Ding Dong. Avon Calling.

by KEM Huntley

Within walking distance, is the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library.  Scanning its NoHo calendar, I am lured in by a recent literary event vignette:

“King Tut, the invention of the automobile, a TV game show, and a tiny cactus parasite all profoundly affected the face we show the world.  How did red lipstick impact the women suffrage movement?  With seemingly unrelated trivia, DeBus reveals odd connections and presents some of her vintage makeup collection.”

I am most intrigued to visit the one-story Spanish Colonial Revival style stucco Mission style library that honors our most famous aviatrix.  Its humble beginnings—two bookcases housed in a corner of the City of Lankershim’s post office.

With a stylish air and natural flair for storytelling, San Fernando Historical Society Board Member Maya DeBus presented, “History & Make-up:  ‘How Events Shaped How We Look:  Intriguing, Whimsical, and Little-Known Connections.’”

          Ms. DeBus opened with the acknowledgment that embellished faces are global, attributed to religion, magic, power, and sometimes—witchcraft.  She showed the Norman Rockwell “Girl at Mirror,” to point out how we gaze at our blank slates, dreaming of a transformed state.  (Fun Fact, my second . . . maybe third . . . cousins modeled for at least two of The Saturday Evening Post covers.  One as twins.  Great Uncle Edwin Eberman co-founded The Famous Artists School with this Americana Life’s gent.)

Ms. DeBus subscribes to the notion that “Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away”— a sentiment to which I concur.  “Cosmetic” comes from the Greek word, kosmētik, “the art of dress and ornament.  The art is ancient, and Ms. DeBus fascinated the crowd as she regaled tales of Queens Elizabeth and Victoria, actresses and ladies of the evening, painted ladies, and “Blue Bloods”—society ladies faces paled with products such as Dr. Campbell’s “Arsenic Complexion Wafers,” who drew blue lines on the sides of their faces to indicate veins.

Ms. Debus ordered the art of the artifice both chronologically and by facial features.  Inside this California native’s bag of tricks and historical tidbits (also known as the “ring purse”), included intel on Max Factor, who was originally a wigmaker in Imperial Russia.  After emigrating to first NY then LA, he discovered the need for film stars to wear something other than theatrical make-up, aka “grease paint” under the blaze of hot camera lights.  The make-up spells he created so well oftentimes “disappeared” on set, compelling Max to set up shop in Hollywood.

Further factoids include New York City’s Suffragette’s paraded wearing red lipstick supplied by ardent feminist Elizabeth Arden.  Plus, the cochineal insect, essentially produces carmine that deters predation, and used for red lipstick—oftentimes used for the same purpose. 

Ms. DeBus has not yet published her findings; however, she is looking forward to receiving kTVision’s 4th Grade teacher’s field trip report:  MayaSpeaks@aol.com.  Perhaps I can tease her purple prose into a polished, published piece of true art.  Or, I can just steer her towards Bésame Cosmetics in Burbank.  Founded out of a fascination with art, history, and beauty by artist, cosmetic historian, and designer Gabriela Hernandez; her chic boutique boasts a “. . . vintage makeup brand which honors the style, spirit, and sensibility of female beauty.”  Not to mention, she wrote the book, Classic Beauty:  The History of Makeup.

I wear House of Bésame’s 1941 inspired gilded, lipstick bullet, “Victory Red.”  My glam gram, Bow Bow, once the object of Oscar Hammerstein the II’s affection, would be pleased prettily.

Postscript”  “Collage is not all that she does,” was the first snippet of conversation I overheard in room of perhaps twelve library patrons.  Completely random and in no way in regard to Ms. DeBus; however, an epitaph I may use for a future grave marker.

Opium

by Julio Peralta-Paulino

Day was well past coffee and breakfast — even if at Parthenon the first meal of the day wasn’t much more than some dusty Danish — when Heisenberg’s green line rang.

“Oh, yes the teen vampire project.  I like this draft.  What are we calling it?”

He asked without any expectation of a response.

“The sophomore version.  Yes yes the problem as I see it is that it should either be a vampire film or a werewolf movie, but this mixture it’s simply too either or and I don’t want that and I don’t think that what’s her name wants that.”

