“Starlets don’t have to end up at AA just because they’re too old to get a role,” says Sandra Hochman, poet, novelist, journalist, filmmaker, teacher and feminist. “Women can be the producers and write the checks. Out of the streets and into the suites!”
That is exactly what happens in Hochman’s second novel, Happiness Is Too Much Trouble, a confessional, bizarre story she calls a Das Kapital for women. Her heroine, Lulu Cartwright, is picked by a computer to head the world’s largest but foundering film studio, a “token woman” meant to improve its public relations. Lulu finds that she has an aptitude, and appetite, for power. Unsatisfied by the men in her life, she grooves on running the studio. In transforming it, she does the same for her own life.
Critics have noted resemblances between Lulu and Sandra, but they can be overdrawn. Hochman, born in New York 39 years ago, was an adored only child. “I was conceived in Cuba,” she says. “Astrologers find this interesting. I feel very hot-blooded. I love the warm, passionate people from Latin America, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.” Much of her poetry, praised by critics for its lyricism, is suffused with tropical sun, sea and palm trees.
When she was 6 her parents were divorced. At 8 she was sent to Cherry Lawn boarding school in Darien, Conn., which boasts such famous former pupils as director Mike Nichols and critic-writer Renata Adler. Next stop was Bennington College, where Hochman flourished as a poet, winning a prize in her sophomore year. Her father, who owned hotels and a building materials firm, died in 1963 and left Sandra financially comfortable.
Unlike poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, whose anguish led to suicide, Hochman says she remains sane “by connecting with other women’s concerns. My work reflects our fantasies, dreams, insecurities and drive. There is everything to write about,” adds Hochman, who spends at least three hours a day at her battered typewriter. “I write to stay healthy. Depression is an indulgence.”
To date she has produced six volumes of poetry, two novels (the first was the acclaimed Walking Papers), a children’s book and a satirical documentary film, Year of the Woman. Her first nonfiction book (written with Sybil Wong), Satellite Spies, is about the impact of technology on people’s privacy. She is also devoting time these days to the organization of a women’s insurance company.
At 21 Hochman married Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis (he plays the charlatan hypnotist in Truffaut’s film The Story of Adele H.). During their four years in Paris, Hochman was befriended by such literary figures as the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, James Jones and Anaïs Nin. The marriage ended, says Hochman, because “I changed and wanted more than being the handmaiden to an artist.”
Hochman went home to New York and started publishing her poetry. In 1963 she won the coveted Yale Younger Poets Award for Manhattan Pastures. While on a trip to Hong Kong in 1965 she met Harvey Leve, lawyer for the U.S. consulate. They were married in 1966, had a daughter, Ariel, in 1968 and divorced two years after that. “Both my husbands were extraordinary,” she says. “I value and respect them as friends. But being single is as gratifying to me as being married. It’s not hard to say I’m not going to marry again. No one has asked me.”
Today Hochman and Ariel share an elegantly appointed penthouse on Manhattan’s East Side. “She’s my daughter, my best friend, my roommate,” says Hochman. Ariel’s room is filled with books, stuffed toys and little poems her mother wrote to make table manners and other chores more palatable.
Settled into a sofa in her living room, Hochman vows she will not discuss her private life. In the next breath she gushes: “You want to know about the men in my life? I dated one of the Livanoses—the Greek shipowners. He’s dead now. My father wanted to know what he did. I told him, he’s the third richest man in the world, and my father said, ‘Cover him up so he won’t catch cold.’ I saw Saul Bellow.” A friend interrupts, “You went with him.” “I didn’t go with him. I met him many, many years ago.”
“My friends are good people,” says Hochman. A guest list for dinner at her place could include director Peter Brook, biochemist Fritz Lowe, former Secretary of the Air Force Thomas Fin-letter, actress Rita Gardner, director Sidney Lumet and his wife, Gail.
In both her novels, the protagonists are women with two ex-husbands and an assortment of lovers. How autobiographical are they? Hochman answers, “My real life is much more fabulous than the books. One day I plan to write about it—men, Paris and women’s liberation. It will probably be called Unreal Life.”