Blaming It On New England
Rarely is it fair to blame an entire region of America for anything specific; as to imply that this part of the world got together and conspired against someone or something is a bit of a stretch, even for the most ardent theorists. But when one looks back at the battles won and the battles lost, the New England regional element is too large, too engaged and too significant to ignore when faced with the thoughts of true celebrity. The celebrity in question, Sue Ann Cormack, never liked New England and the root cause of the dissatisfaction was unknown. Whether it was the ancient infrastructure, the snotty attitudes, impossible parking or the grating accent (which had the ability to come and go) were all reasons to give her back shivers but when all was said and done: she did not like it.
Sue Ann Cormack was fifty plus years old and was an accomplished actress of both television and movies. When people listed some of the leading ladies, her name was always prominently and appropriately placed somewhere near the top. She had won all the major awards several times over and whether she was this generation's Kate Hepburn or that generation's Helen Hayes, it didn't matter...she was an official national treasure and still an effective and freakishly talented working actress and if could remain upright for another decade, she was a shoe-in for a PMF.
Sue Ann began her life as Susie and spent several years after college moving her way up through the brutal rites of passage of Broadway and late sixties television. She was a bit of a vagabond moving between her friends working on the stage and both screens but she loved the business and as long as she was working, she was happy. She loved sitting for hours in nookish coffee shops, reading the trades and literally counting down the minutes before the curtain was set to rise or when she was called to the set. While suffering her fair share of disappointments, Susie always aligned herself, through genuine friendships, with a yet-to-be outstanding cross section of talented writers and directors who blossomed about the same time she ascended to the next level. When everyone was famous, they would always remind each other of their challenges ranging from cold-water walk-ups, ketchup sandwiches and all night drinking excursions surrounded by the rich heritage of the noble occupation of being a barely-employed actress or actor.
Sue Ann never could keep the whole gender neutral "actress" and "actor" thing straight. She was brought up as an actress; her Oscars, Emmys and Tony were for "Best Actress" and "Best Supporting Actress" so she decided not to make any hard distinctions between the current social labeling attitudes and her lifelong focus on her craft. She was content with her skills, embarrassed by her bank account and current per picture fee but most of all, she felt she was on top of the world in all things important. All her children were happy and healthy, her friends were grounded and busy with their own pursuits, her producer husband was as normal and centered as he was when she had first met him over thirty years ago so things were good. Sue Ann actually let out an audible sigh as she began to review her stress-free day and the faux challenges. New England was always a safe refuge from all the annoying pieces of celebrity and as she sat there, drinking her coffee, she stumbled onto a mathematical epiphany and the realization caused her to carry a grudge against New England until the day she died. As she looked around, she realized that the whole place was a big gray cloud of cold coffee, warmish food and a collective sigh of things ignored.
As Sue Ann played with her always-present notepad, she realized that she had now been famous longer than not being famous. She started drawing a timeline of when she had officially became famous versus when she was just a regular citizen. After a few moments, she decided the day she became famous was the day she began signing autographs. Once she estimated that date, she subtracted it from her current age and realized she no longer an individual who was moving towards celebrity, but rather onebeginning the slow descent into the other side. It was not the years that she disliked, it was the reality that she was no longer just a normal person but rather a person who was now famous longer than not being famous. The celebrity volume would continue to rise and fall but she still was a celebrity and with that came more and more burdens and less and less adventures.
While it is not a real burden to be a celebrity, it does has many annoyances and inconveniences not able to be comprehended by the average person on the street. While your livelihood and barometer for success is to attract and develop a large fan base, that effort runs counter to the normal desire sometimes to be left alone when denied a simpler fate. Whether it is sitting at a caḟe just watching people walk by or sitting outside reading a book, sometimes you just need to be by yourself with just your sincere but unfiltered thoughts. Sue Ann could not remember the last time she walked anywhere; she hadn't had a cup of coffee in a public place in years and as the realization of her fame began more of a reality, she began having a tougher time remembering the good old days when she and her friends knocked around Manhattan with just a few dollars and all the time in the world. Those days were obviously long gone but the recent epiphany stripped her of her non-famous memories; they were a long time ago and many far-more fancier experiences had pushed them out their long-held position of majority thoughts.
