Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Whatever You Do to Her, Do to Me

Many years ago and pre-stroke, Bette Davis was the guest on the Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson, and he was actually there that night. As she chain smoked and complained about Faye Dunaway being the most unprofessional actress with whom she had ever worked, she brought up the subject of how everything had to be so real these days. Where was the glamour? Where was the filtered lens? This was the early 1980s, so you can imagine how she would feel today with Honey Boo Boo and her disgusting family, especially her nose-picking, flatulent mother.

I agree. Where is the glamour? Why do I need to know that they use Proactive?

When Karl Freund was approached by Desi Arnaz to be the cinematographer for I Love Lucy, he initially balked, saying you couldn’t properly light a set for three separate film cameras, and he also noted Desi’s not so flawless skin and Lucille Ball’s not being “a spring chicken” as he put it. She was forty. But, Desi, who was known for his charm, convinced him to take on the challenge. One trick he devised was putting pink upward facing lights on all the camera dollies. Even in black and white, the pink lights blend with any blemishes or flaws and hide them. Some CBS executives complained that the glamorous close-ups that he would do of Lucille were too much for television, and you will notice that by the fifth or sixth episode, he quit doing these close-ups. There is one of her smoking by the fireplace that is breathtaking.

Next week, I am having upward facing pink lights mounted on all my baseboards. I will also never leave the house again.

Mae West only had pink lights around her at all times, and Bea Arthur, during her one-woman show, noted how when she met Mae West in her dressing room, she looked thirteen years old.

Wow, four paragraphs in, and I haven’t mentioned one living person; God rest their souls.

All of these lighting techniques were needed back in the day because the movies and subsequently television were fantasy worlds. Also consider that the early stars of television were mostly experienced film, radio and vaudeville performers and mostly near or in their forties, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, Eve Arden, Ann Sothern, Bea Benaderet and Gale Gordon, and the list goes on. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were kids compared to everyone else.

With the advent of video tape, more realism came to television. For example, watch a rerun of All in the Family. No glamour there. My father thought that show was a documentary and everything Archie said was gospel. Then, watch a rerun of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was filmed, making the edges softer. Want to have some fun? Watch the first two episodes of The Golden Girls and look at Rue McClanahan’s face. They switched to film by the third episode. She couldn’t keep talking about how young and beautiful she was with pot-marked skin.

Happily Divorced is filmed rather than taped. How else would everyone get away with calling Fran Drescher a beautiful forty-five-year-old woman? She’s fifty-five.

I am not critical of film. I prefer it. If I were in Hollywood, I would wear a veil, only be seen in flattering light and never, I mean never, allow myself to be taped … or have a mug shot taken.

There are other methods for taking away the years, and no one did it better than the woman I mention more than any other, Lucille Ball. During the last season of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, her hairdresser, Irma Kusely (who died in 2009 at age 95, God rest her soul), convinced her to wear a shorter hair style, but Lucy did not want to cut her hair, so Irma did something that they had been doing in Hollywood for years. She bandaged the redhead’s head. This consisted of braiding the hair around the hairline, pulling it back, clamping it, then putting a bandage over her entire head before putting on a wig. All that pulling on forty-nine-year-old Miss Ball created an instant facelift. OK, not so instant. It took almost two hours to complete with make-up by Hal King – also dead.

Watch the early dressing room scene in All About Eve. Bette Davis removes her wig and behold, she is wearing a head bandage!

From 1960 on, Lucille Ball rarely appeared in public without her head bandaged and a wig. Toward the end of her career, it took almost four hours to complete including make-up for her face and hands. Steve Allen, another dead person, remarked that beautiful women in Hollywood end up looking like drag queens by the end of their careers. Sadly, he was right.

On The Tracy Ullman Show (hey, a live person), the star did a skit with Glenn Close (also alive), playing two aging stars, who meet after many years. Tracy played the earthy star who never went for glamour, and Glenn played the Hollywood beauty who has way too much work done and can hardly move, and the dialogue goes like this:

Glenn: “Have you had any work done?”

Tracy: “No.”

Glenn: “How brave of you.”

