Sunday, May 3, 2009



Asked what she’d like for Christmas Natalie,
whose name recalls the holiday, replied,
“Just yesterday!” a present we can’t have since, fatally,
by definition it is time that’s died.

Frederic Raphael reviews Jeffrey Vance’s “Douglas Fairbanks” in the TLS, April 24, 2009 (“Quicksilver”:

Douglas Fairbanks was the early and emblematic embodiment (he took obsessive care of his physique) of the rugged individual who combined old-world chivalry, and swordplay, with the go-getter’s all-American brio. Quick to strip to the cinched waist, he was actor and athlete, grinning charmer and suntanned daredevil whose blade cut a swathe – literally in The Mark of Zorro – through the bad guys. Jeffrey Vance’s glorified, and glorifying, picture book retrieves the memory and the glamour of one of the first superstars. The text gives us all the details of his unique career anyone could care to read, but the pictures give us the winning smile. If there was no one quite like Douglas Fairbanks before him, there has been no shortage of imitators since…
In the prettiest, if hardly the truest, phrase in this fattened filmography, Booth Tarkington is cited as saying of Fairbanks, “Certainly he will never be older – unless quicksilver can get old”. In fact, dread of age was his and every handsome actor’s occupational malaise. I recall being flown to New York for a conference to meet an unusually long-faced Robert Redford. He had just been told by his dentist that he needed root canal work. When he asked if the condition was serious, he was told “Not a bit; it’s just something that comes with the years”. Not a bit was a bit too much: Redford’s suite turned into the condemned cell and no further work was done. Vance promises that Fairbanks “the private man was elusive and inconsolable”; presumably the latter because every day that passed was gone forever. I am reminded of Natalie Wood, lying on Zuma Beach one Christmas Eve gazing into her make-up mirror, in the hope, one imagines, that if she kept a keen eye on herself she would never change. When someone asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said, without looking up, “Yesterday”.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/1/09

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