’31 Days’ (And Counting): A Memoir of Seduction and the Woman Who Lived It
GALO: You started it.
MG: As soon as I had that first page, I sat down at the computer. I went into Kate and Marcia leaving Venice on the overnight train to Salzburg, the sounds and the feeling. So was there an inspiration? I don’t know. I spoke to two psychiatrists — I love the psychics but I wasn’t quite convinced. One was a music maven (she’s into brain music), and she explained the song triggered a very deep memory — the song is about seduction; it was like a filing cabinet that had been unlocked. All the memories came out. Except for Kate and my college roommate, I never told the story to anyone. In 1963, who would be crazy enough to do something like this? By the time I got to New York, it got absorbed into my life. Even though I was in touch with him those years, I never wanted to talk about it. Over 50 years, if no one asks you, nothing has been corrupted. It was pure. So when I started writing — you’re a writer, you know how when you wake up, and it comes to you.
GALO: A lot of times, with a subliminal memory — in this case that extraordinary month you were going through — you don’t want to water it down. I’ve often heard people say, when I’m starting a new story, not to talk too much about it. You can talk yourself out of something.
MG: Don’t. You don’t want to lose it.
GALO: In retrospect, do you think that total immersion in the affair was a dangerous one? If you could turn the clock back, would you really do it again?
MG: I would never change it [slight pause, clicking her fingers], it was so extraordinary.
GALO: You obviously felt strong enough to let yourself be pulled in, seeing yourself as a curious, creative person. That time of life, away from home, college, you’re soaking so much up.
MG: You’re a sponge. I don’t think a lot of girls would’ve gone for it. He was a very seductive character. He liked to seduce young girls; he lived a very Bohemian life. That was his thing. And if you wanted to go along with it, you took your chances. I was warned again and again…
GALO: He wasn’t trying to soften it for you. He had a wife, a mistress…girlfriends.
MG: The boys at school told me about that the first day. They talked about Kraks and his girlfriends and they talked about Bill. I said, “Whoa! He’s dangerous.” His eyes…radiated.
GALO: You say something about that when you recall the time that you first met him.
MG: I met him in the doorway welcoming people to class. I knew I couldn’t handle him, I was a kid. The only thing I had over other women [was] my basic curiosity. Yes, I identified myself as an artist, so I gave myself the leeway — the chance to say I’m not part of comfortable society, I’m willing to go out and walk that edge. Which I’ve done my whole life. And when he said, “Come back to my flat,” it’s not that I knew what I was doing, but I gave myself this chance. I also had a philosophy, I had thought about existentialism and I was pretty much going to do what I wanted, not being a part of polite society.
GALO: You were going to take that leap.
MG: Yes. [At this point in the interview, we talked a bit about our early experiences, and the young fantasies of love and sex.] He was not my first. I had a boyfriend in college. The editors took it out of the book, too much back story.
GALO: You said you stopped painting for such a long time. It was through the writing of the book that you were able to work through that intense period. Do you feel now that painting allows you the same kind of release? Or maybe in writing the second book, you’ll find it? How do you use painting in your life?
MG: I consider myself a core painter. I started as a painter. I had a difficult relationship with my family, they were well-off, but I didn’t want anything from them when I came back. I knew I wanted to go to London to go to graduate school (Thomson had a home and studio in London), which I knew would be terribly problematical, because I realized I wouldn’t be his wife — maybe I’d be his mistress — and I didn’t like sitting by the phone. I was going to go to New York to get a job. My stepfather said he’d pay for my apartment but I had to get a job. In the mid-1960s, you’re going to be a receptionist…
GALO: So you were a secretary…
MG: No, I wasn’t. I said [to myself that] I’m going to be an assistant art director at Brides. And that’s what my first job was: assistant art director and then director. It took three months. I remember leaving Cosmo (Cosmopolitan Magazine) — Helen Gurley Brown [who would be the editor-in-chief for 32 years] didn’t take over until the following year — [and] there was this fat old art director, and he looked at my portfolio and said, “Go to the School of Visual Arts. You’re a fine artist, you shouldn’t be doing this.” I walked out of there in tears and like in a story, I was on Sixth Avenue in my white gloves and my little black dress and the sky opened up. Two weeks later, I got a job.
