SUNSHINE BOY BY STEVEN FREEMAN: CHAPTER TWO
Sunshine Boy is introduced with its first chapter here.
Mum had this theory about the television, so we never had one in our house when I was growing up. I never thought anything odd about that until I was going to school and all the kids would be forever on about last night’s “Man From Uncle” or “Batman” or “The Prisoner” or “Manhunt” or “Star Trek”. They thought I was weird anyway because I never had the local accent and my hair was too long and I didn’t give a fart about football. Not having a telly just made them think I was some sort of religious nutcase as well. Mallory had one of course, big as a barn and colour as well, but he never watched it, and it just sulked to itself in his first floor drawing room until I bought an Atari and drove him mental with Breakout and Space Invaders. Not having any telly at home meant I wasn’t afraid of the cameras when I started to do TV work. It was queer not having an audience to play to, and doing everything in broken bits, but you soon get used to that. After my first tests at the BBC a cameraman with his arm shot off in Korea told me “You have a face alright.” Seems you can be as good as Richard Burton on the stage, but if the camera doesn’t like your face you’ll never make it in the cinema or on telly. I had a face, and that was a relief.
Mum and I never exactly talked a lot, and never about chit-chatty things, but we were close in our own way. Sometimes she would just sit with me fiddling at one of my kits, and run her fingers through my hair, not speaking at all. And sometimes I would sit with her listening to one of her ghastly egghead arts programmes on the radio, about as entertaining as a funeral service in a foreign language. Usually I’d just doze off on her lap, and we both liked that. She always had what she called “her space” and there was no place for me in it, but she always respected my privacy in return. It was almost like we were house-sharers sometimes, going about our own business in the same rooms and not much to say, so I asked her once, after sneaking a peek at one of her “women only” papers, if she’d rather I’d been born a daughter. She put a hand to her forehead, as though my question had stabbed her right there, and didn’t answer for a good five minutes. I think my eyes got all swollen with tears by the time she did speak.
“I can’t answer you that, sweetheart. Truly I can’t. Is it so very different? Is it really? I don’t know. If you asked would I have liked you to have a sister, then I’d say yes of course. Certainly I would. But give up my beautiful boy to have a girl in his place? I don’t know. Only in some ways, well you know about it, things might be easier that way. Sometimes I wonder if I should have been a parent at all. No reflection on you, how could it be? But perhaps I wasn’t cut out for it, and only thought I was. I watch you grow up and I think, did that really come from me?”
She saw I was crying now and of course she made a fuss over me, but I suppose my asking the question, and her reaching deep inside for an honest answer, was a kind of little bookmark in our moving apart. My mother would have fetched out the Gatling gun at any suggestion that “a boy needs the company of a man”. She was edging toward the idea that nobody needs the company of a man if they can possibly help it, and the only sad thing about beautiful boys is they can’t be prevented growing into one. She never talked with me about these things developing in her mind, and never let me read her writings, which she did an awful lot of, so I can’t exactly blame myself that I just didn’t get it. I don’t even know that she wanted me to get it. The male sex would get it when her artillery was ready.
Anyway I’d long since made up my own mind that a boy does need the company of a man, or this boy did, and I suppose if I’m honest I felt more at home chatting and kidding about with the older actors backstage at the theatre, or even playing suicide chess with Mr Findlay at lunchtime in school. It was a boys’ school, so I didn’t get much exposure to girls my own age at all. Some of the boys spent all their waking breath feebling on about girls of course, but just as many didn’t. I’ve never been to China, and I don’t spend any time fretting how it would be like to live there. You don’t miss it if you’ve never been. Does that make any sense? It does to me anyway.
