Read Tell-All Online

Authors: Chuck Palahniuk


BOOK: Tell-All

Also by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club


Invisible Monsters



Fugitives and Refugees


Stranger Than Fiction





To E.A.H.

Boy meets girl.

Boy gets girl.



Act one, scene one opens with
Lillian Hellman
clawing her way, stumbling and scrambling, through the thorny nighttime underbrush of some German
, a Jewish baby clamped to each of her tits, another brood of infants clinging to her back. Lilly clambers her way, struggling against the brambles that snag the gold embroidery of her
lounging pajamas, the black velvet clutched by hordes of doomed cherubs she’s racing to deliver from the ovens of some Nazi death camp. More innocent toddlers, lashed to each of Lillian’s muscular thighs. Helpless Jewish, Gypsy and homosexual babies. Nazi gestapo bullets spit past her in the darkness, shredding the forest foliage, the smell of gunpowder and pine needles. The heady aroma of her
Chanel No. 5
. Bullets and hand grenades just whiz past Miss Hellman’s perfectly coiffed
Hattie Carnegie
chignon, so close the ammunition shatters her
chandelier earrings
into rainbow explosions of priceless diamonds. Ruby and emerald shrapnel blasts into the flawless skin of her perfect, pale cheeks.… From this action sequence, we dissolve to:

Reveal: the interior of a stately
Sutton Place
mansion. It’s some
Billie Burke
place decorated by
Billy Haines
, where formally dressed guests line a long table within a candlelit, wood-paneled dining room. Liveried footmen stand along the walls. Miss Hellman is seated near the head of this very large dinner party, actually describing the frantic escape scene we’ve just witnessed. In a slow panning shot, the engraved place cards denoting each guest read like a veritable
Who’s Who
. Easily half of twentieth-century history sits at this table:
Prince Nicholas of Romania, Pablo Picasso, Cordell Hull
Josef von Sternberg
. The attendant celebrities seem to stretch from
Samuel Beckett
Gene Autry
Marjorie Main
to the faraway horizon.

Lillian stops speaking long enough to draw one long drag on her cigarette. Then to blow the smoke over
Pola Negri
Adolph Zukor
before she says, “It’s at that heart-stopping moment I wished I’d just told
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
, ‘No, thank you.’ ” Lilly taps cigarette ash onto her bread plate, shaking her head, saying, “No secret missions for this girl.”

While the footmen pour wine and clear the sorbet dishes, Lillian’s hands swim through the air, her cigarette trailing smoke, her fingernails clawing at invisible forest vines, climbing sheer rock cliff faces, her high heels blazing a muddy trail toward freedom, her strength never yielding under the burden of those tiny Jewish and homosexual urchins.

Every eye, fixed, from the head of the table to the foot, stares at Lilly. Every hand crosses two fingers beneath the damask napkin laid in every lap, while every guest mouths
a silent prayer that Miss Hellman will swallow her
Chicken Prince Anatole Demidoff
without chewing, then suffocate, writhing and choking on the dining room carpet.

Almost every eye. The exceptions being one pair of violet eyes … one pair of brown eyes … and of course my own weary eyes.

The possibility of dying before
Lillian Hellman
has become the tangible fear of this entire generation. Dying and becoming merely fodder for Lilly’s mouth. A person’s entire life and reputation reduced to some
, a
’s monster Miss Hellman can reanimate and manipulate to do her bidding.

Beyond her first few words, Lillian’s talk becomes one of those jungle sound tracks one hears looping in the background of every
film, just tropical birds and
Johnny Weissmuller
and howler monkeys repeating.
Bark, bark, screech

Emerald Cunard
Bark, growl, screech

Cecil Beaton

Lilly’s drivel possibly constitutes some bizarre form of name-dropping
Tourette’s syndrome
. Or perhaps the outcome of an orphaned press agent raised by wolves and taught to read aloud from
Walter Winchell
’s column.

Her compulsive prattle, a true pathology.

Cluck, oink, bark

Jean Negulesco

Thus, Lilly spins the twenty-four-carat gold of people’s actual lives into her own brassy straw.

Please promise you did
hear this from me.

Seated within range of those flying heroic elbows, my Miss Kathie stares out from the bank of cigarette smoke. An actress of
Katherine Kenton
’s stature. Her violet eyes, trained throughout her adult life to never make contact with anything except the lens of a motion picture camera. To
never meet the eyes of a stranger, instead to always focus on someone’s earlobe or lips. Despite such training, my Miss Kathie peers down the length of the table, her lashes fluttering. The slender fingers of one famous white hand toy with the auburn tresses of her wig. The jeweled fingers of Miss Kathie’s opposite hand touch the six strands of pearls which contain the loose folds of her sagging neck skin.

