The City’s Shameful Secret

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It was here, not long ago, during a break in my nocturnal journeys around the city, I overheard two women discussing theater, and bumbled inadvertently into a sketch from Louie.

Me: “Are you an actor?”

“Why are you asking?”

“You were talking theater, and I–”

“That’s not something I can readily answer.”

“Okay.”

“When you say ‘actor’, what do you mean?”

“Are you of a theatrical inclination? Do you go on auditions?”

“Why do you want to know about auditions?”

“I just wrote a–”

“Auditions are a private matter.”

“I was speaking figuratively. But I accept your reticence on the matter.”

“Really, it’s not something you should be asking people.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Hate that conversation. People make assumptions.”

“Hate that conversation, too.”

“Then why are you starting it?”

Friend: “Yes, maybe she’s acted. Maybe. But you shouldn’t assume that.  It’s demeaning.”

“Acting? Or discussing it?”

“What the f*** do you do, anyway?”

Bloggers give it away for free, that’s what we do. We easy.

Musicians also give it away for free, but they often get laid in the process. Artists pay to hang their work in a group show, and people come to swallow the hors d’oeuvres and discount chardonnay and flirt with other patrons of the arts and make plans to meet up later and ignore the obscurantism on the walls.  Theater is a pro bono exercise in social obligation.  Stand-up comedians have to persuade a requisite number of their friends to pay a cover charge and a two-drink minimum or the club owner won’t let them assume the stage for a 5 minute slot on open mic night. YouTube is a global flea market of platonic self-conception and exhibitionism which generates a billion dollars a year in ad revenue for …Google.  Unless you’re in Jenna Marbles territory, you don’t see a dime.  Most of her money comes from products she promotes through her site.

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At CicLAVia I watched Jamey Mossengren, a “world champion” juggling unicyclist spend the last ten minutes of his performance aggressively panhandling from the audience. He had worked twenty years perfecting his craft and could we not thank him by dropping some singles in his bag? Some of us did. Most didn’t.  His naked insistence he be paid for his work was noble, and at the same time, degrading.  I’ve felt better leaving a dollar on the tip rail at a strip club.

So why is there, in the city Greta Garbo built, something particularly shameful about being an actress?   The woman in the bar was the third in recent weeks who responded angrily to inadvertent conversational tripwires on the apparently forbidden topic of thespianism.

Perhaps because Hollywood is thought of as a giant machine for taking money away from pretty people who want to be famous.  To admit to longing is to confess to being a sucker.  To admit spending milk money on lottery tickets. To admit to carrying a crack pipe of ambition in your purse.  To feeding off the half-eaten desserts of wealthy people at your catering job.

What would Barbara say?
What would Barbara do?

It is all those things, of course, and probably always has been.  But there wasn’t Vanderpump Rules in Barbara Stanwyck’s day.  A successful actress didn’t ‘play herself’ for $700 a week in a cross-branding exercise promoting a rich woman’s portfolio of restaurants and claw for screen time by….acting out.

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Brava.

Atlas shrugged, Here

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Here, a short walk from the orchard that is now the Northridge mall, Ayn Rand wrote much of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.  There she is on the upper right,  Alisa Zinov’eyvna Rosenbaum of St. Petersburg, Russia, with her signature bobbed hair, holding court behind a moat designed by Richard Neutra.  That’s Tampa Blvd. in the background, lined with eucalyptus trees, the farmer’s windbreak of yore.

Rand came to the Valley as a screenwriter for hire and an intellectual curiosity piece. She left with the manuscript of perhaps the most influential book of the 20th century, if reader’s polls are to be believed.   Among the eucalyptus and the koi and the orange trees and occasionally Barbara Stanwyck on horseback, Rand composed the epic of John Galt, and the philosophy of Objectivism, aided by dexedrine and a thousand packs of cigarettes.

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Serious People smoked then.  Without a cigarette, you were naked.  You lacked the baton with which to conduct the orchestra of your obsessions.

Rand returned to New York.  Following publication, people came to sit at her feet and touch the hem of her garment.  A chosen few were invited beneath the folds for further study.  She was the closest thing to an intellectual rock star you could be in this country -as a woman, that is- and she behaved accordingly.

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The house, built in 1935 for the film director Joseph Von Sternberg, was a modernist showcase of steel, concrete and glass…water-cooled by the moat. It was razed in 1971 to make room for, well, you can guess.