This is the tale of my on- and off-again affair with Hollywood – both the industry, and the city of my birth. This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.
Back in the 1960’s, NBC used to run old feature films on weekends under the title, Saturday Night at the Movies. And one night when I was eight years old, the entire family gathered at our house to see a 1949 comedy called “Adam’s Rib“… starring my dad.
My father had a walk-on that consisted of one line, and he told us how during filming, he flubbed that line so many times that you can visibly see Katharine Hepburn’s annoyance with him as she elbows him out of the scene in the final take. If you blink, you miss him. But if you pay attention, you can see him in all his 15-year-old glory: skinny, with all his hair, and the same exact voice he has now.
The author’s father with Katharine Hepburn in “Adam’s Rib.”
Girl Meets Hollywood
That may have been the first time I understood that my parents lived secret lives before I was born, and my father had been an aspiring teenage actor. I must have asked him a ton of questions about that secret life, because the next day, he marched me into the garage and gave me his old books of plays by writers like Eugene O’Neill, George S. Kaufman, and Lillian Hellman.
I ate those anthologies up, and from that moment on, I know exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to write for the movies. Specifically, romantic comedies like the screwball play, “Boy Meets Girl,” which Samuel and Bella Spewack supposedly based on the antics of Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (“The Front Page”) when they were in Hollywood. And this was an awesome little play, because it boiled down the essence of romantic comedies to one easily memorable formula:
Boy Meets Girl
Boy Loses Girl
Boy Gets Girl
I could make a career out of working on stories like that. And growing up in Los Angeles, I figured I already had a head start.
Girl Gets Hollywood
My college major was Radio-TV-Film (I’d broadened my goal a bit by then), and immediately after graduation, I got a job writing and producing a syndicated radio show. My best friend from the department landed a gig in the mail room at NBC, and I remember one excited conversation where we were comparing notes on our jobs, when she told me how great it was over there, because even behind the scenes, “EVERYBODY was YOUNG.”
And here is where this tale relates to the campaign to Disrupt Aging: I remember having a very fleeting thought: If everyone there is so young, what happens to them when they get OLD?
From my job in radio, I jumped to one in television and eventually worked as a production assistant on a late-night show, while writing spec scripts in my spare time.
And for the most part, what my friend had told me was true: The pressure to be attractive and youthful extended from the performers to the people behind the camera. Yes, there were people in positions of power who were older than 40, as well as older craftspeople who had union protection. But for the most part, those of us who worked on staff in the office were overwhelmingly young.
Some of that was likely due to attrition: There was no such thing as upward mobility where I worked. Other reasons why the people working in television were so overwhelmingly young:
The work is seasonal, with long unpaid hiatuses.
The hours are long (sometimes stretching into a 14-hour work day).
And few production companies offered benefits like health insurance.
Girl Loses Hollywood
When I was 37, I had a health scare and no medical insurance. When that turned out to be a false alarm, I did what I hadto do. I took my place as an adult in “the real world,” by accepting a job that had nothing to do with the entertainment industry.
I still kept a foot in the door by working on scripts, but I had this terrible habit of coming up with ideas and starting a project – only to abandon it after learning that production had just started on something similar.
Like after I met the man who became my husband — in an online chat room — I had the idea of adapting the old movie, “The Shop Around the Corner” to the digital age. This was such a great idea that Nora and Delia Ephron also sold it as “You’ve Got Mail.” In my version, the two pen pals who hated each other were rival political consultants, like James Carville and Mary Matalin, so it was different — but still the same general story.
Or the idea I had when I shadowed the staff of a convention hotel as part of my training as a meeting planner. I was most impressed with the housekeeping team and how hard their work was. This was the inspiration for a screwball romantic comedy about a maid who is mistaken for a wealthy guest – and if that sounds like the Jennifer Lopez movie, “Maid in Manhattan,” you’re right. My version took place in San Francisco with a Chinese-American heroine, but you get the picture.
So I focused on raising my kid. Along the way, I satisfied my urge to write by launching a blog. I entered social media on the ground floor and as my daughter started college, I managed to get a job in marketing. She is on her own now, and I’m 62, and I realize that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
And that’s a lie. The only thing I ever wanted to do was write for film and television.
Girl Dreams of Hollywood Again
Last month, one of the women I met through blogging was visiting Los Angeles and asked if I was free for lunch. It turned out that this friend – who has had a wide and varied career as a writer and speaker – had taken up screenwriting in her mid-40s. And she’s absolutely undaunted by Hollywood’s obsession with youth.
She knew about my history, and didn’t understand why I didn’t try my hand at it again, especially now that I’m unencumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood. And I got to thinking… why not?
Because along with my newly empty nest, a funny thing has happened: The part of my brain that used to come up with story ideas is working again. I’ve been having lots of little inspirations, and I can’t get them out of my head.
And so that’s how I’m going to DisruptAging. I am mapping these story ideas out. I accepted my friend’s invitation to join her writing group. I invested a couple of hundred dollars of my own money for screenwriting software (which I have not touched in 20 years).
