The Seven Days meme: Day Three

day 01 | a song
day 02 | a picture
Day 03 | a book/ebook/fanfic
day 04 | a site
day 05 | a youtube clip
day 06 | a quote
day 07 | whatever tickles your fancy

____________________________

I had originally thought of being cute with this one, and plucking out something like the most obscure or weirdest book I own. Which — at least, in context — is a tiny 1964 paperback called From the Back of the Bus. It’s a collection of one-liners from Dick Gregory’s early career, complete with forward by Hugh Hefner.
I picked it up from a laundry room, feeling a bit smug, and boy was that knocked out of me but quick. This is Chris Rock’s direct ancestor; his MO was basically to get up in front of White audiences and make jokes about how racist they were. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night. "If I get them laughing, I can get through to them."

And it worked. They laughed. They packed the Playboy Club for weeks. Then he ran for President. I realise each generation creates its own level of insanity… but only in the 60’s, it sometimes seems, did they fully grasp the possibilities inherent therein.

************

Clara Bow didn’t ever have to worry about locating the crazy. It spun around her, spun through her, spun her right over the rainbow into some of the most magnetic images ever captured on the big screen. She had no Kansas – she had no idea there was even an Emerald City. And by the time the Wizard turned out to be humbug her silver slippers had long since fallen off, and been lost in the wasteland.

…which is to say, I’ve also been re-reading David Stenn’s Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild lately. Stories of old Hollywood tend to have that effect on me. For awhile there, you start believing that it’s actually possible to redo reality in Technicolour; the only similar reading experience I can think of is a Dickens marathon.

Anyway, if you like celeb bios, this is a classic of the genre, striking the perfect balance between subject and purpose. Where Clara was real — and she was very, very real, in a Tinseltown age where it was unforgivable — so is Stenn; where things must needs get artificial, Stenn sympathises, delicately, rather like a friend who’s trying sincerely not to laugh. Because, frankly, these people were nuts. At one point, we’re introduced to a Judge Ben Lindsey, 1920’s celebrity advocate for premarital sex; he asks to meet Clara; arriving at the swank home of her producer and his family, Clara promptly unbuttons the Judge’s fly; he promptly flees in a huff. This is a minor incident at the bottom of page 98 or thereabouts.

The really wild stuff is elswhere, and it has nothing to do with orgies with football teams (as it turns out, there weren’t any of those anyhow). By  the hideously sensible logic of the studio system of the time, Clara was the studio’s top draw, its most reliable meal ticket — therefore too damn reliable to be wasted in a good film. If you threw random junk up around her and it made millions, spending money on commissioning a fine original script, decent co-stars or even an artistic-minded director was actually counter-productive. So here’s the poor little slum kid on the treadmill, patiently waiting for stardom to make it all better, and here’s her studio, using that same priceless, vivid wistfulness to ensure it’s never going to happen.

Right. Next week, it’s back to Oz for awhile. I really, really need to find those slippers again.

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