Ktismatics

19 January 2010

Imitation of Life, 1934/1959

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 9:14 am

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  1. So have you seem either of them yet? Can’t wait to hear your impressions, and I am now going to see if I can place a hold on the Colbert one, which I’ve seen only once, I’d like to see what I think of it now.

    Comment by butch cazza — 19 January 2010 @ 10:29 am

  2. I watched the 1934 original on Saturday and the 1959 last night. I enjoyed them both, no temptation to doze off. While neither is a particularly great movie, I liked the original better. Why? Partly because of historicity: the race and gender issues would have been more controversial in the thirties. The idea of Claudette being a businesswoman, especially during the Depression, would have been a more unusual role than Lana being an aspiring stage actress in the late fifties. The pancake business also got the black woman more directly into the story: not just a maid but a business partner. I did like Lana’s inner conflicts between love and ambition; Claudette just seemed to ease right into being a millionaire without much drive. As a result Claudette’s is the more likable character. The romance between the daughter and the mother’s beau seemed more believable in the earlier movie, and I thought the resolution was more interesting. In the remake the black girl has a white boyfriend who beats her up: this was a good and more explicit wrinkle on the “I want to be white” theme. Cinematographically speaking, I found that specific scenes lodged in my awareness more clearly in the earlier film than in the later one. I really loved Mahalia Jackson’s singing scene at the funeral in the 1959 version, but the cortege was I thought much more strikingly rendered in the older movie. In both movies the black characters were more interesting than the white ones, which presumably is what they had in mind.

    What about you, Butch?

    Comment by john doyle — 19 January 2010 @ 11:25 am

    • the race and gender issues would have been more controversial in the thirties. The idea of Claudette being a businesswoman, especially during the Depression, would have been a more unusual role than Lana being an aspiring stage actress in the late fifties. The pancake business also got the black woman more directly into the story: not just a maid but a business partner.

      Yes, those are good points.

      As a result Claudette’s is the more likable character.

      Oh yes, but I don’t think the more interesting or original character. Claudette is still ‘too real’, if one values the idea of ‘imitation’, and I guess i do for this kind of pulp; it seems to be the only really original idea. Although ‘imitation’ also refers to the Annie’s daughter trying to ‘pass for white’, regardless of what the social causes were. But I think the Lana role is the more arresting artistically as it’s presented, as Claudette never really seems fake.

      “Cinematographically speaking, I found that specific scenes lodged in my awareness more clearly in the earlier film than in the later one.”

      I had, obviously, the opposite experience, I think the Sirk movie is far more cinematographic and has the memorable visual images. As a story, the first may be better in many ways (there are some overtly stupid missteps in the Sirk, as when the two young girls age quite ‘all of a sudden’ to the point where you nearly burst out laughing, and Annie is told by Susie that algebra will be ‘coming in good because of prices going so high’, I nearly pass out when I hear that. I just think that all that Technicolor really works to bring out the ‘imitation’ theme, including those marvelous opening credits with the rhinestones falling down, which I always find effective. Not to mention the wardrobe for Lana, which is outrageous as usual. She is wearing these very carnal things right in the midst of Sarah Jane’s emotional collapse, although in other hands that wouldn’t be so bad (say in Chandler’s, as in the contrast between the two sisters i ‘The Little Sister’, or even with Delores). Also, Sarah Jane’s ‘chorus line’ in Las Vegas is perfectly startling to be in the presence of, as she seems way too ‘at home’ and enjoying herself in it. Sandra Dee marvelous throughout as teenage Susie, and esp. with Lana in that soaper scene, although Susie is not the main part, Sarah Jane is. But I like all that colour in some of the early Lana scenes when she meets with agents too.

