MOTHER’S DIARY


Hollywood Hollywood

Hollywood Hollywood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The diary my mother never wrote is from what I read in the  FBI surveillance reports,  newspaper articles and what my father told me.  My mother’s emotion’s and thoughts erupt from years of research, intuition and imagination.  When I was eleven she gave me a diary. I’ve been writing ever since. I wanted my daughter or son to understand who I was, in case I died young like her. Instead I became dedicated to writing not childbearing.

I think every mother should keep a diary for her children.

Manhattan, December 1944

I am dancing at the Copacabana Night club for the next few weeks. This tiny smoky club is filled with many interesting people. It’s different from any modeling job.

I’m tired after working all day and night, and then taking the train back home to West Orange. Some of the girls are staying at the Barbizon Hotel, so I may also if it’s not too expensive.

Last night, a group of men were seated in the front row. I didn’t know who they were, but this one stared at me all through the show. He sent a bouquet of long-stemmed roses backstage and asked me to meet him for a drink.

When I declined, he was very insistent, and so persuasive I gave in. Later on, I found out he was seated with Frank Costello, the gangster. His name is Allen, and he asked me to dine with him the following night. I hesitated again, and I’m not sure why. He made me laugh and entertained everyone at the table.

January 1944

A talent agent from Hollywood came to the Copa to see all of us dance. Mum is so excited she is already telling everyone in town, I hate when she does this.

Allen called and I agreed to dine with him. We went to El Morocco. He knows so many people. He says he’s in the film business, but there’s talk amongst the girls that he’s a gangster.

March 1944

I’m going to Hollywood for an audition. Swifty Lazar, the one that came to the Copa to see our show, said MGM is signing musical actors. They liked my photos. Allen lives in Hollywood, and is handling all the details. He’s become very interested in my career. It’s all so sudden. There isn’t time to think.

April 1944

I spent a week in Hollywood. Allen drove me all over the city, took me to Santa Monica to see the ocean, to the nightclubs on Sunset Boulevard, and Beverly Hills.

It’s like a dream. I love the city, and MGM has offered me a contract. Again, Allen is helping me make decisions and understand the film business. I don’t know what he does, but he carries a lot of cash. He gets very disturbed when I question him. I met his friend Benjamin Siegel. They are both so handsome and get anything they want.

Summer 1944

We are moving out to California next month. Allen found an apartment in Beverly Hills for us, near where sister Pat can go to High School. She’s so excited. One of the models told me Ben Siegel is a gangster. I wish Allen would open up to me more.

When we moved, our new apartment was on a beautiful street. The apartment is smaller than home, and Mum misses her garden, but she seems happy. She found a Church she likes. She is going to learn to drive.

I have already learned to drive and am saving for a car. Allen knows someone who sells cars, and said he can get me a very good deal. Sometimes, I don’t hear from him for a week, and then he shows up on the studio set with presents.

Allen, Ben and George Raft were arrested for bookmaking. George called and said it wasn’t like the papers wrote, and that Allen would call me when he could.

I’m not to discuss this with anyone. I hid the paper from Mum.

George took me out to dinner. He wants me to be in a movie with him called Nocturne. He’s very fond of Allen and said not to believe what I read in the papers.

Next week we begin filming “Ziegfeld Follies.” Fred Astaire is magnificent to watch. Life is spinning. There is no time to read, or even think. Everyone in Hollywood wants to be a star. I still daydream of going to college one day.

November 1944

I am in love with Allen. There is no turning back. He is Jewish, and his family lives in Winnipeg, Canada. He won’t talk of them, but said he loved his mother.

I wonder so often about his life, but I cannot ask questions. Maybe one day he’ll trust me more. He’s suspicious of everyone. He said he’s going to marry me when his life settles down.

 

THE CHELSEA AND THE COPA


Darin at the Copa

Image via Wikipedia


 

The first twenty-four hours. I stepped out of the cab and into the froth of a seasonally warm Saturday night Halloween crowd.  The Chelsea Hotel Bell Captain trotted over to greet me.

“I’ll get those.” He grabbed the bag.

“You go inside.”

 

The pathway to the lobby entrance was red carpeted; a very old skeletal one that had been stepped on by plaque famous artists, writers, and bohemian debutantes. The Chelsea was built in 1883 as an apartment house. The neighborhood of 7th and 23rd Street used to be the theatre district.  The theatre crowd was replaced by the literati, and more recently by film and television celebrity.  The hotel is crumbling with novelettes.  Even though it has recently been restored, it has the feel of a craggy lady of the street.

 

The lobby was crusading with costumed ready to party extras. My traveling ensemble and exhausted expression didn’t fit into the scene. I needed to eat, drink, and take off my coat.  The desk clerk was very young,

“Your in Room 624–you’ll like the room, it’s a really nice one. Here’s the key.”  When I opened the door,  my vision parachuted as if the room was expanding the closer I got.  It looked staged rather than decorated: minimal pieces, colors that drew the eye in, and nothing to get in the way of feeling insignificant.  The walls were bare and the drapes partially opened.  I pulled them back to see the city; a jagged puzzle of gray brick buildings staring back at me. I watched the faint silhouette of people moving behind the glass and suddenly felt very alone and uncertain.  In haste I added a smudge of lipstick and left the room.  The clerk looked up as I came out of the elevator,

“You like the room?”  I nodded a bit falsely, because I wasn’t sure I really liked it. The room had more to say to me.

“Where is the closest Bistro?”

“Next door.”

