“That’s what we liked doing. We liked watching movies.
“She would get the movie one week. I’d get it the next week. That’s how we– I miss that place. We would go there every weekend.
“Fridays she got off at seven and I would pick her up at work. They all knew me down there — at the nursing home where she worked. She told ‘em I was her roommate, because that was what you said back then. I thought they all knew I always thought that. I’d pick her up and we’d go to Acme Video and we’d get movies. We’d come home. She’d cook.
“I’ll tell you the truth– She’s a better cook than me. She makes– She can go in the kitchen and have a five-course meal for you better than a restaurant. Better than any restaurant. I swear to god. Me? I would get take-out and put it on the plate. You make this or did you order it? I made it just for you! What are you talking about? I think you ordered this. She knew I ordered it. We sat right in front of the tv and watched– We could do two or three movies a night if we weren’t tired. I wasn’t working as much, because I had hurt my back. She was taking care of both of us. That’s what she did. She liked to take care of people.
“My favorite was scary movies. That’s what I liked. She liked the comedies. If it was my week, we were going to watch Friday the 13th. I would make her watch all of them. The last ones aren’t good, but they’re fun. They’re a good time. If it was her week, we’re watching– What would we watch? We would watch comedies, but they’d be romantic comedies like– She liked When Harry Met Sally. She liked all the ones with Tom Hanks. The ones with Meg Ryan. That was what she liked. We never watched tv — only movies.
“She has two daughters from her first marriage. When her daughters would come over, we’d watch movies with them. We’d take them to the store with us, and they could pick out their movies, and when they got older, she had a room for them here. They lived with their father, because she had some bad things happen to her when she was–When she first had them, and she wasn’t– She couldn’t be a good mom right off the bat. Her ex and his mother used to take care of the two girls, and there was a son too, but he never wanted to come over. He and her weren’t close. The girls and us were close though. I love those girls.
“When they got older — I’m talking out of high school, going into college — this was when marriage had passed. They asked us if we were getting married. We hadn’t even told them we were gay. They figured it out on– They weren’t stupid. They knew what was going on, but we never talked to them about it. They wanted to know if we were going to get married, because they knew we had been together all those years.
“I said to her, ‘You want to get married?’ Neither one of us had thought about it too much, you know, because we weren’t even– We had never even come out to her family and my family, please, they didn’t want to hear any of that. They wanted me to go out with this guy from Warwick that lived down the road from us growing up. I won’t tell you his name, because you might know him, but he was a piece of work. Not in a good way, I’m saying, not somebody you would want to marry.
“We talked about it. I didn’t want to push it, because I was going to stay with her whether we got married or not. One day the girls are over and we’re watching a movie, and in the movie, the couple, whoever they are, they’re getting married. She looks at me and she goes, ‘That’s the kind of wedding I want. Nothing too crazy.’ That was how I knew she wanted to do it. The girls got all excited. They’re good kids, let me tell you.
“Later that year, we made it official. We have the wedding. It’s not just like the one in the movie, but it’s a nice wedding. She was all happy. We both were. I never thought I would see the day, I’m telling you. People were making fun of me, because all day I’m walking around saying ‘Do you believe this? Do you believe it?’ My mother came to the wedding and everything. I couldn’t get over it. She gave me a big hug and told me she was happy for me. You could’ve knocked me over. Best day of my life.
“Nothing changed much after that. We kept doing what we were doing. But now she’s my wife, you see what I’m saying? It doesn’t change anything and it changes everything. We weren’t one of those people out there fighting for it, because we had to– She was going to work every day, and I got a job up in Mass that I would go to every day, and we only got a little free time every day. We wanted to spend it with each other. I didn’t– I didn’t think it would matter to me as much as it did, but I was dead wrong. It matters a lot.
“When Acme Video closed, oh, you know, we were heartbroken. We loved that place. One of the girls got us hooked up with Netflix, and now we have all the movies you could ever want, but we had a routine. That’s the thing. I loved the routine. Picking her up, grabbing some movies, pretending I made dinner for her. Putting it all nice on the plates. I loved doing all that. The girls are all grown up now. One’s getting married this November. The other one is going with a girl she goes to school with, and it’s so different. It’s so different now how public they can be about it. I think it’s great. Things change, you know? For the good and the bad they change. But I would say mostly for good. A lot of the businesses around where we live are different now, but that’s just life. That’s how it is. And now I got a wife and I got two stepdaughters and I might even have grandkids one day soon. Do you believe that? I still can’t believe it.
100 Thoughts I Had While Attempting to Memorize a Play
In July, Epic Theatre Company is going to be producing a play called Mayor Pete. I’m the artistic director of Epic, I wrote the play, and I am its sole actor. While producing a one-man show you wrote at the theater you run that features you in the only role has got to be the height of vanity, I would like to think I’m paying for all this arrogance by forcing myself to memorize 70 pages of a play after not having so much as committed a shopping list to memory in well over a year.
As many actors return to the stage and begin working out whatever part of the brain allows us to absorb entire scripts, I thought it would be interesting to document some of the things that ran through my mind as I continue to learn the part.
In no particular order:
Do I remember how to do this?
Did anybody invent a microchip over the past year that I can install in my brain so I don’t have to memorize anything ever again?
I know I wrote this, but most of these lines should be cut.
That line is impossible. I’m never going to get that.
Could I use cue cards? Is that an option? They do it on SNL.
Angela Lansbury uses an earpiece onstage. Can I do that?
James Earl Jones does it too.
If it’s good enough for Jessica Fletcher and Darth Vader, it’s good enough for me.
I can’t say the word “priest.”
Why can’t I say the word “priest?”
Have I never been able to say it or is this a new phenomenon?
Should I still be an actor?
Is it too late to be a lawyer? I love arguing with people.
Do you still have to go to school to be a lawyer?
This sentence is written incorrectly.
Nobody talks this way.
I am never going to say this sentence correctly.
Maybe if I practiced saying these lines with a British accent, this would be more fun.
Should I use a general British accent or a specific one?
I bet Kate Winslet would sound amazing saying these lines.
Is it too late to replace me with Kate Winslet?
How did she ever learn that accent in Mare of Easttown?
I wish I could play a detective.
Detectives barely talk. I’d have hardly any lines to learn.
From now on, I’m only playing detectives.
I know this first page. That means I’m 1/70th of the way there.
I should take a four-week break before I try to learn the other pages.
Wow, that four weeks went by fast.
Are there more lines than there were before?
I think somebody added lines to this play.
At least I know the first page.
Okay, I don’t know the first page anymore.
Did somebody change the first page?
I swear I knew this page.
I should learn these lines at the beach.
It’s easier to learn lines somewhere other than home.
Wow, I can’t learn lines here. It’s way too nice. I can’t focus.
I should do this at home. What was I thinking coming here?
This room is going to be where I learn my lines. It’s going to be a sacred temple where I honor memory and nothing else.
I need to bring the tv in here. It’s too quiet.
What’s that sound?
Is that water dripping?
