Saturday, May 04, 2013

YOUNG HOLLYWOOD GROWS OLD, and Old Hollywood Grows Deadly

So my whole life, or at least the part of it I considered so luminous, passed before my eyes yesterday, and I didn't even have to drown.  The day began with my being interviewed on camera for a documentary on Tab Hunter, an inadvertent buddy of my early Hollywood days, when I was obsessively infatuated with Tony Perkins, and had no idea, or mostly, didn't want to believe that he and Tab were lovers.
   I was not quite fresh out of Bryn Mawr, having spent a year after my graduation in Europe, living in Paris and the south of Spain, the prescribed post-graduate fantasy for a dreamer/songwriter, when I went to Hollywood to Become.  Tony was my first true friend, if you didn't count Dennis Hopper coming out of the bushes saying "I crashed this party, fuck everyone,"  followed by "I come from Kansas, which is nowhere, and I hate my parents who are no one," his opening lines in NAKED IN BABYLON, my first novel.  The book was more or less a not that heavily fictionalized fictionalization of my relationship with Tony, Marlon Brando's relationship with Josette Mariani, the darling young Frenchwoman who had been the Lee Strasberg's nanny, his first abandoned fiancee, whom I knew up close after I had known (and adored, of course)the still young and beautiful Marlon from a theatrical distance, and Montgomery Clift, whom I hadn't actually met, but imagined my way inside his head.  Ah, youth: what gall, especially when you have sung at the Purple Onion on Sunset Boulevard, and all of Young Hollywood has come to hear you.
    "Young Hollywood" was how Army Archerd, the best and kindest of columnists, who wrote for Daily Variety, referred to the group who came to see me as I performed.  Tony brought them all to the Onion, their group consisting of his close (I didn't know how close) friend Tab, Tab's "date" Venetia Stevenson, the flaxen-haired sculpted daughter of Anna Lee, naughty Dennis, his date (and fellow visitor to Nick Adams' bathtub, across the street from me on Rothdell Trail) Natalie Wood.  A picture of four of them, including the twenty year old me,  was given me at the filming, at a long ago recording session, probably Tony's. Stunning, really, for a number of reasons.
     Tony would call before going to the studio every morning at 4 AM, and say "what's for breakfast?" and I would get up and make him popovers that were "better than his mother's," he would tell me, spread with homemade strawberry jam that "wasn't as good," both genial lies, as it turned out his mother didn't cook.  The least and most harmless of his falsehoods.  Then he would leave, saying "I'll call you from the studio." I would spend the whole day waiting.  He never called. At night, furious and frustrated, I would Miltown my way into sleep, saying "I never want to speak to him again," after someone-- usually a nasty guy, --would call and say "He's at the beach with Tab," when I would slam down the phone, screaming "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" Then at four in the morning the phone would ring: Tony would say "What's for breakfast?" and I would get up and make it for him.
   All of this I have recounted before, but I am reminding myself of it again, having re-lived and re-told it yesterday at the Kimberly Hotel, where we filmed this thing. Tab was there, astounding, still with the same open, earnest, blue-eyed all-American face, the years having taken no greatly perceptible toll, except perhaps in his body bulk.  Maria Cooper, the very lovely daughter of Gary Cooper, was being filmed as I came in; Tab was astounded that we had never met before, as she apparently was dating Tony the same time I was, I am sure to the same erotic effect.  I was glad I did it, as he really is a sweet man, and I am happy he has made his way into what seems a healthy and contented retirement in Santa Barbara with his longtime partner, Alan.
   Anyway, I told as much as I could, from the heart, to the interviewer, many of the unrecounted adventures re-assessed and retold in these Reports, in case anybody is ever interested in how it was when stories were still on paper. Afterwards I enjoyed a lunch with my smartest friend, and fortified by being still alive, went to see the revival of The Big Knife, which is where my exuberant feelings end.  An incredible bore, riddled with cliches, not all of them from the pen or maybe it was the typewriter of Clifford Odets.  The Hollywood of the 60s was not that different, I don't think, from what was onstage set in 1948, with studios still having people under contract, and stars that were still really stars, empty as their souls might have been, like Tony Curtis, whom I knew well and loved anyway, and who might have had a movie projector coming out from behind a painting as it did in this production.  I do remember for a solid fact the crystal glasses Tony and Janet (Leigh) had in their bar, etched into each one a famous first name, set out in couples, Jack and Felicia, Billy and Audrey, Greg and Veronique.  Divorce took less of a toll on their glassware than death, as if all those people knew they had to stay together for the sake of the shelf, excepting Tony and Janet.  It was still a glamorous place then, with geniuses like Kubrick coming out of the high-priced woodwork.
   But oh, the play, stentorian and oafish, with me never before having seen Bobby Cannavale, but having heard from apparent admirers how talented he was, waiting for him to come onstage, not realizing that that was him already there, so loud and not very impressive.  All of it, at least the acts that I saw before leaving after intermission, noisy but empty. I met a nice couple from LA outside the theatre as I was on my way out, who worried that they had eaten too heavy a dinner before, and so were falling asleep. I promised them it was not the food.
   But back to Young Hollywood, as it had been resuscitated in the Hotel Kimberly, and in the glossy pictures I was given as a remembrance of those closeted days. There's a genuinely handsome, huge-shouldered Tony, at the time still playing romantic leads, some of them in my feverish imagination, worrying his bottom lip, before he decided his head was too small for his shoulders, went on a diet and spindled his way into the grotesque he became for Psycho. Beside him a sweet-faced fat girl leans against the back wall.  I was stunned at first to realize that was me. It set off a train of memory about my mother, her saying  as I returned from European and Hollywood adventures, "You're still fat," instead of Hello.  Hurtful, sure. But she was right.
    I hope there's an Afterlife so she can see how thin I am.  I hope that Tony is there with his old shoulders.