      There are ways In which I’d agree with you and Jack that the 1934 version was better, except that I don’t think the material is so stellar to begin with, and I thought Sirk used the same material to make a more original true-false creation, with the Colbert version being a good movie, but not really going beyond the basic material. Possibly because I really like a number of Colbert’s movies in which her comedic talent is shown, and I’m possibly comparing this with those films. Although her ‘Cleopatra’ is nothing special to me, nor things like ‘The Sign of the Cross’. Interesting, though, that she didn’t keep going with films with much drive at all, although she did do some important stage work on B’way with Rex Harrison in the 80s, and I’m sure that was stupendous, seeing the two of them together. There were two, the one I remember hearing most about (but didn’t see) was ‘The Kingfisher’.

      I guess there’s just something about the Technicolor in the second version that always sticks in my mind with nearly every scene, whereas with the first one I just have a vague memory of Claudette’s always-chuckling and more-or-less sated and complacent voice.

      Comment by butch cazza — 19 January 2010 @ 4:56 pm

      • Corny as it sounds, all the Tenchicolor just now occurs to me as part of the ‘skin colour’ of the racial themes. Sirk may or may not have done that on purpose, but there’s one version of ‘colour’ and then there are others, and this is a case where black-and-white in the literal sense of film, didn’t serve the purpose of black skin and white skin as well as colour did.

        I’m glad you watched them though. I agree they’re neither great, but neither are they at all dead.

        Comment by butch cazza — 19 January 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  3. I frankly couldn’t understand the meaning of the title. In the Sirk version an equation was nearly made explicit between “passing” and imitation, but that was only one part of the story. I didn’t get a sense of the characters leading imitation lives. Is it the author’s acknowledgment that this supposedly realistic story is just an imitation and not the real thing?

    Claudette was flat cool throughout, though the script didn’t offer her many openings. I read that she appeared in 3 Oscar-nominated films in 1934. The way she brushed off potential suitors with absolutely no embarassment or apology or disdain was really fine. Her costumes were elaborate as well, the last one looking like she’d just stepped off the Cleopatra set. I understand that she was a tough cookie in her own right, and that she was supposed to play the Bette Davis role in All About Eve, but she injured herself and had to back out. Certainly Lana played her part in a more over-the-top soap opera style appropriate for the material, which also fits the imitation idea.

    My favorite thing about Sandra Dee was how quickly she moved physically through space, matching her quick emotional volatility, like she’s putting herself through training for real emotions, quickly setting them aside when she’s played with them awhile. Again, imitation of life.

    Comment by john doyle — 19 January 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    • ‘My favorite thing about Sandra Dee was how quickly she moved physically through space, matching her quick emotional volatility, like she’s putting herself through training for real emotions, quickly setting them aside when she’s played with them awhile. Again, imitation of life.’

      Nice. Yes, she has this quicksilver quality in several scenes, as when she is so ‘schoolgirl-excited’ to dance with drop-dead handsome Gavin. You see this fairylike quality in a few of her other pictures, but I think it’s to its best advantage here.

      But it’s mostly Susan Kohner’s movie, and probably becomes the more so as time goes by, perhaps because she only made a couple of films right in that period, and ‘retired’ at age 28. She could have been an actress, clearly, and was from picture people, namely actress Lupita Tovar and producer Paul Kohner. Those ‘children of Hollywood’ are always interesting to me. She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, but it’s really a Best Actress role, it’s her movie more than Lana’s. Not that the boring Oscars would see it that way, just as I believe they put Jake Gyllanhaal’s nomination in Best Supporting and Heath Ledger’s in Best Actor in 2005 for ‘Brokeback Mountain’, even though they were really both leads. Even when I saw it as a child, I thought Kohner’s performance powerful; she really is good.

      Agree about Mahalia, of course.

      Claudette always cool and the touch cookie, and she would have been able to do Margo Channing well, but I’m glad she didn’t. I don’t believe she could have done it as well as Bette Davis, it seemed as though made for her, but then that movie is as close to perfect as any I can think of, down to George Sanders saying ‘well, television is nothing but auditions’…and this long before most people even had sets.

