Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Have you ever been poitrined?

Have you read Little Me (1961), darlings? If you haven't, you have to, and there isn't really anything more to say about that.

It's the biggest joke ever, all the way through--and as such rewards repeated readings extremely well, as there is so much to absorb and catch from slightly different points of view and snortle at and see differently in the text and sometimes very naughty photos that accompany The Intimate Memoirs of That Great Star of Stage, Screen & Television, Belle Poitrine, as told to Patrick Dennis.

Belle Poitrine, née Belle Schlumpfert, of Venezuela, Illinois, is forever mercenary, sluttish, committedly deluded, and vain, whether bleeding dry a series of men ("As Fred had only five thousand dollars, I saw no need to squander it in that squalid hotel"); dumping her two-year-old daughter in boarding school ("I stood silhouetted in the doorway as Baby-dear toddled after Mademoiselle toward the car…'Who's the big blonde?' Baby-dear asked."); or -- my favorite -- offing or otherwise doing nothing to prevent the passing of a series of spouses, such as husband number whatever, studio owner Morris Buchsbaum, who expires after seeing Belle's bank-breaking version of Cleopatra, Nights on the Nile:
"Better I should plotz than see another picture with a gurnisht like you!" A convulsive shudder passed through his entire body. "Ausgeschpielt," he breathed. He sank back onto the pillows, lapsing almost completely into the vivid tongue of his faraway European childhood. But even at this moment my Morris could praise me!
Later Belle is helped down the aisle by her next husband, Letch Feeley (their estate is Belletch), at "dear Morris' high requiem mass."

If nothing else, page through Little Me to see the genuinely amazing poitrine of Jeri Archer (the model who plays Belle in the photos by Cris Alexander), Dennis' virtuoso abuse of scare quotes ("Momma had engaged the services of several very attractive young ladies and held a perpetual 'open house' for America's jolly 'Jack Tars'" [Belle's mother's latest whorehouse, in San Diego]), or the weaving in of imagined interactions with real-life show-biz celebrities ("I approached Ivor Novello to compose an operetta suited to my vocal range. 'CAN PROSTITUTE ART ONLY SO FAR' was his cabled reply.") It is the best. As Charles Busch says in the intro the 2002 re-issue:
This faux memoir of a deluded but determinedly optimistic Grade-Z movie star is a forerunner of the 'mockumentary' that is more and more becoming a staple of American film comedy. This Is Spinal Tap and the films of Christopher Guest…owe much of their deadpan and meticulously accurate tone to this seminal work.

Belle's version of The Scarlet Letter, set at Allstate U.
"Just try to change one comma in some old book about a girl
having a baby in Massachusetts and they're all up in arms!!"

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