HOLLYWOOD & MINE
“People in the East pretend to be interested in how pictures are made, but if you actually tell them anything, you find they are only interested in Colbert’s clothes or Gable’s private life. They never see the ventriloquist for the doll.”
There’s a hardware store on Santa Monica Boulevard, just over the border from Beverly Hills in West Hollywood, which sells thick orange rubber gloves named after a famous French courtesan, Du Barry. It was like some aged copywriter on Madison Avenue still envisioned a beleaguered ideal of a woman with a full time job, two kids, and domestic chores scrubbing her pots and pans at the sink, or stripping down an old varnish encrusted piece of furniture, and feeling as sensuous and sophisticated as the woman who romped with Louis XV.
Kind of a nice antiquated idea but it didn’t exactly work out that way in modern Hollywood. I imagined that when the Du Barry Company originated the brand back in the twenties it had seemed a stroke of brilliance but by 1980 it was old hat, or old glove at least. Despite that, I — at the time a nineteen year-old dreamer about to flunk out of Harvard hard — liked that something so anachronistic, with such a bizarrely inappropriate reference to a naughty historical personage existed just ten blocks down from where I lived. Or, it’s where I lived then.
At the time I probably should have paid more attention to the part of Madame’s story that’s always eclipsed by the tale of a young beauty with a brilliant and conniving mind that went from “nobody” to “official mistress to the king.” Du Barry fell victim to the guillotine. Lost her head… In over her head… Heads rolled… At any rate, at a certain point she was considered passé and dangerous and the rest is history.
Late in the summer following my sophomore year, I was living in the Beverly Hills home of a blonde former figure skater. This photogenic darling of Orange County had risen from championship skating to spokesperson at Knudsen’s Dairy to management. She married an actor (of sorts) and from there hopped over to a full-time job at Fox. She had met Mr. Major Movie Star on a commercial promoting California cheese, which was arguably a metaphor for something. He brought home considerable bacon (more even than she, who could not claim to be poorly recompensed for her tireless efforts to assist the studio in the decline of cultural conversation, broadcast journalism, and perhaps even civilization itself). Accruing this unseemly sum of money replaced domestic responsibility, on both their parts. Hence I found myself hired to take care of Ms. Suit and Mr. Star’s children, Isabel and Andrew. I rejoiced in the title of Au Pair, which suggested (in my mind at least) a certain élan, an air of French sophistication, and an expertise in child rearing I did not possess. Ironic, really, for the closest I’d ever been to France was when I had watched an incomprehensible Jean-Luc Godard film at an art-house cinema; while the sum total of my knowledge of children came from having been one, not so long ago.