For the first time since I have known him, the executive producer said to anyone who would listen, he saw a shift in the roles on the set. The previous male anchor was affable, wise, almost the wife, and the one who would compromise for the good of the family. Under these changed circumstances, maintaining that mood might be impossible. The would-be anchor lady — I can’t call her a woman because I am not certain she will accept her birth role, no matter her gender — is powerfully aggressive. She dives in and takes over whenever she sees an opening. That doesn’t always sit well with the new guy. He is supposed to be in charge on the set. Yet, the executive producer, despite his tunnel vision, often a by-product of pot, and Four Feathers whiskey, thinks she will develop into the perfect on-the-air wife who is warm, friendly, kind, willing to do anything, well almost anything, for the sake of peace.
Despite the problems, the show has a good look and feel, and the audience cannot begin to guess all the tensions. Both anchors are intelligent and talented, but don’t put them in the same sauna together. One of them would not come out alive. When they are in front of the camera, they are nearly perfect. Outside in the real world, they do not speak to each other. They never mix socially which speaks loudly of their distaste for the other. They never go to the favored newsroom saloon even if they know the other is drinking elsewhere. To do so would be weak and potentially pandering to the staff that eats and drinks there daily. One of them might make a surprise appearance and force them to be together, if only briefly. Most on staff care only about their weekly paycheck. They have no involvement is what I call the life of the show. They go home at night, or wherever, and that is it until the next cycle. They love scandal, but most will not take one side over the other, at least in public and blow a good deal for themselves.
Yet, in this day of budding feminism, here’s a woman, this Sally James, who decides she will no longer be a role player. She wants everything her way and she refuses to be submissive. Rightfully so. Good for her. We, her producers, make the mistake in not realizing that women are the biggest audience we have for the show. The women at home root for her at every opportunity, though silently. They cannot let her know how much they care. That would be giving away much of their power. Sally clearly has other plans. She, as the woman anchor has made a choice and a decision. Her choice is to be more aggressive than she has been in the past, both on and off the air. Her decision is to carve a place for herself outside the path a woman usually takes in broadcasting, especially outside the track normally open to a woman. It seems to me Sally wants to, better yet, she insists on doing more herself. She prefers not to use an assistant to find her guests to interview. Once during the Wisconsin primary she wandered through the set, a massive hotel lobby in Milwaukee, looking for fresh name guests for that morning’s show. We happened to be broadcasting near the restaurant where all the politicians had their morning coffee. Though we were on the air one hour earlier than Eastern Time, enough men and women, political operatives and pundits, were also wandering through the lobby on their way to breakfast meetings and strategy sessions. Sally James had no shame. In her bathrobe and still wearing curlers, she approached people to appear live with her that morning. Many said no. Two said yes. She got what she wanted and controlled her destiny by saying the hell with how she looked. Her public appearance, often the mark of a star, meant nothing to her then. After she booked her guests, she turned them over to an associate producer. Sally took the elevator to her suite, dressed, removed the curlers, did a quick study on whom she booked, and returned to the set for the show opening.”
Morris did not doubt that Sally James had already decided on her next step. There was an unwritten rule that major interviews would go only to the male anchor. She broke that rule, arranging to interview major figures on her own without consulting the producers. It was unusual because it went against common practice. When she hooked a guest, Sally demanded she do the interviews by herself or she would release the guest to another show, or even to another network. We producers feared we would lose the guest, he remembers, and we let he do what she wanted. In the future, she would control her bookings, gathering and coddling guests, as she wanted. Sally won another major battle. We producers were also afraid she might defect. We could not guess where she might go and what she might do next. The other networks did not yet have strong morning shows. There were only three networks and one had no morning show. We found her possible departure to be beyond our consideration. Sally James had become strong, so strong that she established a lifelong pattern of daring her bosses with direct and implied threats to meet her needs to further her career. Morris confided at the time.
Sally had a theory that she wanted me to understand. She told me about a gathering of women she got together with periodically. “Scare them into capitulation, and they will go to their knees every time,” she told me she told her friends one night at a party in her apartment. The women would wolf down another bag of Owl potato chips, sip their Rheingold Beer, dabble in sips of Tio Pepe Sherry, gobble quarts of vanilla ice cream and giggle their hearts out feeling that their success would be next. Success is truly heady. She and her friends imagined they would run their own network, men would be subservient to them professionally, and, hopefully, good lovers when off the reservation. Their dreams were enough to get them through the evening without too much weeping. That is what Sally told me.”
