I hope she won't mind. Mine comes on Tuesday, but Barbara's hundredth birthday doesn't come for another month and a half, still: Barbara Stanwyck's birthday is worth celebrating all year-round, in my opinion. Stanwyck epitomized utility player acting of a certain era, and good acting for all time. If you only know her for The Big Valley or The Thorn Birds, for shame. Go back to her early career, and marvel at what she could do.
She was dark in Double Indemnity, and then light as a feather in The Lady Eve, and, be still my heart, the underappreciated screwball film Ball of Fire, which has just been released on DVD. Watch Barbara as chantoosie Sugarpuss O'Shea educate seven lexicographers in the ins and out of modern slang, and make the uberwooden Gary Cooper burst into flames with quips such as:
referring to her throat] A slight rosiness? It's as red as The Daily Worker, and just as sore!
Her writing about writing is some of the best, and she is that rarest of combos: smart, compassionate, funny. Listen to this:
LR: In 1995, you wrote, "In my own lifetime the American middle class has taken some awful knocks. America is destroying itself. More specifically, America’s middle and working classes are destroying themselves with a little help from -- could it be those Republicans over at the golf course?" Eleven years later, what are your thoughts there? Is the destruction complete?
CS: No, the destruction isn’t complete. It will never be complete, because, just like humans, governments are ever-shifting. Yes, I do think the ruling class in America would like to grab everything for themselves, because they were brought up that way, and early American Puritans somehow had it wired into their religion that poverty is a sign that God doesn’t like you, that you’re not “saved,” that money, on the other hand, is a sign of God’s approval. They say the middle class in this country is shrinking, but I don’t really know who the “they” is in that sentence. I tend to think there’s a natural process of balances -- that when the very rich press their luck too far, there’s a danger of a backlash, and the rich know it. There’s often a time when the bully on the playground does one bad thing too many and all the little weaklings gang up on him, and that’s the end of that particular pattern. I look at that stuff as a novelist, and as a human being, but I try not to get too worked up about it. I think of myself as wearing the invisible tee shirt with “You can kill me but you can’t impress me” printed on it. Every second I spend laughing is a second I don’t have to think about Vice President Cheney, for instance.
I love the Internet. I have loved it madly for...wow. 24 years. I loved it when my screen was gray and the type was yellow, and I was actually linked to the university mainframe on an acoustic coupler poking my way through a word processing program called Word11, which I guess was the grandparent of...Word? WordPerfect? Who knows? I loved sending my first flirty e-mail to one of my editorial clients, not knowing that my boss shared my e-mail account (the more things change...). Fortunately, my client and I flirted in code: Bob Dylan lyrics. You don't need a weatherman to cook yourself up an emoticon, Bob. I loved the sense of possibility. I hope I always will.
What I love, NOW, about the Internet, is drifting across the blogging ether and discovering superfantastic women such as the author of Music and Cats. Architect, cat lover, music fan, spouse of a cancer survivor, promoter of affordable housing, aspiring memoirist, aspiring to make a decent latte...AND she lives in Seattle, which is where Kindly Eccentric Middle-Aged Jeff and I began our honeymoon. Thus, I dub her my first Imaginary Gal Pal. (The drift, to be honest, is not entirely random, which is also what I like about the Internet...I've submitted the My Fat Cat book blog to the Carnival of Cats, a kind of rambling blogging festival, and Ms. Music and Cats is a part of it. Which is also why I love the Internet. What did we do before the Carnival of Cats?