Monday, September 10, 2007

My Mother -- The Actress

One of my mother's cherished fantasies is the one where she could have been a movie star. She grew up in Los Angeles and blossomed into a striking beauty. Nothing was ordinary about her beauty...it was the kind of exotic beauty that turned the heads of men and women. I know this is true because I've seen it for myself. I've seen the pictures. I've seen the person. She didn't make up this part of the story. Her breath-taking beauty of youth was the primary source of her downfall. It gave her great power which she delighted in exploiting.

A story my mother loves to tell is the one where she is dressed up and walking down a street in Hollywood. She was somewhere around eighteen to twenty years old. Whom should she pass but Sophia Loren. Ms. Loren was flanked by a couple of men, but was not looking so hot that day. No make-up, not dressed up, disheveled and behaving badly. Ms. Loren saw my mother, turned, and asked those around her, "who is that?" My mother is careful to emphasize how startled and jealous Ms. Loren seemed to be. My mother has told this story over and over to me and others. There is possibly a grain of truth in it, but I suspect it is largely the product of my mother's grandiose dreams. My mother seemed to have a life-long competition going with Sophia Loren. Some reasons for this is that they were somewhat close in age (Loren is just a few years older), both were exotic beauties, Loren was an actress and my mother always fancied herself to be one, too. My mother imagined herself to be everything Loren was, only better.

Over the years I have heard my mother occasionally remark on how she could have been a "consummate actress". Her words. I had always believed her. Now, I think, "Yeah, you could have been an actress, but you would have been Norma Desmond, not Sophia Loren." There is no doubt that my mother has acting skills. She has always been playing to an audience. Much of her act, though, was playing to her greatest strength...her looks. With the fading looks it is much easier to see that the acting skills leave a lot to be desired.

Joe Gillis: You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

Which brings me to "Norma Desmond" of to 1950 movie Sunset Blvd. I love this movie. It is so my mother. The character of Ms. Desmond captures the essence of my mother in her declining years. Even though Norma hasn't been on the silver screen for twenty years she is always living in her past as though it is present. She has turned her crumbling mansion into a shrine to herself, and her butler diligently props up her delusions by writing and sending her fan mail so she thinks she still has an adoring public. I'm sure that many people watch this movie and laugh at Gloria Swanson's over-the-top acting as "Norma Desmond". I applaud her for it. One of the qualities of a narcissist is their over-the-top acting jobs! What may look like pure fiction to certain viewers greatly resembles the reality of my own mother. I've seen all of it in real life. Ms. Swanson captures the essence of the narcissist in this movie. Even the fricking hand and arm movements are familiar to me. At the very least, Ms. Swanson captures the essence of my narcissist mother.

I especially love it when movies depicting narcissistic characters get the ending right. Happy endings where the narcissist suddenly becomes a real human being always strike me as silly and hitting a flat note. It is not an ending I can believe, so it ruins the whole story for me. Narcissists end badly. Period. Sunset Blvd. shows the main character, Norma, as finally being completely consumed by her delusions. She escapes harsh reality by totally committing herself to her fantasy about herself and life. Consequently, she goes mad. She commits herself to her madness because she has to escape from the egregious crime she commits in the name of jealous "love". Rather than face the truth of her actions, she makes the final descent into her insane fabrications. All that being said, I laugh throughout this film-noir at many points including the ending. The character is playing to her "audience" right to the bitter end. Just like my mother.

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

UPDATE: Apparently I forgot the most important detail to the Sophia Loren Story. My cousin has heard all my mother's stories much more recently than I have due to having been in my mother's life more recently than I have. Here's the punchline I forgot. I am sure I forgot it because I never believed it. It was one of those things I just flushed because it was so damn silly.

Okay, brace yourself.

The next time my mother saw Ms. Loren (where? when? who knows) she had completely changed her look. No longer the potty-mouthed, disheveled and ill-behaved wretch. She was well-dressed, perfectly coiffed, lady-like and carrying herself with the same exact airs as she saw my mother demonstrate that day by just passing her on the street. It wasn't until then that her career took off. Yes, folks. You didn't know this, but Sophia Loren found success by emulating my very own mother. How's that for a grandiose sense of oneself?

