I can’t pinpoint my love of old Hollywood or my interest in my roots to a certain day or year. My memory has always been unreliable- at times fuzzy and prone to fugues, at times strangely precise. I think history is like that, too. Some details fade completely. Others, with some effort, remain and become woven into a multi-colored sweater of lore that you put on occasionally when you want to feel warm. My newly adopted motto, when it comes to both memories and history, is: “Write it down before it fades!” This blog is, in part, an attempt to do just that.
I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t interested in my roots. When I was a child I no doubt exasperated my mom with constant requests to “tell me a story” about her family. Genetics was the only part of Biology class that didn’t make me feel like a medieval torture victim. Maybe because I was an only child, I grew up fascinated by siblings and big families. I could tell you the difference between a second cousin and a 1st cousin 1x removed without blinking an eye. There was always a detective inside lying dormant, but it was the birth of my daughter, 2 and a half years ago, that really woke me up. DNA became this thing that was not only me, but her. I want her to know her history. Facts are facts and can stick around, but the stories are the things that are most in danger of fading…and who doesn’t love a good story? I want her to know the one about my grandfather Harold Lyle Brown, a navigator in World War 2, and the case of bronchitis that prevented him from flying and saved his life when his plane was shot down. Then maybe I’ll work around to the one about my great aunt Edith DiBagno, who, when left by her parents to collect the rent on their properties, did so…with interesting results. Edith was a character.
My interest in classic Hollywood began around the time I saw Desk Set on the Turner Classic Movies channel, introduced by Robert Osborne, the remarkably endearing (former) “face” of Turner Classic Movies. Again, my memory is fuzzy on the details. I don’t know if I remember watching Desk Set when it aired on TCM, but I do know I watched the VHS copy that my dad recorded many, many times. Katharine Hepburn and Joan Blondell could make any desk job look glamorous. Smart ladies who knew they were smart, who snorted when they giggled because they drank too much champagne at the office Christmas party, who just happened to have a dessert with the intriguing name of Floating Island in their “icebox” on a Friday night, who refused to have their jobs taken by the most enormous computer i’d ever seen and worked together to outwit it quickly became the epitome of what I wanted to be. The garish, hot pink Electronic Dream Phone (from the 1991 Milton Bradley game) served as my “office phone” while I scribbled notes on my dad’s old work stationary and mimicked Blondell’s snappy-sweet way of speaking. Desk Set is still one of my favorites, though I have yet to see a water dispenser filled with champagne at any of MY desk jobs.
One of the saddest things to me is realizing that some of my favorite faces in Hollywood are fading and fading fast. Many people have never heard of Ava Gardner, let alone Florence Lawrence. In addition to recording my own family history and stories, I would like to dedicate a post to one of my favorite classic stars every now and again. Having them fade away completely is too depressing for me to accept without some form of protest. This is it.
I can’t promise that my writing will be fluid, as I tend to think in bursts. I will probably come back and add to posts as I remember details. Memories and stories. What’s important is just writing them all down, whenever you can. Ask the questions and write down the answers. Write them down, write them down, write them down. It’s the best advice I can offer.