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Entries in ellen copperfield (35)

Thursday
May232013

In Which She Set Her Own Price

Their Own Lives

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

They called it the slipper club. All of the photographer Dorothea Lange's friends were Jews; exiled for a second time from the mostly gentile areas of Nob, Russian, and Telegraph Hills in San Francisco to Pacific Heights. Lange was not herself among the chosen people, but all her friends were. They were as far from the immigrant Jews in the Fillmore as they were from the gentiles in the wealthier neighborhoods. The slipper club, so named because Dorothea gave all her closest ones footwear as a gift, met outside the circles of power due to the vagaries of a parlor anti-Semitism. They talked of gardening, the arts, their relationships.... It was through these people that Dorothea met the artist who would become her first husband, Maynard Dixon.

Dorothea Lange, 26, featured a high pitched voice and walked with a limp. She made her living from portrait photography. She set a price and never haggled over it; no one quibbled with the results. For example:

from 1932

Maynard Dixon, 45, worked a pot-smoking illustrator whose sketches were featured in magazines with great frequency. His typical day involved waking up in the afternoon, getting high, and sampling the best of San Francisco's world cuisine. After the earthquake of 1906, he and his friends perserved in their lifestyle, almost amongst the rubble. Their neighborhood was called the Monkey Block, and it was razed in 1959 to build the TransAmerica Pyramid. Nobody was in a position to complain by then.

Maynard showed Dorothea the "real" California. He loved wide open spaces, and his representations of Arizona and New Mexico during the period remain quite captivating. She was immediately attracted to his cowboy good looks, his way around children. Her own concept of style always accentuated her natural beauty and minimized her defects. Despite her infirmity, brought on by a childhood bout of polio, she could hike and picnic, dragging her right leg on the ground when she was tired. The only thing she could not do was run.

the happy couple

They were married in her studio in March of 1920. He wore a cape, a black Stetson and wielded a carved swordcane with a stiletto. Their marriage invigorated his artistic career; he completed 140 paintings during the first five years of matrimony, and his reputation as a talented muralist at first grew and grew. The fact that he was nearing 50 as she approached 30, initially a source of Dorothea's apprehension, did not seem to matter a whit.

While others viewed Dorothea as a strong-willed entrepreneur, she did not mind how Maynard saw her — as a gorgeous young flower, a precious thing that could not be corrupted, but one had to try. This did not stop him from cheating on her with other women, often on long trips to the California wilderness he loved. Yet part of the reason the relationship sustained despite Maynard's imperfections was the fact the two kept their own lives.

Maynard Dixon

Near the end of her life she said of him, "Maynard was a restaurant man, a raconteur, a striking personality, graceful, had style, wit and originality. Much of the wit was defensive. Women loved him." Despite his considerable flaws, she viewed her new husband as an incandescent flame, and was most taken aback when his 12 year old daughter Consie Dixon came to live with them.

As a young child, Consie had been mistreated by her mother. At her stepdaughter's age, Dorothea stood out as helpful, kind and resourceful. In contrast Consie resisted her every directive, and found Dorothea's obsessiveness over her home frightening. (In later years, Dorothea would drop her sons in foster care while she travelled with Maynard and her second husband, Paul Taylor.) Maynard simply expected his new wife to care for the girl, who else would do it? To fill the hours with Consie, Dorothea began taking her picture. It looked like this:

consie dixon circa 1920

In light of the fact a child already lived in their home, Maynard and Dorothea used birth control with alacrity. By the age of 29, she decided it was time to have a child of her own, and she gave Maynard two sons. Tensions with Consie temporarily abated when the girl got a job as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner days after she turned 19. It was the onset of the Depression that would ultimately lose Consie that job and destroy her father's marriage.

Maynard's latent anti-Semitism had driven away most of his patrons, and when the art market in San Francisco collapsed, he could no longer sell his murals to anyone. After losing her job, Consie moved to Taos, New Mexico, and encouraged her parents to follow. Trouble quickly emerged in their new landing spot — neither Maynard or Dorothea had any idea how to drive a car. Maynard broke his jaw flipping over the family's first vehicle.

Taos, New Mexico

Even after that, Maynard tolerated the wide-open spaces of Taos far better than his wife. Dorothea had lost her clientele, her footwear association and the city she loved. The husband noticed none of his wife's unhappiness, and even after agreeing to a move back to San Francisco, the marriage would only last three more years. Dorothea observed in a profile of the family published in the San Francisco News that "an artist's wife accepts the fact that she has to contend with many things that other wives do not." She had her friends again.

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

"Desolation Waltz" - Hospital Ships (mp3)

"Servants" - Hospital Ships (mp3)

The new album from Hospital Ships, Destruction in Yr Soul, will be released on June 18th.

Thursday
Apr042013

In Which All Good Reading Is Best Done Cautiously

The Way They Were Meant To Be Read

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Coming across a person who is completely jaded about something you enjoy is either amusing or frustrating. In the case of my boss - let's call her Ms. J - it's a little of both. She's clearly "well-read" even though that expression is itself so overused as to become meaningless, but she also seems to have elaborate gaps in her education. We all have blind spots, but none are so educational as Ms. J's appraisal of modern literature. Here are some of her comments on books I asked if she read.

The Scarlet Letter

"She should have been thankful all they did was put on a letter on her: they could have also tweeted about it."

Journey to the End of Night

"If I wanted to read a book by a man with a woman's name, I'd read Justinians."

On Beauty

"It would be nice if nobody ever used liberal arts colleges as settings for novels ever again, but I'm not that naive."

The Cider House Rules

"Fun fact: there has never been a condom in any book that sexist ponce ever wrote."

The Last of the Mohicans

"You just know James Fenimore Cooper would have been, like, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly."

The Secret History

"They got high and killed someone? Big deal. Didn't that also happen in E.T.?"

The Brothers Karamazov

"One of the brothers was way out of line, can't remember which one. The one that looked like Rutger Hauer."

Middlemarch

"Could we lose the last million pages?"

The Tin Drum

"Was that where he kept his Jewish friends? Don't tell me, I'm going to read it after I finish Motherless Brooklyn, e.g. never."

Hunger

"My college roommate ate a lot of ramen noodles. Was that not an option in Scandinavia?"

Henry and June

"Studies show that 90% of young female bloggers owe their existence to Nin's success as a writer. I'm not sure which party should be more insulted."

Trainspotting

"Wow, drugs are so crazy, aren't they? Let me know when that guy starts writing in English. When people can actually read his work, they might notice he's a hack."

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

"This guy ruined irony for at least the next decade, but who doesn't love a man with curly hair?"

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"I can't read a book that doesn't have a woman over the age of thirty in it unless it's by Wayne Koestenbaum."

Mansfield Park

"Everyone is always holding back a slight smile. Perhaps there was a lot of food on other people's faces in Austen's time."

Lolita

"She was a lot more mature than Gwyneth Paltrow."

Things Fall Apart

"The expectation that things would come together in turn-of-the-century Nigeria was perhaps premature."

The Things They Carried

"Vietnam was full of happy memories, wasn't it? No."

To Kill A Mockingbird

"Wow, what white people can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Scout later grew up and became the star on the The Real Housewives of Maycomb."

The Adventures of Augie March

"I can't read anything by anyone who I know is an asshole, unless it's about how much Dale Peck sucks."

Chilly Scenes of Winter

"It should have had an unhappy ending." 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

"More like extremely manipulative and incredibly overrated."

Time and Again

"If you suddenly find yourself in 1882, and you're a man, for christ's sake stay there and never come back."

The Recognitions

"Whenever I see an emdash before someone talks, a part of me dies inside. Actually whenever I see an emdash anywhere, I get a little twinge in my rectum."

The Hour of the Star

"The only thing more confusing than this book is realizing you emerged into the world from Ayelet Waldman's uterus."

The End of the Affair

"The first and last time anyone had sex with a civil servant and did not regret it."

Gravity's Rainbow

"This was responsible for over 90 percent of Fredric Jameson's orgasms in the 1970s."

The Catcher in the Rye

"No subtler novel about a homosexual was ever written. Still, it should have been called A Bottom In the Bottom."

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 childhood of Jorge Luis Borges. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Gently Down the Stream" - Hem (mp3)

"Things Are Not Perfect In Our Yard" - Hem (mp3)

Tuesday
Dec252012

In Which The Seduction Is More Complicated

25 Verifiable Facts About Marlon Brando

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

1

When I first saw Marlon Brando, he looked like a bowling ball with a lisp emitting from the finger holes.

2

He was a hellion as a teen. His parents sent him to the same military academy his father had attended. He wrote, "I'm kinda homesick and want my mother, but I guess I will get over that. I've received exactly one letter since I've been here. Fine support for the baby of the family." The next month he added, "I had to read Wuthering Heights for English and I never enjoyed a book in all my life as much as that one."

3

He fled the set of Darryl Zanuck's The Egyptian, dressing up in the most expensive clothes he could find because they were looking for the Marlon who always wore a t-shirt and jeans.

4

While filming Mutiny on the Bounty, Marlon spied a Tahitian island and purchased it from the blind elderly American woman who lived there with forty cats and dogs. She had to go to Vallejo, CA for medical treatment. He bought the place for $200,000. Shortly after she moved she died.

5

A Harvard Medical School psychologist who slept with Marlon observed, "There are casual ladykillers and serious ladykillers. The casual ladykiller is a person who doesn't try to involve you in a relationship but seeks to get you only by the magnetism of his sexuality. A serious ladykiller has much more imagination and tries to capture you in more intricate ways - meaning that he involves you with his ideas, his thinking. The seduction is much more complicated - only then he has more trouble because women inevitably fall in love with him."

6

When he was trying to get his break in the theater, he was offered a part in a new play by Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh. Marlon later wrote, "I'd always thought he was dour, negative and too dark." He argued with a producer about "why I thought the play was ineptly written, poorly constructed, and would never be a success."

7

After he filmed the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire Marlon moved into an apartment near Carnegie Hall and seduced the entire group of young actresses at the Actor's Studio. He met Marilyn Monroe when he elbowed her in the face by accident. She replied, "There are no accidents." She invited him over for sex the week before she died. In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me he wrote, "I didn't sense any depression or clue of impending self-destruction during her call. That's why I'm sure she didn't commit suicide. If someone is terminally depressed, no matter how clever they may be, or how expertly they try to conceal it, they will always give themselves away. I've always had an unquenchable curiosity about people, and I believe I would have sensed something was wrong if thoughts of suicide were anywhere near the surface of Marilyn's mind. I have always believed she was murdered."

8

Jean Cocteau said of him, "Marlon is the only man who can make noise without disturbing anybody."

9

Marlon hated having sex with a condom on. He regarded it as base.

10

After meeting Marlon before they began shooting Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci said, "In Bacon you see people virtually throwing up their guts and doing a monkey's job on themselves with their own vomit. I found this same kind of appeal in Marlon."

11

He would always willingly supply the money for an abortion.

12

When The Godfather came around, Marlon was desperate for a role to revive his career. Francis Ford Coppola could not possibly ask him to audition, so he asked Marlon if he could come by the actor's Mulholland Drive home and "improvise" in front of a camera. After he saw the tape, producer Bob Evans said, "He looks Italian, fine. But who is he?" He did not recognize the man before him.

13

Marlon's mother was a furtive alcoholic. She would take quiet sips from a small bottle whenever she could. "When my mother drank," Marlon said, "her breath had a sweetness to it I lack the vocabulary to describe."

14

In the wake of Dr. King's death, Marlon felt an affinity for the Black Panthers. They did not share this positive feeling. "They told me that they despised me because I was just another knee jerk white liberal to them."

15

The day before A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore, Marlon telegrammed his father to say, NEED MONEY BY TONIGHT SHOW SPLENDID LETTER TO FOLLOW MARLON.

16

He believed that by dripping a wet towel soaked with hot water on his head, he would never go bald.

17

On the set of A Countess From Hong Kong, during a close-up, he asked Sophia Loren if she knew small hairs were coming out of her nose. She never spoke to him again.

18

After watching his performance in The Godfather, he said, "When I saw it the first time it made me sick. All I could see were my mistakes and I hated it."

19

If he liked you, he wanted to be close to you, even if just briefly. "Like a large number of men," he eventually admitted, "I too have had homosexual experiences and am not ashamed. I've never paid attention to what people said about me. Deep down I felt ambiguous and I'm not saying that to spite the seven out of ten women who consider me - wrongly perhaps - a sex symbol. According to me, sex is something that lacks precision. Let's say sex is sexless."

20

When Lew Wasserman tried to change the title of The Appaloosa to Southwest to Sonora, Marlon did not take it very well. He hired a group of mariachi players to go around Universal singing a song they had written called "Southwest to Sonora" until the studio aceded to his wishes.

21

In later years, Brando became very uptight about his weight. He would pull up the curtain whenever he changed clothes.

22

Marlon's son Christian spiralled out of control with drugs and alcohol as a teen. He would steal pot from neighbor Jack Nicholson's stash. If Jack caught him, Christian Brando would imitate his part in Chinatown, saying "You do that again and I'll break your fucking fingers, man."

23

On the set of Guys and Dolls, Sinatra and Brando just did not get along. One man never blew a line, the other wrote his dialogue on his hand. Frank's thugs followed him everywhere; Marlon was most happy completely alone. The only way they could get Marlon to go through with it was to buy him a white Thunderbird convertible.

24

On the set of The Fugitive Kind, Tennessee Williams screamed at Marlon, "I need radar equipment to hear what you're saying. If I can't hear my fucking dialogue, I'm going home."

25

As he traveled through France, he once spent the night with a woman in Ascain. "It's a terrible story," he told his friends, murmuring, "awful, awful, awful." They asked what happened, and he said, "I had a very nice time with her, and she made me a wonderful breakfast. I was thinking, 'Thank God she hasn't asked me for anything', but then when I was leaving, she did just that. She said, 'When shall we meet again?' It's too awful. That's what I had been afraid of all along."

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

"531 Miles From Aberdeen to Cardiff" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)

"Sea Shanty" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)