Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dennis Hopper on Marilyn Monroe: Life is the Mending

Interview with Dennis Hopper
Conducted by James Grissom

Yes, she was trying, exhausting. Aren't we all? Aren't we all a little too demanding of life, our friends, ourselves? I think she was desperate to matter, to be important, to be a good friend, to rise above the demons of her life, most of which are unknown to people and most of which would have destroyed most of us. I think she wanted someone to love her without fucking her--metaphorically or otherwise--and I think she wanted someone to listen to her, really hear her. Haven't I just described all of us? I know I've described myself.

And when the friends and the lovers don't show up who can provide these things for us, we manufacture friends out of pills and drugs and booze and cars and motorcycles and money and art--possessions.

What is that great quote you sent me? From [Eugene] O'Neill? 'Man is born broken. Life is the mending. God's grace is glue.' Well, God's grace is provided by us, by the friends and the associates who travel, so briefly, on this planet.

Life is the fucking mending, and I want to live, don't you?

© 2014 James Grissom

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eudora Welty: A Gentle Provocateur

She is such a gentle provocateur, ably and perfectly leading you toward the truth of people and places. Eudora's fiction has the effect of placing you in a warm bed on a cold night, tightly placed, secure, but the knowledge of the bedtime story she has told you leads to horrific nightmares, because she has laced your dreams with truth. You can believe, if you wish, that her stories are whimsical and Southern and genteel, but for me--perhaps because I am Southern--her paragraphs and sentences unfold before me like sheets of paper that are slowly dipped into a fluid until they become photographs, and the images are of me, of my family, of what, God help me, I have become.

Tennessee Williams on Eudora Welty
Interview with James Grissom
New Orleans

© 2014 James Grissom

Bette Davis: Goals and Tasks

Bette Davis on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?/Phil Stern/

Interview with Bette Davis
Conducted by James Grissom
Via Phone

I don't believe in dreams or dreaming. I have to say this because over and over again you keep quoting people who had a dream or who dream of a particular outcome. This is ludicrous: It really is. To dream is to be without reason; to dream is to not be awake and in control. You might as well announce to the world that you've engaged a couple of fairies--you know, the ones in the forests with the wings--to get you a job or to teach you to speak well or to inspire you. This is ludicrous. I suppose it is okay, as a child, to dream or to hope, but those desires grow up and become goals and tasks. I don't dream of being a good actress: I work damned hard and all the time to be a good actress. I don't dream or hope that I get a good cast or director with whom I can work: I scream and demand and push and pull until they are a good cast or a good director. Or the best they can be. We're talking goals and tasks here, not hopes and dreams. I have to stop you from this absurdity--your own and that of those you quote--or there will never be any progress. Go get what you want; go do what you want. Leave the dreams aside.

© 2014 James Grissom

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dennis Hopper on Marilyn Monroe: Creamy Trouble Doll

Interview with Dennis Hopper
Conducted by James Grissom

Do you know about trouble dolls? I think they're Guatemalan, and they've been given to me a lot over the years. The years in Peru, the years in Santa Fe--the floors and the ledges and the shelves were littered with trouble dolls, and my life was littered with trouble. Supposedly, you can pick up these little, handmade, beautiful dolls and tell them your worries, your troubles, then place them in their box and they will worry for you. So you can get some sleep. Well, I put all my troubles in cocaine and booze and heroine and pot and guns and pussy. Those were my trouble dolls. I should have confided in the dolls--the little, handmade ones--more often.

I have a point. I swear I do.

Marilyn was like a trouble doll for a lot of people: A lot of people needed her because she was beautiful and she was sweet and she was pretty much what a lot of people believed was a perfect woman--a sexual machine with a heart. And a lot of people needed her because they wanted her to fail or to cry or to die, because they wanted to believe that all of her gifts--physical and otherwise--wouldn't save her or make her happy. So the ugly and the mean-spirited could feel better about their lives and their various lacks. And a lot of people looked at her and saw money and sex and power and an evil sort of joy that comes from getting off. She was a product, a commodity to them. And a lot of people needed her because she so clearly needed a friend, needed some love, and a lot of people really wanted to give this to her.

So Marilyn Monroe was this creamy, sweet, beautiful trouble doll for a lot of people, and we whispered to her image or her memory and told her what we needed, what we desired, and then we believed that things would happen or change.

And she got put in her box and was put on an eternal shelf, where we can continue to ask of her what we need.

