Memoir

Literature, Publishing

Excerpt from The Big Love

FROM THE BIG LOVE

BY MRS. FLORENCE AADLAND

flynn_bev_03.jpg

I know the world will always be full of chattering busybodies. I suppose I should be used to them by now, but I know I never will. 

Ever since Beverly was catapulted into world publicity, she and I have been besieged by busybodies. After all the trouble and tragedy occurred, after Errol died and, later, that lovesick boy shot himself, Beverly and I were deluged by do-gooders and Bible-pounders. “Let’s have this girl baptized!” they cried. “Let’s bring this lost lamb into the church!”

As far as I’m concerned, those do-gooder busybodies can drop dead. And that’s what I told them when they came crying around at us.

The trouble with busybodies is that they never bother to examine the facts. If they had ever bothered to look into Beverly’s background, they would have discovered that she went to Sunday School and church for years, that she learned about God like all good little children do, and that she could recite her favorite Bible stories backward and frontward. 

Even while I was studying with the Rosicrucians, I kept up with the Episcopal Church. I saw to it that Beverly was christened and later, when she was three, she won her first beauty contest at Sunday School. Beverly went as Bette Davis and, believe me, even though she was just a toddler she was Bette Davis. She wore one of my long skirts, a big brimmed hat, and trailed a hanky from her bent wrist. She flashed her big eyes all over the place and won in a breeze. 

When Beverly was still quite small she was noticed one day by Jean Self at a Hermosa Beach cleaning shop. Jean, who lived in nearby Redondo Beach, had guided the careers of many famous children and she was so taken by Beverly that she encouraged me to enroll her in the Screen Children’s Guild. 

From that time on Beverly had many, many opportunities. She posed for magazine pictures. She modeled children’s clothes. She sang and danced at club entertainments and at soldiers’ and veterans’ camps and posts. She was chosen mascot for the Hermosa Beach Aquaplane Race Association. She cut the ceremonial tape when ground was broken for a $200,000 beach aquarium. Her photograph appeared on the cover of Collier’s magazine.

By the time she was five, her hair was a golden blonde, very long and naturally curly. One day when we were returning home on a bus from Los Angeles she got into a winking contest with a bunch of sailors who were sitting ahead of us. They kept turning around, laughing loudly at the cute way she winked back.

I gave her a warning that day in no uncertain terms. “That’s all right now, dear,” I told her, “but in about ten years you better be careful because that’s when they’ll take you up on it!”

When she was five and a half she made her first movie, a commercial film in Technicolor called The Story of Nylon. She wore a special nylon dress and had a featured role in a colorful Easter egg hunt. She was paid six hundred dollars for four days’ work.

Not long after that she fell accidentally in the bathroom and struck the back of her head extremely hard. I became very worried and took her to a specialist for X-rays. I was relieved and happy when the films showed that she had not injured herself seriously.

The doctor was a very learned man, an authority on eastern religions who had lectured all over the world and written many books. He was absolutely fascinated by Beverly. He held her hands the way that Rosicrucian lady had done several years before and then he glanced at me.

“Mrs. Aadland,” he said very seriously, “wherever did you get this little girl? She is something very special. I can tell without ever having met her before that she has a great deal of talent.”

“Yes,” I said, “she has been singing and dancing since before she was a year-and-a-half old.”

Then the doctor sat down in his chair and did a very strange thing. He closed his eyes and passed his hand back and forth just above Beverly’s bright blonde curls.

“I think I see sort of a halo on this child,” he said.

His words absolutely astounded me – because one night a few years before, I’d thought I’d seen the same thing. I had come into her room where she was sleeping and there was a wonderful play of light upon her face and head. I suppose it was really just the light from the living room streaming in through the partly-closed door behind me, but it affected me very much.

“Be very careful of this child,” the doctor warned me, half seriously. “She is more precious than even you realize. Protect her and guard her.”

I was given a similar warning about a year later by the head of one of the advertising agencies Beverly modeled for. He was very fussy about his large modern office and never let any of the young children who modeled for him touch any of the objects on his desk. 

He noticed Beverly playing with a letter-holder made in the shape of a dog and he shook his head and sighed.

“Florence,” he said, “I never allow any of the kids to play around my desk, but your child is so different I just haven’t the heart to tell her to stop.”

He shook his head again very slowly and solemnly.

