So Stella-- You ask for my story as you prep me for the shoot. Here goes: I had a sweet childhood in a little town in a high desert valley in Central Utah. I hiked the hills looking for arrowheads with my grandpa and sometimes I tended turkeys for my dad. If I wanted to dance on my toes it was off to Salt Lake with my mom for toe shoes even if there was nobody within seventy miles to teach ballet. Still on many summer days I sat on our front porch facing Main Street daydreaming about California. I was on the lookout for a passing car with a California license plate (once in awhile it actually happened). I thought anybody from California had to be rich and famous. Even the word “California” was magical. And then one day many years later, I was thirty, divorced and actually heading for California to be an actress with my two little girls. I quit a good job with TV Guide in Salt Lake City and as my mother pointed out: It was reckless and I was no spring chicken. Turned out I was a bust as an actress but I married an actor. That was a bust too. I learned very quickly that not everybody in California was rich or famous.
It was from the frying pan into the fire. I was desperate. A friend suggested that I put some of the pieces I had been writing together to make a short story-- and it grew into a book and somebody else suggested that I write a spec script so I did and a big Hollywood agent read it and said, “She’ll never get a job in Hollywood” and then I got a job in Hollywood. Soon I was churning out TV movies and miniseries-- aided and abetted, mentored, protected, edited and spoiled by two producers who took me on. There were lots of hurdles and rejections but I was supported and encouraged by friends and family. I learned that criticism-- while hard to take-- often opened a new area to explore. I met and interviewed interesting people. They talked. I listened. I went to Graceland with Priscilla Presley and worked with Sidney Poitier and had lunch with Lady Bird Johnson and interviewed Michael Jackson at ten thirty one night. The world opened up. I wasn’t in the fire, I was on fire! California really was magical!
I am now 87 and living in a condo in an old Hollywood building (Bette Davis once lived here-- Clark Gable too). I am content with my single life. In the morning over breakfast, I have amazing views of the most beautiful trees outside my window-- an array of different shades of green and the purples and pinks of bougainvillea. I watch squirrels jumping from branches like monkeys and I try to get crows to eat the crumbs I put out on my window sills. The diversity and beauty of L.A. fills me up. But home? The home where I was born and raised is gone.
So is our willow tree and the clothesline and the flower garden and my grandpa and grandma’s motel that was next door. But somehow it’s still there-- my home-- tucked away in the Wasatch Mountains.
My little girls? They turned out swell. So did my four grandchildren and my two sons-in-law. My brother calls me every night and we laugh and cry over our shared memories and the state of the world and the divisions in our country and the future of everything.
There was a song we used to sing in Sunday School-- “Count your blessings-- Name them one by one. Count your blessings-- See what God has done--” I don’t believe in God but I sure in hell-- count my blessings. One by one.
Photography: Eric Gabriel @ericgabrielxx
I have been incredibly lucky. Not great but good enough. And somehow bad decisions turned out to be good-- and some good decisions turned out to be bad. It’s a crap shoot. Hey, death isn’t a mystery. The real mystery is life.
(Another thing: I never learned to dance on my toes but it feels like it sometimes when I’m doing Pilates.)
So Stella? Am I done?