The ghosts of Der­mot Mor­gan, Ron­nie Drew and Jane Fonda haunt me

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News - BARRY EGAN

GHOSTS, to me, aren’t nec­es­sar­ily spooky be­ings that dis­turb your re­pose on stormy nights, ap­pear­ing on creaky stair­cases in white bed sheets.

To me, ghosts are more like mem­o­ries.

Ev­ery time I pass Neary’s pub on Chatham Street I see Ron­nie Drew. I re­mem­ber bump­ing into The Dublin­ers’ front man on Christ­mas Eve many moons ago and hav­ing a pint with him out­side on the street as the Yule­tide shop­pers rushed past madly buy­ing the last of their Xmas pressies.

He was more con­cerned with the eter­nal ver­i­ties. On one drink, he had more charisma than a mil­lion mod­ern pop stars. The rea­son I say one drink is that be­cause of his rep­u­ta­tion, I ex­pected Ron­nie Drew at Christ­mas to be a bit like WC Fields at the same time of year. (“Christ­mas at my house,” WC once said, “is al­ways at least six or seven times more pleas­ant than any­where else. We start drink­ing early. And while ev­ery­one else is see­ing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be see­ing six or seven.”) So ev­ery time I go past Neary’s, there he is, Ron­nie, stand­ing there hold­ing a pint, some of it on his beard, his mea­sured sen­tences un­furl­ing with a voice very much, as some­one once said, like “the sound of coal be­ing crushed un­der a door”. I have a sim­i­lar sense of ghostly nos­tal­gia ev­ery time I ven­ture through the doors of The Shel­bourne.

The late Der­mot Mor­gan will al­ways be in the right-hand cor­ner of the old restau­rant hav­ing a large break­fast — talk­ing nine­teen to the dozen about ev­ery­thing that en­tered his bril­liant mind. (I had brekkie with Mor­gan years be­fore he found fame with Fa­ther Ted.)

The late Terry Keane will for­ever be up­stairs in the lobby area of The West­bury ho­tel, too. Once upon a time in the mid 1990s, it was just be­fore clos­ing time in the West­bury. Ju­lia Roberts had just gone to bed. The wait­ress fros­tily said to Terry and me that we would have to be res­i­dents to get another drink.

“Dar­ling, we are res­i­dents,” she said.

“Room 419 and 525...” I added, with­out blink­ing.

Five min­utes later, a fauxs­mil­ing man­ager marched over to point out that there are no such rooms as 419 and 525 in the ho­tel. Terry charmed him, and we soon got our drinks af­ter clos­ing any­way.

Terry was a real char­ac­ter. They don’t make them like her any more. Nor will they ever again, I imag­ine. She put Char­lie Haughey on the phone to me one af­ter­noon (Terry didn’t do morn­ings in the of­fice) in the old Sun­day In­de­pen­dent of­fice in Mid­dle Abbey Street. I think he hung up on me in bore­dom. My fa­ther, who hated Haughey, wanted to know when I told him what was I even do­ing talk­ing to “that bol­locks Haughey”. Whether he was a bol­locks or not, I think it was a pity that a Charles Haughey au­to­bi­og­ra­phy was never to land — like one of his ea­gles — on a pub­lisher’s desk.

I’m off to London to­mor­row to in­ter­view a fa­mous rock star in Clar­idge’s Ho­tel. This brings me back to another one of my ghosts. On the ad­mit­tedly rare oc­ca­sions I am in the fine ho­tel in Brook Street in May­fair, Jane Fonda is for­ever sit­ting serenely in a suite up­stairs as I turn, lamentably, into a Yel­low Pack Dr Sig­mund Freud. (For the record, Jane Fonda is not a ghost and is very much alive at 79 years of age.)

The in­ter­view didn’t start well, but got bet­ter. I gave her a present of a Van Mor­ri­son in­ter­view about spir­i­tu­al­ity and mu­sic from Un­cut mag­a­zine that I hoped she would find in­ter­est­ing. She ob­vi­ously thought the ges­ture odd; be­cause she put the mag down and said noth­ing. In fair­ness, she was there to dis­cuss her new mem­oir, My Life So Far. In it, we learn that Jane was only 12 when her mother, Frances Sey­mour, took her own life. She had vol­un­tar­ily sought help at a men­tal asy­lum af­ter Henry Fonda had asked for a di­vorce. Hat­ing any dis­plays of emo­tion, Henry hid the truth from Jane, say­ing her mother died of a heart at­tack. Jane found out the re­al­ity sev­eral months later while read­ing a movie mag­a­zine.

“It is like liv­ing un­der a dark cloud if your mother killed her­self, and your par­ents didn’t re­ally know how to show up for you,” she said. Jane added that she never once dis­cussed her mother’s sui­cide with Henry Fonda. “I never talked about it with any­body,” she said.

How did that make you feel? “Anx­ious. Sad. Lonely.” Her fa­mous fa­ther, she added, had “prob­lems com­mu­ni­cat­ing his feel­ings. Like the char­ac­ter he played in On Golden Pond, [the film in which he played Jane’s fa­ther]. Many of us have had dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ships with our par­ents. And the kind of fa­ther my fa­ther was is very, very com­mon. When your par­ents are not ca­pa­ble of lov­ing you, it is not that they are cruel or mean or that they don’t want to, it’s that they just do the best they can — but what a child needs is for a par­ent to re­ally coun­te­nance her,” she said. “To re­ally see her for what she is, not for what they wish she was.”

And when that doesn’t hap­pen you’re made to feel that you’re just not good enough?

“Which I felt,” Jane said, “and that in or­der to be loved I had to be per­fect. Then, when you hit ado­les­cence it be­comes dif­fi­cult. You be­come dis­em­bod­ied. You have to hide. And you feel that, when you’re in a re­la­tion­ship, you have to try to be per­fect...”

I asked Jane Fonda how did she feel for the first 20 or so years of her life.

“That I was doomed to die early and alone. I just didn’t en­vis­age a fu­ture for my­self.”

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