Archive for March, 2013

That time my mother was a movie star

That time my mother was a movie star
Posted by Jessica Jewett 1 Comment »

Lori GrahamThe summer of 1992 was brutally hot in St. Louis. I was 10-years-old and my mother was quite close to the age that I am now (that’s an odd thought!). We had a pretty decent life, much more secure than it is now, but that was part of the economic boom in the 90s, I think. Everybody was a lot better off after the recession in the 80s. She had her portraits made a year or two after the fact, which is what you’re seeing on the left.

My mother had a best friend through her job at Southwestern Bell. Remember when it was Southwestern Bell? Her friend heard about a Steven Soderbergh movie called King of the Hill that was going to be filmed in the old part of the city and she really wanted to go and audition, but she was nervous. So my mother agreed to go and be moral support, although it really didn’t interest her. Friends just do that kind of thing for one another.

I don’t know much about how they were cast other than they needed extras to play tuberculosis patients in a sanitarium. My mother’s friend was terribly excited and hoping they put her close to one of the principal actors so she could get some camera time. In the end, my mother who really didn’t care about the movie, was eyeballed by the casting people. She noticed they were talking among themselves and looking at her. Before she knew it, she was cast as a tuberculosis patient and told that she would be placed quite close to the principal actress. Her friend, however, was too dark and too modern looking (the movie was Depression-era), so she was put much further away at the other end of the hospital. My mother was the one they wanted and she never intended to actually be an extra.

That night, my mother told me about how she was going to be in a movie and I was very excited. Being only 10, I thought my mother was going to be a real movie star. She was pretty enough, so it wasn’t that far-fetched in my childish mind. There were always comments about how she resembled Helen Hunt or Meryl Streep from strangers and friends alike in the same way that my grandmother was compared with Greta Garbo in her day. I loved movies then but I didn’t quite reach a magical place of wanting to be part of movies until The Last of the Mohicans came out that fall. It probably started then and blew up when The Last of the Mohicans came out, then Gettysburg, and The Age of Innocence in the next two years. My mother had a bit of magical fairy dust on her just by being part of a movie though.

I don’t remember if the shooting day was one or two days now. I just know that it was the longest day I had ever spent away from home and it might have been two days that my memory is blending together now. I was dropped off at a babysitter’s house before dawn and not picked up until well after dark. I remember it was murderously hot and I spent the day at the Queeny Park pool. Missouri summers are as hot as summers in the Deep South, except the humidity is much higher because St. Louis is wedged in the nook where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet. Everyone in the movie is sweating when you watch it. That’s not stage sweat. That’s real sweat.

While I was swimming at Queeny Park, my mother was in the old part of the city making her big screen debut. They chose a location for the tuberculosis sanitarium that was part of the Catholic church in the area. The building used to house nuns, and then when there was a tuberculosis problem in the city, they turned it into a sanitarium – so the movie people used it for their sanitarium too. My mother was herded with all of the other extras through makeup and wardrobe until somebody realized that she was supposed to be positioned next to the principal actress in the scene. Then she had to go and get better makeup, hair, and wardrobe fitting before she was taken to the set. To make her look like she was wasting away from tuberculosis, they put baby oil in her hair and braided it down her back. Then they powdered her face and hands to make her look sickly and pale, along with dark makeup under her eyes. She was given a real housecoat from the 1930s, which was greenish and long to the floor. They used the baggy housecoat to hide her healthy figure and trick the camera into thinking she was skeletal.

After Soderbergh was happy with how the extras looked, they were taken to the set. In those days, people could only visit their sick family members by standing in the courtyard of this U-shaped building and shouting up to their loved ones along the balconies. In the scene my mother shot, the boy in the movie – the main character – arrived to visit his mother who had been sick with tuberculosis for most of his life. She was on the second floor on the left-hand wing of the U-shaped building from the boy’s point of view in the courtyard. My mother was placed right next to her, on her right (left if from the boy’s point of view). She said it was about a bed-length away. My mother got her own “family” since she was so close to the principal actress and they were directed to pretend to communicate by mouthing words so their voices wouldn’t interrupt the emotional scene between the mother and son. She described long breaks between shooting takes because the lighting people were unhappy and trying to change things. The scene itself wasn’t very long but it took something like eleven hours to shoot. It was hot. They were all wearing scratchy old 1930s clothes. They were slathered in oil and heavy makeup used for film.