      Comment by butch cazza — 19 January 2010 @ 7:29 pm

  4. I see none of ya older queens is mentioning the 00s update, with Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven. Why is that?

    I totally adore the Sirk version!

    Comment by parody center — 20 January 2010 @ 3:08 am

    • Dejan–that’s more of a Sirk tribute to the film, not exactly an update of the old weepy Fannie Hurst material. I liked ‘Far from Heaven’ a lot too, did you see it John?

      I didn’t know you saw the Sirk ‘Imitation’, Dejan, thought you would have mentioned it. More have seen that than the Colbert one, I think.

      Comment by butch cazza — 20 January 2010 @ 9:15 am

  5. From the Wikipedia entry on Douglas Sirk: “Sirk’s melodramas of the 1950s, while highly commercially successful, were generally very poorly received by reviewers. His films were considered unimportant (because they revolve around female and domestic issues), banal (because of their focus on larger-than-life feelings) and unrealistic (because of their conspicuous style). This dismissal of Sirk’s films changed drastically in the 1970s when his work was re-examined by British and French critics. From around 1970 there was a considerable interest among academic film scholars for Sirk’s work – especially his American melodramas. Often centering on the formerly criticized style, his films were now seen as masterpieces of irony. The plots of the films were no longer taken at face value, and the analyses instead found that the films really criticized American society underneath the banal surface plot. The criticism of the 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by an ideological take on Sirk’s work, gradually changing from being Marxist-inspired in the early 1970s to being focused on gender and sexuality in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sirk’s reputation was also helped by a widespread nostalgia for old-fashioned Hollywood films in the 1970s. His work is now widely considered to show excellent control of the visuals, extending from lighting and framing to costumes and sets that are saturated with symbolism and shot through with subtle barbs of irony.”

    I confess that the purported Sirkean irony eluded me completely — the film seemed a straight-ahead “cover” of the earlier version. Certainly I can see how Sirk’s rather lurid melodramatic style would inspire subsequent ironically-inflected filmmakers. And surely remaking this particular film with Lana Turner might well have played on the irony of the film being an imitation of the lead actress’ life. In the original movie the intergenerational love triangle was resolved by the Claudette calling off the wedding; in the remake Sandra Dee says she’ll get over her puppy love, and we presume that the marriage takes place as planned. I wonder what happens in the novel? It’s checked out from the library until 10 February, so it’ll be awhile before I file my report. I also requested a hold on Far From Heaven, which should get to me sooner than that.

    Comment by john doyle — 20 January 2010 @ 10:38 am

  6. ‘My favorite thing about Sandra Dee was how quickly she moved physically through space, matching her quick emotional volatility, like she’s putting herself through training for real emotions, quickly setting them aside when she’s played with them awhile.’

    Yes, but this is about the particular talent which existed only at that age.

    ‘quickly setting them aside when she’s played with them awhile. Again, imitation of life.’

    No, that’s normal for a 16-year-old. At that age, it’s the real thing, not an imitation.

    The REAL imitations were not even Kohner’s fury at not being able to ‘be white’, they were all Lana’s. The racial things could, as per socialists and their theories, all be said to be social symptoms, although it’s not that convincing for late 50’s New Zork City at all, and they did update it, as you see all those Year Signs for ‘Lora Meredith’ and her plays. so that Kohner’s trying to ‘pass for white’ really is, within the context of Sirk’s film, an imitation of life as well–and she doesn’t change it till her mother dies, and we get that big melodramatic guilt scene. One of the reasons the film isn’t so great is that the ‘imitation’ stuff, in the pure sense, is just Lana’s, and yet that’s not *quite* a lead role, since it’s the racial issues that form the primary narrative.