I can’t concentrate with all this noise.
I need to call a plumber.
Can I run lines with the plumber?
The plumber can’t be here until tomorrow.
I guess no more running lines tonight.
I need a better highlighter.
I can’t take these lines seriously if they’re colored blue.
Now I need another script. The old one is blue. It’s all blue. It’s ruined.
Turns out yellow isn’t much.
I should do that thing where I write the script out a thousand times.
Okay, I wrote out half the first page and I’m exhausted.
At least I know the first page.
I mostly know the first page.
I know the first line.
I definitely know the first line.
I know the title.
If I went to an ashram, I could learn these lines.
Do I know what an ashram is?
Has Kate Winslet ever been to an ashram?
Do they teach accents at an ashram?
It’s too hot to learn lines.
Is it going to be this hot all summer, because if so, I’ll never get these lines.
Could we cut the play into sections and could I perform a different section each night?
Each section could be one page long.
One line long.
It could be like a tv series.
It could be like abstract art.
One-minute theater. The play will be over sometime next year.
How does Vin Diesel learn lines?
I know he doesn’t do theater, but he must have to remember some of what he says on film.
Is that why all he says in The Fast & the Furious is “We’re family” over and over again?
Page two is too long.
I should go right to page three.
That looks long too.
Aren’t there any short pages in this play?
I don’t remember writing this.
I would never have written anything this long.
My head doesn’t have enough room in it for this play.
I already have all of The Devil Wears Prada memorized. There’s no way I can put anything else in there.
How is it I can’t remember any of this play but I remember every word to “Save All Up All Your Tears” by Cher and I haven’t listened to it since 2017?
Maybe I could memorize this if I set it to music?
What kind of music would go with a play about a gay presidential candidate?
ABBA? Maybe ABBA?
Wow, even ABBA isn’t helping.
Wow, it’s expensive to stay in an ashram.
I should just act in movies like The Fast & the Furious.
I’m already a terrible driver. I’d be very convincing.
I need a snack.
I can’t eat and memorize at the same time.
I should take a break. Just a few days … to a week.
Time goes so quickly when you’re not memorizing anything.
Would the audience notice if I wrote the entire script on the ceiling?
Would they let me record Kate Winslet saying the lines and I could just lip-synch to it?
We could put ABBA music behind it. It would be great.
Or I could get the script tattooed on me. On all the parts that are easily visible.
We’re going to need a lot of ink.
What’s the title of this play again?
In Providence: Pride
If you were at Providence Pride in 2002, you may have seen a shabbily-dressed 18-year-old wandering around looking for a boyfriend.
That was me.
It was my first Pride, and as such, it was equal parts wildy exhilarating and profoundly disappointing. This was before social media and YouTube and the ability to Google your way through whatever identity crisis you were experiencing.
Twenty years ago, if you were 18, newly out, and ready to experience all the LGBTQ community had to offer, you were basing your expectations off the limited content pop culture had gifted you. That meant I showed up to Pride expecting a combination of Tales of the City and certain segments of MTV’s Undressed.
(A friend recently reminded me about Undressed, and if you need to blame someone for ushering in the raging sex-obsession of the aughts, I think that might be your culprit.)
Instead of the debauchery I was nervous about/hoping for, I found something much more subdued. This was because my friend and partner for the day had convinced me that we should get there as soon as the outdoor festival started. That meant it was us, a few vendors, and an a capella choir from Connecticut performing a medley of ’80s hits.
Right from the beginning, I had one goal in mind.
I wanted to meet a gorgeous man, go steady by noon, and possibly get married before the parade so we could hop on a float in our matching tuxedos and wave at all the sad, single people in the crowd.
This was when meeting people was restricted to going out and introducing yourself to strangers (even now, a hard pass) or talking to screen names in AOL chat rooms, emailing grainy photos back and forth, and perhaps — if you were lucky — getting someone to call you on a landline so you could compare favorite episodes of Dawson’s Creek.
Since I was beginning college in the fall, I was determined to have one of those summers like in the movie Grease, where I would meet an Italian guy on a beach and we would fall in love before running into each other again in a few months wherein I would change everything about myself and only wear leather from that point on.
I just needed to find my Danny Zuko first.
While there were no takers in the morning, I assumed that as the day wore on, I would start to see more attractive men filling up the lawn across from the Providence Place Mall. I had already practiced what I would say if someone approached me to give me their number.
“Me? You mean hot-but-not-in-a-conventional-way me??? Wow, I…gosh, gee, I can’t believe…Well, sure I guess I wouldn’t mind spending July in Majorca with you at your rich parents’ third home.”
Instead, every hot guy I saw from behind, when viewed from the front, turned out to be a lesbian. I don’t know how much you know about lesbian haircuts from the early days of the 2000s, but they were pretty fantastic. Every woman you saw looked like Drew from 98 Degrees and all of them had a better wardrobe than I did.
As the day wore on, the temperatures heated up, and my hair gel began to melt down the back of my neck. I had applied the kind of antiperspirant that has firefighters in its commercials, but even then, sweat stains were beginning to form under my arms. This was the opportune moment when actual hots began appearing.
In all the movies I’d seen, when a young gay man is first around a group of people like him, men are just tripping over themselves to get at him. I thought just by having the moniker of “Fresh-If-Discounted Meat” on me would be enough to get me three proposals by dinnertime, but guys would take one look at me and then keep walking by — either to the henna tent or to pretend they needed to find their friend in a crowd.
I’m not sure when “pretending to find your friend at an event” fell by the wayside in terms of killing time and not looking awkward, but it must have been around the time they let us look up terminal illnesses on our phones.
By the time the parade began, I had officially given up on love, dating and possibly my sexuality. I wasn’t sure what the requirements were for becoming a lesbian, but there were a few I had my eye on, and I did know all the words to “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
My friend left to meet up with a group of theater kids who were just getting there, and I took that opportunity to head back to my car and wallow. This was it for me. Pride was a bust and the beautiful wonderland I had been promised was a lie. Oh sure, I knew that being gay meant struggling. I knew there was a long history of oppression and resistance. I was prepared for all that if it meant that while I was being oppressed, I got to tough it alongside a guy who looked like Joshua Jackson in Cruel Intentions.
What nobody had told me was that being young and gay can be just as boring as being young and straight. The build-up you’re capable of as a teenager can render each event underwhelming and the fixation on coupling up can create a laser focus that zaps the joy out of nearly everything.
There have been many Prides for me since then, and while some have been exuberant and some lackluster, very few have been boring, so I’m tempted to write that first one off as a fluke — except I don’t think that’s what it was.
How much of that day was me looking for someone to pair up with because that’s how I would feel most at home in the label I’d adopted? When I came out in school, I had already known for years who I was, but I didn’t see the point of being gay if it meant being the only one. Then I met another gay student, and suddenly there was a reason to be out. We dated for all of a week, he broke up with me, and I needed to find another reason.
Because intrinsically I understood that if being who you are already others you, then you need to find others who can travel that road with you. An alliance. A coalition.