Maybe it isn’t possible for a 62-year-old woman to make a first-time script sale. But… why should that be? My age isn’t visible on the page. And I know a lot more now about life and love and what’s truly important than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.
At any rate, I’m going to ignore everything I think I know about the business and forge through and write my script. I’ll worry about getting it read or sold or produced later.
Just as a young person has to do.
And in the meantime, I’m having fun. I’m writing again.
I kind of hope I’ll always work. Let me clarify. I hope I’ll always want to work and be healthy to work as long as I want.
The idea of working forever, or at least a long time, has always appealed to me and makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s always nicer if you have the option to work rather than need to work because of finances. Delayed retirement has grown significantly as described in this article from the NY Times, Of Retirement Age, but Remaining in the Work Force.
Work doesn’t have to mean a paycheck. Organizations of all interests are available if one wants to volunteer their time. Helping your own family with tasks such babysitting and taking care of elderly parents, qualifies as “work” in that it is productive and serves a need. Taking care of one’s family not only strengthens the family, but also strengthens society.
So, keep your fingers crossed for me and I’ll keep them for you however you want to live your life in retirement, or maybe no retirement.
We drove our little girl to the airport, watched her enter the terminal, and drove away.
Mind you: That “little girl” is a 20-year-old young woman, and we’ve been doing this now for a couple of years – since she started college 2500 miles away from home, in Chicago. This time, she is flying all the way to England for a two-week program at a university in Manchester. And in a few days, my husband and I will also be flying to the UK for a visit with his family, so we will all be together again in a very short time.
That doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
Last night, during the news of the attempted military coup on Turkey – and following the awful tragedy of the attack on Bastille Day in Nice – my husband wondered if we should be worried about our daughter’s travels. I shook my head “no.”
But of course, I worry.
We’ve worried about terrorism while flying for most of her young life. I also worry about random shootings at school, in movie theaters, and shopping centers here in the United States. If anything, I worry about her more now because she’s almost entirely autonomous. I have no control. And the truth is, I never really did – it just felt that way. If I’ve learned anything from the waves and waves of surprising violence in this country and around the world, it’s that none of us can ever be 100% certain we’ll be safe. All we can do is play the odds, and fortunately, the odds are still very much in our favor.
But that realization is pretty cold comfort. I am 60 years old and I still call my dad every time I travel to let him know I’ve landed safely – and he says he appreciates it.
We dropped her off at LAX around lunchtime and decided to grab a bite somewhere in town.
“Where would you like to go?” my husband asked.
I wasn’t sure. “Some place very L.A.,” I told him. After all, in a few days we’ll be far away from palm trees and hazy sunshine and the Pacific Ocean. We toyed with the idea of going to the beach, or downtown Los Angeles – and settled with one of my very favorite spots in all of Los Angeles: Monsieur Marcel at the Farmer’s Market.
I had my usual Salad Nicoise and ordered a glass of French Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t usually drink at lunch time, but there had been so much traffic that it was nearly 3:00 PM and besides, my baby was getting on a plane and flying 6,000 miles away WITHOUT US. And I remembered, years ago, when my oldest niece left Los Angeles for a summer college term in Europe, we took my sister out for some wine at the very same place, and it suddenly felt very right.
YOU ON THE PLANE YET? I texted my daughter.
WAITING FOR MY ROW TO BOARD, she answered.
I ordered a second glass of wine. That felt right, too.
ALRIGHT TAKING OFF NOW! SEE YOU IN 2 WEEKS, my daughter texted.
As I left the Farmer’s Market, I was downright relaxed. And I will try to remain that way – at least until I get that text from her to tell me she’s landed.
I think it’s safe to say that my relationship with our mother was complicated. She wasn’t easy. By the time I had settled into the life of an adult (which took me longer than most people), we had settled into a mostly peaceful routine with each other – but I think that has less to do with maturity on my part than the fact that they moved up to Sacramento to be near my sister and her growing family. So she wasn’t a day-to-day presence in my life.
There was some degree of comfort in knowing that she and my dad were up there and had each other (as well as my sister and her kids). And with her passing in December, our family is trying to adjust to what my dad keeps calling “our new reality.” Obviously, for him it is an adjustment he struggles with every day. And because Linda is the one who is there, the loss of our mom has greatly impacted her life, too.
But for me, the loss manifests itself more subtly, I think. The grief comes in waves, usually triggered by a thought of something that reminds me she’s gone: A TV show she liked. An idiotic remark by a politician (Donald Trump has been a regular fountain of these). And of course, a holiday or special occasion.
Because our mom died suddenly in December and we went through the winter holidays in a state of shock, Passover was the first holiday where we really felt her loss. It hit me about a week before, while I was driving to a doctor’s appointment. I arrived there feeling weepy – which led the doctor to write a note that I needed to be monitored for depression. I told her I wasn’t depressed – I was merely having a bad day. And as it turned out, our actual Passover seder wasn’t sad. Mama was missed – but the holiday was good.
