital stint and we had one of those talks of few words, he had a rough night the night before our visit, and I know he ‘saw the light’ and was ready to go. I taped up a get-well drawing of Roger Rabbit, and we drove the 2 hours home to Orlando, only to be awakened in the middle of the night with ‘the call’.
My husband was fairly matter-of-fact, and handled it coldly. I handled the funeral arrangements, house cleaning (and eventual renting etc…). I tried to convince him to wait until we could contact the few remaining relatives (at the time in California) ‘they may not be on speaking terms’, I reasoned, ‘but they should at least know the person they are not speaking to is dead.’ He wanted it over with and didn’t want to be a part of my trying to join him with a family he wasn’t even born into.
It wasn’t until the viewing and funeral were over, and the guests were leaving that my husband broke down and cried, realizing the enormity of his loss.
As my film career took off, my marriage crashed and eventually ended. But I always felt I’d cross Sidney’s path and tell him some of Ed’s stories and maybe even work with him. And every interview and picture that came through business channels made me feel like a ghost visited me. Reading Sidney’s book when it came out, I could hear Ed’s editorial commentary in between chapters.
[Sidney’s daughter] Jenny’s career took off just about the time my ex passed from another form of cancer. I followed her success closely with a renewed feeling that I would somehow be able to tell her Ed’s stories of her father and perhaps that would get back to him. I loved RACHEL GETTING MARRIED and couldn’t wait for Jenny’s next project. Not long ago, I was made privy to it and was told that she had gotten Sidney’s input on the screenplay even though he was ailing.
My stomach dropped — I knew.
Hell. Sidney knew just like Ed knew, the clip in the NYT link at the end was done to be served with his obit — almost 4 years ago.
On Saturday morning, April 9th, 2011 I cried. I cried for Sidney and Jenny and the rest of his immediate family and my ex-husband’s brother and his little girl who will never know that part of their family. I cried for all of the fans and participants in his work – for the loss of a true Hollywood icon that did it his way. I cried for yet another lost opportunity of my own. I cried for the pictures that looked so much like Ed. I cried in relief that I had recently reconciled with a different family member. And then I cried tears of joy for the reunion of Sidney, Ed, Lena and my husband. I think I have a new crew of angels and together we can all do great things. You see, the genes of that family are contagious, if they are not born into your bloodstream, they seep in when you least expect it and will continue to do so long after the propagators are laid to rest.
R.I.P. Sidney Lumet you made it before the devil knew, and your work will make its own way, you’re right – of course.
The New York Times coverage is among the best I’ve seen so far and fittingly so, even if you don’t read the article, please watch his last word video, he wanted it to be posted with his obit and like him, it is a work of art.
You want to read another secret? I’m also the cousin-in-law of David E. Kelley, (via my sister) and his mom lives about 2 miles from where Ed’s house was, and I know for a fact he had no idea he was related to Sidney for 5 years sometime ago. And to top it off that gene pool runs just as deep and independent… stay tooned.