There were plenty of ways I could have found something like that at that first Pride, but I was 18. I had only gotten my first kiss a few months before, and I had only said “I love you” to some guy in a chatroom for fans of Angel who told me that if I sent him $1,000, he could come visit me once he got out of jail.
If you’ve been to a Pride in Providence in the past 20 years, you probably had a very different experience than the one I had. The crowds have expanded. The block parties have gotten bigger. The chances of running into Danny Zuko have gone up exponentially.
Even now, though, there’s a chance you might see someone wandering around, not sure of where they should go, or how they should act, or whether they’re dressed appropriately. It might even be their first Pride.
Should you happen to see someone like that, go up and introduce yourself. Be a part of navigating the experience for them. Offer up some friendly guidance.
I can’t say I found a great deal of pride in myself on that day 20 years ago, but I’ve discovered small pieces of it here and there since then. Maybe this month can be the month where we show each other all those pieces we’ve collected. Maybe Pride is what happens when we don’t ask what we’re missing, but what we’re hoping to find.
Hitting New Heights: One of the most innovative and exhilarating movie musicals since Chicago
This week in Variety, the headline spoke of the “disappointing” box office take of the film In the Heights. The movie adaptation of the smash Broadway musical brought in $11 million, and while it was also available to stream for free on HBO Max, films with similar release patterns like Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat still managed to pull in more profit, leading to theorizing in the magazine that perhaps either the lack of celebrities in In the Heights or the fact that it’s not as well-known an IP as some other recent releases may have worked against it.
So let’s talk about all that.
First of all, nobody can create an online echo chamber like a theater person can. I remember the day after Smash debuted, when every theater friend I had was convinced it was the biggest television premiere of all time, because everyone they knew was obsessed with it. The ratings told a different story, and all that meant was that what you see on your newsfeed is a carefully curated reality that you and people like you live in. It is not a surprise to me that despite everyone I know raving about a musical that is not nearly as well-known as Wicked or Hamilton, people in Des Moines were not flocking in droves to see it.
Secondly, who the #$%& cares?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not naive when it comes to what matters in Hollywood — even in the early days of the post-Panda Express. Money counted before, and it counts now, but I am fairly certain there is a decent-sized section of the population who has no interest in the 43rd reboot of Lizard vs. Monkey, but was chomping at the bit to watch In the Heights on HBO Max, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if those people were in a more desirable financial demographic than the people who wanted to watch live-action Tom & Jerry.
See? I can speak capitalism with the best of them.
I also don’t expect that Warner Bros. was anticipating that this movie would break box office records. Movie musicals, even the best ones, rarely rake in the dough, and usually, if you sign off on producing them, it’s because you expect the sort of long-term return that a film like The Greatest Showman brought in, and the kind of critical acclaim and awards consideration that is going to be sorely needed if come Oscar time the only thing you’ve produced up to that point is the weakest entry in The Conjuring series.
One pivot I would love to see in the after-times is telling the story of a film by valuing its artistic achievements alongside its monetary accomplishments since the first can sometimes produce the second. For example, it seems to be agreed-upon that Anthony Ramos is going to become a superstar now that this film has landed. It might be one of the best cinematic debuts I’ve ever seen, and that will surely translate into a long and lucrative career for both him and anyone smart enough to hire him in the future.
Any time a movie makes an effort to highlight and celebrate an underrepresented portion of the population, especially in a genre that’s failed to do them justice, it’s rare that it comes out of the gate swinging. Instead, we’ve seen movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Wiz develop cult status that has kept their relevance in the culture ignited for decades after their “disappointing” premieres. In case you were wondering, “cult classic” in Hollywood terms means “It didn’t make us money right away, but then all it did was make money and that’s not the business model we prefer, so we attach the word ‘cult’ to it to try and deter other films from not ponying up during their opening weekend.”
If you think I’ve spent far too much time already speaking about box office, that’s only because there’s no point in me ladling any more accolades on a film that’s received plenty. There is not a single bad performance in the movie. Director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes have given us one of the most innovative and exhilarating movie musicals since Chicago. It is a film about community at a time when we desperately need movies that champion learning to lift each other up and not perpetuate the “one man and one man only is coming to rescue us” narrative that is so often present in the stories we tell. Anthony Ramos should be heavily considered for an Oscar for Best Leading Actor, and, if he won, it would be the first win for a Puerto Rican actor since Jose Ferrer won for Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950.
Daphne Rubin-Vega should be considered for Best Supporting Actress. Jimmy Smits for Best Supporting Actor alongside Corey Hawkins, who also turned in one of the most charming performances I’ve ever seen. The film is drenched in charisma — something that has been noticeably lacking in films even before the world was brought to a halt. That comes from telling a story about people who experience conflict through love — not fear and tension. And if there’s ever been a better musical number put on film than “96,000” I’m having a hard time coming up with what it might be. The fact that the film only had a matter of days to accomplish it is confounding.
But as I write this, I keep coming back to Olga Merediz’s performance. After originating the role onstage, she now turns in a performance in the film that should garner her every award we have and some we haven’t created yet. It’s her number– “Paciencia y Fe” — that will be seared into my memory for years to come. What a marvelous gift to audiences to be able to witness that kind of artistry in a major motion picture — regardless of whether they’re seeing it in a theater or from their homes.
In theater, we often talk about the impact we can have beyond the normal confines of our regular audiences. Every year when the Tony’s are on, you’ll hear people saying that some kid in the Midwest might be watching and a new interest in theater might spark simply by catching that telecast. The cynic in me always politely dismisses that in my mind. It’s nothing against the Tony’s, but to me, it sets the bar too low. A five-minute musical number in between doling out trophies might be enough to inspire a blossoming theater aficionado, but what about those who can benefit from the artform even if they never participate in it or have no access to it?
That’s why I think In the Heights might just be that kind of transformative theater event that we all hope for when our chosen passion is given this kind of national exposure. Not just because it’s excellent, but because it’s cool. Because you can sell as many tickets as you want, but if you’re not cool, you’re not long for the cultural world. That’s why I can’t quote you one line from Avatar but if you give me two hours, I can perform all of The Devil Wears Prada complete with costume changes and a fairly decent Meryl Streep impersonation.
In the Heights is profoundly cool.
And I would not be surprised if we were still talking about it for years to come.
In fact, I would bet good money on it.
Kevin’s Culture Picks: What kept our culture expert busy in May?
Every week, I’ve been doing a deep dive into cultural issues, usually theater-related, that are bothering me or that deserve a second look. But who needs another thinkpiece, right?
