Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Story of Kay

She was born with an ordinary name. Katharine Joan Williams, or was it Phillips? I can't remember. The studio changed it to Terryman or something corny like that in a second. Just like they changed everything else about her. She was a simple girl with a spark in her eye, nineteen years old - might've been seventeen - in the late twenties. Depression right around the corner, ready to kill, and yet no one could hear it, its loud paces softened by the sound coming from the movie screen and the Broadway stage. What a delight! Kay wanted to be a part of it. Alone, she took a train to New York, not even sure of what the future held for her there, just wishing with every fibre of her being to leave that small town, that dead-end place where her dreams had no space left to grow. 
When she got to the city with no place to live, no money to eat or get anywhere, and with no support from the family who saw acting as one step from streetwalking, she sat down at a corner and cried. She cried and cried and cried, seemingly endless tears leaking from her eyes with no way in sight to stop them. She cried herself to the falling evening. Seven o'clock, the city taken by enormous lights and beautiful sounds. Broadway. She was there. Only another step separated her from the dreams she hoped would come true, and she couldn't believe it. Her tears dried up as if by magic, she took her tiny purse with the ten cents from the boy in Tennessee and walked towards a theatre. She had nothing: She had nothing to lose. 

Mr. Ziegfeld absorbed her like a dry sponge and, all of a sudden, she was no longer a pretty girl looking for fame; she was another pretty girl looking for fame, mixed into a crowd she no longer knew and blended into the picture she was trying so hard to stand out from. She learned to dance, she learned to sing, she learned to act, but everywhere she looked, so many others knew just as well as her. "What is the difference between me and these other gals? Which one of us will become a star? Who gets to decide our fate?" 

Kay didn't know it, but the difference between these girls...
Hollywood Revue of 1929

And this girl...
Ginger Rogers in 1933

Was, more often than not, in the hands of these men...

Louis B. Mayer
Irving Thalberg
Jack Warner

Who's to say that any number of those chorus girls couldn't have danced just like Ginger had she been picked by one of the studio bosses? It's things like these that we will never know. And it's not taking merit away from any of the big stars - they undoubtedly had more than reason enough to become as big as they were - but to say that it's a just world out there and everyone deserving got a chance is a naive and short-minded illusion, at best.  

Lucky for Kay, she happened to fit physically a very desirable ideal. Long slender legs at only 5'3. Sparkling brown eyes with ash blond hair, curling towards her alabaster neck. Her eyebrows needed very little done and after a little rouge and powder, her face was that of an angel's. Her voice was like a breeze and, after the diet Mr. Ziegfeld - and her salary - had imposed on her, her waist was a beaming 22 inches. Enough to have Mr. Louis B. Mayer recruit her for Los Angeles. By then it was 1934. Kay was 23. In the normal world, a baby. In a time of depression and in show business, an elder. 
 They sat her down with no questions asked and had five people working at her at the same time. One on the eyebrows, one on the lips, two taking measurements and one making sure the hair was good enough to begin with. Kay walked in a pretty girl, and walked out a movie star. 
It wasn't long before she got her first walk-in role in a movie. Her costume was beautiful, covered with feathers, showing off her beautiful legs. At the chorus she met Jane, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. She told Kay all about how that was her first job in the city. She had to go on a date with a middle-aged assistant director in order to eat dinner, because she had simply run out of money. Jane was fifteen years old. Kay slipped a ten dollar bill in Jane's bag without her noticing it. Ziegfeld hadn't given her much, but what he did was hers to share.  

