Crawford. Oh my, what a delightful
foray into high camp, which I now understood, at the age of my Saturn Return,
full of education and experience, at my first professional job. Joan, interviewed
late in life, answering questions with gusto, swearing, grinding out her
cigarettes in an ashtray like the pugnacious broad that she was. Drunk and
sentimental, she reminisced about the one that got away, Clark Gable. So sad!
So sad that she could never keep a man!
So delicious was this silly, freaky book; better yet were the dead-serious
marginalia written by some earnest follower of Joan’s life and career. Mommie Dearest, the movie version starring
Faye Dunaway, had been released: “No wire hangers!” we shouted at each other. The
people I worked with understood the camp value of Joan: we loved Conversations with Crawford; we took
turns describing the awful late-career movies we rented: Torch Song, Queen Bee, Johnny
Guitar, Female on the Beach. There were other stars we pondered and talked
about: Susan Hayward and Barbara Stanwyck, for instance, but nothing at all
could ever match Conversations with
Crawford, or those bizarre films. What an odd coincidence it was to find
out that our head librarian was the daughter of Jean Rouverol, who had written
the script for Autumn Leaves, where
the very masculine late Joan has an affair with a boyish and dangerous Cliff
At my Saturn Return, I went to an astrologer. It was accurate,
all of it, including how I would have trouble finding love, that the placement
of Venus meant that I would have trouble with my femininity. I would have to
learn to be more feminine, as in receptive
and yielding and related. What sounded like horrible language to the equality-minded
part of me (and probably to you, reading it) sounded true to the side of me that
shared a birthday with Joan Crawford: it’s a lonely future you face when you
find out that you can be castrating and critical, when you can clearly envision living life as a lonely drunk, or in some
version of Whatever Happened to Baby
Jane, or when your perfectionism starts to drive you crazy, and when I looked
into the abyss, this was the person who stared back at me.
Over forty it’s a blur; I forget how old I am. I’m in a
Laundromat. I haven’t been in one since my Saturn Return days. While I wait for
my loads to finish, I watch Larry King
Live on the TV above the dryers. His guest is Christina Crawford, and this
is the 25th anniversary or some year anniversary of the publication
of MommieDearest. Christina Crawford discusses the book’s impact, how people
didn’t talk about child abuse back then. It’s a very different world now. Is
anyone fooled by the star-making machinery nowadays?
I could define who I am in a completely different way, using
other famous figures whose lives influenced mine, along with a better list of books
and films that shaped my life. That list would flatter me, of course. It’s suspect and embarrassing, yet also true,
that I did make life decisions based on Joan’s cautionary tale, and this
happened because I discovered that I shared a birthday with her. I contemplated Joan Crawford’s example up to
the time of my first Saturn Return, ages 28-30. At a Saturn Return we have to
face ourselves and change what needs to be changed, or we risk staying in
stasis, or moving backwards and making things worse. When I reached that age I
felt compelled to change because I didn’t want to end up, like Joan, with the
cleanest kitchen but the loneliest heart.
ask—a get-to-know-the-new-kid work-conversation— “when’s your birthday?” Sometimes I say, “March 23rd,”
And sometimes I say, “March 23rd,the
same day as Joan Crawford’s.”
Because that person may get the joke; we can Dually recall: Faye Dunaway sitting at one end of a table Pepsi businessmen leaning elbows on the table Listening in fear and irritation And her eyebrows and her perfect Joan lips Because she says, “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!” It’s a laugh-out-loud moment when she says that— And sometimes I muse aloud to the person who asked me for my birth date:
If we share the same birthday, do I share the same qualities with Joan?
If that person got all this.Maybe like Joan, I’m the kind who winks when she says shit.
So I suppose when I say,
“March 23rd, the same day as Joan Crawford’s,”
I am testing that person to see if that person can detect This, too:don’t fuck with me, fellas.It’s true.
From GRRRRR, a Collection of Poems About Bears (Arctos Press, 2009), available
from the publisher and on Amazon.
For the past two months, I've been spending a lot of time with a couple of black bears. Lily (left) and her cub Hope are part of a study by the North American Bear Center. A webcam and microphone were placed at the entrance to Lily's den so she could be observed giving birth to and raising her baby. And observed she has been, with over 90,000 fans on Facebook and more tuning in on the NABC website and on Wildearth TV.
The study is being conducted by biologists Dr. Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield and is part of a larger, years-long study of black bears in general. It is one of the only truly scientific studies ever done on black bears, and Dr. Rogers' explicit goal is to replace much of our misconceptions about bears with scientific facts and data.
