Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where were they?

I like birthdays generally, but they're not a huge deal to me. I'm not a party person or a presents person, so there's little to do. I figure a year is a year.
This year, however, I turned twenty. Twenty is a big deal, right? Right! ANALYSIS TIME!
I sat down a few days in a row during my birthday week and tried to think seriously about this new development, but I couldn't come up with much. Yeah, a person's twenties are supposed to be exciting, but I feel like I've already gotten a lot of the exciting stuff under way -- leaving school, moving out, supporting myself in a new city. One is supposed to do a lot of growing and changing during their third decade, but that's hard to qualify and plan for until you've really gotten the ball rolling on something besides aaaahhh I'm not in college. What that ultimately means, then, at least for me, is that thinking hard about one's twenties is... hard.

So. With nothing much to go on, rather than dwell on the uninspiring blank slate of my own life, I've looked elsewhere for inspiration - to history! The ladies who had gone before me, ladies I love and admire. What were they doing at my stage of life? Where were they at age twenty? I've gone to them for advice and to learn from their experiences. I just want a jumping-off point, something to give me perspective.

(Spoiler alert:
Shouldn't have asked.)

Turns out,

Jean Seberg, with whom I have felt a kinship ever since she inspired my drastic sophomore year haircut, was making her first film (Bonjour Tristesse) and looked like this:

Lauren Bacall made To Have and Have Not AND hung out with Hoagy Carmichael AND fell in love with Humphrey Bogart - what a year. Bogey fell right back; maybe it had something to do with that line about whistling? Of course she also looked pretty good. She was twenty, I mean, everyone's done looking awkward and frumpy at twenty! We all look like this:

Deanna Durbin had her first grown-up movie role in her third decade. She made the switch from teen queen to full-grown woman at age twenty, probably much to her relief. A decidedly more grown-up movie to follow was Christmas Holiday with Gene Kelly, but the breakthrough that came first was It Started With Eve, co-starring the passably cute Robert Cummings:

Joan Crawford made her Hollywood debut and knocked out eight films at age twenty. She had nothing to recommend her but her Charleston and snagged mostly uncredited roles as a dancer or extra.

Myrna Loy got started at twenty, too. She made five films in her first year, also playing background characters. Myrna was typecast for a long time as a vamp or "exotic" woman - this was before she became instantly classy and amazing by playing Nora Charles in The Thin Man. That didn't come until age 29. In the meantime, she played lots of slave girls! Exotic indeed! Bee tee dubs I think my ovaries just gave up. They know I'm never going to be a real woman.

Leslie Caron was hand-picked by Gene Kelly for her first film role, Lise Bouvier in An American in Paris. Nothing fancy, really. Playing Gene Kelly's love interest in a Gershwin-scored, six-Oscar-winning musical epic and knocking out an iconic, genre-defining fifteen-minute ballet dream sequence is okay for some people, but I prefer a less ostentatious lifestyle. I like to roll dough for crap money and sit at my coffee table eating pistachios in my free time.

To continue with Gene Kelly's lucky proteges, Debbie Reynolds was just twenty when she made Singin' in the Rain. If I have to (sarcastically) impress upon you why that is a huge fucking deal, re-evaluate your life now please.

Jeanne Crain, perhaps best known for dancing with my grandfather that one time, got to mack with Dana Andrews in State Fair at twenty years old. I shit you not, when I discovered this one I almost cried. Real. Tears.

It was at about this point in my initial research (DANA ANDREWS) that I fled Hollywood and tried to find less depressing, more realistic examples from... the literary world! Where my ladies of the page at? Literary girls aren't super foxy and kissing your dead soulmates, right?

Right. Turns out that when literary girls turn twenty, they only publish career-making poems that later get carved into mountainsides in their memory. Ever heard of "Renascence"? No? Well, ever heard of EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY? She was nineteen when she wrote that shit. You know where you were at nineteen? Still figuring out your alcohol limit. At best.

Other literary girls are less intimidating - Emily Bronte, for example, worked as a teacher at age twenty but suffered a breakdown from stress and returned home to kill time teaching herself German and practicing the piano. That's about right, Emily - strike out on your own only to be crushed by psychological weakness and return, humiliated, to lonely self-improvement in the family home! This is okay. Until you start taking your claustrophobic, miserable life and turning it into shit like Wuthering Heights and making us all look so... unproductive. Couldn't you just journal it out? That's what normal people do. "Dear Diary, today my peers advanced another step beyond me in the journey toward functionality and self-actualization. I am going to take more naps."

Dorothy Parker was orphaned and had to support herself playing piano at a dancing school. That sounds rough. It sounds character-building. It sounds depressing. Man, I sure am better off than she was at my age! Except for that little "dedicating her spare time to perfecting her craft" habit that scored her a job the next year at Vogue... Whatevs.

Zelda Sayre (fun fact: a writer in her own right!) married F. Scott and became Zelda Fitzgerald in her twentieth year. WHO ARE YOU DATING?? To be honest, from then on she wasn't much of a role model, but, for what it's worth, girlfriend made a fortunate alliance. Check it out.

I mean... She had a baby with the man who wrote the short story that inspired the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt The Great Gatsby.

Lastly, however, I can leave you with a doozy.
Drawn neither from the glittering firmament of Hollywood glamazons or the less-fancy writer ladies brain trust - from a land altogether different - I give you...
A literary heroine.

Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth fucking Bennet was twenty years old.

Forgive me....
I have to go be depressed.

1 comment:

  1. Luckily for you Jo all these things happened within their twentieth years and so faf you are only a mere what sixteen days in? Youve got a whole eleven months left! I on the other hand have completely passed my prime and the only thing going for me is that I can legally drink it all away!! I think Zelda may approve of that... However drinking heavily all the time seems much more charming in the 1920's... Ignoring prohibition like a badass.