Sitting in her hotel room, surrounded by picked-at room service and a pile of uncracked newspapers, Sue Ann wanted to get back to the fantasy of herself, or at least a technical majority of herself, as just plain folks. But as hard as she tired to remember some quaint experience in her salad days, she was shocked that she didn't know how much a head of lettuce cost. When she was started out, she was very poor and budgeted herself literally to the penny. She knew what a quart of milk or loaf of bread cost and just how much she had to spend before getting her show pay or some check which always too far to long to arrive. Today, she didn't know the cost of her room, who was paying for it, what the room service cost and while unawareness was directly connected to her success, she felt ashamed that she had fallen so far out of touch. She also did not carry money anymore; trips were covered from the first town car door to the last pick up so her purse only held necessary identification, her new phone (which was forced on her by everyone related to her), a few essentials and some cash which had been in her purse for about ten years. She wanted to blame it on New England but knew in her heart where the problem truly lived. Unfortunately, she had two problems to ponder: what she could to rectify this issue and more importantly, whether she wanted to rectify it. There was a lot to be said for being just one of the normal people but being famous was great: it was like high school with money with pay day happening every time she turned around.
Sue Ann picked up her phone and before it rang, the concierge answered and politely ask, "Yes, Ms. Cormack. Is there anything which I can be of assistance?"
The politeness surprised her almost as much as the speed of the call pickup. Sue Ann began to talk but kept thinking she couldn't remember the last time someone was rude or inattentive to her needs. "Why yes, thank you," said Sue Ann. "I was curious when the car service was coming to pick me up."
The voice said, "The car service will be here at ten-thirty. Would you like me to confirm?"
"No thank you," replied Sue Ann.
The helpful voice became more helpful and said, "If you wish, I can call you at 10:15 to remind you."
"That would be lovely," said Sue Ann. "I appreciate it."
"Well, we so very much appreciate you staying with us."
Sue Ann needed to bring this polite conversation to a close or the volleying of sincere compliments and echoed assurances would easily last well into the evening. "Thank you again," said Sue Ann. "I will look forward to your call. Good bye"
She added the good bye to sever the conversation nicely, if not the concierge would have said she "was looking forward to making the call" or some such nonsense. But when one is officially famous, almost every transaction with anyone who is not famous can be exhausting. She had always make an effort to be polite but she never knew if the motivation was pure or just a method to placate the sensitive. As she packed her overnight bag for the trip out of town, she was impressed with her efficiency as well as her sense of purpose. Another piece of the famous puzzle is that anything she owned was more valuable only for the fact that she owned it and as such, was a find anyone who was so inclined to pursue that area of opportunity.
In her career, she saw not only her autographs being sold on eBay™, she also saw her thrown-away personal items (toothbrushes, combs, old shoes, ripped and worn-out garments) also show up on extreme fan sites. As a result, she always packed light and never, ever threw any piece of personal identifiable or officially worn item away. She always disposed of her trash via a paid service similar to what a business does with their shredded documents and all other items were disposed of via a several step process involving at least five people and one agent. The price one pays to be famous is not only paid with money but with the lose of both common sense and common courtesy but she knew she was fighting a losing battle.
Her contemporaries were just beginning to fade as her generation of actors and actresses were pushed farther and farther from main characters and evolving into typecast roles of the grandmother, the eccentric aunt or some other role which was more long in the tooth and more trivial to the story. Sue Ann was the exception to the role but down deep in her heart, she knew it was a matter of time before it was going to happen because no one held onto fame, relevance and adoration all at the same time. The first usually to go was not some outward physical trait but the support staff around her.
Several years earlier, her personal assistant of more than twenty years gave her notice to go work with another actress obviously on the ascendancy but she kept her civility during the resignation which Sue Ann always appreciated. It did not diminish the overall hurtful impact of the departure but her days as the main romantic lead were already history so she didn't blame the younger assistant to grab onto someone heading onto the A-listings. She had seen the rise of the cell phone and other annoying electronic cords which continued to emanate out of her head and while she didn't feel old enough to wax nostalgic about vellum paper and fountain pens, Sue Ann Cormack did enjoy the fact that she was fairly hard to contact on a regular basis and both her old assistant and part-time new assistant loved being continually connected to the outside world and it gave her a legitimate reason to do something while her other priority clients were working.
Upon her departure, Sue Ann thanked her for her service and was genuinely appreciative of her loyalty. She did what she was supposed to do, provided competent and confidential support during the trying times and was gracious and demure enough during the adoration. All in all, Sue Ann's assistant was a solid performer but what caused her the most anxiety was the loss of a trusted friend. There was no illusions of keeping in touch and outside of a holiday card or a sincere but quick hug when their paths crossed so the end of the partnership was quiet, dignified and complete: just the way she liked it.
Sue Ann was in New England purely for personal reasons. One of her long-time friends invited her for a weekend and the social obligation and a hole in her schedule made the trip an easy distraction in the middle of a non-distracting season. The only downside was she never liked New England and there was no logical reason for it. She had struggled with New England as a rising star; dealing with junkets to Boston and location shoots in Maine but she just didn't like something. She liked the people, she liked the culture and she liked the cuisine but when these factors were totaled, it was always far smaller than the sum of the parts. She never went out of her way to share her opinion of the northeast but she couldn't stay quiet if asked a direct question from a trusted friend or colleague. She remembered the day when she had opened her soul to a fellow actor on the set of a movie which was going to deliver her first academy award. They had been quietly drinking whiskey after a long day and while sitting outside on the cool evening, she couldn't stay quiet about her dislikes.
