Sometimes something will happen that is so overwhelming strange and yet so “on the money” that we exclaim, “That’s weird!” Such as thinking of a friend you haven’t seen in years and then running into them the next day. On one such occasion I was told that “weird” means “fate” at it’s origin. I’ve never double-checked it, but it seems as if it could be true. It makes sense in some odd way. We all have those moments in life where we feel that everything does happen for a reason somehow, moments when we experience synchronicity. This happened to me watching “Tattered Dress.”
I had been pondering my first marriage one day… It seemed to be such a huge fourteen-year mistake. I was beating myself up for being such a fool for so long… I, of course, being me, a positive thinker, looked at all I had gained– three beautiful children, I met many interesting people, took many wonderful trips all over the world, threw lavish parties, acquired an outrageously a beautiful wardrobe, had an envied shoe collection, built a fantasy home… But over all, though I made the best of it always, it was a living Hell, empty of all of the real, true, deep, meaningful things I had hoped to experience in a relationship. I was a trophy wife trapped in a golden cage (At least it was golden! I’ve seen far worse in my day!) Three years ago, I flew from that cage and I have never looked back. But being me, I wanted to learn from this experience in order to be free from similar traps in my future life… I wondered, “Was my marriage a mistake? If I had it to do over again, would I?”
As I pondered, I searched my grandmother on You Tube. It’s so much fun to find clips of her, photos of her and old movies she is in I have and haven’t seen. Whenever I miss her, I do this. A part of her lives on for all of us to enjoy. (Though honestly it is only like having a carbon copy rather than the original.) On my search, I found “Tattered Dress.” I was so excited to find this treasure, as I hadn’t seen this movie since I lived on Neptune in Newport Beach with my dad as a kid. I could barely remember what it was about. I remember discovering the movie while organizing my father’s many video tapes. I had stood pondering the title written in his all-caps print… I asked my father about it and he said it was one of grandma’s movies, so I watched it. My dad had taped it off the television with his VCR– Remember those?
Years later, here I was, watching the first few minutes of “Tattered Dress” on my iPad, in which my grandmother ironically plays a divorcee. The house in the movie began to somehow feel familiar… I felt I had been in that house before. The location was actually supposed to be a small town in Nevada in the film, but something about the place kept whispering to me. I thought to myself, “Maybe it feels familiar because I saw this movie as a kid.”
Minutes later, I saw a shot that would have surely sent me falling out of my chair, if I had been sitting in one.
“That is my pool!” I called my children in and showed them. It was unmistakably our pool from our estate on Mulholland Drive where we had lived for a decade! It is a historic pool and incredibly unique. In fact, the architect who designed our house had tried to talk us into demolishing it until he saw it on the cover of a historical pool book. That was our pool for certain! There was no other like it, not in the whole world! We were all in amazement. The house and pool in the movie made in 1957 were virtually the same as the day we bought the property in 1999, except the diving boards had been taken out. (Darn lawyers mess up all the fun! Our insurance company didn’t let us put one in either, but we did add a waterfall and managed to sneak a slide in they never found out about!)
The pool was built in the shape of a clover leaf. It had a little bridge over the stem. You could actually swim into the house through the stem if you swam under the bridge. It also had an underground chamber that lead to a viewing room so that you could watch (or film) people swimming in the pool. I knew many films had been shot there, but I had no idea one of my grandmother’s movies had been shot there! I was stunned.
“That is so weird” I kept saying.
The kids were amazed. That was the house they grew up in. It was the only home they had ever known until I moved to Malibu three years ago.
I thought back to the day my now ex-husband and I looked at the house. We had been arguing about where to buy a house. I wanted the beach, but that was too far from his office in Hollywood, so I settled on living in the hills, only he insisted on the flats of the valley, which I couldn’t stand! So we had to find a house in the hills with a good deal of flat land, so that we were both happy. We had been looking at places in the valley all day, big stucco nightmares, and we were headed back home to Nichols Canyon, we were driving along Woodrow Wilson when I spotted an open house. Something in my gut said we HAD to go in that open house. We did… I wandered around the house thinking, “Well, I guess my gut was wrong.”
But it wasn’t!
The realtor, Arnon Raphael, told us about a pocket listing that wasn’t even on the market that would be perfect for us. He said that the neighbor next door to it had been trying to buy it, but that he had been very rude and underhanded in his dealings and he didn’t want to sell to the house him. He told us that he could show it to us the next day.
