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.)
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”:
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.”