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Describing Shakespeare’s most famous play, Howard Dietz wrote this capsule description: WHERE A GHOST AND A PRINCE MEET/AND EVERYTHING ENDS IN MINCEMEAT. As a lyricist, Dietz could be both witty and profound. Sometime in the late 1970’s I was asked to participate in a birthday celebration for him given by a PR lady -Jane Allison. Jane teamed me with an actress named Ann Wedgeworth and requested we do a duet -something of Howard’s- I should pick it. Well, there was a charming number from The Bandwagon that Fred Astaire had introduced with his sister Adele: it was called Sweet Music and I was sure Dietz would get a kick out of hearing it again after forty years.  But when I met Ann in a rehearsal studio the week before the party, I was horrified to learn she had absolutely NO TALENT for singing. (PHOTO HERE) She was delicious, great-looking and with a ditzy, Judy Holliday-style persona; she was currently on view in Neil Simon’s play, Chapter Two. But when it came to music, she had a block, God knows why. She’d stop, she’d start, she’d drop beats, forget lyrics, she was a mess. Maybe it was because her husband, Ernie, insisted on monitoring  rehearsals. He was obsesssively, jealously, possessive about his wife and he was there to make sure I wasn’t making any moves on her. But it was like trying to teach a beautiful cat to sing. I should’ve nipped this potential disaster in the bud, called Jane and asked for a different partner, but you know how it is: inertia and embarrassment combine to prevent you from making the decisive call (I’ve since learned to heed my first instinct). Well, comes the evening, all the other performers sing their tributes, go through the dazzling catalogue: Alone Together, By Myself, Rhode Island is Famous for You…and his biggest standard, Dancing in the Dark. But when I went on with Ann, predictably, she stops, starts, drops beats, forgets her words and, finally, sits down with a giggle, leaving me to finish the number alone. After the show, we all stood in line to say Happy Birthday to Dietz, me wondering whether to apologize or simply pretend everything had gone swimmingly. Finally, it was my turn: Jane presented me to Dietz and his wife, costume designer Lucinda Ballard. “Oh, you were marvelous,” said Ms. Ballard, “Howard thoroughly enjoyed it.” Dietz gave me a crooked little smile and said “You were vurr goo'” and I realized he was in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s. He had a tremor, and his eyes slid around in his head, as if he couldn’t control them. It was a moment of Mixed Emotions for me, and I went home feeling ambivalent, feeling embarrassed for myself and unhappy that I’d let Jane down. The next morning I was surprised to hear Lucinda Ballard on the phone: “I asked Jane for your number,” she said, “I hope you don’t mind, but Howard and I would like to ask you to lunch next Thursday, if you’re free.” I was thrilled and of course accepted immediately.  TO BE CONTINUED