    There’s a weird cosmopolitanism in the attitudes sometimes, that may go along when Susie and Sarah Jane are miraculously aged 6 or 7 years without any decent transition at all, although that just comes across as kind of campy. What’s very big-city and a bit jaded, even, is when Annie goes to Las Vegas, and Sarah Jane acts as though this huge trip was just as if she popped in one of the honky tonks down the block. That’s why it’s such melodrama and not at all realistic, but why it’s a clever bit of artifice. The Kohner character would have been able to be a lot clumsier about ‘such a long trip’ than when she got caught in a New York slut bar (doesn’t that happen once before the Vegas thing?), although she does tell her she loves her, but more or less, ‘you’ve got to get out now’. But I think she would have been far more freaked (I think Sarah Jane is supposed to be two years older than Susie), because all of a sudden (there are lots of ‘all of a suddens’ in this film, maybe that’s part of the irony that I’ve never really thought about much either) she has got this ‘woman of the world’ attitude, and Susie doesn’t have even a trace of it. Their living together like sisters for that long a period of time is pretty contrived, I’d say, and she would have surely let Susie in on her naivete about Gavin and Lana. You get the weird sensation that Susie and Sarah Jane really don’t have any relationship at a certain point in the film, even though they do have, I think, one scene, and this is a real mess, and totally awkward–Sarah Jane doesn’t seem to even know Susie anymore, as I recall.

    Comment by butch cazza — 20 January 2010 @ 7:20 pm

  7. It is a rather strange movie when you start looking at it more closely. The best I can do with the imitation theme is this: the black daughter passing as white; the white daughter passing as a mature lover; the black mother passing as inferior. Being on the stage is to be an imitator of life, so that includes the Lana character but not the Claudette.

    As I think about it, the problems that Lana faces are all imitation problems: her moral dilemma with the agent is resolved without cost, but she willingly allows herself to be seduced by the director who makes her a star. She claims to be holding out for art, but she winds up with a career in a string of light comedies that all seem to have the same silly title. And then, when she decides she’s going to become a serious actress, there’s no struggle there either: it just happens for her. Her boyfriend is supposedly holding out for art, but he seems to settle right into his job as corporate adman. Oh well, says Sandra Dee: I’ll get over my broken heart, implying that she’s already over it. I regarded all this frivolity as a deterioration from the earnestness of the original, but what if it really is Sirk’s intent to present the white characters as bourgeois phonies with imitation problems and shallow conflicts?

    Comment by john doyle — 20 January 2010 @ 8:16 pm

    • I regarded all this frivolity as a deterioration from the earnestness of the original,

      Much of it probably is, but it begins to thereby embody that imitation sensation more than any earnestness could, hence maybe it needs the ‘deterioration’ to say something new. But there you’ve already said a ‘straight-ahead cover’ of the original, which I imagine is much more like Hurst’s novel (I admire your willingness to actually read a Fannie Hurst novel, that’s more ‘earnest’ than I know how to be about it). I thought you meant by ‘straight-ahead cover’ a fairly straightforward reproduction of the original, but you seem to have had second thoughts; but I like this phrase, because it suggests what all those fake gems in the credit are very obvious symbols for, and ‘cover’ works as ‘gilded lily’ of the original if I adapt the phrase myself. I think the Sirk film is definitely a kind of ‘gilded lily’, and that that is why a lot of critics prefer it to the original, at least in terms of pure cinema as opposed to good storytelling.

      But does recall our discussion of ‘Love Affair’ and ‘An Affair to Remember’. After seeing ‘Love Affair’, I really thought ‘An Affair to Remember’ had little merit except that both stars were troupers in bad material, the difference was like night and day. With these, I find the emphasis so different that I can see why they’re both very good, and why someone would prefer the earnestness (esp. the matter of the period in which this racial theme would have been very unusual, right in the middle of the Great Depression, and people weren’t talking much about things like that right then) and why others would see the ‘artiness’ of the Sirk, that’s the kind of colour you see in lots of artificers of all kinds, as with Ziggy Stardust and Warhol/Morissey, among scores of others, as the camp gets more overt. So, it’s obviously Sirk’s technique that caused the ‘historic revisionism’ and odd continued fascination (that opening title song sung by Earl Grant is pretty effective, I think), and it’s usually just film buffs who like the Colbert film better. But it’s not ever been a subject for scrutiny in the same way, as far as I know. The Colbert fans I know don’t mention it as often as they do others, and I’m always ready to accept almost anything she does too, which is hardly the case with Lana, who turned in grotesque performances most of the time.