So we were listening to one of Mum’s art programmes on the radio and who should be a guest again but the author of “Phaedo”. He wasn’t talking about his books but “the cultural significance of the Apollo programme and the changing role of science fiction in the space age”. Yawnerama. But listening to his voice I made up my mind to write to him at once, so I asked a friendly lady at the BBC who was like my ally behind enemy lines, and she said she would see it got to the right office. About ten days later I got this long and wonderful reply from him, and to my amazement he did remember me from the BBC canteen. He said he’d watched “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” with special pride and thought I was “very fine in every way”, which was such a charming thing to say I read that line over and over again. He said I looked very different with my hair short and blacked over, but the moment I smiled he recognised me. I wrote back at once, I mean that very minute, stealing my mum’s Olivetti to make a neater job of it, and told him how I’d read his book and such. I sent him some of my costume stills from “Tom Brown” and wrote something nice on the back for him. I think it was near midnight before I finished spilling my insides onto the paper for the poor man. And didn’t I watch the letterbox like a hungry dog for days until another reply came, and so on for a happy month or two. Words and words and words flying between us.
Finally, after all my badgering, he wrote that he had this small holiday cottage in Penzance, was there for a short late summer break, and would I like to go down there and join him on a visit for a few days? Would my mother consent to that? Poor mum, like she had any chance of resisting the tidal wave of sheer will that rushed on her that day. She was never much the suspicious worrying kind, and I think the main thing in her head was that I shouldn’t be such a nuisance to this person, just because he was kind enough to answer all my letters. She agreed to four days, though I wanted the whole week. When I said that Mallory was happy to come up and meet her first if she thought it best, she said no, that she didn’t want the burden of vetting people like MI6. She always put her trust in me like that, and I never thought anything unusual about that either. It was only Mallory who persuaded me she was rather special indeed. He said “Most boys enjoy a measure of independence, though not so much as when I was your age, but the invisible leash is still there. She must trust you a good deal to take the leash off altogether.” Anyway I would be out of her hair for a few days, I suppose, and her time was becoming busier and busier. She was looking rather drawn and dog tired, but that was only the pressure of all her meetings and campaign stuff. And she still wouldn’t talk to me about it.
The train from London down to Cornwall takes about as long as nine snails lashed together, even without smoke coming out of the front one. I got bored looking out the window in about ten minutes flat, and there wasn’t anyone else in my compartment to talk to. It was a First Class, not because I was getting all posh and stuck up, but now that my face was getting a bit recognised, and people would stop me on the street, it was just easier to dodge all the finger-pointing and gawping faces by paying a bit extra. Mallory had offered to drive up and run me down but Mum said no, if I was old enough to go on my own I was old enough to get there on my own. I’d have preferred the car actually. The guard who came along and punched a hole in my ticket didn’t even look at me.
“On your own?” he grumped.
“Just mind you behave then. No running up and down at corridors else.”
I just snorted.
A woman came along after a few weeks with a clumsy trolley to sell me evil-looking sandwiches and pickled tea. She was nice so I bought an evil sandwich and threw most of it out the window. I don’t think we’d even got clear of Kent yet.
I’d brought some fan letters along to reply to if the carriage wasn’t too shaky, and started on those instead. It’s always really nice to get such friendly letters from people you’re never going to meet, all saying such nice things about you. Clare, my new agent, offered to get his secretary to handle them but I said flat out no. A short personal reply was the least those people were owed. I just never expected there’d be so many. Some weeks I’d even get hundreds. My answers got shorter, and if I was in a really lazy mood I’d just scribble off something on the back of a photo. But everyone got some sort of reply, even the little bit creepy ones.
One man in Doncaster who insisted he was a headmaster (but couldn’t spell for toffee) wanted to know all about the big house caning I got from Dr Arnold in “Tom Brown”, and pointed out it should have been the birch, and should have been on my bare bottom, because that’s how it was done in those days, and twelve strokes wasn’t really enough, given how serious my crime was. Did I get tanned very much at home?, he wanted to know. I found a still from that scene and just wrote on the back “Sorry it wasn’t my bare bum. Boys in those days must have gone into orbit, I reckon. If you ask about home again I shan’t answer, sorry.” Of course most of it was girls anything from 8 to 18, writing to some dreamboat they’d imagined from the records and the pin-up mags. I tried to be nice to all, but told them I was pretty ordinary really, and not to believe half the stuff they read. I lost count of how many sent me their photo and said they loved me. It made me feel a bit of a fraud, but then I thought it’s not me that strings them along, it’s those women who write all that guff in the magazines.
