It is 1972.
Our family is visiting my mother’s cousins in Los Angeles. The two women are in their sixties, dressed for the occasion. One of them is the President of the Griffith Park Hills Republican Assembly. Her husband, who I think resembles a mortician in his dark suit and stone-faced demeanor, is a former L.A. County Supervisor. I don’t understand what either of those things mean.
The other cousin, I have been informed, worked in the entertainment industry and appeared in the film ‘My Fair Lady’ directed by George Cukor. I am a film geek in middle school. I am not just a member of the AV Club, I am the founder. I have a Super-8 camera and cassette recorder with me. I am interviewing her.
She describes the experience of working on the film in the Covenant Garden dance number. She has scrap books with stills showing her in her role as a charwoman. She describes the costuming and make-up process. The make-up consisted of many layers of brown and black smudges to simulate dirt and soot.
I am thrilled. This is the first person in our family that has been in a movie. We have the soundtrack album and it is in frequent rotation at our house.
“How did they cast you in the film?”
She smiles. “Well, they were looking for older women who could dance. I’ve been a professional dancer all my life. Would you like to see my publicity pictures?”
She pulls another album from a bookcase next to the sofa and opens it in her lap. Looking up at me is a beautiful woman in her early twenties in a black-and-white 8 x 10 studio portrait that must have been taken in the thirties or forties. She smiles demurely at the camera, posed holding a pair of giant fans made of feathers and, apparently, nothing else.
I look at this wrinkled woman on the couch next to me as she flips through more pictures of her with fans. Then came the ones with balloons. I wonder if my mother knows about this part of her ‘entertainment’ career.
I learn a new word: chanteuse.