As soon as we drove down the driveway we looked straight at each other and KNEW! THIS IS THE HOUSE! My ex told me to pretend not to like it very much so that we could get a good price– He is a bargain hunter, I am not. But, I am an actress. (Hadn’t I acted happy for years and cried myself to sleep wondering why I was so terribly unhappy when I had so much… I wasn’t to find out until later my husband who I loved had a personality disorder rendering him incapable of the feelings I had for him.)
We walked around the property, it needed so much work, but we both knew this was our house. I remember walking into the house and having a vague feeling of familiarity with this property that I could not understand then, which I perfectly understand now. As the realtor talked, we began to realize that this house had so much history. The Rolling Stones had recorded in it, Bob Dylan I found out later, had, too, his son Jakob had had a meeting here and almost recorded there, there was a B-film maker who lived there and music producer named Don Was, Marlon Brando lived across the street as did Jack Nicolson and… THE POOL! It was the selling point. It was amazing.
We hit a glitch however when the subject of the next door neighbor came up… Arnon started to tell us about him and how awful he was and… Well, there is only one person in show business who my ex-husband HATES… The man who fired him from “The Simpsons.” Guess who the next door neighbor was? Yep! Richard Sakai. I had heard that name for years. It was enough to steer Gabor’s interest in the property for a moment, until Arnon told him how much Richard wanted the house. It was sold right then and there. For full price. (This is the only time I have EVER seen the man pay full price for anything!)
Over a decade later, after years of building our dream home and raising our children, while I was watching “Tattered Dress” in Malibu, I realized that maybe it was absolutely, for some god forsaken reason, FATE that I had married that crazy Hungarian. I thought how very strange that I had watched at nine years old, in my dad’s living room in Newport Beach, my future home where I was to raise my children for many years.
“How weird!” I kept saying.
I never knew the entire time I lived in that house that one of my grandmother’s films had been filmed there, but we had a home theatre in our dream home with a plaque engraved “Jeanne Crain’s Theatre.” Weird!
Since then I have never questioned my marriage and whether or not it was a mistake. I believe it was somehow fate. I believe our relationship just hit it’s expiration date (LONG before we separated.) It was meant to be for a while and it had it’s great moments and wonderful sides, too, but now it is meant to be done. Perhaps we expect too much out of marriage and expect it to last for far too long. There are just too many wonderful things to experience and people to meet and love to stay sipping at an empty cup. If more people would love life the way it is instead of trying to impose their will on the world and others, we would all be much happier. When it’s done, it’s done. Learn to recognize that, rather than hanging on to an empty pattern.
If you are in a relationship that feels like you are sipping out of an empty cup. It’s probably past the expiration date. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth while. It just means it had it’s time, it had it’s lessons and now it is time to move on to other times and other lessons (Do the lessons ever stop?!!!)
Maybe fate is “weird” sometimes… Well, I have a wicked sense of humor, so I can get most of the Big Guy’s jokes:)
I do know this however, I wouldn’t want to live through that relationship again, living as an owned and abused object, part of a collection of rare and beautiful things whose value is forgotten as soon as it is acquired, not for a billion dollars, not for all of the “interesting people” (some of who ended up being fake friends), not for all wonderful trips in the the world (no where is fun with the wrong person and a tent is fun with the right one, as long as we are talking glamping! Lol!), not for all the lavish parties, not for a million beautiful wardrobes (how quickly I got tired of a dress, as quick as some men tire of women!), not for a thousand shoe collections, not for any fantasy home (or cage)! And I think that means I learned my lesson! Thanks Gram Jeanne! Again.
Young girls out there: If you meet a charming man who is much too old for you who wants to take your hand, run! Though he offers you all the treasures of the world– you will end up older, having sold your youth and soul for a pile of junk. I walked away with myself and my three beautiful children, whom I would walk through hellfire for… (and I have. Big time! Hells I hope they will know nothing of…) But I would rather walk with them through Heaven on Earth with my true love.
Recently a friend came to visit me and as he was leaving he looked around at all the bikes and children’s toys in the front of my house. He turned and said to me, “I love this. This goes by fast. Enjoy it.”
I smiled, closed the door and cried… If only I had picked a father for my children like my friend, a man who GETS IT. Though I value my kids more than anything, it’s so hard to do it all alone. It’s hard not to have someone to share your children with and even harder to do it with someone who is and always was, whether I realized it or not, my enemy. The time I cried the hardest in my life was watching a movie where a couple very much in love were giving birth to their baby– That I would never know this joy almost killed me. That my children were not born into the world with that was devastating. Next time around, I will pick a man like my friend. A man who loves women and children. I hope any young girl reading this will chose more wisely than I did. (And young men, too! Pick someone worthy of you, who will truly love you. Nothing else is worth your precious time.)
