Friday, February 3, 2012


It started in my remote youth, like in the middle 50's - my fascination with women's eye makeup. I couldn't get enough of blue eye shadow and arched eyebrows. I took every magazine that came to the house and if I didn't think they women had enough eye shadow, out came the crayons and I put tons of color between the eye lid and the brow. I was obsessed, to say the least. Sometimes I even experimented on my own face when the house was empty and no one was looking. Once, when Mama caught me in "full face" she burst into tears the next morning at breakfast and said, "You did that because you wanted to look like me, right?" Seeing my way out of it, I immediately lied, "Yes." Total lie, I had no desire to look like her. I was just fascinated with eye make up.

Early in the 60's there was talk everywhere of a remake of the movie "Cleopatra". First it was to star Joan Collins. She even made a copycat version called "Land of the Pharoahs" - big flop and hysterically funny. But then the real publicity began: Elizabeth Taylor was announced to play the Queen of the Nile. I was hypnotized by the thought alone. She was the most beautiful woman in the world and she was to play the most famous Queen of all time. The newspapers and magazines were full of the stories. But they got interrupted in 1961 when Elizabeth came down with viral pneumonia while filming the movie. Production halted and our Queen was rushed to a London hospital to die. There were hourly reports on the radio about her condition. We all hovered around our radios waiting, waiting. But, miraculously, Elizabeth made it though and filming resumed on "Cleopatra" - but not for a year. And in the meantime Elizabeth won her first Oscar for "Butterfield 8" - a movie which she owed MGM on her contract and which should be destroyed. And she agreed.

Publicity was everywhere. Liz and Dick became lovers, Liz dropped Eddie Fischer and took up with her Marc Antony. But what I remember most was her eye make up. They piled eye shadow and eye liner on her to look Egyptian. It became all the rage. Of course, I went to my magazines and changed all the women to look Egyptian.

Fast forward now to the car wreck which I wrote about and you'll realize that I had missed so much of my freshman year in college that it was decided I would be better to wait until the next year and pick up where I had left off. So I went home and was immediately told I couldn't stay there. Thanks, Dad. So off I went to Atlanta to work. You won't believe what my job was. I worked in the Seed Germination Lab of the Department of Agriculture for the State of Georgia! I spent my days placing seeds on paper towels, wrapping them up and placing them in a germinater to grow. This process let farmers know their seeds were viable. Don't ask.

The best part of that time in Atlanta was going to All Saint's Episcopal Church on Palm Sunday and hearing a glorious organ and choir, accompanied by brass and tympani singing "All Glory, Laud and Honor". It was like the heavens had opened up and invited me in. Suddenly, church music took on a new meaning. I introduced myself to the organist/choirmaster, Kathleen Quillen, and my life changed. I joined the choir and became her organ student as well. She was the person who taught me to glories of playing a church service. She taught me that all good music is like making love - that it builds up to a wonderful climax, and you have to communicate that to the the listener. I am forever indebted to Kathleen for opening my eyes and ears to the possibilities waiting in my fingers. She was the first teacher to compliment me and NOT try to squeeze me into a cookie-cutter mold.

It was during this year in Atlanta that two remarkable things happened: "Cleopatra" opened at the Roxy Theatre in downtown and I took a trip out of town. First, Cleo. I had two friends from prep school: Kirby and Prissy. I won't tell you Prissy's real name because it is ridiculous and she has never used it. I don't blame her. But I loved her because she let me make up her eyes to look like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

When I found out the movie was opening, I called Prissy and Kirby and demanded they drive from Florida to attend the movie with me. A ritual necessary to complete my fantasy. So they get in Kirby's sport convertible and travel north. All the while I'm trying to find someplace for them to stay. I asked everyone I knew to put them up, begged complete strangers but to no avail. Finally, I said they could just stay with me in my basement apartment on Collier Rd. I never dreamed the old woman whose house it was would look askance at two teenage girls sleeping in the same room at a teenage boy. Go figure. She caught us. She threw me out of the house. Imagine her consternation the next morning when the Attorney General pulled up in an official vehicle to charm her into letting me stay. (It worked.) Thanks again, Uncle Gene. Always my hero.

The other remarkable thing that happened that year in Atlanta was a bus trip. Yes, a chartered Greyhound. Remember that it was August, 1963. All my beatnik friends (no hippies yet) were going on a trip and they insisted I come along. So I did. And I guess it changed my life. At the end of the ride there we were on the Mall in Washington, DC and up there under the statue of Abe Lincoln was a man of peace: Martin Luther King. Yes, I was one of the thousands on that famous day. Peter, Paul and Mary and Martin Luther King changed my life forever. I have never been a racist and never will, but on that day, I knew why. Thank you, Dr. King. You changed the world.

No comments: