September 24, 2012

Dinner At The Styron’s

Living in New Haven, Connecticut in 1970 changed my life in so many ways. My self began to assert itself more confidently, although not without enormous tantrums and anxiety. Onward and upward I was growing, fighting unseen enemies, evolving my own style and slowly beginning to find the life I wanted to live.

I knew that I needed a new role model, one that fit my tortured soul and one that fit a more artistic lifestyle. One thing I was sure of as that it wasn’t going to be the life of my father. I was on a quest and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end. On the one hand, I loved the life of a man of letters, yet I also loved the romance and adventure of photography and I loved the pursuit of knowledge. How do you put the three together, integrating different inclinations into one lifestyle? The answer lied with my in-laws.

As one of my favorite playwrights (who happened to be my father in said) once said when asked by a journalists what his average day looked like, “Yesterday I put a comma in and today I took it out.”

The artistic quest is not about how many hours you work or how productive you are (although you are usually quite productive if you do something long enough). It is about the quest to expose some small private truths that become universal as they meet the light of day.

One of the benefits of living in Connecticut in the very early 1970′s was my in-laws. They lived in the western foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Connecticut. It was rural, very beautiful, two hours away from New Haven and filled with writers, painters, actors and musicians. It was an intellectual and artistic ghetto that I grew to like and from which my own life learned and developed it’s own rhythm. I was watching very carefully the lives, not of the rich and famous, but the creative and artistic.

In the late summer of 1970, just a few weeks after moving into our tiny apartment on Park Street in New Haven, we went to my in-laws house in Bridgewater, Connecticut for the weekend. This was the beginning of many weekends spent in western Connecticut. That first Saturday night Bob and Teresa (my in-laws Robert Andersen, the playwright and Teresa Wright, the actress) invited us to join them at a party at William Styron’s house (the novelist) in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Now Bill Styron had always been one of my favorite writers. He was a native Virginian, a true aristocratic Southerner with a great patois of southern gentility, intensity, and depression. He descended from a grand swell of my favorite American writers, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Faulkner, etc. In short he was one of my idols.

We got to the dinner at the Styron’s house and it was already filled with talent. There was Arthur Miller, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein, Jacob Javitts, Clive and Francine Grey, etc., the list just keeps on going. I was among the literary elite, the immortals, and the conversation expressed this. Rose Styron, graciously welcomed us in, and immediately introduced me to everyone and off she went into the kitchen to prepare a lavish feast for all.

In one corner was Leonard Bernstein screaming about modern music and his love of The Beatles and in the other was Bill Styron giving me a tour of the house. There were signed letters to him from J.F.K. and when I asked him what he was working on, he mentioned his new novel was about a slave rebellion in Virginia in the very early 19th Century by Nat Turner.

When the party was thinning out, Francine Grey (a writer) asked me to give her a ride home. She told me she lived just up the road and she had shown interest in me as I was studying theology and she was writing a book called “Divine Disobedience,” about the Berrigan Brothers, two dissident Catholic Priests. I of course had nothing useful to add to the conversation.

Well I quickly got her home, that was the easy part. Getting back was a different matter. For three hours I drove in circles until finally someone in a car must have noticed how bewildered I looked and stopped and asked if I needed help. It was all pitch black, with no road signs and street lights. I asked if they knew where the Styron’s house was, and they did, and I returned just in time before the police were called in. They must have thought I had fallen into some ditch. Everyone seemed relieved to see me.

As time went on, I would play tennis with Rose Styron and continue to meet new people and watch the ebb and flow of the new life I wanted. It was the artist life, where solitude, discipline, and creativity merge into a particular day.

Today was a productive day for me. I decided I liked a picture I didn’t like yesterday.



  1. “Yesterday I put a comma in and today I took it out.” What a beautiful measure of artistic productivity. Beautifully written blog.


    Comment by Katarina Kojic — September 24, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

  2. [...] The End Starts Here: On Dining with Greatness. Rodney Smith recalls a time long ago. Today was a productive day for me. I decided I liked a picture I didn’t like yesterday. via [...]

    Pingback by The End Starts Here: On Dining with Greatness. Rodney Smith recalls a time long ago. | Wizwow's World — September 25, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  3. Just like after a great meal, I feel like simply saying, thank you.

    Comment by Steve Stanton — September 25, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  4. Your mother-in-law was the effervescent Teresa Wright? Did you ever have a conversation with her about “The Best Years of Our Lives” and the legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland?

    The story you tell is wonderful. And makes me miss even more the days I spent on the east coast in Northern NJ and Boston.

    Comment by Andy — September 27, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  5. Your photos are amazing!!
    I’ve followed your reflections about photography in an online course on (with Cris). Your considerations are strong and very helpfull. Thank you very very muche for your Art

    Comment by Roberto — October 7, 2012 @ 9:00 am

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