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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

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Simply cannot go back to them

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Entries in ellen copperfield (37)

Wednesday
Dec282011

In Which We Prefer To Be Simone De Beauvoir

Paris Girl

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.

at her usual table in the Café de Flore, 1945

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 life of Elvis Presley. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Roses" - The Shivers (mp3)

"L.I.E." - The Shivers (mp3)

"Charades" - The Shivers (mp3)


Tuesday
Nov012011

In Which We Start Dating Elvis Presley

This is the first in a two-part series.

An Elvis Timeline

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Thanks to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen's supremely detailed 1999 book, Elvis, Day by Day, the trivial details of Elvis Presley's life are open and accessible to any inquiring fan. Guralnick and Jorgensen used letters, receipts and financial records to tell Elvis' story. Things were gangbusters for a while there.

January 9th, 1935

Elvis' stillborn twin brother Jesse is buried near Tupelo, MS.

June 1st, 1938

Elvis' father and uncle arrive at Mississippi State Penitentiary to serve a three year prison term for forging a check.

September 1st, 1941

Elvis enters the first grade.

March 10th, 1943

Vernon Presley quits his gig at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Tupelo.

October 3rd, 1945

Elvis places fifth in a children's talent competition at the Mississippi-Alabama state fair, singing "Old Shep," a song about a poisoned dog. He receives $5.

at Graceland in 1957

September 3rd, 1948

Bullies cut the strings of Elvis' first guitar. His fellow eighth graders raise enough money to buy him new strings. In a few months, Elvis' family moves to Memphis.

September 20th, 1949

The Presley family moves into the Memphis Housing Authority projects. Their two bedroom apartment is $35 per month.

September 20th, 1950

Elvis' grades continue to drop, although he receives an A in English. The following summer he gets his first job, operating a drill press at a company that produces rocket shells.

February 1st, 1952

Elvis' mother Gladys gives up her job as a nurse's aide because the family is making too much money to qualify for public housing. She later went back to her job when Elvis became so tired he fell asleep during class.

February 26th, 1954

Elvis starts dating 14-year-old Dixie Locke. They mostly go to double features at the drive-in.

October 2nd, 1954

After recording a few tracks, Elvis makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and quits his job at Crown Electric.

January 3rd, 1955

Elvis buys a car to transport himself and his band from gig to gig. It is a used 1951 Cosmopolitan Lincoln with a rack on top for the bass.

March 23rd, 1955

Elvis flies on an airplane for the first time for a New York audition in front of talent scouts. They laugh in his face.

February 22nd, 1956

After touring constantly over the past year and a half and recording his first professional singles, Elvis collapses from exhaustion outside a show in Jacksonville. He is twenty-one years old.

March 7th, 1956

Elvis reads the script for what would have been his first acting role, The Rainmaker. His untrustworthy agent Colonel Tom Parker tells him not to show to it anyone except his parents.

June 5th, 1956

After a performance on The Milton Berle Show, the Times claims that "Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability." Another reporter writes of "a display of primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper."

June 20th, 1956

Elvis violates Memphis' segregation laws by appearing at a "colored night" at the Fairgrounds with his girlfriend June Juanico, formerly an admiring fan.

July 21st, 1956

Elvis trades in his Cadillac for a pink 1956 Lincoln Premiere.

August 16th, 1956

Elvis flies to Los Angeles for principal photography on Love Me Tender. He goes away with Natalie Wood for a weekend. She was also dating Robert Vaughn, and later said of Elvis, "He felt he had been given this gift, this talent, by God. He didn't take it for granted. He thought it was something that he had to protect. He had to be nice to people, otherwise, God would take it all away."

at his girlfriend's house in Biloxi

February 25th, 1957

In a Memphis newspaper Louis Armstrong tells a reporter, "I'm definitely gonna do a record with him. You'd be surprised at what we could do together. You ask me if I think he's good? How many Cadillacs was it he bought? That boy's no fool."

March 10th, 1957

Elvis' former girlfriend and sometimes companion June Juanico informs him she's engaged to another man.

April 6th, 1957

Villanova students throw eggs at Elvis' face, striking only his guitar. For next two months, Elvis stays at the Beverly Wilshire so he can record new tracks at MGM studios before filming Jailhouse Rock.

Elvis at the gates of Graceland soon after they were installed, April 1957

July 5th, 1957

Elvis' Jailhouse Rock co-star Judy Tyler dies in a car accident in Wyoming.

July 13th, 1957

After one of his handlers introduces him to 19-year-old Anita Wood, a beauty contest winner he saw on Memphis TV, the girl has dinner at Graceland with Elvis and his parents. He tries to get her in bed that night but she declines.

September 20th, 1957

Elvis and his band part ways after they complain to the press about their compensation. He fires his new guitarist early in 1958 after the man's friend is caught fondling a poster of Jayne Mansfield.

October 7th, 1957

Elvis attends a wrestling show and goes home with a female wrestler named Penny Banner afterwards.

Elvis and Judy Tyler on the set of Jailhouse Rock

March 21st, 1958

Elvis buys a 1956 Ford for Anita Wood.

March 24st, 1958

Elvis enters the army in Memphis and is bused over to Arkansas. Later in the week, a riot breaks out when he is spotted at a truck stop in Texas.

June 4th, 1958

During his furlough in Memphis, Elvis records material for his planned absence and continually rents out the Fairgrounds and a local skating rink for parties.

August 9th, 1958

Elvis finishes up his course in Advanced Tank Training.

August 14th, 1958

The failing liver of Elvis' mother takes her life. In six weeks Elvis arrives in Germany for his deployment.

in Germany

December 21st, 1958

Elvis brings a live-in secretary to Germany to handle his fan mail. He drives a leased white BMW 507 along with a black Mercedes sedan.

March 5th, 1959

Elvis starts dating a German actress and visits the Moulin Rouge in Munich.

April 13th, 1959

Elvis' gig in the camp is driving visitors around to celebrate the 3rd Armored Division's 18th anniversary. His army salary is $122.30 a month.

September 13th, 1959

Elvis starts dating a 14-year-old named Priscilla Beaulieu. Her father serves in the United States Navy. Her mother's infatuation with Elvis predates her own. Her parents encourage the couple. She sneaks cigarettes behind his back.

Priscilla at Elvis' departure from Germany

March 5th, 1960

Elvis is released from the army at 9:15 a.m in New Jersey. Three days later in Memphis, he meets up with Anita Wood for the first time since he left the country. When she asks him about Priscilla, he tells Anita, "She's just a friend."

April 8th, 1960

Anita Wood dyes her hair black to match Elvis'.

July 21st, 1960

At a bullshit ceremony, Elvis receives his first-degree black belt in karate.

September 3rd, 1960

Elvis pays cash for a black Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II.

October 25th, 1960

Elvis' purchase of a monkey at Katz Drug Store for $123.55 completes a collection of dogs, parrots, chicken, pigs, and mynah birds.

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.

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"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"It's Now or Never" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"Blue Hawaii" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

Wednesday
Oct192011

In Which Mia Farrow Catches The Eye Of Frank Sinatra

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.

"Radioactive" - Marina and the Diamonds (mp3)

"Hollywood" - Marina and the Diamonds (mp3)

"Shampain" - Marina and the Diamonds (mp3)