The soft jazz playing in the background was extremely mellifluous. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee had spread across the café. I was sitting at the table near the window, there was a soft drizzle outside. It did amount for a perfect atmosphere. To top it up there was no one around, I was all alone. While I was reading my book, suddenly someone entered through the door. The person at once sat on the chair next to mine and asked in a breathy voice to me what the book was about. When I lifted my head to look up, I was so taken aback. It was none other than Miss Marilyn Monroe!
She sat there, with her absolutely breathtaking persona, while she lit her cigarette. What followed was a conversation I would be remembering for the rest of my life. We began with the usual exchange of greetings and salutations. She asked what I did, but I just couldn't resist all the questions clamouring in my head.
But she wanted to have a proper conversation. One wherein both of us would get to know one another. I told her about my life and my family. How I was still struggling to reach my goals and had to face numerous setbacks throughout the journey. She was utterly delighted to know all of that. She told me that whenever she'd met other artists or any of her fans, she only had to answer the cliched queries they had but since I wasn't like them, she smiled gleefully while I asked her about her life as a Hollywood Superstar.
She told me how she was a foster child. And then she did minor roles at the initial stage of her career. Especially, her part in All About Eve alongside Bette Davis. She was so intimidated by her that after the shot, she had to vomit after going to her dressing room. But she shot to fame with her successful film 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', and then there was no looking back.
Although, she only had one disappointment that her image was only limited to being a 'Sex Symbol' and nothing else. She even studied method acting to bring authenticity to her performances but the industry was so misogynistic and sexist at that time, where women were only considered as props or a medium of lechery.
But she didn't give up, and it was with the picture 'Some Like It Hot' that she was finally acknowledged for her performance and not for her looks or body. She even earned a Golden Globe Award for the same. Often she felt that the way the people perceived her as a 'dumb blonde' and the intrusion of the gossip columnists on her private life making two of her three failed marriages highly publicized was derogatory.
She feels that her position in Hollywood was truly captured by her last film's title, 'The Misfits'. She did feel that she was a misfit, for she was the centre of constant scrutiny, spying, harsh comments, criticism, bad press, allegations, etc. The way, the press used her depression as a content for their myriad of fabricated headlines appalled her to the core.
But in the end, I told her that she was a revolutionary figure and still continues to be one. Breaking plethora of stereotypes, paving way for many, and on top of that being an icon, she was, is, and continues to be the undisputed Queen.
Then with a heartwarming smile, she thanked me for my comforting words and told me that she needed to leave. But I didn't want her to leave, so I tried to stop her but then the alarm clock went off and I realised it was a dream. To my utmost dismay, I sat on my bed, still having the hangover of the dream. Still wishing that it should've been a long dream as there were so many things I had to say to her and thank her too, for never giving up, inspite of being unappreciated by the world.
In her quintessential style, she sat on the couch smoking her third cigarette. It was true what everyone said about her, she indeed had an intimidating persona. As I ushered her in she gave an icy-cold look of annoyance. And that eventually augmented my nervousness.
TSO: It is truly an honor to sit in front of you Miss Davis, I....
BD: Let's cut down the pleasantries and get to the point.
TSO: Oh, okay. Well I know how passionate you are about your craft. I just wanted to know why so much of it. I mean, to the extent of risking your love life, your motherhood, and family time.
BD: Aren't you a darling! Well I loved watching plays and had a knack for acting since childhood. When I saw Miss Garbo on screen I'd stare at her with dreamy eyes. It would baffle me as to how can someone who's not really there, captivate everyone's attention.
And it was the point of epiphany for me and my mother. You know, she travelled with me to all of my auditions. Consoled me everytime the casting director yelled at me. They wanted a pretty gift cover to show-off and I was nothing but a cardboard cutout that did not tickle their male genitals, or their ego, well in their case the lines were blurred in that context.
That made me tough. You know, I was a Yankee. Giving up was not in my blood. And when George Cukor signed me for my very first acting assignment for the play Broadway, there was no looking back for me.
TSO: That is quite fascinating. I heard you were terminated multiple times as you didn't have the much needed sex appeal. Why were women's role in films limited to just that?
BD: Well honey, quite honestly, those bald and fat studio heads wanted to authenticate their fantasies. I was asked to kiss and lay below twenty men for a screen test. Believe me, I so craved for a silver lining, and after playing minor roles like a shadow, it came in the form of Mr. George Arliss who gave me my first break in Hollywood with a leading role opposite him. That's when the Hollywood Elites noticed me. And after a few more roles I finally got my first-ever Oscar nomination for Of Human Bondage, although it wasn't an official one but due to public protest they were forced to give me one.
