7th June, 1938 - 1:52am
"It's called 'Fran: The Motion Picture'. I'm pitching it to George next Thursday. It will follow my real life transition from being in the pictures to pursuing a career in Scatology"
This was often the nature of most late night conversations with Fran. She would initiate quirky conversations and insights that would float above the small talk I was generally used to in Hollywood. As preposterous as her ideas seemed, I was always certain of how genuine she was. But I guess that's why I loved spending all that time with her. On Tuesday evenings I'd often kick back with a whiskey over at the Starwall Bar in West Hollywood. Fran would join me with her usual 'Corpse Revivers'. A Corpse was a fix that was consumed as much as water back during the prohibition days. An ounce of gin, Cointreau and Lillet Blond with a dash of absinthe and lemon juice. I was always surprised that it was her poison of choice. But that was Fran. She hated doing what everyone did and preferred to do what they used to do.
"Scatology?" I asked her whilst I exhibited a short and humorous smile. With her cocktail glass in hand, Fran tilts her head slightly upwards and closes her eyes in mild frustration.
"Wesley you don't understand. Movies are done!" She said, without ever changing the level of her voice.
She returns her sight towards me and continues to speak.
"It's just all the same to me really. Anxiety provoking. I'm fine doing what George wants me to do, but it's not what I really want to do. So what's the oddest thing an actress could do?"
She was talking about George Schaffer over at RKO. Fran did quite well in '37 with a string of Comedy "B's" that would soon see her leap into feature films. She made George laugh immensely, and he valued her consistency which was something he found scarce among other actresses at RKO the time. Miss Hepburn had taken a strange liking to her also, and would frequently invite her to golf on Saturdays at The Riv. A few folks in the industry told me more would usually happen between them, but I had never spoken to Fran about it.
As Fran completes her short monologue, she hovers her glass towards me for a light moment before downing it completely. She starts down at the empty glass, and twirls her finger lightly around it's circular edge.
"But your career? Your contract? I never know when to take you seriously." I said in my usual pessimistic tone when she would share these concepts with me. I called them concepts because that's exactly what they were.
"Oh I am serious Wesley" she raises her gaze from the glass to my eyes and gestures her palms flat open towards me , "I'm telling you, this is it. In fact, I've already left."
Fran would often say my name throughout our conversations. It was a short comic gesture, designed to make me feel as if I was talking to my mother. I imagined her doing the same throughout her conversations with George.
I continue to play devils advocate with my questioning
"Ok then, what about the money?"
"If it were about the money we wouldn't be good artists, Wesley" She reaches out for the cigarette case that lays next to her on the table. She takes a cigarette between her fingers and lifts her hand gently towards me and begins waiving it around in front of my face.
She widens her eyes for a moment as she speaks, "Poochi?"
"Poochi" was our coin phrase for cigarettes. My mother would always refer to cigarettes as "Poochos" in Spanish, and in some mysterious way by my own misgiving it seeped it's way into our extended group around town. We all referred to cigarettes as "poochis", so it was humorous when others amongst our conversation didn't know what we were referring to.
"I guess so?!" I chuckle lightly underneath my voice as I respond to her request, still baffled by her latest premonition.
"Right then." she said.
Without hesitation, Fran slaps her cigarette holder shut and lifts herself from the small booth we were seated in.
As she walks towards the exit, the movement of her dress is amplified by the black booths and the hot pink walls that encompassed the theme of the Starwall Bar. The bar itself was coined "The Diva Bar" around town, probably because it was frequented by as many celebrities as the Roosevelt hotel in those days. It was charming and intimate. It provided the perfect atmosphere for our Tuesday nightcaps despite the disjointed singing that came from the open mike night from the saloon next door.
As we stand outside lighting our cigarettes I continue the discussion around Fran's 'change of career'.
"So how are you going to break the news to George? About you leaving and everything?"
Fran moves closer towards me with her cigarette now lit. She moves so precisely that the burnt ash at the end of her cigarette remains intact. She would often let her cigarettes burn for a time and I was quite observant of that.
Close to my face with her eyes frozen over, Fran responds with no expression:
Fran turns and begins to walk up the street.
I wait for her to break character and walk back towards me, but she just keeps walking. You see, I never knew when the gag was "a gag" with Fran. I never knew when the gag would end either. Her gags just keep walking. She went all the way that day and just kept walking. As I continue my cigarette, I keep my gaze upon her as she walks up the boulevard. I continued to wonder if she would still turn back. But she never did. She went all the way that night.
The following day at nine in the morning, I received a telegram at my door:
I'm still walking, Wesley.
Fran had an unwavering dedication to the punchline. More so than any other person that I ever knew. Her commitment to character said so much about her loyalty and degree of discipline. It was something I often looked up to. She was fast and intelligent in a way I could never be. I felt in many ways that her comedic approach was her way of managing the chaos that surrounded most our world at the time. I acknowledged that her humour often served as a comfort for myself on many occasions. Especially in situations I took too much seriousness or sorrow towards. Whether or not it was ever her intention to help me in such a way, I will never know. What I know is that Fran's comedic fantasy was always about the honesty. I dubbed it "The Frantasy". An honesty that lived in the believability of all her truthful absurdities. It was always just a Tuesday and Corpse Reviver away. If you're lucky, she'll just keep walking.
Fran ultimately taught me where to find the comedy of life. I'm still learning to find it. You just have to close your eyes and start laughing. As artists in Hollywood we would often lose ourselves in so much of the nonsense of ego and success that would lead to so many of our anxieties.
For that very reason Fran serves to remind us all why we all did what we did back in those days to begin with: ars gratia artis.