My mother was exhausted by the time it was over and had witnessed lots of squabbling about whether it should be a wide shot on the whole wing or a close shot on the mother’s face. So after everything and then being a bed-length away from the actress, there was a good chance she wouldn’t make the cut in the scene anyway. Of course, as an adult, I know now that it’s pretty typical of films to cut, re-cut, edit, redo, etc.

You can watch the scene in this video. It starts at the 7:35 mark, roughly.

Now that it’s not the murderously hot summer of 1992 anymore and she’s not slathered in oil and makeup, she is rather happy that she was in a movie. She didn’t make the cut because Soderbergh and his editing people decided to use the close shots on the principal actress rather than the wide shots. It was the experience that sticks out in her mind now. She was very excited when Netflix picked up the movie so we could watch it again.

You know what’s really awesome too? These people were in the movie. Adrien Brody wasn’t a big star yet. Elizabeth McGovern wasn’t the Countess of Grantham yet. Lauren Hill wasn’t crazy yet. I love Adrien Brody! For the rest of my life, I can say my mother once worked on a Steven Soderbergh film that had Adrian Brody in it.

Adrien Brody

Elizabeth McGovern

Lauren Hill

I watched the movie last night on Netflix. I hadn’t seen it since we all watched it when it was released. Even though my mother didn’t make the cut because they used the close shot, I know she was there and my interest in movies gives me something to talk about with her. I told her that if I ever win an Oscar or something, I will have to mention that my mother was once an extra in a Steven Soderbergh movie. There is still a 10-year-old girl in me who thinks my mother was pretty and bright enough to be a real movie star.


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Brushes with Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow

Brushes with Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow
Posted by Jessica Jewett 3 Comments »

The one good thing about depression – if anything of the nature could be termed as a good thing – is my uncanny ability to hide in books and read them quickly during these cycles. With the recent loss of a friend I’ve known more than half my life, a depression cycle hit me so swift and so hard that I have been paralyzed since the end of last week. I mean paralyzed to the point of not being able to do anything that requires any decision making skills or I will trigger a panic attack. Just deciding whether to shower now or later, for example, nearly had me at a breakdown the day before yesterday. I have to keep my mind active while I ride this out though, or I’ll be a vegetable on my pillow staring at the TV, and then this whole thing will go on even longer. So I’ve been going through the books on my Kindle that I haven’t read yet and devouring one per day. Yesterday I read Marilyn Monroe Returns: The Healing of a Soul and today I read By Love Reclaimed: Jean Harlow Returns to Clear Her Husband’s Name, both by Dr. Adrian Finkelstein.

Marilyn Monroe ReturnsBoth books are about how very different women, Sherrie Lea Laird and Valerie Franich, who have no connection to each other by the way, sought help from Dr. Finkelstein in resolving issues from their respective past lives that are negatively affecting their present lives. The women couldn’t have been more different and, as it turns out, the results of their cases couldn’t have been more different, yet a lot of valuable information could be found in their stories. I view one as a cautionary tale and the other as taking the road to real healing.

I had been aware of the Marilyn/Sherrie case for several years but I never got around to reading the book. For a bit of background, Sherrie went through her entire life feeling unstable and like a grown woman existed in her somewhere even as a child. She endured repeated suicide attempts, hospitalization in psychiatric facilities, and so many similarities with Marilyn that she couldn’t deny the trauma of that death hadn’t yet been resolved. Unlike many cases where people will brag about being someone famous, which is considered a huge red flag for authenticity, Sherrie was never a Marilyn fan and ran from looking into such a past life for six years after initially reaching out for help. She finally agreed to undergo hypnotic regression with Dr. Finkelstein, and after a period of many months of partnered research and treatment, appeared to be on the road to recovery. She abandoned her suicidal tendencies as a result of the hypnosis sessions and reached a more peaceful place about her past life case; however, she never fully reached what I would call complete stability. Marilyn herself never reached stability either, as we all know, and I find it difficult to believe that a life as chaotic and, at times, as tortured as hers could have been corrected in the immediately proceeding lifetime with just a few months of assistance. In other words, I’m not surprised that Sherrie is still apparently unstable and living in a bizarre world.

I was acquainted with Sherrie at the time of this book’s release (2005 or 2006), so I have looked in on her periodically over the years. This was roughly the time that I was beginning to take my own Fanny Chamberlain case into public light after many years of hiding the way she did. I wouldn’t say we were friends but we were casual acquaintances, as many are in this odd little “I used to be famous” club of reincarnationists. Where Marilyn is an A-list international icon, my “famous” life was, by comparison, B-list or C-list at best. But Sherrie had been through public scrutiny over her case already and I thought we’d make acquaintances to sort of compare notes. I found her to be friendly and relatively sweet at the time, sort of like an adolescent girl in hyperactive thought processes and a peculiar naivete that made me raise an eyebrow at her technically being old enough to be my mother. Indeed, her energy did read as Marilyn to me and I do feel the case is valid, but that also meant a certain chaos within that energy that carried over from that life to her present one. I backed off from the chaos quickly, like a rubber ball bouncing off a wall, and I also noticed Dr. Finkelstein’s patient reserve showing cracks of exasperation at times as well. Now that I think on it, a lot of people backed off from Marilyn’s chaotic energy the way I backed off from Sherrie in the present.

The damage Marilyn did to herself has made Sherrie into a far more chaotic and I daresay paranoid person today. In the last few years, she has adopted many of the most outlandish conspiracy theories that have, in part, made her become a rather vocal anti-Semite, among other things. It’s going to clearly require several more lifetimes until the Marilyn damage is fully healed. Dr. Finkelstein himself has been forced to publicly disassociate himself from her because of the path she has taken, and so have I. The thing I want to point out about all of this is that just because a person has apparently become very controversial and unstable doesn’t necessarily diminish the legitimacy of the past life case. On the contrary, given Marilyn’s mental state for most of her adult life, I would be far more skeptical of Sherrie if she emerged from a few months of regressions spouting sunshine and roses for the rest of her life. It’s a myth that being aware of your past life traumas automatically gives you this sense of zen that makes you a beautifully evolved spiritual being. Suicides typically come back fairly quickly and the immediate lives after the act of suicide are very rocky and marred by chaos and swinging back and forth between peace and unrest. I believe the healing process is incredibly difficult. People will fall off their paths and become misguided before the worst of it is through. Sherrie is not hopeless but I believe she needs much more distance between Marilyn and future lives before she has the ability to see more clearly and abandon her apparent hateful and misguided stance on a variety of present issues.

In truth, I found Marilyn Monroe Returns: The Healing of a Soul to be an exhausting experience because of how terrible and exhausting Sherrie’s personal journey was. I don’t feel that she is as healed as we would like, but that is to be expected given the circumstances of Marilyn energy in Sherrie for so many years.

By Love ReclaimedOn the other hand, I found By Love Reclaimed: Jean Harlow Returns to Clear Her Husband’s Name to be much more of an experience that led to a resolution for the parties involved. This is not to say everything is perfectly wrapped up into a beautiful bow for everyone involved, but the resolutions reached were such that allowed people to more fully function here in the present.

Unlike Sherrie Lea Laird, Valerie Franich was never oppressively plagued by terrifying flashbacks of her past life, nor was she nearly that unstable as to be suicidal or hospitalized. She is highly educated in the mental health field as well, so she has an understanding of her own mind perhaps better than the average person. Valerie’s energy comes across as shockingly nonchalant, which may seem odd in a past life case, but was actually found to be a rather close match with the way Jean Harlow approached things.

Valerie’s progression into realizing that she was Jean Harlow in a past life came rather gradually. It began with an affinity for California and the Los Angeles area that she never consciously realized was a past life issue, although it is very common that we develop affinities for the places where we once lived and loved. In my case, I developed an affinity for Maine and upper New England very early in my life, before I ever really understood where those places were. Like Valerie, I didn’t automatically leap to the reincarnation conclusion. That came much, much later. She thought something strange was going on as an adult when she visited Beverly Hills and gave a friend a tour of the neighborhoods. The friend reported that she went into a semi-trance state and began describing things about the houses that she couldn’t possibly know. Later, they found out that all of the houses where she had stopped in this semi-trance state were houses where Jean Harlow had lived or new people.

After a series of other strange coincidences, she felt compelled to contact Dr. Finkelstein, especially after three separate people asked her how she felt about his Marilyn Monroe book. As he did with the Marilyn case, he began conducting hypnotic regressions on Valerie and establishing her past life case with historical research and several other kinds of evidence like physical recognition, handwriting, and so on and so forth.

The reason why Jean Harlow came back so quickly was because, according to her, she needed to clear her husband’s name. She had been married to an MGM executive who allegedly killed himself two months after they were married. The truth was he had been murdered by his previous common-law wife and the studio covered it up to protect Jean because she was there moneymaking machine. The most shocking turn of all was to find out that Dr. Finkelstein himself had been the husband that was murdered in his past life, which he initially denied for many months. As a man of science, he could not accept something like that so quickly. He brought in two separate unrelated consultants to conduct research and regressions because he could no longer be objective about the situation. Eventually, as the regressions continued on both of them, and using the same standards of evidence on himself as he does everyone else, he found the claim to be true. He had been her husband.

