Posted 8 May 2016
My mom, Helen Slater Zager, died at age 92 a little more than three years ago. She and I were very close, and it was a tough year for me after her death.
Here’s the post I wrote shortly after her passing: Remembering my Mom, Helen Slater Zager. It says as well as I can say today what a positive influence she was for me.
For the past three years, I have had boxes and boxes of her photographs in my garage. For the past two months, I’ve had a high-school intern, Izzy Ehnes, sorting through these boxes and scanning as much as she can. She’s scanned about 750 items, which I’m now sorting through.
My mom was a great storyteller, and she had something of a reputation for embellishing, if not fabricating, some of the stories. One of the stories she told was of her wealthy boyfriend in Philadelphia before she married my father.
I regret now that I never took these stories more seriously and asked my mom about him, because in going through her photos, we’ve found him!
One piece of writing she left behind gives some insight into these early days: Helen’s autobiography of her early life. In the photo captions, he is referred to as Smitty, but in her autobiography his name is Larry Horowitz.
Here are some excerpts from her autobiography that talk about the end of her relationship with Larry, her marriage to my father, and her move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles:
Larry Horowitz was in the midst of a divorce and had two small sons. He was 31, and since I was only 20, I thought him middle aged. But he had a great personality, and showed me a world I didn’t know existed. He often treated me to some fancy lunch, and in a few months we were dating.
Larry and I saw every show, movie, attended every concert and ate in every special restaurant between Philadelphia and New York. But I knew from the beginning that this was a temporary situation for me. I disliked Larry’s arrogance. He never ordered from the menu. He would order whatever he chose to eat and the chef would make it for him. He would never wait in line. He always slipped somebody a twenty-dollar bill and we got into the club or restaurant immediately.
She first met my father in Philadelphia, where he was visiting:
A blind date had been arranged for me by my good friends Grace Schimmel and Jay Portner. I had known them for many years and agreed to the arrangement to meet Dan Slater. He was living in Los Angeles, but was visiting in Philadelphia with Grace and Jay. The date was filled with small talk, but was not unpleasant.
Dan thought the arrangement was for me to show him around the city, and generally keep him occupied. He arrived with flowers and a tourist guide. We went to all the usual historical places. We had a good time and Dan asked me if I ever planned to go to L.A. I had never given it a thought, but when the projected trip with Helen Greenspan came up, I remembered his offer to host me on the west coast.
She took a trip to Los Angeles to escort Helen Greenspan, who wanted to get out of Philadelphia, and there she connected again with Dan:
Finally, we arrived at the beautiful Los Angeles downtown train station but we had not yet made a reservation and so had to find a hotel. I was so thrilled with our trip I had not called or written Dan to tell him that I was coming. When I finally called, he told me that Jay Portner had already called to tell him of my trip west. Dan and his brother Walter came to our hotel for a welcome party.
They had made dinner reservations at a fancy Hollywood restaurant not far from the Hollywood Roosevelt where we were staying. In the course of the evening, Dan told me that he was a drug detail man for Endo Products, that his time was flexible, and since we had no car, he would take we two Helens to see the sights. Little did I know that he wanted to be with us every single day and evening.
Dan was so different than Larry, so reserved and removed that I enjoyed not being suffocated, but missing the warmth that I had been spoiled by. Dan asked me if I would consider staying on indefinitely. I was shocked! Of course I couldn’t consider leaving my wonderful job, my family and all my friends. But as the days went on, I started to look at the relationship with Dan as my exit visa from Philadelphia. I was happier without Larry wanting to control my every hour. I was ready to break away.
Here’s a selection of photos from her early adult years. Most of these photos were taken in Philadelphia, but some are in Los Angeles.
I find it fascinating to try to imagine what her life was like back then. Looking at these pictures, I get a glimpse of who she was, at about the age my daughter Amanda is today!
She married my father, Dan Slater, in 1945, at age 25 — the same age I was when I married Irene. And I was born when my mom was 35, the same age I was when Gregory was born.
I’ll be publishing more galleries of her work, as well as many more family photos, once I get them sorted out.
For now, if you’re hungry for more, there’s lots more photos on Helen’s website, which I built for her many years ago for her ceramics business and then turned into a memorial site.