Sunday, December 16, 2007

Once a Femme Fatale ...

Was reading the latest post at the "Noir of the Week" blog and followed a link through to a link and then another link that popped a picture of Lizabeth Scott at me.

If you don't know who Lizabeth Scott is, you're not alone. She was an actress who made twenty or so movies in the late 40's and 50's, and then quit. With only a couple of exceptions, she hasn't done anything in public for years. A full three-quarters of her pictures were dark and gritty noirs. When the popularity of that genre faded, the blonde femme fatale tried but couldn't move into the future.

The future is a strange place that's built out of the past. Somewhere between the time that Led Zeppelin discovered Kashmir and Frampton came alive, my great uncle and his family moved back to the Great Plains from California. That part of my family fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930's and actually did find work in southern California. So they stayed and put down roots; that is, until the souring economy of the 1970's brought them back to southeastern Colorado to work for my stepdad on our farm.

My great uncle married early and had two children, Dave and Linda. Linda was in her twenties, pretty and a lot of fun. She never really adjusted to southeastern Colorado. The climate was too dry. There weren't any trees. Worse still, there weren't any eligible men. She had won a car on the "Price is Right" television game show. That made her just about the only celebrity anyone from Baca County had ever seen.

Dave was in his twenties also. He was the first person I ever met that was truly "cool". He had long blonde hair and listened the kind of music that my Mom called "hippie shit". There were a lot of "hippies" in those days and she refused to suffer anything about them or their culture. I was thirteen and was oh-so-ready to rebel. Dave taught me how and in exchange I taught him how to drive the tractor, work the combine, take care of cattle, move irrigation pipe, service the wells, and how to properly order a sandwich at Stella's Grocery in the booming metropolis of Two Buttes, Colorado, with a population was 67 at the U.S. Census 2000.

My great uncle was a bull of a man. He had wide, strong hands and a tireless work ethic. He knew nothing about farming. He drove a truck and did some mechanic-ing in southern California. He had remarried somewhere along the way after finding a beautiful Lebanese woman named Sharon. She was great. She cooked food no one had ever tasted before, and it was great. She was the first cook I ever knew that didn't have a ceramic jar next to the stove for bacon fat. She had a keen sense of humor and was the first person I ever heard say the word "penis". Her son Ricky actually knew what that meant too. My brother Jeff and I didn't dare confess we didn't know what it meant. Just as soon as we possibly could, we were picking through a Funk & Wagnell's to find it. My stepdad's name was Dick and that was pretty much everything we needed to know about that word. Just goes to figure that you learn something new everyday.

My great uncle John was able to rent a house about five miles away from our farm. That house needed a whole lot of work, so John got it for free provided he make the place livable again. After it was fixed up, then he paid a small rental for it and everyone was happy. The house came with full rights to use the barn and the stock corrals. John put them to use right away when he picked up some calves from a feedlot in Johnson City, Kansas. His idea to bring out a Jersey or a Guernsey for milking never panned out though.

As it turned out John and my stepdad had something in common. They didn't mind bending an elbow to toast something. After a while their elbows were bent most of the time. The "Irish Disease" is fairly common where I'm from.

One day John asked me go around to take care of his cattle because Dick and he were going to take Dave to the Two Buttes Anchorage, which was codespeak for a ramshackle beer joint beside Two Buttes Lake. There was water in the lake in those days. The jukebox there still had Shambala by Three Dog Night. There was tons of Country music also, and in those days, it was mostly just bad music to drink and get drunk by.

John wanted his cattle fed a special mix of packaged feed, grain and hay. He stored the packaged feeds in the barn, but he hadn't told me where in the barn he stacked the 50 pound sacks. While I was searching I found a fat leather photo album that was like something out of a movie. It was three feet tall and two feet wide. The cover was dusty and thick. I opened the album to the first page and saw a black and white picture of this pretty blonde woman stepping off an old propeller driven airplane. She was surrounded by guys in Perry Mason suits and hats. Another one of the pictures had this woman waving to a crowd. I turned page after page. She wore other dresses in the other pictures. She was always beautifully dressed and elegant. Some of the pictures were movie stills, others were publicity shots. Some of them were obviously staged, but others were spontaneous and there she shined most brightly of all. Not only did the camera love her, but she was full of confidence and had fun with all of this. A few of them were candid shots of her getting into a car or trying on some sunglasses. She must have had a thing for sunglasses because there loads of those pictures. There were some newspaper clippings stuffed into the album also and that's how I learned that the woman was Lizabeth Scott.

I found the feed sacks and took care of the cattle, but a couple days later, I asked my great uncle about the photo album. He told me that he had found it in the barn when he was cleaning it out and that I shouldn't look through things like that because some of the pictures "weren't very good". He reserved those words for sins of the flesh. That didn't make sense of me because I had looked through them all and hadn't seen anything indecent about any of them. He was sincere about it, so I didn't ask again, but every chance I got, I always went back to look at those pictures just in case one of them "wasn't very good". I even volunteered to take care of his cattle.

One day I went into the barn and found the leather photo album stuffed into a trash barrel. When I had the chance I fished it out of the trash and hid it in the pickup I was driving. I finished the chores for my great uncle and rushed home. My great uncle came over that evening to visit. He suspected that I had taken the album. He took it and burned it in our trash can while he and my stepdad drank and talked.

To this day I don't know who took those pictures of Lizabeth Scott or why. Somehow Lizabeth Scott had made her way into my world - in the darkest corner of Colorado. In my own "coming of age" noir, she was a femme fatale again. It was a role for which she received no credits, but certainly one I'll never forget.


NouveauBlogger said...

What a great tale. Well spun!

"My stepdad's name was Dick and that was pretty much everything we needed to know about that word." had me LOL.

Suzanne said...

I enjoyed every single word. It's a very small world. Isn't it?

I've been attempting to capture a photo on film of my mom from the 50's that's unfortunately still in the frame (the photo, because of age, is actually adhered to the glass) and hope to post it tomorrow and wish her Happy Birthday. You should take a look. I stumbled upon your blog while doing it and smiled. I remember an old boyfriend seeing the photo and saying "Wow, your mom is a knockout!" I stopped seeing my mom as just my mom and began to see her as a person. It was an interesting revelation and the beginning of our friendship. She's beautiful, both inside and out. The 40's and 50's were rather amazing in terms of hair and clothing for women.

Once again, enjoyed your blog so much. Haven't read it all, but intend to when I can find a bit more time.

Happy Holidays,
XO Suzanne from CA