There was a pause as if to give the novelist some credit for coming up with the series of words that had made a book and was now being transcribed into a screenplay by a scribbler that knew, in the opinion of Heisenberg and for that matter Parthenon, what it truly meant to write.

That is to say, being oblivious to nearly everything but the all important plot and the not so important sub-plot.

“I’d love to get that Soy Popula on this, but that brat thinks she’s Hollywood royalty.  Next thing you know, we’ll be stuck making the next Norman space sci-fi adventure vehicle set in Paris.  I got enough worries . . . Let me make some calls and see what the schedules are like for Winter season.  I’ll get back to you, in the meanwhile, cut out the dogs, you know the wolves, and make it something more sexy — uhm, maybe he turns into bird — a pretty bird — half vulture and half falcon.  Now, get right on that before I sign the director.”

Heidelberg hadn’t seen it all, but he’d seen enough.  He especially held witness to the continual lack of major worldwide box office at Parthenon.  It was fair to say he was an agitated man in need of something spectacular for his prodco.  Parthenon was one of the old time players.  Old as far as anything could possibly be old in an ever-young city like Los Angeles.  It was rather simply mostly farmland when cinema was taking its early steps.  A dream much like Las Vegas, but a drama that would quickly evolve into one of the world’s most alluring attractions.  When America went to war, Parthenon went to war—with R rated films.  Even so, none of their movies were ever among the top-grossing of all time, they didn’t have the type of weekend openings one might be inclined to associate with a name such as Parthenon Studios.

Every so often H, as Heidelberg was nicknamed by those near enough his acquaintenances not to be threatened with being fired or worse, would say to himself, “Well, Gigantic was massive and they had to split the loot with Teamworks, and after I’ve been here we had Reformers but also in partnership with Twenty Cent Locks; it’s probably one of those movie things.”  Sometimes, when H practiced infidelity and he did so every Thursday and every long weekend available to himself and his revolving convoy of escorts, he’d whisper afterwards:  “The thing I worry about is the Artisan Curse.”  Of course, he wouldn’t explain what that was to his momentary mistress except to add:  “They had a good thing with the Rare Witch Project, but they went for the sequel and it killed them.”  If the fun was outside the ordinary, H would include a concluding thought to his confessional whisper:  “It’s the age of the sequel, but some movies simply cannot be made.”

Months passed, H was never pleased with the photo-play in progress, much as loved the potential.  “It needs something.   It has romance, sure.  I don’t know, maybe a bimbo mobile?”  From his experience, it was clear, when a movie starts to feel like work then it might not be worth producing.  It might just start to feel like a workload to the goer that has to carry it for two hours in a dark room.

The afternoon came early.  One conference call and suddenly his secretary handed him the green line and the words went around the room, “Let the lawyers find a new team for this screenplay.  I already got one with the same title out, it’s been knocking at my distraction for months, and we really need to concentrate on that love story with the three-legged cat.”

When the first Vampire film did well, there was some uneasiness surrounding Parthenon and H.  Still, it was — as many people tend to say — “one of those things.”  They got lucky or they deserved something for having the balls to put Christmas Nicci as a piglet in a stinker. A tolerable folly.  Once in a while, to his wife, in the late evenings, he’d say, “Maybe I should have had some more patience with the werewolf side of the thing.”

Powerful men are not usually prone to remorse or regret.  Tears are rare, although fears might be fruitful.  H was being driven to one of the hideaways just outside L.A. in the Autumn when the sequel to the project he had sent back into negotiations appeared.

The long lines made him think, “Hmmm kids, looks like another winner, this business is insane.  No telling what might strike up the ticket band.”  He took a Tambien, which was a popular medication in those days even if the side effects included self-extermination.  He went to bed, shaking from the text-message realization that it had made seventy million in a few hours showing.  The words echoed like cold leftovers in the gut of his thoughts, “This isn’t even the big weekend.”

That first not even the big weekend the movie grossed 153 milliion domestic.  It was bigger than many of the big movies and cost a fraction of what they had been budgeted.  It was big news.  Excellent news, in fact, for the industry.  It simply wasn’t news that Parthenon, and especially H could relish.

