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Entries in ellen copperfield (35)

Thursday
Sep202012

In Which We Begin Dating Jack Nicholson

Star in the Heavens

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

That's the great self-indulgence, isn't it? To do what interests you?

- Katharine Hepburn on the director John Huston

Anjelica Huston was born in the absence of her father. Weeks earlier, shortly after John Huston began shooting The African Queen in the Congo, he killed his first elephant. A week previous to that, the married director (not to Anjelica's mother, naturally) had made a pass at the film's 22-year old script coordinator. She cried. Lauren Bacall noted, "He was a little frightening to watch."

Anjelica's mother Ricki Soma eventually became John's fourth wife. As an eighteen year old ballerina she had been on the cover of Life magazine:

Until he divorced his third wife, Evelyn Keyes, Ricki officially occupied the position of John Huston's mistress. Still, they lived together in Malibu. Ricki's first pregnancy was something of a surprise, but by the seventh month, John was divorced and they were married. The boy was named Walter Anthony after John's father, and they called him Tony, after Ricki's.

John was soon cheating again, this time with a woman who was essentially Ricki Huston's double, Suzanne Flon. To his surprise, he fell in love with her. (One of John's exes once called him "an angel with a gun in his pocket.") Proceeds from his next picture, the popular 1953 jaunt Moulin Rouge, allowed Huston to resume a more lavish lifestyle. He rented a house in Ireland and moved Ricki there. John drove very fast everywhere he went.

St. Clerans

In Ireland Huston's son Tony almost died in a horse accident, and Anjelica lost part of her finger in a lawn mower. She also fell over their dog Rosie and badly bruised her hip. Another time, she put her arm in a clothes wringer and could barely extract herself from the device. In time, Ricki would move with the kids to Italy. But instead of then divorcing her philandering husband, she found a house in Galway, Ireland, and the family stayed together.

John's next project was a collaboration about the life of Freud with Jean-Paul Sartre. The two giants hated each other immediately. John said of Sartre, "One eye going in one direction, and the eye itself wasn't very beautiful, like an omelet. And he had a pitted face." Sartre was constantly writing down things he himself said in conversation, and he never stopped talking. The lack of respect was mutual. Sartre wrote to Simone de Beauvoir, "Through this immensity of identical rooms, a great Romantic, melancholic and lonely, aimlessly roams. Our friend Huston is absent, aged, and literally unable to speak to his guests... his emptiness is purer than death."

Anjelica lived in her own little world, only associating with the children of the household's groom. Little of their parents' angst reached the kids. Anjelica would later tell biographer Lawrence Grobel, "They were sort of two stars in the heavens when I was growing up." Anjelica wanted to become a nun, because they were the only other women she associated with on a regular basis. When she told her father of her intentions, he said, "That's great, when are you going to start?"

Her parents kept their secrets close to the vest. For a long time she did not know her father had impregnated another woman, a young Indian actress named Zoe Sallis. When John finally decided to rid himself of Ricki, they barely informed the kids. Anjelica later said, "We were just told, 'You have to go to school in London now. And your mother will live in London with you, and you'll come back to Ireland for holidays.'" She was put into the Lycée Français, where she was expected to learn in French. For tax reasons, Ricki would not grant him a divorce. John kept Ricki in London and Zoe in Rome.

John, Danny and Zoe Sallis

Once, at a family meal, the discussion revolved around Van Gogh. "I said somewhat flippantly that I didn't like Van Gogh," Anjelica recalled in Lawrence Grobel's 1989 portrait of the family, The Hustons. He said, 'You don't like Van Gogh? Then name six of his paintings and tell me why you don't like Van Gogh.' I couldn't, of course. And he said, 'Leave the room, and until you know what you're talking about, don't come back with your opinions to the dinner table.'"

They still visited Ireland in the summer. The girls would sit in the barn's hay loft, watching the horses have sex. A stallion would take on mare after mare. Anjelica's friend Joan Buck noted, "Anjelica and I thought this was the way it went."

Anjelica with Joan Buck, Christmas 1959

Anjelica hated taking the London underground to school. She wished her mother had more money so she could come to school in a limo like the other girls. Her father was increasingly absent, and her mother became pregnant by an English writer/aristocrat with a family of his own. She did not tell Anjelica she was with child until the baby's birth was three months away. (Anjelica recalled, "I thought she was putting on weight.") A week later, John Huston told her for the first time about her half-brother Danny, now two years old.

Anjelica's emotions were sky high one minute, pathetically low the next. While she was away in Ireland, her poodle Mindy died. John Huston goaded a visiting John Steinbeck into playing Santa Claus for the kids. Steinbeck's wife almost stroked out.

By the age of fifteen, Anjelica was the second-tallest girl in her class. Suddenly, John's little girl had become a woman, and in makeup and adult clothing, she was more than a simple beauty. Her mother encouraged adoption of the latest fashions, wanting to relive her own youth in her children. Ricki's friend Dirk Bogarde would remark, "There seemed to be no age difference at all."

They parted ways on the issue of drugs. Ricki desperately wanted to keep Anjelica away from London's scene. When a producer on John's new project wanted Anjelica for a role (it would have kept costs down), her mother strenously objected to that as well. Anjelica wanted to play Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's version of Shakespeare's play, and had been encouraged by several callbacks. Her father made the decision for her.

"A Walk with Love and Death"

When she showed up on set of A Walk with Love and Death, John was incensed to see she had cut her hair. (Extensions were required and took hours to insert properly.) Father and daughter did not get along on set. She later told Grobel, "The fact that I was ungrateful and petulant about it was hardly something he could have expected. Katharine Hepburn didn't criticize his direction? Why should I?"

Her next gig was as understudy to Marianne Faithful in Tony Richard's stage version of Hamlet. It helped shape her into a somewhat decent performer. Although news that a topless photograph might appear in an Italian magazine horrified Ricki, she went to great lengths to get her daughter her first spread in Vogue. The following January, Ricki's car hit an Italian pothole and her boyfriend swerved into the path of an incoming van. Anjelica's only mother was instantly killed.

Bogarde said, "Ricki was dead. I'd never see those humorous eyes, the sadness beneath them almost concealed; I'd never see the idiotic daisy-chains, hear the laughter, discuss the latest book, play, ballet or opera; never see her come in from a walk, muddy, wet, with the dogs. Life would go on, but never quite in the same way ever again." John Huston was not in great shape either. Even though he had difficulty breathing, he still smoked four cigars a day. (He tried pot once years before and had to be hospitalized.)

Her mother's death pushed Anjelica deeper into modeling. A relationship with photographer Bob Richardson was a tonic of sorts; he kept her extremely thin and yelled at her constantly.

Richard Avedon had told Ricki he thought Anjelica's shoulders were too big. Despite that, her unique look found work. "I had a big nose," she later said. "I was still growing into my body. The idea of beauty for me was Jean Shrimpton — big blue eyes and little noses, wide bee-stung mouths. It was an odd dichotomy — and this happens to many girls who find themselves in front of the camera a lot, who truly don't like their looks. It's almost as thought they can forget their looks in front of the camera. And I used to love working for the camera. But when faced with the reality of my pictures, I was generally deeply depressed." New York became her adopted home.

When her father remarried again, Anjelica was not even invited. When her relationship with Richardson flamed out, she began staying in the Palisades with John and his new wife, Cici. In time she moved into a house on Beachwood Drive. It was Cici Huston who would introduce her to Jack Nicholson. She was just 22, he was 36. They began dating straight away, in an on-and-off relationship that would consume sixteen years of her life.

It was March of 1977 when Anjelica headed to Jack's house to pick up some clothes. She intended to take them back to the apartment of her new boyfriend, Ryan O'Neal. Instead of Jack or an empty house, she found Roman Polanski and a thirteen year old girl named Sandra. When the police came back to the house with Polanski to search, they found both Anjelica and the cocaine in her purse. In order to protect herself from prosecution, she agreed to testify against Polanski. Without her testimony, it was doubtful there would ever be a conviction. She agreed, and the director fled.

Things with O'Neal were no better than they had been with Jack. He frequently exploded at Anjelica's half-sister Allegra, who John cared for as his own. Allegra still did not know who her real father was, and it was John's new wife Cici who finally forced the issue, informing the girl herself. In time, Anjelica returned to Nicholson. She came along when he travelled to England to shoot The Shining with Stanley Kubrick. They broke up for good in 1989.

In 1980 she was involved in a car accident which would alter the rest of her life. She was hit by a drunk 16 year old driving a BMW. She was not wearing a seatbelt and her face was decimated. She immediately directed the attending ambulance to Cedars-Sinai, sensing she would need extensive plastic surgery. When she left the hospital, her nose was actually looking somewhat better. She changed her life, moving out of Jack's house and living alone for the first time.

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 Simone de Beauvoir. 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?


Wednesday
Sep052012

In Which We Treasure Our Ongoing Relationship

All Her Gifts

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

When Frank Sinatra began to pursue Mia Farrow, he spent money as fast as he could earn it, so fast he was constantly teetering on the verge of collapse but he was still Frank Sinatra. No woman was unavailable to him. If he saw a particularly attractive woman with a date, he'd send a friend to pry the girl away.

Mia's father John introduced his daughter to Frank Sinatra at the age of eleven. John Farrow was sleeping with Frank's first wife, Ava Gardner. The affair had separated her dad from her mother, the actress Maureen O'Sullivan. John Farrow told Frank to stay away from his daughter.

Farrow was a Hollywood girl, although due to a childhood bout of polio, extremely inexperienced in matters of sex. When Frank spotted her watching him on set, he sent someone over to ask how old Mia was. She was nineteen. When Mia approached him, she dropped her purse, and everything came spilling out, including her retainer. She had never even heard him sing.

A Chicago reporter once asked Ava Gardner what she saw in Sinatra, calling him "a 119 pound has-been." She told him, "Well, I'll tell you nineteen pounds is cock."

with her cat Malcolm

Their first date ended up as a screening of his directorial debut, None But the Brave. It was a terrible picture, but Frank's move was to hold her hand. He immediately invited her to Palm Springs. When she tried to beg off, he sent a plane for her. Mia kept her cat on a leash during the trip. They slept together that second night, Mia's first time and Frank's one millionth. The premature ejaculation that had often bothered him never was a problem with Mia Farrow. Faking an orgasm was soon as easy as opening her eyes.

For Christmas, he gave her a diamond koala bear. Next Christmas, her present, wrapped neatly, was a gold cigarette case she kept joints in. It was inscribed, "Mia, Mia, with love, Francis."

Kitty Kelley's biography of Sinatra argues that it was Mia who controlled Frank. It is possible that Frank and his friends willfully mistook Mia's wonderment at being with "Frank Sinatra" as a kind of sinister infatuation. I suppose it is also possible, as Kelley alleges, that "she was extremely manipulative for such a young woman."

Things settled into a familiar routine at first, Mia was not welcome with Frank's friends. For awhile, she understood his discretion. In her memoir What Falls Away, she writes, "After a while he moved my horse to Palm Springs and I rode in the desert. I discovered an oasis, a place that had been a water stop for covered wagons, where Salvador enjoyed splashing in the muddy pond and where I would visit an ancient Native American man who lived in a log cabin, thickly shaded by palm trees. He would always give me a glass of bitter, warm beer and recite beautiful Indian prayers. I was never able to persuade Frank to get on a horse."

riding her horse Salvador

In the days before Frank's fiftieth birthday party, Mia became so angry at being disinvited she threw an ashtray at his head. When he came home, she had cut off all her hair in anguish. After one fight, he gave her a yellow Thunderbird.

Few knew about their relationship, and then everyone did. Some of Frank's buddies were astonished by his change of heart when it came to dating a younger woman. When he saw Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon, he harangued Wilder's wife about the film. "He was quite vehement about it," Wilder told Kelley. "So vehement he made my wife cry. He said he didn't like the picture because he thought it was immoral for an elderly man to make love in the afternoon to a young girl."

with Salvador Dali

Mia's Australian-born, womanizing father had died of a heart attack in 1963. An available replacement was Salvador Dali. When she married Frank, Dali's wedding gift consisted of an owl, parts of a frog, and a moon rock. When she cut her hair, Dali told her it constituted "a mythical suicide."

wedding day 1966

Mia sampled a variety of drugs, usually to Frank's considerable annoyance. Her favorite was LSD. She called Frank "Charlie Brown." He stuck to whiskey, consuming a bottle of Jack Daniel's in a single sitting. He referred to Mia as "Angel Face." He was forty-eight years old. When Frank threw Mia a 20th birthday party with hundreds of guests, she became so unhappy she started to cry.

Mia despised Las Vegas. When Frank performed there, she slept with her head on the table. Frank was accustomed to having a variety of women in his life, many of whom were documented by FBI surveillance. Mia also took a younger companion, eventually astonished at how little her new man drank! Frank still found himself unsure. When he introduced Mia to Shirley MacLaine, asking for her opinion, Shirley told him, "What do you say about someone who looks like a twelve year old boy?" Frank began taking testerone shots in order to perform in the bedroom.

in Miami 1967

When Marilyn Monroe was in the throes of her pill addiction, Frank gave her a white poodle she named Maf, as in Mafia.

They came back to each other for good when Frank showed her a $85,000 engagement ring. Panic had driven him to it, the idea of being truly alone. Marriage was what she wanted. He told her, she recalled in What Falls Away, "I have respect for life in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don't believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I'm for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniel's."

After Jackie Mason did a few jokes about the age difference between the two, a thug punched him in the face and broke his jaw.

Frank oscillated between two crowds, the kind of people who hung Picassos and Renoirs on their walls, and his Vegas friends, more likely to put their fist through a wall than to notice what was on it. He was seamless in both social circles, Mia was the judged or judging one. A infamous boat trip to Hyannisport was covered by the press as if was the Super Bowl. It was impossible to hear the person next to you because of the persistent sound of helicopters. "You look like a girl of thirteen or fourteen," Claudette Colbert sniveled at her.

They honeymooned in London. When the wives of Frank's friends came over to take Mia shopping, she hid in the bathroom. The night before her wedding to Frank at the Sands, he had a prostitute sent over. The night before he'd fucked a former flame. Hours before the ceremony, he gave Ava Gardner the news and told her he would always love her. Mia told her friends it felt something like an adoption.

photo by Bill Eppridge

Frank was strongly against Mia starring in Rosemary's Baby. He told her that he couldn't see her in the part, that it sounded like "some kinky devil shit" to him. There were other differences Frank was a lifelong Democrat, and Mia was against the Vietnam War. She sent a bird in a golden cage to A Dandy In Aspic co-star Laurence Harvey, viewing the animal as herself. Frank believed in nature, the birds, the sky...

Other men made Frank insanely jealous. Publicity photos with Laurence Harvey for Aspic freaked him out completely, even though Mia never so much as exchanged a kiss with a man. If he didn't want her to be cast in a particular role, his mob cronies would make a threatening call to the producer. When he heard that Mia shared an intimate dance with his archenemy Robert Kennedy, Frank flipped out. He began cheating on her with the actress Lee Remick, and he could not get the image of her and Kennedy out of his mind.

Frank's control was temporarily replaced by Polanski's directorial obsessions. Although Mia only weighed 98 pounds, Roman wanted her to lose more weight for the last scenes in Rosemary's Baby. Polanski and Cassavetes spent most of the shoot fighting over Polanski's directing style, the man's insistence on shooting multiple takes. Polanski was really into The Mamas and the Papas; Frank demanded Mia bail on the production of Rosemary's Baby, envious of the time it took away from him. She refused. Upon signing the divorce papers the moment they arrived unexpectedly at the New York set, Mia began spending her weekends with Roman and his wife Sharon Tate.

with John Cassavetes

When Robert Vaughn was on the $10,000 Pyramid, he gave the clue for Frank Sinatra by telling his partner, "Mia Farrow's father." She got it in one. To be fair, Frank did use the same aftershave as Mia's dad.

Despite the divorce, Mia still hoped for some kind of reconciliation. Frank ran hot and cold; one minute he was screaming at her to put on a sweater to hide her thin arms, the next he was giving her an antique music box. Her relationship with Frank raised her profile as an actress, allowing her to demand $100,000 per film. When it became wholly apparent Rosemary's Baby was going to launch Mia's acting career into the stratosphere, he grew incensed at her.

Mia and the Beatles minus Ringo

Mia flew to meet a friend in New Delhi, far enough from Sinatra to forget all about him. She later wrote of this time, "I tried to meditate for the recommended twelve hours a day, but I rarely came close." Lepers tried to touch her hair, the water was far from safe to drink. The Beatles suddenly arrived at her ashram. Paul and John wrote a song for her sister. She became friendly with their girlfriends, realizing how long it had been since she had talked to people her own age.

Mia shot a Joseph Losey/Elizabeth Taylor flick, Secret Ceremony, in London, living by herself in the Grosvenor Square apartment where she and Frank had spent their honeymoon. Her secretary told her, "If you kill yourself, I'll never forgive you." The flat brought back too many bad memories, so she moved to a rented home in the country near George and Ringo. She spoke to Frank from time-to-time on the phone, and eventually she realized it was over between them.

She kept the yellow Thunderbird, silver place settings, a few jewels. She began adopting animals out of desperation. She bought her mother a ring at Cartier. She took in eleven cats, and later, fifteen children. She gave the diamond koala bear away.

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 adolescence of Barbra Streisand.

"Long Vows" - Band of Horses (mp3)

"Heartbreak on the 101" - Band of Horses (mp3)

Mirage Rock is the new album from Band Horses, and it will be released worldwide on September 18th.


Friday
May252012

In Which We Profess Various Apologies

Description of Kurt Cobain

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

At the age of eleven, Kurt Cobain was the subject of a description to be published in his school's newspaper, the Puppy Press, under the headline, "Meatball of the Month":

Kurt is a seventh grader at our school. He has blonde hair and blue eyes. He thinks school is alright. Kurt's favorite class is band and his favorite teacher is Mr. Hepp. His favorite food and drink are pizza and coke. His favorite saying is, "excuse you." His favorite song is "Don't Bring Me Down" by E.L.O. and his favorite rock group is Meatloaf. His favorite TV show is "Taxi" and his favorite actor is Burt Reynolds.

Kurt's biographer Charles R. Cross writes, "his doodles mostly were of cars, trucks, and guitars, but he also began to craft his own crude pornography." He had many pets. He loved animals, taking care of strays.

When he was eight his grandparents took him to Disneyland for the first time. His mother drove him from Aberdeen to Seattle where he took a plane to Arizona. It was a whirlwind, stretching his experience of the world.

In the second grade, Red Dye Number Two was removed from his diet. He could not concentrate on any one thing for long, and this was thought to be the culprit. A doctor prescribed Ritalin to remedy the problem. Kurt possessed an overactive mind.

The Cobains

Almost every time someone writes about Kurt's childhood, they invent a different way from the last person who tried it. One biography of Kurt describes him "a kind of menace," another paints him as a sensitive artist. It is as if the person talking about Kurt was never themselves young. He was without doubt his family's horcrux: he simply was not very interested in being anything they were.

at age fourteen

He was artistically gifted from the first, but he could not inure himself from cricitism. When a peer could not understand one of his paintings, he lashed out at the willfully obtuse fourteen-year-old girl. His mother divorced Kurt's father when he was nine. She later said, "Everybody was telling him how much they loved his art and he was never satisfied with it."

Later, his worried parents would decide to finally send him to a child psychiatrist. He told Kurt to fit in more.

As soon as his parents got divorced, Kurt stopped eating. At the age of ten, he transferred to a new elementary school in Montesano closer to his father. Girls began noticing him for the first time, his blue eyes. He loved television, never found himself without something fascinating to absorb in silence. His favorite shows were Taxi and Saturday Night Live.

He was not happy in his town, and wanted to live with his mother again. She had moved on to an even worse relationship. Later, when Kurt confronted his mother about why she'd forced him to stay with his father, she told him, "Kurt, you don't even know what it was like. You would have ended up in juvie or jail."

His sketches became more advanced. He once showed a sketch of a vagina to a friend, and when his friend asked him what it was, he laughed.

1989

He was probably not ADHD, but he was still on a pill regimen: not just Ritalin, but sedatives, too. When something was wrong he knew where to go. He felt he could not really depend on anyone else. In junior high, he called his teachers racist and got high whenever he could. He avoided school to be alone, not to hang out with friends.

LSD, marijuana, mushrooms and amyl nitrate. Plus whatever he was taking on script.

His parents became even more concerned when, at the age of fifteen, Kurt composed his first short film, Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide, which featured fake blood pouring out of his wrists. He had thought Jimi Hendrix killed himself and wanted to evade the world in a similar fashion.

He stayed with his uncle for awhile, but the man and his wife had an infant daughter and for space reasons, they made Kurt move out. He was shuttled around between other relatives for a time. No one seemed to take much of an interest in the boy. Back in Aberdeen for high school, he was picked on more than he was admired. His still beautiful mother started dating younger men before she married a longshoreman who regarded Kurt as a kind of pestilence or plague.

In his new art class, one assignment encouraged the students to show an object as it developed. Kurt drew sperm. A classmate said, "It was such a different mental attitude. People began to talk about him, wondering, 'What does he think of?'"

When he moved back in with his father, the man made Kurt pawn his only guitar. Kurt left after he had redeemed the instrument, and turned down the Navy. Out of desperation his mother put down a $100 deposit on an abandoned house for her son. One of Kurt's first ideas was to install a tank full of turtles. One of his other ideas was to change music forever.

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 drinking of Malcolm Lowry.

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?

"Misery Loves Company" - Nirvana (mp3)

"Junk Yard" - Nirvana (mp3)

Kurt as Barney for a Halloween concert

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