Archives for category: Elegy

 

Barbara Harris

My old neighbor Barbara died a couple years ago.

During the 1990s while I was in my twenties, I lived with my boyfriend in the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago  – before its gentrification and massive redevelopment – when I could still swing rent as a graduate student while working weekends as a cocktail waiter in a gay bar. The red-brick building where we lived had a courtyard and each apartment had a small, ramshackle deck off the back kitchen, meaning you could poke your head out and do some Rear Window-like investigating of the other residents, even without a telescope.

Barbara Harris was prime viewing.

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The apartment building in Uptown on the north side of Chicago, where Barbara Harris and I lived in the 1990s.

At first I didn’t know that Barbara was Barbara, but I was most certainly aware of the very peculiar older woman who often floated through that courtyard in what seemed to be layer upon layer of white and earth-toned gossamer, a bizarre and extreme melange of Stevie Nicks with swirling diaphanous shawls; Isadora Duncan with fluttering scarves; sometimes a touch of Gloria Swanson from Sunset Boulevard in a loosely wound turban, or more often, an ill-defined headwrap, somewhat appropriately, à la Little Edie of Grey Gardens; all this, plus some multi-strand necklaces and a collection of slightly ostentatious brooches pinned to a billowy caftan-like garment.

Barbara made an instant impression in person, owing to that peculiar clothing, but also to the unique cadence of her voice, her keen, questioning visage, and perhaps most of all in her movement, flowing through the low-rent apartment courtyard with an odd gracefulness, all that outlandish attire drifting lazily in her wake.

I don’t remember exactly how I came to learn that this Barbara was the same Barbara who’d worked with Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock, who’d starred on Broadway and won a Tony, and who’d played Jodie Foster’s mother in one of my favorite films from childhood, Freaky Friday. But at some point it became the irrefutable truth:  I was living alongside a movie star, at least in my eyes.

Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in Freaky Friday.

Maybe that’s where the story should end, with my starstruck admiration from across the courtyard, a quiet excitement living in the neighborly aura of a grand actress.

The story doesn’t finish there, though. I don’t even recall how my boyfriend and I actually came to know Barbara on a personal level. Maybe crossing paths while hauling leaky garbage bags out to the dumpster? Not the most refined means of encountering a film star, but we weren’t living the glamorous life, none of us.

I do recall feeling doubtful when someone mentioned that she had once been a famous actress. Why would a movie star and former Tony winner be living in the very untony neighborhood of Uptown? One of my friends told me that he didn’t believe it was really her – until he watched the scene in Nashville when she clambers over a highway barrier, and it all clicked. “I didn’t believe it until I saw her moving,” he confessed. As I said before, there was something very distinct about Barbara in motion.

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Andy Fucking Hardy.

Andy Fucking Hardy.

As a child, I hated Mickey Rooney. His Andy Hardy films frequently turned up on the two cable stations that my family got during competing Saturday afternoon movie marathons, which caused me no end of bitter frustration as I wanted Ma and Pa Kettle every week without fail. I’d take Abbott and Read the rest of this entry »

Frank Langella used his eyes, tousled hair, and a turtleneck to seduce you with ease. His youthful seduction has been exchanged for an aged gravitas. He’d rather not have to look at the gradual transformation.

Frank Langella recently said in an interview on NPR that he doesn’t like to look at his movies. He made the analogy of going up into an attic and paging through photo albums, which forces you to look at your own aging over the years – and, as I extrapolate – the loss of the past, which is now contained only in a fragile image and perhaps an even more fragile memory.

For me, I don’t have to page through photo albums. Just watching old films, especially ones from childhood, sometimes brings me an acute sense of time passage and loss. Since I associate movies, TV, and music with specific periods of my life, I am often Read the rest of this entry »

I had always held out hope that the great triumvirate of Hal David, Burt Bacharach, and Dionne Warwick would reunite for one last great project, a classic album that would put a final stamp on their 1960s-early 70s run as the best long-term teaming of lyricist, composer, and singer in pop music.

Hal David made some appearances in the last decade with former songwriting partner Burt Bacharach and their most enduring interpreter, Dionne Warwick. Here is the trio in 2002. I wish they’d headed to the studio for a new album after the shot. Rick Rubin could have given it a go as producer. 

Not to be. Lyricist Hal David died on the first day of this September at the age of 91.

He’ll be forever remembered for a slew songs made classic by Warwick, but also by Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Tom Jones, The Fifth Dimension, and many others.

Though I cop to leaning toward the morose and maudlin in my musical tastes, fed largely by melancholy French chanson, wrenching rancheras, hard-luck country & western, and gloomy American pop standards, sometimes even I need a pick-me-up.

One of the first songs that I can remember from my childhood is Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. A small child easily Read the rest of this entry »

Marvin Hamlisch: the man who made you understand what it means to fuck James Bond. Carole Bayer Sager and Carly Simon helped.

Yes, I know he wrote The Way We Were, The Entertainer from The Sting, and A Chorus Line, which, on a side note, I saw on Broadway starring Saved by the Bell‘s Mario Lopez. But Marvin Hamlisch solidified his status forever with me by writing Nobody Does It Better, the theme song from the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, with then- Read the rest of this entry »