That being said, my kids and I miss things about my old life that were taken away as punishment for leaving… I do miss my pool, but I can always watch “Tattered Dress” and remember the memories… Many wild parties with elephants and belly dancers, reindeer and penguins, my babies learning to swim and floating in total peace in the pool when no one was around….
Remembering that the very most important thing was not taken away from me… ME!
By the way, this is how the house looked after we re-built it… The famous pool almost completely in tact, except for the part that went into the house. That idea was re-worked by the architect, Alex Istanbulu.
There are few restaurants left in Los Angeles that take me back to the glamor and elegance I knew as my grandmother’s first grand daughter. Slowly over the years they have disappeared. When I have a nostalgic craving for old Hollywood glamor, elegance and good food, I head to Polo Lounge, Bel Air Hotel or the Ivy. These are all places where Old Hollywood nostalgia and new Hollywood fuse together.
Last night I had dinner at the Ivy by the Shore. I’ve been there a few times since I moved out to Malibu. It’s a good midway point to meet people who are coming from town. When I lived in town (Beverly Hills) I would go the the Ivy often, but it is so far now that I’ve hardly been– maybe once. I love the food and the atmosphere and the people watching and I miss it, along with a few other of my favorite haunts like Il Pastaio, Mozza, Mr. Chow’s and so many others… Out in Malibu dining experiences are limited. (Lucky for Nobu, Bui, Tra di Noi and Savory! And, of course Sunset and Malibu Inn, where I perform!)
Our server at Ivy by the Shore last night was a honey haired version of Winona Ryder. She was very sweet with immaculate manners rarely seen today. I was schooled in manners by my watching my grandparents and by my east-coast step-mother. Over the years I have grown quite lax when it comes to table manners because not many people seem to know etiquette (in California anyway) these days. I would turn over the fork when I was finished eating, but the waiters no longer got the cues.
I sat down in the candlelit room filled with wondrous things to look at and a Gimlet was brought to me without even ordering it, the server must have read my mind because I always order a gimlet at the Ivy (unless I’m with someone who doesn’t drink and even sometimes then!) I sat sipping it, snapping of some fresh mint and eating it, looking around, taking in my surroundings… It had been an incredibly difficult and dramatic week fraught with a near-death experience and several crazy people rearing their ugly heads in my life and yet moments of sheer glorious ecstasy that had me realizing life can turn on a dime at any moment. My heart was feeling the pressure of the trauma and stress and Friday was the worst of it– three crazies in one day! I felt I was going to have a heart attack. I almost canceled my date, but, I didn’t, and as I sat there relaxing at the Ivy by the Shore, I took a deep breath and melted back to a time where my elegant, incredible grandmother would hold my hand and take me beautiful places. I said to my date, “Life should always be like this.”
I asked our server what the theme was behind the decor of Ivy at the Shore. I know the theme at the Ivy is the owners version of French Country, but I wasn’t sure about Ivy by the Shore– it seemed to me it was sort of vintage tropical/Cape Cod meets the Ivy in town… She explained that it was inspired by the owners’ trips to Capri. The owners, Richard Irving and Lynn Von Kersting, happened to be there that night. Our server explained to me what nice, humble, hardworking people they were, even with all of their success. This was so wonderful to hear from a member of their staff. The owners were kind enough to give me an amazing book “Amore E Gioia Sotto Il Sole” and a set of postcards called “Cartoline di Vacanza.”
Having not made out too well in my divorce (I still do consider myself and my children VERY LUCKY and BLESSED, make no mistake about that) my children and I have gone from living between two large, multimillion dollar estates on Mulholland Drive and Lanikai Beach, to living in a “regular” house in Malibu and will now be moving to a condo in Malibu (It was that or the trailer park– and though Paradise Cove is probably the best trailer park in the world– I opted for a condo on Point Dume.) This move down is not something I am happy about (I thought women were supposed to make out in divorce! And that children’s lifestyles were supposed to be maintained! Ha! What a myth!)
