Monday, November 21, 2011

A VW Convertible, an MGB Convertible, Sterling Hayden and I

At the end of our last entry, you were promised that in our next one we would tell you the story of what happened in 1964 when two red convertibles ended up parked side-by-side in a restaurant’s parking lot on the Connecticut Turnpike.

That year I went back to Newport, Rhode Island where I had worked the year before and I drove there in my 1964 red MGB roadster. When you travel alone and are open to whatever comes your way, you may encounter the unexpected whether that may be an unexpected occurrence or individual that for a short while makes the journey well worthwhile.

I stopped at a Howard Johnson-like restaurant on the Connecticut Turnpike for lunch, and when I was done, as I headed down the elongated steps to the parking lot, I saw a red VW convertible park next to my car and watched a familiar face get out and start walking up the stairs.

It was Sterling Hayden; sailor, actor, activist and author. His autobiography Wanderer had been published the year before, and his latest film was released in January 1964. His role was General Jack D. Ripper and the film’s complete title was also captivating to the imagination: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

He now stood one step down from me, and at 6’5” to my 5’10” we were almost on the same level when I greeted him with “Mr. Hayden, read the Wanderer and sorry that I didn’t arrive in the Bay Area until 1960. Would have loved to have sailed with you.” In 1959 he “kidnapped” his children and sailed off to Tahiti from Sausalito on the Wanderer.

Since I knew something about him from the book, we talked about his life as an adventurer and as an actor. I had seen “Dr. Strangelove” and we talked a bit about the absurdity of the then current and frigid Cold War situation where a mad man could accidentally set off an atomic bomb.

We talked about life and living and what a great adventure life was, and after thirty minutes I had to move on and so did he. He offered me his huge hand and we shook and I said, “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Mr. Hayden.”

Before he let go he asked, “And what is your name, young man?” I answered “Harvey Gotliffe.” We shook once more and he held on as he said, “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, too, Mr. Gotliffe,” and we parted. He headed up to the restaurant and I down to the parking lot where his red VW convertible sat next to my red MGB roadster.

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