Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I once knew a woman who only watched Gary Cooper movies.

She was an English woman, who had the most beautiful face I’d ever seen (which made me sure she was of Irish descent!).

I’m no good at guessing ages, so I have no idea what hers was. She had an almost wrinkle-free face, but completely white hair, very very long, that she mostly wore pinned up or pulled back.

She worked for a national TV entertainment news show, on the production side, and lived in Hollywood, when I was first living and working out there in the early 1980s.

It was just before video became common, so if you wanted to see old movies, you went to the revival theaters that existed in most cities or to screenings put on by college film societies. Or, you watched them on TV, if and when they showed up there.

Whenever a Gary Cooper film turned up on the weekly TV schedule, this woman would cancel all dates, appointments, even job assignments, to stay home and watch them

Otherwise, in her spare time, she read books about Cooper.

I was fascinated by her obsession with him, but also put off a little. Even though I was married at the time and had no intention of cheating on my wife, I still found it a little insulting, as a live male, to be constantly hit with this obsession she had with a dead movie star.

But now, I get it. As I have mentioned in a few posts. There’s a group of women “artists” I feel I am in some kind of relationship with, even though they’re all dead!

(Obviously it’s imaginary and one-sided in terms of them being dead and having had no contact with me when they were alive, which, as I’m sure someone will readily point out, makes it easier to deal with than live people, because you can always close a book, or imagine a response from someone who isn’t really present, except through their work. But that’s the point, their work is the response, and I am part of the audience they created it for, or if not for than at least to be responded to by.)

The three I most feel that way about are the writer Martha Gellhorn, the photographer and writer Lee Miller, and the artist Eva Hesse.

Every time I encounter them through their work, I feel connected in ways that are deeper than anything I feel through the work of other artists, and in fact deeper than some of the flesh and blood relationships I have had.

Which made me think of this beautiful white-haired English woman and what seemed so eccentric and almost insulting back in the days when she would cancel a dinner date with my wife and I in order to stay home and watch an old Gary Cooper movie on TV.

I wonder if she’s still alive, and if she is, does she spend all her time now, or all her spare time, watching old Gary Cooper movies on DVDs or cable?

I’m not that bad. I accomplish a lot in a typical day, but it does always include some reading or viewing of the work of one of the women I have this more-than-mere-fan relationship with.

I have a feeling, now that I’m finally using the internet as a means for connecting to others—as well as all the more traditional methods still—that there are a lot of these kinds of “relationships” that develop through exposure to others work through the web.

I don’t mean live people connecting through the web, I mean live people discovering the personalities and thoughts, and beliefs and creations and lives of people now dead but whose work, be it writing, art, or whatever, still lives on and is accessible on the net.

With me it’s been through other means, mostly books. But however you come to the lives and work of these people, has anyone else had this experience?

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