It’s true that, after what I already told you about “David Copperfield” at the Meadowcroft, and getting caned every night, and the damn leather padding slipping out of place, it did seem sometimes like almost every part I was cast in I would either get a good hiding, or six of the best, or else I’d be threatened with it regular enough, and in “Tom Brown” it was the climax of the whole blooming series. My Mum never laid a finger on me, especially when I most deserved it, and all those very public whackings they just seemed, I don’t know, like something that was expected of a boy actor, like they do all the time in the comics. The man in Doncaster sort of tipped me off that this was a strange kind of spectator sport, for some folk at least. I had a dirty giggle once I worked that out. It was another reason for people to look at my bum, wasn’t it?
A foreign director was in London just then, casting for a new film of “Macbeth”, and Clare asked if I wanted to try for the boy part in that, called Fleanch or somesuch. I couldn’t make head or tails of the dialogue where he meets these witches, so I just skimmed through to the boy’s part, and he’s only in a few scenes and nearly gets murdered with his father, but he only has two lines and a song, so I turned it down. There was one bit, when the king is murdered, when Fleanch and his dad are sleeping and a man comes in to wake them. They’re both naked in bed, so the script said, and my eyes went wide as dinner plates at that. There’s another boy in it, just called Macduff’s son, and he does get murdered and has a lot more lines, and he has to have a bath on screen before it happens. Bugger me, I never thought of doing an actual nude scene in a film as such, and just thinking of doing that on a big West End screen made me randy as all get out, I can tell you. Anyway I still turned it down. The other script, the one I was memorising, and had in my satchel on the train, gave me near enough the lead part, and I’d already signed the contract for it as well. It was a film called “Pelle the Conqueror” and is set in Denmark before the war, but there’s not a lot of murdering in it.
The story doesn’t seem like much. It’s just a boy and his broken down father who sort of work as slaves on a rich man’s farm. So many cruel things happen to the boy, and he slowly loses all respect for his father, and in the end he runs away to start a new life on his own. But I knew the moment I read it that this would be my prize part. If I couldn’t woo the world playing that, I never would. Pelle is so strong, and so fragile, and so terribly put upon by what happens at school and on the farm, but he keeps his spirit to the end. I would do anything to get that part, I knew right from the off. Originally they wanted to cast a Danish boy, and by god he was good too, I mean I saw his screen tests, he was really good, but Sir Laurence Olivier was set to play the father, and it seems he insisted on an English boy, so he could coach him in the accent. I think my blond hair tipped it for me, but whatever it was, I kissed him right on the mouth when he told me I’d landed the part. I went supernova. I don’t think he liked boys kissing him on the chops, but he calmed me down and said it would mean a very great deal of hard work.
I knew his name alone was enough to guarantee a strong US release, and a showing at Cannes, and the rest was all down to me. You just watch me, I thought. This is my test of fire, like the saying goes. Oh ha ha, and yes, it also had three beating scenes for my fan in Doncaster, and four nude ones as well, so you knew what you could do with your two-line Fleanch!
They call those wooden things along the railways “sleepers”, and no bloody wonder. I dozed off for half the way, and finally the rusting wheels dragged us into the poky old station at Penzance, where the sky sort of opened up and came down like bathwater. I didn’t care, I was so hungry to meet Mallory again, with all our corresponding and all. And there he was on the platform, in a black leather coat to his shins like the Gestapo officers wear in good war films. He didn’t budge as I piled off the train with my bags, grinning like a fool, so I staggered with them to where he stood.
“Simon” he said.
“Brought a bit of London weather with you, I see.”
“Yes, sorry about that!” I grinned.
“It’s a bit of a drive. Are you very tired?”
“Snored myself hoarse half the way here.”
“Shall we get something decent to eat first?”
I was grinning too much. I gave myself a thick ear and told me to grow up for pity’s sake. He took one of my bags, made some remark about packing for a month’s siege, and led me out to his car on the steep sloping road. It was a dazzling red Triumph Spitfire, but thank god it had a sort of canvas hood up or we’d have been soaked. We couldn’t get my case in the tiny boot so he had to strap it on the back, and then we walked down the road to a restaurant with lobster pots and things dangling in the window. He let me order anything I wanted, and I think I made a proper pig of myself, but I wasn’t kidding about the famished bit.