She continued to get small roles in movies, but her salary didn't seem to raise a single cent over 15 bucks a week. Barely enough to maintain herself living in an apartment with four other girls, but the excitement of getting a line every once in a while was simply priceless. She had been in over forty movies by the end of her first year in Hollywood, and her status as the jack-of-all-trades of the studio was firmer every day.  A few years later, after she had played a dancer, a backup singer, a waitress, a nurse, a receptionist, a taxi driver, and not one of those with the audience noticing, she had a chance to dance behind Joan Crawford. She was so happy! A big star like Joan Crawford! She walked into the studio and Kay nearly cried with joy. She was so beautiful, so immaculate, her smile free of sorrows and completely contagious to Kay. One day, at a break in filming, Joan was sitting down drinking a bottle of water, and Kay finally felt she wouldn't disturb her if she approached and said a word. "I adore your work, Ms. Crawford. You inspire me." She smiled her smile that washed away all the wrongs in the Kay's life and turned them into rights. "Everyone starts somewhere. You're gonna be a star." 

But as the 1940s came through, something horrifyingly unexpected happened: War. Suddenly the priorities were the soldiers and the movies were propaganda films, hoping to get more money for the war effort. Suddenly, it wasn't the cute dancers or walk-ins they wanted, those were too many people to pay: Now Greer Garson's patriotic face alone was enough to drive the moviegoers to tears. Kay's jobs became more and more scarce and, in less than a year, she found herself starving. 

She left the studio that employed her and went to look for jobs elsewhere, crying herself to sleep every night as she missed the busy, difficult, but beautiful life in the movies. And she was always taken by a feeling that she had come and gone from the screen without anyone in the very least ever knowing who she was. She worked for a year as a secretary in an office and made more money than she ever did in the movies, but as Frank Sinatra would sing a little later, "she got paid for what she did but no applause". Kay decided to keep her secretarial job, but at the same time moonlight as a singer at a nightclub uptown. At least the feeling of being adored by an audience she could still have in her bones.

In 1945, stardom had long faded from Kay's horizon. Now a beaten-down dancer at a nightclub, she looked a good five years older than the 34 she had on her back. The family brushed it on her face that her dream had failed and urged her to go back home. Her mother was now dead. Her father was a very old man. In Tennessee, they needed her. She was no longer Katharine Terryman, she was Kay Williams again. And in that one night at the Little Havana Club, or some pseudo-latin name like that, when she was gracefully dancing to the rumba, a man observed her. Mr. George Stewart, of Glendale, California. Air conditioner salesman. Not exactly General Motors, but he made a good living. He asked to see her in her dressing room after the show. "I have fallen in love with you, Ms. Terryman." He thought that was her name. "I wish that you could become my wife."   At 17, a family and a kitchen were hell to Kay. At 34, they were the only option left. George was sweet, he loved her, he even did the dishes when he got home so that she could watch What's My Line on their TV set (she had a TV set!). "If I can't be a star, I can at least be his." 

They would go to the movies to see Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor and he'd whisper "You're more beautiful than all of them!", hoping that that would bring her spirits up when it only brought them down, because that had never been enough. She didn't want to be more beautiful than all of them, she wanted to be them. As the years went by, George became her safe port and she confessed all of her frustrations, no longer resenting him for representing the life she so avoided. She had a child at thirty-six, but that was all for the Stewarts. The three of them led a tiny life, a happy life, but certainly not the life that could've been. When George died at 85, Kay was at his bedside, certain that she loved that man more than anything in the world. He had brought happiness to a life of disappointment. As he took his last breath "I love you, Kay" - her life was worth it. Everything she went through had led her to that moment.

Fast-forward to 1992. A girl in a bad perm sat beside her 81-year-old Grandma Kathy and asked about what she did in "those days". Those good old days, Kay thought. "Your grandmother was a star, darling. She danced with Fred Astaire and acted with Clark Gable and kissed the lips of Gary Cooper one moonlit night. She was more famous than Katharine Hepburn, admired by Bette Davis, envied by Greer Garson. Your grandmother was a star-

-in her mind."

I bet you're looking differently at that chorus girl behind the star at that flashy 1930s musical. I wonder if that was Kay. 

P.S. I have fully revamped my personal blog, Call Me Nina! Go check us out :))

Friday, 19 July 2013

Puttin' On The Face

(Bow, Gable, Harlow, Wood)

Hello, my pals and gals!

