Elisabeth Shue

[This was written a good few years ago than the now of your reading, and it shows, the curve of celebrity being as predictable as it is, especially for women as they age. And Robert Downey Jr..]

For the most part the word that first came to mind was bosoms. The soft and somewhat floppy breasts of not-quite-young motherhood. It is something to do with under. Not in the sense of the hidden or the unrevealed, but more just the flaps of flesh that hang free beneath a short tank top. Not sexual or otherwise, just pinkly there.

But then her toes were there too and her slumped-in-a-chair-with-my-feet-on-the-table legs, the seasalt curled blondish hair and the still watching eyes which said, “this is what I do for a living; being me.”

This was in the Bath and Turtle, a bar (if not the bar) on the island of Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean, with a playoff game on the television between The Jets and The Jags blaring, which puts a day and a date on it for you if want to look it up. Memory says 1999, years gone already, but that doesn’t matter much now.

There is a small harbor, owned and operated by the Virgin Gorda Yacht Club, which the bar, and the few shops that surround it, service. And I was thinking that they (for they were a they, the straggly young man by Elisabeth’s side and her) had probably come in by boat, which is a good enough way of keeping alone, between times of being completely unalone.

I did not stare, only glancing once in recognition, as she sat a little to the back and left of me. But with these people we know so well yet have never met, it is unnecessary, even though most cannot help themselves. My wife, between trips to the changing room to try on new swimsuits, whispered to me several times. And each whisper included the words Adventures in baby sitting as in

Andrea would cry if she was here, Adventures in baby sitting is her favorite movie.

or

Adventures in baby sitting was really where she got her start…

I wonder if people like Elisabeth are literally haunted by the sounds of some words or phrases. Sitting in a public toilet somewhere when a voice in secret exchange with another says, “You know, Adventures in baby sitting….

For myself, I never saw that movie and thus it does not exist. Or, more accurately, she -as that person, that past life lived in 93 minutes- does not exist for me. For me, Leaving Las Vegas is where Elisabeth began, or like those other stars, began exploding.

The light of celebrity, depending on its brilliance, begins to illuminate both the reported and imagined parts of a person. But this is not, and never will be, a linear thing.

I suppose I could do the research that rigorous essays generally require and find out exactly where on this trajectory she lived then and lives now (Grosses. Points. Deals. Offers. Scripts. Breakdowns. Arrests. Rehabs.) but it doesn’t really matter, perception happily being all.

My wife says that, for example, Nicole Kidman, or even Sandra Bullock, let alone J-Lo or Jennifer-A. are much bigger stars these days. And I’m sure she’s right. Of course, she’s right. But even this thought serves only to remind me of how soon the incest starts, because Mariella, the woman who runs the Bikini shop, said that all she can think about when it comes to Elisabeth is that somewhere along the celluloid line she made out with Ms. Kidman’s (now -ex) Mr. Cruise.

Facts. Never argue about them, always find them if you can. Hang on.

There, all better. Cocktail. That was the place in time where they had their little thing. And, as an aside within an aside, it is worth looking into some things a little deeper, and when you do, invariably the Great Machine of Infinite Fate and Tenderness rewards you with an extra little morsel, a something else for stopping by.

In this case:

Adventures in Babysitting (1987) …. Chris Parker … aka Night on the Town, A (1987) (UK: TV title)

There is a whole other thing that could be added here about how a good number of movies going east or west across the Atlantic are deemed to need their names changed. This would lead us to the force of the brute marketing men in the movie business these days, and the fuel that cocaine has given men from Miramax to shout wildly at me late into the night about the soul of cinema and how Harvey is a cunt, but a genius also. Another time.

What matters here, or to me anyway, is what do we know and how did we learn it?

Here is what I know, or knew then, with Elisabeth on Virgin Gorda, perhaps still discussing Y2K, certainly not asking the Great Machine of Infinite Fate and Tenderness to précis her life, but (instead of Google), letting Mrs. Goodyear luxuriate back at the family compound about who she’s just seen in the raw flesh at the Bath and Turtle and then listening to her five sisters (four step, one not) sort out in oral history their thoughts, memories, judgments and certainties as to the provenance of Elisabeth (secretly, my Elisabeth) as regards social decency, talent and plastic surgery or not -bosoms too down, opined Mrs. Goodyear, without fear of contradiction; had she not just been within a short enough distance that she could have weighed them like ripe fruit in her own hands? And so on and so on and into the sea.

Verily, who are her people and where do they summer? But then these people are Bostonians and what can one expect? And thus -small crinkles of coincidence- that Elisabeth also went to Harvard (after Wellesley). As did her brother. Remember, see above, these are facts only in as far as they were told to me as being so. What else, girls?

