Bus Ride to Chandlerville

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”
Raymond Chandler, from Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

For about five hours last Saturday, I was dead and in heaven.

I was on a bus tour of Raymond Chandler‘s Los Angeles. It was the kind of experience tailor-made for Movie Places in L.A.

Down These Mean Streets Raymond Chandler Staggered

Cruising mean streets from downtown to Hollywood, I gawked at places figuring in every novel and short story Chandler ever wrote. Among them were deco palaces, decrepit edifices and beloved landmarks appearing in such great books (and movie adaptations) as The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake and Double Indemnity (Chandler co-wrote the Indemnity screenplay with Billy Wilder).

There were real places where Chandler’s fictional characters lived and died. And locations where his loved ones resided, including an apartment and nearby hotel where Chandler installed his mother and mistress, respectively.

All this on a remarkable bus tour operated by a pair of Angelenos with a near-religious reverence for the city’s fictional and real criminal pasts.

Richard and Kim: Renaissance Tour Guides

It’s no stretch to say Richard Schave and Kim Cooper have a wondrously unhealthy (I’m trying to avoid the word”obsessive”) attachment to film noir, mystery and detective fiction. But they come by it honestly, since their passion began with L.A.’s sordid, real-life criminal past.

(For the record, the tour’s actual name is Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles: In a Lonely Place. Which, while Chandlerian in tone, is shamelessly stolen from the Dorothy B. Hughes novel and the great 1950 film adaptation. But, as Kim admits with a shrug, it’s the mood that matters.)

The native Angelenos, married five years now, are quintessentially L.A. people. They should be the official greeters for all new arrivals to the city; you need people like this to get newcomers acclimated to L.A.’s rich history, real and imagined.

Their Esotouric bus adventures have been cruising streets for four years and overall, they’ve been busing people around for six. It all began with Kim’s great L.A. crime website, 1947 Project; the tours came later.

(L-R) Joan Renner, Richard Schave, Kim Cooper
Joan Renner (left), Richard Schave and Kim Cooper are the guides of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles:   In a Lonely Place

Richard and Kim met as art history majors at UC Santa Cruz, back in the late 80s. They hated each other. 18 years later, long after they’d both returned to L.A., they met at a party. Within a couple of years, they were married, conducting research on L.A. history, getting involved in preservation and civic groups and running these unique tours (“We’re the anti-bus tour company,” says Richard).

Joining them on the bus trips is kindred soul Joan Renner, a key contributor to 1947 Project. She’s also an L.A. Conservancy docent. Joan, whose red hairdo recalls the jet-black bob of Louise Brooks, is also deeply into art deco and the history of cosmetics. (Her website is Vintage Powder Room).

Together, they lead about 40 themed tours a year, mostly on Saturdays. Beyond the Chandler tour, they conduct bus rides focusing on author James M. Cain‘s L.A., writer Reyner Banham‘s architectural obsessions, the “real Black Dahlia” and many others.

But the schedule also reflects Kim and Richard’s diverse interests. For instance, thanks to Kim’s longstanding interest in rock – she once  published Scram magazine (“a journal of unpopular culture”) – they also offer a look at singer-actor Tom Waits‘ haunts.

The Big Schlep

The Chandler tour begins upstairs at the historic South Seas-themed Clifton’s Cafeteria on South Broadway. First, you get a history of the eatery and its colorful, politically-active founder. Before boarding the bus, Richard offers a forewarning of things to come: “It’s impossible to underestimate,” he says with an arched brow, “how corrupt L.A. was in 1925.”

Not a bad setup for the next four hours.

Then it’s the comprehensive tour criss-crossing downtown streets where the master of detective fiction spent six years, through 1932, working, living and drinking – okay, mostly drinking – as an oil company executive. Kim and Joan share passages from Chandler works during drive-bys or stops at places depicted in those tales. But Richard wrote the tour and is the host and main guide.

Hotel Van Nuys Figured Prominently in The Little Sister

The former Hotel Van Nuys

The Barclay, formerly the Hotel Van Nuys, built in 1896, is the longest continuously-open hotel in Los Angeles and the site of a key murder in Chandler's The Little Sister

And to hear him tell it, Chandler spent much of these years wandering aimlessly, hanging out in hotel lobbies (notably the Hotel Van Nuys, now called the Barclay) and carefully observing (i.e., taking copious notes on) all the lowlifes and scumbags that crossed his path.

In fact, our busload of fellow noir travelers learned that room 332 of the Barclay was the scene of the icepick-in-the-neck murder in Chandler’s fifth Philip Marlowe novel, The Little Sister.