“Your hair’s grown back I see?”
“Oh what, from that TV thing? That was ages ago sir.”
“Sir me not. Mallory will do just fine, since Douglas gives you the heebie-jeebies.”
“I don’t know why that is. I hope you weren’t offended?”
He made a flicking motion with his fingers, and I giggled at that.
“Have you been to Cornwall?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so..”
“Where do you go on holiday then?”
“Well we don’t sort of.. do that. Not since I was small anyway. No money for it I expect.”
“Can you swim?”
“Oh yes. I brought my trunks!”
“There’s no ah, telephone out at my cottage. I prefer it that way. But we’d better call your mother so she knows you got here.”
I shrugged, stuffing on bread rolls.
“She’s not like that. She’d think something was wrong if I did call.”
“Do it anyway.”
I shrugged again.
We talked while we ate, and I kept sneaking glances at his face to see where he was looking, and what his expression was, and the things he was wearing and such. I needed to crack the ice right off, so I fished in my coat pocket for something I’d bought for him, when I was down in Greenwich with my mum some weeks ago. I knew he had a thing about stars and astronomics, so it was a little book on Galileo from the Royal Observatory, nothing much really. He looked at it carefully and gave me this just so wonderful smile.
“To thank you for having me” I said, and blushed right off, and seeing me blush he laughed like a horse, which wasn’t quite how I meant the ice to crack, but anyway it did.
I told him all about the new “Pelle the Conqueror” part as he drove me back to his cottage through pitch black lanes narrow as intestines or something, and he stopped at an inn called the “Three Crows” and made me phone my mum. She wasn’t in anyway. And then up a steep lane as the rain was petering off and we found his cottage, all on its own and with a dinky private beach down some giddy stone steps, and a great view across the water that you couldn’t rightly see in the dark.
He had a black cat called Neptune that wiped itself on my legs as we came in from the night and the place was warm as anything with a big wood fire going. I like cats and Neptune was a great name, and Mallory came in with some cyder and cheese and crackers, and we just nattered really about how it felt getting to be a little famous, and he kept throwing these sly punches at me in his way, word punches I mean, to see if I was too full of myself. I came out and said I hoped he didn’t think I was, because I certainly didn’t want to get that way. He told me why he’d bought this cottage and how he did a lot of writing here, as well as a lot of spooky late night yarns about the area and its history sort of thing. There was a “laat de dominé passen” kind of pause, and then he said “I’m really glad you could come down. Should be warmer tomorrow.”
“Me too.” I said.
He showed me up to my room and it was this funny little tilting room in one corner under the roof, with an ancient stuffed hare in a glass case on top of the wardrobe.
“I’ll wake you for breakfast then. Seven OK?”
I shrugged with a “suits me” smile, and he left. The dominé was still in the room when the door shut, but I sort of collapsed into bed and lay listening to strange sounds from the weird old place, and mostly the stranger sound of dead silence, which you don’t hear much in London.
Next day went easier, and he drove me about the coast a bit, and it wasn’t exactly summer warm but nice enough by the afternoon, so we went on the beach at Mevagissey and had a pebble-throwing contest which he didn’t let me win, and I stripped down to my trunks and went in the water, but it was like wavy ice and I didn’t stay in long. Mallory wouldn’t go in at all. He told me how his sister had drowned at the beach when he was small, and he never went in the water again after that. He took a snap of me staggering back to the beach – “Venus confounded” he called it – and gave me a long look as I towelled off and flopped out on the pebbles next to him. I wore these itty bitty white trunks I’d bought especially, and wet they didn’t exactly hide much. I didn’t want them to.
“So how old are you again?”
“Fourteen next May. But I’m a bit short, so I can pass for younger. Pelle is younger than me for most of the story.”
“Unlucky for some, thirteen. But it’s a good age to be, isn’t it?”
