My son Robert has long wanted me to write a book called ‘Dead Before Me,’ about all the famous people I knew/was actual friends with, who are dead before me(among them John Lennon, Stanley Kubrick, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, ken Kesey to give it a literary spin.) When I was in Venice this past autumn I received from him notice of yet another celeb passing, along with an e-mail that read “You better hurry up: there aren’t that many people left to be dead before you.” This morning’s LA Times carried the iconic photo of James Dean walking down a deserted, seemingly foggy Broadway, hands in his pockets, looking prematurely despondent, something he would not live to be at an appropriate age. I did not know James Dean, but he was the center of my first novel, Naked in Babylon, the plot kicker-offer(I did occasionally have a plot in my novels) being the frenzy to find his replacement for the maddened teenage audience, and keep his legend alive long enough to save the not-yet released ‘Giant.’ I called him Johnny King, not understanding yet that the dead had no rights in libel cases, or that the living had a good chance of losing them if they had a bad lawyer. The rest of the cast of characters, most of them Dead Before Me, were given pseudonyms, including Natalie Wood(Dead Before Anyone) Tony Perkins, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and a couple of little Mormon girls who came to Hollywood specifically to fuck Elvis, which they did, though the less assertive of the two had to do his cousin Gene. I hung out with them at the Hotel Roosevelt in-between bangs, while Elvis ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches and swilled Pepsi. I did not fully understand at the time the full extent of Elvis’ magnetism, but I certainly got it about James Dean.
The photo that they had in this morning’s Times(LA,’s. alas—I am on a budget and the NYT is prohibitive here) was by a photographer named Dennis Stock. The photo is so well known that it made the front page because Dennis had died. He had been one of the figures in almost constant attendance at the dinner table of the Stanley Kubricks, who were my best friends at that very young time in my life. Stanley had a collection of people in whom he was deeply interested, or from whom he thought he could steal some secrets—an actor I had gone out with when I was sixteen or so in New York named Freddie Martinl(he changed it to) was developing a brilliant new technology which Stanley appropriated for 2001, giving him no credit and very little money, which was Stanley’s way. But I liked Dennis Stock, and always wondered what he did that Stanley thought he could plunder, went to a small showing of his photographs at a gallery in New York last year and wrote him a note he never answered, so now I will never know what Stanley wanted from him besides his company, which was not that stimulating, but he was a sweet man. He had fallen deeply in love with Jimmy, as those who were also in love with Jimmy(Dennis Hopper among them) called him, and devoted what little time was left of the young Dean’s life to hanging out with him, and a few decades after trying to get movies made about him, some of them written by Stewart Stern, whom I believe had also fallen under the necrotic spell. But alas, poor Dennis, I knew him not well enough to go on about him, but it was slightly thrilling, in a chilling way, to see that what there was of his art made the front page.
In a later page there is more brouhaha about the Warren Beatty book, and how many women Warren made love to. As I made him a character(name changed, in another novel) and was personally very close to one he had had often in real life, in person and several times over the phone, including an outdoor payphone on Rodeo Drive, where he caught a cold from exposure, and one he wanted who was most unlikely, because as wonderful as she was, she was a physical wreck and very much his elder—Maureen Stapleton—(when I asked him what his character, in something we talked about my writing for the two of them could possibly be attracted to in her, he said “she has a vagina”)—and having seen the incredibly radiant and thoroughly shell-shocked Julie Christie sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the floor in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire where he lived when he dumped her, I feel I am in the perfect position to be an authority about him and so will be the only one in Hollywood not to express an opinion. Though I will recall one time just after the big earthquake when I was recuperating in the Bel-Air pool when he came out of one of their apartment cabanas where he was meeting with Emma Thompson, and started talking to me, so I couldn’t get out of the pool as my body wasn’t good enough. He told me the full details of how he had made it back through the broken glass, barefoot, to check that his wife(he had one by then) and children were all right, and then how he was questioning living in Los Angeles, because of the safety factor.
“But then I stand on Mulholland Drive,” he said, “and I see mountains and desert and sea and all this exquisite scenery, and think ‘Where else can you find all this in one place?’ And how does it rack up against the danger? It’s like … all your life there’s this gorgeous hooker you wanted to fuck, and then you’re finally going to do it and she has Aids.”
“Why Warren, “ I said. “How poetic. Have you ever thought about being a writer?” He closed his eyes against the sinking sun and appeared to be considering it.
The book someone ought to write is about his parents. Imagine the two people who produced Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine.
Anyway, as you can tell, I am once again caught in the fake majesty of Hollywood, though I am on its most economically dangerous border, Beverly Hills, within walking distance of Neiman-Marcus. In all the years I lived here I never set foot in Neiman-Marcus, and now I understand why. They are having their ‘Last Call,’ everything GREATLY marked down. So my friend Pam having told me what incredible bargains a friend of hers had gotten I went in. There were purses piled high on the counter, among them a good-looking turquoise leather a grade or six above the kind I usually pull off the carts in New York, and I love the color, so I looked. $1570. “Is this a joke?” I deep-throatedly gasped. “Well, it was $5800,” said the semi-outraged salesgirl. I then called my friend Pam to report, and she said there were women waiting all year for that bag to be $1500, and went on to tell me how when she was younger she would shop in the lingerie department which was reasonable, and wear that to the prom. So I went to the lingerie department and found a silk robe, black and red, with satin tuxedo front, that was only $103. I was immediately struck with RAPTURE OF THE CHEAP, and thought I could spend what is left of my sojourn here in that robe, like Oscar Wilde. I mean, suddenly, it was like they were giving it away. Once having been touched with the feel of silk and the loss of any real sense of values, I went back the next day to see if the matching camisole wouldn’t be a good idea. Happily they had only the wrong size. But on passing out the door on the first floor, I saw that the only $1570.00 purse was gone.
WHO ARE THESE WOMEN?