Thursday, October 23, 2008

Willow Wayne: How A Star Stays A Star

Willow Wayne is a statuesque movie star, television presence, and songstress. At 16 she was a cover girl, at 20 she starred in her first film, to much acclaim. She and the director were an item for awhile, they made all the magazine covers, then he went home to his wife. 

Over the course of 25 year she made a few reasonably successful films, starred in two television series, married a bartender from Oklahoma, bore a son with prominent ears, then a daughter with Downs Syndrome shortly before she divorced her second husband, a pediatrician. She moved on to her then-agent, who did not want the twins she produced. She fired her publicist after a poolside session made her arms look fat. 

"You're a has-been," the agent-husband harped late one night after a party. "All you did was shout into your cell phone, all night. You are desperate for attention."

He was right. She left him in a huff, leaving the big house in the hills behind. She had hated the steep driveway, and her driver, and her secretary, couldn't afford it anymore, anyway.

A Cape Cod style house on a tree-lined street with a locked front gate, accessed only by a buzzer hid her from the glare as she contracted a new career. The living room became a jazz stage, musicians and paid friends were hired to build up a thin voice and highlight a dramatic presentation. 

"Hello," she called gaily from her bed, as whoever assembled downstairs a couple weeks before her first gig at a small intimate club. "I'll be down when I'd ready," she said, her voice lilting an octave. Meantime, she rearranged herself in the middle of the bed, placed a call to her daughter, no answer. Then a call to someone, arranging a late lunch on Thursday, since she had to rehearse. 

"Where's my diamond necklace?" she screamed. "I can't sing without it," she wailed to her secretary over her cell phone even though the woman was in the kitchen. "My voice will crack. You know I hate that," she said, snapping the phone shut. She ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing it into a kind of shape, her silk dressing gown gaping open. "Get in here," she screamed to anyone who could hear her.

"Where is my coach? He knows I'm hopeless without him." Willow started to cry, crocodile tears. "Why do all these people let me down? Don't they know there are rules, it takes discipline to be me? FYI folks. Only the star can break the rules."

All that is another lifetime now. Her act is perfect. She enters the room to applause, one of her hit songs leading off the show. "Thank you for coming tonight," she always says. "We're going to have a wonderful evening. I do this for you, your pleasure and happiness." Her face shines. Her gowns shimmer sleekly curvaceous around a purposefully-willowed figure. 

"You're beautiful," an audience member calls out. 

"Spanx, you know," she answers smartly, knowingly catching the eye of women in the small club lounge. "How many of you ladies are wearing your spanx tonight? Where would we be without them, ladies?" 

The women applaud. The men laugh. Willow wraps an arm sensuously beneath her glued-on push-up pseudo bra, wrapping long red finger nails around a hip and humming her way into some ballad or another.

At late night champagne and oyster dinner with her current lover, she insists, absolutely insists her lover pick up the check. She'll make him a breakfast he'll never forget, but in the morning he is gone, they are always gone. She watches The View on TiVo from her bed, silk gown gaping open, Tiffany drop pendant on a diamond chain under the bed, clouded from view by dust bunnies.

"I'm scheduled to be on, you know," she says to no one in particular. "Unless I change my mind. I'm the star. I can reschedule if I want to."

And that's true. To an extent. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Valerie -Victim or virtuous?

Valerie's a skinny violinist with long fingers and a short neck. She plays various studio gigs, most at Warner Brother's studio in Burbank, most for the same composer and conductor, mostly with the same musicians, and most often in the late evening or at night. It's boring. It's good money. It's gone on for years.

There's a cartoon in Valerie's psychiatrist's office that has four frames. In the first, the patient is deflated, flat as a pancake. The psychiatrist looks normal. A vacuum cleaner-looking hose is hooked up between them. "How have you been?" the psychiatrist asks. 

 "I need your help. I'm depressed," the patient says in the second frame. "I'll do my best to help, tell me more," the psychiatrist says. He looses some of his stature, the patient gets more inflated. 

 "I have no life," the patient says in the third frame. "Why do you think that is?" the psychiatrist asks, deflating.  

"My wife is having an affair with the milk man," the patient says. "Are you certain? Have you seen them?" the psychiatrist ask. "Well, no. Maybe I'm being just being jealous," the patient answers as he swells to full size and the psychiatrist deflates flat as a pancake.

Valerie's psychiatrist's wife called her two days before their regular appointment. "He had an episode from the anesthesia during minor surgery, and is in the hospital," she said, her voice high pitched and taught. "Your appointment will have to be rescheduled."

"On, no," Valerie said, after a very shaky pause. She had become too dependent and drained him?  Whatifhedied, whatifhedied, whatifhedied swirled behind her eyebrows. "What seems to be the problem?" Valerie dared to ask, putting one word carefully after the other. 

"He's having an MRI, right now," his wife said. "They don't expect to find anything." Her soft, slight voice wavered.

"Oh, what a relief, " Valerie said with true sincerity. "How are you?"

"I am worried," his wife said.

"I know he'll be fine."  The words leapt from her mouth. "He knows how much we care." Valerie laughed, as much to reassure herself as his wife. 

"Yes, he will  be fine," his wife repeated, laughing slightly. Her voice full and firmer. "He is  a strong man. And he knows how we all want him around for a long time. Thank you."

Valerie remembered the cartoon. It's not about me right now, it's about him, his health. "Tell him I said he should rest and get better," she said a little too cheerfully.

They hung up. Valerie felt drained, and she had to go to work. He must be exhausted by the end of the day, she thought. She picked up her gear and left.

And that's true. To an extent.