Erich Segal, eat your calculator out! Author Jill Robinson has now written the great Love Story, and, more remarkably, experienced it herself before the telling. In Robinson’s real-life memoir, Bed/Time/Story, unlike the Segal saga, the ending for the couple is happy. Little else is.
Jill describes how she was an amphetamine addict, suffered a terrifying gang rape (after leaving a Jane Fonda party), and was left (following an early marriage and divorce) with two children for whom she once had to shoplift to clothe. The book’s other principal, her second husband, Lawrence Robinson, almost killed himself with drink (he was an alcoholic at 17) and had been divorced three times. Despite all these agonizing revelations, the author uses her own name as well as alluding to her father, Dore Schary, ex-Hollywood mogul and writer (Sunrise at Campobello). She did change the first names of her husband (it is really Jeremiah) and of her kids. But no gory details are suppressed, including the night both she and her husband made love to one of his ex-wives.
Sensationalist as it sounds, however, Bed/Time/Story is clearly the work of a sensitive artist and, unlike almost every other important literary statement by a woman of late, it comes out in lyrical praise of love and marriage. Certainly, love made the Robinsons turn around. Jill, 38, has been off speed for four years. Jerry, 41, has not had a drink in three. After ten years together, they have just moved into their first real home in Westport, Conn. And touchingly and symbolically, son Jeremy, now 17, who had run away from their unstable lives to stay with his dad, moved back just before the holidays. It is not over-facile to conclude that the Robinsons’ loving support for each other (with a little professional help) finally overtook their lifelong course of self-hatred and self-destruction.
Jill does not blame her famed parents (her mother is an accomplished painter, Miriam Svet) for any early insecurities. She started on amphetamines innocently at about 15 as a treatment for acute asthma before “it was considered a dangerous drug.” She got hooked on speed (as it was later called) because it pacified her wallflower feelings in schools where classmates included Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. She lasted one year at Stanford, getting only one passing grade, an “A” in Creative Writing. “I figured out then that I better be a writer.” First, though, at 18, she became a stockbroker’s wife. “Because of the way they did it in the movies,” she now recalls, “I just felt that maybe I’d look more like Jane Powell if I got married.”
A Californian too, Jeremiah Robinson was orphaned early. His mother died when he was 3, his dad, who had his own whiskey troubles, nine years later. With probably genius-level intelligence, young Jeremiah did stumble through four years in the Air Force, college studies at Pomona and Houston and lots of poker games (which helped support him) until he could finally hang in at his present job as a corporate mathematician.
Jill’s own nine-year marriage had ended by the time a friend fixed her up with this “insane mathematician—just for fun, not for real.” Jill immediately thought otherwise (she still interprets mystically the fact that she was born one day after his mother died). On their first date, Jeremiah arrived three hours late and then disappeared for four days thereafter with her car. Within ten months, they careened off on a marriage that was roller-coaster when it wasn’t completely off the rails. Over those years, Jill wrote two lesser books and ran a successful radio call-in show until she was fired for refusing to read commercials the day after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Rarely, though, would she accept handouts from her father, with whom, she wrote, she had put herself in “negative competition.” Her sad game: “Can you overwhelm your parents’ achievements with the public magnitude of your humiliations?” Finally Jill’s husband decided, “You’ve had enough speed now,” and, with his aid and antidepressant drugs, she booted it for good.
Then it was her turn to cure him—which she found could be done only by threatening to leave. “It’s now 6:32 a.m.,” Jill told him. “You be home and ready to get well by 12:30 this afternoon—or never try to see us again.” It took three months of hospitalization before his final recovery. It was Robinson’s idea as much as hers to make their painful life an open book. “At some point,” he says, “I decided it was better to write it all down. That’s the way you get rid of things.” Obviously, the publication, the upcoming paperback (Jill just got a $160,000 advance) and possible movie are traumatic to her parents. Schary, who bleeds liberal causes as Eleanor Roosevelt once did, professed to find the book brilliantly written. Her mother, after refusing to acknowledge it for two months, now declares it “great,” but admits she “hadn’t read such explicit scenes since Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”
The Robinsons see the Scharys about once a week, and Jill reports “our relationship improves as I get more adult.” But the Scharys must brace themselves for what is to become a trilogy. In the second book, now in progress, Jill chronicles more extensively the years before Bed/Time/Story, and the third will update Jill and Jeremiah’s more tranquil life since then, which should have a built-in sympathetic audience. Even the most professionally dispassionate critics received Bed/Time/Story with a Here’s-to-you-Mrs.-Robinson salute.