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Saying Goodbye to One Glamorous & Talented Lady: Nan Martin

March 21, 2010

This may be one of the greatest photos I’ve ever seen, and when I saw it posted on my friend Zen Gesner’s Facebook page yesterday, it was enough to make me weep.  The photo is of Zen  and his mother and illustrious actress, Nan Martin, taken nearly 40 years ago.

Yesterday afternoon a group of us gathered at the Gesner family home – a miraculous circular home on the beaches of Malibu, two doors down from my own childhood home.  The house, designed by Zen’s father Harry Gesner, is an eclectic place. First off, it’s round.  I don’t mean curved.  I mean round like a donut. In the center of the first floor there is a fireplace with a huge hearth, that is unmistakably a stage from where I am sure Nan gave more than one stellar performance for her family. There are Hirschfeld drawings on the walls, floor to ceiling bookshelves lined with the classics, and views of the Pacific that are hypnotic.

With a fire burning and a light mist floating in off the ocean, about 100 people from all parts of Nan and Harry’s life gathered.  There were my cousin Daniela and I – the neighbor kids, Reuben the neighborhood’s longtime gardener and his family, friends of her sons Zen and Casey, familiar faces from Hollywood, and long time friends of Harry and Nan’s.  We were seated on chairs and sprawled on the floor of this magical room that despite the density of bodies never once felt crowded. Each of the men in Nan’s life, including her 3 young grandsons, regaled the assembled group with tales from Nan’s magnificent life and career.

The one word that was repeated most often was “regal.”  Which is the most apt term I can think of to describe Nan Martin.   Both Daniela and I giggled at this because as kids we were convinced that Nan was the dethroned queen of some foreign land.  She had a majestic presence, perfect posture, neatly coiffed hair, and that amorphous accent indicative of lifelong residency on The Stage. Nan was a versatile actress.  She could do Shakespeare in one take and side splitting comedy in the next.  She was willing to do nearly any role to hone her craft.  She wasn’t after celebrity, she was dedicated to an artform.  She was that special kind of actress whose name most of you don’t recognize, but when you see her face you say “Oh yes! Her. I loved her.  She was in everything.”  And she was.  Most of you will remember her as Mrs. Lauder on The Drew Carey Show (start at minute 4:00.) I remember her as the nice lady next door.

Following a lovely slide-show filled with glamorous photos of a life well lived, approximately twenty people including Zen, Harry, and my cousin Daniela, put on wetsuits, braving the freezing water, and paddled out beyond the break to spread Nan’s ashes mixed with flowers into the water.  Those of us huddled on shore with our glasses of wine, shouted and clapped with the chanting surfers to send Nan on her way to the next realm.  This is how we say goodbye to our loved ones in our little cove in Malibu.

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