“Not so young to be mollycoddled, not so old you can see life in its true colours yet. Boys should stay thirteen for about ten years, then skip to twenty overnight.”
“Why? I mean why not just stay where it suits you, like your robots?”
“Hmmm.. It can’t last forever. Anything, even the most glorious summer day would be boring if it went on eternally, but it would be nice to have more of it. Are you religious at all?”
“I should hope not.”
“Good boy. Heaven is the dumbest idea I ever heard of. Even dumber than hell. I think heaven would be hell, if you were condemned to it for eternity.”
“I bought these trunks for the trip. D’you think they suit me?”
Well I know, bit of a tarty way to go about it, but I really wanted to know what this man thought of me, my body I mean. I had my own sort of script in my mind, and I didn’t know what script he was on. The “good boy” thing was nice, but you’d say that to a dog too, so it doesn’t count. He put a fingertip to my spine and ran it up and down a bit, saying nothing. I made a lazy moan of gladness that he was doing it.
“Such a fine body. You probably don’t even know it yourself, but it is.”
“Oh, I know it is!”
He barked a laugh at that.
“So what d’you think’s the best bit?”
“What’s the best bit? I always think it’s my bottom. Is it alright to say that to you?”
He went very quiet, and stopped stroking me.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.. I was only being honest like you said you liked..”
“It’s the most mouth watering backside I’ve ever seen. Not a word of exaggeration.”
“You make it sound like a grapefruit. Good. I hoped you’d think so too. That’s the bit I’m proud of, mostly.”
“Well it stands out proud I must say. Or rather I mustn’t say. Primrose path. Eternal bonfire. ‘Tis strange but oftentimes the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence’.”
“You didn’t read your ‘Macbeth’ script very thoroughly did you?”
He swiped my bottom a few times, then stood up and walked away. I couldn’t turn over just for a minute, so I called across to him.
“I don’t mind you know. I don’t mind it a bit.”
“I’ve been thinking of buying a boat lately. Don’t know the first thing about boats but.. I’d like to feel one under me. The sea gets pretty frisky down here though.”
I had an idea there was a coded message there, but I was much too dim to unravel it.
“I like boats” was all I could say, and it sounded childish the minute I said it.
There was a decent fair on at St Ives, and I’ve always had a thing for fairs, so we had a marvellous evening of swingboating and ghost training and bumper carring, and winning no prizes at lots of stalls, and doing the bagatelles and such. I could have stayed at it all night, but we came away when about the fifth or sixth time I got asked for an autograph by giggling girls. Mallory watched me signing them with this funny acid smile on his face, and chuckled when I grumbled about the interruptions.
“It will get worse if you get better known” he said simply.
“Mm I know. I wish they’d leave it at writing letters.”
“They never will. Look at the top stars in America, they live in virtual captivity, they’re so famous. Do you want a life like that?”
“It’s a choice you’re going to have to make, if I’m not very mistaken.”
“What about Laurence Olivier?”
“What about him?”
“Does he live like that?”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t have your access to the cream of the acting world. Ask him yourself.”
“I shall too.”
That night Mallory saw me to bed, and stayed on a bit, watching me undress. I could feel the weight filling the room, whatever it was that was so heavy. When I slid off my underpants I turned around and around for him to see me naked from all sides, and gave him the very best smile I could manage. His face went blank as one of his angry sheets of unwritten paper.
“Too hot for pyjamas I think” I yawned.
“So you are.”
“You can stroke me some more if you want. I really liked it.”
“Simon.” He moved across and sat on the bed, looking very uncomfortable now, “Do you have the least idea how dangerous this is? For me I mean, but for you too.”
“What is? It can’t be dangerous if we both like it.”
“Oh yes it can. Oh yes it is.”
“Well I don’t care anyway then.”
I flopped down on the bed and waited for his fingers to touch me, but they didn’t.
“Sometimes you know… Sometimes I steal a look at the stuff my mum’s always writing, her feminism thing. She goes proper spastic if she catches me out, but I’ve read some bits of it. Anyway.. she goes on about how a woman has to ‘reclaim her own body rights’, and not be told by other people what she should and shouldn’t do with it, or what’s right and wrong to wear, and all that stuff, you know..”