Lucy wasn’t the only one to bandage, and she even mentioned the procedure during interviews. There is an old episode of The Dinah Shore Show (as opposed to a new episode), where she talks about her wigs and what she has to go through. During filming of Mame, she asked Bea Arthur if she wanted her face pulled, too. Then they filmed the entire movie through a cheese cloth.

Joan Collins, still alive, wears a head bandage and a wig and has done so since Dynasty!

The expert at instant facelifts was Marlene Dietrich. Strangely, she never wore wigs. She would use gold chains and other paraphernalia to create the illusion. She also never turned her back to the audience. Liza Minnelli, still alive, appeared with her on stage, and after singing her song, she ran backstage and declared in a rather loud voice, “Oh my God! She’s held together with rubber bands!” Marlene Dietrich was standing right behind her.

Why not just get a facelift? You ask. Well, back then a facelift was scary. Not like today when everyone comes out looking like Donald Duck – Wayne Newton, Morgan Fairchild, Heather Locklear, Barry Manilow, Delta Burke. I think they would look better bandaged.

Vivian Vance had a few facelifts – one right after the end of I Love Lucy. After her last one, she couldn’t close her eyes, so they had to do emergency surgery. No wonder Lucy didn’t want to take a chance.

My Aunt Dorothy, who was married to Uncle Yale, Nana’s youngest brother, whom she divorced after fifty years of marriage when she caught him having an affair, had a sister named Lena. Lena always wore dark glasses regardless of the time of day. Apparently, she had a facelift in the sixties that was pulled so tight, she couldn’t completely close her eyes, and she had a permanent smile. To borrow a joke from Joan Rivers (I know, appropriate), every time she crossed her legs, her mouth popped open.

Upon the announcement that my brother was getting married, my mother decided to get a facelift. To many at the time, this may have seemed surprising. Not to us. My mother was the queen of flattering light and theatrical make-up regardless of the time of day. When I was in fifth grade, she came to visit Mrs. Dick’s class on parents' day, and all the other kids said, “Your mother wears a lot of make-up.” Funny, I never noticed.

In 1973, when she was elected Rodef Sholom Sisterhood President, she was to provide an eight-by-ten photo for the Synagogue phone book along with a message about her vision for the Sisterhood for the coming year. While all prior Sisterhood presidents provided what amounted to a Polaroid, Harryette Summers Stern made an appointment with a professional photographer. He took at least a hundred pictures, then upon picking the best shot, with my mother looking up and off into the distance, a la Arlene Dahl (still alive), who always walks into a store facing the ceiling, according to a friend who owns an antique shop, air brushed the final product. My friend Dylan hates my long sentences.

I want to emphasize this was a Newport News, Virginia, Synagogue phone book, and my mother had a picture that would only have looked right if she had her film and television credits listed below it.

Back to her facelift.

She met a former navy doctor at a cocktail party who offered her a discount on a facelift. OK, you think you know where this is going. To back up, my mother actually aged very well and did not have wrinkles, only a little tiny bit of sag, which still did not hint at her sixty-two years.

The day before the surgery, I took her to the doctor for “before” pictures. As I arrived to pick her up, she was in full make-up, and I don’t mean her usual layer of clay and color, I mean Rupaul would have been jealous of her accomplishment. She looked twenty-four. I told her I didn’t understand why she was getting a facelift, and she replied that she didn’t have two hours every day to pull this off.

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurse, upon seeing Norma Desmond (fictional), told her she had to wash all that off. I died laughing. Harryette was pissed. For the first time since she was sixteen, someone was going to take a picture of her sans make-up, as Shelly Winters (God rest her sould) used to say.

After the facelift, my father told her was pulled tighter on one side than the other. He was always a charmer and did his best to make you feel better about yourself, she did look younger. Thankfully, she told the doctor not to pull her too tightly, just freshen her up. However, she started wearing very pale make-up that would have been too light for a mime. I could not understand how an olive-skinned woman could think this shade was flattering.

Being the good Gay son I was, I took a picture of her. I showed it to her and asked, “Why are you having a mortician do your make-up? You look like a cadaver.” I can be charming sometimes, too. For once, she didn’t take offense.