20 comments:

Barbara said...

Similar story myself with my mother.

Of course probably one teeny bit of truth blown into a MOUNTAIN of N-Supply by her.

I swear they are all from Planet-B.

Anonymous said...

Facinating insight about Sunset Blvd.

I love that movie, and never realized that Norma Desmond is a classic narcissist until reading this. One of those head-slapping "duh" moments.

My sympathies for having grown up with such a person.

Anonymous said...

What I have never been able to figure out is how the N who has nothing (looks, lifestyle, talent) can have such an encompassing sense of entitlement. I know it's the illusion of their image they see, but come on! Don't they ever pass a mirror?

Anna Valerious said...

Their mirror is you. That is what they us for. To reflect to them the image they want to see. Yeah, it can be pretty incomprehensible what they can delude themselves about. But they couldn't do it so well without us.

Barbara said...

Anonymous - You have to grasp that Ns don't think like us and are unable to feel. You may know the N has no looks but they have no clue. And your telling them is going to cause them to rage at you.

Anna - I get the BIGGEST kick out of that photo of Norma Desmond. Its one of my all time favorite movies, btw.

Anna Valerious said...

Hey, Barbara,

Is it cuz Norma Desmond acts a lot like your mother, too?

I only recently (a little over a year ago) discovered "Sunset Blvd." It is now one of my favs. That, and "Death Becomes Her". That campy, silly movie captures other aspects of my incredibly vain mother. I scream laughing every time I watch it. It has a perfect ending for the Ns.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to rent Sunset Blvd now.

Peggy

Anna Valerious said...

Peggy,

Hopefully you will post your review here. :o) I'm interested on what your "take" on it is.

jordie said...

My mother was born at the same time and place as the Queen of England, and that therefore entitles her to a special connection, apparently.

I actually believed it all as a little kid.

Some time ago one of my sisters told me that her work colleagues used to call her 'The Duchess' behind her back because of her airs and graces.

I find it interesting that my mother still thinks of herself as young even though she is in her eighties. She visits an old folks home and talks about them as though they were ancient, when they are the same age as her.

Its truly incredible how they see themselves.

Barbara said...

Nah - my mother wasn't Norma Desmond. My mother (even looked a little, as she got older) like the mother on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. The passive aggressive undermining, etc. Definitely my mother - gave me the chills.

One of my all time favs is DANGEROUS LIAISONS. 2 Ns go head to head over sex. One ends up realizing he's been a sh*t and gets killed (i.e. the N 'explosion' if they ever realize what they've done) and the other is exposed and humiliated. I used to be an actor so the acting is stellar. And the moral is wonderfully presented.

Did you ever see the movie SIDEWAYS? Thomas Hayden Church plays a character that is most N men I have ever come across (Friend or Romantically).

My late Nmom always had a very skewed view of everything. She told everyone I looked like Princess Di (I don't - not one bit). She also never admitted to people I was a working actor and got my late Dad to follow suit. I was the family embarrassment - she made that quite clear. Even the awards I won while in grad school for acting? She was mortified.

Gotta wonder if Ns ever see themselves in these characters? Its so obvious but I seriously doubt it, though.

Anonymous said...

This is hysterical. My mom was also a "could have been" great actress - if only she hadn't been sucked into a young marriage with kids, she might have reached her potential! Tragic!

I thought I was the only kid who had pictures of my mother that were airbrushed headshots - autographed to "my darling daughter". One of my birthday presents a few years ago was a big-ass pastel portrait of HERSELF, the study for the full-length real-size oil portrait of herself she keeps in her bedroom.

The only way I can laugh is that the portrait was done by a family friend's daughter. The family has more money and status than the daughter does artistic talent, however, and the portrait, of my mother in an evening gown, curiously makes my mom look, for all eternity, as if she has to use the restroom. Oh, and my mother's brushes with fame are similar - her favorite is something about a red dress and a major director who picked her out of a hundred women because she was smart enough to wear a "sexy red dress." Ah, the red dress story ...