I host two weekly programs on my theater company’s Faceboook page (Facebook.com/EpicTheatreCo) where I ask guests what has been keeping them creatively engaged or excited, and I thought I could put together some of the movies, television shows, books and music we discuss. I’ll do this at the beginning of every month (until we’re out of … this), and hopefully it’ll keep you busy as we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
So, here’s what I enjoyed in the month of May:
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (Streaming on Netflix) Shiva Baby (On Demand) Together, Together (On Demand) WeWork (Streaming on Hulu) Cruella (Streaming on Disney+ and in Theaters)
“The Real World Homecoming: New York” (Streaming on Paramount+) “Last Chance U: Basketball” (Streaming on Netflix) “Girls5Eva” (Streaming on Peacock) “Mare of Easttown” (Streaming on HBO Max)
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz Olympus, Texas, by Stacey Swann Yes, Daddy, by Jonathan Parks-Ramage
Rosegold, Ashley Monroe Outside Child, Allison Russell Sour, Olivia Rodrigo The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania, Damien Jurado The Marfa Tapes, Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall
In Providence: India Point Park
If you find yourself at India Point Park on a humid summer night, you may see them litigating a decades old argument.
“She started the fight. I hate to fight. I do not like to fight. But she started the fight, and I told her, back when she started it, I told her, ‘You start this fight, you’re not going to win.’ And she hasn’t won. We’re still fighting. We do other things, but we come here, and we have a coffee– She has tea. She likes tea. And we fight.”
They met through an ex-girlfriend in 1987 when they were both in their 20s. She had just broken things off with the woman, a waitress who lived near Pawtucket, and they had been dating her and staying at her apartment. That relationship would only last for a few weeks, but they met this fascinating person who loved to start fights, and the two have been friends ever since. They attempted to date in the beginning, but it became clear that they weren’t destined to be lovers — not in any traditional way.
“When we met, I thought I liked women. That was how I saw myself. I had been with a guy and he was a good guy. Nice, nice guy. But he wasn’t for me. I dated women for some years there. Now I date anybody, but I’m not interested in being with anybody but myself. I don’t identify as any gender and that’s new. I got that from my sister’s kid, who’s non-binary. They started talking to me about it, and I said, ‘That sounds like me.’ That was in 2019. That was two years ago. This is all new to me, but it feels right.”
Their best friend was there for them throughout that period of discovery, but the fight raged on in the quiet way that fights do when they’re old enough to have a teenager. Neither one of them will tell me what the fight is about, but I suspect even they don’t really remember. What they do remember is that, when it began, they stopped talking for a month, and then made a date to get together at India Point Park and talk things out.
“I thought we were going to go sit, talk, and be done with it. No. We never got anywhere, but we said we would keep working on it, because we liked each other. We felt like we belonged in each other’s lives. That’s the best way I can describe it. It didn’t feel like something you wanted to throw away. I think we got dinner that night, or we got dinner the next week, when we got together, and we would fight for a little, then go do something else. We’ve been doing that for 30 years now.”
They’ve now seen each other through countless relationships, break-ups, bad jobs, and they’ve attended every Providence Pride together.
“I think it’s — we both think it’s — a good thing when your soulmate isn’t a romantic soulmate. I think people who have a romantic soulmate are lucky, but I think if that’s not in the cards for you, then you should look around and see that you already have a soulmate in your life, or somebody who could be one, provided you’re not thinking of it as being the person you get married to or have kids with or anything like that. She’s my best friend and she’s my soulmate. She’s the strangest person I’ve ever met in my life, but I don’t know what I would do without her.”
So how much time do they devote to fighting in India Point Park now?
“It depends. This week we didn’t fight too much. Some weeks it’s all we do. I don’t think about it as long as she shows up, and she always shows up. Let me tell you something, because you’re younger than I am– When you get older, you like routine. You learn that the way you keep people in your life is by getting into a routine with them. That first week when we didn’t solve the fight, but we made a date to get back together again the following week– We started a routine. The routine is what kept the friendship going. Some people tell you they haven’t talked to a friend in years, and they meet, and they pick right back up where they left off, and I’m not doubting those people. What I will say is that if I met her after 30 years, we might be able to pick up where we left off, but we would have lost 30 years of spending time with each other, and I treasure that time. I was there for her when her mother died. When I lost both my parents, she was there. There’s nothing like having somebody who’s right there — somebody who shows up. That’s important.”
Their fight reminds me of the court case in Bleak House by Dickens that goes on and on ad infinitum to the point where it seems as though its most vital aspect is that it won’t ever come to a conclusion. If the fight helped establish a routine that’s built around the fight, does that mean the foundation of their friendship is a feud?
“She might not always feel like being friends with me, but she’s always wanted to be right. Some weeks we’d be having another fight that was a really serious, that-day-that-minute fight, and I knew she didn’t want to see me, but we got this other fight going on we have to take care of, and so she’d come and I’d be there, and some weeks we were juggling a few fights at a time. Those aren’t my favorite weeks, but we get past them.”
If you’re walking through India Point Park, you may see two people sitting together in the midst of a heated argument and think that perhaps a relationship or friendship is on the brink of a collapse. There’s no way you could know that it’s actually just being reaffirmed in the most illogical way possible.
“I think I’m going to win it when all is said and done, but that’s only because I’m going to outlive her. Once that happens, I win. That’s how it works.”
They plan to keep at it until then, because like most good things in life, a soulmate is worth the fight.
Ready to Play: Contemporary Theater Company heads back onstage
Theaters are on the road to reopening with in-person shows scheduled all over the state — many of them outdoors and still taking a limited number of precautions. The most ambitious seasonal programming so far is the Contemporary Theater Company’s summer line-up in Wakefield. The theater has an updated patio space and a new artistic director, Tammy Brown, as it looks ahead to the next few months.
Motif contributor Kevin Broccoli spoke with Brown about what audiences can expect to see when shows start up over Memorial Day Weekend.
Kevin Broccoli (Motif): How does it feel to finally be looking at in-person programming on the horizon?
Tammy Brown: It feels like we’re on the road to getting back to normal, thank goodness! It’s great to be getting back to that in-person experience that we’ve all missed so dearly, but it can be daunting, too. We’re trying to ease back into the grind without overwhelming ourselves too quickly. And we’re also re-learning how to socially interact and how to be in rehearsals and act and direct in-person again. It’s an adventure!
KB: CTC has been undergoing some incredible growth, particularly in the patio area. How is this going to affect the summer season?
TB: Eventually it will be great because we’re adding a whole new seating section and a new bar area as well. But for this summer, it will definitely look like we’re under construction. All of our shows are out on the patio, so audiences will get to see our construction project first hand, in real time! But most of the former seating area of the patio is still intact, so it shouldn’t actually be a hindrance to shows.
KB: When the time came to choose titles for the next few months, what was first on your mind?
TB: I wanted our first few projects back to emphasize reinvention. Many of us made promises to not just go back to the same way we used to do things. I think theater constantly needs to evolve, so it always feels like the art form of the moment and not some historic relic. To that end, we have a lot of new work happening at the beginning of the summer — A new Shakespeare Mash-up show called Dearer The Eyesight, and a devised theater piece called Fools of Another Nature. The second half of the summer focuses on shows that feel like they belong outside, Bethel Park Falls and Native Gardens, so it will feel very much like a site-specific theater experience.
KB: How involved are you in the upcoming productions as the new artistic director?