“Same goes I reckon.”
“I wouldn’t disagree with you for an instant. Sad truth of it is though, what you think doesn’t count for anything. To the law, I mean. Or to parents, as a rule. They can want what they want, have what they want, but the kids aren’t allowed to want it, and shouldn’t have it even if they do.”
“Yes but… what do you want, Mallory?”
“Oh I think you figured that out..”
“Well so do I too, so there it is.”
He put his fingers under my hair to the base of my neck, so as I shivered a bit, and ran them lightly down the back to my arse, and right over that, and down the legs.
“I’m good at secrets” I whispered.
“You’d better be, or I’m done for.”
So we did it, and even more than I thought it might be, and even the stuff I’d had giddy ideas about what it might be like if it did happen, happened to me. And Jesus Jesus did I love that whole operation there and then, like I’d been waiting sort of my whole life for it. A man sort of completely bent on exploring me all over. Even the kissing came easy with him, and that was the part I never thought I’d cotton to, sorry that’s an American word again. Well, all of that. Mostly just being held by him so tight, and him saying such lovely things in a quiet night way, secret and special and so real. When he made me, you know, erm, finish off, I thought I’d just about detonate like a blood bomb and shower the room with my innards, it was such an amazing full stop to a sentence that had no words to it.
Well, I don’t exactly want to write a dirty old man book here, do I, so there’s no need to, like Mallory would say, dwell on the particulars. He did fuck me though, and getting fucked by him was just about as much pleasure as I think I could cope with and live, so I want to say that flat out and not pussyfoot around it. You can be tortured by an itch for years, not really knowing how to scratch it, or if you even dare. It was a bit like that, and I suppose you could say my relief at getting scratched was pretty amazing.
You just have no idea how long I worried over writing that last paragraph, letting the cat just right out of the bag and done with it. Mallory would kill me for being so foolish. I’m kind of past caring if it’s foolish or it isn’t, because all in all I’m still my mother’s son, and what goes for her goes for me too. I’m nobody’s bloody chattel either, and I don’t care what the law says if it’s just flat out wrong about that, and it is. If she could have her war to make things better, and let younger women, like she always said, breathe a cleaner air, why shouldn’t I try to do the same, even if I can’t write the way she would? I can’t be the only boy like I am. I’m dead sure I can’t be, and there’s something Gandhi said, I read it in the library once – even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth. Anyway, so there it is. I hope you won’t hate me now I’ve said it.
Once he’d committed himself to it, in a way of speaking, Mallory didn’t hold back exactly, so by the time he put me on the train back to Harrow, we’d had half a dozen good set-tos, and even took a long bath together, and suddenly he’d told me lots of stuff, private stuff, all about his own life, and speared me like a pincushion with his questions about me, not the sort of lazy simple questions they ask you on telly talk shows, but straight through the navel questions. When he put me on the train he held my face in his hands, whispered “You are beauty, that’s all you are” and kissed the tip of my nose, right there on the platform, and no doubt went back to the cottage to wait for the world to fall in on him. Mum was busy in her study when I got back, and said without looking up from her books “You’re back then? How did it go?”
“Oh alright” I shrugged, “It was nice to see the sea for a bit.”
“Did you hit it off like you hoped? You didn’t come home early, I thought you might.”
“He’s quite easygoing, for a busy writer I mean. We didn’t do much, just laze about.”
“That’s nice” she said, “Tell me about it over dinner. I left a present in your room.”
I ought to say, sort of in my own defence, that I’d had a bit of experience already of men kind of half flirting with me, in a nervous, edgy sort of way, at the theatre even, or when I went swimming at Wealdstone baths, which has a sort of outdoors bit as well. And it wasn’t just getting funny looks in the showers, or someone pressing against my bum on a crowded tube, all that as well, but I could tell when I was talking to someone if they really fancied me, no matter how much they tried to hide it, and they didn’t all try to hide it. So what was happening that trip with Mallory was, sort of, me choosing for myself who I wanted to do me first. I’d had some offers, and some clumsy hints, but even once I’d made up my mind what I wanted to do, it wasn’t easy taking the plunge, as they call it, and it had to be a man I thought I could trust enough to, like, do it to me. So I picked him. But it’s me that did the picking, and not him, and I know for god sure I picked right that time. Sex is just amazing, it really is. You’re a bit sore after, but that’s only like being winded after a good run, or counting your scratches when you’ve had a long afternoon blackberrying. I remember looking at some other kids my age when I got back to school and thinking “You just don’t know what you’re missing, but I do.”
