Quantcast

Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Durga Chew-Bose
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Live and Active Affiliates
Search TR


follow us in feedly

Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Entries in ellen copperfield (35)

Thursday
Apr032014

In Which We Write In Very Small Handwriting

at her usual table in the Café de Flore, 1945

Her One Reality

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

What is an adult? A child blown up by age.

Young Simone de Beauvoir shared her room with the maid. Outside her family's Paris apartment was the Boulevard Raspail and the Boulevard du Montparnesse. At the age of three she threw her first conscious temper tantrum. To her credit, she stopped when she no longer required the attention.

Her parents spoke to her only in a reproving tone during those difficult years. Simone reserved her true conversation for her sister Hélène. They made up a language their parents would not understand, full of winks and sounds, intimate gestures that they alone could understand in the presence of their parents. Together they created a fantasy world based on the lives of the saints. Simone would play the martyr almost exclusively.

She wrote of Hélène that "she was my accomplice, my subject, my creature. It is plain that I only thought of her as being 'the same, but different', which is one way of claiming one's preeminence. Without ever formulating it in so many words, I assumed that my parents accepted this hierarchy and that I was their favourite."

the sisters aged three and five

Although Simone's father was engaged in the slow process of falling out of the upper class, he would not send his children to the public lycée, fearing contamination. One of her father's favorite remarks was, "The wife is what the husband makes of her: it's up to him to make her someone." The pressure he puts on his wife Francoise extended to his precocious young daughter, who he expected would discuss books with him. Simone de Beauvoir had a library card at the age of four.

The de Beauvoirs fled Paris in fear at the onset of the first World War, but soon returned. Georges de Beauvoir was called to the front and returned to his family after a heart attack. Back in the presence of his young daughters, they could not help but be antagonized that his moustache had gone as well. The sound of gunfire could be heard every night. The family was forced to subsist on a corporal's pay, and Simone imitated her mother's frugality.

In her 1990 biography, Deirdre Bair recalls Simone's younger sister Hélène telling her, "In our games when she liked to play the saint, I think it must have given me pleasure to martyrize her even though she was so kind. I remember one day reaching the summit of cruelty: she took the role of a young and beautiful girl whom I, as an evil ruler, was keeping prisoner in a tower. I had the inspiration my most serious punishment for her would be to tear up her prayer book."

Most of Simone and Hélène's classmates had left the city. Walking the grounds of their school was most eerie, almost like visiting a graveyard. The date was 1918. Paris had always disappointed her; it was too familiar, and she had nothing else with which to compare it. Simone de Beauvoir was ten years old.

She wrote in her memoirs that "I had made a definite metamorphosis into a good little girl. Right from the start, I had composed the personality I wished to present to the world; it had brought me so much praise and so many great satisfactions that I finished by identifying myself with the character I had built up: it was my one reality."

Her father's law practice had faltered, and a job with his charlatan father-in-law also dried up as soon as the company's military contracts vanished. The family moved into a middle class building at 71 Rue de Rennes. The fifth floor flat had no elevator, and Simone now shared a bedroom with her sister. Seeing the small room, their friends could not contain their looks of shock. Her father wanted to give the girls bicycles, but her mother, in view of the family's finances, could not allow it.

She did not understand sex, although she was determined to flirt with men, to do anything impetuous or brazen to attract their attention, not knowing what any of it meant. When she was very small she had thought her parents bought their children in a shop.

Until her adolescence began, she was her father's favorite. The entire family had listened to her stories with rapt attention. But acne interfered, and soon she was clearly the less beautiful of the senior de Beauvoir's two daughters. It was not simply her new appearance that so disgusted Georges de Beauvoir, it was that his daughter's education had not stopped in the place that his had. She was becoming an intellectual, and he hated that sort. He called her ugly.

At school she fared no better. Her classmates ignored her, bullied her, mocked her. She told Bair, "Of course it bothered me that I was not popular. But when I compared all to the satisfaction of reading and learning, everything else was unimportant. Those slights meant very little, and soon I didn't even think about it." Even as a lie, it was a good one.

The last time Deirdre Bair saw Simone de Beauvoir was on the afternoon of March 7, 1986. It is difficult to imagine her at this age, so small and frail. In the introduction to her biography, Bair describes the last tiny embrace Simone gave her, hugging her lower body. Bair towered over Simone by several feet.

with sartre and others in 1951

Her first attempt at writing was titled, "The Misfortunes of Marguerite." She abandoned it when she realized, after consulting an atlas, that the crossing of the Rhine where she had set the story did not in fact exist. Her parents had a low opinion of cinema; they regarded Charlie Chaplin as completely silly, even for their young daughters.

When she found that despite her Catholic education, she was both willing and eager to discard God, Little Women entered her life. Of course she was Jo. She fantasized about her own death, imagining her funeral, the weeping mourners.

with sartre in china

Her first real friend was Elisabeth Le Coin, an emaciated little girl with a dark scar on her left leg, suffered at her own hand. Elisabeth replaced Hélène in Simone's life, much to the younger de Beauvoir's chagrin. The two became inseparable. Simone's mother would tell her nothing of becoming a woman, so Elisabeth and Simone were forced to figure out the particulars together.

Sexuality scared her more than anything. Once a young clerk in an antiques shop exposed himself to her, and she had no idea what to make of it.

with Richard and Ellen Wright on her first trip to New York City, 1947

Her prettier sister had no such conflicts with men. They both had heard their parents engaging in rowdy sex through the thin wall in the tiny apartment, but Hélène alone was normalized by relationships with her peers. Although she was at the top of her class, her parents' only wish was that she meet a man and get married.

Simone found an article in a magazine about a woman who had become a philosopher and was now teaching the subject. Her mother was completely disappointed by Simone's lack of interest in her Catholic faith. To hide from her mother's frequent invasions of privacy, she wrote in handwriting so small it could not be detected by any eyes other than her own.

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

"Collapse" - Vancouver Sleep Clinic (mp3)

"Flaws" - Vancouver Sleep Clinic (mp3)


Tuesday
Feb182014

In Which We Marry Our First Serious Girlfriend

Henpecked

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

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 is a writer living in San Francisco. 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.

"Digital Witness" - St. Vincent (mp3)

"I Prefer Your Love" - St. Vincent (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Feb042014

In Which Ingrid Bergman Raises Her Standard Of Living

A Taste For Gin and Tonic

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

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

"Where Did We Go Wrong" - Babyface & Toni Braxton (mp3)

"I Hope That You're Okay" - Babyface & Toni Braxton (mp3)

The new album from Babyface and Toni Braxton is entitled Love, Marriage & Divorce and it was released today.