Monday, March 06, 2006

It was the Best of Oscars and the Worst of Oscars

Thirty-six years ago(how it is possible?) when I was really caught up in the glitzy underbelly of this business,(ego, a hunger for recognition, which in Hollywood meant publicity) I had a bestseller and arguably the world's best host for a husband. So Don and I gave the first Mocking the Oscar party in our house on Rembert Lane, and because it was Vietnam and aware people hated Bob Hope and John Wayne, everybody came to our house. The invitations read 'The Mitchell Academy of Arts and Games,' they were beautifully engraved(black tie optional) and those who didn't realize it was a spoof, buoyed by the fact that Ruth Berle, the "bellweather" of Beverly Hills society as she was to be described in the forthcoming article in Time Magazine, accepted, so so did they.
Shirley MacLaine was there, and Lee Marvin, who'd won the previous year, and a whole slew of celebs you can see for yourself in Vanity Fair's Oscar Book around page 40 something, the 42nd Academy Awards,1970.
If you open the book very wide to look at the splendid picture of the party, in the crack of the binding is a young woman with a dazzling smile and eyes brimming over with bright intelligence and humor. That is Sandy Burton. Sandy was with Time Magazine in LA at the time, and went to my hairdresser, Dusty Fleming. As he was cutting her he said "I'm going to this great party." Sandy, whom I didn't know, called and asked if she could cover it for Time,and I think I all but siphoned her through the phone, I was so elated. The piece was sharp and delightful, as Sandy was, and she became,if not my closest friend, certainly my favorite one. She was so clever she succeeded in getting Carlos Castenada, a metaphysician who ate peyote to enhance his spiritual insights, on the cover of that staid and rationalpublication. Right after that she became the first woman bureau chief of Time, and transferred to Boston, her farewell present to me a map to Carlos' Power Spot, the place where sorcerers go to renew their strength, in the Malibu mountains, and the parting instruction"Preserve your Marriage, because the women in this business who can maintain a career and keep up a family can be counted on the finger of one finger." I had to listen, because it was Sandy who'd said it, she was so reasonable and smart,and I had more or less lost my footing what with The Pretenders being a big hit,and the truth that Don was punished for it, as there was little or no tolerance in this town for a man whose wife was more successful, so he was suffering, and I,who have a tendency to hide my eyes at the sight of blood, was ready to flee. But because of Sandy's mandate, I stayed, probably the best thing I ever did from the How Do You Want to Look Back at Your Life POV.
Then Sandy went to Paris for Time and I visited her there,and when they made a movie of mine in the South of France she turned us on to St, Tropez("everybody says 'St.Tropez c'est finis'," she said,"but you'll like it.") And we did, the whole family, Robert in his Bar Mitzvah(which he hated) year, Madeleine at 15 pissed off she wasn't in Hawaii with the rest of her friends,and Sandy coming down for a special weekend, where we walked for hours on an uneven beach and she asked me how you jump the barrier into fiction, and congratulated me on the only novel of mine I think she ever read, Marriage, and said it was literature, the most important praise I have ever received, I loved her so, because of how very smart and no nonsense she was.
Then she transferred to Hong Kong, where I went to stay with her after Don died, and lived in her apartment while she was in the Phillipines bonding with and strengthening the Aquino family-- she had been with Ninoy on the plane that brought him back to Manila, and recorded his assassination when they wouldn't let her off the plane, becoming the chief witness in the trial of General Ver. (You can read her wonderful book, The Impossible Dream, about the Aquino-Marcos rivalry.) Then she was in Beijing, in the midst of Tiannammen Square, and in Burma, and in elephant stampedes, all kinds of dangers from which she escaped unscathed.
But a couple of years ago she went to Bali, the most peaceful place on earth it was then, to write a book, with a companion I will not describe or name. And two years ago at this time, if you remember from pieces I wrote from Bali, where I was when it happened, she 'fell' in her bathroom and 'hit her head on the toilet', he told me. The houseboys wiped up the blood, and it is on the books as "an unsolved homicide", but the autopsy report in the Jakarta Post said there were ten contusions on her skull, a cranial fracture with a blunt instrument,and what looked like strangulations marks. My friend Julia Gajcak, who was PR for a long time at Four Seasons Jimbaran, said "If you want to murder someone, do it in Bali."
But all this is another story. Or perhaps a novel. The point is, I think, that no Academy Awards I ever watch can match the evening that was,with the rooms divided up into Reformed(talking and eating and watching) Conservative (watching and a little talking) and Orthodox(no talking at all,) with a Sabrett stand(a real one,imported from NY) in the back yard,a klieg light and a red carpet down the walk tp out house, a young friend in a Roxy Ushers uniform at the front door, and endless hors d'ouevres, created by me for days before, empanadas and fried wontons and mini-bagels with smoked salmon(Sandy wrote lox, her only inaccuracy.)
Last year I struggled mightily to go to the Vanity Fair party and succeeded in being invited, and hated almost every minute except the one where I got Dennis Hopper to be actually gracious, and told James Wood he had made my cousin Susie very happy a long time ago, sucking her toes as they went to New Haven to see Uta Hagen in something, and he said "I remember her. A little redhead. She was adorable. Say hello to her for me."
I wish I could. I wish I could say hello to Sandy. But I watched last night by myself, much the best way,it turned out. I had so many interesting ghosts in the room.

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