Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 58: backstage

(We now raise the curtain on the final act of our story, which we will present in three parts, Jah willing…)

After our preceding episode thousands of fans sent in postcards and letters, demanding to know “What happened next with Buddy and Cordelia? Do they ever see each other again? And what about the Ancient Mariner?” To answer these questions let us leap forward in time, through the summer and autumn of the year, to Christmastime...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or click here to return to the very first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House™. “I laughed, I sighed, I cried.” -- J.J. Hunsecker in Man’s Adventure.)

Thelma Ritter knocked on the door, and Buddy heard Cordelia’s voice from inside:


Thelma cracked the door and peeked in.

“Cordelia, your friend is here?”

“Oh! send him right in!”

The lady held the door open, Buddy went in, and there she was, Cordelia, twisted around in her chair at her make-up table, in a pink terrycloth robe, and with cold cream all over her face.


She popped up from her chair, she had her hair tied up, a few sprays of dark curls dancing around.

“Hi,” said Buddy.

She stepped forward and stopped. He was carrying his coat, his overnight bag, and --

“What’s this?” she said.

“Flowers. Merry Christmas.”

“You’re so old-fashioned! Thank you!”

She took the roses, gave them a quick sniff, looked around, stepped back and laid them on her table. Then she turned to Buddy and waved her hands around.

“I want to kiss you, Buddy, but I have this gunk all over my face.”

“Give me a hug, then.”

She came over and hugged him, holding her face away from his.

“I’ll leave you lovebirds,” said old Thelma.

“Thanks, Ethel!”

Thelma/Ethel left the door ajar, Cordelia went over and closed it.

“Here, give me your coat.”

She took the coat, and hung it on a peg on the wall.

“Okay. Buddy, sit.” She indicated a folding chair to the left of her table, with a black brassiere draped over it. “Oh, wait --” She grabbed the bra and tossed it onto a pile of clothes between the chair and the table.

He went over, sat down, put the bag on the floor.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re limping. Does your leg hurt?”

“Hardly at all.”

“Oh,” she said again, with feminine sympathy.

And she stood there, shimmering, quivering infinitesimally at supersonic speed, oh, but wait, that was just Buddy. He took off his glasses and put them in his shirt pocket.

“Hey, finish getting that crap off your face,” he said.

“So you can kiss me?”

“So I can see you.”


She sat down at the table and went to work with the contents of a big plastic bag of cotton balls. The tabletop was fabulously cluttered with make-up jars and brushes and pencils, bottles of lotions and unguents, combs and hairbrushes, a tin ashtray with only a few butts in it, a cellphone, an opened box of Marlboros, a Bic lighter, an empty bottle of Diet Green Tea Snapple, an empty litre-bottle of Evian and a full litre-bottle of Evian, a stack of pink plastic cups, a matching pink family-size box of Puffs, and, hello, an almost-full bottle of Chanel #5 -- was it the same one? -- and, yes, yep, the famous white plastic purse.

“So, tell me what you thought of the play,” she said, speaking into her make-up mirror, which had those little light bulbs all along its borders, just like in a Bette Davis movie, except some of these bulbs were dead.

“I thought you were terrific,” said Buddy.

“Really? Because I tend to feel like I suck at matinées.”

“Matinées tend to suck, but you didn’t, you were fucking fabulous.”



“You didn’t think I was a little -- much?”

“Nah, fuck no.”

“’Cause I know you thought I was way much that night you saw me in La voix humaine.”

A brief pause here, comprising the following activity in Buddy’s brain: La voix -- what? Oh, right, Cocteau. La voix humaine. And you. In that slip --

“Right?” said Cordelia.

“Uh, what?”

“You said I was, and I quote, ‘a little over the top’.”

“My friend, you’ve got a memory like a fucking elephant.”

“I’m a woman. Plus I’m an actress. I have a memory like a herd of fucking elephants. You didn’t like the show today really, did you?”

“Sure I did. Sure.”

And how good did she look sitting there in that bathrobe. The way it fit around her hips and butt, oh Christ, if women only knew --

“It’s okay if you didn’t,” she said.

