Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crazy Rich People

Recently I posted about the March issue of Vanity Fair and some of the old Hollywood stories in it. I said at the time that the articles made me want to re-read Brooke Hayward's 1977 best selling book "Haywire." I try and follow up on these things so the book was retrieved from my parents bookcase and read again.

Years ago I gave the book as a gift to my Mother mostly because I had read the review in Time magazine and wanted to read it myself. The proof is on the opening page where I have scribbled "To Mom on her Birthday! Love, Jenifer, (1977)." That means that when I originally read the book I was all of seventeen years old. I recall that I thought it was terribly tragic and I couldn't figure out what all went wrong in that family.

The book is written by Brooke Hayward about her family and all that happens to them. Her father is the hugely successful theatrical agent and producer, Leland Hayward. Her mother is famous actress Margaret Sullavan. Brooke is born in 1937, her sister Bridget in 1939 and her brother Bill in 1941. They are raised in a Hollywood that is still undeveloped where groves of orange trees are nestled next to wild fields full of snakes and rabbits and where Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda live down the street.

It was all very romantic to me in 1977 and it seemed impossible to me that California had ever been like that. But it is amazing what 30 years of life experience can do for your perspective. As I read the book this time I could not help but be absolutely amazed at Brooke's recall of events. Whole conversations are brought back to life from the time that she is a toddler onward. Now this is something that some people are better at than others but my belief is that Brooke's apparent ability is nothing short of miraculous.

Even more interesting is that when events become more current her memory seems to become hazier. Her description of her Mother and Sister's death, although moving, seem to lack detail. As a reader, both young and old, I longed for Brooke to find out the truth about what happened to them but she never does. The reader receives a recital of her grief and bewilderment but that is about all.

It was a different time then when if you were rich enough you could put your misbehaving teenager in a psychiatric hospital. We know now, of course, that almost all teenagers misbehave and that putting them in the hospital is probably not the best thing for them. It happened to both Bridget and Bill when they were teens. It appears that Bill survived the ordeal but Bridget did not and killed herself when she was barely 21 years old. (Bill killed himself just a few years ago at age 61 but it appears that it may have been because of a bad motorcycle accident that had left him with severe mental and physical handicaps).

I would recommend this book for a trip into the lives of the rich and famous in old Hollywood. It is a poignant reminder of what it was all like at the beginning. The writing is good and makes you want to read more but the story may leave you wishing for more answers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Miles and Beryl Smeeton Out of Control

The book "Once is Enough" by Miles Smeeton is fine narrative of a bordering on insane adventure. Miles describes how he and his wife Beryl, and their great friend John Guzzwell take on the southern oceans around Cape Horn. Originating in Melbourne, Australia after the end of the 1956 Olympics, the Smeetons waved goodbye to the great yacht Brittania and prepared for their own journey.

With their daughter Clio now safely in England attending school, Miles and Beryl chart a very southern route around Cape Horn. They have notched a few miles in their 46 foot yacht, Tzu Hang, but nothing as dangerous as this trip. Many a larger ship than theirs had been lost in the waters of the southern ocean. So with enough food and water to last a year the 3 of them sail away just days before Christmas.

Their first thousand miles they experience rough seas despite being in the southern hemisphere during summer. But what would make dread build in me seems to simply egg these people on. The rougher the better they seem to be saying, with John and their Siamese cat Pwe going along for the rugged ride. Miles describes the white capped waters surrounding their yacht in the manner of somebody who is in awe of what he is witnessing and not afraid.

His skill as a writer leads to equally impressive descriptions of his wife Beryl's breakfasts every morning. In whatever kind of weather she always pulled off porridge, bacon and eggs, and burnt toast with marmalade and in that order. Whenever I despaired of understanding these people during the reading of this book, I recalled these breakfasts to remind myself that they were not complete hair shirters.

I don't want to reveal the incredible things that happen to the crew and their ship during this voyage but I will say that it is a page turner. You will be riveted by the extreme nature of their peril and astounded at how they manage themselves and their boat. You do not have to be a sailor to appreciate this story but you better love adventure. "Once is Enough" is a book that you will want to read again.