1904

The Year Everything Important Happened

Things to Worry About

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Tamara de Lempicka, Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, 1929, oil on panel, Private Collection, Switzerland

I think of Blyth Daly and I think of Nick Carraway’s friend Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby: Jordan the cynical, self-centered golfing friend of Daisy’s who’s based on another athletic young woman Fitzgerald knew but sometimes types become types because everyone knows one. Iris Storm, driving her Hispano-Suiza in The Green Hat in 1924; Tamara de Lempicka the Art Deco artist painting herself behind the wheel of a green Bugati in 1929; Nick telling Jordan she’s a bad driver in The Great Gatsby, but that’s the point, the modern emancipated woman, the woman without a man, the careless girl at the wheel.

William and I are in L.A. at the same age.  At different times, but that’s not the point, we are here. William, me, and you. Whoever you are. This is about you or you wouldn’t keep reading, this is about the you who wonders if you should worry about the Past or the Future and where you were or might have been, then, now. Where am I? you ask. What part of this is mine? Who’s driving? Who is the Villain of the piece? We fall back to find out.

Is Time the Villain?  1933 and that Art Deco ivory Bakelite clock is ticking, little bronze beauty on top, striding in silhouette in her evening gown, being dragged by Borzoi hounds into tomorrow.  Or is 1904 the year everything happened? No, you want a flesh and blood bad guy in a black hat, a naughty femme fatale behind the wheel, easy to identify with the bobbed hair and Kohl eyes.  Sheilah Graham, born in 1904, grows up to be a showgirl, has an affair with F. Scott, becomes a gossip columnist who can make and break careers in Hollywood. I wonder if she was a bad driver.

In 1933 Bridal Wise has a run at El Capitan in Hollywood and F. Scott’s Tender is the Night is published and it’s a flop, it’s a different time and place, Gatsby is the Past, Zelda has been institutionalized, Fitzgerald has seven more years to live before he drinks himself to death, in 1933 he writes a letter to his daughter at summer camp telling her all the things she’s not to worry about, like the future, and things she should worry about instead like being good but it’s a laundry list for himself of things he is struggling with that he’s pawning off as fatherly advice on an eleven year old child, if there’s anything you want to go back to the Past to do it’s to tell children not to listen to their parents, don’t take on their misery, don’t let them project their fears or hopes onto you, don’t take on their neediness, worry about your own future, not theirs.

I wonder if that’s what happened to Blyth? Daughter of an artist, did she ever get a letter from Daddy who told her how to live her life? Is that what fathers do? In 1933 William is a man without children, not a father, I am the same age, another man without children, how would either of us know what to do with a child?  In 1933 my father is 16 years old and still a child, an only child, and it will be years before I come along to take on his list of things to worry about, years before I assume his struggles, his unhappiness, his regrets, and when the time comes I will do it before I even possess the language to refuse, before I am even able to say, this is not mine, this is your list, not mine.

Blyth Daly

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“Blyth Daly is the one who really seems to have made out,” Rose observes.

“How do you figure that?” I ask.

“According to the Internet Broadway Data Base Bridal Wise opened May 30, 1932, and ran for 128 performances. 16 weeks. It closed in September. And this at a time when Broadway theaters were not air conditioned. ‘Biggest hit of the season?’ Oh yes, it must have been a rousing success. The theater season in 1932 did not correspond to the season as now understood on Broadway but it wasn’t limited to a 16 week summer engagement, even in the depths of the Depression when there weren’t as many people summering on Long Island or at Saratoga as there had been, just a few years earlier.”

“I only report what I find, Rose,” I reply, a little defensively.  “I let the facts speak for themselves…”

“You mean the press releases.  And your ghosts.”

But I too can use the Internet Broadway Data Base and quickly do so, rifling the metaphoric pages of entries with a flourish of authority. “Look,” I say, “there were nearly 200 productions on Broadway in 1932, including revivals, and Shakespeare, and variety shows, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Show Boat, and okay, Gay Divorce which opened in November and ran until July of ’33 for 248 performances which is a very nice run but into the next year so it doesn’t really count, and oh look Ruth Draper, and The Boyfriend which I’m guessing didn’t star Tommy Tune or Twiggy – hahaha – but seriously most of these shows closed after a few performances, oh here’s one, If Booth Had Missed now there’s a title for you, 21 performances at Maxine Elliott’s Theatre and… wait, Whispering in the Dark ran for 265 performances? 265? Definitely more than Bridal Wise except wait, it moved from the Barrymore to the Waldorf Theatre, does that count as two productions, or – can even they do that?”

“Press agents,” Rose begins and pauses for effect, “lie.  Trust me,” she adds.  “I speak from experience.”

“You need a good Front Man,” I say, agreeing but trying to shift the focus.  “William knew that, it’s how you promoted yourself, it’s how – “

“They all lie,” Rose repeats. “It was not the biggest hit of whatever you want to call a Broadway season and I rest my case. But back to Blyth, or sometimes Blythe with an ‘e.’  Think about it.  She books a Broadway lead for the summer, followed by having her holidays off, followed by getting the hell out of NYC as the winter turns hard, followed by headlining again in sunny Los Angeles. Luck? Or a clever agent? They are both good to have, my darling. Both good to have.”

“A step-father who’s a playwright and producer might help too,” I add and Rose nudges the air with her shoulder and an eyebrow as if to say, it couldn’t hurt.

To recap: Blyth Daly arrived in L.A. from New York in January of 1933 to reprise her role from the Broadway cast of Bridal Wise which had been stage managed by her step-father the actor/playwright/producer Frank Craven, author of New Brooms, in which Blyth had appeared on Broadway in 1924 (and in which William appeared in the San Francisco production in 1928).  Blyth (sometimes Blythe), was born in 1901 in London, the only child of actors Arnold Daly and Mary Blyth.  A few years younger than William Macauley, Arnold Daly had been born in Brooklyn to Irish parents (yet another Irishman) and found his way to the stage as a teenager, went on to write and act and direct and manage his own repertory company, took his wife and child with him touring the country (as William had done) at the turn of the century. The marriage did not survive (Mary divorced him, twice, then married Frank Craven in 1915), and by 1914 Arnold had turned to silent film, acting, and also directing and producing a number of films between 1914 and 1926. He died, under suspicious circumstances, in 1927.

It seemed inevitable, with parents and a helpful step-father in the business, that Blyth would find her way on stage. She certainly found notoriety. In New York she became associated with the Algonquin Round Table set; she and her friends Tallulah Bankhead, Estelle Winwood and Eva Le Gallienne, were dubbed the Four Riders of the Algonquin, possibly because they all liked riding (not writing) and horses or because they were also rumored to like other girls and a wit like Dorothy Parker could see the connection. Once Blyth arrived on the west coast she became a “lively character among the Hollywood elite,” tanned and athletic, riding horses and playing tennis and golf and getting into car accidents and other people’s scandals.  Famous for being famous, a few promising roles, a few minor film roles… and then obscurity.

She could have been William’s daughter, he might have thought, shuddered to think, when he met her backstage at El Capitan, the boyish girl (but over thirty, no longer a girl), a flapper with shingled hair and a pout and a reputation and a way that said, I’m not like other girls.  And despite the father-daughter difference in age, she and William had a few things in common: some of the same shows, same theaters in the same towns where trains stopped and actors and their companies and families got out for a one night stand or a one week run, back and forth across the country before the War, the same uncertainty, being on the move, season to season, town to town. William had known fellow actors with children, had thanked the Fates he’d never had to bear that burden, never struggled with what to do with a wife and a kid and a show to do and another mouth to feed and oh if he had, if he’d married, if there had been children…  But that had not been his path, had not been an option. Avery Hopwood the famous playwright might pretend, a flurry of press releases about his pending marriage that never happened.  There were others and they did lie, maybe not all but plenty tried to. And had good agents, good press, good luck or bad luck, depending on how you looked at it.   Biggest show of the season, one of the biggest, a decent run, a respectable marriage, a child, a career that might take off but didn’t.  Still, it wasn’t over until it was over.  Even if a sense of being over hung over certain people, the way a feeling of vague pending doom could cling to an era, a time and place, a person. Nothing lasted forever but sometimes, William thought, you couldn’t help feeling it was over before it began.  Especially in those brief precious moments when you wished it would never end.

I think of Blyth and I think of Nick Carraway’s friend Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Jordan the cynical, self-centered golfing friend of Daisy’s was based on another athletic young woman Fitzgerald knew but sometimes types become types because everyone knows one.  The all-American beauty, the stalwart leading man, the dangerous guy with sex appeal, the terribly funny old bachelor, the boyish girl who likes horses, the actress who seems destined for fame that will never be.

Tom Moore

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Tom Moore

Thirteen years younger than William Macauley, Tom Moore was also Irish born (County Meath in 1883) and had come to America with his family, a sister and three brothers, in 1896.  Unlike William, however, Tom turned to the camera instead of the stage, appearing in his first film, a short written and directed by D.W. Griffith, in 1908.  From that beginning Tom – along with his brothers Matt and Owen – would go on to have a significant career as a leading man of the “stalwart variety” (Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars). He would also turn to directing in 1914 and 1915.  Tom married three times, to the silent film star Alice Joyce (1914), French actress Renée Adorée (1921) and the actress Eleanor Merry (1931); his brother Owen would marry and divorce Mary Pickford before she was famous (disastrous match: his drinking, her youthful innocence and rise to fame).

Whether because of the toll the Depression had taken on the industry, or because he was getting older and stalwart leading man roles were harder to find, by the time Tom Moore starred in Bridal Wise, he’d more or less retired from film, would appear in only two more, in Trouble for Two (1936) with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, and Ten Laps to Go (1938) but would return after the War to work in television or in small and often uncredited film roles: as the ‘office clerk’ in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) starring Betty Grable, the ‘foreman’ in Road House starring Ida Lupino and Cornel Wilde (1948), and ‘tavern keeper’ in The Fighting O’Flynn (1949) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  He would die in 1955 in Santa Monica.

In January of 1933, however, FDR had just been elected, the New Deal was in the future, Hitler had only just been named Chancellor, the War was years away, and William Macauley and Tom Moore were two Irishmen riding out the Great Depression, surviving, on stage together, both brought to America as boys in the hope of finding better lives, both drawn to acting… and worlds apart, in ways that must have been obvious and in other ways, perhaps less so. One with a career on stage and the other in front of a camera, with more than a decade separating them, Tom with family in the business where William had none and had created his own by becoming a Henry Duffy Player. Not that having family necessarily helped, any more than being Irish got you anywhere, or being married or the leading man type, but you worked with what you had.

Five days after Bridal Wise opened, She Done Him Wrong premiered, starring Mae West, Cary Grant, and Tom’s brother Owen Moore (January 27, 1933).  Long divorced from Mary Pickford and an alcoholic, Owen was not the stalwart variety of leading man like Tom but Owen was the brother with sex appeal. He was also the dangerous one. The one you’d be careful to avoid at the cast party, no matter how much you’d had to drink yourself, the one who would turn on you because you were another Irishman, because you knew his brother, because of the way you looked at him. Hollywood was a small town and still is; keeping your private life separate from common knowledge isn’t easy.

And that was the beauty of the world of acting: you went on stage with people whose biographical details you knew (who thought they knew yours) and you made yourself forget, substituting their characters’ lives for the real lives you’d glimpsed in the dressing room, backstage, after rehearsal, read about in Variety and the Sunday photogravure pages, caught in glances and overheard conversations, in awkward introductions and misinterpreted remarks, sotto voce exchanges with directors, stage hands, brothers, and then you played your part.  You stepped out of yourself, you became someone else.  You made a point of replacing the genuine with the fictional, yours as well as theirs, until you could see and understand these people not as they were but as the characters they played, as they found their marks, their motivations, spoke their lines, made their entrances and exits.

You reacted, not to Tom Moore an Irishman exiled like yourself from a country you’d barely known, a child in a strange land, part of the diaspora, a man who loved and lost and loved again, surviving as you were surviving the best either of you knew how, who succeeded where you’d failed (but you kept on trying), a man with brothers and sisters he loved, with a family prone like all families, like your own, to competition and violence and drink and love and hate, yes, this was the gift the world of theater gave you, to alter your perspective on cue, to see the world differently, to see Tom Moore as Alan Burroughs, a stalwart sort of man, a well-off respectable married gentleman of means, untouched by the Depression, house on Long Island, member of the right clubs, probably Episcopalian, a man who loves horses and pretty girls who love to ride.

Lois Wilson

 

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Lois Wilson (source)

1933 was a good year for William Macauley.  He was in his sixties now and working with some of the most famous actors in his long career.  At the top of the bill of Bridal Wise were two prolific Hollywood silent film stars: Lois Wilson (150 films) and Tom Moore (at least 186 films).  Lois, born in Pittsburgh in 1894 and no relation to another Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was in the first group of young actresses selected by WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) to be “Baby Stars” in 1922.  One of her most remembered roles would be her portrayal of Daisy Buchanan in Paramount Pictures’ 1926 silent film version (now lost) of The Great Gatsby which had been published in 1925. Credited by critics with a typical all-American kind of beauty, Lois Wilson worked with such leading men of her day as Rudolph Valentino (She described him as “Perfectly delightful with a great sense of humor”) and John Gilbert.

