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The Devil & Saint Ann's


Beth Bosworth’s first book was a collection of linked stories called A Burden of Earth, which she dedicated “For Stanley, my first reader.” In it, she writes, “Anselm, Headmaster. Once I fought with my boyfriend—who had mumps at the time—and staggered in tears through the streets of Brooklyn until Anselm took me into his office and talked to me about Sartre and existentialism and weaker vessels. Then he handed me a tissue and sent me gently, quietly, out into the world.”

She comes back to him for comfort later on in the book (after some stories set in Paris), and he offers it again. “I’ll marry you. We’ll have children, he said. I’m a jealous, bad-tempered man but I have one virtue. I’m strong as an ox.” He stays strong and virile and vocal throughout the book, but he grows angrier, more menacing, and starts saying things like “it doesn’t occur to these animals that someone in this city might have something better to do than wait for some kike doctor in the goddamn basement.”

When we arrive at Stanley’s favorite Italian restaurant, he says, “They wonder why I’m in here every day with a different woman! I drink if you do.” He orders single-malt scotch, a double, and something “vegetabley . . . I want to live forever!”

As the alcohol washes away some of his pretensions (and what few inhibitions he harbors), Stanley starts to resort to the syntax of his youth and sounds a little more like Fred Yiddish himself: “Some of my best friends you shouldn’t know from!” he says. “If you seduce me verbally with your language, I don’t care. I mean, I care about you a lot. But I don’t care what you tell that fussy little magazine. Tell them that before I masturbate in the morning, I say a prayer for Valhalla!” Stanley is no ass-pincher. His moves are of a different vintage than the skirt-chasing he so disdained in Washington Heights. After he’s finished his scotch and several glasses of wine, Stanley says, “I’m half in love with you, and you know it. If I invented you, you’d be the same you; you’d have the same bust, the same figure, the same nose, same eyes, and all that shit. Not that I was looking, I never do.

“Ariel, as unlikely as that name is, I’d treat you to anything. I’d buy you a house in the country . . . you’d have to be able to carry logs and shovel snow. But I don’t trivialize. There is nothing more serious than wanting,” he almost yells. “And anyway you’re also, God help you, Jewish!”

Then he mentions, apropos, somehow, of the change of seasons, “I’m deadly. You should know that. I mean I always conceive when I am not taking all the necessary precautions. I don’t ever impose or plot or destroy. It’s just that you’re everything I ever wanted. That doesn’t mean I have to conceive in you. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t.”

I ask Stanley about his plans for spring vacation.

“I go to Georgia with my little girl, my 15-year-old daughter, on Wednesday and come back Monday evening. I’d gladly buy you a flight. Of course, I have nothing but adventures, except when I’m with my little girl . . . and she would be perfectly cool if we were in my suite.”

I tell him I find this plan problematic for a number of reasons, the least of which is that it would entail the loss of my job.

His eyes brighten. “You could work at Saint Ann’s!”

To finish up his meal, stanley orders a Vsop cognac and an espresso. “Freud said, stupid asshole kike bastard, he said . . . well, knowing Freud is very helpful in my job, because I know exactly which teacher’s going gay for which woman and I know exactly how to control her. And she doesn’t know anything yet about what she’s become!”

He downs the last of his liquor. “When you’re little and 7 years old, you want to fuck the life out of it, but you don’t know where to begin and where to end. When you’re 70 years old, you know exactly where to begin and where to end and you want to start. That’s just the way life is.”

We leave the restaurant, and before I get on the subway, I ask Stanley if there is anything satisfying about getting older, about having accumulated so much knowledge and experience and having had so many adventures.

He offers a devilish grin and starts jumping up and down. “I have the satisfaction of seeing people I hate die!”

The question, to some extent, isn’t why Stanley Bosworth is leaving; it’s how he has stayed for so long. “I think probably people have told him to tone it down,” says Sharon Lamazor, the head of the theater department, who has been at Saint Ann’s for 25 years. “I never have, because I felt we were very like-minded in the sense that it’s all about the students, and in that art should live. I’ve always trusted his vision for the school. He created it! That is the bottom line.”

“You’re getting a lot more of the raging-into-the-night rhetoric. My experience of him doesn’t leave me with that,” says Barbara O’Rourke, who worked at Saint Ann’s for 26 years. (Her husband, Paul, was head of the classics department. Two of their children are graduates, and the third is currently a junior.) She left her job as Stanley’s “second in command” in 2002 to become the head of the Pierrepont School in Westport, Connecticut, named after the street in Brooklyn Heights on which Saint Ann’s is located. “It is a tribute of sorts,” she says. “I spent almost my whole professional life at Saint Ann’s—my whole family, we’re connected. I know Stanley very well, well enough, I think, to see that the beauty of the school is a reflection of what he brought to it. He is who he is. Half of what he says is true, and half of it isn’t. Yes, he is a crazy person and all that, but you have to know that the kids have had really pure experiences with the teachers and the school regardless of his impurities. For 40 years, he got out there and fought the fight every day against the more traditional bourgeois ideals—the happy medium—allowing people’s talents to escape the bounds of tradition.”

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