Miss Havisham & Estella RevisitedSunday, January 31, 2010
In a previous blog I wrote this about my childhood obsession with Estella from Great Expectations.
When I was 6, I fell madly in love with a cold and unreachable Filipina girl in Buenos Aires called Isabel Opisso whom I met in an excursion to Anchorena in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I never saw her again. Like Pip she was in my dreams every night for a long time. A couple of years later our teacher read us Great Expectations in class during a month. I fell madly in love with cold and unreachable Estella.
In Dickens's Great Expectations Miss Havisham (my impression, left) wears only one shoe, because when she learned that Compeyson had jilted her, she had not yet put on the other shoe. When I took this photograph of a friend, an Argentine tango partner, a few years ago I immediately saw Miss Havisham. I wonder where Isabel Opisso might be and if she ever married.
Just a few days ago Rosemary watched (it was our first time) the 1946 David Lean version of Great Expectations. The reason for the airing of the film in the Turner Classics Channel had to do with the recent death of Jean Simmons. It is Simmons who plays the young girl Estella (she was 19) in the film. Both Rosemary and I were disappointed when the older Estella was not Simmons but a toothy Valerie Hobson.
This excellent film reinforced my memory of my childhood awakening into an interest in the opposite sex when I met Isabel Opisso and then discovered Estella in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
In many ways my very own Rosemary after 41 years of marriage sometimes feels like that coldly remote Estella that Jean Simmons so beautifully portrays in the film.
Today we took the children (our grandchildren) to Watermania in Richmond. Rosemary was her usual serious and worry self. But when I told her that there were a couple of hot tubs in between the wave pool, the swimming pools, the diving pools and the water slides she smiled. She doesn’t often smile.
My mother-in-law was sweet and pleasant (no Miss Havisham, was she) but I wonder if she didn’t teach her daughter Rosemary to break the hearts of all men.
As I watched Jean Simmons I waited for her voice to break. It never did. Not yet anyway. It was in 1953 that my parents took me to see The Robe at the Cine Gran Rex, on Calle Corrientes in Buenos Aires. In that film Jean Simmons’ voice breaks. It breaks just as the voice of Deborah Kerr breaks. That break in their voice makes them that much more appealing to me. While my mother enjoyed the over the top and miscast performance of Marlon Brando in Désirée my eyes did not stray from Jean Simmons (below as Désirée) for a second. I had yet to discover Grace Kelly, another actress with that kind of a voice. At 12 those voices were appealing because they weren’t aggressive as that of Katherine Hepburn’s. My mother had taken me to see a film with her. I was confused with Hepburn’s low voice and her pants. It was only many years later that I began to appreciate that there were other women besides the ones with voices that broke.
And I as thought of those voices I realized that I can remember the voices of many actors, Herbert Marshall, Stewart Granger, Ronald Colman, Robert Mongomery, Randolph Scott, Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn (does her voice break just a bit?), Jack Palance, Alec Guinness, Ava Gardner, and just about every actor and actress that is now dead. But I cannot remember, nor could I identify in a recording the voice of Brad Pitt.
According to my friend John Lekich it has all to do in that the actors and actresses of old took voice lessons. Or perhaps I saw so many of their films that the memory has remained to this day.
When Jean Simmons says to Pip (Anthony Wager), “You may kiss me if you like.” I just about died. I was 8 again. I was Pip.
The illustrations here are by Charles Green who was the illustrator for the 1877 edition of Great Expectations.