When William Macauley met Lois Wilson he was 63 and she was not yet 40, she had successfully made the transition to sound, but had become increasingly disappointed in the film roles she was being offered. Like actresses then and now, getting old wasn’t easy.  So she turned to the stage and found it more forgiving than the camera, except that even the theater had its limits, unless you were Sarah Bernhardt or Bellasco’s star Mrs Leslie Carter, “The American Bernhardt,” who went so far as to play Madame Du Barry when she was in her fifties (the film was not a hit).

There were those who could get away with anything, of course, and those who couldn’t. William knew that.  He’d played a West Point cadet when he was nearly 40.  Granted, getting old for men was different; nevertheless, the magic of acting only went so far.  And the world wasn’t sitting still either, everything was changing, the medium was changing, there were new forms of entertainment as old forms faded away, you needed to change with the times, you couldn’t play young forever. In later years Lois would find work in television, appearing on the soap operas The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night.  Her last film would be The Girl from Jones Beach, in 1949, playing the mother of Ronald Reagan’s love interest, Virginia Mayo. She would live to be 93 and die in Reno in 1988.

The past is in the present, not some separate distant long ago time. It is here then and now, silent film stars in the black and white soap operas your grandmother loved, Lois Wilson who’d once played Daisy Buchanan now a character on The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night, playing the mother of the girlfriend of the President of the United States.  Daisy Buchanan, the classic all-American beauty, Gatsby’s unattainable love, in Reno, older than the 20th century.

Bridal Wise, El Capitan

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El Capitan Theatre (source)

“When Bridal Wise opens next Sunday matinee [January 22, 1933] at El Capitan theater, it will not only bring to Hollywood the only play which ran the entire season in New York last year, but will bring Lois Wilson and Tom Moore as attractions in the large cast, [and] Blythe Daly who will play the role she created in the original production. Another member of the cast is Marion Shockley, one of this year’s WAMPAS Baby stars. Others in the company are Grace Hampton, Jay Ward, juvenile, who played recently with Pauline Frederick in “As Husbands Go”; Ben Erway, William Macauley, “Hambone” Johnson, Cleo Desmond, John Ray and Walter Clyde.” (Arcadia Tribune, Arcadia, California – January 20, 1933)

Bridal Wise concerns itself with the tale of a horsey husband and his non-horsey wife whose marriage runs on the rocks because of their antipodal interests. After the divorce, Alan Burroughs marries a sort of female centaur. Joyce Burroughs mates with the family lawyer. As in Private Lives, fate brings the quartet together on their honeymoons.” (Time, June 13, 1932)

Bridal Wise had been one of the biggest Broadway hits of the previous season.  It was the show that brought its writers, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, to Hollywood: their film credits would one day include the first three Thin Man films, The Virginian, Father of the Bride, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; they would also be two of the many writers on Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Bridal Wise opened at El Capitan January 22, 1933, two days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.  In 1956 Goodrich and Hackett would win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their script adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank which also won the Tony for Best Play. In 1959 they would write the screen adaptation of their play.

1933 was a good year for William Macauley.  He was working with some of the biggest stars of his career.

Everything is connected.

Being There

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London, July 1, 2016, photograph by the author

I thought falling back into Time would be easy in London, unavoidable even.  I’d taken a break from writing the book for a trip there, but I felt certain my sensitivity to the Past would be even stronger in an old place, Los Angeles or San Francisco being so new, comparatively speaking.  I suppose I expected to feel more in a city where so many more people had lived and died. Some parts of the earth are simply more ancient than others, I reasoned; London was a thriving metropolis teeming with Romans, after all, long before California had even been invented.

In Hollywood, however, you can find yourself face to face without warning with a bloody gladiator smoking a cigarette or an eighteenth century girl in powdered wig on her iPhone; the centuries blur in this town where people come to lose their personal Past and create another, so I was no stranger to historical incongruity, and when we emerged from the Green Park Underground station on the morning of the 1st of July and met up with a troop of young men in uniforms of soldiers from the first World War, I didn’t blink.  Once I realized I wasn’t the only one who could see them, that is.  And no, I was not alone and they were quite real, in a surreal fashion, not blending in at all with the other pedestrians.  Film shoot, I quickly surmised.  Or perhaps, like a Civil War Re-enactment back home, they were members of a costume drama club for young men who loved dressing up and pretending to settle old disputes.

We followed the troups, these youthful Doughboys, through the arcade of the Ritz on Piccadilly, headed toward Fortnum and Mason, when I noticed another group moving in the same direction on the other side of the street, by the Burlington Arcade.  We stopped at the traffic light and one of the boys – truly a boy, he might have been no more than sixteen or seventeen – turned to stare back at me, passively, almost a little expectantly.

