Tuesday, October 12, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 9

“Well, let’s see, where should I begin? I’m sure Jack told you boys, excuse me, young men, about my early years. I think I’ll start today with the Greyhound Bus.

It was an early morning in June when I left Paradise Falls to go to Henderson and catch the Greyhound Bus that would take me to California. My brother George drove me in his pickup truck. By this point my father was too old and unfit to drive. The alcohol didn’t help that much either. I think the alcohol aged him faster than necessary, but that’s not what this story is about. This story is about the exciting moment that I left to pursue my dream.”

On the sofa, the three of them watched her, waiting for what she would say next. None of them seemed to know what spell they were under, but Jack could see on Henry and Kevin’s faces as he turned to look at them, that they were as smitten with her as he had been yesterday. There was no fear in the room; everything was joy and anticipation.

“It cost just under $16 for me to take the bus from Henderson, Tennessee, to Hollywood, California. It was a long bus ride. It took more than two days. I was so excited though that I didn’t even have time to get restless. I wanted to be in California, but I was also nervous about being in California. I was starting over without my family. I had a reservation at a hotel for women – kind of like the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York, but not as nice.” She stopped to collect her thoughts. “I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me get back to the bus. That trip from Tennessee to California took me through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before finally crossing the California state line and ultimately pulling to a stop in Hollywood.

“I stepped off that bus, closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sun then took a deep breath of California air. It was electric. I was there and I was beside myself with excitement. I put on my white gloves and went to the side of the bus to collect my suitcase. I only had one. Everything I owned was in it. I was so excited that I forgot to be scared. Maybe that was a good thing because I didn’t let fear get in my way. I was determined to be a small town girl who made good in the big city.” She laughed a little to herself and looked at the three boys on the sofa. “It’s so nice of you to indulge an old lady’s reminiscing. I think you three are very special young men.”

“Miss Genevieve, I think I speak for all three of us when I tell you that we are very happy to be here.” Jack looked at the other two. Neither of them spoke, but nodded their heads in agreement. Jack could tell that they weren’t just appeasing him, they were seriously enjoying themselves.

“I got into a taxi at the Greyhound station and gave him the address of the Hotel Camille. That was the name of the hotel for women where I had booked myself a room. It was thrilling to be in the taxi driving down the streets of Hollywood. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. How could I have? My small town was walkable. My heart was pounding. I had to keep myself from sticking my head out of the window like an old dog with his tongue hanging out in the wind. I don’t how to explain it other than to say I finally felt like I was in the place where I belonged. Just sitting in the back seat of that taxi, I felt somehow a part of something, whereas, I had just gone through the paces back home. Can you understand that yet? The feeling like you finally found where you belong?”

She didn’t expect an answer to her question, but Kevin answered. “I feel like I’m where I belong right now Genev…Miss Genevieve. I’m happy here in Astoralyn.” He looked at her with a simple look of contentment on his face.

“Of course you are, Kevin. And that’s wonderful,” she said appreciating how he felt. “It must be lovely to find that home is exactly where you feel at home. I didn’t feel that way. I loved Paradise Falls, but I knew there was a big world beyond my small town, and I knew there was somewhere else out there where I could be happy and make a home for myself. What may be the saddest part of leaving home is that I never made it back. Not even when my father passed away. All the years of drinking after my mother passed finally caught up with him. He passed out one night and just never woke up. I was devastated, but I was shooting a picture and couldn’t get away. It was the loneliest day of my life. I was shooting Before Tomorrow Ends. The silver lining to that gray cloud of time in my life was actually a little gold statue. When they called my name at the 1964 Academy Awards as the winner of the Oscar® for Best Actress I burst into tears. I dedicated the Oscar® to my father.

“I’m getting ahead of myself again. I have a tendency to do that. Forgive me gentlemen, I just seem to want to skip to the highlights forgetting that sometimes you need to know how I got there.”

Nobody said a word. The record was still spinning, filling the room with the voice of Bing Crosby. The music seemed to never stop no matter how long the story lasted. Jack thought about that yesterday. He realized there was always music. He wasn’t really that familiar with vinyl records so he didn’t contemplate it too much. He tossed it off as Genevieve being a music lover and that she had set up her record player on continuous play – if there was such a thing.

“The first thing I had to do was get a job. I had a small amount of money saved as I’ve already said, but I needed an income. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world at that moment in my life. I was in Hollywood getting ready to pursue my dream of becoming an actress and as I strolled along the street just checking out the surroundings of the neighborhood where the Hotel Camille was located, I saw a “Waitress Wanted” sign in a diner window. I had never been a waitress, but I had worked as a shop girl so I was familiar with helping people. I went into the diner and inquired. The shift that needed covering was an evening shift from 8 – midnight. The owner said it can get a little busy, but it’s usually his slowest time of the day. He said he would be willing to give a girl with no experience a try with circumstances like that. He also said I would have to work very hard to earn tips especially since the traffic was typically so light during that time. I didn’t care. I was just happy to have a job. I knew I could make tips. I had no problem talking to people and I knew I could bring them their plates of food and refill their drinks just fine. I don’t know how, I just knew I could do it. I was lucky, I tell you, lucky. With a shift that didn’t start until 8pm, I felt supremely at ease about making morning cattle calls to try and get cast in a picture.