1927 Oviatt Building an Art Deco Treasure

Other look-see stops include the decadently deco Oviatt Building (which has a great backstory!)  and the Giannini Building, both on Olive; Chandler worked in the latter, for the Dabney Oil Syndicate.

(By the time Chandler was fired from that cushy job in ’32, he was ready to begin writing in earnest, publishing his first short story the next year in Black Mask magazine.)

John Houseman on screen

Drop-down, airliner-style monitors aboard the Esotouric bus provide a running visual supplement to the incredibly detailed oral presentation. By the way, that's John Houseman on the screen. He produced the Alan Ladd vehicle The Blue Dahlia, which Chandler couldn't finish writing without going back on the bottle. Schave tells the story better.

The great thing about the bus itself is that, with overhead aircraft-style video screens, our tour guides supplement their painstakingly well-researched commentaries with rare stills, movie clips and miscellaneous visuals that really fill out the overall presentation.

The three guides are quite a sight. Main man Richard’s floppy hair dances in rhythm to his rapid-fire delivery. Richard has the giddy enthusiasm of a kid on a sugar high who speaks as if he’d forget sacred details if forced to slow down.

He frequently gives up the microphone to soft-spoken Kim and scholarly Joan. They offer revealing extracts from Chandler’s writing, plus their own asides and takes on what we’re seeing.

Musso & Frank Grill, rear parking lot

The sign, in the rear parking lot, is near the former so-called "writers room," where every major literary figure of the 1930s and 40s hung out. Chandler reportedly wrote The Big Sleep there. Image ©, courtesy Richard Schave

Musso & Frank Grill: Walking Through History

My favorite stop was the legendary Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood’s oldest continuously operating restaurant (since 1919). There, we learn about notorious bootlegger Stanley Rose, whose adjoining bookstore was the model for Arthur Geiger’s crooked shop in The Big Sleep. Richard also described the also-gone “writers room” at Musso’s, where Chandler is thought to have written the novel.

By late afternoon, the tour winds up back at Clifton’s downtown, having covered a ton of territory and revealed tasty tales about Chandler’s long-suffering wife Cissy, producer John Houseman, Hollywood executive and former Rose bookstore clerk Meta Rosenberg and the moving story of Chandler’s secretary, Dorothy Fisher, whom Richard and Kim befriended in the last years of her remarkable life.

This anti-bus tour is rich in detail, passion and perspective about L.A.’s real and imagined pasts. I couldn’t recommend it more.

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You Noir Here

When it comes to movie locations, L.A. is a lot like a shopping mall directory. From the “You are here” spot, it’s pretty easy to find your way to where a movie favorite was shot.

Los Angeles in Noir’s Postwar World

And to me, by far the best L.A. movie sites involve films noir. Seeing L.A. in these ’40s and ’50s movies is endlessly fascinating. The city grows up before your eyes. You recognize places that remain and sigh over sights existing now only in memory. All this with the city as a backdrop to sex, betrayal and mayhem.

What could be better?

So yeah, I’m hyperventilating over the American Cinematheque’s upcoming (13th Annual) Festival of Film Noir, tomorrow through April 20 at the venerable Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

The historic Egyptian Theatre, built by Sid Grauman of Chinese Theatre fame. Home to the American Cinematheque. Image (c), courtesy American Cinematheque

Twenty-three of this year’s 28 movies aren’t available on DVD. And some are pretty obscure; I’ve only heard of a few and have only seen one or two. You can check out the full schedule here.

Chatting With Eddie Muller

Noir scholars Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode again are programming the event, which for some reason also is called the Noir City festival (how many names do they need?). They’ll also introduce many of the double-bills comprising the event.

Muller admits he’s partial to the onscreen history of his native San Francisco. In programming events there, “I always have to show something shot in San Francisco, one or two movies,” he told me by phone the other day, “because we will pack the theater and you can just hear the excitement, and they stop and say, ‘Oh, that used to be the blah-blah-blah.’

“And in L.A., (it’s) exactly the same thing. People will come out  just to watch the on-location shots.”

L.A. as Noir’s Backlot

In particular, four of the 28 festival movies shot extensively around So Cal. Of those, Loophole with Barry Sullivan and noir tough guy Charles McGraw probably made the most of L.A. locations.