      Comment by butch cazza — 20 January 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  8. Maybe I wasn’t as enthused about the Sirk because I had just watched the original two days earlier. After awhile I started wanting the movie to move along to the next big scene and so on, not letting it speak in its own voice. I’ve seen none of Sirk’s other work, so maybe I’ll try another one some day. I won’t read the whole novel, just jump to the end and see how it plays out.

    Comment by john doyle — 20 January 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  9. For me the genius of Sirk, and people have written about this before, is that he found profundity in flattening and extremity – a precursor to camp, perhaps, though none of the subsequent camp works captured bathos and tragedy in quite such a masterful way nor has any actress matched Lana Turner’s. Some of it was restored in Far From Heaven in that moment when Julianne notes the autumn colors of the photography, their exaggerated melancholy, as the reality. From the perspective of cultural theory forty years later I find it interesting how this is also an indictment of the language-based order, in which to use Lacanese people identify with false mirror reflections while the emotions are left behind. Yes this can be extended to class critique, but this is less important than the film’s all-human moment.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 January 2010 @ 4:13 am

    • “people identify with false mirror reflections while the emotions are left behind.”

      You’re referring to the characters in the Sirk movies, who in turn reflect the falseness and shallowness of contemporary life more broadly? I.e., that many of us are living imitation lives, and Sirk shows this through the lush exaggeration of his images and the shallow hysteria of his characters?

      Comment by john doyle — 21 January 2010 @ 4:46 am

  10. also in the story because all these people are so drawn by desire, by what they think they want, that when what could have made them happy disappears, they get to realize it was the hunt for the petit objet a

    the parody center has fallen into mild slumber, this is not our policy – if you hear of any brewing tantrums, let me know

    \

    Comment by zoutproductions — 21 January 2010 @ 7:00 am

  11. Zoutproductions?

    Yes I believe that the parodycenter’s slumber corresponds to a pervasive catatonia that has descended on this corner of blogdom. The forces of good have prevailed over the trolls and vampires and other inhuman creatures, who have scuttled for shelter into their tombs and hovels and forest lairs.

    Comment by john doyle — 21 January 2010 @ 9:40 am

    • But that’s false, there has been no slumber, why did you say so? i’ve been writing there regularly. And Dejan posts as much as you do.

      “the parody center has fallen into mild slumber, this is not our policy – if you hear of any brewing tantrums, let me know”

      But you are not a part of the parody center, you have just pushed your way in or you visit. That is not Dejan. And John, if you decide to let someone who is writing under this nickname say ‘if you hear of any brewing tantrums’, I’ll stop writing here if you want me to unless I’m allowed to say that I have already informed you of ‘what happened’, so you let him know if you want to. There isn’t any problem now that I have found that people are involved in surveilling (I didn’t say who.) But this is not professional, what you have allowed this person to say, unless my rebuttal in just this form is allowed. What’s to ‘have a tantrum’ about? The CPC is just me and Dejan and our well-known troll, who is now affectionately known as ‘Nell’. But if you don’t want the games, then maybe nobody should be allowed to play them.

      Comment by butch cazza — 21 January 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  12. Eloise how in goddamn did you allow Zout Productions (salt productions in Dutch) to come in here???

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 January 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    • But what’s annoying is that she agreed about the ‘slumber’, and that’s just games about ‘this is not our policy’, unless that’s something you just invented, Dejan. I just emailed him anyway. if it’s going to be nothing but games that are then meant to invade one’s private offline life as I’ve just discovered to have been, as per what I wrote this afternoon, then there really is no point writing on any blog at all. So you can both decide. ‘Zout’ writes as if he’s writing at ‘parody center’, by saying ‘that’s not our policy’.

