The First Amendment

It’s a right, they say. One of the freedoms, so I’m told.

Fortunately she smiled at me once. And she spoke to me too. Freely.

My brush up against beauty and fame was an extinguished candle on an obscure New York City street.

Trying my hand at stand-up comedy in the late 1980’s, I responded to a newspaper advertisement looking for those too willing to trade in time for chance. All I had to do was work the lights or pass out some programs or sweep up afterwards. In return, I’d receive some training in the art of improvisational comedy. Training that didn’t stick, but at least was planted.

The place was called The First Amendment.

Wedged into and hidden among the alleyways within the Greenwich Village and Little Italy regions of New York City, it was a past-its-prime noir-like comedy lab. Here was a greenhorn with a chance to assimilate into the comedy subculture. A chance to be someone. A chance indeed. That assimilation, was a reserved table on its periphery. Direction, or lack of; and self-confidence, or lack of, would be my governor. But that’s a ticket to another show.

On this or that day, I stood outside the club acting as a sort of sentinel. Poetic license and justice mixed with a chaser of selective embellishment allows me to paint the day as a grey one. And that’s when she sauntered by; a real life star walking past a hope to be one day.

Lauren Hutton smiled at me. It was a long time ago, but it helped get me here.

Our frozen moment gave me some freedom.

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Behind Green Lights: Looking for Carol Landis

She appeared in more than fifty films, was married four times, and toured extensively during World War Two bringing to the troops who pinned her up along the way a bit of American pulchritude rarely matched before or after. And Carol Landis did all of this before she turned 30.

Image result for carole landis

She’d have to because she would be dead at the age of 29, taking her own life, heartbroken over her unrequited love for Rex Harrison.

If I could drive alone along a winding road somewhere near Topanga, could I find her? And if I did, what would I say? Could I help her find it if I didn’t even know what I was in search of? What was struck within me when I bumbled upon her in “Behind Green Lights.” I don’t remember much about the film. But I do remember her. Strangely (or not), I was unaware of her story. Yet she was the one I had discovered. And then it dawned on me; perhaps she had found me.

That’s one of the things that happens whenever I go back and watch a film from that era. These lives are introduced to me and I look into them. Who were they? Who was she? What did they do off screen? With the lights off and no cameras around. I have trouble shaking these thoughts off. Maybe that’s what was intended.

There’s always been an attraction for me to the underbelly of celebrity, i.e., the noir of Hollywood. And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about it. Again. Does all of this get a little too close to my own underbelly? What dark side of my own private Hollywood do stories and thoughts such as these touch?

I once saw the cover of Circus by Alistar MacLean. It stayed with me. Of all the seconds of moments I’ve had over fifty plus years, what is it about something so seemingly indistinct about one cover of one book? Like “Behind Green Lights,” I don’t remember MacLean’s story, but I do remember the cover. And like Carol Landis, those memories troubled me. There seemed to be something sinister going on.

My guess is that we aren’t supposed to see those things too clearly nor too often because they are not the stuff of dreams. They are instead, shadows.

A final random thought goes something like this: David Lynch‘s film Mulholland Drive had a devastatingly powerful impact on me. In a film about the dark side of Hollywood, I’m left to wonder how much of an inspiration for his film was a real life Carol Landis.

I’ve got to look behind more green lights.

Why Noir, Part 2

Black film?

“No, film noir,” I was told. Not being much of a Francophile, I had to take their word for it.

But to me, it’s been more like gris.

And like so much of my own life (our lives?), I know now why.

“It’s grown-man’s music,” said Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in an interview I’d heard awhile back. At the time, I was much younger and didn’t quite get his take on the blues. And neither could I make the connection between his words and my future journey into the cinematic gris.

That too I know now why.

A visual and audio punctuation mark answer to the question posed in the title might look and sound like this:

And it would make the point better than these words could ever do.