Welcome to a whole new Best of the Past!
One year is a long time, and I started thinking how one simple post which didn't even go up on this blog's real birthday was simply not enough a celebration. I never thought I'd have a blog for an entire year, with people actually reading, commenting and participating. For a frisky and impatient girl who leaves plenty unfinished, this is a huge victory. 

Best of the Past got a makeover for its first birthday. I designed it myself. Isn't it pretty?

With the overall look, I wanted to channel an old-time movie premiere, hence the quotation marks on every title and the lights on the font. You can see a drastic change right on the top. The links on the top bar changed, as I have noticed a few recurring categories in my writing. Now, you can access my "About" page, like it used to be, my favorite actors, directors and actresses on the same page, the "Best" page, and next to it I give direct access to my poetry and my movie reviews. One observation: The "Best" page only has actresses for now, because when I was saving the final product, blogspot said an unknown error was occurring. What it was? Beats me. I also plan on rewriting my About Me page, but give this poor blogger some time: It's 3 a.m.

On the sidebar, you can also see some changes. I changed my introduction a bit, first correcting the age (it was still on 18, while I'm almost 19 and a half now), and adding a few things to my personal info. It's interesting. I hope. 

Lucy: A success story
Below it, there's the main change on Best of the Past. We now have a mascot! Our gal, Kay, is a fictional chorus girl from the 1930s, who never got the career in the movies she always wanted. It's a sad story, but unfortunately one lived by many girls in the 1930s and 1940s. You see, glamour, fame and fortune were but a small part of the Hollywood reality. The vast majority of youngsters who went to try their luck in the city of angels failed miserably. But they got jobs, as chorus girls, extras, understudies. We can see their faces in movies we watch, on the background, and it's almost readable in their eyes how hopeful they are to be someone, to be known from Eve in that town, to live their dreams. I got the idea of paying tribute to the chorus girls when I read the story of Lucille Ball, who was once only one of those eyes on the background and today is the biggest TV legend ever. She was a success story, but so many others weren't. And guess what? Without those ladies who endured cold winters and boiling summers under the dictatorship of Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Irving Thalberg, Jack Warner and their kind for absolutely nothing, the movies would not be what they were. It's one thing to be driven to tears at 15 years of age by L. B. Mayer and go on to win two Oscars, like Elizabeth Taylor, but it's a whole other thing to suffer the same cruelty and go on to not have anything. Some of them were very talented, too, but the studio execs couldn't see it if it was written across their foreheads. They didn't want to. So many gave up, went into depression, madness, killed themselves. It's the loss of a dream. And so, I will soon write Kay's own post, Kay's story, to do my part to keep those girls from being forgotten. 

Her name is a tribute to Kay from "Stage Door"(1937), who killed herself, tired of struggling against the theatre. I'll try and include Kay somehow in some of my posts. We'll see how, but what I do know is that you can count on her presence. I'm not about to pull a Harry Cohn and abandon my own chorus girl, no sir.

Scroll below Kay a little further and you'll see the difference in the titles. I spent all night making them, and I hope you'll like them. Now, stop when you've hit "The Brown Derby: Social". That's my social networking information for y'all. My Tumblr, my Twitter and (drumroll please) our brand new Facebook page! So why don't you go ahead and like us over there. I'll wait. Did it? Awesome!

And for now, that's about it, my pals and gals. I hope I stick to this layout for a while now, because it sure was a lot of work to make. I hope you guys like it and I'll let you know when I rewrite the About Me!

Bye bye!

P.S. Yes, brand new signature with Kay's pretty face on it. I just love my chorus girl, okay?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Happy Anniversary to Best of the Past!