Very boring family. Early divorce. Or maybe a death. No, most certainly a divorce. Mother was a banker. Daddy was variously in real estate, a real estate developer, or, finally, a real estate magnate, no less. Or it was the Dad who did the bank thing and the Mom who sold houses.

She grew up in Western Mass. Twenty minute diversion about the characteristics and obvious weaknesses of the inhabitants (as though in a Zoo-like arena of captivity) of Western Mass., which might have led to the forgetting of Elisabeth, her provenance et. al., were it not for the arrival of the Step-Mother person who, of course, had to be immediately told about The Film Star in the Bar. And thus did the whirligig begin anew.

It must be said, as disclaimer, but also in some defense of Mrs. Goodyear, that these people here assembled do not own a subscription to People Magazine amongst them. To the very best of my knowledge neither do any of them watch Entertainment Tonight or Entertainment This Afternoon or indeed Entertainment This Morning. But still, as a collective, information about Elisabeth had been assimilated, collectivized and now regurgitated. Elisabeth is difficult. Or can be. It was not made clear, or at least there was no real consensus as to whether this difficulty was of the good kind – “Don’t bother me, I’m only a person, just like you, I hate the Oscars™” or of the bad – “I am so special, please don’t breathe my air and, oh also, fuck off until you’re less ugly.”

Her brother is also an actor. We do not know whether he got into it on her back, as it were, or what. Where are the connections here? The nepotism. The inside man? She is married to a man named Guggenheim. Surely this must mean something. Mrs. Goodyear dated a Rockefeller while she was in college in Boston. She said that to her mind F. Scott had it exactly right; the rich are different to you and me. Her mother never really forgave her for leaving that man. Somehow bears a grudge against me into the bargain. For being poor-ish. Not her fault. She was born literally dirt poor in the Alabama that can be the middle part of Pennsylvania. She did well for herself, lived a small part of the American Dream. First in her family to go to college, not Harvard, but she loves Penn State still. Married. Had two girls. Got left and divorced. Got breast cancer. Survived. Survives still, God bless her. And God bless her for being an intelligent cultured person who will never a Boston Brahmin be. Wrong people. Wrong summers. But her daughter could have jumped upstairs, and what stairs. A very high eerie, up there amongst the very few Great American Bandits. Silly girl.

She dated a Hemmingway also. Left him as well. More anguish. Never met him, although we all three lived in New York City for a few years. We left and Christopher, married with two very little ones, stayed on. Mrs. Goodyear had met him once or twice for a drink after work. He was big in insurance or something. Worked for Aon. She said his office on 108th floor of the World Trade Center had the best view. I know she thinks sometimes about what might have been different for him if she’d stayed. Would he somehow still be alive? An impossible sad game. My mother-in-law’s birthday is September 11th. What to do with all this information?

Elisabeth and her brother live in New York, too. Apparently. And they have started, or did start, some kind of Trust or Foundation for people not rich, well-known, brainy etc.

What else? Who knows. All I can add that I know is that she likes to prevent waste by having her leftovers, slight as they were, wrapped up to go. Although he was holding it, but there must be rules about this, film stars carrying their own take-out and so forth.

This notion is another measuring stick we like to bring to the celebrity judgment table: Do they act normal which is wonderful and to their credit or boring and not what we want to see/hear at all. Or. Are they bizarre, unbalanced, broken, literally, antic? Terrible. Wonderful.

Elisabeth may not carry her own cold fries, but Mrs. Goodyear and I (I think this was the previous year), saw Morgan Freeman at the Island’s little self-service Laundromat. Shabby place. He was sitting on a wooden bench, no-one else in the joint, watching the wheels go round and round. God bless him, too. Man of the people. One of us. Good old Morgan. Doing his smalls like the next bloke.

Of course.

As much as I ruminate on celebrity, this true American currency, and perhaps even detest it (the reasons for which would really require an entirely separate essay), I can’t help but wonder if I do not put myself in the way of fame, in the same manner that others court disaster via racing cars, bulls let loose, or tornados chased avidly. (All of this, written in the back of a 6-seater flying away from Gorda, and Elisabeth, and thus into the eye of another favorite subject; my own fear of flying).

Living in New York ensures you are liable to see, hear, eat next to, any number of people who are famous to a certain degree. This propensity is only matched by the ordinary citizens’ absolute determination to not pay the most of them the slightest notice.

When we lived in Manhattan, our only regular point of travel (it’s true that I did see Robert Duvall in a Tango Bar in Buenos Aires, and Patti Smith gave me a warm hello at a charity concert once, but then you expect to see stars at places their names are written in lights at) was Gorda, which according to Mariella is a very familiar Mecca for the rising and the risen to spend some time apart.

