Where muse and memory meet is often over a keyboard, #amwriting #HollywoodFiction in Boston where my husband is just finishing up a film
…In retrospect hijacking a telephone code was the least of Billie’s sins that summer, and since she’d stopped attending confession about the same time she stopped taking piano lessons, she never atoned, achieving a state of grace was the furthest thing from her mind. What she wanted was out. Out of Gloucester, out of Boston, out beyond the familiar and the known…
…and so, Billie headed to Hollywood, and summer job as nanny to a movie star’s kids…
That summer Dave Taylor was in a film shooting onstage at Warner Brothers in Burbank, about 35 minutes from Beverly Hills. He thought it would be a nice idea if Billie trotted the kids over to see him working. His love interest was an actress who was co-starring in a series of romantic comedies with ambiguous endings — it was a late seventies, early eighties—thing. The plot usually had something to do with a dull domineering husband, an empathetic lover, and a woman gaining a sense of empowerment by rejecting them both.
Billie and the children found Mr. Taylor on New York Street (the empathetic lover), dressed in a Burberry raincoat strolling by his co-star in similar attire as they huddled together under an umbrella as the rain towers showered down, a camera on dolly track followed after them, and a tightly coordinated knot of assistant directors and P.A.s sent groups of people by to splash in and out of frame in a fairly decent facsimile of a storm. Except, the giant white scrims stretched like sails above the set couldn’t entirely filter out the Southern California sun. Billie was noticing it smelled like dampened desert and sage, the kids were being unnaturally quiet, and that they weren’t standing far from a parched range of hills when someone shouted, “That’s lunch!”
The rain towers stopped showering. Two middle-aged men with big belt buckles collected umbrellas. Coats were shrugged off and handed to hovering wardrobe assistants. Then Dave Taylor was by their side with his co-star. He had his hand in the small of her back. “Jess, I want you to meet my kids, Isabel and Andrew, and this is Ms. Billie Price who’s taking time off from her college studies to spend the summer with us.” That was a pleasant way of putting it.
Lunch took place in the Executive Dining Room at the studio commissary. Dave Taylor let the kids gorge themselves on ice cream sundaes and spent his one free hour telling Billie all about Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. You see Bacall was nineteen when she met Bogie, who was easily forty, on the set of “To Have and Have Not.” It was love at first sight. They were a perfect couple. Well, that’s the nostalgic yarn Billie’s employer was spinning. He didn’t mention the fact that Bogart was married at the time and he and his older wife were known for their alcohol-fueled brawls, which often resulted in mutual black eyes. Lauren Bacall must have seemed like daffodils and Easter bunnies and smooth sailing all tied up with a silken ribbon. Not only had she attracted the attention of Bogart — but he was vying for her favor with their director — Howard Hawks, also married, also a brawler, also in his forties.
Billie, over the years developed several theories about the laws of attraction. Something having to do with men and young fertile women with long hair ‑ then, she started rousting the kids from their seats for their imminent departure when Dave stood up, looked the nineteen year old au pair in the eyes, chucked her on the chin, and said, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Instead of thinking here was a guy speeding toward a huge midlife crisis looking to validate himself sexually by sleeping with a younger (much younger) woman who was by no means his social, intellectual, or experiential equal — her immediate thought was that she was glad she had packed her diaphragm.
Shall we discuss diaphragms? Sorry. Rhetorical question. We’re going to. According to the student clinic in Cambridge they were the birth control method of choice. They didn’t tamper with your hormones. They were 98% effective if used as directed. As directed… That’s where things got slippery. The damn thing was about the size of the screw-on top of a large pickle jar. The flesh tone latex diaphragm was shaped like a shallow cup and the rim was spring-loaded. The cup was filled with a contraceptive cream, squeezed from a tube, that best resembled the marshmallow whip Billie was accustomed to spreading on peanut butter sandwiches. This spring-loaded concoction was then meant to be folded, inserted, and placed over the cervix. The thought caused Billie some distress, she couldn’t tell you how many times it sprang out of her hand and landed in a sticky fluffy mess on the bathroom floor – 98% effective if you didn’t factor in operator error or the impatience of teen lust. Star wattage, at her age it was hard to ignore.