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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in ellen copperfield (40)


In Which We Have Married All Our Serious Girlfriends

No Simple Affair


He married his first serious girlfriend, Greta Konen. At 31, she was five years older and a hairdresser at a travelling theater company. She reached up to about the midpoint of his chest. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, in a fit of pique, he proposed. Greta had refused to sleep with Gregory Peck until he made it legal.

Their wedding reception occurred at the 1942 World Series in St. Louis. They moved to California shortly thereafter, renting a small pink home in Beverly Hills. He had originally seen her standing on a Philadelphia train platform; the same woman was now his wife. It was her second marriage.

Groomed for stardom because of his bellicose palate of expressions and unique charm, Peck begn to take movement classes with Martha Graham. (Tony Randall and Eli Wallach were also students.) "She was in the prime of her prime," Peck once said of Graham. The woman was merciless to her charges, even once pressing down on his back so violently he slipped a disc.

As Peck was cast in more prominent roles, a congregation of women nearly always surrounded him. Greta at first tried to take the change in stride, reminding herself, "I should remember a movie star shouldn't have a wife." It was traditional in those days to minimize how much information about the star's private lives reached the public. Since Greg could charm any woman, why not the gossip columnists as well? They rarely wrote of his indiscretions, unless they were so obvious they could not be ignored.

Once he had asked Martha Graham if he had moved properly. She said, "Tears are running down the insides of my cheeks."

He attempted in vain to behave himself until he met his co-star on the set of Spellbound. This was Ingrid Bergman, herself married to a Swedish dentist. All caution hit the wind. As the film wrapped up, Bergman had enough of Peck and moved on to her next leading man. Peck was a bit hurt, but tried to take it in stride. His wife watched these events with circumspection.

The question of whether or not he had sex with Ava Gardner is an open one. They were close friends and neither admitted to any indiscretion. Dark, large and possessed, he could not have chosen any differently than his tiny wife.

Peck drunkenly cheated on Greta with whoever was available, but his infidelity with the actress Barbara Payton constituted something of a turning point. After the affair, she talked openly to magazines about hard fucking him in their dressing rooms. She told everyone she knew about how big he was. In gratitude, he banned her from the set of her own movie. Years later she became a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard.

In 1948 an organization named Peck Father of the Year.

In 1952 he met a 19 year old Parisian journalist, Veronique Passani, in the company of his wife. He did not really care. On the set of Roman Holiday, newspapers reported his liasion with Audrey Hepburn. It helped the film's box office for sure, but it was barely true. "Everyone on the set was in love with her," he later said. Hepburn was herself engaged.

In Italy Greg's main mistress was actually June Dally-Watkins, 25, an Australian model. He asked her to join him in Paris and pretended he was separated from Greta. June was a virgin, and her mother advised her to return to Australia, which she did after some soul-wringing.

One night Greta and Greg went to the home of her family friends. He suddenly decided to leave, and when she caught up with him, she asked him, did he want her to come with? He told his wife, "It doesn't make any difference."

With his Australian dalliance safely in her home country, Greg was free to focus on Veronique. He conveyed her to Rome and romanced her mercilessly. The game was already won, however; she told her mother the first day she interviewed him and and his wife that she would marry him someday.

In Veronique, Peck found a like mind despite their age differences. Or perhaps he really wanted to see things this way: "Veronique and I have the same tastes in arts, sports, everything!" he sometimes cried out, either to the media or breaking out of a dream in the middle of the night. Greta returned to America once it became clear this fascination was no simple affair. Peck married Veronique the day after his divorce from Greta was finalized.

Once wed, the new couple socialized mostly with Cary Grant and his wife, and Greg's benders reduced in their frequency. It was easy to be affected by Greg's insane charisma and appeal, but Veronique took it a step further. She seemed to see him as he truly was: an introverted, semi-haunted sconce. "He is a man of strengths and weaknesses," his second wife noted. "If I had to paint Greg, I would need a whole range of colors to do a portrait because there is great variation."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about the early days of Ingrid Bergman. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Evangeline" - Cass McCombs (mp3)



In Which While We Were Sleeping You Were Turning The Dials

Water, The Dam


When it came time to collaborate on their first film, Luis Buñuel and Dali had a script within a week. "Our only rule was simple," wrote Buñuel. "No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted."

