Douglas Fairbanks Jr., The Oscars & Simone OrlandoSunday, February 22, 2009
Yesterday afternoon Ballet BC dancer and choreographer, Simone Orlando faced my camera in my studio. I had my light very close and to one side. The dark side of her face had a luminous triangle of light underneath her eye. This triangle is the essence of Rembrandt lighting. That patch of light, in conjunction with her face, was magic.
Today is Oscar night and our family had an Oscar tradition for many years. It was an evening when my two daughters and Rosemary would go down to the basement (the place where for a long time I exiled our family TV) and watch the Oscars. I was never interested much in listening to actors thank their mothers. I enjoyed not being part of the group. At the same time I could discern a lovely bond among the three women. When Rebecca was born, 11 years ago, all it meant is that the three girls eventually became four. It changed further when Ale, my oldest daughter moved to Lillooet two years ago. I also brought our TV up from the cold into our den. Oscar night became Oscar night at Hilary’s. This involved the addition of yet another girl, Hilary’s mother-in-law.
Today it is even more different as my son-in-law will be there. Does he not know? Rosemary was almost listless about going. As we watch more films in the Turner Classic Movie channel she has even said to me, “I don’t even know who many of those actors and actresses who are nominated are." We both miss Ale.
At lunch today after her piano lessons Rebecca said, “Robert Pattinson is going to be present at the Oscars." Even though I had seen the film Twilight with Rebecca I had no idea who he was. Neither did Rosemary.
On Saturday I told Rosemary to call up Rebecca and ask her if she would want to be my assistant in my studio date with Simone Orlando. Rebecca politely declined, “No, I am going to play outside.”
A couple of years ago I took Rebecca back stage after a performance of Ballet BC. We were met by Simone Orlando who took Rebecca to her dressing room. Rebecca emerged some time later with a pair of Orlando’s point shoes. Rebecca was thrilled. My guess is that she must have placed them under her pillow that night.
I mulled over the above all day today and arrived at a conclusion.
One of the most lasting memories of my childhood (I was 8 or 9) is an image of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (I did not know it was Fairbanks at the time nor did I care) galloping in pursuit in Los Hermanos Corso (the Corsican Brothers). His face crept up in The Prisoner of Zenda and that wonderful film (one of Rebecca’s favourites) the 1939 Gunga Din with Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Joan Fontaine.
I remember drinking Toddy, the great Argentine powdered chocolate with my milk because in the Toddy-sponsored radio program Tarzán Rey de la Jungla which I listened to without fail every week Tarzan told us we could grow up to be strong like he was if we had it three times a day.
I was completely overwhelmed in admiration of Randolph Scott when I saw Colt .45. I saw him in the film because my grandmother loved westerns and we would go and see a string of them (until our stomachs ached) on Avenida Lavalle. It was from my mother that I heard first hand who these actor and actresses were, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Ronald Colman (“His wonderful voice, Alex, his wonderful voice in A Tale Of Two Cities!”), Gary Cooper in Beau Geste, Orson Welles in The Third Man, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon, Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet, Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, the two sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, Ralph Richardson in The Four Feathers, James Mason in The Desert Fox and 5 Fingers. I appreciated all her stories and I agreed with her preferences until she took me to see a film with Katherine Hepburn (who wore pants) and I found myself being confused and repelled. Then my mother placated me with The African Queen and I didn’t find her as scary. Through the years I have never confused the role that Gary Cooper played (ah! that romantic troofer of the French Foreign Legion) with his role as a film actor.
When it came to playing in the garden with my friends with our wooden swords, toy guns and rifles I found that I wasn’t really Douglas Fairbanks Jr, or Johnny Weissmuller of Randolph Scott. I was the characters they played in those films. I was the good Corsican twin, Tarzan, the cowboy with the loud Colt .45s, and Captain Blood not Louis Hayward. My concept of celebrity was limited as we had no TV and I read no magazines or newspapers. My concept of celebrity came from the stories my father and my mother told me. My mother told me of meeting up with Einstein at Princeton. She told me of being on the same ship as the electrical genius Steinmetz. She told me of a crazed piano player of the 20s called Moskosky. I was 6 when, while combing my hair, she told me my hair was like Hitler’s. “Who’s Hitler?” I asked. “A very bad man, “she answered.
My idea of celebrity was connected to what these celebrities did. Fairbanks was an espadachín (swordsman), Scott was a cowboy, Lois Hayward was a dashing pirate. I wanted to be an espadachín, a cowboy, a dashing pirate or a soldier like John Wayne.
The difference then between my concept of celebrity and Rebecca’s is that she does not want to do what Lindsay Lohan might want to do in a film, or be who Lindsay Lohan is in a film. Rebecca wants to be like Lindsay Lohan (the Lohan of celebrity magazines and TV programs) or even Lindsay Lohan herself. For Rebecca the celebrity is the person herself and not the role.
This means that Rebecca at age 11 does not associate with or want to be a ballet dancer like Simone Orlando, or a young pianist (she studies the piano) she might have seen on a program, or be a young female doctor working in Africa or be a hot young tennis player playing in the Australian Open. She doesn't even want to be actress. This is because in the celebrity age we live in she wants to be just the celebrity. there is to be no consideration of the role of that celebrity, be it an actress, athlete, scientist etc.
I may be off the mark when I equate Rebecca playing the computer game of dressing up celebrity girls and women with the game of playing being a celebrity who is dressing up for an Oscar night.
The aches and pains of endless rehearsals of a ballet dancer are too far from the idea of celebrity. When Simone Orlando was in my studio I could admit she was beautiful, intelligent and a super star of ballet. It was not important to me. What was important was that she is a ballerina. She has a skill that takes effort and time to achieve. Perhaps like Rebecca I don't think of all that effort. I think of the magic of being a ballerina, of being a dancer. It's not about Randolph Scott being a actor that acts. It's about Scott being the cowboy. It is about Simone Orlando being a dancer not a dancer who happens to dance. It is almost as if I could dream of riding that horse like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. I could somehow be Orlando's partner in a ballet in another time and place. Has our celebrity world dampened our ability to dream?
There are no more soldiers, swordsmen, cowboys, and private eyes. There are no more Pavlovas and Artur Rubensteins. There are celebrities and us.
And put another way I am into the dancer that is Simone and not as much into Simone the dancer.