© 2014 James Grissom

Anna Sokolow: You Love Talent

Excerpt from Anna Sokolow: We Must Be Ready, Right Now, To Do What We Must 
by James Grissom

Available on Amazon

[Carlos] Merida told Sokolow about his friend and arts partner Carlos Valenti, a Parisian-born artist who was close friends with Jaime Sabartes, the secretary to Pablo Picasso. Described as a flickering Roman candle of talent and inspiration, Valenti touched deeply everyone with whom he worked or socialized, and he lived furiously through the arts. “When I heard Merida talk about Valenti,” Sokolow told me, “I realized that there were other people like me in the world: People who felt and feared that time was limited; talent was limited. You love talent, wherever it may find a home, and you foster it. If you take on the responsibility of helping people, educating people, leading them away from danger and destruction, the hours of each day become terribly precious. You become very impatient to keep moving and working and seeing.” Diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, Valenti soon developed problems with his vision, and a specialist in Paris advised him to completely rest his eyes, to avoid color and light and contrasts. “This, of course, was a death sentence,” Sokolow explained, “and he fell into a deep depression. To be cut off from visual stimulation was more damaging than to be deprived of food.” Merida  traveled with Valenti to Paris, for “one last look” at the art he could no longer remove from his line of vision. A note he wrote around this time reads “There are some among us that have the real faith – Art – for which you have to sacrifice yourself, stepping over everything, to whom you have to render homage as a deity, give everything up for it; live only for your work… there, in the canvas, deposit an entire life, all our love; transmit to the painting everything that cannot be explained; live in it, deposit all our being, all the most saintly emotions that the artists’ heart experiences.” Not long after penning this note, Valenti fired two shots into his chest, in the presence of Carlos Merida, who watched in shock as his friend died before his eyes. “I work for him now,” Merida explained to Sokolow. “In his memory.”  Sokolow took notes on the life of Carlos Valenti and she shared them with Tenn at a meeting in 1951, after she had seen a performance of The Rose Tattoo, a play she loved and which she felt was terribly Mexican in its language and attitude. “That play,” she said, “so much more than any other that Tennessee wrote, has a feel of Mexico, and of these artists who came to mean so much to me.” Sokolow explained that in Mexico she met people who were close to the earth, rustic and simple. The people she met were not distracted by noise or entertainments or excess; they relied on each other and on ancient myths that helped them to understand their world and their lives.

The notes on Valenti, which were given to Tenn by Sokolow, led to the creation of Camino Real.

© 2014 James Grissom

Katharine Hepburn on Cary Grant: He Was A Dream

Interview with Katharine Hepburn
Conducted by James Grissom

He was a dream, as all works of art are. All works of art are the physical manifestation of a desire, a hope, and you can't hope for something more beautiful and entertaining and nice than Cary Grant. 

No one moved like he did--smooth, off the ground. He was a good size, but he moved like the wind. And that laugh, that silly laugh. And impeccable manners. He was better at making me giddy than Champagne. He was a great and powerful drug--in person and on the screen.

I sat next to John Gielgud at a party once. Great actor, great gentleman. I thought he might even speak in couplets. What the hell did I know? John Gielgud wanted to talk about movie stars. Cary Grant. Bette Davis. Barbara Stanwyck. Humphrey Bogart. James Cagney. Me! I always hated that I couldn't be a great stage actress, and here was John Gielgud wishing he could breathe the same air as a Hollywood film star and learn how to move and speak and---well, enter a dream.

But he started the conversation with Cary Grant. Smart man.

© 2014 James Grissom

Friday, April 11, 2014

Maureen Stapleton on Marilyn Monroe: A Sweet, Needy Child

Marilyn Monroe surrounded by reporters in 1956. (Corbis)

Interview with Maureen Stapleton
Conducted by James Grissom
Lenox, Massachusetts

I always felt protective toward her. I liked her. While I had no reason to feel sorry for her--she was beautiful and rich and loved--I did: I just knew that she was a magnet for shit, and I saw a lot of people unload on her. She was a child--a sweet, needy child, and I'm very Irish and very Catholic and basically a decent person, and I think you take care of children and needy people. I think you reach out to the sad people and the sick people, and I always felt that Marilyn was an inch and a half from deep sadness. If I made her comfortable--and she told me I did--it was because I wasn't after her for anything but friendship, and I had a house full of noise and kids and open doors. She could let it hang with me, and I wish--like a lot of other people--that I had kept the doors open more often. She was a good person. She was not treated well.

© 2014 James Grissom