Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

["...while in her cups at the Coach and Horses bar, Barbara would often take out a miniature statue of St. Jude from the pocket of her house dress and talk to it." --from an interview with Payton biographer John O'Dowd]

All her incantations couldn't conjure
one last drop of even bad luck
from the dregs of Old Jude's soggy bottom.

(I am not ashamed
to say the heart stopped long ago)

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Like cats, I apparently also need some sort of Water Sign incarnation in my life at all times (completely lacking such in my own astrological chart), because now Barbara Payton (November 16) has stepped in to fill the void in my real life.

I was bored at work last week and started randomly browsing around for "Franchot Tone" (Joan Crawford's 2nd husband), just casually looking for stuff about Franchot/Joan that I could possibly use for my Joan site. Ended up instead reading about Tone's third wife, Barbara Payton, especially multiple interviews with her recent biographer John O'Dowd.


I already knew about Payton's self-destructive story (a brief 6-year film career -- the downhill slide accelerating after her lover Tom Neal famously beat her fiancĂ© Tone into a coma in 1951; by '55 she couldn't find any more movie work; by '62 she was a full-blown prostitute; she died of heart/liver failure in 1967, at age 39, at her parents' home). And, at age 48, I wasn't particularly fascinated by it as, say, I might have been at age 17 or 18, when my passion for a year or two was the equally (albeit differently) "doomed" Frances Farmer,  after the release of the bio-pic starring Jessica Lange. (While Farmer's film career was jettisoned by a combination of her own superior attitude and the political climate of the time, she did manage to pull herself together in the last 10 years of her life, dying in her 50s of throat cancer.)

But a couple of things from the O'Dowd interviews struck me: (1) the quote that I put before the poem above, about Payton talking to her St. Jude figurine. (Good lord, there but for the grace of god go I! I didn't beg St. Jude for help in my recent very barren years upon being forced to come home from NYC, but I was in EXACTLY that place around '96-'97, complete with heartfelt chats with St. Jude candles that I bought for $1 apiece from the Hispanic section of local grocery stores.)

And (2) another O'Dowd interview quote: "A former actor named John Rayborn, who was an ex-lover of Barbara's, told me that they would often lie around the Wilcox Hotel and write poems together. He said hers were always very spiritual and talked a lot about God and religion." I then found the exact Rayborn quote from O'Dowd's bio, a bit less genteel: "For several months, Barbara and I holed up in that godforsaken Wilcox dump where we drank all day, screwed, wrote poems and talked about religion. I laid around on my ass like a bum while she turned tricks to support us. I remember the room smelling like booze, dirty bodies and even dirtier sex. Real nice life, huh?"

Now, I don't think I was ever in any danger of THAT --- too anal and judgmental and misanthropic and egotistical and boundary-conscious to ever be comfortable for very long with true lowlifes -- but I was extremely touched by her desire for poetry and God even in the worst of physical surroundings and circumstances. She didn't care about her body, but was making an effort at sustaining her soul in the midst of her physical degradation...

And then an odd third thing that struck me, from a brief excerpt from her '63 autobiography "I Am Not Ashamed" that I was able to read via Amazon's "Look Inside" service: While she's hanging out in Mexico in the late '50s with a native whom she was briefly married to, a severe storm came in. The man was concerned, as most of us would probably be, with salvaging his boat and home, but all she could think about -- inspired by the storm -- was ripping off her clothes and wanting violent sex from
him... That sounds prurient of me to mention, but the way she described it was wanting "one-ness" with the storm, which I, while being too cowardly to act upon such an impulse in real life, also understood. She also described the way her husband looked at her: With pity and disgust. She knew that was the moment that their marriage was over, and she understood why. And I have the feeling that she got that reaction many times in response to her many overt expressions of Id (that most of us suppress so well). Says Freud on the Id:

"It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations.... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle."
A "chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations" indeed. And with that, I ordered O'Dowd's 480-page bio, "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." So I could continue to live with some sort of Scorp/Water Sign. From a safe distance.


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A weird side-note: When I woke up this morning, I was trying to finish the last line of the poem in my head, about St. Jude and all. When I was about to step into the shower, I heard a female voice's "Hello?" It wasn't from next door or out in the hall or the TV or anything. I freaked out for a sec, then said to whoever: "Just don't scare me in the shower. Please." I was, blessedly, obliged.

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