As I fell asleep Wallace Beery was yelling and when I woke up Bette Davis was yelling and now I can’t fall asleep again. So I tried looking for a photo of them together, to see the loathing. No luck. But I found a picture of Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford, and she hated the both of them, Wallace and Bette. Hollywood was a minefield then. Everyone hating and sniping and drinking and fucking.
We live in an old Spanish style duplex on an old street in and old neighborhood in Silver Lake. That’s next door to Hollywood. They lived here, those movie people. There was no Beverly Hills then. There’s old studio buildings everywhere around us. Silent movie studios full of silent ghosts. What to you are old movies to us might have been drunken arguments right outside. Parties spilling out into the street, singing and laughing and fighting. Shut up, we’d yell. We’re trying to sleep. Irene Dunne lived down the street. Her place is surrounded by an immense wall. If the parties spilled outside her house they’d wind smack up against that wall, trapped. Servants would come and sort things out. People would get home eventually and all would grow quiet again, interrupted only by the mockingbirds. There are nuns there now in Irene Dunne’s place. No parties. Just prayers and reflection. I wonder if they watch TCM and imagine Irene’s fabulous bashes.Those old Hollywood mansions have kitchens like medieval castles. Vast feasts were prepared there. You stand at the stove frying your eggs now and feel small.
I look out our bay windows and reality ripples, the glass is so old. Glass is a liquid and flows with gravity at a very slow speed*. It shatters in our time, but oozes downward through the centuries. The people who looked through that window unrippled are long dead now, probably buried in Forest Lawn over the river there, between rows of movie stars. Wallace Beery is over there. So is Bette Davis. Jean Harlow is too. Not Joan Crawford, though. She’s back east somewhere, New York, I think. Not the city, but outside, White Plains or something. I don’t know if that is sad or not, but you’d think that if any movie star ought to be buried in Hollywood it’d be Joan Crawford. But then this piece wasn’t about her, was it? It’s not even about Jean Harlow, sweet Jean Harlow, and William Powell placing flowers on her fresh grave. No, this post is about Wallace Beery, or at least the title is.
It’s funny, you say Wallace Beery in this town and the first thing people will tell you is what a jerk he was. They don’t like him, Wallace Beery. Even if they love the movies he’s in, they can’t get themselves to admit he was good in them. Not even Robert Osborne and he loves everybody. No, not Wallace Beery, that unlovable brute. No, not him. Like Wallace Beery would have given a fuck what they thought. Shut up, he’d say. Shut up, shut up, shut up.
No, you shut up, Jean Harlow yelled. Everyone yelled. Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, both Barrymores. Joan Crawford yelled. Greta Garbo swooned, but Billie Burke yelled, and Billy Burke never yelled at anybody. Bette Davis yelled, and she wasn’t even in the movie. Or movies. It was a Wallace Beery film festival and they’re all mixed up. As am I. So I’m going back to sleep, and hopefully no one will be yelling at anybody. Not even movie stars.
* Alas, I’ve been informed, this is a myth. Glass does not flow. But it is such a pretty couple lines I’ll leave it in. Literary license.