Monday, August 18, 2008

Diary of a Mad Housewife: Sue Kaufman (Barondess) Revisited

A post I wrote on June 1, 2006 about Sue Kaufman ("Diary of a Mad Housewife") has elicited in response a lot of fantastic and heartfelt comments and email. The most recent comment was left by Mark on August 17, 2008. Thank you, Mark -- very much appreciated!

From 1965 to 1968, my family and I lived two floors above Sue Kaufman and her family. I remember her in the elevator as a nervous, unpretentious person. Her husband was indeed a fastidious man but I have no idea if he was fussy much less the controlling, insensitive man he has sometimes been made out to be. I also remember James as an extremely well-mannered child with glasses and the same owlish face as his father's. I was about the same age as he.

My family lived on the 13th floor while the Barondess family lived on the 11th. In between was Robert McNeill later of the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour.

The goings-on in my household were so strange and at times, unhappy, that I was not too focused on others in the building but one day my fate was placed in Dr. Barondess's hands and his help was swift and sure.

After an argument with my brother, I slammed a B & M baked beans jar down on my desk that I had been using as a pencil holder. Part of the glass jar broke off and was sent into my wrist artery. Blood shot to the ceiling. I was hysterical and ran to my mother's room. Somehow, Dr, Barondess was made aware of the situation. He called ahead to NY Hospital and by the time I arrived, I was taken immediately to a room adjoining the emergency room where Dr. Barondess oversaw the stitching of my wrist and I went home in a cast.

He may be guilty of being an emotionally absent husband or not but he acted compassionately and quickly in my behalf.

I have always been under the impression that Sue Kaufman died by jumping out the window in the back of the building onto the courtyard where we played basketball. When you read the obituary closely, you can see that she could have had cancer AND committed suicide. God rest her. I wish my mother, who loved books and worked in publishing, had gotten to know her. In some ways, they were both trapped by the same constraints imposed by the success of their husbands whose careers far outpaced their marriages.

Today's Rune: Fertility.


Anonymous said...

You're really cute. Are you single? Gloria, love and kisses

Sidney said...

I had no idea about her fate. I recall most the movie version from television. I believe it was an NBC Monday Night at the Movies selection probably sometime in '71 or so.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the novel the narrator frees a trapped bug. It seems that in real life Kaufman was the one trapped.--Herman Northrop Frye

Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't know most of this either. Interesting.

Lana Gramlich said...

I hadn't heard of most of this, either. I'm going to have to check it out. Sounds depressing yet intriguing.

JR's Thumbprints said...

What a fascinating e-mail response! The insight into Sue Kaufman and her husband is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Sue Kaufman has a bitter marriage. She wanted to leave her husband for a lover, but she couldn't.
She became very sick during 1965-66. She was having irregular menstral periods with heavey bleeding. I didn't know that she killed her self, but it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Erik,
Val again. I actually forgot all about my blog and went to it only today and saw your comment.
Thanks for pointing me to these new comments.
I am still interested and read the other comments with fascination.

Someone mentioned Philip Lyman from Gotham Book Mart. He once, many years ago sent me a book of Sue Kaufman's which I'd ordered and a letter in which he said he remembered her walking around the shop a few days before she died.
He said 'She was a tall dignified woman and it occurred to me after I read of her death that she was saying goodbye to people and places that she knew.'
Of course that gives us no indication as to how she died.
It's so sad to think that it was suicide because she was a very talented writer.
Go well, Erik.

Anonymous said...

I started poking around trying to find info about Sue Kaufman and came upon your blog. The reason I was remember her was that I had been reading Slate's Losing Face, a novel written in real time and started comparing it to Diary of a Mad...What happened to characters with depth? This chic lit stuff. Did they never read SK? I know I read Falling Bodies and the Headshrinkers Test, but I can't remember the plots...

Elizabeth said...

Depression can also be a "long illness."

Anonymous said...

In novelist Judith Krantz' autobiography, she writes of her close friendship with Sue Kaufman. In the last week of Sue's life, Judith was visiting New York, and they spoke by phone for an hour each day. Judith writes further: "When I got back to L.A., the first thing Steve had to tell me was that Sue had killed herself the night before, jumping out of a window from her eighteenth-floor apartment. What I hadn't known, and what Jerry was trying to keep me from knowing, was that Sue had been institutionalized on and off for depression during the past years, and, on the day after she killed herself, she was due to go back to another institution, and she would rather die than endure the process." Depression is, indeed, a long illness.