But of course they did know, or at least they knew some of the time --

She turned and looked Buddy in the eye.

“Or did you?” she said.


“You did?”

“What did I do?”

“God, you never pay attention to me!”

“Sure I do. I just get -- distracted. So -- what did I --”

“You didn’t like the play.”

“Oh --”

“You didn’t.”

“No -- I mean, yes --”

“Buddy, just be honest, I can take it --”

“Okay, honest -- you were fucking great, and the guy was good too --”

“But you didn’t like the play.”

“No, not at all, I mean, yes, sure I did. I mean, Strindberg -- what’s not to like?” To tell the truth he had barely followed the play itself, he had been absorbed in looking at her, listening to her, watching her, and she had been fucking great, but maybe he had not been completely objective -- “Anyway, you were great.”

“I wasn’t great.”

“I thought you were great. You are great.”

“You think so?”

“Well, you’re pretty damn good.”

“Thanks. I’m just so -- I’m just so glad to be in a good play, with a great part -- even if you don’t like the play --”

“No, no, not at all -- I mean, it’s -- you know, a modern classic --”

Buddy realized that she was wearing pink fuzzy slippers that matched her robe. She turned.


“Nothing,” said Buddy.

“No, what?”

“It’s just, you look so, so fuckin’, you look so --”

“Oh, stop it,” she said.

Buddy did. And sat there watching her work her cotton balls, tossing the used ones at and sometimes into a nearly overflowing wastebasket on the floor to her right.

Old show posters on the walls, Wait Until Dark, The Night of the Iguana, Marat/Sade, Applause...

“Oh, hey,” he said, “by the way, we’re supposed to be doing a movie sometime around this spring, and I was wondering, I mean, if you were interested, it’s got a pretty good female lead, well, what would I know, but --”

She turned, cotton ball in hand.

“You’re offering me the lead in your next movie?”

“Well, I mean -- if you liked the part --”

“Oh, Buddy.”


She went back to her cotton balls.

“Buddy, I’d love to do a movie with you, and I really mean that, but the thing is this show closes next month but then I go right into rehearsals for this new musical version of The Three Sisters --”

“Ah --”


“Chekhov, right?”

“Very good.”

“Good old Anton.”

“Except the director still doesn’t know which sister he wants me to play.”

“Baby, I’m sure you’ll be great no matter which one it is.”

“Thanks, Buddy. You have to come out and see me in it!”

“Hey, count on it.”

“But who knows, maybe the show will bomb and then I’ll be free to do your movie. Crawling back to you.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

“I’ve had some other movie offers too I had to turn down.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Oh, mostly all this vampire and horror stuff, like Joe was begging me to do the sequel to the Northwest Mountie movie, but -- I don’t know, I don’t want to get typecast as the vampire movie queen, y’know?”

“Good idea.”

“Oh, but wait -- you might know -- do you know who this movie director Bob Altman is?”

“Robert Altman?”

“Older guy?”

“I know who Robert Altman is.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his movies, but he saw the show and liked me, and he said he was interested in me for this adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, except it would be about this girl who comes to the city to get away from her dysfunctional family and live her own life and she moves into this house with seven weird guys. Like seven dorks instead of seven dwarves?”

“Sounds cool.”

“Well, I told him I’d be glad to look at the script, but he said they were still working on it and trying to get funding.”

“Uh huh.”

“And then I asked him if it was a musical and he said that it hadn’t occurred to him to make it a musical, and why, did I sing? And I said, yeah, I sing, and I dance too, I mean maybe I’m not Deanna Durbin and Ginger Rogers combined, but, you know, so then he said that could be a really neat idea, and maybe he’d talk to some songwriters.”


“So, basically I told him to be sure to get back to me when he had a script ready. And the songs were written. If he decided to use songs.”

“Good move,” said Buddy.

She tossed what proved to be the final cotton ball fairly close to the wastebasket.

“Here’s my plan, tell me if you think it makes sense.”


