My lovely friend Amber and I were talking about all the older actresses, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, etc, and I noted that out of all of them, the one who remains the most appealing is Judi Dench. Amber, as wise as she is pretty and kind, said: "That is because she embraces her age."
Because I have always been the youngest one, the youngest in my class, the youngest to go to Paris and sing my songs in a boite, kind of an old/young American dream, the youngest to lose my husband, (at which juncture, Jack, my Jewru, said "When you lose a longtime partner, whether through death or divorce, you go back to who you were before," so I became a 17 year-old Chubette, which I had been before Don found and refined me) the oldest/youngest to move back to Paris to try and re-begin, then the oldest/youngest to start a new career, writing travel for the Wall Street Journal Europe. So this constant process of starting over made me think I was starting over, too. Which I suppose I really was, but my actual body did not start over with me, to my profound shock, not acknowledged till this weekend.
Whatever I was going through in my life came to blazing reality on the no longer Silver Screen, as much in my life has done, when I went to see the still radiant Dame Judi in Exotic Magnolia or whatever the hell it is Hotel. And there among the less radiant Oldies, was the still wonderful Maggie Smith, whose youthful brilliance had been the center of my once great and delicious celebrations.
At the height of my success with The Pretenders, we gave the first(and still, I think, the best tongue-in-cheek in-your-face)of the pre-Swifty Lazar/Graydon Carter Oscar parties. black tie to watch on TV. It was at the height (or depth) of the Vietnam war, all of Hollywood of conscience hated Bob Hope, and John Wayne, and drum-majoretted by the estimable Ruth Berle, the surprisingly sharp wife of Milton, described in the article that emerged as the "doyenne" of the film colony, came to my house instead of attending the awards.
Sandra Burton, then Time Magazine staffer for Los Angeles went to Dusty Fleming, my gifted and insouciant hairdresser, and while getting her hair cut, asked him what he was doing for the awards; he told her he was coming to a party at my house. She called and said "This is Sandra Burton, of Time Magazine. May I come to your party and cover it?" Publicity-mad as I was, and almost everybody in this town/business becomes, especially in the midst of a success enhanced by publicity, I of course breathlessly said "Well, certainly."
The story she wrote was sharp and brilliant, as Sandy was. Lee Marvin, who'd won the previous year was there, as was Shirley MacLaine, who engaged in a non-stop battle with Bob Hope on the screen and John Wayne, and let loose with a ream of rage at all the higher-ups in the industry, in spite of my repeated imprecations to her, that Sandy was covering the event for Time, and Sandy's own warnings as she held her pen and notebook under Shirley's nose.
There was a kleig-light outside our house, Robert(2) was in a tux, Madeleine (4) in a gown, there was a red carpet in our driveway, and Pat McGivern, son of my old, dear friends from Torremolinos, was in an usher's uniform from the old Roxy, and carrying a flashlight. I had made hors d'oeuvres, won-tons and empanadas for three days., there was a Sabrett stand in the back yard, many stars of the screen of the day and what now seems a very long-ago yesterday were in attendance.
We had three rooms for viewing, Reformed(you could talk) Conservative(you could talk and watch) and Orthodox(you could watch and keep quiet.) It was truly a great occasion, as I remember clearly, even as memory sometimes fails, a magnificent occasion.
And then the young and brilliant Maggie Smith won for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which the most surly of today's watchers, if they had the patience to actually sit, shut up, and not text would have to admit was one of the great performances of all time. I had the privilege of meeting Maggie Smith a few years later, when she had an unrewarding role in the hash that was made of a movie I wrote that was scrambled into chaos by the director Bryan Forbes, who had lost it by then. This would be authenticated as not just bitterness on my part, by the words of Larry Gelbart, the shiniest wit ever to glow in this town, who told me that Forbes said to him, when he desecrated a script of Larry's, "I know more about the English language than you do."
But I got the money for the screenplay, and a trip to the south of France with my still young family, and I got to meet Maggie Smith, who was, as one might guess, as estimable as she seemed. She loaned me twenty or maybe it was fifty francs in Cannes, when they were still coins, and when I went to see her in a play in London, I gave it back to her. And she said "Twenty francs. How squalid." She never disappointed.
So I tried not to feel sad or put off by how really wizened she looked in the new movie, as she seems to have stepped up to where she is in time, and is probably glad to still be working. But the one who soars in Judi Dench. I ran into her once and we had a conversation in an alleyway off Shaftesbury Avenue, where she was being magnificent in a play, and she seemed, like all the real Greaties, to really be Judi Dench. As Cary Grant was really Cary Grant,(witty and dear and charming) and Gregory Peck was really Gregory Peck,(noble and gallant and articulate) and Judy Holliday was really Judy Holliday,(vulnerable and adorable) and Bette Davis was really Bette Davis(terrifying.)
Thus it was that I awakened this morning determined to listen to the premature(she is quite young) wisdom of Amber, and embrace my age. I wish I could get my arms, much less my head around it. But in spite of the swimming and the yoga, they are a little stiffer than they were. Oh, well.