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Authors: Susan Braudy

What Movies Made Me Do

BOOK: What Movies Made Me Do
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ALSO BY SUSAN BRAUDY

Between Marriage and Divorce
Who Killed Sal Mineo?

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A
.
KNOPF
,
INC
.

Copyright © 1985 by Susan Braudy

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Braudy, Susan.
What the movies made me do.

I. Title.
PS
3552.
R
343
W
46    1985    813′.54    85-40117
ISBN
0-394-53246-5
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-5353-9

v3.1

Prologue

Pre-credit master shot: daytime, icy Manhattan sidewalk, winter 1964. Sound track “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah …” Camera pans past movie marquee, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, then frames earnest girl in trench coat and muffler dashing from theater to hail a cab while the Beatles sing “and you know that can’t be bad. She loves you …”

Rolling up the cab window, I congratulated myself. What a great birthday! I had gone to movie after movie, watching a popcorn bonanza in the morning and then five New Testament epics. I was twenty-one and a provincial Jewish girl; to me miracle movies were better than life.

I tapped the driver’s shoulder. I’d manically saved most of my salary earned that first winter in New York filing address plates at a small film magazine. Feeling reckless, I told him, “Take me to a great restaurant, someplace movie producers eat.”

He twisted around at me, his arm stretched out along the top of the front seat. He didn’t start the meter.

“They’re in Hollywood.”

“Not all of them.”

“You rich?”

“No.”

“From out of town?”

“Philadelphia.”

He stared at me, incredulous. “You in school?”

“I didn’t mean to start an interview.”

He slapped down the meter handle and looked out the window for somebody to share his derision.

I remember speeding past Saks Fifth Avenue, where the women’s boots looked trim and expensive compared to other sections of the city. That’s the beauty of fashion. It intimidates even the most ignorant.

He stopped in front of a blue awning over a narrow scarlet carpet on a street of quiet brownstones. A silver limousine parked in front of us. I paid him slowly from my little pay envelope. Unaccustomed to a taxi, I hadn’t yet learned that the most expensive luxury in the teeming city was privacy. A doorman helped me out of the cab and I stretched tall. I was here in New York where I belonged.

When I entered Le Petit Mouchoir, I smelled cooking wine and heard the lyric and prissy counterpoint of string quartet music.

“Alone?” The waiter eyed my trench coat.

“Yes.”

He snapped his towel, and prancing ahead, sat me at a round table. I spotted a French movie actor whose sideburns matched his suntan. I ordered in French. The brains were soft. With a little sucking they fell apart on my tongue. When I signaled the waiter for a second glass of Burgundy wine, I saw another familiar forehead at a nearby table. My heart hammered. It was my friend Anita’s father smiling in a navy suit and her mother wearing her usual black turtleneck jersey. Anita was my New York friend from school who spent her junior year abroad in Germany and loved
Ben Hur
even though she was Jewish.

She was the one person I tried to be like. At Bryn Mawr,
girls like Anita from progressive Manhattan schools had looked like expensive beatniks. She cut quite a figure, a small-boned show-off smoking black cigarettes and wearing a tight black turtleneck, high-heeled stiletto boots and no underpants under the old dungarees. I used to stand in the doorway of our smoker and listen to her tales before we became friends.

I envied Anita’s drive; she was going to be a Hollywood movie director, no doubt about it, she was already doing odd jobs that winter in a cutting room in Burbank. We had done a joint honors thesis that was a documentary film of a black burlesque house on South Street. As producer, I rerouted truck traffic at night for her exterior establishing shots and sound takes and kept the owner of the burlesque club happy by casting him in the film. I never paid him a penny; a good producer doesn’t spend money unless he has to. As director, Anita stole the old movie camera from the athletics department three nights a week.

I had just called Anita long-distance, between Bible movies, about my crazy idea of making a short for young adults about Jesus, showing him as a Jewish rabbi and teacher.

I was embarrassed to tell about it.

“You want to put the Jew back in Jesus?” she asked sweetly.

“Jesus was a leader who went up against the big rabbis.” I stamped my feet. The telephone booth was freezing.

“Since when are you so religious?” She knew my parents never even joined a synagogue, because they were enlightened.

“I dunno, maybe I want to be more Jewish.”

“Well, that’s one movie I’d never be interested in, snooks,” she advised me before she hung up. “I got to go help cut a scene where all these sparrows on dental floss go flying into an actress’s face.”

Now, without greeting them, I watched her parents eat duck with their fingers. I felt shy, they’d think I was kooky and they might insist I join them. They knew how New York worked.

When the waiter suggested dessert, I worried about spending too much, but asked for chocolate mousse. He bowed respectfully.

“L’addition,” I added.

When the check came, I burped, stricken. Thirty-six dollars, one week’s salary. After a moment I picked up my pocketbook and walked past the fireplace toward a sign marked “Les Femmes.” I left nothing on my gilded chair. My table was neat, the single salad fork across the empty plate, wineglass nearby empty. In the black tile bathroom, a woman in a black sweater handed me a starched towel.