"Don't you love New England?"
There was a pause. The other actor had asked the question in almost of a rhetoric manner. Just as asking "How are you?," one expect an immediate response of "I am fine" or "I am well" but nothing came out.
The actor asked again, this time with full attention, "Don't you love New England?"
Sue Ann Cormack smiled, took a sip of her drink, and said, "No."
"I admire your honesty but I am more curious than concerned."
"I don't know why I don't like it, but I don't like New England. I like the people and the places but when you mix them together, I don't care for it. It is very strange."
"I beg to differ."
"What do you mean?"
"I have the same reaction to quiche," said the actor. "I love cheese, eggs, pie crust and ham but when you mix them together and cook it, I don't like it."
"What does that mean?"
"It means your New England is my quiche."
Sue Ann laughed but reluctantly had to agree because it was the only plausible theory she had every heard. As she double-checked her carry-on bag, the story about the quiche zoomed through her mind and she smiled because no matter how many times she came here and no matter how many charming people or charming places she saw, she didn't like the place but was happy that she was only a few hours away from forgiving air space.
While she wasn't getting the press attention that she had used to get, sightings of Sue Ann Cormack were still newsworthy enough to make the papers. However, her age had also allowed her a fair amount of anonymity when traveling. She rarely wore make-up anymore (unless she was working) and with a slouchy hat, sensible shoes and a nondescript overcoat, she was very hard to spot to a casual observer. While in New England, they had only gone to a few local places, completely off the grid so Sue Ann was fairly confident she could get all the way back to LAX without a lot of trouble. While she still had a resemblance to someone who looked familiar, the wrinkles and the oversized clothes made her look like a bookish librarian heading for much needed sun. The time for departure was looming and so Sue Ann carefully packed her carry-on and proclaimed "it was time to head home."
Sue Ann's friend drove her to the airport and embraced for a moment. They were now at the age that not seeing each other again was a remote but distinct possibility so the extra moment allowed for polite closure of the fragility of life in general.
"Take care of you."
"Okay but you take care of you."
Sue smiled and headed towards the check-in area. Being a regional airport meant there was two gates, one metal detector and short walk to the plane. She settled into her seat and pulled out a large book. As a veteran of coast to coast travel, Sue Ann rarely read for pleasure at home as she saved books for plane rides. So anytime she found a book to read, she would reluctantly squirrel it away for the next trip. As she became more selective with her role choices, her pile of to-read books rose noticeably. And combined with the reduction of opportunities, this resulted in her recent decision to start reading books for the pure hell of it. It was an odd dichotomy: she didn't want to work as much anymore but she didn't want the requests to stop coming. Either way, she barely opened up the book when the pilot announced they were landing at Logan. She shut her book and smiled as she thought how boring it would be to turn off an E-book; the sound of the book closing gave a closure to the penultimate leg of this trip.
Sue Ann exited the plane and expertly spotted her gate change through her dark glasses so her pace did not slow as she left the gate. She had learned many years ago that her walking pace was the best defense from autograph seekers because they had to see her before they would look at her face and ultimately recognize her. While the autograph requests were fairly low, she had maintained the strong walking pace as a general improvement in travel. Since the connection time was short, Sue Ann walked onto the plane to Los Angeles and sat down without breaking stride. She still flew first class, not because of a desire to keep away the maddening crowd but because of general creature comfort. She could stretch out, she could place her belongings in appropriate spaces and generally focus on the magic of air travel. First class allowed her to have a glass of wine, a non-disgusting meal and courteous conversation with experienced flight attendants.
The flight to LAX was uneventful and a brief confirmatory call to her car service upon landing allowed Sue Ann to walk off the plane and into a generic town car again without breaking her stride. The driver had picked her up many times before so other than opening a door, he had tipped his cap and drove her directly to her door. Sue Ann smiled and walked into her house and flopped down on her couch and shut her eyes: travel was for the young. She saw the pile of scripts awaiting her but the pile was significantly smaller than the old days. Her interest level in middle-of-the-road projects was nonexistent; she wanted to work with directors and actors she respected and thanks to a strong financial plan put into place forty years ago allowed her to remain picky.