Jut-jawed, raspy-voiced tough guy Charles McGraw, who appears in three films at the American Cinematheque's 13th Annual Festival of Film Noir

“That was made in the early ’50s,” Muller told me. “And by then, except for the interiors of the apartments and everything, the entire movie is shot outdoors. I mean, there’s the Mocambo (nightclub, on the Sunset Strip), the market (likely in Glendale) —  people just go nuts for that.”

And then there’s the beach house at the end. “Everyone will recognize (it) because — I hate to spoil it, but it’s the same beach house that appears in, like, six or eight other film noir movies.

“I was told at one point it was owned by MGM, I think, because it appears in the movie Tension. It appears in the movie Talk About a Stranger. I think it’s the same house that’s at the end of Kiss Me, Deadly.”

You know, the house destroyed in a nuclear blast. Yeah, that beach house.

The House With the Secret Sex Life

Muller thinks the house was in Malibu. “One of the studios built this house for…’whatever.’ You know, they probably were having affairs or something, with the studio executive…renting it out as a film location. (And) then it pops up all the time in these films.”

Another film at Noir City is The Threat – also with Charles McGraw, this time as a vicious killer on the lam in the Mojave Desert. It was shot in the San Fernando Valley, the Inland Empire (east of L.A., gateway to romantic places like, um, San Bernardino) and the high desert. The interiors were likely shot at a studio before the bad guys “get to the hideout in the desert. It’s clear (the filmmakers) just went out in the middle of nowhere and shot this stuff.”

They Won’t Believe Me, with Robert Young cast against type as a cad, offers a 1947 view of Hollywood cocktail lounges and downtown L.A.

Postcard of Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s

Postcard of Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s

I drool at the prospect.

Joan Crawford? Perverse? Nah!

Then there’s Female on the Beach, which the ‘Theque’s promotional notes call “perhaps the most perverse film of Crawford’s ’50s diva phase.” (Really? Ouch!) It was shot on tourist-infested Balboa Island, in the harbor off Newport Beach in the OC.

I’m not a Crawford fan, but who could resist a movie with that kind of recommendation?

Comparing noirs shot in New York and L.A., Muller says the difference between them is simple:

“The L.A. ones have all horizontal composition and the New York ones have all vertical composition. It sounds incredibly simple, but it’s actually true.

“Because there aren’t really any skyscrapers in L.A. (during noir’s heyday). So you see a lot of panning and a lot of pointing out the arid climate and everything. You get all that in L.A., but in New York you get the claustrophobic tilt shots looking up. Sounds totally stupid, but it’s amazing how true that is.

“And, of course, in New York is the place people escape from, and L.A. is the place people escape to.

“And,” he adds, with a laugh, “it all ends badly for everyone anyway.”

Call me a cynic, but I’m droolin’ again.

Posted in Classic Movie Actors, Classic Movie Actresses, Classic Movie Genres, Classic Movie Locations, Classic Movie Stars, Classic Movie Studios, Film Noir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Classical Colonnades of Culver City

I think of them as a national landmark. If you could name eight wonders of the movie world, they certainly would comprise one of them.

They’re the beautiful, surprisingly romantic classical colonnades stretching down Washington Boulevard in downtown Culver City, California.

The Colonnades and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

For nearly 100 years, the colonnades have been the very representation of moviemaking mystique, right up there in significance with the Hollywood sign.

And for more than 60 of those years, the Greco-Roman columns comprised the grand studio facade of, and main entrance to, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Those are the colonnades you see in the freeze above. Once you roll the video, the columns turn up at 2:34 (or 00:11:24 on the clip’s burned-in time code). This film dates to 1925, when the recently-formed MGM had just purchased the property and opened its doors.

Movie Pioneer Thomas Ince: Father of the Colonnades

However, the colonnades actually date to 1916. They were built by moviemaker Thomas Ince, whose Triangle Pictures opened the studio property that later would be MGM. Triangle was Ince’s partnership with a couple of guys named Griffith and Sennett.

(Thomas Ince often is credited with devising many of the factory-style production techniques later adopted by the larger American motion picture industry. He died under suspicious circumstances aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. Speculation continues today as to the cause of his demise at age 42.)

I live less than a mile from the colonnades, which still stand proudly today, nearly 100 years later, on that otherwise anonymous, drab stretch of road. Just seeing them as I drive past makes my movie-driven heart skip a beat.

Sony: Corporate Savior of the Colonnades

The legendary MGM sign (and accompanying picture of Leo the Lion) came down from atop a soundstage in 1986. That’s when the fabled lot became known as Lorimar Pictures, best known for TV’s Dallas. In 1990, Sony Pictures bought the property, moving in its own Columbia Pictures unit as a roommate.