Robert Morris stops the tape recorder, rises slowly and goes to the mirror that hangs behind the door in his office. His ex-wife gave him the small mirror with a fake gilt frame so he could make sure he kept his tie knotted properly and his hair, though thinning, in place before he went to a meeting or held one in his office. He still used the mirror though the time of everyone wearing suits and ties was slowly ending. The mirror reminded him of her, her beauty, her charm, a mixture of Deep South from Georgia, and Northern New England from Maine. He recalled her body and her refusal to allow herself, in his words, to be, to let the person he thought she was, enough freedom so the two of them could enjoy what each had to give. But she kept her true self in hiding, choosing to dress like an early 20th Century schoolteacher and also thinking like one. It was a marriage not meant to be, but they were suddenly one sweet day in the spring when everything in the world looked and felt perfect. They had been living together, mostly, though they each kept an apartment. He rarely spent any time in his own one room rental. The inevitable happened. After never mentioning marriage, they thought about it simultaneously, and, as if by osmosis, they said to each other without thinking let us get married. They married in a simple ceremony with a few friends and no parents from either side present. Afterwards they went home to her apartment. Starting what they considered a new life, they rented a one bedroom near work and began what they assumed would be the foundation of a full life. Once they were a couple, it started to fail almost from their first night together. It was a memory that Morris hated to relive, but one that he never seemed to bury. He turned from the mirror and walked to the window of his office that overlooked a main thoroughfare. Enough of that, of her, he thought. That was many years ago. Happily, there were no children. My God, he thought, that would have been a terrible mess. Happily was a word he never thought he would use in describing that marriage.
Robert Morris in Love.
Lest anyone come to the wrong conclusion, Robert Morris had a life outside the news business. He never stopped thinking about his past. He constantly screwed up that life because he could not satisfy his appetite, always needing to try something new, as long as a woman was part of the experience. He did not think he would find any answers to why he did what he did, but he enjoyed going back in time as an excuse for not facing the present. He was not a masochist despite having had a very messy life.
Robert Morris’ recent love affair had about it the feel of a 1930s romantic movie. It had started slowly because Robert, for all his bluster when with other men, was shy with women. A year earlier, he ended, or, that is, his wife had ended his second marriage. His first marriage, the one from more than twenty years earlier, lasted only ten months with an annulment mutually agreed to because of so-called incompatibility. Incompatibility was a lawyer’s reason for ending a marriage between two youngsters who were running from reality. They had passionately consummated the marriage on their honeymoon, followed by ice cream cones at a shop next to the motel. They seemed compatible in bed, but soon there was trouble. He wanted frequent sex. She did not. That is why the relationship ended. The reason for the annulment, a lie, took place in a Mexican courtroom with neither Morris nor his wife present. New York recognized it, and wiped the marriage off the books. The marriage never had a chance of success because neither person, each barely in their twenties, was ready to share life with someone else.
From his second marriage, he had two children, a boy now six, and a girl now four. Both sweet, charming, and like so many children of well-to-do parents who could give their children almost everything except love, both were very bright. Morris missed them and had little chance to see them because his wife had moved herself and the children to Cleveland, a city he rarely visited to get them out of his glare. The marriage had collapsed, as so many others in the business, for a simple reason — because he was never home. On the road, as with many of his contemporaries, he tinkered with other women, the way a stamp collector dabbled in rare stamps. Robert Morris said he never missed an opportunity to score especially when someone approached him, something he believed happened with regularity. He never would admit that he initiated most approaches. The pass, as he called it, worked because of booze, mutual loneliness and long hours. His divorce did not erase the usual inability he had in his dealings with women, but now that he had formally severed his life from his wife, it made his sex life easier. Now there were no strings in a relationship. But he was getting older and the younger women, those who were the most desirable, often had younger men on their minds. It was not golden as he hoped it would be. All this was typical of any male in his mid-forties who lived in the eighth decade of the Twentieth Century and who worked in TV news. At least that is how Robert Morris rationalized it. That is, until Tina came along.
Tina R. was an elegant woman. She worked at the network in an upscale executive office in Human Relations, what Morris used to know as personnel. Human Relations was a corporate catchall to put a face on the often-inhuman relations management had with its employees, especially those who were in a union. Her office had floor to ceiling wraparound windows that let her peek at the unsuspecting tops of people’s heads in the street below. Tina R. through hard work dressed perfectly and was always ready to do battle in honor of her sex. She had become a living clone of the daily style pages of The New York Times, especially, the sycophantic Sunday charity ball and wedding sections. She looked as if she just stepped out of Vogue. Really, though, if you knew her well, she let you know that she took a different approach to buying clothing. If you followed her, you might see her slyly sneaking out of a fashionable, inexpensive boutique on Lower Broadway or the Lower East Side, where she purchased the latest in styles, and even knock-offs, for far less money. When it came to wearing clothing, style came before her pride.
