Loneliness is expensive. It takes a lot of money to keep it going. You need throw pillows. You’ve got to have cookies, liverwurst sandwiches. You have to have a TV set to lull you to sleep. What about your ear-drops bill…
So consoles Bruce Jay Friedman in The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life, a sort of hot tub of chicken soup for men caught in the cross fire between the women’s movement and a sexual revolution that everyone else is enjoying. “The book was a matter of blundering into a kind of truth,” says Friedman, 48 and divorced. “The word ‘lonely’ is terrifying to people.” Yet the volume is primarily a parody of self-help literature. If he’d dare venture out to buy a copy, J.D. Salinger would surely get a laugh. So might women. “Jacqueline Onassis may be a Lonely Guy,” posits Bruce, “on nights when she has been escorted to the ballet by the wrong Iranian.”
William Paley, or some Lonely Guy sympathizer at CBS, has paid in the six figures for TV rights. But how will video convey the manual’s cooking tips (“Forget about measuring things. Lonely Guys are too upset to be dealing with 1½ tsp of nutmeg which they won’t have anyway”) or legal advice (“Many Lonely Guys have dropped dead only to find that they have accidentally left their money to the one who threw them out”)?
The other question is whether author Friedman, Lonely Guy-wise, is a poseur. Elaine Kaufman, the renowned New York barkeep, knows from horny divorces and melancholy Jewish writers, and Bruce is—no longer, anyway—neither of the above. “I never met anyone who didn’t like him,” she testifies. “He’s just a sweet man.” An-other admirer, Mario Puzo, who ranks Friedman’s wit right up there with Joe Heller’s and Neil Simon’s, explains that he “is a Lonely Guy who can find plenty of company.”
The other testimonial to Bruce’s popularity is that so many writers like a colleague so comparatively unblocked. His output includes novels like Stern and A Mother’s Kisses, some 50 short stories (the film The Heartbreak Kid was based on one), six movie scripts (among them The Owl and the Pussycat) and stage plays such as Scuba Duba and Steambath. His agent, Candida Danadio, calls him the most disciplined writer she knows. No, counters Friedman, “the guiltiest. I never really take a day off.”
It all began in the Bronx, where he was the son of a garment factory manager, trying out his comedy style on dates. “I would rehearse about 12 jokes to tell a girl,” he recalls, “and then when I ran out I was in big trouble.” While a journalism major at the University of Missouri, he met Ginger Howard. “It was one of those lightning-bolt type of things,” he recalls. After an Air Force tour, he married Howard, an actress-model currently a Broadway casting director, and they settled on Long Island to raise three sons, now 18 to 23. Friedman sold a story to The New Yorker at 23 but had to support his serious writing for years editing men’s adventure magazines like Male.
The Friedmans separated in 1970 and then finally gave up two years ago in what Ginger calls “the friendliest divorce in history.” But, admits Bruce about the beginning of his second bachelorhood, “I spent a lot of time just running around like a crazy person.” He insists he has since calmed down. In his Manhattan penthouse, where he writes about five hours a day, there’s a screenplay, a novel and two plays marinating. He likes to cook for friends rather than dine out, but stays a trim 190 pounds (he’s 6’1″) with a daily three-mile jog.
His book has brought him 75 letters from women eager to save Bruce from his presumed suffering. One of them confronted him recently and told him he was too tall to be a Lonely Guy. “She said I was a fraud because I didn’t look like Woody Allen,” Friedman laughs. Ex-wife Ginger also doesn’t think Bruce’s such a solitary loser anymore. “He’s the most fantastic father in the world,” she reports. “He has grown. I wish,” says Ginger, saying it all, “I had met him now.”