One of her first significant paydays happened on a classic sitcom in the early 1960's. Her attorney brother had negotiated a residual deal for re-runs when no one had even thought of it. Historically, actors would get a sliding scale on the first five reruns and after that, no more money would be coming in. Sue Ann knew dozens of famous faces who were living at almost poverty levels, relying on autograph shows and cruise events to make a few bucks. Her brother negotiated a lower than usual standard salary but insisted on a perpetual rerun pay schedule which was so forward-thinking that the studio executives had no idea to what they agreed to accepting. Sue Ann was mocked slightly but her fellow actors because there are no secrets on a set but within two years, Sue Ann's brother was the most sought-after and feared attorney in Los Angeles. The perpetual rerun addendum was viewed as a legendary stroke of genius and Sue Ann continued to receive consistently impressive payouts for work done decades earlier. And thanks to twenty-four hour cable outlets starved for content, any content, Sue Ann was assured to passively make more money from the reruns than any movie.
Sue Ann grabbed the top script from the pile and was pleased when she saw handwritten notes from Matt Golden. Over the years, she had worked with Matt many times and her agent knew she could save time by routing any script of any merit to Matt prior to Sue Ann's initial reading to automatically peak her interest. Seeing his notes and comments, always in brown marker, reassured her that someone, somewhere was looking out for her best interests. If the script was littered with notations, it was always a sign of a script in trouble but when she saw one or two words per page, she knew an opportunity was moving into the plausible phase of consideration. Furthermore, as she read any script, she always did it in one sitting with complete concentration. She had made the mistake once by reading a script with a pre-occupied and unfocused mind and signed up for what was universally agreed, was her career cinematic low point. That preoccupation allowed her mind to patch and smooth over inconsistencies in the script and that realization only hit her at the first table reading and that wisdom, born of pain, led her to remain focused on script reads from that moment on. She got through the picture with a few brickbats but as a far wiser actor; a picture only gets worse as it moves away from the printed page, not better. Matt always placed a smiley face or a frowny face on the last page to sum up his opinion; she forced him to add that last touch to make her life easier. She threatened him one night with a pail of beer if he ever chose a safe middle ground and drew a face with a horizontal line. She always wanted to know.
"If I ever see a straight line instead of a frown or a smile, I will go to the papers!"
Matt always laughed when she said that line and over the years, Sue Ann would be forced to repeat it every time they socialized. He would giggle like a little girl and Sue Ann knew she had him just where she wanted; in the magic area made up of caring honesty and curiosity-fueled energy.
Matt's opinion came at no charge to her or her agent. Matt was a long-time friend and his friend, Kia, was still one of Sue Ann's best friends. Matt's ability to read a script and either patch holes or declare it a lost cause had saved untold hundreds of millions to the picture business so he was not in need of money nor would he take it as compensation for his script review. Right after she had won her second Academy Award, she wanted to thank Matt for his significant behind-the-scenes efforts to her position her for the picture that delivered her second statuette. She thanked him on the podium, she thanked him in front the legions of press backstage and thanked him every time she got the chance. Matt was an insider's insider and while his name came up over and over again, it fell on deaf ears due to the immediate nature of the business. He attended, at her insistence, one of the award parties after she called him at home from the backstage. He was semi-drunk, watching the show on television, and exhausted from a long day of cleaning his pool. Within a half hour of her winning, a limo was outside his house and Matt was tossed in the back with a freshly chilled six pack of beer. He was delivered to the door of the swankiest of all the swanky parties, wrapped up in a large bathrobe and escorted into the rarefied atmosphere of a full Hollywood love fest. Sue Ann ran over, jumped in his arms and berated him for not using the two tickets she had sent him earlier that week. She didn't know that two of his friends from UPS were given the tickets until she couldn't find him after the ceremony.
"What can I do to thank you?" asked Sue Ann. Her question was lost in the din and constant interruption from well-wishers.
"Not a thing," as he struggled to put her back down.
Sue Ann was about five feet, two inches and at best, a 110 pounds. She knew he was in pain due to a long day of manual labor and a full bladder so she allowed him to sit down and rest himself. During the next ten minutes, she made sure he was comfortable and began to parade a long and impressive group of equally appreciative movie stars and directors to his table. Once he told her the story of the pool maintenance, she said she would help him the next day and he laughed at the current queen of the cinema for her well-intentioned but completely impossible comment. Her life for the next two weeks would be nothing but press interviews, makeup chairs and studio tasks. But around lunch time the following day, Sue Ann came over, still in her dress and finished cleaning and began re-filling his pool; her second Oscar gleaming at the end of his diving board. Once the pool was filling, she changed out of the famous dress and into an old bathing suit and a beat-up pair of wellies and got to the patching work on the top tiles. That act of kindness forged their friendship forever.
The memory of that day made her smile: "I wonder how Matt is doing," thought Sue Ann as she finished off the script and pondered whether to stop for the day or jump into another one. After a few moments, she stood up and said aloud, "I should stop over and say hello and make him to write down a few bad things about New England."
It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
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