After only two weeks the world-wide total was estimated at four hundred and seventy million dollars.  All of it within an international recession, possible flu-epidemic, and the talk of global warming looming over the earthly population.

One might have expected a place like Parthenon to demote or even deliver Heidelberg his walking papers.  “Didn’t the guy from the mailroom look a lot like H?  If you can’t get me on screen anymore then I don’t have half an hour to make your pasta al dente.”

Of course, often something as dramatic as the sequel’s triumph turns heads so entirely that nothing is said and things go on as they had before the rights were let go to some other contender.

Day was well past teas and biscuits—even if at Parthenon the first meal of the day wasn’t much more than some hasty fruit—when Heisenberg’s private line rang.

“Oh yes.  That reminds me, I need something stronger than my current prescription.  Would Morphine be too difficult?” He asked, entirely expecting the Rx Fedexed before the pome disappeared from its decomposing position alongside the oversized Rolodex.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

by KEM Huntley

“Want to see it again little girl? It shouldn’t frighten you.” The opening scene of a crying Jack in the Box toy forebodes the strangeness yet to come.

Director Robert Aldrich and writer Lukas Heller’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (based on a novel by Henry Farrell), is classic horror saved from camp by its fine performances. The story of sibling rivalry gone mad necessitates the highly wrought performances from its lead actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The sparse supporting cast play their individual parts with enough verve to make them memorable, yet with the restraint required to allow two of Hollywood’s Grande Dames fued.

In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson (main character) is a wildly popular child song and dance act on the vaudeville circuit. Tyrannical behind the scenes, her heart belongs to daddy and her earnings support the show business family. “I want an ice cream. . . . I want it! I make the money so I can have what I want.”

Mother understands (overall story consequence) Jane’s stardom will be short lived, and the real talent lies in big sister Blanche (impact character).

MOTHER

You’re the lucky one Blanche, really you are. Someday it’s going to be you that’s getting all the attention (impact character benchmark-future). And when that happens, I want you to try to be kinder to Jane and your father than they are to you now. . . . I hope you’ll try and remember that (overall story dividend-memory).

Bitterly, Blanche replies: “I won’t forget. You bet I won’t forget!”

Cut to 1935. Baby Jane is a B movie actress.  Blanche, “the biggest thing in movies today.” Blanche has the clout to insist (impact character unique ability-interdiction) Jane receive film work—much to the chagrin of the industry:

PROJECTIONIST 1

When the old man hired the Hudson sisters, how come he had to hire the back end of the act too? Boy, what a no-talent broad that Baby Jane is.

PROJECTIONIST 2

Why can’t she stay sober?

Later, a studio head remarks: “She [Blanche] ought to have sense (relationship story thematic issue) enough to know that she can’t make a star out of Baby Jane again.”

Up to this point, enough information is given to provide backstory for the sisters’ twisted relationship. The next scene is an automobile pulling up to the Hudson residence—one sister opens the gate, the other attempts to run her down (story driver-action). A shriek and a sob and the credits open the film to present day.

Blanche is bound physically to a wheelchair (impact character domain-universe); Jane bound emotionally to her sister by guilt (relationship story domain-physics). They live as recluses with intermittent household help. Nosy Parker neighbor comments: “How come we never see her [Blanche] around? We’ve been living next door (overall thematic issue-situation) for six months now, and the only one I ever see is that fat sister slouching around. Don’t they ever have company? . . . Julie says that sister is kind of peculiar (main character thematic issue-suspicion). . . she’s supposed to be (overall problem-perception) responsible for the accident that crippled her sister Blanche.”

The local television station is broadcasting (impact character signpost 1-present) Blanche’s classic films (impact character concern-past), an event that pleases her, yet raises Jane’s ire (relationship story symptom-self-aware; overall story catalyst-circumstances). A vitriolic alcoholic (overall story symptom-chaos), Jane’s increasing jealousy (main character benchmark-subconscious) and strange behavior (overall story domain-psychology) is cause for Elvira, the Hudson’s’ housekeeper, to prod Blanche to sell the house and conceptualize (overall story goal) a way to put Jane “where they can look after her properly.”

BLANCHE

We’ll probably have to sell the house.

JANE

When did our business manager tell you all this?