My father also said one other lovely thing. “So, when you die, are they going to bury you with your head sticking out of the ground because it doesn’t match your old body anymore?” I always wondered why he never pursued a career as a diplomat.

No one hates having pictures taken more than I do. I know that is hard to believe considering there are thousands of pictures of me on Facebook and countless other websites. Let me clarify. No one hates having headshots done more than I do. However, as an author of six books (go to my newly redesigned website, www.miltonstern.com – shameless plug), I had to have headshots done for each title.

Ironically, the best pictures of me, in my opinion, are candid shots, where I don’t pose. I think it is because I never could grasp the tilt your head, move your chin, look this way and don’t blink routine.

Over the years, I had several photographers try to get a good headshot, and the best was my friend Jim Gade, who actually took the two best ones of me. One was in natural light in a park setting. The other was on my sofa with Esmeralda (God rest her soul) sitting on the pillow behind my head. It took almost three-hundred shots to get those two pictures.

I am really not photogenic.

I never wear make-up during my headshots because in make-up, I look like a girl. Not a drag queen. I actually look transgendered. There is no middle ground. I go from flamer to Pat to Nana in just a few layers of medium beige pancake make-up.

In moving pictures, talkies as we called them in my day, I take up the whole screen. They say the camera adds ten pounds. Really? How many cameras were on me?

Back in the early 1990s, I hosted the first Gay talk show in Florida, The Milton Rose Show, Tuesday evenings, 10:00 pm, Channel 47. Did you see it? I would begin the show standing in front of whatever establishment we were highlighting that week and introduce the show like this:

“Hello, and welcome to the Milton Rose Show. I am your host, Milton Rose. This week we present our flowers for mother’s day special at Lake Worth Flowers. Come with me as we learn how to make the most fabulous bouquet!”

I said fabulous a lot.

Then, I would turn, and the camera would film me from behind as I walked into the shop or restaurant. That was when I saw what everyone was talking about all those years. MY BIG FAT JEWISH ASS! It was huge on camera (I still refuse to admit it is huge in person), and my funny walk didn’t help either. I bounce when I walk. Ba boom, botta boom, ba boom, botta boom. Oh my God!

Strangely, I never learn, so I continued to begin each show like that. I guess I have always enjoyed making fun of myself.

Twenty years later, I still look huge on film. Devon filmed me, and when I saw the results, I screamed. I looked like his biggest fan! I hear there were other objects and things in the picture like furniture and walls, but I never saw them. I took up the entire frame! Even he was surprised. I then spent the rest of the day asking, “Am I really that fat? Is my ass really that big? Do I look pregnant? How many cameras were you using? What happened to me? I used to be hot!”

Even in still pictures, my body looks funny, which is why there are so few attempts at beefcake shots of me. I look like a bowling pin. Seriously, I look as if I never saw the inside of a gym. Maybe I am a Jewish vampire, and that is why the camera hates me so much.

Now, I am fifty. I can kick, and stretch and kick. I’m fifty!

So, I decided to get some new head shots done. A friend of mine, a professional photographer, who also “enhances” pictures, offered to do the deed. I warned him that it would take hundreds of pictures to get one good shot. He told me not to worry because he would make it look good.

I immediately thought of Renee Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor (God rest her soul). Liz made a guest appearance on The Nanny, and when they did the cast photo, she insisted they use her photographer, who would send them copies after she approved them. Renee Taylor told the photographer, in front of everyone, “Whatever you do to her, do to me.”

The day after my shoot, Steve posted one of the pictures on his site to advertise his photography business. This was a first because none of my photographers have ever used me as an example of a good picture. I am always the “before” guy.

Well, he convinced me that my love of all things filtered and flattering is spot on. I never looked so dewy and young – even when I was dewy and young. I didn’t recognize myself. I have never looked that good. Friends from as far back as elementary school wanted to know my secret to young, flawless skin.

Here it is: flattering light and Photoshop … and Vaseline on the lens.

Now, where can I find someone to bandage my head?

If you look through the world through rose-colored glasses or wish everyone else did, follow me, join me, buy my books at www.miltonstern.com.


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