How can she be dead?
I’ve turned into my father, I’m addicted to the obituaries. For the shock, for the connection, to feel good I’m still here.
Last week Bob Beattie died. He didn’t merit an obit in the L.A. “Times,” but he got credit in the “New York Times.” He made the U.S. Ski Team winners, by being a hard-ass. Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga won the first male Olympic ski medals. Then Beattie helped start the World Cup, and the Pro Tour, and he even had a show called “Ski World” on ESPN, before YouTube, when you just couldn’t get enough, the commercially unavailable theme song goes through my head all the time, it’s about dreams, about possibilities, I still have it on a videocassette, but I haven’t fired up my VCR in excess of a decade.
Susan Anspach was the intelligent woman who dissed you, who kept you on your toes, who didn’t need you. At least that’s how I remember her. She abandoned Woody Allen in “Play It Again Sam.” She abandoned George Segal for Kris Kristofferson in “Blume In Love.” She went mano a mano with Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces.” Back when movies eclipsed novels as the great American stories, when music paved the way and directors took over like players, forgoing corporate interference to get it right. You used to have to record in the company studios. You used to have to sacrifice final cut. And then…
We were addicted. We went to the movies constantly. Not to eat popcorn and Raisinets, but to peer into the human condition. It was what was going on in the mind. Spielberg has had a ton of commercial success taking people on roller coaster rides. I preferred to sit in my seat and be transported to another world where people understood me, dealt with the questions I had, gave me hope there was a better life out there.
When a movie star was unattainable and unknown. There was no TMZ. No endless promotional gravy train, publicists negotiating magazine covers. We didn’t really know who these people were, but we thought we did. We were in love with them.
I was working at Star Sporting Goods on Highland when I heard Jack Nicholson was in the store, just before filming “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” he and his driver were buying a ski rack and more. I went up to talk to him…
And he was as cool as the legend. Before he was ubiquitous. When youngsters knew him from “Easy Rider” and “The Last Detail,” before he got the front row seat at the Oscars, when the Oscars still meant something.
My mother went to a Judith Crist movie weekend with Frank and Eleanor Perry and told me about “Last Summer.” I went to see it and was transfixed by Barbara Hershey, it was her inner power.
As for Woody Allen….
We cracked up over “Take The Money and Run,” and then my entire family went to see “Play It Again, Sam” on Broadway. That’s right, we were up close and personal with Woody, Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts.
In the film…
Susan Anspach played the ex-wife.
I always thought she was Jewish, but the obits say otherwise. That’s right, we members of the tribe are always aligning with our landsmen. And when a Jew commits a crime we wince. And Anspach never radiated warmth, she was distant, you couldn’t hold her, and this made you want to hold her even more.
Every man has had this experience. The woman who won’t say yes. Who you then can’t help but follow. You ultimately realize it’s fruitless, that this is not what you’re looking for anyway, you always wonder if they find someone and are happy, believing there’s someone better out there than you, but most times the unhappiness is baked into the woman, or you didn’t really understand and get her in the first place.
But we wanted to.
That’s what being a movie star was. Larger than life.
Rock stars were life itself, but you could pay and see them, they were up there on stage. Whereas movie stars were unavailable. They were thirty feet tall and never viewed in real life. When I moved to L.A. in the seventies and would see them around…my jaw would drop, you mean they’re real?
They were icons, living in rarefied air. Forget that an actor plays a role, we suspended disbelief, we thought it was really them.
And you followed the players like sports. You saw actors and actresses from film to film.
And then they disappeared.
Some went to television, not that I ever watched much.
Others just retired.
But they were still the same in your brain. Young and vivacious. Frozen in time. Locked in amber. Hell, when I just pulled up clips I was stunned, because it’s easy to return to what once was, when you didn’t turn on your phone after the lights came on but exited the theatre tingling, thinking, pondering the possibilities.
And the flicks engendered conversation. About plot, motive, interior dialogue, we went to parties and spent hours arguing, it was a staple of college dorm life.
But that era is gone now.
Everybody’s available online, we find out that so many are superficial or unlovable, but back then we invested our own hopes and dreams in our favorites.
Movies were always big. But in the late sixties and seventies they usurped the mantle of the American zeitgeist from television, if you wanted to know which way the wind blew you listened to a record, if you wanted to know what was happening between two people, you went to the movies. Hell, if you didn’t, you couldn’t see so many of these films. They never made it to TV, although you could go to the revival house, it was a regular pilgrimage.
So it’s the end of an era.
I never met Susan Anspach. Never saw her around town. Yet I think I know her. That if I bumped into her we could start a conversation. I could try to peel back the layers, try to penetrate her shield, try to lock on.
But I don’t believe I could hold her, she’d look over my shoulder and see someone better, something more interesting. Because she was better than me.
They all were.
“We Rise With Our Dreams” from “Ski World” (fast-forward to 28:50)