Our first wedding gift was from the great composer Frederick Loewe _ his second-night seats to the stage version of "Gigi," then having a pre-Broadway run at the Los Angeles Music Center.
But that's getting ahead of the story.
It began in July 1973 when I was assigned to profile Loewe, who was in town for "Gigi" and staying at a palatial "beach house" in Malibu he was renting for the summer from the Oscar-winning actor Burt Lancaster ("Elmer Gantry"). I was invited to spend the day.
It was special in more ways than one _ the last assignment for one newspaper before I was to marry the next week and move to another newspaper the following week.
As I entered the house, I spotted the Oscar sitting on the mantel that Loewe had won for composing the title song to the 1958 film "Gigi" with his collaborator, lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. The movie won nine Oscars in all, including Best Picture and best director for the legendary Vincente Minelli.
The other thing that caught my eye was a baby grand piano sitting in a corner not far away, back-dropped by the Pacific Ocean. For a while, we sat on the terrace overlooking the sea as a small radio played popular music in the background.
At one point, Frank Sinatra's hit version of "Summer Wind" came on, a song with music by Heinz Meier and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Loewe stopped our conversation and told me to listen. After the song concluded, he motioned me into the house, quickly sat down at the piano and began to play.
"I used to be a concert pianist, but arthritis in the hands ... " (Loewe began composing at the age of 7 and at 13 became the youngest piano soloist to appear with the philharmonic of Berlin, the city where he was born on June 10, 1901).
The song, he claimed, was "borrowed" from "They Call the Wind Maria" (pronounced "Mariah"), from the 1951 Broadway musical "Paint Your Wagon" that he had written with Lerner. "Let me show you," Loewe said, as he fingered the keys. "Just a matter of changing a few things _ and it's the same song!"
He proceeded to play both tunes. I cannot attest to the validity of his claim, and haven't the musical training to know the difference, but found myself mesmerized by having what amounted to a private concert being performed for me by one of the world's great composers.
We had lunch, a huge affair prepared by his cook. "You've got to keep eating," he told me, "you are too skinny!"
Loewe was a block of a man, powerful. Before realizing his dream of writing for Broadway, he had worked punching cows, gold mining and prize-fighting.
At day's end, as I was heading out the door, Loewe asked what the future held for me. "Well, I'm getting married next week."
Loewe's second-night tickets for "Gigi" at the Los Angeles Music Center arrived a few days later.
The stage show, based on the film, was excellent (although Loewe openly spoke of having to make some cast changes, which he dreaded), but not a success on Broadway.
To me, though, it was anything but a failure. It represented one of those rare life-altering moments.
The film version of "Gigi" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It's considered the last great film musical produced by MGM.
Loewe, who had been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame" in 1972, passed away on February 14, 1988, at the age of 86. He is buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.