“M’ci, m’dme.”

I fished in my pocketbook for two quarters.

“M’ci,” she hissed.

I ambled back toward my deserted table, proud of myself. My friend Anita’s parents were gone, leaving a wild ruin of napkins, crumbs, duck bones, and plates smeared with drying sauces. I was tipsy. I loved my day of movies. I loved the restaurant. I loved the whim that took me here. I didn’t have to share it with my family, who were upset by their rare restaurant visits. They seemed jolted by unfamiliar data.

“George, look at your fork. Call the waiter, it’s filthy.”

“Find out if they cook in margarine, last time I was here I ordered fried veal and it kept me up all night.”

“Keep your hands away from the white rolls, they spoil her appetite, here’s the waiter, George, he’ll take the basket away.”

I strolled past the tall metal cart of six trays on wheels festooned with glistening tarts, swirling mousses with thick cream icings. The company of a date wouldn’t have been as
much fun either. He would make friends with the waiter; it would be his restaurant; he’d have picked it. He would choose the wine, enjoying a complicity with the steward while he tasted it. I would be cowed into eating slower. I would wait politely for him to finish each course. He would pay the check.

Near my small table something had happened. The hatcheck woman was whispering in French to the maître d’ while my waiter flapped his hand towel angrily at his palm. His anxiety clashed with the prim chamber music. The hatcheck woman saw me and she hit the waiter with her elbow. Then the three of them closed in around my table looking at me while I slid down into my chair. My mousse hadn’t arrived. Everything in the restaurant seemed to stop. Everybody was staring at me. What could it be? Was it the brown leather miniskirt I bought on sale for $4.99 that week at Loehmann’s?

“Where were you?” the waiter asked. The others nodded indignantly.

I flushed. It was a good thing Anita’s parents were gone.

“Do you have the full amount of the check?” he continued.

“What is the problem?” I was toughing it out despite my growing humiliation.

“We thought you left, uhm, without payment of your bill.” The maître d’ spoke from behind him in a conciliatory voice.

My face went hot. Curious shocked faces blurred around me. I pulled out my pay envelope and turned the bill over on its little black tray. “I didn’t eat mousse,” I said, my fingers shaking. I felt surrounded.

“Very good, m’mselle.” The waiter picked up the bill and scratched his pen at it.

“Du café?” he asked.

“No.” I wasn’t in the mood anymore.

I counted all my bills and quarters onto the tablecloth and left the waiter four dollars. Lucky thing I had a subway token. With a flourish of his head, he acknowledged my pile of money. As I walked past him, he folded the four-dollar tip and held it out at me. People were still staring. I shook my head.

“Take it”—he shoved the bills at my wrist—“for your inconvenience.”

“No,” I said, pushing by him.

At the front of the restaurant I paused to ask for my coat from the hatcheck woman, who was now guarding the closet. “It’s not your fault,” she said to the back of my neck while helping me on with my old Bryn Mawr trench coat.

“What?” I twisted around.

“We don’t get many single girls in here, except working ones, and they pull dirty tricks on us.”

“Tricks?”

“Eat a full meal and skip out on the check.” She smiled and her teeth were perfect. “Only we got no back exit.”

She patted my shoulders. “Woman eating alone, well, they watch you like a hawk. I told them you were fine. But I was surprised they let you in, considering how many times we been burned.”

I squeezed her hand and then twisted the brass doorknob. Wrapping my muffler over my chin, I ran down the red carpet with tears in my eyes. I didn’t belong inside that restaurant yet, and I had missed out on my first chocolate mousse. It was over my head. I didn’t know the rules of this huge city, but I vowed to learn them.

My day in New York would come, I’d make a great movie and show them, or so I told myself over and over again as I sat on the deserted uptown subway, shivering and yawning from the heavy Burgundy wine.

One

Credit sequence against black, then slow horizontal wipe across screen right to left and we see same fancy French restaurant with mirror fireplace and rickety gilded chairs. Sound track comes up prissy Mozart violins. TWENTY YEARS LATER rolls across the middle of the screen.

When I arrived the blue-striped canopy looked like hundreds of others. But something clicked when I saw the mirror fireplace. I handed the pretty hatcheck girl my raccoon coat and briefcase filled with screenplays and my sneakers and stopped short—what had I done with my old Bryn Mawr trench coat?

Then I glimpsed Barry’s wiry gray head beyond the fireplace near the cart of desserts. He looked daggers while he traced angry fork lines on his napkin. I waved at him over a party of elderly Swiss people. Poor man had picked this stiff restaurant to celebrate my fortieth birthday, and he’d been cooling his heels for almost an hour.

I pushed my way through the crowd. Tonight, in his good navy suit, his hair combed over his receding hairline, Barry looked like a manic tycoon. In fact, he is a Jewish scientist with a magnetic mind, close to a Nobel Prize for his brain research. He has left two plump pillows on my bed and a silver
razor on my bathroom sink. We have been trying to love each other for two years, but everything I do hurts his feelings. And I knew we were in for a fight.

BOOK: What Movies Made Me Do
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