“Where are you going?” I asked.  He didn’t answer but continued looking at me mutely, and then handed me a card.  On it was written: “Private George Smith, 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, Died at the Somme on 1st July 1916” and at the bottom, something I noticed later, a hashtag, #wearehere.

Private George Smith couldn’t speak, of course, because he had died on this day a hundred years before.  For the past few months I’d been working on the story of a dead man but it hadn’t prepared me to meet one so young and so alive and so far from home.

Later I would learn the details, the identity of the organizer, the scope and extent of this tribute to the fallen.  Later I would wonder where my actor William had been on the 1st of July in 1916.  I knew he had not been a young man and he had not been in France when 19,000 men died on the the first day of that terrible battle.  He had not been there.  I don’t think I had been there either, until that moment, looking into the eyes of a young actor on a street in London a hundred years later.

The Past does not register until you find a human connection to it.  It doesn’t have to be DNA, or a common language or heritage or the right setting, although I suppose that would all help.  So does being old. But too much life, too many people in the present can be a hindrance, a roaring white noise that disrupts, drowns out the old. History is the hardest thing to teach to the young, because they have so many distractions and so little material to work with, so little Time.  By itself, however, Time, even in ancient surroundings, will not help you conjure another era or another life.

There were moments later, walking in Russell Square, in Bloomsbury, a place I know better than other parts of London, when slipping into the Past felt easier, or possible.  Virginia Woolf’s father died in 1904, her life changed then, she walked here.  I once owned a note written by Lytton Strachey to her that year that mentions her brother Thoby Stephen, describing him as looking like a young Theseus (he would die two years later on a trip to Greece); I bought it at auction and sold it again a few years later because I was poor and had no business spending money on ephemera of people I’d never known, but the connection lingered: a tingling in the touch, like a startled recognition prompted by a look exchanged by accident on the street with another boy who died too young; a feeling of being part of something much greater and older and richer and sadder than ever seemed possible.  A sense of being connected, of being there.

Selma Ave. From “Time Fall, A Memoir of 1904”

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Wilcox Hotel, Hollywood, corner of Wilcox and Selma, circa 1930s, Los Angeles Public Library photography archives

You cannot trigger a falling with physical coordinates alone.  I think this is a common mistake people make with time travel.  Visit the Tower of London and be whisked back in time to the beheading of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. It doesn’t work that way.  It takes more than an address, more than longitude and latitude.  Weather is involved as well, and time of day and angle of the light, and state of mind.  And importantly, Mood.  And more important still, Energy.

You must also be careful not to assume that every vacant lot you come upon was once the site of something historical, or that some interesting building had to be demolished to make way for something else, or for parking. Not in Los Angeles at any rate.  There are empty lots in this town that have always been empty, without significance or consequence. So you should not stand in the tour bus parking area behind the El Capitan Theatre and try to imagine what older structures stood there when the theater was built in 1926.  In 1926 real estate developer Charles E. Toberman (1880 – 1981, ten years younger than William, from Texas, his mother Lucy died in 1904) was in the process of making Hollywood into Hollywood, had already built the Egyptian (1922) and was in the process of completing the Roosevelt Hotel (1927) and Grauman’s Chinese (1927).  And yes, although Hollywood Boulevard might have been an unpaved stretch of road through orange groves in 1904, it was definitely a city street in the 20s and in the 30s when William was living on Selma Avenue and walking or taking the streetcar on Hollywood Boulevard to the theater; it was not open country and buildings did get pulled down to make way for newer, bigger, grander structures.  And yet you didn’t have to go far to get a sense of change, of a landscape in transformation, of a place being made for the first time.

I am trying to get better at seeing.  I walk from Highland east on Selma, past the white pillared “New England” style Baptist Church at Las Palmas, on to Cherokee and Schrader and toward Wilcox, to 6526 Selma Avenue which The Los Angeles Voter Register lists as William’s place of residence in 1928 when he was one of the Henry Duffy Players and possibly where he was still living in 1933 when he was appearing in Bridal Wise at the El Capitan half a dozen blocks away at 6838 Hollywood Boulevard.  6526 is now a parking lot directly adjacent to the old Wilcox Hotel which is now the Mama Shelter Hotel, a chic hipster hotel and restaurant with German speaking visitors unloading luggage from a cab at the entrance at 6500 Selma while the doorman talks to another guest and one of the kitchen staff stands around the back side of the building, a young Latin guy, smoking and talking on his cell phone.  I want to take a picture but I’m afraid he’ll think I’m photographing him.  I turn around and face another empty fenced-in parking area across the street.  In the adjacent lot to the north is a long two-story “Spanish” apartment building with tiled roof and arched verandahs on the second floor overlooking the lot, its front entrance on Schrader.  I take a picture for no good reason.  The right vintage, I suppose.  Twenties.  Not a careful or focused shot.  I question what I’m doing. Nearly all the architecture of Hollywood should be described in quotation marks. “Spanish,” “Tudor,” “Gothic,” Egyptian.” The day is already hot. Nothing is happening.