Stormchild said...

Ah, but your mother is a consummate actress, isn't she? All her life, people have believed that she is a human being... capable of love, kindness, gratitude.

... if that isn't the ultimate form of Acting, what is?
*shudder*

Anna Valerious said...

An actress? No doubt. A consummate actress? No way. Which is why I compared her acting to Norma Desmond. Over the top. Unrealistically dramatized.

I would believe my mother was a consummate actress if she actually kept people in her life. She is not able to keep people fooled for great lengths of time. She is finding herself quite alone in her old age. Without the veneer of youthful beauty the acting job loses its power. Yes, she has fooled some of the people some of the time. That is no proof she is a good actress. It only tends to prove that Barnum's maxim holds true: there is a sucker born every minute.

Anonymous said...

New reader, compulsively going through your archives. The narcissist in my life is my mother-in-law. She adorns both her grandiose homes (which they can't really afford, but appearance is everything) with photos of herself, mostly as a young and admittedly very beautiful woman. She loves to tell the story of how she met Brad Pitt on the ferry to Alcatraz - "I was 45 then, and pretty cute". She's now nearly 60 but still wears her hair waist length and bottle blonde, all the better to toss around Miss Piggy style.

Noni said...

Dear Anna! I laughed my heart out at the last story about S. Loren; and coincidentally my own mother's name is Sophia; so, considering the fact that my MIL is a N-MIL .....Hahahahha... The story fits me so well. Lol... I want to share one of my N-MIL's delusional fantacies. Once she went to see the paternal grandfather of her only son-in-law. That poor old guy was a ninety-year-old patient of cancer and was on his death bed. He had lost almost all of his consciousness when my N-MIL met him. When she came back home, I asked her about his condition. I was expecting her to tell me something about him, but LO AND BEHOLD! She told me how that old man on his death bed had glorified her beauty and intellect...

Noni said...

According to my MIL, that poor old guy had compared her with his own daughter-in-law (my MIL's "counterpart" whom she had always competed with) and glorified my MIL as being superior both in intellect and beauty. I was shocked to hear that from her mouth. My God! How could it be possible that a ninety years old man on his death bed could even recognize her? And even if he did, why the hell would he ONLY talk about her?

Noni said...

She used to compete with me a lot in the earliest years of my marriage. Once, she just picked up a silly argument (one-sidedly) and dragged me into it. Actually, she was busy supervising the construction project of her new house and there was some very ordinary incident of recognizing a truck, loading the bricks she had purchased, on the same highway she was travelling with her husband. They were coordinating with the driver on their cell phones to guide him through the roads of the city as the driver wasn't familiar with them and had come for the first time..

Noni said...

While coordinating with him on the cell, she saw a nearby truck in a traffic jam on the same road and found out that it was the same truck. Well, she was telling me all that so enthusiatically and I didn't even have an iota of clue as to what she was trying to conclude from that. After some time, I realized that she was childishly seeking my attention and wanted me to tell her something like "Oh Aunty! You're such an intelligent goddess that nobody can match you."...

Noni said...

But, I was obviously irritate by her because it wasn't such a big deal. I just ignored her as she had stormed into my bedroom when I didn't want her. After some time, when she got really pissed off, she said in a condescending tone,"Had there been an 'average' woman like you in my place, she would have never beeh able to figure out the truck." I turned to her and asked very frankly, "Are you trying to belittle me Aunty?" And with an evil laughter she said "Yes". Then I lost it but keeping my composure I said, "Oh I forgot that you were Margarette Thature". :D Se was so obviously purturbed and embarrassed that she couldn't even make an eye contact with me any more and left the room murmuring something about her husband..

Noni said...

Actually, she believes that THE WHOLE WORLD REVOLVES AROUND HER AND MORE IMPORTANTLY IT CANNOT FUNCTION WITHOUT HER. LoL :D