So began "a lifetime of threats and insults." In the near term, however, Buñuel felt he could not ask his mother for any more money, so put his aspirations in the cinema on hold. To get the funding for his next project, Buñuel took a meeting with a potential backer, Charles de Noailles. At the de Noailles mansion, Buñuel heard Charles say, "Our proposal is that you make a twenty-minute film. You'll have complete freedom to do whatever you want. There is only one condition. We have an agreement with Stravinsky to write the music for it."

"Sorry," Buñuel replied, "but can you imagine me collaborating with someone who's always falling to his knees and beating his breast?"

swimming at the Chaplin home

Shortly thereafter Buñuel was hired by MGM. He loved America; the first thing he did in Los Angeles was buy a car, a gun and a camera. Every weekend he went to Charlie Chaplin's house to swim or play tennis. He did have a fantasy of going to the Polynesian islands, but thoughts of further travel in the world were far off. It made no difference where he was.

"One of the more unpleasant situations in life," writes Buñuel, several times but in this specific instance, saying, "is to be pursued by someone you don't like. It's happened to me more than once, and it's very uncomfortable; I've always preferred loving to being loved." Buñuel was expert at detecting when someone was falling for him, and according to his memoir My Last Sigh, written in his old age, this happened quite often.

Then there was also the sense that the love Buñuel was able to detect in his admirers wasn't quite as passionate as some others. He became captivated by all kinds of love, fixating on couples who committed suicide even when there was no familial obstacle to their union. It is like looking at a car accident and being envious you could not fly that fast.

Buñuel was a devout atheist. He felt that a hypothetical God wasn't very interested in a single human being: "Since I reject the idea of a divine watchmaker, then I must consent to live in a kind of shadowy confusion that leaves my moral freedom intact." For this reason and others, Picasso never appealed to Buñuel, who spoke of wanting to blow Guernica up.

When he was young he had been interested in intimacy with both boys and girls, but a chaste kind of knowing that pushed sex to the background as an impossibility. Once consummated, the object of Buñuel's affection no longer held the same sway. He learned this early.

In My Last Sigh he writes,

When we were young, love seemed powerful enough to transform our lives. Sexual desire went hand in hand with feelings of intimacy, of conquest, and of sharing, which raised us above mundane concerns and made us feel capable of great thing. Today, if I can believe what people say, love is like faith. It's acquired a certain tendency to disappear, at least in some circles. Many people seem to consider it a historical phenomenon, a kind of cultural illusion. It's studied and analyzed and, wherever possible, cured.

Buñuel was given the job of screening Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will in America. He was overwhelmed by the technical acumen he witnessed. When he showed it to Chaplin, Charlie fell off his chair laughing.

It seemed like everyone was in New York: his old friend Dali, Saint-Exupéry, Levi-Strauss, Leonora Carrington. Some he fell out with, others became closer in his new home. Dali was a phony and a fraud, yet Buñuel retained a certain sympathy for his lost friend. He did not write back to his old collaborator for the next 35 years. When Dali suggested a sequel to Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel cabled back a spanish proverb, Agua pasada no rueda molino, or, Once the water's gone over the dam, the mill won't run anymore.

This is the thing to say to someone who is lost to you.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about Dorothea Lange. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

The Best of Ellen Copperfield on This Recording

Dorothea Lange's Failed Marriage

Sex Life Of Marlon Brando

The Onset Of The Western Canon

Entitled To Madonna's Opinion

Barbra Streisand Grows Up In Flatbush

A Sneaking Suspicion of Literature

Anjelica Huston Falls Off The Horse

Prefer To Be Simone de Beauvoir

The Marriage of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra

Elongated Childhood of Jorge Luis Borges

Jokes At The Expense Of Tom Hanks

Which One Is The Gay?

"Summer Simmer" - Battles (mp3


In Which We Say All That Could Reasonably Be Said

A Taste For Gin and Tonic


She admired Joan of Arc most of all. The French heroine was, in her imagination, the tall, slightly awkward, slightly shy version of herself. "She became the character I liked to play most. She, too, was a timid child, but with great dignity and courage." All the boys teased and mocked Ingrid Bergman, to her face and behind her back. To entertain her friends, she re-enacted Joan's death.

In the wake of Ingrid's mother's death, her father found comfort with the family's eighteen year old housekeeper/governess, Greta. She treated Ingrid like a younger sister, and the girl returned the favor. Between her aunt (she called the woman 'Aunt Mommy'), her deceased mother, and her father's young mistress, it had been a confusing set of mentors. None of these women could cook, so neither could Ingrid. She was a lot better at German; her father had always spoken the language very well.