BLANCHE

Early last week, I think.

JANE

. . . Oh you’re a liar. You’re just a liar! You always were (impact character solution-actuality). . . . Don’t you think I know everything that goes on in this house (relationship story response-aware)? . . . Blanche, you aren’t ever going to sell this house (relationship story inhibitor-destiny).

Jane, furious, disconnects Blanche’s bedroom telephone (relationship story thematic issue-senses) and serves up a dead pet bird for lunch.

Determined (main character domain-mind) to make a comeback (main character critical flaw-sense of self), Jane places an ad in the personals to hire a musical accompanist. She equivocates to Elvira to keep her out of the way—and away from interfering with Blanche:

JANE

You can have the whole day off.

ELVIRA

Well thanks, but does . . . Miss Blanche know about my taking the day off?

JANE

Oh sure, she knows (overall story inhibitor-falsehood).

Jane receives her gentleman caller garishly made up and dressed in ghastly Baby Jane apparel. Edwin, a musician and mama’s boy, is a bit of a con artist (overall story signpost 3-being). Financial circumstances (overall story catalyst) have compelled him to answer Jane’s ad. He overlooks Jane’s bizarre behavior-intent on following his own agenda (overall story concern-psychology).

JANE

I’m Baby Jane Hudson.

EDWIN

(Taken aback. He obviously has no clue who she is. He makes a quick recovery.)

Oh. Do you mean you’re really the Baby Jane Hudson?

JANE

Yes I am. And I’m going to revive my act exactly as I used to do it. Of course some of the arrangements will have to be brought up to date. Music changes (main character problem) so much, doesn’t it? . . . There are a lot of people who remember me (main character concern-memory). Lots of them.

While Jane is out with Edwin, Blanche crawls downstairs to telephone the doctor. Jane catches her in the act, overhearing Blanche inform Dr. Shelby her sister is “emotionally disturbed.” Jane calls him back, impersonating Blanche (main character approach-be-er), to put the doctor’s mind at ease (overall outcome-failure).

The women’s relationship deteriorates further when Jane bashes Elvira over the head. Jane trusses Blanche up and gags her mouth (relationship story thematic issue-senses). Blanche’s last link to humanity is Edwin. Now a frequent visitor, his mother’s recounting of the Hudson sisters’ scandal does not deter him from playing along with Baby Jane. Once he (overall solution) sees Blanche, dying from dehydration and starvation, he runs out (overall symptom-chaos), a weak, drunk, and frightened man.

(Or was it the lifelike, genuine Baby Jane doll that scared him off?)

Jane believes “he’s gone to tell” (main character thematic counterpoint-evidence) and bundles Blanche off into the car—heading for the beach (relationship story signpost 4-doing). Lying on the sand, near death, Blanche confesses to Jane (impact character resolve-change):

BLANCHE

Jane, I made you waste your whole life thinking you’d crippled me (relationship story problem-perception). . . . You didn’t do it Jane. I did it myself. Don’t you understand (relationship story concern)? I crippled myself. You weren’t driving that night. . . . You were too drunk. . . . You’d been so cruel to me . . . I wanted to run you down—crush you. But you saw the car coming. I hit the gates. I snapped my spine.

JANE

You mean, all this time we could have been friends? (relationship story solution-actuality)

The police then catch up to insane Baby Jane, dancing on the sand, strawberry ice cream in hand (main character resolve-steadfast; main character judgment-good).

Shine a Light

by Mac Huntley

          The ladies in the front were saved the chairs. They deserved it, they were his ladies. Indy, Mary, Ari, Trish, and Gonzo —- and they all looked beautiful in black. The people behind them consisted of characters. They were all colors, attitudes, styles in the mob. Each had a story with him. Some young like him. Some older. All different. But tonight, they all had the same desire.

          His main mice put it together as promised. Only a friendship like theirs would have a night to knock out all the specs of each one’s posthumous party. His was written with simple interjections: Cardboard coffin. Decorated by his mice. Chairs for my ladies. At night. White Xmas lights. Cliffside. City view. The appropriate Stones’ song. Pay respect with burning matches. Wake amidst the bonfire.

