"Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me?" David Leddick, 2017, photos, 205 pages
(Full disclosure: I am a friend of David Leddick’s niece, Sarah Leddick. I do not know David Leddick personally.)
Years ago, my ninth grade English teacher, the formidable spinster Myrtle Crimmins, told our class, “All of you could write a memoir by the time you are 40…. Whether or not anyone would care to read it is the question.”
I’ve always kept that caveat in mind. Yes, our lives are interesting – to us – but are they interesting to anyone else?
David Leddick, an 89-year-old man who identifies as gay, a well-known resident of South Beach, has had an interesting life, for sure, by anyone’s definition.
Growing up in rural Michigan; studying ballet; a successful career as an advertising executive with some of the country’s biggest advertising firms; author of many books and plays; actor; restorer of old houses; world traveler; singer; naval officer; raconteur… I’m sure I’ve left something out.
He organizes his memoir first by places – including photos of all the homes he’s ever lived in – then his occupations, and finally the many loves/lovers in his life.
Perhaps it could have been better organized – there is repetition – but memoir writing belongs to the memoirist. It’s his story, to be told as he sees fit and wants to tell it. It’s a true challenge to narrate one’s own life and to keep the reader interested. It’s also a courageous thing to do. Everyone judges everyone, and memoirs are susceptible to judgment, which is why so few people, in my opinion, have the courage to write one.
David Leddick has the courage – and the self-esteem, very important – to do so. And it is a fascinating read. He is an energetic and enthusiastic individual who got things done, even as a child growing up in a large Midwestern family of farmers and teachers, and he met many interesting people throughout his long life. He has a positive outlook, always, though many of his memories are bittersweet.
The memoir spans pre-World War II, the Great Depression, the closeted life of homosexual men in the 1950s and ‘60s and comes to the present-day in South Beach, our welcoming gay community in the city of Miami Beach. It’s a journey, with its ups and downs and roundabouts and through it all, Leddick never loses his sense of humor, even when some of the things he writes about are somewhat daunting.
Leddick makes it clear that he would have much rather have been a ballet dancer – he loved the ballet and he had the height, good looks, and technique, but he was a bit too old to begin a career in this demanding dance form. So he went into advertising to support himself. He comments that it was not something he loved doing, but he was good at it and was gainfully employed for many years as an advertising copywriter, creative head, and executive. (One line he wrote – though others later claimed they had – involved a brand of Scotch: “As Long As You’re Up, Get Me A Grant’s.”)
He moved easily between a number of prominent firms – his scathing take on one of his too-demanding customers, Revlon, is delicious – and this always exacting career enabled him to live well and to amass a formidable real estate portfolio over the years, here and abroad. (He bought an old house in Miami Beach long before others realized how many architectural gems were here.) He was also a good friend to many and had the rare gift of drawing people to him.
The frankest part of this memoir is his exploration of his sexuality, from a pre-teen in a small town in Michigan to a closeted adult in the Navy and elsewhere, to a fruitful middle-age and beyond, as he displays all of his burgeoning talents, from song and dance to writing novels (the clever "2B Or Not 2B" is his latest) and putting together photographic compilations of male nudity.
Of these male images, he writes: “Men tend to photograph other men with their clothes off as a kind of statuary. Beautiful bodies not enlivened with personality.” But then, see his book "Escort," interviews with male escorts, co-authored with Heriberto Sanchez and with stunning images by David Vance, as a counter to this statement. It is an intriguing commentary on these men. (He also wrote a number of best-selling books published by Taschen on the subject). From "Escort" to "Rent Boy," his most recent musical play, which ran off-Broadway in New York City and also in London, which was a further exploration of male escorts/prostitutes. His enthusiasm, energy and talents in so many disparate fields are indeed to be envied, as is his success.
Yes, who would read this memoir, coming back to my old schoolteacher’s question? Many of you, I daresay, would do so.
By focusing his memoir on PLACES I'VE LIVED, JOBS I'VE HAD and LOVES I HAVE LOVED, the author has neatly covered almost all aspects of his life. And what a life! His take on the concept of love is especially illuminating. There's a certain wistfulness about it that's vulnerable and sweet. No matter who his lover might have been at any given moment in his life, it's abundantly clear, sex completely aside, who was doing the "loving."
The wistfulness I mention is made stronger by the realization that, even in his late 80s, he's still not quite ready to go, and that there might be time enough in his life for "just one more romance." For being so well-traveled, well-read and sophisticated, he's perhaps the most unjaded person I have read about.
The anticipation and eagerness for the next sunrise will never leave him, that's for sure.