Friday, April 26, 2013

THE ACE OF FACE, and The Other Cards They Were Dealt....

I've heard that if you told Tuscans or Romans that beauty was only skin deep, they'd be totally baffled. They would think you were babbling nonsense. Of course they believe in beauty of character (especially in their mammas), but as to the exterior, they think that skin deep is just right.They don't see a thing the matter with worshipping good looks.  It's sort of like in France, where they're only gradually beginning to understand the concept of sexual harrassment.

For the space of this post, I want us all to be a little Italian and to enjoy studying the faces of people who are known for looking fine. But in every case, the mind behind the beautiful face is interesting...and some of them deserve our admiration.  Let's begin with:
This is our own Gena Rowlands, who grew up in our state and went to our university...and who is a brilliant actress. See her in FACES, or in GLORIA, or even the recent HOPE FLOATS. She has a rare quality that she shares with Michael Caine: even in piece-of-crap movies, their talent and distinction shine. In Rowland's case, the piece-of-crap movie was often directed by her husband, John Cassavetes.  And whether the film was good, so-so or a real stinker,  she loyally showed up and shone. Friends told her she was damaging her career. She didn't care. Her main thought was for the man she loved to look good.
This is the passport photo of a young nobody named Hemingway, at the very beginning of everything.  His mother feared he was a bum who would never amount to anything. But when she looked at those eyes and that jaw, it seems to me she should have said to herself, "My son the black sheep is one determined SOB. He wants to be a writer.  He is going to do what he sets out to do. And if I have a brain in my head, he will set forth with my blessing."
This is Francoise Gilot, the only woman who ever told Pablo Picasso to go to hell. In the past, when Picasso mistreated his former lovers,  they were like meek animals who'd been gutted.He abandoned them, and they spent the rest of their lives wailing and shriveling away.  In Gilot's case, when he attempted to mistreat her, she  fought him toe to toe, then left with their children. Later she had a successful career as a painter, and a long, happy marriage with Jonas Salk. Picasso never forgave her, and he never stopped missing her. 
Rudolph Valentino, in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE film that made him famous. In the beginning  his character is a dissolute Argentinian playboy. Valentino's  career was made in the instant that "Julio" entered a lowlife saloon and danced a blazing tango. Valentino was a brilliant dancer, so he didn't have to fake it. Women swooned over the strength with which he threw around his little monkey-woman partner. Wow. Or even Wowwowwow! A stud, right? No. An idealist and a romantic. A few years later, in real life, he was breaking his heart over the one woman he couldn't keep: his wife, Natacha Rambova (real name: Winifred Hudnut). He died soon after.
The term Rock Star hadn't yet been invented in the 20's and 30's, but if a poet could qualify, Edna St. Vincent Millay would have been it. Critics raved over her books. She won the Pulitzer Prize.   She also translated ancient Latin and Greek for fun. A chilly intellectual, a bluestocking, right? Well, not completely. She wrote the famous poem about burning the candle at both ends, and that is what she did.  When she died, her sister went through her papers and found over a thousand love letters that men and women had written her...
Eric Schweig went through the most abusive childhood that anyone could, and survived. Slowly he found his way to the life that he was meant for.   At first he was given movie roles because of his handsome looks, but gradually, directors noticed what a good actor he was. And he kept getting better. His portrayal of Uncas in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS is unforgettable, but my personal favorite is his lovelorn, conflicted, heartbreakingly closeted, and finally very brave Pike in BIG EDEN. And that kiss at the end? You'll cheer! Schweig is also a respected artist whose beautiful traditional Inuit carvings are displayed in museums. But he is happiest when he gives them to friends.
Carolina Otero, a gypsy adventuress (her own description) became a famous dancer, and the toast of La Belle Epoque in Paris. Otero was also famous for a notorious remark. A friend of hers once spoke with horror of the hideous ugliness of Otero's current lover. Otero gently responded, "My dear, a man of the baron's tremendous wealth can hardly be described as 'ugly.'" Even in old age, Otero's favorite activity was to have a huge Argentinian feast with friends, to empty two, three or four plates, and  then to dance the flamenco all night long, just for fun and because she loved it. Does she look like she knows how to have an adventure, or what??!!
I've added Jeremy Irons, because---well, just because. He's a fine actor (DAMAGE, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, SWANN'S WAY) but I have a soft spot in my heart for him because, apparently, he's one of those innocent people with no filter. I once heard a radio interview in which the news guy raved about Irons' and Meryl Streep's performances in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. "Yes," Irons answered in his distinctive voice, which is both plummy-plush and eager, "and we loved the roles so much, and we adored the director, and when the scenes were coming up for our characters to be lovers, Meryl and I decided to give it EVERYTHING WE'D GOT and to become real lovers for a day. And so we did. It was marvellous!"  There was a long, long silence in air time as the gobsmacked news guy absorbed this. Of course he knew Streep and Irons were married, but not to each other.  When he finally spoke again, it was about something else entirely and he kind of stuttered. You can't really blame him.
The Ace of Face, if anybody ever was. But also a loving, brave, warm-hearted woman who steadfastly supported friends with AIDS at a time when everybody else shunned them.   She gave generously to AIDS research, long before it was fashionable, and also twisted the arms of wealthy colleagues good and hard so they gave generously too.  You know her name. Enough said.


  1. Even at 82, Gena is still a striking woman.

  2. Ms. A--Yes, she's still beautiful and charismatic. She's one of the few actors I'll watch in anything.

  3. These are all beautiful faces AND people, Margaret. I really enjoyed this post. I had never seen a photo of Hemingway. Wow, he was dreamy. Poor guy - probably didn't know it.


  4. Robyn--Yes, Hemingway's hotosity was off the charts back in the day. And you're right, he probably didn't know it. His A Moveable Feast memoir is in my top ten favorites. I never get tired of it.

  5. I love Gena Rowland's! I think Cassavettes is overrated because of her. She's so good, you don't notice that the movie itself is not so great. (Prime exple: a Wpman Under the Influence - she's so brilliant, you can overlook the fact that the movie itself is mediocre)

  6. Professor Chaos--I completely agree with you about Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands! She is a rare talent, always--and he was mediocre and pretentious.

  7. Gena Rowlands was talented, deep and maybe more than a little bit troubled. Elizabeth Taylor was my first heart throb. What a beauty...
    I like the old photos!

  8. Pat Tillett--I think you're right about Gena Rowlands. And what an actress! Even her silences are so rich. I too love the old photos. It seems actors and personalities in those days just trusted their faces and didn't mess with plastic surgery and injections and whatnot. So, to me, their beauty and individuality have such dignity.

  9. Thanks for your post about Eric Schweig, he is a good man with a good heart. I love The Last of the Mohicans and the Uncas/Alice relationship.

  10. hazeleyedhalfelf--I too love The Last of the Mohicans. The Uncas/Alice relationship was so tender, the two of them protective and loving of each other. It seemed they understood each other instinctively and had almost no need of words. Unforgettable.

  11. Following you from Bloggerdise New Blog Follower Club=)

    Jeanie Huston