Remembering Jerry Leiber, a Friend

I would sometimes fix Jerry up with dates, but he never seemed satisfied with my model friends — and he never ever liked my dating Norman Mailer

 

When my home burned in L.A., Jerry Leiber gave me kitchen items which I have to this day. He was a thoughtful and caring friend. We went to dinner many times at Elaine’s. We met through the composer Cy Coleman, who was my ex-husband’s best man for our wedding.

When I decided I wanted to write, Jerry granted me an interview with Mike Stoller for Los Angeles Magazine. They were both kind as I had never done an interview and was nervous.

I would sometimes fix Jerry up with dates, but he never seemed satisfied with my model friends. And he never ever liked my dating Norman Mailer and tried to get me to understand that it would one day "crash and burn." Jerry knew Norman well. He knew the things that have not been printed and may never be.

Jerry lived in a penthouse on East 57th Street. He had a sprawling apartment with spectacular views. It was the building from which Eric Clapton’s baby fell to his death and which inspired Clapton to write “Tears in Heaven." Many a night I would visit Jerry and we would listen to music and just hang. He had two handsome sons. Their mother was his first wife, Gaby, who had a thick German accent and great style. Gaby, who was a director of theatre, was a great influence in his early song writing.

Leiber and Stoller affected the course of modern popular music in 1957 when they wrote and produced the crossover double-sided hit by the Coasters, "Young Blood"/"Searchin'." They released "Yakety Yak," which was a mainstream hit, as was the follow-up, "Charlie Brown." This was followed by "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy," "Shoppin' for Clothes," and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)."  Then there were: “ Love Potion No. 9," “Kansas City," “There Goes My Baby," “Stand by Me," “On Broadway," “Spanish Harlem” and “Is That All There Is?”  

But Leiber and Stoller’s biggest success was created during their relationship with Elvis Presley and all the songs they wrote for him most notably “Hound Dog."

Jerry was a pal of another good friend of mine, Ahmet Ertegun, CEO of Atlantic Records, who also has passed. Ahmet and Jerry worked together at Atlantic when Lieber and Stoller revitalized the careers of the Drifters and the Coasters. Jerry fondly referred to Ahmet as “Omeletta."

When Jerry was honored by ASCAP at the Founders Awards in 1991, he arranged for me to be flown to the dinner in his honor in Hollywood as press. Ironically, Norman Mailer with whom I was having an affair was also in Hollywood interviewing Warren Beatty for Vanity Fair. Norman would ask me to help him with questions for Warren whom I had dated.  

When I wasn’t swimming in the glorious pool of the Hotel Roosevelt with its David Hockney painting on the bottom, I was being interrogated by Norman Mailer about Warren Beatty.  But it was the kindness and respect for me as a journalist that caused Jerry to arrange for ASCAP to put me up at the Roosevelt, not Norman Mailer’s kindness. By this time Jerry Lieber was already involved with his future second wife or had married her. The exact status of their relationship was unclear. She also attended the dinner.

Up until this time I still remember Jerry’s great love of life. Eventually he married the woman who had attended the ASCAP dinner, but she and Jerry’s first wife, Gaby, were at odds. In fact the entire family became rather split. Then I heard Jerry was ill. I no longer saw him and was deeply sad about this.

I had the impression that Jerry was living in a kind of prison. A prison which had cut him off from past friends. By now he had built a house on Venice Beach and lived there with his new woman and became a lost friend.

But his music will live on.