          Jay was emotional. Nicki was overwhelmed. Yauch was antsy. Cas Cas was distraught. Luz laughed. All other mice were fucked up or faded.

          Luz left to set up his “My Best Man Died, Come Rage With Me” rager at the place. As did the mob. The ladies went to do lady things, as the finest creatures do. The three mice stood over the dwindling flame, watching the flicker die. Bottles in hand of course.

          “Fuck.”

          “Fuck.”

          “Fuck.”

          “He has a will.”

          “What?”

          “My brother made a will, for his mice.”

          They all stared at Cas Cas in anticipation. He left momentarily. The moment was filled with very puzzled fucks. Once returned, he proceeded to dole out accordingly. To Nicki, a pen for him to keep writing his senses. To Luz, a blunt for his boy. To Yauch, condoms. Jay got a note. Cas Cas dipped out to seek out his wife for a night of reminiscing tears. His wife was pleasant, and lucky, for Cas Cas was a knight. His homage to his brother was nothing but to love. And love he did.

          The mice headed to Yauch’s nest to get fitted. Well, to get Yauch fitted. The boy needed pomade, cologne, and a couple looks in the mirror to prepare for his homage to the fallen.

          “I. Will. Bang. The. Twins.”

          “What? The Carnegies?”

          “Yes Nick. The fucking Carnegies. My homage to our man will a triumph of debauchery over pure innocence.”

          “A threesome is no triumph, just trouble.”

          “I oppose and I shall disprove you, as always, Jay. Also, tonight your homage should be to get into a little trouble. You know he’d love that. You read the note?”

          “No.”

          “Why?”

          Jay left to get air, or at least play with it.

          “So emotional.”

          “So are you.”

          “We all are. Anyway, what’s your homage Snow? Going to write a novella?”

          “Fuck you. I have no idea. I’m thinking.”

          “Don’t.”

          Yauch was finally clothed and doing the final touches to the hair. His confidence almost a disease at this point. But, it played. It always did.

          “Don’t what?”

          “Don’t think. I’m going to be him for a second. Don’t think. Just do. Because you have nothing but good intentions. You are a bitch. You wouldn’t hurt a bitch either. Let this be your homage. Just go be Nick Snow.”

          “Bitch.”

          “Sometimes I wish you and me had sex just so some cool could rub off on you.”

          The two smiled. One in the bathroom, creating sex appeal. The other on the couch, just being himself. It was going to be a good night.

          They jumped into Oldsmobile, and set off. Jay at the helm. Nicki, shotgun. Yauch spread out in the backseat like the real cat he was. Nicki supplied sounds from the dead man’s playlist. Fucking bittersweet was all that was felt. They parked in their reserved spot on the right side of Luz’s driveway. Reserved physically by Luz, who sat in a beach chair in the spot. Dressed in nothing but a Speedo and a snapback, he greeted them appropriately.

          “What the fuck is up my brethren?! Yauch you look gay. Fuck this. Let’s rage.”

          Luz’s place was another world. Each door led to a different vibe. One to sex. Another to complete and utter heartache of memory. There were drugs. There was alcohol. There were shenanigans, sober and not. There was improvised cooking and desperate treks for the simplest of fast food. Loud, loud music was drowned out by conversation. What really filled up the party were stories. Both from the past, and those that were being written moment by moment in the wake. They took over. So many laughs. So many fucking tears. But, it was beautiful. It was Christmas in July.

          The centerpiece, the crown jewel of the party, was the wheelchair the guest of honor spent in his last days of battle. Luz and others surrounded it with candles and various trinkets.

          The three had split up. Yauch went into lone wolf mode, destined to offend. Nicki was present. He drank, he sang, he lived. With everyone. Jay saw this and felt he was a Rod Serling character. When he and Nick had first met, Jay was the butterfly and Nicki was the wallflower. Roles reversed and Jay was happy. He made appearances. But mostly he pondered. Pondered the note. Pondered the past. Pondered the party. Pondered the night.

          Then she shined.

          She was it. The scratch to the itch. The runner’s high. She is what the insomniac thinks about to sleep. The final sheep. She is beauty. She is beautiful. Her presence orders you to acknowledge it, appreciate it, and realize that you cannot touch it. Her dress was pure. Her eyes piercing. Her movements licentious. And now she was looking right back at him.

