23rd August, 1937
"Sorry sir, are you Mr Wesley Harper?"
I instantly recognised her as the girl they were talking about at the casting office. I'd often be outside on weekends taking photos of actors who were new in town and were in need of it. A few of the actors there told me she would wait outside the office even when she knew most of the jobs had been stolen from the notice board. People were always so frantic or nervous when it came down to landing screentests that they would do such wild things. You see, that's what made Charlamaine so different I guess. There was always something honourable and calm about her manner.
But one day her patience seemed to have paid off. Not long after those endless days down at the casting office she managed to land herself a real swell deal at Paramount. Through the gates she went! It wasn't the kind of contract that studio leads like Hepburn or Davis were on the books for, but it was the perfect industry stepping stone for someone her age. Although she was yet to make her first screen appearance, her contract salary was greatly valued by actors who had just signed to the studio. She was gentle, soft natured and spoke very delicately. It was the first time I would shoot with her so I was reasonably nervous. I had never worked with a contracted player from a studio. I started out on set shooting off camera and behind the scenes for publicity departments when I could secure the work. I would often jump from place to place as I wasn't on contract with publicity departments. Even though it was all I really wanted. Shooting with Charlamaine was a great opportunity for me and what I had been waiting on for a while. Everyone in this town was trying to climb the ladder any which way they could. My shoot with her that day was actually my own foot in the door over at Paramount. I had to make it work.
I had just returned from my Samba Class just off Melrose Avenue so I was slightly flustered when Charlamaine greeted me at my front door. It never bothered me if people were late. It bothered me if I was. The exterior of my apartment was quiet beige, so she stood out like a sore thumb. She had beautiful boisterous black hair that was perfectly shaped down to her shoulders. Her dress carried with it a soft dark blue tone with sequins that were perfectly layered between nude v formations that reached elegantly towards her shoulders. Then at the focal centre lay a crimson lip that gave warmth to the dress and drew focus to her eyes. Her eyes had depth like sterling blue sapphires similar to the colour you see when the sun lays high above the shallow water off the Santa Monica Pier.
We soon entered my apartment where I had everything readily prepared for her. It was essential that I was ready in advance. I loathed being rushed especially with something so pertinent to the both of us. My place on Todman Ave was small but just enough for me to do everything that was necessary. Whenever I did shoot at home I would often move furniture around to accommodate for the space I needed. The setup itself was quite simple. I placed a black leather chair in the centre of my living room and surrounded it with three light setups that were more or less in accordance with what I aimed to achieve that day. I was certainly no Hurrell, but everyone wanted to be like him.
Whilst I was making final preparations with my equipment, Charlamaine gazed quietly in the mirror making small tweaks to her hair and make up. New girls in the studio went through a generally arduous time in keeping up with the studios idea of perfection. Unlike Crawford who often refused to wear make up for some of her publicity shoots. Did you know Mr Hurrell spends hours applying pencil to her prints to cover her freckles? A friend of mine from the art department over at MGM told me about it when we were having lunch at Mel's just the other day. It was at hat moment that I thought about the way two worlds really did exist from inside the studios.
Shortly after our preparations we move over to the space in my living room where the scene had been set. I look down and examined the black chair in silence wondering what I should do with her. I would often go blank as I was only just learning to trust my instincts. Without warning I see this marvellous white cloud of fur fly over and consume the black chair. I look back to Charlamaine as she walks quietly towards the fur covered chair. As she sits down, it appears as if she is simply floating on a cloud. This strong, young and quietly vibrant individual stands poised upon the innocent configuration of the white fur beneath her. I take note of her hands and arms which are now cradled by dark blue gloves. Modest jewels perch over her fingers. Only one jewel was slightly darker than the others. Perhaps an airloom? Her mothers? I see her hands take path to the chair as her back arches like the neck of a crane. Prepared and unafraid. She provides me with a gentle smile before she fades into an expression, ready to shoot.
As I move my hands towards the camera I gaze at her for a few moments before asking her,
"Charlamaine, where are you now?"
Those last few moments always resonate with me. For a moment I saw how innocent we both were just starting out. I thought about how the industry could scar our souls. How many broken hearts and regrets we would have to face and overcome. How many versions of our egos would face us. But I could see she had the resilience and bravery to endure it all if she had to. Much more than I ever could. Life scars on it's own.
I often have to take a moment to remind myself of the value of images and how we attach emotions to them. I also think about the emotions attached by those that are there capturing them "in the moment". But when I lead down the path to look back at the emotions attached to them, I'm confronted by all the scars I gained since then. When I think of that day, I see the roses and thorns of our idealistic youth. Everything that could be. Everything we don't know will be. Everything we know of now.
To capture time is a true gift. But to set it free heals all wounds.