In the next instant, while the footmen pass the finger bowls, Lillian twists in her chair, shouldering an invisible sniper’s rifle and squeezing off rounds until the clip is empty. Still just dripping with Hebrew and Communist babies. Lugging her cargo of Semitic orphans. When the rifle is too searing hot to hold, Miss Hellman howls a wild war whoop and hurtles the steaming weapon at the pursuing storm troopers.

Snarl, bark, screech

Peter Lorre
Oink, bark, squeal

Averill Harriman

It’s a fate worse than death to spend eternity in harness, serving as Lilly Hellman’s zombie, brought back to life at dinner parties. On radio talk programs. At this point, Miss Hellman is heaving yet another batch of invisible babies, rescued Gypsy babes, high, toward the chandelier, as if catapulting them over the snowcapped peak of the
to the safety of

Grunt, howl, squeal

Sarah Bernhardt

By now,
Lillian Hellman
wraps two fists around the invisible throat of
Adolf Hitler
, reenacting how she sneaked into his subterranean
bunker, dressed as
Leni Riefenstahl
, her arms laden with black-market cartons of
Lucky Strike
cigarettes, and then throttled the sleeping dictator in his bed.

Bray, bark, whinny

Basil Rathbone

Lilly throws the terrified, make-believe Hitler into the center of tonight’s dinner table, her teeth biting, her manicured fingernails scratching at his Nazi eyes. Lillian’s fists clamped around the invisible windpipe, she begins pounding the invisible Führer’s skull against the tablecloth, making the silverware and wineglasses jump and rattle.

Screech, meow, tweet

Wallis Simpson

Howl, bray, squeak

Diana Vreeland

A moment before Hitler’s assassination,
George Cukor
looks up, his fingertips still dripping chilled water into his finger bowl, that smell of fresh-sliced lemons, and George says, “Please, Lillian.” Poor George says, “Would you please

Seated well below the salt, below the various professional hangers-on, the walking men, the drug dealers, the mesmerists, the exiled White Russians and poor
Lorenz Hart
, really at the very horizon of tonight’s dinner table, a young man looks back. Seated on the farthest frontier of placement. His eyes the bright brown of July Fourth sunlight through a tall mug of root beer. Quite the American specimen. A classic face of such symmetrical proportions, the exactly balanced type of face one dreams of looking down to find smiling and eager between one’s inner thighs.

Still, that’s the trouble with only a single glance at any star on the horizon. As
Elsa Maxwell
would say, “One can never tell for certain if that dazzling, shiny object is rising or setting.”

Lillian inhales the silence through her burning cigarette. Taps the gray ash onto her bread plate. In a blast of smoke, she says, “Did you hear?” She says, “It’s a fact, but
Eleanor Roosevelt
chewed every hair off my bush.…”

Through all of this—the cigarette smoke and lies and the
Second World War
—the specimen’s bright brown eyes, they’re looking straight down the table, up the social ladder, gazing back, deep, into the famous, fluttering violet eyes of my employer.


If you’ll permit me to break the fourth wall, my name is
Hazie Coogan

My vocation is not that of a paid companion, nor am I a professional housekeeper. It is my role as an old woman to scrub the same pots and pans I scrubbed as a young one—I’ve made my peace with that fact—and while she has never once touched them, those pots and pans have always belonged to the majestic, the glorious film actress Miss
Katherine Kenton

It is my task to soft-boil her daily egg. I wax her linoleum kitchen floor. The endless job of dusting and polishing the not insignificant number of bibelots and gold-plated gimcracks awarded to Miss Katie, that job is mine as well. But am I Miss
Katherine Kenton
’s maid? No more so than the butcher plays handmaiden to the tender lamb.

My purpose is to impose order on Miss Kathie’s chaos … to instill discipline in her legendary artistic caprice. I am the person
Lolly Parsons
once referred to as a “surrogate spine.”

While I may vacuum the carpets of Miss Kathie’s household and place the orders with the grocer, my true job title is not majordomo so much as mastermind. It might appear that Miss Kathie is my employer in the sense that she seems to provide me funds in exchange for my time and labor, and that she relaxes and blooms while I toil; but using that same logic, it could be argued that the farmer is employed by the pullet hen and the rutabaga.

The elegant
Katherine Kenton
is no more my master than the piano is master to
Ignace Jan Paderewski
… to paraphrase
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
, who paraphrased me, who first said and did most of the dazzling, clever things which, later, helped make others famous. In that sense you already know me. If you’ve seen
Linda Darnell
as a truck-stop waitress, sticking a pencil behind one ear in
Fallen Angel
, you’ve seen me. Darnell stole that bit from me. As does
Barbara Lawrence
when she brays her donkey laugh in
. So many great actresses have filched my most effective mannerisms, and my spot-on delivery, that you’ve seen bits of me in performances by
Alice Faye
Margaret Dumont
Rise Stevens
. You’d recognize fragments of me—a raised eyebrow, a nervous hand twirling the cord of a telephone receiver—from countless old pictures.

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