I had been contemplating for the last couple of weeks about how to make this change positive and how to decorate the place to make it a wonderful paradise, a little Shangri La. As I flipped through the pages in the book the owners gave me, it struck me that this is how I would decorate our new home, just like the pages of this wonderful gift of a book– with my little touches, of course. The colors, the vibrancy, the sea shells, the boats, the tropical prints, the animal prints, the stripes… it was all very intoxicating (it wasn’t just the gimlet!) Something about the decor of the Ivy brings me back to a place in my childhood, taking exotic trips with my grandmother- the bold, vibrant colors, the wild, daring mixture of patterns and treasures that look like they were found on trips to Europe and the tropics– and yet there it is class where it could easily turn tacky– I always say it is easy to appear classy in beige, but can you pull it off wearing red! The atmosphere like an elegant, sophisticated, eccentric old movie star. It’s like my grandmother in her Hawaiian mu-mu and her velvet turban, big sunglasses and her giant ring walking around with more grace and style in her pinky finger than most people have in their whole body.
And the book has recipes, too! I might even try a grilled vegetable salad! Thank you so much! Kiss, Kiss! Caio!
Today I went to my voice lesson with Bruce Eckstut up in the Hollywood Hills and ran into Janis Paige as she finished her voice lesson. We had run into each other because Janis is rehearsing for her upcoming show in New York and I am working on new songs for my upcoming album and, by coincidence, we have appointments ending and starting at the same time. The first time we met Bruce introduced me as Jeanne Crain’s granddaughter. Janis was so delighted, told me how fond she was of my grandmother and has been kind to me ever since.
Janis Paige was a 40′s pin-up girl like my grandmother. She knew my grandmother from way back in the studio days (and she knew my grandfather, too– I can only imagine how!!! She commented that he was a very naughty man! LOL! There were a few Freudian slips– that is all I will say!!!)
Regardless, today Jan is my inspiration, my hero– booked for her 90th birthday at the top club in San Fransisco! Proving that when you love what you do, you never want to quit!
Every once in a while I come across some old timers who worked with and knew my grandmother– but very few are still working. I love Janis Paige— I love that she still keeps going and will do what she loves until the end and it will live on forever. She is close to 90 years old- a feat in itself AND she is raring to go! It’s a marvel! People comment that I have the drive of a twenty year old at, well over 30, but she has the same vitality in what some would consider retirement years and get her up on that stage and she takes it over– she still glows and shines. Amazing! She knows ALL the tricks. She did movies along side my grandmother, but took off and left Hollywood for Broadway where she was a huge star. Eventually she came back and did movies and television and she still performs, singing in very prestigious clubs— She has worked all of the medias and that’s how she knows all of the tricks. This afternoon, she reminded me that you can do what you love and follow your dreams no matter how old you are. Thank you Janis! (Gram Jeanne, Janis says hi!)
By the way, my FAVORITE part of our time together was when she said, as she was leaving, that she was having trouble “with that one note.” Ha Ha– I can so relate!!!! I love that in life, even at close to 90 we still have THAT NOTE to work on! Love it! Love it, Love it! Bless all the world who does what they LOVE. (It is it’s own blessing really) Success to all!
I receive many emails from my grandmother’s fans each week. One day, years back, I received an email from Eugene Pagano explaining that he had dated my grandmother when they were in high school and that he had subsequently kept a scrapbook of her career that he wanted to give to me.
He told me he had some special personal photos as well as many press clippings that he had collected over the years that he wished for me to have. This was funny to me because, though I have not made a scrapbook in ages, it was my grandmother herself who had been the person who first taught me to make a scrapbook. I would spend hours sitting on the red carpet, beside her bed, cutting and pasting who knows what.
When my parents would take off on vacation for the summer, they would leave me and my brother with my grandparents. I am so lucky to have had this time with my grandmother while she was still active and living life. She would take us to the beach, shopping for miniatures, toy trains and rare coins. She would take us out to dinner at Trader Vics, expensive fancy French restaurants to eat escargot or lunch at Hamburger Hamlet. She was the funnest person to be with and always looked fresh, elegant and had such a warm, loving nature. She was named Party Girl of 1952. She was invited to over 200 parties that year alone. Knowing her then, I could see why, everywhere we went she had amusing things to say, with her, the world was like a fun little cocktail party. She made life an exciting adventure, always pointing things out to me and my brother of interest. She was so beautiful inside and out and my grandfather by her side was dashing. They were my heroes. People like them are rare now, well dressed, well mannered, elegant, sophisticated, worldly and I am grateful for having known her then. It is one of my greatest gifts.
When “Gram Jeanne” got a little tired in the late afternoon, she would take to her enormous four poster bed (perhaps the beginnings of what came later…) which was imported from Europe from some mysterious castle. She would hand me magazines and I would quietly cut and paste next to Shaunie Dog while she watched television, played back gammon with my grandfather or sipped a martini from her king-sized bed. I would listen to my grandmother and grandfather talk with the reverence that a zealot would give a sermon. They talked about people on the television they knew in real life. The stories I heard fascinated me.