TB: The early part of our summer season is centered on new work, so I’ve been pretty involved in the development process of those shows. I’m also directing Dearer Than Eyesight and Native Gardens.
KB: How important was it to you to keep the outdoor space active as we all begin to reopen?
TB: We see the patio space as a community gathering point, so it’s always been important for us to keep that space full of life. I think the fact that we have the patio space alone is what makes having an outdoor season possible this year, so we’re grateful for that, too. And the patio is a great place to stage things because we get a lot of curious passers-by, so it sparks their interest and hopefully entices them to come down and watch a show.
KB: Can you tell me what the experience will be like for the audience in terms of keeping certain restrictions in place?
TB: Guidance and guidelines are constantly evolving, so we’re definitely staying on top of that. For right now, the plan is to ask that members of the audience wear masks when moving about the space, but they can take them off when they’re seated. We plan on setting up the chairs with 3 feet of distance between them to start, but that could evolve over the course of the summer as more folks are vaccinated and people’s comfort levels change over time. We’re also mandating that all of our staff and volunteers be fully vaccinated by July 1, so our performers will be acting without masks.
KB: Later this year, you’re going to be presenting The Tempest. When looking at a classical piece to produce, what attracted you to this one?
TB: The things I was thinking about most were tone and familiarity. I wanted something that felt broad in scope, with a certain amount of gravity, but also something had some lightness to it and was ultimately hopeful. The Tempest fits those criteria nicely. And picking a show that has some familiarity to it will hopefully entice people to come watch theater indoors again.
KB: Bethel Park Falls was a show I was unfamiliar with until I heard you were producing it. Can you talk a little more about that production?
TB: This is a pretty new play that was written by Jason Pizzarello in 2018. It’s made up of several sweet vignettes that talk about what happens when a beloved city park gets taken over by developers. I like how the play talks about the importance of public space to a community. Also, knowing that our season would be entirely outdoors, I loved the idea of staging a play that takes place in a park.
KB: CTC has had a lot of luck taking titles like The Father and Skriker that are typically produced indoors and bringing them outside. I’m especially excited to see how Native Gardens plays in an outdoor setting. Is that something you thought about as you were looking at titles?
TB: That’s definitely something I was thinking about. We had actually planned to stage Native Gardens outdoors in the summer of 2020. Staging a show about gardens in a real garden seemed really fun.
KB: What’s the response been like from the community now that you’ve announced you’re returning? I know how much the theater means to Wakefield and South County. Has it given you an extra boost seeing all the enthusiasm for you all to return in full force?
TB: YES! We’re really grateful that our local community has been so supportive of us during the closure. There’s been a lot of excitement about both our reopening and our expansion. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to welcome people back and signal that we’re gonna be ok, and things are slowly going back to normal.
For more information about the Contemporary Theater Company’s summer season, including musical events like the Wakefield Idol Concert, go to contemporarytheatercompany.com
In Providence: Ready
If you ask them who takes longer when they’re getting ready to go out, you’ll get two different answers.
“He takes longer, because he will try on every single piece of clothing that he owns, okay? He does all that. That takes an hour — which is because he doesn’t own hardly any clothes. When I met him, Kevin, and this is true, he owned — you ready? One pair of jeans. One pair of dress pants that had holes in them. Five or six shirts — two were t-shirts. One pair of sneakers. That’s it. Total. I don’t know how he did it.”
They met at Pride in 2013, and the first thing he thought was–
“I thought, ‘This boy is cute, but I think he got robbed or something.‘ That’s how he looked. You know how people say, ‘You’re lucky you’re cute?’ That’s him. If he hadn’t been cute, we wouldn’t be talking about this today.”
His partner remembers it differently.
“When I tell you, he came up to me the minute I went through where you go to pay the money so you can get into the block party. He walks right up to me and tells me his name and where am I from, and I was like, ‘This guy is too much.’”
That was his first Pride after coming out, and he was a little overwhelmed. He ended up sticking with the (allegedly) eager, well-dressed man who approached him at the beginning of the night, but they left separately.
“We just didn’t vibe that first time we met. He was still dealing with being out and I don’t know if he knew what he wanted. I had been out for years by that time. I knew what I was looking for, and I didn’t think it was him, but he was fun. We had fun even that first night.”
They proceeded to bump into each other all summer, but they didn’t experience any chemistry until they both attended a party in Newport thrown by a mutual friend.
“I go to his house first, because I was going to drive. He has me come in. I find out it was all a set-up, because he wanted to dress me up, because this was going to be a nice party. This guy we knew had a nice house in Newport that he was renting for the week. He tells me, ‘You’re going to wear something of mine.’ He puts me in this suit. I don’t think I ever wore a suit in my life before like that. I’m standing in the mirror in his bedroom, and he looks at me like ‘Damn, he looks good.’ I did look good too.”
That night at the party, the two of them found themselves out in the backyard, a little buzzed from the drinks they’d had, and a little cold on a surprisingly chilly June night.
“I remember, he put his arm around me to warm me up. That was it. I had just broken up with someone right before Pride, and I was going to have this crazy summer, getting myself into all kinds of trouble, but once he did that, it was all over. I didn’t want to bother with anybody, but him. He couldn’t dress, but he was a good guy. Still is.”
Over the years, when they’d be getting ready to go out, they’d fall into the same routine. He would try on everything from his closet, and then asks if he can “borrow” something. That’s the cue. Pretty soon, he’s being dressed up the same way he was the night they went to that party. To his credit, he doesn’t argue with any of the fashion choices selected for him.
“I know he knows better than me about that. That’s why I just let him pick.”
The night I spoke with them, they had a special reason for going out. After nearly eight years of make-overs, they recently got engaged.
“He was waiting for me to ask and I was waiting for him. Last week, he comes home, and I’m telling him about all the weddings we have to go to this summer. ‘Everybody we know is getting married.’ ‘Everybody except us.’ I say ‘You want to get married?’ Just like that. As soon as I said it, I was like, S***, what if he says ‘No?’ I look over at him, and he’s got this big smile on his face. I say, ‘I guess we’re getting married.’ We’re going to take pictures tonight at the restaurant, because we haven’t told any of our friends, family, nobody. That’s why I have to make him look nice tonight, because this is going to be the big announcement. Don’t you go telling anybody, Kevin, you’re the first to know. I’ll come find you.”
The announcement popped up the next day on my Instagram. Two handsome men, both looking dapper, sitting together in a restaurant with brand new rings to show off. One of the comments said, “I thought you two were already married,” which I think is the best compliment you can pay to a couple who just got engaged. Sometimes you name something after it’s already clear what it is. You look at love, and you say you’re going to name it marriage. Because it’s fun to dress things up like that.
“He takes care of me with the clothes, and I take care of him with the house, because this man does not know how to clean a house or fix anything. He’s good with some things, but if anything breaks, it’s got to be me. That’s why I think we get along like we do, because I know all the things he doesn’t know, and that’s the same for him with me. That’s how you fit together. We have each other’s backs.”
