One Movie Star at a Time

My list of male actors just passed 370 with Sir John Gielgud, Gordon MacRae, Patrick Swayze, George Takei, and Harpo Marx. My list of female actors passed 260 with Claudine Longet, Olivia Newton-John, Olivia de Havilland, and Farrah Fawcett.

Their names rise like tendrils, sprouting from the silent dark loam of my mind to the light.

Ali MacGraw, Billy Bob Thornton, Ann Bancroft, Lillian Gish, Maximilian Schell.

Each morning I wake with a handful more names to add.

Eve Arden, Ray Milland, Jayne Meadows, Ossie Davis, Ann Southern, Joel Gray, Lotte Lenya.

The rule is that I cannot just add names I search on Google. I have to remember who they are, or were, and at least recognize their face before their name is added. I can, for example, remember the face of the woman in “Oklahoma” and then google her name. Shirley Jones.

My obsession, so far, is not about learning, but about remembering. It’s about stimulating my brain and having available the file of “who’s who” that other people have.

Peter Lorre, Angela Bassett, Loretta Young, Cheryl Ladd, Melina Mercouri, Celeste Holm, Billy Dee Williams.

This obsession, and fascination with how memories rise out of darkness, started – are you ready? – with a pressing need a few months ago to learn the nations of Africa. Then all the nations of the world. Then all the provinces and their capitals of Canada. Then all the capitals of all the nations in the world. The island nations of far Southeast Asia still resist cognitive patterns but I’m 90% of the way there on the rest.

After decades of geographical nonchalance, I need to know the pattern of the planet I stand on. What is underneath my feet? What nations touch up against other nations? Who are the people who live in that specific place? When they run from their home to another country, who are their neighbors?

But my need to know doesn’t stop with nations on the earth and stars of stage and screen. My brain lusts across a wide scope of nameable knowledge – the seven dwarves, the Supreme Court justices, Santa’s reindeer, the seas and mountain ranges. It wants to bring tangible nameable reality into place before I return to the intangible unknowns of peace work.

Jon Voigt, Peter Fonda, Werner Herzog, Anna Magnani, Jean Seberg, Chita Rivera, Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Pia Madori, Mia Farrow, Ingrid Bergman.

What if someone asks me the Departments of the U.S. government and the Secretaries? Or the chronology of the Presidents? Or when Prussia was Russia or Germany or Poland, or Germany was Prussia?

Then there are all the film directors! This list will start when either the actor or actress list reaches 400.

Vivien Leigh, Jimmy Stewart, Shirley Temple, Tammy Grimes, Peter O’Toole, Nick Nolte, Bruce Lee, Raquel Welch.

I’m not inherently inept with names. I voluntarily stopped registering names some time ago. I was more interested in the movie, or work of art, or book than in who made the movie, created the art, or wrote the book.

I can say I did this, though it now feels like an excuse, because other things were more important to me, like learning the principles of cultures of peace and forming global networks of women. I can say that I learned what I needed to know to do the work I needed to do in order to help make a better world, and that I didn’t have the capacity left to remember names. But now, it is I – not world peace – with the need to know who is who and what is where.

Kim Novak, Ruby Dee, Jeanne Moreau, Alan Delon, Margaret Cho, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Patti LaBelle, Viola Davis, Dorothy Dandridge. 

I delight in the recall.

Daryl Hannah, Jack Webb, Lena Horne, Larry Hagman, Alec Guinness, Yvonne de Carlo, Jeff Chandler, Jackie Chan, James Dean, Lauren Bacall. 

I feel my brain. Zip zap zip zap. Neurons popping. Synapses dusting themselves off.

Carrie Fisher, Kirk Douglas, Helen Hayes, James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Annette Bening, Audie Murphy, Sidney Poitier, Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Uma Thurman, Oona Chaplin, Liv Ullman, Stacy Keach, Rod Serling, Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, Candice Bergen, Rosalind Russell, Eddie Murphy.

Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Tony Perkins, Tuesday Weld, Mary Martin, Robert Culp, Jane Russell, River Phoenix, Betty Grable, Peter Lawford, Meg Ryan, John Wayne, John Travolta, Rita Moreno, Walter Matthau, Hedy Lamar, Leslie Nielsen, Gilda Radner, Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Perhaps this obsession is about not forgetting people. Not letting them slip away.

Mogadishu, Somalia; Kigali, Rwanda; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Kampala, Uganda; Juba, South Sudan; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Ouagadougou, Burkina Kaso; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal.   

And not forgetting whole nations,

Sandra Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John Robert, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

. . . or those who judge our laws,

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

. . . or who fly through the night with gifts for us all,

Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Doc, and Bashful.

. . . or whistle when they work, even when it is for minimal wage.

There are a lot of people to remember.


Forever, today

“Forever.” The woman in the street called me “Forever,” proving everything you have ever been or done, or been known as, is still alive. Be careful, girls and boys.

photo 1

She said “Forever” and I turned like an old dog hearing its puppy name. No one has called me “Forever” in more than 30 years. The decade before that everyone did, except my family in Iowa who called me “Patti” and a few others I had abandoned years earlier.

She was probably aided to identify me by my clothes. My wrinkled white linen Eileen Fisher pants and shirt do resemble yogi clothes. (That’s not a typo. Yogi, not yoga.)

But I was wearing sunglasses and walking a large black poodle in a neighborhood that would have a fit-conniption if someone tried to live here in a cabin, yurt, lean-to, or tent, all of which I have lived in – plus a van, once parked outside her house for several days 35 years ago.

She nailed me at 8 feet and had the wisdom to follow immediately with her name. Otherwise, I would have been in that “my, she looks familiar, but from where” limbo.

photo 3Point is not that I lived in a religious commune in NY state and then a valley in Tennessee among musicians and craftspeople for a decade but that . . . what is the point?

I think it is not that people keep track, but that people share histories for instances or years, and those memories are alive in Now.

She and I both long ago divorced our husbands of that time, but we didn’t discuss them. Why bother? My ex-husband, a faux mini-guru, became violent and was a jerk. Her ex-husband tried to fraud me by paying back a loan from me to my divorced husband. That makes him a jerk too. The two of them grew cannabis somewhere in Virginia. For the record, I had nothing to do with it, though I saw the field once. Impressive. Tall plants loving the sun. What happened to the plants after I saw them, I have no idea. I swear.

So the point is, I think, that life is sort of like sour dough bread, the starter contains elements from the beginning of sour dough bread. Stuff continues through time and re-emerges, like, ah,”Forever.”

I may be walking a dog, she may be in my neighborhood to park her car before lunch with a friend. We could have passed each other. Surely we pass people every day who . . . six degrees of separation and all that.

I last saw my ex-husband in a banana grove during a visit to Maui 21-22 years ago. He was looking thin. I’ve heard nothing since. I don’t know if he is dead or alive. His family is all gone, there is no one to ask.

Nor do I know anything about her husband.

Perhaps she and I will meet for lunch, but no reminiscing. They were jerks. It all comes around. I think I want her to continue calling me “Forever.” It has something about it.