Monday, March 28, 2022. Cold gusts with temps in the high 30s, threatening snow (no shows) for the first Spring weekend in New York.
Last night was the annual Academy Awards as most people (I’m guessing) know. I didn’t know until I sat down at my desk to write this Diary. It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t know, so much as it meant nothing to me. When I was a kid back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, it was a major matter in this young life. I went to the movies all the time, at least twice a week.
And, more than that, I always wanted to live in Hollywood. Did I want to be a movie star? Maybe for fifteen minutes, but it’s never been big idea. I “fantasized” about that when I was a kid, and entertained the idea of becoming an actor — even though I never felt I had drive that it takes. I also couldn’t imagine myself in that rarified existence. I had a streak of the realistic in me.
I didn’t spend much time thinking about it because it seemed so far from my reality that it was pointless. But I liked the movies and the movie stars. Among my souvenirs of that early stage, I have a scrapbook, that I recently came upon, probably organized when I was ten or eleven and “growing up.” The first page when opened is a color photo portrait I’d pasted in of Debbie Reynolds.
I was amazed when I came upon this storage item. Thirty-five years later, I met Debbie and interviewed her for 100 hours and wrote her memoir “Debbie, My Life.” A great American story, and a wonderful person.
I finally moved out to LA in 1978. I had written a film script based on a family for whom my father had worked as a chauffeur. It was a murder, a homosexual murder, as it were, which took place in New York in the early 1920s. It was a story that like many was part of my “inheritance.” The story.
So I wrote the script which I titled “The Blue Serge.” When finished, I gave a copy to a friend whose mother was married to a Hollywood producer. I didn’t know this at the time. A couple of months later, I got a phone call one early evening from a young woman in Hollywood. She was at M-G-M. Her title, I later learned when I looked it up, was Vice President of Creative Affairs. She was very enthusiastic as she told me that she’d read the script, and that I am so talented I should go out there and write scripts.
I was dumfounded. I was the kid again. When I hung up the phone, I said to myself: I’m going.
And, indeed I did. About ten months later. I sold a small business that I had, gave up my beautiful house in the Connecticut hills, and with my dog and five cats, I moved out to Hollywood and took a major turn in the kid’s life.
And was I disappointed? No, not ever, not for one moment. Although it was a tough path to be on for a man in his mid-thirties, settled and stable, jumping into a whirlpool of life.
Hollywood is not a place. It is a large thought, larger than a nation, and even has an ID on the local map. I was of the generation that attributed the American Dream to Hollywood. The unreal was real.
The Academy Awards — the extraordinary event that it was when you were a kid watching it on television. Watching the stars getting out of their black-and-white-and-shiny limousines, stopping for the cameras flashing, all smiles and glamorous and you recognize them. They were like neighbors in a far off dream. The ones you saw up there on the big screen. And all these years later, you’re living among them. There even on the sidewalk.
You can see them in the supermarkets checking out the poultry counter. That’s where I first saw Cary Grant. He didn’t see me and I wouldn’t introduce myself but I was curious to observe this Famous Face checking out the poultry, uncertain on Santa Monica Boulevard. I continued on my way but a couple of aisles down, I looked back to see if anyone else noticed him — World Famous Face that he indeed was in person. But no one noticed! That’s Hollywood and one of the thing I loved about it.
On one Awards night, probably in the early ’80s, I was no longer fascinated by the Oscars. They’d done their job for me. The thrill is gone (for me). Instead, I was having dinner with a friend at a hamburger place on Melrose and Doheny — which was empty of customers except us. The waiter told me that was because of the Oscars. It’s like a religious holiday out there for those in the industry. Or at least it was.
My friend and I were the only table in use in room that held two dozen. The waiter said they’d start showing up at 9 – 9:30 when the Oscars are over (California time).
That particular night while there, two young girls came in. They looked to be in their late teens, maybe early college. As they were being seated, halfway across the small room from my table, one of them was a very young Jodie Foster. Before I recognized her famous face, I already had a neighbor’s impression of a very nice young girl, naturally sincere. I have never met Jodie Foster, nor did I ever see her again, but we were living in the same community where the make believe is sometimes, or at times, real. And just a few years later, she would win the Oscar for Best Actress.
The Academy Awards was a celebration, not only of the films but of the industry, its players and the dreams it wove around the human consciousness. It was a promotional idea favored by Louis B. Mayer and others prominent in the new and growing industry (the 1920s). By the 1940s and 50s, especially with the coming of television when the audience could actually see, as if attending, it was An Event. Here on the East Coast, the audience stayed up till 10:30 – 11:00 to hear and watch who won Best Actor, Best Actress; and it was talked about the next day all over America. From Hollywood.