Robert Temple - Author of The Sphinx Mystery



Michael Baseleon and Jill Kraft, as Robert Wolfe and Debbie Hirsch
In 1962, when I was 17, I was befriended by the New York actress Jill Kraft, who 'adopted' me and treated me like a younger brother for several years. We were extremely close, and since I never had a sister, she more than made up for it. Her father was the playwright Hy Kraft (1899-1975), author of Broadway hits such as Top Banana (which made Phil Silvers a star in the 1950s) and Cafe Crown. (For Hy Kraft see www.ibdb.com, which is the internet Broadway database). I used to visit Jill's parents with her in their Upper West Side apartment, and Hy was always asking me whom did I wish to meet in show business. He and his wife were extremely kind to me, as well as Jill herself, and they were always trying to help me, give me introductions, and get me started in a show business career. Jill later married a man in Chicago named Hermann and had a daughter Lucy, now Lucy Moog (her father-in-law invented the Moog music synthesizer), and Jill gave up her career on the stage and moved to Chicago (which sent all her friends into traumatic deep shock and despair). Jill's career triumph just before that happened was to get the ingenue lead in the 1963 Broadway comedy, Dear Me, the Sky Is Falling, by Leonard Spiegelgass. Not long ago I bought a copy of the published script in its book form (Random House, 1963) and discovered that it contained two photos of Jill, of whom I have no others. So I am putting them on my website in memory of her. She died so long ago of cancer, aged only about 40, but her memory is as fresh as if I only saw her yesterday.


Jill Kraft and Gertrude Berg In the photo above she has her arms around the actress Gertrude Berg, who played her mother (later Molly Picon took over that part).


It was in connection with seeing Jill backstage at this play that I met Leonard Spiegelgass and also Howard da Silva, who appeared in it. But the friend of Jill's who was also in it and whom I saw a lot of with Jill was Tresa Hughes, who was married to Robert Hughes, who produced the 1963 documentary film Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, which won an Oscar for best documentary film of 1963. Jill would often take me out to dinner at Sardis or someplace of that sort with Tresa and Bob Hughes. Tresa filled in between her acting jobs with being a prop woman for Broadway shows. It was with Jill that I first met Anita Loos, who had written Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (I later saw her again separately). We also went to the composer (West Side Story) and symphony orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein's parties. He was a great friend of the Krafts, and everybody who was anybody either went to Leonard's parties or was out of it. Jill and her parents were part of the New York liberal elite, they all knew each other, all grumbled about the McCarthy Black List just about every day, and they all went to each others' parties constantly. Other friends we used to associate with were the family of the Hollywood producer Norman Panama, and the three Weinstein sisters, daughters of Hannah Weinstein who was a TV producer with a very impressive abode on Central Park South. Hannah was a fascinating conversationalist. Two of the girls are now Hollywood film producers.

Theatre Programme for 'Dear Me, The Sky is Falling'
Jill was always trying to pair me off with one of them, either Paula or Lisa, because she wanted me to marry a close family friend so that I would be more officially 'one of the family' and she wouldn't have to keep explaining to all her friends (who sometimes challenged her about it) that I was not her toyboy (a word which had not come into use then, by the way). Lisa and Paula were cute girls, I have to admit, and I would have had to be blind not to find them attractive. But I couldn't possibly afford to take them out on the expensive dates they were accustomed to (a point Jill had forgotten to take into account!). Lisa Weinstein later produced the film Ghost, and Paula and her husband Mark Rosenberg have produced many Hollywood films, such as The Fabulous Baker Boys and Citizen Cohn. The eldest sister, Dina Weinstein, whom I knew least well, has also been involved in the film business in later life. She was the quiet sister, busy thinking, I suppose. I haven't seen any of them since I was young, but they were lively and charming girls. Jill's boyfriend for a long time before her marriage was the Broadway actor Peter Hobbs, whom I also knew well. We had other mutual friends, such as the notorious Tallulah Bankhead. Tallulah was always trying to seduce Jill, and was frustrated at her lack of success. (See my memories of Tallulah in another place on this website.) Although Jill had had a first husband, I never met him, and they were divorced before I met her. She was the only child, and her parents were so devastated by her early death that they could not speak of it for the rest of their lives. She was the light of their life, completely and totally. Jill had a particular, unique and delightful charm, which no words can describe, but which made everyone who knew her love her. Although decades have passed since she died, I have thought of her many hundreds of times since then, and I still feel she is very close to me, and my affection for her has not diminished in the slightest. If she suddenly walked into the room, I would break out into a broad grin, as she would, and we would hug each other half to death.


© Robert Temple 2009
Design by Jonathan Greet