      Comment by butch cazza — 21 January 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  13. Zout, are you impersonating Dejan, perpetrating an imitation of life right here on this post? Confess, if you dare!

    Comment by john doyle — 21 January 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  14. Yesterday I picked up Imitation of Life, the novel, from the library. The key question: how was the romance between Bea and her beau resolved in light of daughter Jessie’s puppy love for the fellow? In the first movie version Claudette Colbert called off the wedding in order to avoid conflict with Jessie; in the second, Lana Turner proceeded with the wedding plans and Jessie acknowledged that she would get over her infatuation.

    And the book? It ends not with the Delilah’s funeral, which happens earlier in the narrative, but with the resolution of the love triangle. At last Bea has realized that she loves Frank, who in the novel is the business manager for her pancake house business and younger than she. She’s just called him back from Cleveland to New York, where she’s about to propose to him. Here are the final paragraphs in the book:

    “…Age is not necessarily a matter of years, Frank. The eight years between us need not be eight. My capacity for living and loving –”

    “For God’s sake,” he almost screamed, his teeth bared beneath the grinding of his palms against his eyes, and this time no mistaking the tense turning of the pillar of his body away from her — “for God’s sake — don’t make me have to be plainer…”

    On his turning, the door swung open to Jessie in her canary-colored frock.

    “Did you call? Of course I know you didn’t But I’ve been so afraid he might be the first to tell you, or that he wouldn’t tell you at all, or if things got into a jam there would be no sweetheart to guide him. Darling, has he? Of course he hasn’t! As a matter of fact, he hasn’t quite told himself. I’ve done all the tolding. He’s a terrible lover, Ma. Doesn’t know his own mind. Blows hot. Blows cold. In God’s mortal awe of you. Temperamental as a barber. Would escape if he could. Couldn’t if he would. Wouldn’t if he could. But I love him and he loves me. Relieve his terror, parent; give us the maternal blessing with caution or I may pass out of the pressure of too much happiness.”

    Here was the scene which was to be preserved so perfectly in the retina of my mind’s eyes, that looking back, looking back at it across the years, the living picture of it, even to the yellow of the frock and the smear of anguish across a face, were never to dim.

    They were so young, standing there… so right…

    THE END

    Comment by john doyle — 11 February 2010 @ 7:50 pm

    • Nice, administrator. And fuck, the dame could WRITE. I didn’t know it.

      This is especially good, no matter how dated it might seem: “Relieve his terror, parent; give us the maternal blessing with caution or I may pass out of the pressure of too much happiness.”

      Comment by quantity of butchness — 11 February 2010 @ 8:02 pm

  15. I was administrator there for a moment, wasn’t I? Running up to this last scene, Fannie seemed to be doing a nice job of anticipating Bea’s long-term devastation, even to the impact on her relationship with her own grandchildren years hence. It’s good that the love affair turns out so cruelly; the movies were too cautious here. I may spend more time with the book, though the southern Negro dialect for Delilah is unfortunate.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 February 2010 @ 8:47 pm