I have personally never undergone hypnosis as I used to be rather against it. I’m not entirely for it either at this point but I’m more open to the idea from an experimental perspective. Ordinarily, I would not be so open to “famous” past life cases like these if they were presented from a strictly hypnotic perspective, because hypnosis by itself is not enough proof of a past life case, but there was a lot more evidence provided that swayed my opinion. One particular thing that I did find interesting was that the same medium (Shirley MacLaine’s medium) the confirmed my past life case also confirmed these past life cases. Until I find someone qualified enough to guide me through the hypnosis process, however, I can never truly understand what these women went through in their stories. I am interested in doing it partially on an experimental level but partially because both women reported feeling relief in certain negative cycles in their lives. Such relief would be quite helpful to me as well.

Both women displayed knowledge of their previous lives on levels that they shouldn’t have unless they were Hollywood historians, which they were not. Both women, under hypnosis, displayed appropriate emotional reactions to questions that, if they were being deceitful, would be met with factual answers like a fan would have collected. Both women bear striking resemblances to their previous lives in the faces, hands, and feet. Both women displayed health problems earlier in their lives that they could not have known about but corresponded with their past life counterparts. It goes on from there, much the way I collected evidence about my own past life case. If I expect people to respect my past life case, then it is my responsibility as a fellow human being to respect their cases.

On a personal note, I really did enjoy how both books mentioned Clark Gable, since he is one of my favorite actors. The Marilyn Monroe book did not mention him in great detail but he was somewhat mentioned. However, Jean Harlow was very good friends with him and her recollections were a pleasure to read. She talked quite frequently under regression about how Clark Gable tried to keep her going after her husband died. They were like brother and sister and he tried to keep her laughing and distract her from her turmoil. He respected her and she respected him because they both showed up and did their job no matter what was happening in their personal lives. Arthur Miller was also mentioned in the Marilyn Monroe book, which is interesting to me because he is Daniel Day Lewis’ father-in-law, and we all know that he is my number one favorite actor. Sherrie came back with an attraction to men of Arthur’s type because she did love him even though the marriage didn’t work. She said he just wasn’t capable of dealing with her problems. She never really spoke badly of any of her husbands under regression, although she did put a lot of blame on the Kennedy brothers for her state of mind toward the end of her life. This old Hollywood junkie loved those anecdotes.

I have never had any contact with Valerie the way I did with Sherrie, so my opinion of the situation can extend no further than what was presented to me in the book. The book itself seemed a bit rushed from a strictly literary perspective because much of it was transcripts of hypnosis sessions with both Valerie and Dr. Finkelstein and very little actual narrative. I’m forgiving of that because I know firsthand how gut-wrenching it is to write about your past life case for the world to consume. The Marilyn book went into much deeper detail of background information and the logistics of hypnosis, the different levels of hypnosis, the different types of reincarnation, why it happens, and so on and so forth. Reading the Jean Harlow book, it is implied that the person reading it would have some working knowledge of reincarnation and hypnosis. So it is my suggestion that if you read either of these books, you should read both of them concurrently to get an accurate picture of the bigger situation. I do recommend these books if you are interested in the process of going through past life memories and learning to assimilate those past lives into the present. That is really the purpose of the whole thing. Learning what cycles went wrong in the past and making them right in the present. More and more people are starting to come forward with their past life cases, so I think more books like these and like mine will be coming out as time passes.

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Popped my musical cherry with Nine

Popped my musical cherry with Nine
Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »

Daniel Day-Lewis, NineI actually saw this movie over a week ago, but I haven’t felt much like blogging lately. I meant to talk about this though. It was the first musical I ever really sat through, so this is a momentous occasion! I did see some of Phantom of the Opera and it was great but I didn’t finish it. Therefore, it doesn’t count as the first. Well, I did see Moulin Rouge, but I don’t really count that as a musical for some reason.