[A long space follows here, suggesting that intervening passages were intended].
When I was in Sacramento for a magazine piece they were doing (don’t even ask!) I met Blair Lind, the boy from “The Exorcist”, and we sort of exchanged notes, since we’d both made these films we were too young to get in to see at the box office, and both films had been major grossers. I thought he was a bit dumb if I’m really honest, and he was putting on weight like doughnuts were going out of fashion or something, but it was interesting to talk to another boy who had made it, like they say over there, “in the movies” and had some hopes of a star career. He’d already done his second film (they work fast when you’re our age) and already got his name above the title, which I hadn’t managed to do so far, but it was junk and he knew as much. I told him he should get a better agent, but he just shrugged and talked about the dollars.
Apparently Warners had wanted a girl to play his part for “The Exorcist” because girls look more vulnerable or something, but the director wanted to stick as close as he could to the actual reported case, and his previous film (“The French Connection”) had done so well the studio let him have his way. Blair told me some of the creepy things they did to make the film look so creepy, and all that technical stuff really interests me, but we couldn’t really.. the Americans say “connect”, because he was just so American it was like we came from a different planet. And he was three years younger than me, and anyway like I say, not exactly deep. I asked him about all the swearing, and the X-certificate stuff he had to do, but he said they used a stand-in for the “money shots”, and the worst of the language was dubbed in by Mercedes McCambridge, so he didn’t actually say “your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime”. He was a Catholic himself, so the craziness of the central idea didn’t strike him as odd a bit. “If there are angels there must be demons too, I guess” he said to me. Yeah right.
He kept asking me if I was “on anything”, and when I looked a bit nonplussed he told me about how it is over there, and just about everybody in California is doing this drug and that, and everybody talked about it like it wasn’t illegal or something. He said he’d been offered “uppers” by a grip the first week of shooting, and you couldn’t go to a party without somebody snorting in the bathroom or passing round some new pills or weed or what have you. And he was just twelve when they started that shoot. I shut my mouth. I don’t ever want to live in this place, was all I thought to myself. Hollywood, the actual place, is like some free range lunatic asylum where they give all the patients these enormous cars to keep them quiet. That famous sign on the hills is really ugly the closer you come to it, and I suppose that just about sums up what the place is like. If you want to be in film you have to go there sometimes, and some of the people are really nice, but Los Angeles reminds me why god surrounded America with great wide oceans. Anyway Blair Lind was like what I could’ve been faced with if I hadn’t been British and stayed here. I did wonder if he’d ever live to be twenty-something.
It was through Blair that I met Jack Nicholson, and he’s the kind of type that makes it worth flying all that way. He’s just the same in person as he is in his screen roles, and I kind of took to him right off. When Blair introduced us Jack gave me this long cold stare and said “Don’t even think about it”, which was so blunt and honest I just burst out laughing. Blair didn’t even know what the joke was, but Jack was great, and his acid sense of humour just corpsed me. I got invited to his beach house after Johnny Carson, and I never met anyone out there who was as straight and open with me from the off. If I asked Jack a question he would make those faces he does, and toss a joke off, and then give me it flat, with no pussy-footing around for my age or something. Whether it was insider gossip or tradecraft stuff or just the sort of things a foreigner wants to know about why the US is how it is, I could always get “the molasses” from Jack. I told him all about me right off, and he said he kind of guessed at it, watching me on screen, or how I dance. And he said some things that made me cry, and some things I’ll always remember, and none of it was unkind or untrue. I like Jack. I sort of think he likes me too, only not that way. Pity.