“I’ve seen hundreds of little girls,” he said. “Perhaps thousands, but I’ve seen very few like your child. And I hate to tell you this, Florence, but I think this girl is going to cause you an awful lot of heartbreak.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I think men will be terribly affected by this girl,” he said. “I think men are going to kill over this girl. I have the feeling in my heart that she has the scent of the musk on her.”

I knew what he meant. It wasn’t the first time I had run into that phrase. I had read it in the Bible. I knew that women who had the scent of the musk were so desirable to men that in ancient times they had been kept hidden away in secret rooms. When it was necessary for them to be outdoors, they were concealed by veils and bulky clothing.

“Be very careful with your daughter,” he went on to warn me, echoing the doctor’s exact words. “You must be very careful to protect her from herself.”

Both men proved more terribly right than I ever could guess.


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Literature

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook (Excerpt)

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook

By Marjorie Worthington

“Another Toulon Day”

It was about ten o’clock when we reached the hotel. That was pretty early for Toulon, but the big yellow Victorian palace of a place, with ornate chandeliers and Brussels carpeting, seemed very quiet. We almost tiptoed to the door indicated to us, and knocked. A voice asked who was there, and when Willie answered, “Seabrook,” there was a happy laugh and the command, “Entrez.”

It was not a suite, but just one enormous bedroom, with lots of chairs around, a fireplace, and a bar set up on an ormolu cabinet. The princess had expensive tastes and an income much more modest than that of her friends, and she must have been in one of her economy streaks. 

She was wearing a silk pajama suit, the kind that was worn for afternoons and evenings in the South of France at that time. Her bed was fully made, and she was lying on top of the creamy satin spread. At one side of the bed was a table on which was laid a lacquered tray containing all the paraphernalia for smoking opium: a small spirit lamp, a sticky lump of black stuff, and a long, ivory-colored pipe with a small cup-like thing near one end. The little lamp was lighted and she was rolling some of the black gum into a ball, or pill.

“Make yourselves drinks,” she said, waving to the bottles and glasses with her free hand. “Then come and sit near me and tell me what wonderful and scandalous things you have been doing. I am starving for news of you.”

We did as we were told, and Willie talked, telling marvelous tales, some of them true, most of them not. I sat quietly drinking my drink and listening some of the time, and thinking my own thoughts; but mostly I watched the princess, who spent so much time preparing her pipe for what amounted to one deep puff. Being a rather lazy person, I wondered what there was in that puff to make it worth such a long and complicated process. I decided not to find out.

The room became filled with an acrid-sweet smell that mingled with the fumes of the cognac in the glass I held in my hand. Willie had joined the princess on the bed and she was teaching him to fill a pipe. I felt very drowsy. There was a chaise longue in the room, and I settled myself upon it and waited. A musical clock on the mantel chimed the hours of twelve . . . one . . . two . . . three. . . . 

I remember making, or being asked to make, a pot of tea. I found what looked like a solid gold teapot and put it over the alcohol lamp I found near it, and lit the wick. When I remembered about the tea again, the whole beautiful little gold teapot had melted down into a nugget. Evidently I had forgotten to put any water in it. I was very sad about the teapot and told the princess so, but she was off in some exalted region with Willie tagging behind on his own cloud. And it didn’t matter.

The clock went on ringing out the intervals of hours. Through the cracks in the venetian blinds I could see daylight. The murmur of voices had been going on forever: Princess Telle describing her childhood, then her marriage and her happiness, and then her sorrow. I slept through most of it, almost as drugged, by the fumes, as they were by their pipes. And then it was six o’clock, and Willie was standing up and telling me we must go.

We went out very softly; the hotel was not awake. But as we walked down through the city, people began to sweep the sidewalks before the shops and caf.s, and some of them greeted us with a polite “bonjour,” to which we responded. We reached our studio somehow, I leading a remote Willie by the hand most of the way. I didn’t know how many pipes he had smoked, but I knew they were too many for a neophyte. I was worried enough to become heroic and attack the primus stove by myself. I made a large pot of coffee and kept pouring cup after cup until he had drunk enough, I thought, to counteract the opium. Then we slept for a while, and then we woke up and went to our respective typewriters. Another Toulon day had begun.


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Literature, Publishing

THE STRANGE WORLD OF WILLIE SEABROOK

COMING IN FALL 2017:
MARJORIE WORTHINGTON’s Memoir

This is the somber, quietly stunning account of American author Marjorie Worthington’s life and relationship with William Seabrook. 