“That night I took myself to dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Harry’s. I was just strolling by. I guess I did a lot of strolling when I first moved to Hollywood.” She laughed at her own joke. The boys laughed right along with her. Kevin was wishing that she would offer them a glass of water. He didn’t want to ask her for it, but he sure was thirsty. “When I walked in the maitre d asked me if I had a reservation. I didn’t. He looked at me and smiled and told me to hold on just a minute. He came back shortly and asked me to follow him. He took me to a small table near the back. It was perfect for me. It allowed me a full view of the room. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there. There was a live band playing jazz - not terribly loud and not for people to dance. It was just ambiance. I remember distinctly the moment they started playing Stardust by George Gershwin. It’s all intermingled in my mind with the moment that Joan Crawford walked into the restaurant. I sat there at my table realizing that I was indeed out of Paradise Falls. I looked at her, then considered myself, and accepted that I too belonged there. When the waiter came back to take my order, I requested champagne. It was a night to celebrate as far as I was concerned. I had arrived in Hollywood that morning, gotten a job that afternoon and seen Joan Crawford that evening. Life was grand. It was only going to get better. I just knew it. Remember, I was lucky."

Kevin raised his hand like he would to ask a question in class. Genevieve, Henry and Jack looked at him. He looked at the other two guys and put his hand down. “Miss Genevieve, who’s Joan Crawford?”

Henry looked back to Genevieve. She smiled as a way of acknowledging that it was okay that he didn’t know who Joan Crawford was. Before she had a chance to answer though, Jack who had not taken his eyes off Kevin said, “Mommie Dearest?” He paused for acknowledgment. “The movie about her life? Or Mildred Pierce, the movie she won her Oscar® for? Trog?” Again he paused to let Kevin search his memory. “Mommie Dearest doesn’t ring a bell?”

Kevin shook his head. Jack didn’t have as much patience or consideration for his friend and Genevieve. “It’s okay, Jack. I presume he’s not the movie buff you are.” She turned to look at Kevin. “Kevin, Joan Crawford was a very popular actress in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. She was very famous and I was very fond of her work. It was incredibly satisfying to sit back and watch her walk across the room and take her seat in the restaurant.

“I’m sorry that I snapped at you, Kevin,” said Jack. “Do you remember that movie preview you saw at my house the other night on HBO with Kate Winslet? You said it looked cool, but you didn’t like that it was a four part miniseries.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“It’s HBO’s remake of Mildred Pierce. The original starred Joan Crawford.”

Kevin had a moment of realization. Genevieve sat patiently and listened to Jack’s explanation. “Now, you’ve made a connection through association.”

“If you two are done, can we get back to Miss Genevieve’s story?” Henry said as he looked from one of them to the other and then to Genevieve and smiled. “I think you have the floor again, Miss Genevieve.”

“Thank you, Henry.

"As lucky as I felt that night, it was several months before I had a real screen test and it all happened quite by accident. I had an appointment on the lot for an extra's cattle call. A cattle call is when a large number of people wait to be seen for background and atmospheric parts in a picture. I went to the wrong place and wondered into an office to ask for directions. The secretary was on the phone and sent me into another office. I found myself standing in front of William Goetz. He looked up and said 'Who are you?' I said, 'my name is Alice Mae Johnson. I'm a little lost. I came into the office out there to ask directions to the cattle call and the lady at the desk sent me in here.' It turns out that she thought I was Piper Laurie coming to meet Mr. Goetz before filming began on Frances Goes to the Races. I was embarrassed and not quite sure what to do. He liked my “moxie” he told me and gave me the opportunity to be an extra in Frances Goes to the Races. He went beyond anything necessary for a girl who was in the wrong place though. He set me up with a screen test. Not only did he like my moxie, he thought I was pretty. He said he wanted to see how that translated to celluloid. Well, I was beyond thrilled. I had a few days of working as a background person at the races in Frances and then we shot the screen test. I had a perfect sense of calm about me. I couldn't wait to do it. It wasn't until it was over that I began to be nervous about it. I think it was just the waiting. It turns out that celluloid thought I was pretty too. In fact, the camera loved me. Mr. Goetz couldn't wait to start molding me and creating my image. According to him, I was a beautiful girl, who could play the girl next door, or the best friend, or the wife. To me those seemed like secondary characters. I wanted to be the lead, but I was smart enough to be thankful for the luck that had found its way back to my life.

“At my first meeting with Mr. Goetz he said that we had to change my name. ‘Alice Mae Johnson is perfectly wholesome and perfectly dull’ he said to me in a gruff, matter-of-fact voice. ‘We need something with a little more zing to it.’ I told him I had always liked the name Genevieve. It was an accidental appreciation. We had a dog when I was little and her name was Guinevere. She was named after Guinevere who was married to King Arthur. Are you familiar with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?” All three of them nodded their heads in acknowledgment of her question. “For some reason I couldn’t say Guinevere. I instead called her Genevieve. My whole family used to get such a laugh out of that. I grew to really love the name. When I suggested it, he said yes.”

“Where did the name Malloy come from then?” asked Jack.

“Mr. Goetz just pulled that one out of his hat. He said it was a combination of Myrna Loy’s first and last name. I liked it so I didn’t have any reason to protest."

Henry looked at his watch. “I’m sorry, Miss Genevieve, but I’ve gotta be getting home.”

“That just fine, Henry,” she responded.

“I would love to come back again, with Jack, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all. You are welcome here anytime. All three of you.” She wanted to make sure Kevin knew he was also welcome to come back.

The three of then stood up and crossed the room to the door all the while saying their goodbyes to Genevieve. Jack was the only one that turned to look back at her before walking out the door. He smiled at her and gave her a small wave then walked into the hall and closed the door behind him.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

©2010 Michael Rohrer