Eugene requested to meet me in person, so that he could give me his scrapbook. Well… I was a bit hesitant about meeting a complete stranger, but I was quite curious about the scrapbook. After thinking it over, I decided that I would meet him in a public place. I picked a Hamburger Hamlet near my house on Mulholland Drive. I picked Hamburger Hamlet because my “Gram Jeanne” always took me to the one in Westwood before it closed down. It was tradition, I have so many memories, and I love the number 11– Bacon cheese burger with Thousand Island dressing– “World’s Greatest Hamburger”. I felt I would be safe there and so we met.
As I sat drinking my coffee milkshake, eating my number 11 in the backroom at Hamburger Hamlet and dipping steak fries into the Thousand Island, Eugene explained to me who he was and what his connection to my grandmother was. He, himself, was quite a fascinating character. He and his twin brother were the most famous hairdressers of their day. They created the “Blonde Bombshell” look for countless blonde bombshells like Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. Ladies tell their hairdressers almost as much as they tell their therapists, and back in those days they didn’t have “therapists” really, they only had “shrinks” who were looked down upon and only used by the desperate or insane (at least that is what my grandfather told me), so hairdressers had the inside scoop on Hollywood– the dirt! Who was having an affair with who, etc. Eugene had many stories about old Hollywood, including a few about my grandmother I never knew.
He told me my grandmother and him had dated in high school. He was very much in love with her. She was the girl next door, the all-American girl–Happy, intelligent, kind and radiant. He told of how much my grandmother changed when she met my grandfather, a notorious playboy, with many a Hollywood starlet notched in his belt. He said that my grandmother was a “good girl” and very obedient.
His saying this made me recall a time that I questioned my Gram Jeanne about a historical film role she was up for and didn’t get (I believe due to pregnancy) which is one of my favorite movies. I asked her why she didn’t get heavier roles, like Joan Crawford and Betty Davis, and her Irish temper flared up and she remarked, “You think I had a choice?! You DID what YOU were TOLD to DO! You didn’t argue with THEM!”
I knew Eugene was right, my grandmother was a good and obedient woman, which was fine until she married an “evil master,” my ever-so-dashing grandfather, who took her away from those who cared for her. Eugene did not have many wonderful things to say about my grandfather, part out of rivalry, I am sure, but also because it’s the truth. My grandfather, though he was handsome and charming, even heroic at times, could be cruel, manipulative, abusive and downright evil. He had one personality in public and one behind closed doors… From behind their bedroom door my grandmother was heard screaming in pain and in fear, maybe of her life, more than once…
And I suffered the same fate one horrible evening myself, a brief taste of the sick, disgusting cruelty… I will never forget his hard, cold, brutal touch on my young virgin body and him asking me, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?” It wrecked me for over a decade. If one weekend at my grandfather’s ranch in Santa Barbara had me walking around in a state of shock for years, I can only imagine what being married to him for 50 years did to my grandmother. Before she died, she asked that his photo be taken from her bedside, she remarked that he had done things to her that were so horrible that she would “never utter them to another human being.”
I was saved by good timing and a swift kick, I escaped his attempted rape, my grandmother could never escape him, because when she tried to divorce him a gun would be drawn that would threaten her life and his, another time the arm of her lover broken. This is why I felt much later in life that her piles of trash, rotting food, and, at times, maggots, were quite poetic since they were piled on his side of the bed. Was it to ward him off? Or a poetic symbol. It was during her “Charles Dicken’s Period” (whom I share a birthday with ironically!) as we call it, that she displayed such behavior. Unfortunately the Charles Dickens Period started a few years before the time at which I was planning to move up to LA to pursue my dreams. My grandmother had always promised me that I could come live with her when I grew up. She said how fun it would be to come live with her and go to school across the street at UCLA, but when I was ready to do so, she had sadly already started, and, in fact, was well into, her decline. There were years when my family and I worried that she could die at any time, but she was heartier than any of us knew. (I think she lived her last decade from sheer determination to outlive my grandfather.) When I discussed coming to live with her, she insisted instead to pay for me to live out in Malibu in a condo with three other college friends who happened to live right next door to Charlie Sheen. She wanted me around people my “own age” and I now see that is was quite a wise decision she made for my benefit, but at the time, I was heart broken… but Malibu didn’t sound like such a bad consolation prize.