A bestselling writer on the exotic and the occult, Seabrook was an extraordinary figure from the 1920s to the 1940s who traveled widely and introduced voodoo and the concept of the “zombie” to Americans in his book The Magic Island

In 1966, years after his death from suicide, Worthington, a novelist and Seabrook’s second wife, cast her eye on their years living in France as lost-generation expatriates; their time traveling in the Sahara desert (where Seabrook researched his book The White Monk of Timbuctoo); their friendships with Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, and Michel Leiris; and the gradual erosion of their relationship. 

Worthington was with Seabrook in France and later New York when his life became consumed by alcohol, and he took the drastic step of committing himself to a mental institution for a cure; though he wrote about the institution in his book Asylum, he remained an alcoholic. He was also fixated by sadistic games he played with women, which he and the surrealist Man Ray photographed, and which he later viewed as a way to initiate altered psychological states through pain.

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook is an intimate look at the complicated, torturous relationship of two writers. Seabrook was a sadist, yet to Worthington he was also enthralling; he was an alcoholic, but she believed she could protect him. Even after he had hurt her emotionally, she stayed near him. In brilliantly depicted moments of folie à deux, we watch Worthington join Seabrook in his decline, and witness the shared claustrophobic, psychological breakdown that ensues.

Literature, Publishing

A Vertiginous Decline: Minor Literature[s] Reviews “I Am Not Ashamed”

Thom Cuell wrote a phenomenal review of Barbara Payton’s I Am Not Ashamed in Minor Literature[s] that is sure to get you excited about this unique autobiography. He emphasizes the way that Payton talks about sexuality and subversiveness in Hollywood:

The idea that female sexuality is transgressive and deserving of punishment is a long established trope of Hollywood film-making, satirised by Wes Craven in Scream (1996) which codified the unwritten law, ‘you may not survive the movie if you have sex’. For Payton, this fictional conceit became a reality: ‘I had a body when I was a young kid that raised temperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame’. No stunt doubles or prosthetics here, the wounds are written on her body.

She learned early that her body was a saleable asset, and this coloured her view of relationships. It is no surprise that she uses the language of economics to describe her love life: ‘I sold, they bought, and for years the demand was way out ahead of the supply’. At first, this exchange was transacted on an unofficial basis, with her affections bought by extravagant gifts or favours. Later, as her erotic capital began to decline, the arrangement became more formalised: ‘It’s funny how supply and demand, sex appeal and talent regulate a girl’s price. I found out soon enough that my price was a hundred dollars and not a cent more’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her most treasured relationship did not involve sex: ‘I once loved a man who was impotent and I was faithful to him. He left me after a while saying it was unfair to me. But it wasn’t and I would have loved him for the rest of my life’.

Cuell also remarks upon Barbara Payton’s wretched end, and her take on her own decline:

Payton quotes ‘a kind of saying among the hip set in Hollywood that if the pressures don’t get you the habits will’. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the pressures and the habits haven’t changed too much in the fifty-odd years since she wrote I Am Not Ashamed. She wasn’t the first starlet to come to a disreputable end, and there have been more since (although few suffered quite such a vertiginous decline in fortunes). Ultimately, there’s a lot to be said for the lack of regret or hypocritical self-flagellation which normally characterises the Hollywood exile’s memoir. And at least she doesn’t try vaginal steaming.

Publishing, Literature

A Minor Masterpiece: Kim Morgan Reviews “I Am Not Ashamed”

Film writer Kim Morgan reviewed Spurl’s edition of I Am Not Ashamed, by Barbara Payton. In her aptly titled essay “Notes from the Unashamed,” Morgan delves deep into Payton’s life and the book’s utterly unique writing style, comparing it to Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground:

Payton’s drunken ramblings and recollections (who knows how much are true or truer than you could ever imagine?) melding with Guild’s jazzed-up pulp speak becomes something of a minor masterpiece. A dime store (in the best sense of the term) Notes From Underground — the bellowing of the underground woman, telling us there is something wrong with her looks (and most certainly her liver), filled with regret, self doubt, black humor, pride and touching reassurance that it might work out one day knowing damn well it won’t. As she, via Guild, wrote with all the flavor of Horace McCoy: “Forever is just a weekend, more or less.”