If you were out last weekend, you might have seen a couple walking back to their car after a lovely night at a restaurant downtown. Both of them were impeccably dressed, but it’s possible that what you noticed first was that one had his arm around the other.
In Providence: Here We Go Again
If you were downtown this Saturday night, you may have noticed that the roaring post-pandemic times we were promised seem to have arrived in Providence.
We are not post-pandemic. We may never be post-pandemic. But with the weather reaching summer highs and restrictions falling by the wayside, this weekend seemed to invite everyone to come into the Capitol City — some for the first time in a long time.
Someone accurately asserted on Twitter this week that summer is actually horrible, but because it’s the time of year children associate with “no school” we are forever told that it is the best season (Autumn is the best. No questions at this time). I am one of those people who experience seasonal depression in the warmer months. Winter allows me to stay in and do nothing and not feel bad about it at all. We are all exiting an extended winter. I’m glad it’s wrapping up, but I won’t lie and say I’ll miss having a reason to keep my social calendar unfilled.
After texting several people Saturday night, I considered staying in. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the full, unhindered social experience of a Saturday night. I trust the vaccine. I trust science. But, truthfully, I just never liked crowded bars all that much anyway. Yelling so the person next to you can hear what you’re saying gets tiring. And as I approach my 37th birthday, I’ve convinced myself that a Jack the Ripper miniseries on a streaming service has the potential to make any weekend worthwhile if you pair it with the right cheese plate.
I know, I know.
Over a year of isolation and fantasies of going out, and now we can go out, and I’m complaining about going out. What gives, Broccoli? You can finally write your “Man About Town” column again. No more stories of people trapped at home. No more dour profiles of anxiety-ridden people trying to make the best of things. Life is back. Write about life.
But in much the same way we all promised to create a better world to return to once the pandemic was over only to discover that, Wow, y’all, that shit is a LOT of work. Like, who knew? I didn’t. Maybe we can just … bring back the Old World? Or something slightly worse, but still cool, because it’s not the pandemic world? It’s possible there was some reflection necessary about how we socialize and what we gain from it that didn’t get a chance to occur.
FOMO, for example.
I did not miss FOMO.
After 14 months of telling myself I would go to every concert once there were concerts again and eat at every restaurant and hug every sailor as they arrived at the pier, I discovered that all those things still cost … money? And, uh, there’s also the issue of time? And just, you know … energy?
Despite all the repressed urges I had over this past year to do … anything, it turns out that Old Kevin — who was just fine engaging in interpersonal recreation once every other week — did not magically evolve into a social butterfly ready to emerge from his cocoon. That, combined with, you know, the collective trauma of living though a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide crisis, has not created a person who can simply stroll into a filled-to-the-brim bar and embrace everyone in sight — be they sailors or anyone else.
And I feel bad about that.
This is a new kind of FOMO. Fear of a kind of ingratitude that I’m finally being given the opportunity to have the kind of life I kept saying I wanted only to find that, ooooh, maybe I didn’t want it exactly the way I thought, and yes, things about the world and my life did need to change, but maybe not everything needed to change, and maybe too many of us defined ourselves by where we go when we go out and how much we travel and how many times we can make it to the beach in a given summer, and now I don’t just fear that I’m missing out, I don’t understand why. Why? Why am I allowing myself to miss out?
So I got in the car.
I got in the car and I drove downtown. Once I was down there, I had no idea what to do, but luckily for me, the city was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. It made even the most bustling of WateFire nights look tame in comparison. That roaring ’20s vibe was in the air, and the roar was deafening.
I parked on Weybosset Street and made my way to the mall and back. Along the way, I found myself behind various groups of people. One trio of inebriated friends was arguing about whether Texas or Oklahoma is the most boring state in America. (I guess none of them have ever visited the distant land of Connecticut.) Four guys in a pizza place I stopped into were debating where the best place to get a tattoo is. (Come on, guys, behind the knee.) In the lobby of the Hotel Providence (my favorite public restroom in the city, just immaculate) a couple was wondering out loud how long they could stall before they had to go back up to their room and admit that the night was over for them. They both looked exhausted and part of me wanted to hang back and find out what it was about the night that had made them surrender to it.
Instead, I just kept moving.
When I first started driving, I used to park my car in the State House parking lot and walk to the mall or to one of the local theaters or to meet up with my friends at a restaurant or bar. I always wanted to walk through as much of the city as I could, every time, because I wanted to see if something would happen.
I didn’t know what that something was, but I knew that if you lingered around the edges of the lives of strangers, then you were never far from either fortune or disaster. In this way, I got myself into quite a few disasters, but the one or two fortunes made it all worth it.
If you’ve spent any time in Providence the weekend before Memorial Day, you know that the promise of summer can sometimes feel like a threat. The heat begs you to hop in your car and head for South County. The population changes drastically as the colleges empty out, tourists arrive on fleeting day trips, and you begin to ask yourself if you’re at the beginning of something or the end of it.
Back at my car, I took stock of what I’d done with the night. Lots of eavesdropping. A quick check-in with a friend working bar at a dive on the outskirts of downtown. A six pack of chocolate chunk from Insomnia Cookies. Some notes on my phone about how to write an article on Providence reopening. Words like “trepidation” and “overwhelmed” and “jubilant” and “Texas” and “pepperoni” and “parking” and “tattoo” and at some point, I must have heard somebody say “the night is young” because I wrote it down, but I can’t remember who said it.
But the night did feel young.
It felt young even when I didn’t.
Not to say that I felt old, but I felt changed, which I think can sometimes feel like feeling older. I felt like it wasn’t going to be as simple as diving right back into the night, which should have been obvious a long time ago.
Nothing’s ever been simple and nothing’s going to be simple.
It’s not fatalism talking — quite the opposite.
While sitting in my car, on my fourth cookie, I watched as a man dressed as Batman went by on a scooter singing War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” to nobody at all.
Legendary Gossip: A conversation with Karina Longworth of You Must Remember This
As podcasts continue to enjoy a Renaissance, one of the most consistently excellent by far is “You Must Remember This.” With writing and narration by the show’s creator, Karina Longworth, the series that takes a look at Hollywood’s last century has become a must-listen for any film fanatic. Seasons focusing on everything from the Manson murders to Hollywood Babylon are addictive deep dives that feature meticulous research and a wry sense of humor that helps cut through the sometimes sordid underbelly of the place where movie magic occurs.
The podcast has been voted as one of the Best of the Year by Rolling Stone, Vulture, Teen Vogue, and Time Magazine. It also won the 2021 Best TV & Film Podcast from I Heart Radio.
Longworth received rave reviews for her book Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywoodand she recently co-hosted the “It’s the Pictures That Got Small” podcast with Nate DiMeo.
Her latest foray into Hollywood’s Golden Age is called Gossip Girls. It examines the lives of columnists and original influencers Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.
Longworth spoke to Motif contributor Kevin Broccoli about the success of “You Must Remember This,” her acclaimed season dedicated to the life of Polly Platt, and her process for creating one of the most celebrated podcasts of the past decade.