Hello, my pals and gals! 
It turns out that my plans of becoming a more prolific writer have failed miserably. I blame it partly on my professors, who seem to go in and out of strike as they please in a matter of days - but also at the horrifying case of writer's block that afflicted me as a result of my stress in dealing with the changes in calendar and new exams and projects coming up as a way to make up for the messed up schedules. What can I say - things that work properly in this country are not the rule, unfortunately, but the exception. 
But fear not, my lovely readers, I have been thinking of a plan to organize my writing schedule and not only be fully capable of managing this blog, but also of fulfilling my desire to maintain a personal one, a desire that I have very briefly attempted, but ruthlessly abandoned after a couple of posts. Shame on me.

Well, in this post I come to inform of rather exciting news: My blog has turned one! 

And here is a picture of Humphrey Bogart when he was as old as this blog. Aw. 

The anniversary is not today, mind you, but if I'm honest, I myself am unsure of when to celebrate the milestone. I created the blog in the literal sense on the eighth of June of 2012, in a rainy, grainy night in Gay Paris. In that same day I made my first post. But, it didn't fully take off until I received my first comment, and then wrote my second post, one that was published on the 29th. Then, to me, it became a real blog, rather than just the prototype of one. 

The problem? There are far more important matters to tend to on the 29th of June: Katharine's death anniversary, which I mindlessly forgot when I made this blog's second post, and caused it to be about something else entirely. Now, for the many more years that I hope will come, I have decided to celebrate this blog's anniversary on the day of its creation: June 8th. June 29th will remain the day of remembrance of my lovely star and things will carry on just like they used to. 

So, as it happens in every milestone, it is time to look back. Seems like looking back is all we do in this blog isn't it? Well, us classic movie folks are a nostalgic bunch. 

I have to say I would give my left lung to go back to the time when this blog was first created, back when I was living in a tiny room in the attic of a seventeenth century building in the heart of the Quartier Latin, my spirits pumping every day with culture and glamour, when my life consisted of learning the local French, doubling my weight in macaroons and attending late night screenings of my favorite classic movies in the Action Christine (which I now see is having a Billy Wilder festival - home!), the best movie theatre ever presented to mankind.  

Bonjour, Paris!
But living as many things as I have lived in the past year, I have learned things I was unaware of before, and became a more mature and well-prepared person than I was before. Paris gave me the illusion of a romantic life, a flawless life and unlimited potential, which ended up giving me the wrong idea that life was easy and beautiful all the time. I have since discovered the harsh truth: That our goals in life demand an absurd amount of hard work, and when it comes to effort-to-outcome ratio, you really do get what you pay for. Hence, my sporadical disappearances on this blog - I wish I had chosen an easier path.  

Blogging gave me the satisfaction of expressing myself to an ever-growing group of people, who, in agreement or otherwise, always have something to add to the mixture. It's become a beautiful experience of sharing our passions in the most multiple ways and I have felt comfortable in revealing bits of my life and my thoughts that I never expected myself to show. Plus, with this blog I have come to a point where I thoroughly enjoy myself when I'm writing, and almost always am pleased with the final result. It's a self-confidence boosting experience when one finishes writing a piece one is particularly proud of, and I owe such an experience to myself. This is the reason why I don't think I will abandon this blog anywhere in the foreseeable future. 

And, now, let's look at what the future holds for Best of the Past (Best of the Future, if you will): I have planned a change in the overall look of the blog. I hope you notice that the pictures in this blog have been slightly edited. It's a part of my plan to make it more aesthetically pleasing. I have plans for a writing schedule, so that my slacking off becomes less and less recurrent. And I also will do my absolute best to continue using my personal blog, which will also undergo a complete makeover. The only thing I can say at this point is that I'm excited - and sure as hell hope you are too.

Thank you for sticking with me for a year, my gals and pals. I have never thought this nickname to be more fitting before, for you have truly become my friends. Each and every one of you has helped make Best of The Past what it is today: One of my proudest achievements, a pricelessly enjoyable part of my life and, hopefully, a source of information and entertainment on the interwebs. It doesn't matter when you found out about me, how often you comment or if you don't even know my name; he who writes is never alone. 

So long,