Today I’m bracing myself for another round of tears. For the last several years, I commemorated Mother’s Day by sending my mom flowers and this year, I realized I didn’t have anyone to send them to. I briefly thought about ordering some for my sister, but then I concluded that she would just find that weird. And then I thought about buying them for myself – but one of the reasons I like sending flowers is that it’s the kind of thing that people appreciate, but never do for themselves. So this year, no flowers. And today I feel sad.
I expect I’ll be back on an even keel when Mother’s Day is over. I have to: I’m seeing that doctor again on Wednesday.
Last December, our mother died. It was a short illness, started with flu-like symptoms, ended in sepsis. I knew it was very serious, but really never believed she’d die. She was 79, which doesn’t seem old anymore.
Mom was a shopper and she loved clothes. Nice clothes. Before she died, she had taken much of her very expensive wardrobe to a consignment store from where my father is still receiving checks in the mail. We bagged up most everything else and donated it. Some items are left in the closet for the granddaughters to rummage through, as they are the only ones who can fit into her small-sized clothes.
Dad is coping as well as anyone can who lost his wife of 60 years. He also lost his driver’s license earlier in the year, so he’s had a double whammy. Not that one should compare driving to a wife, but there is a loss of independence that comes with not driving anymore. He’s still mourning his car. The family’s focus has turned to him, his physical and emotional well-being, and a new life that he is rebuilding at 82 years old.
We were never allowed to look in the safe my parents had in their home, but I knew it was filled with jewelry, as mom also loved bling. I always called it The Vault to annoy her. “Show me what’s in The Vault,” I would plead. She would always say “next time.” Now I go into The Vault and play with the jewelry like when I was a kid playing with her costume jewelry in her 1960’s jewelry box. Dad tries to recall where each piece came from, but many things are not remembered.
I’m not sure what I’m learning from this experience, but I’m trying to gain something from it. Anything that is this life-changing must bring something to gain. Maybe the best part is that my sister is committed to coming to visit once a month. It makes my dad happy. My mother would approve of that.
So, as Mother’s Day approaches, I think about it and realize I don’t really feel a great loss attached to the day. I feel the loss every day. All kids ask why there isn’t a Children’s Day and all kids get the same answer. I now feel the same about Mother’s Day: Everyday is Mother’s Day, when you don’t have your mother around anymore.
Well, I’ve certainly done a lousy job writing a post every day.
And, where did the past two weeks go?
Right now I’ve got Philadelphia Story on TV. Kathryn Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for this film. It’s got Cary Grand and James Stewart. I wonder if young people would enjoy it now. I doubt it. Too much talking of “old” people. Not enough action.
My dad had a couple of lines in Adam’s Rib when he was 15 years old. I guess George Cukor was a distant cousin of my grandmother’s. He gave my aspiring actor father a small role, in which he kept screwing up. Hepburn ended up elbowing him out of the scene.
That isn’t what I was thinking of writing, but I’m trying to let me mind wander as it does when I’m driving. The other night I was driving home from work and multiple ideas popped in my head for posts. They were great thoughts. Brilliant. Of course. What they were, I can’t remember, but they were profound and would have made you realize how clever I am.
So, my husband is at the Lima airport right now and should be on his way home very shortly. It will be about 5 or 6 pm before I see him tomorrow. The travel time is one reason I doubt I’ll see my son in Peru while he is down there, but we are thinking of meeting him kind of halfway in Panama. I have family there and it’s only a 6-7 hour flight from Los Angeles.
I worry very much about my boy, even though if he were described in a newspaper they’d call him a man. He’s 25 going on 26. He’s my boy and will be for a long time.
I’ll have to write again to tell how Peru went, but I can say that from the texts and short phone conversations, I can report that the trip was a huge success. They had a great time and an amazing opportunity to spend some quality father-son time together on a big adventure. Most importantly, I get a new shot glass (and hopefully more)!
So, I have to think long and hard about what I actually did these past two week besides work. Work, by far, took up most of my time. I had the TV on a lot, but it was more to keep me company. I walked the dog on the weekends, but the poor thing has suffered as I did not walk him during the week so he has been stuck in his yard all day and in the house all night.
I’ve done a lot of work on the computer as I started working on a new website. It’ truly in its infancy, so I won’t include a link (at least not at this time). There’s been minimal housecleaning. The only yard work I did was last weekend when I mowed the lawns. Incredibly, as I was getting ready to mow and to yard work as my two friends were over to watch and keep me company, three young girls about 11-12 years old came over with their rakes asking if I was interested in help with the yard. I mowed, which only took about 10-15 minutes, and then sat in the beautiful back yard, with beautiful weather, with my two good friends sipping wine and enjoying the relaxing afternoon. Some things are just meant to be.
Now I’m rambling, but I’m making up for rambling I didn’t do in the past week. I’ll try to write tomorrow. I look forward to seeing the husband and to the weekend.