  16. John, get a fuckin’ load of this, this broad is unbelievable.

    I was getting inspired and working on that new insert about the Stompanato/Cartier of Beverly Hills Performanfce I made this last trip, finally getting to work (the secret to my not having to work too much is that I always work on holidays, and everybody else is watching the Oscars, which I’m not even turning on) on some new inspiration: In addition to the Desiree Disgusto excerpts from last summer, the Dec. 24 entries, altogether just so clever and as venomous as possible, on Dejan’s blog and signed in as ‘Reverend Nick Landayetc’ and ‘Saint Nick J. Land’ are going to be interspersed with my own account, as they are explicit examples of the attempts to violate and trash everything I did–PLUS they’ll identify the culprit using his own name but as a fictional one so there can be no litigation. Anyway, I had to look up Lana’s ‘iconic legendary hairdresser’, to whom she confessed and he published after her death her confession to Stompanato’s murder. I couldn’t remember the name of the book, and the NYPL threw it out, I guess. So I found an appalling interview with him, but also this clip of a Mystery Guest appearance on a 1959 ‘What’s My Line?’ just as ‘Imitation of Life’ was about to open. While the illustrious panel was masked, and asking her questions, she answered all of them with ‘Yay-iss may-am’ and ‘Naw suh’. She was fucking doing the Susan Kohner role as means to half-identify who she was, and, as they so often did, they let Arlene Francis over-question and be the ‘Alpha’ of the panel. So this was after the murder and just before ‘Imitation of Life’ world-premiered in New York and completely resuscitated her career. Amusing that Arlene brought up Marilyn Monroe twice (apparently ‘Some Like it Hot’ was opening around the same time, this is a great movie, of course), and this is not something Miss Turner would have liked, esp. when she mentioned her without the mask on, saying she sounded like Marilyn or some such crap. I still can’t believe she had the gall to use ‘black talk’ like that; after all, at that point, even classy Arlene didn’t know from Susan Kohner. Okay, enough antique trivia for Oscar night. It’s actually a horribly enjoyable little clip, because you see all the original panelists, including Killgallen.

    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 7 March 2010 @ 9:42 pm

  17. Cute. I wonder if she purposely chose the breathy fake voice to sound like Marilyn. I love her signature on the chalkboard.

    Comment by john doyle — 9 March 2010 @ 5:23 pm

  18. This is off-topic, but when we’re talking Fannie Hurst and Arlene Francis, and Lana fresh from her murderess gig, what they hell. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7dd9c4ae-68a3-11dc-b475-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1

    That may require a quick free registration, but you should read this interview with Louis Auchincloss, the best writer about Old Money New York. The Socialists won’t like that Gore Vidal is very explicit about the importance of Auchincloss’s contribution. And his own spontaneous remarks (especially about another upper-class family, the Bushes, right after receiving the Pres. Medal of Freedom) are utterly hilarious. Someone at the ballet board linked it when I posted the obit, and I just finally read it. If you can’t get it, I’ll email it to you, it is that good. He succeeds beyond Tom Wolfe (whose Bonfire of the Vanities he nevertheless greatly admires, and so do I), and certainly poor Capote, who was not really of this set, and so tried to write about them without having the entree to much of what he would have needed, plus he would have been bored by what the men say, Capote only wanted to hang out with the old society dames.

    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 9 March 2010 @ 7:26 pm

    • I’ve never read any novels by Auchinloss: do you have a recommendation? I found Bonfire quite unexceptional in a best-seller sort of way. Speaking of aristos, my daughter has become a fan of de Tocqueville, whom I’ve not read except for excerpts in high school.

      Comment by john doyle — 10 March 2010 @ 12:24 pm

  19. They’re good fictions, ‘high pulp’. ‘The Rector of Justin’ is the most famous, from the 60s, and nominated for a Pulitzer. I’ve also read ‘A World of Profit’, which I quite liked, and the short story collection ‘Tales of Manhattan’. These might seem ‘New York provincial’ to you if you didn’t like ‘Bonfire’, which I thought brilliant–but it might be because of more obvious interest in the milieu. Although John Gregory Dunne also thought Wolfe a master at these stylistic details. I’ve just put holds on some of Auchincloss’s newer offerings, which may also ‘infect’ the editing process of our book, as I like some of the casual messiness of our form thus far, but it may want some tightening as we move toward the finish line. One is called ‘East Side Story’, from 2003, the last is his own last ‘The Last of the Old Guard’. He wrote all the way to the end.