Joan Crawford, whom I’d seen in films like Strange Cargo with Clark Gable, sleek,
slender, slinky young Joan: How
beautiful she was! I knew that Garbo and Dietrich were considered superior
movie star beauties (and they were in the book too), but Joan captivated me. I
especially loved a close up of her face, its lashes heavy enough to create
shadows, her eyebrows plucked and arched above her heavy lids (her Aries
eyebrow glyph, but I didn’t know that then) and her round cheekbones. I loved
the way she wore a gown and held herself like a statue:proud, hard, clean.
At my job at the public library I noticed that lots of
people checked out My Way of Life by
Joan Crawford; I shelved it often. Its photos, with back-lighting and cheesecloth
over the lens, show Joan as an older woman, with huge lips and eyebrows, a
severe upswept hairdo and a dead look in her eyes. This was not the Joan of my
star photography book; this was the Joan of Whatever
Happened to BabyJane and Trog.Sneaking a peek before I put it back on the shelf, I read bits and
pieces of her life philosophy which discussed moisturized hands and a clean
house. A photo had her mopping her dark spotless kitchen floor.
Mommie Dearest was
a shocking story of a drunk, a harridan who punished others for her personal dissatisfactions. As I recall there were debates about its
veracity; Joan had her defenders and loyalists and her detractors. It seemed
true and believable to me. In my late teens and early twenties my friends and I
started to read about astrology in things like Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. We would read those canned descriptions
of the sun sign and its attributes and of the famous people who shared one’s
sign — my friends shared theirs with, say, Grace Kelly or Gloria Steinem, while
I was left with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Doris Day: Aries women,
described as childish, masculine, and bossy. Even worse, I found out that I shared
my exact birthday, March 23, with the now infamous Mommie Dearest.
Our shared birthday became a joke and a
ribbing and a dig among my friends. We took up an interest in Joan and her
weirdness. Over time we read Joan
Crawford: A Biography; we read Joan
Crawford: The Ultimate Star; we perused Joan
Crawford: Jazz Baby, The Films of Joan Crawford, Crawford’s Men. I discovered
that she had camp value, as did Bette Davis (and Doris Day, for that matter). I
didn’t quite understand how to define camp, but wanted to know. I read Bette
Davis’ This ‘n’That, I read Doris Day: Her
Bette Davis met her match with Gary Merrill in real life and
in All About Eve, but the marriage, I
read, did not last, nor did Joan’s love affair with Clark Gable. I found both
of these men really appealing, so these facts made me sad. I saw that they had
ended their lives alone. This was the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and I was
taking in feminist thought from the world around me, mostly by osmosis, and
making up the rest. Like most Aries women, I was a strong, fearless, and
directed person. I didn’t particularly need feminism, if you will. I also fit
the worst descriptions of an Aries woman. I was oblivious, brash, and selfish.
I was a drinker and a carouser—I had my own campy qualities, but did not
realize it yet. I was able to dominate men in a way that made me hate them for
it and made me miserable. It seemed to me that this was Joan’s problem, too,
along with her anger and her perfectionism.
Our favorite photographer, the incomparable Bill Hayward, sends along this photo and reminiscence of Ai, who died last week: From my book of portraits of the collaborative self...Bad Behavior (Rizzoli). She had just the morning before won the National Book Award for her book of poems, Vice. Over and over she said, "I suppose I should be using one of my dark lines but I feel so good today."
Kristen McConnaughey is writing an article about Ai for OSU's Newspaper, The Daily O'Collegian.and would love to hear from Ai's former studets. You can e-mail her at: email@example.com .
We don't have a guest blogger this week so we'll be using this space for updates and random news. If there's something you think is worth mentioning, well, that's what the comment field is for. Fire away.
You can listen to David Lehman's Valentine's Day 2010 lecture on Jewish songwriters at Chicago's Spertus Institute here.
Meanwhile, in case you missed these great posts, these links will help you catch up:
The KGB Monday Night Poetry Reading Series Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez & Michael Quattrone Presents . . .
Brett Eugene Ralph & Kiki Petrosino Monday, March 22 @ 7:30 PM Admission is FREE
Brett Eugene Ralph spent the better part of his youth in Louisville, Kentucky, playing football and singing in punk rock bands. His work has appeared in publications such as Conduit, Mudfish, Willow Springs, and The American Poetry Review, and his poems have been anthologized in The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets and The Stiffest of the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Missouri State University, and the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in the Himalayas of northern India. Currently, he lives in Empire, Kentucky, and teaches at Hopkinsville Community College. His country rock ensemble, Brett Eugene Ralph's Kentucky Chrome Revue, can be heard in seedy dives throughout the South.
Kiki Petrosino is the author of Fort Red Border (Sarabande, 2009). Her poems have appeared in FENCE, the Iowa Review, Contrary Magazine, and elsewhere. Recently, Petrosino was profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine as part of the Annual Debut Poets Roundup. She lives and works in Iowa City.
KGB Bar 85 E. 4th St. (Between Bowery & 2nd Ave.) New York, NY 10003