An instance of this, the very day before Elisabeth and I shared our deeply brief moment of, I think, understanding and soulfritz, The Stones were at the Bath and Turtle, drinking Red Stripe and being about as casual as a pack of Rolling Stones can be.

Of course they also shoot a chunk of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue at the Little Dix resort just down the way from the Yacht Club, where the lunch buffet is wonderful, but all of that is another story also.

I think the main lesson we (I think we) know is to be found in our own invisible search or acceptance for only those things that confirm and enlarge our special insight into the celebrity concerned.

Thus seeing Morgan (I feel so comfortable calling him just Morgan now, don’t you?) washing his own duds immediately confirms what a generous, open-minded, decent and fundamentally good man he must be. Would Tupac have done the same? The boy Eminem? Any of the Baldwins you can put a name to at this large part in our human history?

Again, courtesy of Mariella, all people, after all and irrespective of status, require bathing suits, at the very least -in some cases- to remove. One afternoon last week, and in such retail pursuit, came a very nice woman of a certain age into her shop. And after the usual inspections gave up her credit card for payment.

“Oh…” says Mariella, “You must be asked all the time if-

Yes. Yes, she is.” said the until then ignored man to the side of her. Twinkling eyes, no doubt, behind the beard and moles. De Niro.

Mmm. Surely he’s left her since then. Didn’t I read something about a new wife. Some new restaurant project down in Tribecca? No. New younger woman. Chinese, maybe? Latin? Or was that Duvall? I get mixed up.

Of course, Bobby is an interesting case in point, especially when looking at how we feel about people as lay observers to the hermetic world elevated (above us?). Because I am not a gossip columnist or in any other way elect, I do not have all the facts I need. But then I am, as every one of us are who buy tickets, read snippets, stood in line at the Supermarket check-out, bored, next to the tabloids.

I think there was some talk or fuss recently about Bobby with a paid woman or a paid woman who was in fact a man (or was that altogether someone else?). And there may have been a lawsuit or perhaps something was threatened or threatened and then settled. And then hadn’t he married someone much younger than he was? Haven’t we just been through all this already?

Well, anyway, there he was, as polite as a man can be, with a woman-of-a-certain-age no less who shared his name on her MasterCard. Or Amex. Or whatever. Maybe it was his Mom. Could’ve been.

Immediately, in some internal batting average of good and evil, of reputation, Bobby got a hit. A double even. Which raises his on-base percentage and so on and all down the line.

And of course it is a sport. And there are way many more night games than there used to be, and the traveling and the hotels, and all that road. This whole swingometer of someone’s place, their hot or notness is biblical, almost completely unavoidable.

Three years ago on Gorda, our group sat drinking afternoon beers at Saba Rock when someone shouted out in a silent frenzy of sharp nudges and thumb-throwing that Christian Slater was at the bar ordering a drink. And he was.

The girls giggled and goose-bumped in spite of themselves and one of our number who went in a sideways wander to ‘collide’ with this Hollywood magnet, got caught in the Star Glare, the “here-we-go” face and “what-does-this-one-want?”

To which Keith (for it was Keith of course, it had to be Keith, long-limbed surfer dude born by an accident of birth in New Hampshire) uttered the immortal tribute:

Pump Up The Volume completely rocked, Man,” and then beat his retreat to retell this truth to us all throughout the balance of our vacation.

We were appalled. We were jealous.

Subsequently (predictably, inevitably) Christian had had some problems, struck out a few times looking, seen his average slide. I can’t remember exactly which of the check-list he’s crossed off, but it could be smack (along with Robert Downey, could that be right? Am I thinking of this other poor benighted Bobby instead? Mmm.)

Certainly paternity suits, no? (Doesn’t actually right a bell). Carrying concealed weapons (or snakes or a drunken skin) through customs. Beating up things or getting arrested for beating up things….who knows. Mea culpa. I’m even thinking now that Elisabeth might (or must?) have had something to do with him. Perhaps his foundation has had lunch with her foundation. Whatever. Where were we? Ah. Elisabeth.

So we leave the Bath and Turtle at the end of the game, swimsuits and Elisabeth having garnered me more football-watching than is normally allowed. And then we go back to the house, talk the whole thing through, drink wine and then fell in the pool to sober up for night, back at the Bath and Turtle to listen to a good live reggae band. And they were still there.

It was then that I thought we might get to see a by now pretty lit, dancing, drunken celebrity. For a second, I caught myself thinking I might call her Betty if we happened to be standing close together between songs (or even Lisa which is the name she used when she started out in television and what Guggenheim still calls her. I know this).

But then, and as the band began, and in perfect sync with the unavailability of stars, she left.

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