I had asked myself in my early and late teens, “What happened to the movie star in my grandmother’s films? What had driven her, a beauty, a marvel, a talent, a star, to a life of living in bed and not getting up? What? Who? Why?”
I remember that I began to worry about my grandmother during a conversation she had with my father at Christmas. She kept saying to my father, “Don’t worry about me, Mike. Don’t worry.” I knew she had a drinking problem and I wrote her a letter shortly after when I was around 10 years old telling her how much I loved her, how worried I was about her and begged her to stop drinking. Next time I saw her I asked her if she had received my letter, I wondered if it had been mixed up in some fan mail because I had not heard from her, she said that she carried that letter her handbag every single day everywhere she went… She thanked me for writing it and then said, “I don’t deserve it.” This made me sad and I disagreed. Nonetheless, she carried my letter to her for years and still had it with her when she died, many decades later.
My meeting with Eugene was like getting clues from an ancient mystery. I wondered if he had the key… Was the answer somewhere in this scrapbook?
I had looked for answers most of my life, but where I found them was in my own life that echoed hers. Walking in her shoes made me understand the destruction of her soul…
I married someone like my grandfather, charming with old world manners and great taste, though not as handsome, he was more talented– a malignant narcissist or a sociopath– hard to tell– and became a battered wife (or a “battered princess” as the judge referred to me in my divorce) myself. It was not until then, through my own similar life experienced that I realized what had reduced a shining star to the woman, who rotted, lying on her bed, defeated and half mad in a decaying mansion, like a cross between “Sunset Boulevard” and Miss Havisham. I had wanted to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, but not like this, but I had asked myself the wrong question, “What happened to her? Why has she become THIS when she was THAT?” And I got my answer. They say curiosity kills the cat. Well, it almost killed me.
Though I probably have my grandmother to blame for developing my morbid curiosity in the first place, I also have her to thank for saving me from her ultimate doom. No matter what, I would not end up laying in bed next to piles of trash, newspapers, fan mail and old rotting food, wetting myself until it dripped through the blackened mattress, to the ceiling in the room below, feeding rats and calling them my pets like her. No way! It is no mistake that I used every bit of the inheritance left to me by my grandmother to escape the monster she never could never escape, though to her credit, she did try. I felt her support during my divorce from beyond the grave. (She even told me to buy some jewelry in Hawaii! She always loved to do that for me!)
Some of these things I have revealed I learned long after my meeting with Eugene, but listening to him tell of the early days of my grandmother and grandfather’s relationship sparked memories hidden in my unconscious brain, things that had imprinted themselves deep in my mind and had whispered my destiny, though I was only beginning to become conscious of it as he spoke. He talked of my grandfather beginning to control my grandmother and how their once close relationship turned distant. (This sounded quite familiar to me…) Maybe this was why Eugene had kept this scrapbook of her, to preserve something of his love for her, perhaps to try to preserve her from the evil man who was taking over her life. I wished someone had cared enough to make a scrapbook of me…
The studio and my great grandmother also were concerned about her relationship with my grandfather, Paul Brinkman, though it was due more to a wrestling match of power and control than true human concern, like Eugene had for my grandmother. Eugene told me that one time, my grandfather even kidnapped my grandmother for a few days, much to the studio’s alarm.
As we finished up dinner at Hamburger Hamlet and wiped off our fingers, we opened the scrapbook, which had been sitting there like an untapped goldmine. I looked through the photos and clippings. The first one Eugene showed me was of him and my grandmother together before going to prom. There she was, young and beautiful, with a flower pinned to her, untouched by all that was to come… stardom, pill and alcohol addiction, battered wife syndrome… It was easy to match this young woman to the glamorous, girl next door I saw in movies growing up, but it was hard to match the young woman to a “battered wife.” It was a label that would one day shock me when it was used to describe me. I thought only stupid, weak women were battered wives and I graduated from UCLA and was feisty for Christ’s sake! Not me! How did THAT happen?! All I can say is… the devil is always handsome, charming and an absolute Prince until the moment he knows he HAS you. And then it’s too late.
Looking through the scrapbook, I had to laugh about all of the swimsuit photos. Maybe it was no mistake that I received my Screen Actors Guild card on the set of Baywatch in a bathing suit handing a trophy to Kelly Slater. She is, to this day, one of the most beautiful people to have ever lived, wearing a swim suit or not, in my book.