To Sony’s credit, the Japanese conglomerate has been beyond respectful of the property. Sony has spent millions preserving and upgrading the facility. And Sony has shown particular reverence for the colonnades, restoring the wrought iron gates at the east end, along with the columns themselves and adjoining structure stretching westward down Washington.

Surprisingly, the magnificent colonnades look exactly as they did in 1915. Or maybe better. While they always appeared kind of grimy in old newsreels and stills, Sony now paints them regularly; they gleam in the morning sunlight over a now sadly-overbuilt Culver City.

The studio's original Washington Boulevard gate, located at the east end of the fabled colonnades.

In a world where tsunamis erase whole communities in moments — and places like L.A., where buildings over 10 years old are routinely subject to the wrecking ball — it’s reassuring to see my majestic columns, representing nearly a century of moviemaking, standing tall.

Posted in Classic Movie Locations, Classic Movie Moviemakers, Classic Movie Studios | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Louise Brooks: The Hottie in the Helmet

Luletah, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lu-lee-ta. The tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palette to tap, at three, on the teeth.

– Apologies to Vladimir  Nabokov

I’ve been in love with the same woman since 1982. I’ve stuck with her through everything. Jobs. Earthquakes. Even my marriage.

Oh sure, my wife knows about her. You can’t keep something like that from a smart, intuitive woman like her. And strangely, she’s okay with it. I’m fixated, but my wife waves it off.

“Boys,” her attitude declares, shrugging, “will be boys.”

Endless Love Redux

It’s like that stupid Brooke Shields movie about teenage infatuation. Except, of course, that if I wanted to, I could join AARP. That’s a depressing confession for another post.

This post is limited to my nearly 30-year obsession with Louise Brooks.

Louise Brooks, public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not familiar, Louise (1906-1985) was an icon of the silent era. She and Colleen Moore were famous for their jet black, helmet-style hairdo called a Dutch bob. Unlike Colleen, however, Louise had worn hers since childhood.

Loose Louise Got Around

Iconic, yes, but Louise Brooks never made it to genuine stardom. Because while she was a gifted dancer-turned-actress, Louise was way too busy partying nightly. She bedded everyone in sight — Chaplin, Garbo, William Paley Pretty much anything in a suit or a skirt.

Everyone except me. Sigh.

I first heard about Louise in the early 1980s. I learned the Brooks basics from her original obsessive, Mr. Kenneth Tynan, in his legendary New Yorker profile of Louise originally published in 1979.

A Shrine to Louise Brooks

I was hooked instantly. Before I knew it, I’d rounded up Deco-style picture frames, filled them with pictures of Louise and displayed them prominently throughout my Santa Monica apartment. I’ll admit it was a little creepy. Well, maybe not a little.

Years later, I was married and my wife pregnant when we couldn’t agree on a name for our coming daughter. I got nowhere by suggesting Ginger. And I couldn’t bear any of her proposed names, which all sounded like Bertha to me.

Finally, I trumpeted the name Louise. The world, I figured, would assume it honored my mother-in-law, Louise. My wife and I knew better.

Yet our daughter didn’t really know her given name was Louise until she was about four; we’ve always called her Lulu, Brooks’ greatest movie character, from the 1929 German masterpiece Pandora’s Box.

Louise Brooks: Schopenhauer Girl

Louise Brooks only made two dozen films in a 13-year career that ended with a whimper in 1938. Most of the rest of her life was spent in alcoholic obscurity, until Kenneth Tynan (and Eastman House curator James Card) yanked Louise out of poverty and put a spotlight on her near the end.

And Louise spent those final years composing thoughtful, sharply-drawn essays about her life in film and about the monied circles in which she’d once traveled. Her best works were published in the compilation volume Lulu in Hollywood. I recommend it.

And for a party animal, you’d be surprised to know Louise was actually pretty smart. Hey, this was a woman who read Schopenhauer. For fun.

Lulu in L.A.

Louise, of course, spent several years (on and off) in Los Angeles. In fact, for a time she lived in an awesomely beautiful Spanish Revival apartment complex on Havenhurst Drive in what’s now West Hollywood. The  Ronda apartments, now called Mi Casa, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Now called Mi Casa, the former Ronda apartments on Havenhurst Drive once were home to Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks made most of her films within a few miles of my house. Most were for Paramount, but she also shot at Warners, Fox, Columbia and sadly, at the end, Republic.

