I've confessed in an earlier post that I wish I had gotten to know George Kimball better. Wednesday evening, I felt like I had, by dint of attending a memorial gathering for George in the ballroom of the old Edison Hotel near Times Square (the Edison was chosen, I'm told, because George was frequently there when it served as headquarters for the New York State Boxing Commission). During the course of an hour and a half, I heard recollections of George's life and wit, and selections from his writing, from family members, including his ninety year old mother, Dr. Sue Kimball, whose mellifluous Southern voice (I hadn't known of George's Dixie heritage on the distaff side) was sure and full as she recounted a childhood and youth marked by precocity and portents, as well as from fellow writers and other friends. Among the journalists who shared memories of their beloved colleague was Pete Hamill, who said he and George had met while fellow students at "the University of the Lion's Head."
One person I was surprised and delighted to find paying spoken tribute to George was the great Irish actor Niall Toibin, whom I had the pleasure, through the good offices of our mutual friend Jack Deacy, to meet while I was on vacation in Dublin in 1989. At the time, Niall was playing the part of the older, narrator Brendan Behan in Borstal Boy, Frank McMahon's dramatic adaptation of Behan's autobiographical novel, at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin. (He is doing a reprise of that part in the video clip above.) After I bought a ticket, a phone call to Niall's home and the invocation of Jack's name got me an invitation to join him backstage after the play for a drink, in the course of which we talked about Behan, the Irish theater, and friends and places we shared in New York. After the ceremonies for George, I approached Niall and renewed our acquaintance, and also met his daughter.
Along with the spoken reminiscences there was a slide show spanning George's life, and a video of a speech he gave while running for sheriff (unsuccessfully: the Lion's Head knew its share of quixotic political aspirants, including George, Norman Mailer, and Kinky Friedman) in Lawrence, Kansas. There was also music. First came a recording of folksinger Rosalie Sorrels, good friend of my late friend Cicely Nichols, doing a song that included the repeated line, "Love is like a lizard/ Nibbling at your gizzard." Next Tom Paxton took the stage and sang "Comedians and Angels", his reminiscence of old Lion's Head friends, which he followed with the Irish lament, "The Parting Glass".
Then another Head veteran, composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and raconteur, as well as recently minted octogenarian (an event he celebrated at the Bowery Poetry Club with George and his wife in attendance; see the clip above) David Amram, on piano, played a duet arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime" with the superb young trumpeter Nabaté Isles (who doubles as a sportswriter). For the final number, David was joined by Tom Paxton, and they did an eye-misting guitar and flute rendition of "Wild Mountain Thyme" ("Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?").
Many thanks to George's family and friends for a heart-warming evening.