The son of a chauffeur and a tenement superintendent, David Patrick Columbia came back to New York a different man.
Question: Who are you?
David Patrick Columbia: My name is David Patrick Columbia.
Where was I born? I was born here in New York City. Actually I just came down the street on which my family lived when I was born, which was on East 25th Street. They lived in a tenement building. My father was a chauffeur. My mother I don’t think worked, but I think she was the super of the building that they lived in so they could pay the rent. They’d lived there long before I was born. They lived there about 10 years before I was born. And then in the first year of my life they moved to Massachusetts. I’m not quite sure how it shaped me, but all that really resonates with me every single time I go down East 25th Street and pass the building in which they lived when born.
I came back to New York when I was 21 or 22 years old. I’d flunked out of college in my junior year and I came directly to New York. I had won a playwriting contest in college, and the first prize was $100. And in 1962 you could come to New York with $100 and start your life.
Well when I was a child I always wanted to live in New York and I always wanted to live in Hollywood. My father was a New Yorker, and he got the tabloids everyday when I was growing up in Massachusetts. And the tabloids then were the New York Daily News and the New York Daily Mirror. They were full of columns like Walter Winchell. I started reading Walter Winchell when I was six years old. And so I always had a dream of living in the city. I was fascinated with Hollywood because I was fascinated with movie stars, and movies, and things like that. I was always fascinated with show business. I actually, at a very early age when I was in my twenties, made an attempt to do that. When I stopped playing with toys, which was about 11 – 11 or 12 – I started to write down the things that were going on in my mind when I played with toys. So I really started becoming a writer then. I did not image myself as being a writer when I grew up because I was always aware of the fact that I didn’t know very much. And I always felt that writers, at least those that I read, were extremely knowledgeable and sophisticated.
When I was in my late 30s I had a business and it was starting to become very successful. I always wrote. I always kept journals from the time I was in my twenties with the intention of teaching myself to write honestly. But I also had a business too. I had actually done several things. And at this particular time in my 30s I had a business. It was becoming very successful, and I would spend more and more of my time writing my journals with this very successful business. And I realized that if I made a lot of money, which I was on the brink of doing, I would probably never be a writer.
So I sold my business and I moved to California with the intention of becoming a writer. And for quite a long time – for about seven or eight years after that – I really did struggle, and really didn’t succeed at all, and barely made any income whatsoever. And then I wrote a book for a movie star named Debbie Reynolds. I wrote her autobiography which actually got me noticed in the publishing world. And I was brought to New York to write a book for somebody else, and I had a feeling because I knew the man, and I had seen the first book that he did – he was an entertainer – I had a feeling that it might not work out between me and him, even though I liked him socially. And so I told myself I had to drive here. I took the job because I was broke and I simply needed money, and this was the only thing in front of me.
I was very depressed about the whole prospect because I thought if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t have the money to go back to Los Angeles, and I like living in Los Angeles.
So I said to myself just to make myself feel better, “If you’re gonna be stuck in New York and you want to earn a living as a writer, if you could earn a living as a writer any way you wanted, what would you like to do?” And the thought that came into my head was I’d like to write a social column. And I was always aware of social columns from the time I was very young from those tabloids that my father used to get every day. And I was always fascinated by it. And I didn’t know how I could make that happen because I’m not really a networker. I don’t have a networker personality even though I’m very outgoing; but serendipitously it came to pass. I met somebody who had a magazine and we had somebody mutual in common. And she asked if I’d write an article about this person and I did, and that started my career. And then a year later she asked me if I wanted to write a column, and that’s how it happened.
Conducted on: October 29, 2007