At my grandmother’s funeral, one of her fans came up to me and told me that I was the true inheritor of my grandmother’s beauty and talent. I smiled, but it was a haunted smile, like so many of the haunted smiles my grandmother made to hide the deep, sad truth. The fact is, I loved acting, I still do– and music and film have literally SAVED MY LIFE! I moved up to Malibu at 19 (The girl next door to Charles! LOL! But that is another story for another time… There’s not much to tell, honestly!) to pursue my dreams of following in my grandmother’s footsteps… But, seeing my grandmother in the aftermath of stardom was not a selling point. (Even Charles was fresh out of re-hab. I had a huge crush on him, but would not allow myself to go there, despite his visits only wearing a robe to borrow butter, ketchup and milk, some voice in my head warned me, “He will kill you if you fall for him.” I thought it meant that he would break my heart, but after reading a recent Vanity Fair article, I’m not so sure it wasn’t literal. I saw him years later, when I was pregnant with my third son, in Bel Air, we talked for 20 minutes or so. I had just run into his ex, Denise Richards, and their kids at the Montage a few days before, just after a highly publicized split. He said he had just finished rehab for the millionth time. I asked him if he planned on returning again. He said, “That would be a little ridiculous.” I told him, “You keep doing it as many times as you need, just NEVER give up. Do it for your kids… because my dad died.” My voice choked up and I couldn’t say much after that.) I did not follow my dreams with all of my heart because of what I saw. I saw danger. I saw destruction and devastation. I was born onto the backstage pass of the illusion… while I read old magazines that told beautiful lies.
Growing up as an teenager, I remember girlfriends worshiping the members of Duran Duran, I never could bring myself to it, jumping around and screaming. Famous people weren’t the same for me as they were for others. They made me nervous, but for different reasons. It made me recall years of standing on my grandmother’s doorstep with the mixed anticipation of excitement and dread. You were never quite sure what you would see if you opened that door… I could remember years of walking up the stairs to my grandmother’s bedroom which she hardly came out of… (It’s funny that I was talking to Beck the other night– he was close friends of my Uncle Chris and had been to her house on Hilgard– not her home at 1017 Roxbury Drive, next door to Rosemary Clooney, Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart on the star tours, but 354 “Hell-guard” as we called it– many times for years– he described my grandmother as a “shape shifter”– there and heard, but never seen…) seeing four beautiful portraits of her, one with cracked glass from top to bottom and never repaired. That was a poetic statement in my book, one that symbolized fame. (Did I tell you I was a poetry major at UCLA?) So, I in my early teens and twenties, I was not impressed by stars or famous people because I knew, all too well, that they are just people. People, some with extraordinary talents or looks or both, which I do admire, with tremendous pressure heaped on them by their adoring sometimes cruel public, used and tossed away, like the fan mail and trash piled on my grandmother’s bed.
I am, however, impressed with stars like Audry Hepburn that go the distance, that take it to the end. My grandmother was one of the most famous stars of her day, yet at some point, she crawled away and hid in her bedroom. One time, I was talking to a big fan of my grandmother’s and I was saying how only senior citizens and old film buffs know my grandmother and I wondered why her fame had not lasted like others of her day. She had remarked that scandal many times was what made fame last and that my grandmother wasn’t involved in any. “She was a good girl.”
“Yes,” I thought to myself, “Too good. If they only knew the real story. The boxes of blackmail, the nights and days of terror being locked away in a room for days with broken ribs, guns being pulled, screams from behind the bedroom door… beautiful, haunted smiles that hid tears too deep, tears without words to describe them…”
I smiled. Did my smile look haunted like hers? Or am I a better actress than my grandmother? Still her smile always beckoned me. It said, “Find the truth…” I did. Not to the point of broken ribs and guns, I cut it off before my bones were broken (…which ironically hurt me in court. The opposing attorney wondered why I hadn’t waited until I was hospitalized. Apparently being punched on several occasions, including once on the 405 Freeway while I driving 65 miles an hour wasn’t enough for the bastard, he wanted broken bones, AT LEAST!!! It also hurt me to be labeled as an “actress.” It was hinted at that I “lie” for a living. First off, acting is about truth, many people fail to realize this and, second of all, it was the first play– his lawyer kept repeating “while you were doing your PLAY” as if it were a crime– I’d done in years. It’s not like I was up for an Academy Award or had had much, if any, success as an actress! I was an at-home mom for 14 years….) but then I had modern psychology and therapists and she did not.
