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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Hollywood Dreaming (Gavin Lambert / Russell Lee)


Young woman standing on sidewalk with suitcase, Hollywood, California
: photo by Russell Lee, April 1942

Driving home, I wondered if there was anything that anyone could do about her. Could the magazines come true, and Emma Slack (with a new name) be made a star? In a way, I didn't care. With her appalling, cruel, perfect egocentricity, it was difficult to conceive of Emma helpless, Emma lost: the little figure behind the palm trees, wandering down Hollywood Boulevard, turned away from the studio gate, listening breathlessly to a retired star's useless reminiscences -- this had to be a game, a chosen role. Nobody could be as naïvely heartbreaking as that. In a few weeks' time she might have to give up the part, with her savings gone she'd take a job as a waitress or store attendant, or go back to the aunts. And it would be all over . . . In another way, I cared a little. There was a kind of fanaticism about Emma, and perhaps this made her really helpless. In a city full of dreamers, she clung with such fierceness to an obviously fragile dream. When I thought of that, she struck me as about the most impermanent person I could imagine in the world.

Sign and ticket window of a large dance palace, Hollywood, California: photo by Russell Lee, April 1942

Russell Lee photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

Gavin Lambert: Dreaming Emma, from The Slide Area, 1959

“It is only a few miles’ drive to the ocean, but before reaching it I shall be nowhere. Hard to describe the impression of unreality, because it is intangible; almost supernatural; something in the air. (The air . . . Last night on the weather telecast the commentator, mentioning electrical storms near Palm Springs and heavy smog in Los Angeles, described the behavior of the air as ‘neurotic’. Of course. Like everything else the air must be imported and displaced, like the water driven along huge aqueducts from distant reservoirs, like the palm trees tilting above the mortuary signs and laundromats along Sunset Boulevard.) Nothing belongs.”


Anonymous said...

It's great to see this and such a California contrast to the weather we're having here. Yesterday, while in a very cold, icy, wet and unpleasant Manhattan, I received a note (such is the way of the today's world) from a friend telling me that she was driving along PCH from Malibu toward Santa Monica on what she described as a glorious California winter's day. I never read The Slide Area, but would like to. I'd forgotten that Lambert wrote Inside Daisy Clover. The Russell Lee photographs excite so many nerve endings and summon up thoughts and real and imagined memories. It's amazing to see the Farm Services Administration credit attached to such different pieces of Americana than those you've mostly been displaying.

TC said...

Lambert's life story is a pretty interesting one, for a writer. And for quite a while I've thought that The Slide Area is the best book anybody's ever written about Southern California. It catches a feeling of a time and place, now pretty much gone forever. Though as the note from your friend on the PCH hints, maybe some paradises last forever.

Up at our end of the coast it's still cold and dark, foggy.

Anonymous said...

My friend is a woman from Mauritius, who settled in Los Angeles about 10 years ago and is now finally developing a successful business as a private chef and caterer "to the stars" (among other, lesser folk), rather than doing other work that didn't really engage her or allow her to use her talents. Reading her email and picturing that drive, which is preserved in my mind in all seasons, but does seem special in winter, I think, I couldn't resent her, despite the fact that the New York City and Philadelphia weather was so ghastly, cold and painful. It was that southern California dreaming thing, I think. I will check out The Slide Area (great title). I like every line I read and was kind of dumbstruck by: "Last night on the weather telecast the commentator, mentioning electrical storms near Palm Springs and heavy smog in Los Angeles, described the behavior of the air as ‘neurotic’."

Robb said...

Wow: "the most impermanent person I could imagine in the world"

TC said...

That line did it for me too. Unforgettable.