    What’s important is that this New England/New York American Aristocracy ought to be known about, because even though certain kinds of snobs say ‘America has no aristocracy’, that means very little when you consider that New England is the land where, as Auchincloss put it in the article. that ‘wars are lost, if not made, on the playing fields of New England’. I think Vidal was absolutely right about Auchincloss’s importance, even if his style is necessarily going to be on the staid side–there’s only how far you can ‘slum’ when you’re in that social stratum. As for ‘aristos’, these incredibly powerful people are actually fortunate that the popular imagination doesn’t find them interesting at all, as they do British royalty, etc., for that matter Hollywood ruling class does not fire up the public imagination either, these are New Yorkers themselves controlling the money for the most part, the stars and even the old studio heads like Louis B. Mayer and assorted other monsters, had way too much more personality, and the public does require colour to stay interested. That’s why WASPS still run everything, they know how to keep an understated Anglican profile. Which doesn’t mean their understatement is necessarily not mediocre, but not always.

    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 10 March 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  20. I watched the Sirk version again last night in a motel room in Oakley, Kansas, and was struck by the masterful framing of scenes, the movement of characters into and out of the shot. Frequently objects or images or texts placed in the scene offered ironic commentary on the scene; e.g., when Sarah Jane is getting beat up by her racist boyfriend, we see her crouching under a “For Rent” sign. Lana Turner carries her fabulous wardrobe magnificently, and offers up a consistently full-tilt melodramatic repertoire of facial distortions. There’s even an ironic commentary on this aspect, when she’s trying out for a part in a play and the director complains that she’s over-acting, going for high drama in a comedic role. The first time I watched it I had just seen the original; this time it stood out for me more as a distinct work. Excellent.

    Comment by ktismatics — 1 August 2013 @ 7:54 am

    • ‘her racist boyfriend’

      Oh yes, Troy Donahue, who will partner Sandra Dee the following year in ‘A Summer Place’. Gorgeous photography, supposed to be in Maine, but I think it’s mostly done at Carmel, CA. It has that 50s magazine w/’dreamhouses’ quality, esp. the one Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire come to live in.

      It’s been a good while since I’ve seen ‘Imitation of Life’, but I remember the strange way you notice that Sarah Jane and Susie evolve from child actresses to teen-age ones, and you see them lying or just sitting on a bed in their dresses, having noticed no ‘differences’ during the previous 5 or 6 years. I don’t know whether that is ‘irony’ or just clumsiness on Sirk’s part. It just occurs to me that Kohner (who retired almost immediately afterward and is still around, family life, etc., daughter of big movie guy) resembles Heidi Fleiss before the abyssal fall into opaque smut, as when at the beginning of the courtroom photos, she would always sashay in all chic and ‘such a lark’ to be on trial for being a madam. Both ‘true children of Hollywood’, like Cecilia Brady in ‘Last Tycoon’–those hyperreal images that Hollywood has provided to the rest of the world and do seem quite wondrous if you have time to get through them without being destroyed, are the stuff of formative years to these types, Tori Spelling is another and Paris Hilton, of course, who told an interviewer about 2005 in NYTimes “I live a fantasy life. Of course, it isn’t to me, because it’s all I know”. The fact she got $30-125K just for opening a new brand for someone (not her own) during those years was the first I’d known about that since I read sometime back in the 60s that Princess Margaret got paid big money for going to parties, but for some reason I didn’t think anybody else did. Even the minor royals are sometimes paid, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are sometimes referred to as ‘Rent-a-Kent’.

      Oh Kansas. The Grapes of Wrath with Lana Turner.

      Comment by Patrick — 2 August 2013 @ 9:06 pm

  21. There is a hero with the first name like Troy Donahue’s: Ambers O’Neal “Troy” Shewmaker/Cansler. Cansler gave his life saving a woman, but God took him. To remember him, people should put Troy Cansler Boot Scoot 5K run. Cansler died with his boots on.

    Comment by V.E.G. — 18 June 2014 @ 12:02 pm


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