Excerpt from In Spite of Myself
In the meantime, Gil Stewart had been taken ill. It was inevitable of course. The bar was like a morgue without him. Poor old Bruno was lost, wandering aimlessly about, wondering what to do. From time to time I would catch sight of Gretl disappearing into the lift carrying bowls of soup up to Gil's room. She looked after him and cared for him so intensely that in a week she had nursed him back to health. It was none too soon for as he left his sick room and gingerly groped his way down to the bar, Fritz and Karl (Tweedledum and Tweedledee) were waving sheets of paper in the air. "Herr Stewart," they shouted. "Congratulations! Vunderbar! You are vorking! Tomorrow!" As the butler, it was to be his one and only day's work in ten weeks. Fritz, Karl, Bruno, the Count and I put our heads together and arranged a surprise celebration that would be waiting for him when he returned. Signs were made with "Welcome Home, Gil," "You Made It" and "Who Needs Hollywood" scribbled all over them. We got at least two hundred balloons to fly above the front entrance and the bar. Gretl had the kitchen prepare huge platters of cold meat and salads and two large jeroboams of champagne were put on ice. It was just going to be us five—the Bristol's skeleton crew as it were.
Wouldn't you know that Gil didn't begin shooting till 9:00 p.m.! We waited for the last customer to vacate the premises and then started to put up balloons and get everything ready. At 1:00 a.m., Gil had still not materialized. As on a ship's watch we took turns napping, Bruno nodding off at the bar, Fritz and Karl sprawled over the front desk, Festitic stretched out on a sofa. I went upstairs to lie down. About four in the morning a very sleepy Count called me in my room. "He's outside now!" "Turn all the lights out," I barked; "it's got to be a surprise." As the unsuspecting Gil walked through the door, all the lights went back on. He just stood there, gaping. Raising our champagne glasses in a toast we sang "For he's a jolly good butler" at the top of our lungs. Gretl appeared in her dressing gown. "Keep your voices down. You vill vake ze guests. Oh vell, never mind, gif me a vhiskey instead," and joining our revels, she stayed to the bitter end. Gil, completely overcome, became more British by the second, salvos of his deep basso profundo ricocheting off the Bristol's walls.
The film company shipped Gil out two days later. He couldn't handle it. As they were loading his bags into the van, he came up to me in the lobby. "I don't want to go back, you know. I've loved it here," he said. I could see that he was shaking and trying to fight back his tears. "I say, old man, do me a good turn, won't you? Tell Gretl thanks for everything and say good-bye for me. I simply couldn't face her. She was the best mother I ever had." He tried to laugh it off but was clearly inconsolable. He hugged Fritz and Karl and Festitic, then Bruno, who said nothing but whose expression spoke volumes. And then he was off for Munich airport. Bruno still stood at the bar stunned. Half an hour went by before Gretl came down in a white rage. "Vere iss Stewart? I can't find him anyvare! I'm taking him to ze airport. Vere is he!!??" she shouted at Fritz and Karl who were trembling behind their desk. Not satisfied, she added a barrage of German invectives and hurled them in everyone's direction. I summoned up my courage. "He's already left, Gretl, I'm afraid; he wanted me to say good-bye for him. You see—" but I didn't finish. She was slamming the car door and taking off in a horrible smell of burning rubber. Gil told me much later: "I was sitting in the airport lounge waiting to board when I saw Gretl, her graying hair wild and unkempt, racing toward me. I stood up. In front of everyone she came up to me—I could see she was crying—and slapped my face so that it stung like hell, looked hard at me for the longest moment, then turned on her heels and left. The last thing I wanted to do was get on that plane. I loved that woman, you know."