Louise Brooks’ Final Role Opposite John Wayne

In that final indignity, the 32-year-old Louise, her helmet cut replaced by carelessly, strangely longer hair, played girlie stooge to John Wayne a year before his breakthrough in Stagecoach. Louise’s swan song was the deservedly forgotten Overland Stage Raiders, part of a low-budget, modern-day western series that had all the charm of a dry lake bed.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When Louise died in the summer of 1985, I was writing news at KTLA-TV in L.A. I couldn’t get the show producer — who was a classic movie freak like me — to run an obit on her. Guess she wasn’t famous enough for him.

This was like knifing me, just as Lulu was knifed by Jack the Ripper at the end of Pandora’s Box.

So I’m left with just my memories of Louise. I’d written her in 1984, after reading Lulu in Hollywood. I must’ve sounded like a lovesick swain; she never wrote back.

Coy to the end, my Lulu kept me guessing.

Someday, Louise. Someday.

My Lu-lee-ta.

Posted in Classic Movie Actresses, Classic Movie Locations, Classic Movie Stars | 4 Comments

To Live and Pry in L.A.

You live in L.A., you’re bound to meet up with the famous.

I had one such encounter on Oscar Night a few weeks back. It made me a little sad.

My family was invited to an Oscar viewing party in Pacific Palisades. The hosts were friends of a friend of mine. The host family’s daughter and our little girl, Lulu, had met once before and gotten along famously. So we were delighted to be asked to the party.

Especially since it was a catered affair and our hosts were known for sparing no expense. If The Social Network was going to get screwed for Best Picture, at least we knew the food would be good.

(Don’t get me wrong. The King’s Speech is a fine movie. I liked it very much. It’s just my heart was behind the movie that speaks more to today’s world. And I’m not even a Facebook freak.)

So there I was at the party when a once-famous actor-director arrived with his actress wife. I’d like to name names, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Nobody wants to be pitied and time can be so unforgiving.

Let’s just say this guy wrote, produced, directed and starred in a huge hit years ago. His wife was in the movie. The critics hated it! And, in retrospect, I have to agree. It was a simple-minded, oxymoronic fluke. Somehow, it resonated with audiences. Very much a movie of its time.

I couldn’t believe how he had aged. In fact, he was unrecognizable. He teetered on a cane and clutched a plastic bottle of green tea, which his wife explained contained some kind of special nutrients.

He was in poor health and said so. Not as a play for pity; his attitude was matter-of-fact and I admired his directness. I also respected that he didn’t allow his shaky health to keep him from getting out in the world.

People crowded around the man, even though his celebrity faded long ago. They hung on his every word. And while he seemed outwardly shaky, he’d lost nothing upstairs. During the evening, he correctly picked most of the major category award winners. In fact, he called this year’s Oscars the most predictable awards in decades.

After the show, he again held court, pontificating on the state of movies. He had a rapt audience, in part because of the patina of fame he still held, along with the respect he retained from having made such a huge hit all those years ago.

I was happy to meet him. He was a very nice man. But I couldn’t help feeling sad as I drove home. This once-robust hellraiser had gotten old.

Maybe what made me sad was that he represented a window to the future, when we’ll all struggle with health issues. Or that, bereft of a career, all he had left was the memory of once having done something big. Or maybe it was simply he seemed to belong to a different era and didn’t know it.

But a part of me wanted to hoist him on my shoulders. Tell people this man should be listened to. That he’s old but still sharp and with a point of view–about movies, society and life–that are worthy of consideration.

Attention, after all, must be paid.

Posted in Academy Awards | 4 Comments

The Unspeakable Thing I Did to Ginger Rogers

The whole idea behind Movie Places in L.A. is to share with people what it’s like to visit historic movie locations or other cool places related to moviemakers or to the development of film as an art form.

I live midway between Sony Studios, which for 50 years was the MGM lot, and 20th Century Fox. And within a 25-mile radius of our house is much of the history of the American movie industry.

So this blog is not just about my appreciation for the amazing place where I live. It’s also about sharing all this stuff with my 11-year-old daughter, Lulu, who, not so coincidentally, is named for the silent film actress Louise Brooks. My Miss Brooks, incidentally, is best remembered today for the role of Lulu in the German silent classic Pandora’s Box.

But I digress. For the first post, I want to share some abject humiliation from not long ago.

* * *

It could have happened to anyone, really.  At least it happened privately, silently, in an obscure cemetery in the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley.

But it happened.

Lulu and I were visiting the grave of a certain famous actress she learned about from me. Well, okay, you guessed: It’s Ginger Rogers.

