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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 (46)

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

Tuesday
May152012

In Which We Become A Useful Drunk

Substance Abuse

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Malcolm Lowry's biggest bout of binge drinking began when his suitcases were lost en route to New York in 1954. His wife Margerie was used to dealing with his inebriation; his other caretaker in the city was David Markson, a young novelist who had written a critical appreciation of Lowry's 1947 novel Under the Volcano. Markson later wrote,

The man could not shave himself. In lieu of a belt, he knotted a rope or a discarded necktie around his waist. Mornings, he needed two or three ounces of gin in his orange juice if he was to steady his hand to eat the breakfast that would very likely prove his only meal of the day. Thereafter a diminishing yellow tint in the glass might belie the fact that now he was drinking the gin neat, which he did for as many hours as it took him to. Ultimately he would collapse sometimes sensible enough of his condition to lurch toward a bed, though more often he would crash down into a chair, and once it was across my phonograph.

During a subsequent party held in his honor, Lowry pre-gamed by drinking a bottle of shaving lotion. Markson recalled that during the event "suddenly, cupping his hand to his mouth, he began to make sounds that can only be called 'beeps.'"

Lowry's favorite drink was a constantly evolving subject. He was not a mean drunk, particularly, although he was always careless. His constitution was actually state-of-the-art to be able to absorb the kind of damage he inflicted on it and survived. He saw drinking not as an art, or a path to understanding, but an inescapable part of his daily existence. Once Markson opened his eyes in the morning to find Lowry leering, "Do you have the decency to offer me a drink?"

Lowry and Aiken in Spain 1932Through Malcolm Lowry's life, people were always trying to get him clean. If they liked his writing, they were far more inclined to put up with his behavior, which perhaps seems obvious, but the one thing really has little to do with the other. 

When he first arrived in the United States to stay with Conrad Aiken, he carried only a ukelele and a bunch of notebooks.

with conrad aiken 1931

He absolutely despised New York. He wrote,

In my experience odi et amo that particular city it favors brief and furious outbursts, but not the long haul. Moreover for all its drama and existential fury, or perhaps because of it, it's a city where it can be remarkably hard or so it seems to me to get on the right side of one's despair.

Acapulco in march of 1946

In his drunken state, he often wrote letters. He would usually start penning screeds to his friends, agents and publishers just when he had approached rock bottom, so they took on something of a desperate tone. Writing to his agent in 1967, he managed, "Please don't say I'm a shit...for not writing more when you have dealt so kindly with me. It's just that my mind won't work. I am having a lot to contend with right now."

Lowry believed that versions of mescal he imbibed might provoke useful hallucinations, although in reality he was making a common error. The drink had nothing to do with mescaline. 

He was capable of getting in any amount of trouble while under the influence. On occasion he would drink himself under so badly that he resorted to asking witnesses if he had been violated sexually. But for the most part his tolerance was high enough that he did not black out completely.

February 1946

It seems stupid, in writing about Malcolm Lowry, to wonder why he drank so often and so much. Yet in his case, alcoholism constituted such a destructive act it almost demands an answer to a silly question.

Douglas Day wrote in his biography of Lowry that "Orally fixated types are prone to excessive drinking. Sons of austere and autocratic father are apt to express their rebellion against that parent by drinking. Guilt and fear, of sexual origin, are likely to express themselves in drinking. Reaction against a rigidly authoritarian religious upbringing may manifest itself in drinking."

March 1947

Day continues, explaining that "Lowry drank not so much because he chose to, as because he had to: from one source or another, he had acquired, by the age of eighteen, enough guilt — sexual and otherwise — and resentment and insecurity to have made it almost impossible for him to be anything but an alcoholic. He must have been an utterly miserable young man."

what became the Calle Nicaragua in "Under the Volcano"

The protagonist of Lowry's most famous work, Under the Volcano, spends about two-thirds of the novel under the influence. Even the book's most dedicated admirers seem to grow tired of this. The Consul's intoxication, at some point, ceases to be charming. He drinks primarily because he is lonely, but also because he is is afraid of sex, other people and the possibility he may be attracted to men.

Of the book Lowry argued that it was "designed, counterdesigned and interwelded that it could be read an indefinite number of times and still not have yielded all its meanings or its drama or its poetry." If only this did not sound like an excuse for his life rather than a strength of his literature.

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 Elvis Presley.

"When Will I See You Again" - Lord Huron (mp3)

"Son of a Gun" - Lord Huron (mp3)