When I watch my grandmothers films I have more respect for her than most people might because I know what was happening behind the scenes and what she was battling while taking on demanding roles and studio slave driving. It’s funny, I get embarrassed of this one you tube video of me called “The Stronger” It’s not my best work. Larry Moss (a crazy genius, sometimes abusive, acting guru who has said himself that he would be a cold-blooded murderer if not for therapy and medication– but why kill when you can toy with young hopeful, vulnerable actors? So much more fun…) warned me against doing it, but I think I carried it off pretty well considering I was going through a domestic violence hearing at the time… History repeats… I am determined to see my daughter live free of it. Some one had to stop the cycle. I stopped the cycle of my family’s addictions, but I failed to realize the cause.
Looking through pretty pictures, I wish they could only be that for me… I enjoy the beautiful– one grabs all one can get in the world if one is an artist, but, looking deeper, beyond the surface, I see in the light of her eyes a sadness… Life is beautiful, but beauty is complex– it’s not always “pretty” and it’s not one-dimensional.
Of course, there are so many things we can never know about someone else’s life. Looking through this scrapbook, I see and hear things about my grandmother I never knew. When Eugene hands me my grandmother’s scrapbook, entrusting it to my safekeeping, three hours have flown by and he seems more family than friend or stranger. I tell him, “I wish my grandmother would have married you instead.”
He smiles… a smile that whispers of a secret heartbreak of long ago.
He says, “I’m glad I got to meet you. I see so much of her in you.”
I say, “Yes, she has taught me more than anyone.”
I promised him that I would put the scrapbook up on my grandmother’s website right away. I didn’t. Sorry Eugene. Three moves and a divorce later, I came across his scrapbook the other day while cleaning out the garage and here it is. Thank you, Eugene. Wherever you may be.
It’s funny, I am asked three questions the most..
Q: Are you really a Lady?
A: Yes, I am… in every room but one.
Q: Why did you change your name?
A: Would you want the last name of a man who tried to rape you?
Plus it’s kinda cool to have a stage name and a fresh start and I like girls names that are boys names– like Tommy, Paige and BRET! My friends in theater school at UCLA named my after Lady Bret Ashley in “The Sun Also Rises.”
Q: Why aren’t you famous?
A: The answer is… I was afraid. So was my Uncle Chris, who quit Jane’s Addiction and turned down Beck’s many requests to join his band… This may sound supremely arrogant, but I felt that with my looks, talent and pedigree that I would get thrown into the “star” category… (YOUTH!) If only I could have been assured meaty roles in awe inspiring films, work with amazing scripts and artists and yet lay low, under the radar… (YOUTH!) Now, I’ve grown to see that fame can be handled in many ways–with grace or disastrously, embraced or resisted… or a mixture of both. Life is a learning experience, under a microscope or not! I have to say that, unlike my Uncle Chris and my brother, I would have grabbed the opportunity if it was given…. I gave an earth-moving audition for this play Burt Reynolds was to back. It’s unlike anything when you nail something, live and breathe a character you love…. It’s literally like an electric earthquake that is completely still– a transformation takes place, a warm liquid lake fills the whole room, sparkling, and people around you get charged and react to you in a whole new way– like they just discovered gold and want to get their hands on it. My fellow actor, “Shug,” looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “That was beautiful.” The casting director and the director told me immediately that they would build the whole show around me… I walked away from that audition saying, if that’s all I ever get in life– that audition, in my mind I made it. But Burt Reynolds backed out of the play before we ever met… Too bad because I love “Smokey and the Bandit!” I walked away knowing I “had it” though. It’s all I needed at the time… I would have delivered if Hollywood came knocking, I know, but I had a hard time putting myself out there when I was young. (YOUTH!) Looking back on it I was like a hot chick who could go pro if she wanted (I was once approached by Heidi Fleiss’ “people” and even considered it for three seconds. Hmmm… make 10 grand a night or make eight bucks an hour at the UCLA bookstore? Believe it or not, I chose the book store!), but didn’t have the courage or the desperation to walk the streets.
I now recall a story a cop told my kindergarten class. He told us that cops who joined the force young were the worst cops because they had no life experience prior to becoming a cop and they only experienced the negative side of humanity. He said that the cops who joined the force when they were older made better cops because they had a rich life experience beforehand to balance out what they saw day to day as a policeman. I think it is the same with fame– We’ve seen enough child stars to know this is true. It’s harder for a young person to handle fame without some normal life experience first, but Hollywood wants them young (and easy to mold and control). I honestly felt washed up at 24. I thought, “I’m too old.” But, I think I would handle it much more maturely, and with a wonderful perspective, now, than I ever could have as a teen, but who knows if I’ll get the chance to prove it:)