When Classic Stars Were All Around Us
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
I’ve never been great at heeding that advice from Wordsworth, and for classic film lovers, it gets harder every year. What remain behind, of course, are the movies that sustain us. But there was a glorious time when so many stars were still here, long after their film careers had waned. There they were—on talk shows, and TV dramas, and sometimes, on Broadway.
Years ago, I saw Aren’t We All? with my Mom, and remember every second about that night. I wore a simple bright yellow sheath with French-cap sleeves, and shoes so fabulous (who knew they made torture devices in size 8?) that I had to take a taxi to the theatre, which was only, like, four blocks from my school. And I pulled the tickets from my envelope-clutch purse, in ivory with a pale yellow button where it closed over.
About a half-hour before the show, what appeared to be an ordinary checkered cab pulled up. But out stepped Claudette Colbert, in a white and peach houndstooth suit, probably Chanel—and ivory pumps almost exactly like mine! Suddenly my cramped and tortured toes found a reason to soldier on! But even in her heels, she was so tiny. Then with a smile and a wave, like Cleopatra channeling Moses, she parted the sea of admirers and swept into the theatre.
During the play, a somewhat creaky drawing-room farce by Frederick Lonsdale, I just sat there and stared at Jeremy Brett and Claudette thinking ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I’ve always worshipped Claudette, and I had a huge crush on Jeremy, which, knowing my crazy love for Colin Clive and Leslie Howard, led my mother to muse, “Oh, hon, you definitely have a type!” (And it turns out Howard played the Brett role in the original 1932 production.)
And rounding out the amazing cast were Rex Harrison, Lynn Redgrave and George Rose! Heaven can not only wait, it can stay on hold indefinitely.
After the show, my mother reminded me we had three dogs to get home to, so I dared not linger too long by the stage door. But I stalled for just a couple of minutes, pretending to fumble for subway tokens in my purse, which, like all my bags, was big enough that you could actually picture things getting lost in there, perhaps forever. (Years later I gave it to charity and imagine the new owner was like, “Oh, look! A comb and a compact!”)
And then—yes, yes!! Jeremy Brett glided out of the theater, in a white summer suit and azure shirt open at the collar. And he saw me, pretty much with “I love you” written all over me. He raised his eyebrows, waved, and nodded a little “hello.” He smiled at me so warmly my knees buckled, which is a dangerous thing in three-inch heels. Then he sidled into a taxi as if it were a waiting chariot.
I remember, when we lost Lynn Redgrave, reminiscing with my Mom about that magical night, and how Lynn was the last of that luminous cast. And then last year, I lost my Mom.
And the memories—what remain behind—are where we’re left to find strength. But oh, for the days when we had so much more than that…