I walk to the corner of Selma and Wilcox and look around, try to determine what would have been or not been here in William’s day. The Gilbert Hotel stands across the street from the Wilcox.  To the north, The Mark Twain Hotel on Wilcox is undergoing renovation, draped in Christo fashion with net shrouds and scaffolding. I try to fill up the empty spaces around it with other structures. This was a sketchy part of town when I moved to L.A. in the 90s, a place to buy drugs and pick up hustlers or get rolled (the Spotlight was a dive a couple blocks further east, Selma at Cahuenga); now the neighborhood appears to be enjoying gentrification, a mini Times Square renewal except that back East the bad parts of town and urban decay exist in a twilight of shadows, dark alleys and gloom.  Here there are no shadows; bougainvillea blooms on crack houses, palm trees sway in blue skies.  I squint at the bright day, the façade of the Wilcox fresh white and blinding beneath a washed out sky, no clouds.  I walk back and the kid is still on his phone, smoking.

Later I find a photograph of the Wilcox Hotel in its day, in the 30s, with a drug store on the ground level where I imagine William went to buy his Clubman talc in the green and white can with the man in tux and top hat on the front, and his toiletries and cigarettes (Did he smoke? Did you smoke?) and I wonder if the store had a soda fountain like Schwab’s on Sunset.  And in the picture I see, on the very far right edge, where the guy from the kitchen was standing talking on his phone, just enough of the structure that stood next to the hotel on Selma, is visible: 6526, a two-story Spanish style building with tiled roofs and arched verandahs on the second floor overlooking the street. And I realize I was expecting an old wooden Craftsman bungalow converted to apartments, something with a low front porch and overhanging eaves.  And I understand why I noticed the kid in the first place, standing where the front door would have been, and why I looked at the building across the way, similiar in every way, a good stand-in.  I am getting better at seeing.  I realize I need to pay more attention to what I notice.  I am being told what to see by what I see.

I still don’t fall.  Not here.  It happens a couple days later, early in the morning when I’m still in bed, before I find the photograph of the Wilcox.  I wake up to the sound of an old-fashioned cash register, a metallic ca-ching and thunk. I can smell lilac water and bay rum and sandalwood. It’s night and I’m inside, a wooden floor beneath me, warm light overhead.  I am wearing a bowler hat.  Moving lights swing by outside the plate glass windows filled with displays of merchandise, bottles, boxes, hand-lettered signage, the view fussy with neon.  “Gussied up” with neon – I hear a voice inside my head correcting me.  The candy colors of the neon reflect and blur the edges of the windows, trimming the blackness outside.  It’s late.  A boy in a white apron sweeps the aisle.  His hair shines glossy black, combed back like a young Valentino sheik. Dark eyes and enviable cheekbones and lips in a pout, concentrating, aware that I am watching him and pretending not to notice, not wanting to meet my gaze too soon.  We have seen each other before.  I have been here before. I feel a little thrill of anticipation. I am excited to be alive.

Time Future

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You are consciousness in all planes and dimensions but you choose to focus on this particular convergence of points called the present.  Your senses are set to this map, this set of coordinates, this frequency.  In the old world we would say you are tuned in to the radio station called Now.  But there are ways to adjust the dial.  There are other stations, other frequencies. They do not cease broadcasting just because you aren’t listening.  You are here and there; you are vibrating across the spectrum, past, present, future.  You are those mysterious protons from Quantum psychics, dancing back and forth between the seen and unseen, existing in potential, waiting to be predicted to appear. Waiting for your cue to go on stage.  You are living and dying and being born, here and there, then and now.

I wake in the night to the sound of a train’s mournful air horn rising up and falling away in the distance.  It is a sound from my childhood and from some other time I know and yet don’t know.  A sound of coming close and going away. There are no trains near here now.  Am I dreaming?