She stuck her left palm under the dispenser of what looked like a quart bottle of skin cream, CVS brand. She pumped a good long winding stream of moisturizer into her palm and began to smear it onto her face. After a minute she said:

“What was I talking about?”

“Your plan?”

“Oh, my plan. Want to hear it?”

“Lay it on me.”

“Okay. I stay in New York and do theatre, the best parts I can get. ‘Cause now I’ve gotten my break. Buddy, did you see the notices I got for this part?”

“I read one in the --”

New York Times?”

“Yeah --”

“My God, Buddy, do you remember what he said?”

“Um --”

“He said I was a ‘scintillating new force to be reckoned with on the New York stage’. Me.”

“He was right.”

“My director thinks I’m going to get an Obie.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Every day I wake up so happy -- usually, anyway. I don’t know -- this is what I love to do, y’know?” She turned to Buddy, opened her hands, looked up to the ceiling, and then back at him with those eyes. “The theatre.”


She turned back to her mirror.

“But -- if I can do a good movie now and then inbetween shows, or maybe even a TV guest part, I’ll do that. But only if the parts are good. So, that’s my plan. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a magnificent plan.”

“’Cause everybody else says I should move back to L.A. and concentrate on movie work. But I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t.”

“So I shouldn’t move back to L.A.”

“No, fuck that.”

“I love you, Buddy.”

“Well --”

“I mean, not that way, you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” said Buddy. “So -- you staying in New York for Christmas?”

She had got all the moisturizer on, and now she was examining her face in the mirror, turning it side to side.

“Yeah. We’re dark tonight and tomorrow but we have a show the next day, so that’s my excuse.” She took something out of her hair, it fell down all around her shoulders, fucking hell. “But -- oh, guess who -- no, wait, what are you doing in town, Buddy?”

“Well,” said Buddy, “I had to come out to Philly anyway, to see my mom, and my sister’s family, and it turned out the only flight I could get went to Newark --” She was brushing out her hair, it was longer than it had been last spring, ah well -- “so, I thought, what the heck, I’d catch your show, then take the train down later.”

“Like, later today?”

“Yeah. I’m supposed to hang out with my mom and my sister and her mob tonight and tomorrow, then tomorrow night I’m flying with my mom back to L.A. so she can visit.”

“That’s nice. I just wish you had called sooner to let me know you’d be in town, Buddy-boo boyo.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, I was supposed to leave yesterday but something came up with work, I couldn’t get away till today, just barely got a flight, but, anyway, what do you say to a late lunch?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’d love to. I’ll just have to make a phone call.”

“Cancel a previous engagement?”

“Sort of.”

“Good. I’ve missed you.”

She looked at him a moment, then she dropped the hairbrush, picked up her cellphone, opened it up, and speed-dialed a number.

“Voice mail,” she said, glancing again at Buddy. Then she turned away and spoke quietly into the phone: “Hi, it’s me. Look, an old friend stopped by, and we’re gonna have a late lunch, so, look, I’ll call you later tonight. ‘Bye.”

She folded up the phone and laid it down.


“Absolutely not,” she said.

“Good,” said Buddy.

“So.” She picked up the box of Marlboros, scooted her chair around so she could face Buddy, and crossed her legs. “Fill me in.”

“On what?”

“Everything, stupid.”

(Oh, yes, continued here.)

(Kindly go to the right-hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™; soon to be presented on the Broadway stage with John Barrymore and Madge Evans.)


Anonymous said...

Love the description of the fabulously cluttered make-up table ...

Unknown said...

Poor brave Buddy. At least he's half of this sublime piece, cohesive and wonderful in every detail.
So much so that if I weren't expecting a glorious sentence in here somewhere I might not have caught this: "And she stood there, shimmering, quivering infinitesimally at supersonic speed, oh, but wait, that was just Buddy."
You've taught me to expect, too, a particular kind of fun, something like:
"...Strindberg -- what’s not to like?”

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, ladies. I think Buddy's enjoying this backstage show even more than the Strindberg play he's just seen...