"I believed that my life with my father was perfect," Ingrid wrote of her art dealer papa. "He was everything to me, and I was everything to him. People would say, 'She must miss her mother terribly.' But I didn't, because for me she was very abstract. She was a photograph...always frozen in a picture frame."

Her father had made a short film of Ingrid's mother for her to remember the woman by. It is a terrifying sequence that ends with the three year old girl putting flowers on her mother's grave. When Ingrid made it to America for the first time, David O. Selznick had it restored for her. Even without her mother, the tiny family got along well, singing at the piano each night after dinner.

When she was 13, her father died. She moved in with her aunt and uncle, who were overjoyed to take her for the simple reason that the girl's trust fund raised their standard of living immediately. Her first audition was for the Royal Dramatic Theater.

One of the admissions committee said of Ingrid that, "while she has too much the appearance of a country girl, she is very natural and is the type that does not need makeup on her face or on her mind." Her star began there, and soon "Sweden seemed too small and I felt I had to get to a bigger country... but I was scared to death Hollywood would not like me."

Chosen to be a star from early on in her country, Ingrid came to America for the first time on the Queen Mary. She wanted desperately to become an American as quickly as possible, since she knew she would have to survive and thrive in this country in any case. She ate the most American meals she could find, taking refuge in familiar ice cream when it proved unsatisfying.

At first she never drank to excess, and even her passion for food as a refuge had its limits. Gin, whiskey and good wine were afforded her now. Temptation could be indulged until just before it became damaging. After her relationship with Rossellini, her drinking became more and more frequent. "I always look at myself in a detached way," she said at the time, "as though I was watching a stranger for whom I am responsible."

In order to speak English well enough to perform on stage or camera, she went to the theater as often as she could. There she saw pablum like The Little Foxes and The Philadelphia Story, trying in vain to comprehend the idioms. Selznick hired a dialogue coach for her and she took the train from New York to California.

with Gregory Peck

Selznick's wife Irene showed Ingrid to her room in their vast Beverly Hills mansion. The makeover began immediately, and Ingrid chafed on how they wanted to change her. She convinced Selznick not to alter her eyebrows and limited the application of makeup, selling him on the idea of her as a "natural girl", with her own teeth and hair.

Her first house was in a slightly less glamorous part of Beverly Hills, no pool. Her contract limited her to two films a year, and she despised the idleness it created, complaining to Selznick, who made thousands hiring his new star out to other studios. Anxious as hell, she gained fifteen pounds on ice cream sundaes. "You're going to love America," her friend opined.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the childhood of Walter Benjamin.

Dear Mrs Bergman,

I send you as promised a short synopsis of my story: I can’t call it a real full length story, because it is not a story. I am used to following a few basic ideas and building them up little by little during the process of the work as the scenes very often spring out of direct inspiration from reality. I don’t know whether my words will have the same power of the images: anyhow, I assure you that, during this work of mine, my own emotions have been strong and intense as never before. I wish I could speak to you about Her and He, the Island, the men and women of the Island, the humility so primitive though so antique, made wise by experience of centuries. One could think that they live so simply and poorly just because of that knowledge of the vanity of everything we consider civilized and necessary.

Ingrid in 'Stromboli'

I am sure that you will find many parts of the story quite rugged, and that your personality will be hurt and offended by some reactions of the personage. You mustn’t think that I approve of the behaviour of Him. I deplore the wild and brutal jealousy of the Islander, I consider it a remainder of an elementary and old fashioned mentality. I describe it because it is part of the ambience, like the prickly pears, the pines and the goats. But I can’t deny in the deepness of my soul there us a secret envy for those that can love so passionately, so wildly, as to forget any tenderness, any pity for their beloved ones. They are guided only by a deep desire of possession of the body and sold of the woman they love. Civilization has smoothed the strength of feelings; undoubtedly it’s more comfortable to reach the top of a mountain by funicular, but perhaps the joy was greater when men climbed dangerously to the top.

I beg your pardon for the many diversions, I am filled with so many thoughts and I fear that you cannot understand me completely only by a letter. I am anxious to know your impression after you have read this story. I beg you to consider that the translation was made in a great hurry by people who have not the complete mastery of the language.

I want you to know how deeply I wish to translate those ideas into images, just to quiet down the turmoil of my brain.

Waiting to know your judgement, I am,
Yours very truly and devoted

R. Rossellini

"More Human Now" - Jeff Beal (mp3)

"Losing Rachel" - Jeff Beal (mp3)