The future distracts you with hair styles and modes of transportation.  Strange fashion statements and conveyor-belt sidewalks.  What is modern does not always age well.  Translation is inadequate: is this a subway car I’m in?  People packed into rows, holding onto straps suspended overhead, like racks of old clothes on hangers. The smell of toilet cake disinfectant, sweet and sour pine trees and ripe jockstraps, an aphrodisiac.  Mid-country transport. Off-world meat rocket.  I don’t know if these are terms in common usage or meant to be ironic.

My arm aches.  My field of vision is nape of neck and back of ear after ear after ear after pierced, un-pierced, cauliflower ear after shaggy, shaved, thick, cropped tatted up dirty clean collared neck, glimpse of shoulder, sweaty, sloped, hunched, swollen and I can feel a rhythm, repetition, we’re moving, where are we going? Who’s asking?  I hear the train horn again.

I/He is traveling, tired, in trouble, can’t deal and it all feels familiar.  Not the surroundings but the jumbled wheel of round and round, tumbling inside a cheap industrial front load washer of problems, slogging through an endless cycle, no way out.  No Way Out, I hear him, or rather I hear us say.  We look around.

Now I am not him, not inside him anymore, that is, I’m out of line, literally and figuratively: I’m standing outside the strap-holding queue and looking at this young man.  Shaved head, unfortunate tattoos, maybe only a kid, eighteen, but an old eighteen, tired before his time, his name is Zed.  End of the line, end of the alphabet, a weary and wary, untrusting gaze directed back at me.

What I want to do, of course, is not look back but look around, see this place, these racks of old clothes with people in them hurtling somewhere, a windowless repurposed 747 cargo-hold whizzing through space – I really do, really want to get my bearings at least but that desire is undermined by the urgent fear swimming up into his pale eyes and the realization in me that what happens next will matter more, much more somehow than anything else.  Why?

Why what? He answers in my mind.  And who the fuck are you? He adds with adolescent daring, and oh Bowery Boy, I think, oh you tough guy, the bravado of youth.

You, I reply and watch him pull back in reaction, in order to assess, readjust his balance, not what either of us expected. And then without knowing why, without understanding how I’m here at all or what’s at stake except that somehow everything is, and feeling a little dizzy in the process, as if something inside me may have shifted in flight, in the process, I say it again.  You.

I am you.

Process

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He lets me see what he wants me to see. Something happened in the past, something went wrong, I know that or sense it rather, but before I can focus on what I’m being shown I am swept forward again, onward, and I have the nagging feeling I am only being allowed to see a part of, not the whole, and that somehow what follows will better explain the past or inform what came before, I just need to be patient. The messages continue to come – cryptic, incomplete – what changes is my willingness to accept the process, that this is how it works. This is the way the story will unfold.

He dreamt again about the boy from the future.  This is from the other night. I have learned to keep a pad of paper and pen by the bed, and to resist the urge to go back to sleep by pretending I will remember the words in the morning.  I don’t turn on a light but reach out and write in the dark.  Sometimes what I find in the morning is illegible but there is no memory to rely upon, so I know the lie I tell myself – and have told myself for years – that I will not forget is just a lie from laziness, another form of resistance.  I do not remember, what I find when I wake up is disconnected, comes from out of nowhere, literally or figuratively, take your pick.

I will help you with the past.  This is the message this morning. Who is this “I”? Is it another me?  In the idea I had for a sci-fi script the three characters were unrelated – I mean, not unrelated but connected by a deeper level of connectedness, or consciousness – I didn’t know what else to call it. “Well you’ll have to do better than that, because that’s impossible,” my friend the critic explained.  “It’s confusing, it doesn’t make sense.”  Which I suppose should have cheered me up, since the implication that the rest of my pitch – a man in the future who gets help from a man in the past – must therefore ‘make sense’ and not be confusing except for the part about the characters having the same DNA or being related biologically somehow.  Sigh.  Sometimes I think you should never ask anyone’s opinion of anything, you invite confusion.  You usher in Doubt, and you show him to a seat for a show he won’t like at all.

Trust the process.

Luminous

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Edith Taliaferro (1894-1958) in Young Romance (1915)

When The Old Man in the Moon premieres in September of 1921, David Belasco has been a theatrical producer for forty years; he will be honored by the Society of Arts and Sciences with a banquet at the Biltmore in December.  Avery Hopwood’s play The Demi-Virgin will open in October, one of the biggest hits of the season, and even more so when obscenity charges are brought against it (and subsequently dropped); in November Paramount Pictures will release Miss Lulu Bett, directed by William C. deMille, the third film deMille directs in 1921.