 

I stepped across the red carpet and into the restaurant. At that moment I landed in Manhattan; the gravity sucked me down into a red leather cushioned booth. Then I remembered why I was here, the next day was the Copa reunion.

 

Twenty-four hours later Room 624 was mine.  Victor, one of three Chelsea staff doorman who zapped formality with the grace of a king met me at the entrance. He had time to wave to half a dozen people passing by, hail a taxi from the middle of 23rd street, open the door for a guest, and still talk to me.
“Hey! How you doing today?”
” I’m rested and on my way now.”  A young girl stepped out of the lobby.

“Hi honey,” Victor said,” Where areyou going? I worry about you.”
“Shopping,” she answered unconvincingly. “I like your outfit,” she said to me.
“Thank you. I’m going to an event I’ve waited for a very long time.”
“Oh yea, where to?” she asked.
“Have you heard of the Copa?”
”Sure, the Copacabana.” Victor started to hum the lyrics from the song and I dug out the book from my purse.

“I’m going to a Copa reunion–my mother danced there in the 40s.”

They looked at the photographs of the original Copa for the first time. New Yorkers will stop anything for New York anecdotes, especially history. Moments later the cab pulled up and I waved good-bye. I sat in the taxi and thought about my mother. She was seated next to me; an imaginary yet distinct vision that kept returning.
The moment I walked into the Copafest reception room a voice called out, “Louellen!” It was Kris, the author of the book. We embraced as our first meeting converged with written correspondence over the last year. The Copa dancers inched closer and I was anointed with their acceptance and love.

“This is them–they met at the Copa,” I said and showed them the photograph I had brought. One woman examined the photo and turned to me, I recognize him,” and she pointed to my father.

“And I recognize the man next to him.” It was someone I’d never been able to identify.

“Yep, I knew them.  Your mother was beautiful, she was here before me.”  Terri Stevens took my hand in hers and led me to the place where she was seated.
“What did you say your mother’s name was?”
“Lucille Casey.”
“Girls-girls! Come over here and meet Lucille Casey’s daughter.”  Engulfed in their presence for the next five hours, I had time to talk with each one. I’d written about these women in fictional detail eighteen years ago.  Now it was there turn to talk.

 

 

CASEY, A WOMAN OF SECRETS


CASEY, A WOMAN OF SECRETS

Sometimes a blank piece of paper is the only way to begin, as it is today. December is a blank canvass, I look out the window and there are only stark undressed tree trunks, and tiny snow rocks on the front lawn.  The sky is pale winter blue and the temperature is ten degrees.  December is the month that reminds me most of Casey, a woman that threw the dice all her life. She gambled on her dreams.

Casey never told me much about herself.  She lived in the present moment, and considered her past a private matter.  Once I learned of her struggles as a young woman and the life she’d chosen, she became more real than when I’d known her.  During the years we were friends, she handed out selected stories, abruptly, with final endings. Being the inquisitive character, the shallowness of her stories bated me.  I had to pry the truth out from other people who had known her, and from government documents.

Casey’s first gamble was at sixteen years old. She sent in a photograph of herself for the Redbook Magazine modeling contest. If she’d won, the Powers Modeling Agency in New York City would grant her an audition as a model.  Casey was living in East Orange, New Jersey with her mother and sister. Her father had died suddenly, leaving the family without a financier.  Her mother was lost without her husband, and unsuited to join the workplace.  Casey didn’t tell her mother about the contest, until she received the letter of congratulations.

John Robert Powers met Casey in his office on East 56th Street and signed her on as a Powers Girl. She was stunning to look at, she photographed like a movie-star, and she was modest.  John Powers did not look for aggressive, pouty lipped, fearlessness.    The Powers Girls were captioned, Long Stemmed American Beauties because they were wholesome, beautiful, tasteful, courteous, and virtuous. They were so far from the runway models of today it is almost a reversal of style.  The models of the thirties were ordained to set the highest example of a classic good breeding, and education. John not only schooled them in fashion, and individual taste, he instructed them in moral integrity, independence, and patriotism for their country.  So Casey went to school at John Robert Powers and became one of the top ten models in the country.

She was a blue black haired Irish beauty, with emerald green eyes and perfect teeth. She stood only 5’ 7” but in those days that was fairly standard. When I knew her, she was still thin and beautiful but she did not fuss about herself, or spend a lot of time at her vanity.  As a Powers model Casey had a long line of gentlemen callers. Powers Girls were invited to all the nightclub and dinner show openings, the sporting events, community galas and fund-raisers.  Social engagements were part of her job. Casey was not a woman of idle chat, in fact a lot of people thought of her as restrained and unfriendly, maybe even snobbish. I think it was more secrecy.  People were always prying into her life, because it looked glamorous.  But there was another side to that glamour she didn’t want to put a mirror to.

One evening Casey had a dancing engagement at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. She was on stage with some other dancers when a certain gentlemen noticed her.  The next chapter of Casey’s life began that night.  At twenty- two years old, she fell in love with a man thirteen years older, of the Jewish faith, and who lived in Hollywood.   Casey never told me that she fell in love with a gangster.    I do know once she felt love for this man, it could not be reversed. The consequences of her love forced her to change, to adapt to a new kind of life, and different people.

She did not bury or give back her love after she learned what he did for a living.  She asked him to reform his criminal activities and he agreed, if only she would marry him.  We all know at twenty-two a woman believes she can change a man, and a man lets her think she can.  Without that dream, many lovers would not have found their mates.

Casey did marry her love, and spent her life trying to keep her husband on the track of honesty.  I met her husband just after he tried to reform, and was beaten down by his past mistakes.   I called him Daddy.