To an outsider, a voyeur, peeping without shame, who might be spying on her for self-satisfaction, she conveyed an air of perfect contentment. On the surface, she carried herself with an ease she supported with a studied, demanding understanding of her, or so she believed. She possessed enough arrogance to make a difference in what she saw in her face in the bathroom mirror each morning, compared to who she was inside her highly toned body. This illusion of her real self, allowed her, if only for a few hours each day, to be the image of perfection as she made her way through the halls of the network. Each morning after her intensive workout in the gym, she stopped at coffee wagon outside network headquarters. She bought an average tasting coffee with skim milk, and a mass-produced homemade, sugar rich muffin. The Slovakian immigrant put her purchase into a pristine, brown paper bag that she carried to her desk. Though the desk was a mass-produced knockoff, a fake, it looked great to outsiders because of its clean lines. Having a cheap, highly stylized desk saved the company money and gave offices for executives an expensive look and feel.
Tina, who loved food, would eat anything put on plate in front of her, yet she never gained weight. She had more energy that most other women she knew. She was always moving even if she had nowhere to go. She had a hard body from hard work, a silicon look without the injections. Robert Morris found that attractive. Her perfectly formed frame with every muscle in place had little room for additional tissue. She carried no excess weight, thus no fat. Because of her high metabolism, she had the physical ability to expend energy without effort. It helped her stay in shape. She looked like a life-sized poster of women body builders that we find pasted to walls in gas stations, and hanging in gyms and health clubs everywhere. Yet, she did not have the excessively sculptured muscles that came from hours of sweaty, heavy lifting. She was an aerobics queen with the stamina of a cheetah. Her workout clothing was stylish and fit her perfectly. She envied her personal trainer’s sculptured body but she refused, as some of her friends did with their personal trainers, to get involved with a man who lacked anything but the ability to order her around while she grappled with crude, cast iron dumbbells. Her personal trainer was socially fumbling, but genuine for all that his muscle-bound brain bought to each session. It was something she enjoyed in a man, but only on a limited basis. Robert Morris was the exception to her rule, because of his intellect. He rarely worked out. It took too much time and energy. But Tina admired him anyway. He was self- assured and tough-minded. Little did she know how he daily had to shore himself up so he would not fall apart in front of her or the people he worked with. Morris sometimes gave into his frustrations by raising his voice, and by bellowing in front of others to make sure his subordinates followed his orders.
Robert Morris’ sudden fits of temper never worked with Tina. Fortunately, she had a low attention span, which meant she always had something new in view before she completed the task in front of her. It meant that Morris and his moods were temporary setbacks as she moved to something new, fresh during the day at work, and night at play.
Her professional demeanor revealed anyone observing her that she was at peace with herself, and confident with the position she had at the network. However, some people sensed that her permanently tweaked mind had a coat of micro thin, black Teflon that allowed her to escape reality and the responsibility that went with it. Her enemies accused her of using her eclectic taste in clothing as a way to overcome her inability to think creatively. In the decidedly man’s world where she existed, being better dressed than the men around her had always been a distinct advantage in the pursuit of her dream. Tina barreled her way to the top mainly because of her intelligence. She understood a hard-nosed mind was different from a creative one. She never admitted to a few good girl friends after drinks that bedding selected men had also been a major help.
When alone, she often thought about her job description. She knew there was nothing in her contract that said she had to hold hands with someone like Robert Morris, a man she soon realized was needy to the core. After all, she was not a priest, less a nun. Thank you, God, for making me the way I am, she thought. She really had important things to do, she told herself silently, quickly, even nodding her head to reaffirm she meant what she thought. She wanted to get on with her corporate life. Robert Morris had been a good time for her, but with all things, that too had to end. She expected that Robert Morris would not mind. He had too many responsibilities outside the network to attach himself to one person for good. The thought of being one woman for one man frightened her. She refused to accept it as a way of life. Tina R.’s tactics were studied, thus mostly perfect. She knew she had to separate herself from Robert Morris. As usual, she was right. She started zinging Robert to make him feel off balance. She knew she had to soon take the opportunity to say what she really thought, things that she has been saving inside her head all the years she had known him, including the time before they became a couple. She had become weary of his, to her mind, whining, and his self-righteous posturing, especially when he had a few drinks. For her, he had outlived his once amusing and contentious presence. She did not fully understand his anger. She did not fathom his fear. She did not grasp the core of his hostility. As she came closer to ending their relationship, she realized she did not want to understand very much about him. She wondered, too, after the yearlong affair, why she thought of him in those ways: hostile, angry, fearful, self-righteous, no longer amusing. She wondered, but only for a moment. She had to get on with her life. Robert Morris no longer fit her plans. It was time to move on.
Now when he talked to Tina on the phone, Robert could hear her laugh. Recently her laugh had become what he called, thin. Not hearty. Not real. He could not see her wide grin, which would have exposed to him the truth of his feelings. When talking to him, Tina tapped her right foot against the floor very quickly. Her fully exposed leg from the thigh down to the tip of her toe jiggled and bounced in alternate patterns almost uncontrollably. She brushed her hair from her forehead in a circular motion. She twirled and twisted it around her forefinger, repeatedly. She stopped and held a length of her hair in her hand, looked at it, and sniffed it. Bored and distracted. She craved immediate attention from elsewhere, anywhere but from Robert Morris.