Morgan later analyzes the role of Hollywood sexism in Payton’s demise:

But there’s a raw power to I Am Not Ashamed, that, even with and because of its questionable veracity, stuns with a harrowing account of that timeless struggle so many face in Hollywood — keeping a firm grip. And adding to the struggle — keeping a firm grip as a woman in Hollywood. The book works as real documentation of a downfall but also allegorical — mythic in its observations of just how hard some women can fall. And how much men can want women to fall. And how women can even embrace that fall. The shelf life of an actress was terrifying then, and terrifying now. Barbara’s demise reads like a horror movie for any actress losing one too many parts as time marches on. The roles are drying up. What to do? The world twists to make them seem a grotesque — Barbara actually became it.

It’s a compelling, tremendous review – enjoy!

Literature, Publishing

Excerpt from “I Am Not Ashamed”

From I AM NOT ASHAMED

by BARBARA PAYTON

My rent was overdue a week and I only had one dollar in my pocket. I had had two warnings from my landlady. In my refrigerator there was some American cheese and soda water. Also a can of peaches someone had given me as a joke, I forgot what the joke was. But that would see me through a day or two.

I took the dollar, my last, and went to the movies to see one of my old pictures, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye with James Cagney. I enjoyed it very much but it was ironic that I had been paid so many thousands of dollars to do it and I only had a dollar left to see it.

All during the picture I kept my mind off my troubles – I couldn’t solve them anyway. Then I walked home just thinking about how I loved to act and make movies.

I hadn’t eaten all day so I opened the can of peaches. They were delicious and the whole can filled me up. Then I looked around through all my things to see what I could pawn. There wasn’t anything. I was down to bedrock.

But I still had a telephone. I went through my address book. I had borrowed from everybody. Some, more than once. There were still men who would take me out to dinner. But how do you live on no money at all?

I didn’t answer the knock on my door because I knew it was the landlady and I wasn’t ready to talk to her yet.

I looked in the mirror. To me I looked the same as ever – just as I had in the movie. What had happened? I undressed and looked at myself in the nude – not much change. I could lose five pounds but not more. I put on a dressing gown and washed the peaches dish and spoon.

There was a knock on the door. I opened it this time. It was the landlord, a tall, kindly man browbeaten by his wife. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but my wife says your rent is overdue.” He said it as if his wife had made some mistake.

“Come in,” I said, with what little charm I could muster for the situation.

He came in and stood, looking uncomfortable. “Wasn’t it a lovely day?” he said finally.

I nodded. I knew landlords such as these had heard every excuse in the book but I decided to try one anyway.

“Mr. Gordon,” I explained. “My husband’s alimony check, which is usually here long before this, should definitely be here tomorrow. I can almost guarantee it. I will slip the hundred-dollar check under your door before noon.”

He looked miserable. “My wife said – I have nothing to do with it – that I should either get the rent money or ask you to move out . . . tonight.”

“Don’t look so sad,” I said. “If that’s what she wants, that’s what it will have to be. I really don’t have any money.”

We both just stood there. “Could I . . . lend you five dollars for food?” he said.

I just shook my head “no.” Then, though I had been feeling great and had been smiling just a few minutes before, I suddenly burst into tears, great gulping sobs accompanying them. It seemed as if the whole world was collapsing on me.

Mr. Gordon patted me on the shoulder at arm’s length and tried to give me a handful of crumpled bills. I wouldn’t take them but I put my head on his chest and continued to sob.

“Please,” he said, “don’t cry. I’ve collected other rents and I have some money. My wife won’t know – if you can pay in a week it will be alright.”

A week. It sounded glorious, but what then? It was no silver lining to my black clouds.

I tried to stop crying. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright – honest I will.”

He patted my head. Then he kissed my forehead gently. “I’d help you if I could. My wife . . . ”

I nodded understandingly and went to brush my hair back with my hand. It hit his hand by accident and some of the money fell to the floor. I bent to pick it up for him and when I handed it to him I noticed he was staring. I looked down and my dressing gown was open, showing almost everything I had.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

He swallowed hard. “You . . . ” I don’t know what he wanted to say, but he moved to me as if in a trance and moved his hand from my neck down past my breasts. I didn’t try to stop him.

He kissed me gently again, this time on the lips. “The hundred dollars,” he said, “is in my wall safe. I’ll pay your rent. It’s my fishing vacation money. I need you – to prove I’m a man. To prove to me . . . I mean.”

I would have gone to bed with him for nothing. I had a great compassion for him. I locked the door and dropped my dressing gown.

My rent was paid for one more month.