In 1921 Edith’s sister Mabel will do two films, one with a young Mary Astor based on J.M. Barrie’s novel Sentimental Tommy, directed by John S. Robertson, which is released in May.  Mabel will retire from acting soon after although she will make a final cameo appearance (as the Dowager) in 1940 in Olivia de Haviland’s film My Love Came Back and then live on until 1979, dying at the age of 91 in Hawaii.  As for their cousin, having set up her own production company B and B Features which produced 16 films (all lost) between 1918 and 1921, Bessie will also retire from film and return to the stage: The Skirt starring Bessie Barriscale will open in November at the Bijou Theatre on 45th Street (built by the Shuberts in 1917, demolished 1982). In December, Edith’s first husband Earle Brown will open in the melodrama Alias Jimmy Valentine with Mary Boland at the Gaiety on 46th Street (built 1908, demolished 1982), and Edith’s future husband House Jameson will be 19 years old with his whole career ahead of him: his role as Sam Aldrich, the father on the popular radio show The Aldrich Family (1940-1949) almost twenty years in the future, and his work in daytime soap opera (Another World, The Edge of Night) more distant still, in a medium not yet invented.

In 1921 Edith Taliaferro, once described as the ‘greatest child actor’ is 26 years old. William Macauley is 50. An age difference like that (it was nearly the same between Buffy and me) colors a relationship, it puts a certain parent-and-child spin on the dynamic between you, at least if you’ve ever been a parent, which neither William nor I ever were, except on stage or in pretend situations as father figure to young boys who loiter backstage or petty criminals or young actors just starting out like John Breeden, or a particularly handsome extra who showed up on set once and was down on his luck and willing to do just about anything  to pay his rent and stay in Hollywood although that is another story entirely.  In any case it’s a bad idea with young ladies of the theatre unless you’re the director, which is also another story.  Big brother, older confidante perhaps, but not Daddy. I’m looking here, you see, for a way to fall, an opening to the convergence, a falling back into time.  What was she like to work with? I wonder. And I wait.

And then I fall.

At first into a brightly lit make-you-blink mirrored mobile home, the hair and make-up trailer on location and it is 1995 and I am reflected everywhere and I’m twenty years younger with a call-sheet taped on the mirror where the rest of me should be.  And then I am somewhere else, the light much dimmer and amber colored and a young girl with abundant brown hair – far too much of it, I think, and too much for the crowded little dressing room she’s sitting in, too much for her small pale uncertain face in the mirror looking behind her at someone smoking, and because I haven’t smoked in years I am almost distracted by the unexpected comfort of the slow inhale and exhale mingling with the dust and sweat and sweet face cream and talc, lilac vegetal and grease and stale smoke and old roses and a thick, sticky mechanical aroma I associate with old gears and garages and barns – motor oil? And then I realize they are talking, the girl reflected in the mirror and the man behind her who is – who? Me? And ‘we’ are talking, or running lines, and smoking (what a relief), and at the same time someone is also speaking inside my head, explaining:

WILLIAM: Luminous. I’m telling you, she was luminous on stage.  And what does it mean, by the way, this not taking it out on the camera?  That she wasn’t real? Edith was real when she was out there with you, giving you everything, fully alive in her role.  You must remember not to take Edith’s film work too seriously, she is a shadow of herself in front of the camera, trying too hard not to look like she’s trying too hard, which I admit comes off as slightly earnest and sweet but it’s still too much, whereas on stage the process is entirely different and that’s where she belonged. On stage she glowed. Of course off stage she could be difficult, to me she was a child, but to all of us she was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the quintessential little girl, and she knew that, was aware of that, it affected the way she behaved, or at least the way she behaved when she remembered – who she thought we thought she was.  She was also, don’t forget, the little sister, and that has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Look at deMille with big brother Cecil, a famous sibling can cast a long shadow over you, not that Edith’s big sister Mabel ever struck me as all that more talented.  More relaxed, certainly, and more at ease with herself, confident.  More practiced, if you know what I mean, but then having four husbands would do that, I suppose, whereas poor Edith never achieved that quality. She was a child when it came to men, which was part of her charm on stage, but in life I don’t suspect it helped much.  I never knew the second husband, but her first, Earle Brown was – well, he couldn’t have given her much.  He was my generation, after all, my age and my – he had a similar attitude, let’s just leave it at that, and he certainly had no business marrying a girl like Edith, he must have thought it would help his own career which is a terrible reason for taking a wife as I may have said elsewhere – or intend to say elsewhere when the time comes.  In any event, it didn’t do Earle any favors, marrying her.  Or Edith either.  She was lucky to be rid of him. It didn’t last.  It couldn’t.   

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