Kevin Broccoli (Motif): It’s been great to see the podcast evolve over the years from these singular stories to seasons that take a deeper look at some of these periods in Hollywood. When you’re thinking of what to cover in a season, are you going back to previous episodes with an eye on finding a story that could be further examined?
Karina Longworth: It’s kind of the opposite. I really try not to do anything that’s too much like things I’ve done before, but then, sometimes when you’re in the middle of researching something, you discover that something might touch on Citizen Kane, which was talked about in previous episodes, but I think I can tell the story in a different way, but that’s it. I don’t look to the back catalogue for inspiration for new episodes. I just try to figure out what I can commit six-to-nine months of my life to without getting bored.
KB: One of the things I’ve always talked about when I would tell friends about the show early on was the incredible amount of research that you do. When you’re doing that research, are you keeping tangible notes that you can refer back to? Are there moments when you go back to a certain book or reference point that’s proved useful?
KL: Yeah, I buy books so I can reference books I already have, but it’s not like I have a master notes document or anything. If I’m writing something and it touches on something I’ve covered before, I kind of have to do the research again.
KB: You’ve said on Twitter that after this current season, you already know what the next season is going to look like. Do you ever work on two ideas at the same time, or do you have to focus on one thing before you can move on to something new?
KL: I would love to work on one thing at a time, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Over the past few months, in addition to trying to finish the “Gossip Girls” season, I’ve also been working on a different podcast project that is not “You Must Remember This,” and that has been very onerous in terms of the research and the labor involved. I’m trying to finish my work on that soon so I can go back and make a second season of “YMRT” this year. It’s very difficult to go back and forth between two different topics, because every time you switch, you have to re-immerse yourself.
KB: I was grateful for the podcast you did with Nate DiMeo from “The Memory Palace (It’s the Pictures That Got Small)” at the height of the pandemic, because even though everything was shut down, I know how much you have going on. It was really lovely. The very first episode, the movie theater Nate chose to donate to — The Avon Cinema — is my local movie theater.
KL: Thank you. I think that podcast was fun to do as sort of a social thing that we could do one night a week. Then it got to be so that we couldn’t always schedule it at the same time. It just got to be a little too much. But it was nice, as time went on, when we weren’t able to see friends or go to the movies, to try and replicate that one evening a week.
KB: As the podcast has gotten bigger and bigger in its popularity, one of the things I love about listening to it is that it still feels like this wonderful secret. Has the popularity of it affected how you create it, or do you try to zone that out as you’re working on it?
KL: I don’t know what there would be to zone out. It’s been about the same level of popularity since maybe late 2017? It sort of plateaued there. I don’t really make enough money off of it to turn it into a corporation or anything. It’s still very handmade in a lot of ways. I don’t think about the popularity when I’m making it, and then it’s finished. Then it becomes, Oh god, now I have to try and get people to listen to it. Every time that feels daunting, and every time I’m surprised people want to listen. The third episode came out this week, and I didn’t want to look at the download numbers from the past three weeks. I thought, Nobody’s going to be listening. It’s just going to make me sad. I finally looked at the download numbers this week, and it’s doing great. It’s doing better than the last season. I could never get in the mindset of working from a position of success.
KB: Last season you were working on a story from a totally different time period. Are those time jumps from season-to-season intentional? Do you find yourself thinking about exploring a different era after spending so much time in another one?
KL: I do think about it. I get so much feedback from listeners on that. I don’t know that I’d ever want to do two seasons that were about the same span of years, but I had an idea that I wanted to pursue that would have been more ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and the feedback I got from listeners was that — well, there is definitely a segment of the listenership that is what I call the Old TCM Audience — who believe that anything that happens in Hollywood after 1965 doesn’t count. I think that segment of the audience was like, “Okay, you had your fun, but let’s bring it back to the core of classic Hollywood.” And so, you know, I’m very interested in that era as well. The decades of Hollywood history that I’m most interested in are in the 1930s and 1950s, so I’m happy to do it, but I will probably — eventually — do that idea that’s more ’70s, ’80s, ’90s as well.
KB: What I love about listening is that even when I think I have a handle on the topic, I learn so much from how you structure the podcast. I know when you did the Bogie/Bacall episodes, the structure of the way you set up covering them was so interesting. It wasn’t so much about the story you were telling, but the way you told it. Have you ever had filmmakers or writers or playwrights reach out to you about adaptations?
KL: There’s been a lot of interest. The way deals work, for every hundred people who are interested, maybe one deal actually goes through. I did sell the rights to the Manson season. There was a writers room. Two scripts were produced. A showrunner was hired, and the take that they settled on was very different from the podcast season. The network that bought it passed on it. When the rights revert back to me, maybe I’ll try to find somebody else to work with on it and make it more faithful to the podcast. Nothing else has gotten as far as that. I am working right now with Polly’s daughters, a showrunner, and my producing partner to try and sell a show based on the [Polly Platt: The Invisible Woman] season.
KB: That was such an incredible season. I’ll admit that when you started it, I didn’t know that much about her. I felt embarrassed as someone listening to it, and as someone who loves movies, because I felt like I should have known more about her.
KL: Don’t be too hard on yourself. The thing about the way that film studies — or even celebrity studies — works is that it’s really easy to appreciate a performer, it’s slightly less easy to appreciate a director or writer, and then from there, it goes down to producer, studio executive… With Polly, she did so many things, she never stayed in one lane, but the thing that she did the most was production design. There aren’t any celebrity production designers. Most people with a general knowledge of movies don’t even know what that is. Even people with a deeper knowledge of cinema usually don’t get around to appreciating a production designer, because there are so many actors and directors and writers to talk about. I think that’s one reason Polly’s story has never been sold. Certainly when I was trying to sell a book on her unpublished memoir the feedback I got was, “Nobody’s ever heard of this lady and nobody’s going to care.” I think part of that is misogyny, but part of it is because it’s very difficult to explain why she’s important in one sentence.
KB: It was also interesting to hear about a woman in Hollywood who was not a perfect mother, but a beloved mother. Someone who had problems and struggles, but when you look back, their children have nice things to say about them. I thought you painted this beautiful portrait of her as being very complex, but ultimately somebody that deserved a lot better in terms of their legacy and how they’re remembered.
KL: That’s something that people who have no connection to Hollywood can connect to. A lot of us have parents who maybe failed us in ways or traumatized us in ways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love them and celebrate what was good about them.
KB: When you first approach a topic, is there a moment when you say, “I need to make sure there’s enough here for me to dig into?”
KL: For the Polly season, I wasn’t worried about it, because I knew I had the unpublished memoir, so that was material that I was lucky enough to be able to share with people for the first time. Then it was a question of finding people who knew her to ask the questions that the memoir didn’t answer. For every season, the questions are — What are the published materials? What can I get access to? What can I bring to the story? And will it sustain itself over multiple episodes? Will it sustain my interest over multiple months? There are certainly ideas that I’ve had for seasons that didn’t come together, because it didn’t hit that combination of things.
KB: There’s something about you reading certain quotes from Hollywood celebrities that I really enjoy. When you bring in other actors to do voices, how do you decide when that will enhance the storytelling?
KL: I think it’s just fun to change it up and to have a varied array of voices on the show. I knew it was really important in the Polly season to have her memoir read by someone other than me, because it was going to be so much of the show, and I wanted to make a clear differentiation between what I was writing and saying and what she was writing and saying. In this current season, I just thought that these were two juicy parts, and it would be fun to get comedians to do it. The way that came together was that Julie Klausner and I are friends and have been friends for years. When I was writing it I thought she would be so funny as Hedda Hopper, but then when I talked to her about it, I showed her the scripts, and she chose to play Louella instead. So I thought, Who am I going to get for Hedda? I talked to [Klausner] about it, and she suggested Cole Escola, who [Klausner] had worked with on “Difficult People.” I thought, What a get that would be. And they wanted to do it. I was very happy.
KB: When I saw what the season was going to be about, I was thrilled, because this topic has a certain amount of inherent fun in it, but I also — while knowing who these two columnists are — always thought of them as interchangeable. As the season has gone on, I’m struck by just how different they were. Do you think that’s a misconception as we move further away from their era? This idea that they were one and the same?
KL: Yeah, I think that they’re often spoken of in the same breath. Even I, with a deep knowledge of most of this, would sometimes get confused as to which was which. In Hail Caesar!, they play on that idea by making the only two gossip columnists twins played by Tilda Swinton. It reinforces this idea that they were identical. Discovering just how different they were played a big role in how I structured the season. In the past, when I’ve done things like Bela and Boris or Jean and Jane, I’ve either tried to combine the stories into one episode — half Jean, half Jane — or alternating a Jean episode and a Jane episode. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do something like that on this season because Louella had a 20-year head-start on Hedda. Even though it gets more fun when Hedda enters the story, I thought it was more important to give Louella time for those 20 years, and help people understand how established she was, and how she really didn’t see this challenge to her supremacy coming.
KB: I’m struck by how different their motivations were. I think a lot about people who pursue work they want to do and become famous as a result versus the TikTok culture of pursuing fame and trying to determine what kind of work will get you there. That’s something that was on my mind as I was listening to the last episode, because it almost seems as though you had that playing out in these two people as well.
KL: Certainly Louella thought of herself as a real journalist. She covered trials. She covered human interest stories. She wrote about things other than Hollywood gossip. Whereas Hedda couldn’t have cared less about being a journalist. She was just looking for a way to stay in the inner circle of Hollywood. To continue to be a celebrity or be a bigger celebrity than she was. As much as I think both of these women are, to some extent, evil, there is something that I find empathetic about Louella’s struggle to just hold onto this position that she had carved out for herself. It really is much more difficult for me to be empathetic about Hedda, because I think she was so much worse as a person, but there is something about the way she reinvented herself.
KB: For me, as a listener, there’s something more fun about Hedda. Maybe it’s because she’s so aware of her shortcomings. I love hearing that she felt every year she didn’t have to go skulking back to her hometown was a victory for her. The way I perceived it, she wasn’t this cocky person who came in with all this bravado, it was more, “I’m going to do what I have to do to survive.”
KL: That’s true. Her writing is also funnier, because it’s bitchier. But she really is, on balance, more evil. And maybe that’ll become clearer as the season goes on. With Louella, her conservatism is grounded in her Catholicism. With Hedda, it’s more grounded in racism.
KB: In the most recent episode, there was a moment that jumped out at me, where you compared the dynamic between Louella and Hedda to that of the candidates in the 2016 election. I found that interesting, because as someone who’s listened to the podcast from the beginning, it’s not often that you point out something like that so overtly. Is that parallel something that stood out to you when you began working on this current season?
KL: I don’t remember to be honest. I don’t remember when I stumbled onto that metaphor.
KB: Do you think that any of these celebrities they were intersecting with had any real friendships with the two of them or was it all transactionary?
KL: I think Louella was friends with some of these people. I don’t know about Marion Davies. I think Marion Davies was manipulating her to a large extent. But I think she had some real relationships, whereas with Hedda, it seemed like she never had a real relationship with anyone in her life, including her son. Later in the season, I’m going to talk about some of the people who came after them like Sheilah Graham and Rona Barrett. Both of whom had to deal with this question of, “How close do you get to the stars?” Is it worth sacrificing personal relationships to go further in your career? And how do you deal with this idea of conflict of interest? I think we have a much stricter idea of conflict of interest today than anybody had then. Back then it was considered to be good journalism to go out to drinks with your subjects in any field. Whereas now, you go out for too many drinks and you end up feeling compromised, because you don’t want to report the truth about somebody anymore.
KB: It just seems exhausting with all of these people trying to manipulate each other, but with everybody ultimately wanting the same result — which was coverage.
KL: It’s also a little bit of. “Look at me, don’t look at me.” Sometimes I don’t fully understand something until I get to the end of the research, and I’ll read something that colors something unexpectedly. In this case, in the last episode of this season, Louella and Hedda die, and I talk about what happened in gossip from the 1960s until today. I was writing about the founding of People Magazine. What People realized was that celebrities didn’t have anyone to confess things to at that point in history. If People gave them a place to confess things on the star’s own terms, they would get all these big stars for the covers of their magazines, but they would also have to stop the stars from revealing too much, because the stars were desperate to talk, and they sometimes didn’t understand how things would look in print. So a lot of what People did was not about killing stories based on what a publicist wanted, but having a certain kind of clairvoyance as to how a celebrity really wanted to see themselves. When I learned about that, I was able to go back to the story about Mary Pickford’s divorce and the lunch with Louella, and see that even if Mary Pickford was feeding her that story, somebody who was savvier about this situation than Louella, who wanted to keep that relationship with Mary, would have thought, How is Mary going to feel when this is in print?How can I shape this so she feels the best?
KB: Yeah, I was wondering what would be that era’s version of a Notes App apology? All the versions I could think of would be in the middle of a murder trial. There wasn’t a direct channel to your fans. Those opportunities didn’t exist.
KL: The closest people had was feeding a story to Louella.
KB: Before I let you go, is there a particular movie you’ve seen recently that you really enjoyed?
KL: I haven’t really been watching movies so much lately, because I’ve been so busy with work. At the end of the day, I just don’t have much of an attention span. This season, there is an episode about Harriet Parsons, who was Louella’s daughter. She was a film producer, one of the few female producers of the ’40s and ’50s in Hollywood. I watched all of her movies, and for me, the big discovery was this movie Night Song, where Merle Oberon falls in love with a blind pianist, and then she has to pretend that she’s blind. It’s incredible. It was a real shock, not just how good it was, and how satisfying it was as kind of a romance about false identities, but also, the whole thing is built around this musical performance at the end, which is really kind of stunning and beautiful. It’s readily available. I definitely suggest you check that out.