Seeing Nine was part of my quest to catch up on the Daniel Day-Lewis movies I haven’t seen yet. I was supposed to see it opening weekend in the theater like I usually do with his movies since The Last of the Mohicans (let’s all pause and think fondly upon Hawkeye) but I was very, very sick during the holidays of 2009. My mother and uncles went without me. I still haven’t forgiven them. After that, I just never got around to seeing it until now. Nine was Daniel’s last movie before making Lincoln. So he went from Guido Contini to Abraham Lincoln in three years.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Nine is a musical about an Italian film director (Guido) who is basically on a downward spiral into an emotional and mental breakdown. He used to be revolutionary, highly praised, and is something of a legend, but he is facing writers block and dealing with juggling a wife and as many mistresses as he can handle. As it turns out, he’s not the young man he used to be, and he is starting to witness the breakdown of his wife as well as the breakdown of his primary mistress. He’s completely incapable of taking responsibility for anything, including the fact that he is making a movie that isn’t even written yet. As the story progresses, he is slowly losing everything, including his mind, and finally it all comes to ahead, making him finally understand the responsibility in himself for everything that has gone wrong. By the time he realizes exactly how much everything is his fault, it’s too late. He’s lost everything and has to rebuild his entire life from the ground up.

The film, to me, is really just about the deconstruction and reconstruction of a man. Misery is largely of our own creation and when we get down far enough, we can’t see that it’s our own fault anymore, so we blame everyone and everything around us. Those are the times when we have to be completely deconstructed and rebuilt as if beginning life all over again, shedding all of the material acquisitions, greed, and immoral behavior to be better people. Some people, like Guido, are so resistant to self-accountability that they have to be deconstructed to the point of being nothing more than a shell of a human before they can begin to rebuild.

As I remember, Nine got mixed reviews. A lot of people didn’t like it and I suppose I’m in no position of authority to say whether it’s good or bad because I’m not educated in musicals, but I personally liked it. I saw a lot of press about it beforehand and all of the actors were clearly nervous about not being professional singers and dancers (except Fergie) so that changed the way I watched it. Daniel said no matter how things went, he would always remember the amazing experience of making such a movie. He prefers string women and so he enjoyed working with all of those strong women in it. So maybe it doesn’t really matter if it was received by critics as disappointing because the actors clearly worked hard in a genre not their own and they enjoyed the experience.

As I said, I didn’t find the movie disappointing at all. I enjoyed it. Daniel has a tendency of playing roles that involve infidelity and having women he shouldn’t have, so that part of it wasn’t new to me. What was new was seeing him in clearly choreographed situations. That was a little foreign to him and you can see that on screen. The way he was trained as an actor was to approach every take as a new experience, so being restricted by choreography made his movements a little awkward at times.

His singing was better than I expected though and he clearly worked hard to find his singing voice. The director said he was very insecure about having to sing and was trying to find ways to quit at different times. Once he walked into Fergie rehearsing Be Italian and his response was, “Can I go home now?” Obviously he didn’t quit but I daresay this night have been his most terrifying role yet. I would be terrified to sing and dance in a musical. He did find a way to sort of speak his lyrics instead of fully singing them but I also think he was too hard on himself because his voice is not terrible at all. People just seem to balk at him doing a musical because we always see him doing heavy drama like Hawkeye or Bill the Butcher. It is hard to imagine Hawkeye singing his way through 1757 or Bill singing his way through 1863. So I think even if Nine was the best musical ever made, Daniel would never have been received well in that type of role because it’s so far removed from the way we’ve come to know him.

The clip has Russian subtitles. Sorry.

Speaking of the women in the movie, I know there was a big deal about Nicole Kidman being in it but I found her to be entirely forgettable. I couldn’t even give you the tune of the song she performed. There was absolutely no chemistry between Nicole and Daniel, in my opinion, so it was a blessing that her part was so small. Of all the women, I would say the strongest voices were Fergie, Kate Hudson, and Penelope Cruz. My favorite number of the whole movie was A Call to the Vatican. I have no idea why other than it’s fun and it got stuck in my head for a long time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Marion Cotillard was absolutely stunning. She blew me away. But then again, she always does. I see her the way I see actresses of the golden age of Hollywood. I have never been disappointed by any of her movies so far. Marion played Guido’s suffering wife in Nine and she got me to hate him through her eyes. Even when Daniel plays villains, I’m still all, “Yay Daniel!” but Marion enduring Guido and slowly breaking down made me feel her exhaustion, exasperation, and hateful love toward him. She wasn’t the best singer in the cast either but without Daniel and Marion, I don’t think the story would have worked on film. There has to be more to a musical than singing to work.

See the movie if you get the chance. In order to see it though, you have to be able to forget all of Daniel’s big dramatic work and take Nine for what it is. Otherwise you’re not going to see what he was trying to do as Guido. I enjoyed it and I think most people would too.

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