met Stuart Cummings Ripley for the first and last time in the summer of 1960. I had recently opened a psychiatrist's office in our log cabin home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when I received a call from a woman who identified herself as Jill Castenberry. She said she lived in Uhlerstown, a village along the Delaware River.
Log cabin, Doylestown, PA, used by Dr. Honig as both his home and his psychiatric office. Pictured are Dr. Honig, his wife Sylvia, and eldest daughter. 1960.
"This is a real emergency, doctor... the man I'm living with says if I leave him, he's going to blow his head off. And he says my head will go first."
A long pause followed.
"You're a shrink, right?" she said.
"Right. How did you find me?"
"In the phone book."
"Did you call the police?"
"I'd rather not. He was once a very famous writer. I'm an actress. Or used to be. Neither of us needs the notoriety."
"Come right over," I said. "And try to bring him with you."
"Okay, if I can get him in the car. He's had too much to drink."
I gave her directions to Doylestown, and within the hour Miss Castenberry arrived in the company of a man she introduced as Stuart Cummings Ripley.
He sat before me in the black leather chair, an old man, gray stubbled, pot bellied, bulbous nosed, reluctant to talk. He seemed ashamed to be facing a psychiatrist. He eyed me with irreverent suspicion and annoyance, much as my idol, Freud, might have looked.
Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939
"I don't know what I'm doing here. Yes, so I had a few." He pointed at his consort with a shaking finger. "I deny everything this woman is going to tell you. I'm not a violent man, although I did have to shoot two Mexicans once, back in 1916. And maybe a couple of Japs I bayoneted at Leyte. But only in self-defense. And I don't care what this woman says, I never actually slept with Truman Capote."
His slender well-dictioned companion pointed to a bruise on her right temple. "I told him I had enough," she said, "and that I was going back to New York."
"She's only interested in my money," he said.
"What money, Stuart? You haven't published a book in years. Your royalties have all petered out." She put her hands on her hips and walked to the window. "My sister sends us fifty dollars a week. We live on that. You don't even cook anymore. And you used to be a great cook. All those recipes you created."
[Editor's note: Ripley's last work published in his lifetime was Recipes by Ripley, which he wrote as part of a church fund-raising drive, Uhlerstown, PA, 1959.]
"I'm Stuart Cummings Ripley. I've written novels, plays, poetry. I knew Hemingway, Dos Passos, Hellman, Toklas. Slept with most of them. I was interviewed by the Paris Review -- except the man who interviewed me, a young dumb-ass named Plimpstone or something misplaced the transcript, and now it'll never be found."
"Really," I said, not thinking it wise to tell a perspective patient I had never heard of him. Or of the Paris Review for that matter.
"Stuart's not a bad man when he's sober," Castenberry said. "But that's less and less these days. Although his garlic shrimp are out of this world."
"What do you want me to do?" I asked her.
"I never was afraid of his cooking before. I think he belongs in a hospital. Maybe as a chef. I know he could improve hospital food."
Ripley lurched to his feet. "I'm going back home to Uhlerstown, whether you come or not. I'm starving. I plan to whip up some salmon in Riesling and chive sauce along with vegetable couscous with goat cheese." His speech was slurred.
"Look at him. He can barely stand up."
"Lady, I'm not the only lush around here."
"Maybe we're both lushes, Stuart. And I'm starving too." She smiled, and I think I saw her wink her eye.
"Perhaps I've been a little too hard on you lately, my sweet," he said. "If I could just find my way to the last sentence of the book I'm writing... The memoir."
"I know the stress you've under, Stuart. And what it's like living with a genius."
She touched his arm with what appeared to be real affection. He kissed her cheek. Arm-in-arm, they headed for the door. I never saw either of them again.
Four years later, on February 2, 1964, I picked up The New York Times and read his obituary. It described a varied, and interesting life, and I realized it was the very man who had sat in my office. Stuart Cummings Ripley.
Dr. Albert M. Honig, D.O., F.A.C.N.
author of Hard Boiled Eggs and Other Psychiatric Tales