We’d been to Oakwood Memorial Park before, killing time before Lulu’s weekly horseback riding lesson for special needs kids.  (Lulu is autistic, very high functioning, with a gift of gab and her own unique take on things.)

Ginger, in a screen capture from the trailer Stage Door (1937)

Oakwood dates to the 1920s or ’30s (sources differ) and boasts about a dozen celebrities among its permanent residents. Gloria Grahame is on a hill some distance away. Fred Astaire is nearby, too.

But really, Lulu and I only go to see Ginger.

As usual, on the way there we listened to CDs of Ginger singing We’re in the Money and I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song. The tunes reminded Lulu of the Warner Bros. movie clips she knows by heart. And the songs seemed appropriate for our visit.

I pulled over to curbside across from the landmark near Ginger’s grave:  A doubletree that stood out in the vast expanse of this odd cemetery. And it really is a strange yet serene little memorial patch squeezed between stables, horse ranches and suburban tracts.

Lulu led the way to Ginger’s modest resting spot. Why did my little girl always find it so quickly and instinctively? I always stumbled around, wondering if they moved it again, just to mess with my head.

We knelt down. I quietly asked Lulu to say hi to Ginger and her mother, Lela.  (They’re buried together. Mother and daughter were inseparable in real life; now, Mrs. Rogers’ status as a raging stage mother extends into eternity.

(Lela even muscled her way onscreen with her little darling, playing Ginger’s mother in The Major and the Minor, in a case of art imitating life that would make Dina Lohan lime green with envy.)

“Hello, Ginger,” said Lulu. “Hello Lee-la.  Or Lay-la. We’re really not sure.”

Lulu hadn’t forgotten my earlier confession I wasn’t sure of Big Mama’s proper pronunciation.

Lulu decided the simple grave needed a little color.  So she began picking dandelions, carefully laying the makeshift yellow bouquet in a lovely little bundle beside the bronze marker.

Then, we borrowed a couple of pretty purple flowers from a new grave next door. We didn’t think they’d be missed.

We enjoyed a moment of quiet reflection, noting again Ginger and Lela’s birth and death dates, which reminded us that Ginger had been gone 15 years.

And, as usual, we talked to Ginger. Nothing special. Just the usual — hi, how are you, keeping busy?, that kind of thing.

That’s when it happened.

No one plans these kinds of things.  But I should have seen it coming. Maybe I’d had some milk the day before.  Or something else gastro-untoward.

Believe me – I’ve done a lot of horrible things in my life, but never anything like this.  Nor would I do ever it on purpose. Not even Ginger’s sickening Republican politics would induce me. (Incidentally, I’ll always believe devoted daughter Ginger was just parroting Lela’s reactionary crap.)

But like a wayward husband trying to “explain” to his wife an act of infidelity, I can only say that it…just…”happened”:

I farted.

A long, slow, silent, languorous, self-satisfied release. One that would’ve knocked flat a gaggle of Keystone Kops.

Worse, I was kneeling beside Ginger’s side of the grave.  I  imagined the human gas leak, inches above the ground, floating toward the marker, creating the kind of wavy, rippled effect you see above a road surface on a steamy hot summer day.

The daylight emission headed directly toward the circular marker beside Ginger’s name. The one identifying her as a member, even in death, of Daughters of the American Revolution.

I thought, “That one’s for you, Lela.” These Republicans, they are powerless in the grip of my Righteous Human Methane Ray.

But as I silently celebrated my political revenge, images raced through my head. Ginger as Kitty Foyle, the spunky working girl with an unmentionable dilemma; Ginger as Anytime Annie, the lovable tart in 42nd Street, Ginger dancing and singing and looking elegant with Fred in a thousand great numbers from their RKO pictures.

You really don’t know guilt until you’ve farted on an icon.  Or what’s left of her.

Lulu knows Ginger was cremated.  And my darling daughter  isn’t morbid about it — only sad she’ll never know Ginger beyond the shadow on a screen or, more appropriately, the scan lines on a TV image.

Anyway, Lulu didn’t know I’d farted on the grave of Ginger Rogers.  So the moment wasn’t spoiled when it was time to go.

“Goodbye, Ginger,” Lulu said as we got up. And, looking over  her shoulder as we headed for the car, she added, “And goodbye Lee-la. Or Lay-la. We’re really not sure.”

Posted in Academy Awards, Celebrity Cemeteries, Classic Movie Actresses, Classic Movie Stars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments