Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TC: Hollywood Dreaming (Gavin Lambert / Russell Lee)



Young woman standing on sidewalk with suitcase, Hollywood, California
: photo by Russell Lee, April 1942

Driving home, I wondered if there was anything that anyone could do about her. Could the magazines come true, and Emma Slack (with a new name) be made a star? In a way, I didn't care. With her appalling, cruel, perfect egocentricity, it was difficult to conceive of Emma helpless, Emma lost: the little figure behind the palm trees, wandering down Hollywood Boulevard, turned away from the studio gate, listening breathlessly to a retired star's useless reminiscences -- this had to be a game, a chosen role. Nobody could be as naïvely heartbreaking as that. In a few weeks' time she might have to give up the part, with her savings gone she'd take a job as a waitress or store attendant, or go back to the aunts. And it would be all over . . . In another way, I cared a little. There was a kind of fanaticism about Emma, and perhaps this made her really helpless. In a city full of dreamers, she clung with such fierceness to an obviously fragile dream. When I thought of that, she struck me as about the most impermanent person I could imagine in the world.


Sign and ticket window of a large dance palace, Hollywood, California: photo by Russell Lee, April 1942

Russell Lee photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

Gavin Lambert: Dreaming Emma, from The Slide Area, 1959

“It is only a few miles’ drive to the ocean, but before reaching it I shall be nowhere. Hard to describe the impression of unreality, because it is intangible; almost supernatural; something in the air. (The air . . . Last night on the weather telecast the commentator, mentioning electrical storms near Palm Springs and heavy smog in Los Angeles, described the behavior of the air as ‘neurotic’. Of course. Like everything else the air must be imported and displaced, like the water driven along huge aqueducts from distant reservoirs, like the palm trees tilting above the mortuary signs and laundromats along Sunset Boulevard.) Nothing belongs.”

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