          “Fuck.”

          She was quick and composed. Like a ballet dancer.

          “You look like you are in trouble.”

          She also knew just what to say to leave you defenseless. But Luz was louder. No one, nor nothing was. Well balanced atop the sacred wheelchair stood the giant.

          “Everyone. Shut the fuck up. Listen. I have words. I have words for my boy. My compadre. I’m so high. Yes.”

          Silent room with a voluntary pause for the one and only Luz.

          “I wish he was here to burn this house down with me. He would. So. Here is my homage. I love you.”

          A pull of Jack, a spit of flames, and a literal burning house. Classic Luz.

          The moments followed were a flurry. The ones who could handle, handled the small fire. The ones who could be useless, were useless in the best way. But no one was scared. They were all in an understanding, an understanding that life was just fucking awesome and that they got to share with one cool fool. Once everything settled, Jay looked for the lady. As the search grew, his heart forcibly feigned with the unread note burning in his back pocket. Torn between carpe diem and a letter from a friend, he sat. His wallowing was cut short to roars and screams from what seemed like a real jungle. He looked towards the once closed master bedroom to see the twins emerge giggly, and naked. Then a very naked Yauch played a true mouse opposite to the trailing respective boyfriends as he darted and dodged from room to room. Jay looked at Nicki. Nicki back at Jay. And they booked. Each pushed a boyfriend and ran separate ways. Eventually, the three found themselves a block away and in the clear. Jay gave his jacket to Yauch. Yauch used it to be an urban Tarzan. They carefully toed back to see the betrayed were waiting by the Oldsmobile. They turned and walked. A slow contagious laughter was produced by the very crossed Nicki. Soon, Yauch succumbed. Then Jay lost it as well. After a block, the guys were startled.

          “Get in. You idiots.”

          “Bryn. You are a goddess.”

          Yauch hopped in the back, where he found a very comfortable poncho. Nicki jumped in, drunk as fuck. Jay took front. He wish Luz could save him again. He couldn’t, but Yauch did.

          “I miss him. I miss him a lot. You know, before I was this popular provider for female orgasms, I had a girl. And, at the time, so did he. They were Asian. They were stressful. And he and I were the best of friends. One day, when his was at school and mine at work, we purposely left our phones at my house and went to the gas station. We picked up 27’s, Pringles, and fucking slurpees and headed to the mini golf course. We challenged each other round after round. Talking mad shit about each other’s games and our own respective lives. It was one of the most precious moments in my life. It was a moment frozen and time, and I always have it. Take me there Bryn. I’ll sleep there tonight and pour one out for the homie.”

          “I’ll come with.”

          “Hell yea, Nicki. Let me pick up some clothes and a bottle first.”

          “And some In-N-Out.”

          “Of course.”

          The two departed with hugs for the getaway driver and even fiercer hugs for Jay. They were in it together. Yauch humped the air with a tongue licking face to combo while Bryn wasn’t looking. Jay was happy. Then mortified.

          “Let’s go to his park.”

          They went. They played in the kids area. Touched the sky on the swings. Rolled down the tiny, grassy hills. They spoke of their history with the deceased. The many memories that were the sweetest scars now. She spoke of her very recent history with the deceased. He listened, and didn’t think for the first time in a while. But it was what wasn’t said that was ringing in both of their minds. Then she changed that.

          “He was never mine. He belonged to everyone. He was someone’s savior, someone’s something. Always. He was a catalyst, a catalyst for life. He was Vi, everyday.”

          She smiled with clarity.

          “And I was never his. He knew that, before I did.”

          Bryn looked up to the sky with her annoyed smirk and a head shake.

          “I’m sure he’s flipping you off with a smile.”

          “Jake, take me out. Anywhere. Let’s get in trouble.”

          He tried to rationalize. She pecked his cheek. He turned to see her on her way. Before following, and starting his life, he reached into his pocket. He understood the narrator in the “Tell-Tale Heart” more now than he did in class. But, the relation was gone in seconds. The note was simple and sincere, contained cussing, and demanded life. The note was him. So fucking him. And now he was flipping him off with the same fucking smile.

          And he went.