TSO: Since you mentioned The Oscars, you've been unapologetically outspoken about your views regarding it. It was evident that you were upset when you didn't win for All About Eve, as per your expectation. But you know what they say about expectations. //Expectations are like heartbeats. Life goes on when the line is both high and low//
BD: Look at you, comforting me with your philosophical shit. Oh, I so adore your innocence kid. Well, The Oscars and I had an unusual relationship. I was given the honour of felicity for those films and roles that weren't my best ones eventually robbing me for all of my bests, including Baby Jane. How can I forget the night when Miss Joan Crawford walked onto the stage to collect the Best Actress award on behalf of Miss Bancroft, after lobbying the academy members against me.
Yes I was in deep melancholy when I didn't win for All About Eve, for that was quite frankly, the greatest role of my career. And you know, I too would've gotten it for Gone With the Wind, had they let me play the role of Scarlett O'Hara instead of that incompetent Vivien Leigh. But all said and done, I'm happy with my trajectory.
TSO: As you said, all said and done. I so admire your audacity to speak your mind. You raised your voice against pay parity, better roles for women, major studio investments for women centric pictures, helping the families of the soldiers we lost during the war, and what not. I mean you brought down the Studio System that literally obstructed all the artists amidst contractual obligations. You were one hell of a trailblazer.
BD: Hell, yeah! I wasn't going to settle for less just because of my sex. Being a woman did not mean I was to be treated with inferiority. I wanted to speak up my mind through my film choices. Of Human Bondage was considered a blasphemous film but when you see the current ones, it might seem less sensational.
But it surely jeopardized my personal life. I always thought that my mother was my only friend. But she used to send letters to her friend complaining about me. Telling her how I thought of myself as the Queen and that I was narcissistic. My own daughter hated me and even wrote a book about how I tormented her. I went through four failed marriages. But you know, the only thing that kept me going was my work. And I will keep working till my body gives up. Till my last breath. To still keep the lights on.
TSO: Thank you so much, Miss Davis for taking time out to have a conversation with me. I used to dream about this since the moment I first saw you on screen.
And also for not smoking the entire time. That was pretty generous of you.
BD: My God! You'll kill me with so much of this nicety. And was this a conversation? Felt more of an interview. Never mind, I had a great time. As far as the smoking is concerned, I'm told to not do that at all. And I just had five of them.
It's better to be hated for who you are, than to be loved for someone you are not. It's a sign of your worth sometimes, if you are hated by the right people- Bette Davis
There was a tinge of sadness in her voice, when she spoke to me. I still, unable to fathom the fact, that Miss Joan Crawford was sitting right in front of me had my questions ready. But once she started to express everything that was in her heart, I let go and stared at her. Her intoxicating eyes and mellifluous voice stunned me as she spoke about her life as a Hollywood legend, a mother, and ofcourse, as Joan Crawford!
I was always a misfit! My mother hated me and hence sent me to a boarding school. The nuns were brutal there, but taught me a vital thing, that was discipline. I endured a lot, keeping my calm. Never shed a tear even during the harshest of punishment. Nonetheless, the nuns at my school made me strong, like goddess Athena, known for her valour, warfare and wisdom.
But you know whenever I had to do an emotional scene in a movie, I remembered the time in that attic where I was kept for misbehaving. And all those emotions would come rushing back. It's sad though, I know.
I lost my virginity when I was a child. It was my stepfather. We weren't related by blood so it wasn't incest, and also that was the only proximity I'd ever experienced. I loved it, and he loved me. That wasn't sad at all.
Then I got into showbiz and my life took a complete turn. Wasn't easy, as one time it'd feel a kiss of zephyr and smell of petrichor but soon a hurricane would disrupt it all. The moppet that I'd been was dead and now there was this fire in me. I was the top star at MGM since I outlasted Garbo and Shearer. My pictures did robust business. It was as if all the fragments had fit into their respective places.
But then there came a saturation point where I was on my lowest phase. Four failed marriages, and I befriend alcohol. It seemed as some of the stars in the sky had dimmed since an array of new ones started to shine. The title song of my film Autumn Leaves implied so much to this situation.
//Since you went away the days grow long And soon I'll hear old winter's song But I miss you most of all my darling When autumn leaves start to fall//
My leaves were falling. You know the industry is nothing but misogynistic. When Men age they get character and when Women age they get lost. And that thought prevailed during my time. But I want to confess something here, I did whatever I had to for my career. I became Joan Crawford from Lucille LeSueur. I compromised my duty as a mother making my daughter think I was a monster. I slept with those studio heads, directors and actors because that was the only way to get a role. No one has the right to judge me for it. I hope this changes though. And artists are selected based on talent whilst not denigrating those who are misfits.
Maybe the world will remember me for being a promiscuous lady or an average actor or maybe the plethora of frivolous things those Gossip Columnists wrote about me. But none can deny the fact that I was the most beautiful actress Hollywood had ever known. Even more than Monroe. That's for sure.
I had always known what I wanted, and that was beauty, in every form- Joan Crawford.