Screen shot from The Virginian (thanks Danna Ruscha)

Tom Baker

In March of 1968, I moved to LA. There’s a lot of back story leading up to this move: personal development, search for a new life, search to be someone I had never been allowed – never allowed myself to be, etc. There’s the story of New York City: of modeling; of the apartments on E. 38th St. and E. 4th St.; and stories about Max’s Kansas City in my time working there as waitress after discovering that 7th Ave. was not where the beautiful people were (models were mostly vicious and if one is always on acid, can’t help but notice.) I stopped answering my agent’s calls but needed quick income. There is the intriguing story of how I journeyed to LA, landing there by mistake, feeling I had to stay even though the place scared me, on and on.

However what I’m thinking about tonight is my friendship with Tom Baker and others, Allen Midgette, Nawana Davis, Patrick Tilden. And this is about Tom. 

Within a month of arriving, I ran into Nawana, an actress who had also worked at Max’s and relocated to LA. She was coupling briefly with writer, Kenny Lawrence, who lived in Hollywood, off Sunset (or Fountain?). We would hang out at Kenny’s, which, I believe, is where I first met Tom. Tom Baker was an incredibly intelligent, well-read, casual, charismatic guy who was also an actor with a strong work ethic and a Warhol star. In those days most of us (well, at least I) had sex with friends so I can say that Tom and I were casual lovers but only briefly and only in the beginning.

I recall Tom’s being upset with me one time because I had not responded as he thought I should when someone was rude and abusive to me on the street. The truth is I sometimes enjoyed just walking across Sunset Boulevard and making the traffic come to a screeching halt. This was unheard of in any other city I had visited or lived in and I found it quite amusing. One night, I left Kenny’s apartment, I think to go to the store. I was a smoker in those days––none of the others smoked. Perhaps I went to get cigarettes. On my way back I had enjoyed rambling/gambling? across Sunset Boulevard and a driver who’d had to slam on his brakes became enraged and screamed obscenities at me. Upon my return, I shared the story and Tom was upset that I had not flown in the guy’s face… or something. After a fairly animated 3-way conversation (Kenny watched/listened), Tom closed it with, “Well there’s one thing you can say about Diane (that was my name then), she always gives every asshole another chance.”

Life went on; we came and went.  The following summer Tom was working on a project with Jaime Sanchez, Jaime’s first directorial project at the Actors Studio in LA – The Great White Hope. Tom played the white boxer and I played the black boxer’s girlfriend. Originally, a fairly well-known actress from the studio (I don’t recall who) had the role of the girlfriend and I’d agreed to come and hold script. She didn’t show up for rehearsals so many times, therefore I had read/rehearsed her part so many times that I had it memorized and, apparently, I was good at it so Jaime fired her and I got the part.

At that time, I was living at 6127 1/2 Glen Tower, in a small cabin with a huge, partially furnished porch, surrounded by bamboo and Morning Glories. My friend, Courtney Campbell, was living with me, sleeping on the porch. She was very excited that I was doing this project and hand stitched a beautiful white summer dress for me as costume. I was 3 months pregnant and wasn’t sure who the father was but determined not to have an abortion because I had been told by a doctor I would never have children, so to me it was a miracle.

There are many more stories about and around these times/subjects but for this moment let me just say that there were sometimes very frightened, lonely hours, not knowing what I would do or how I would live and support a child.  Tom was a good friend to me in those days. He’d stop by and visit, chat, ask how I was.  I felt safe expressing my fears and concerns and he listened.

The last time I saw Tom was probably in 1978 or ‘79. I had stopped by TVTV to use the bathroom, on my way home during rush hour from Hollywood to Venice. Tom was editing and while we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, it was as if nothing had changed; as if it were a week which had passed.  It was brief, sweet, friendly – we were smiling.

After moving back to NYC in the early 90s, I was attending one or another of Yvonne’s Max’s KC events and came to be talking to some people (a couple whose names I forget) who had known Tom very well over a long period of time. They told me about his death from a heroin overdose, which dose was a gift for his birthday.  He had been clean and healthy for quite awhile, they said. He’d been working out and was looking good. This dose/gift was far too much for his cleaned-up self; his tolerance was lower.  He was 42.

The husband told me how ridiculous it was that people said they had visitations from Tom after he died. I shared with him that I didn’t find that unusual because I’ve had a couple of visitations from Tom, one in which Jim Morrison was along but waited outside on the porch. This man was hesitant to believe me but I didn’t seem as wacky, I guess, as some of the others so he seemed to consider it (thinking back, why didn’t I ask who these folks were, perhaps we should all have communicated, had lunch or a séance.) The wife told me of Tom’s horrible, terrible reputation for using and abusing women––how he took everything they had from welfare mothers, food stamps included, etc. etc. I shared with her that I was sorry to hear it but happy to report I’d had a very different relationship with Tom.  She wouldn’t consider it. Every good story I shared, she countered with some assumed ill-intent on Tom’s part; but she did it painfully, as if she cared so deeply for him, she needed to hang onto only the bad in order to bear losing him. I kept repeating that I’d never had those experiences with him.  “Perhaps it was because I had nothing for him to take, perhaps because we were more friends than anything else––I was not really one of his women.” She insisted he was only visiting me when I was pregnant because some of the guys believed the best sex was with a woman 3-4 months pregnant. I replied and repeat here, firmly, that if that was ever his motivation, he never made a move toward it. He might have hugged/held me for a moment on his way out but it was never sexual. It was always just comforting.

So, that’s enough for tonight. It is October 19, 2013 8:48 PM, it is about 25 hours past the eclipse at 25° Aries. Signing off for the night.

Update March 18, 2020:  A neighbor of mine is a painter and also has psychic abilities, which I didn’t know about until the first time she came to my apt. We were sitting in my office and she suddenly blurted, “Who is Alice?” I replied, “mmm, my Aunt Alice?” (recently deceased) and I pointed to Alice’s picture. “That woman?  In that picture?  She’s been waving at me since I got here.  Well, she’s here with you. . . . “ (there’s more of course but just so you know how it works with this neighbor.) 

So a couple of months ago, on the phone she asked, ‘Who is the man who looked a little like Montgomery Clift, and who died relatively young, likely of a drug overdose . . . not much to offer in practical terms but had a good heart?  I said I had no idea, I’ve lost so many and that description could be any number of them.  A few weeks later, she called me and asked when had I started studying acting.  Because this guy is driving her crazy so can we identify him please.  “He’s got a pad and pencil so maybe he’s a writer or he’s taking notes and it appears you were acting together in a kind of student/studio situation. Oh, and there’s a film about Chet Baker playing behind him.” 

Ah, Tom’s back.

I figure it’s for one of two reasons: 1. I had intended to put something good about Tom on the internet to offset the downside I always found there but hadn’t done so yet (since you see I started this piece in 2013);  2. Tom had also said about me, in front of me once, “Diane’s problem is she thinks it’s her responsibility to educate every asshole she meets.” (Yes, he used that word, “asshole” often to describe certain types.) And my problem he described is the same. All these decades later, the same exhausting, obsessive, impossible mission. So maybe he’s come to remind me.

Also, I want to note that in the above referenced visitation, as Tom was leaving, he turned to me and said, “You’re coming with us aren’t you?”  (with him and Jim) and I replied simply, “No, I’m going to stay here.”  He looked a little disappointed, turned back, opened the door and left.

So, Tom Baker, my tribesman, my friend, I love you as I always have.  You were/are important to me at pivotal times in this life.  Thank you. And I’ll meet you down the road.