GALO: That was fortunate. You had talent, and you also had just come out of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design.)
MG: And I had perseverance.
GALO: In those days, with any creative job, you’d still have to work. And nobody thought twice about saying, “Hey honey, get me some coffee.”
MG: And that’s what I’m writing about now, my becoming an art director. A magazine then called Status was run by the Cassini brothers [the publication was short-lived]. One was a fashion director (Oleg Cassini), one a gossip columnist (Count Igor Cassini Loiewski). It was an early version of People. Bob [mentioned earlier as a love interest in the memoir] hired me as his assistant. When he left, he arranged it so I became the art director. I didn’t get his office, or a raise, okay? A guy would have gotten that. And so that’s part of the underlying theme, discrimination, and how hard it was to get recognized. Women in women’s publications were doing okay — Brides had females, and at Vogue, except for Editor Alexander Liberman, there were women. The regular publications were not like that. Whatever it was, perseverance, I kept getting jobs. In 1971, I went up against three men. I wore my miniskirt and I did really beautiful boards, and I got the job. The assistant said my boards were really good, but I knew the publisher was looking at my legs. You had to work it.
GALO: And sometimes you get tired of working it that way. One of the big reasons I started writing plays instead of auditioning for someone else’s work was because it would belong to me.
MG: As we said before, I gave up painting because I had no choice. I realized nothing good was coming of it. But I was working — New York was new, I was discovering life. I thought maybe when I am 40, I’ll get back to it, and it turned out I was in my 60s. I was tired of being an art director. Then one day I walked into a store and my life changed. I started doing some tentative paintings [she shows me several of her works] and I said, “My God, look at this. I’m a realist.” I thought I was an impressionist…
GALO: When you start back, it can’t have anything to do with those silly arguments, like you can’t do it after so long, it’s too late. The beauty is when you take action, it’s in you. You’re just giving yourself permission for it to come out.
MG: I remember taking notes, but I couldn’t write the book. I didn’t know how — how is that given to you? I remember when I hit the period key [at the end of Gloster’s first draft of the memoir], The Songs of the Auvergne (Chants d’Auvergne) came on my iPhone, and the music was playing in a loop. [In 31 Days, the songs were played repeatedly in Thomson’s flat during their lovemaking.]
GALO: I think artists are always open to such experiences. We don’t have to know why or how, but there are things about time that we can’t grasp.
MG: It’s mind-boggling… There’s a very long conversation in the book with Bill — a four page conversation — and when I started writing that, I came out of it in a daze. The whole time I wrote it, I felt an energy around me.
GALO: Did you ever find out what happened to him? Is he still alive?
MG: He died in 1988 of a massive stroke. I found out through other people. He died young in a hospital — his second wife was there, and he was completely paralyzed. I can’t imagine his mind and his energy, how he could be trapped in that situation. It made me think of my life and my future and what I would want.
[Gloster obtained this information after an exhaustive search, unearthing gallery contacts in Hamilton, Ontario, where he was from, that listed his lifeline dates from 1926 to 1988, then combing through London obituaries. His death came shortly after the stroke.]
GALO: He must have had some kind of special mystique.
MG: He was an amazing lover…he was like an addiction. Most girls he didn’t stay with, but I stopped him by saying, “I’m not going to fall in love with you.” And that’s what he wanted. Who would ever say to you, “you’re going to fall in love with me, we go by past experience.”
GALO: He was arrogant. In the memoir, constantly making it clear what the parameters were. “I’ll meet you at 10:30 tonight.” Be there for me, in other words.
MG: I just wanted to be with him. It wasn’t just sex. He was the ultimate artist. He was a painter and he knew painters, and was so intelligent. And to listen to these guys talk at night and the booze and the smoke, it was just a dream come true.
GALO: It was another time. Thank you.
For Marcia Gloster, the 31 days she shares with us in her book became for her a life’s journey, and perhaps like all of the best journeys, it has no ending but will live on forever in memory.