You can cycle right under the Santa Monica Pier.
[You’ve been there. Even if you think you haven’t, you’d recognise it – the huge wooden structure reaching out into the Pacific has a multi-coloured big wheel and a roller coaster that has featured in every US film about the seaside. The Lost Boys? Big? And the surrounding beach has the wooden towers with the scarlet floats straight out of Baywatch.] Anyway, you can cycle right under the pier and that’s what we did on Friday.
It’s cool and dark, with a touch of damp. Overhead, the giant timbers creak and tremble. The wheel spins above you, people skate and cycle and waddle along the pier. In the distance, you can hear the screams from the rollercoaster and you know you’re only seconds from the blinding sunlight and the crowds, but there is something odd about feeling that you’re negotiating two very different worlds. And do they know that you’re there?
We went to the beach on Friday because Padraic had landed in for one day (from researching in New York’s Public Library) and we decided a Trinity reunion was in order. I was urged to leave Aideen behind for 24 hours. Four of us rented bikes for the day, cycled and lazed on the beach, and then hit West Hollywood’s best night spots. The bizarre thing was, when I spent last night tidying papers and preparing for Christine Shields’s visit I found a letter Aideen had written home in April 1938. She started the letter to her sisters on Good Friday, as she left California with the rest of the Abbey Company on a train heading back east.
She told her sisters Eileen and Maeve:
I HATE leaving California. It’s been wonderful. The two weeks in Los Angeles we had hot blazing sunshine all the time. …
She describes a pool party in Hollywood and then reveals:
I went to the beach with an admirer of mine in his car. We left early in the morning and drove to Santa Monica. We swam first of all in the pool in the Club Miramar – a glorious beach club. The admirer (can’t remember his name) was a member so we got in. Then we went onto the beach in our togs and played about and lay down for a while. …. Then we had a dip in the Pacific – it is much too rough in swim in yet – there is a terrific undertow – strolled along and had pie and Coca-Cola at a stand and back to the beach again. Then we drove home by Beverly Hills. I should think the loveliest homes in the world are in Beverly Hills.
Yep – pretty close to the day I spent with my friends – including the Coca Cola.
That was 1938. Aideen was happy, revelling in the sunshine and the pool parties as she traversed the US with her ‘Abbey family’. Was the admirer she refuses to name the married Abbey producer Arthur (‘Boss’) Shields? Or was she trying to make Boss jealous?
Four years later, she was living back in Los Angeles with Boss, but now was loudly declaring ‘I STILL LOATHE HOLLYWOOD’. This wasn’t divulged to her sisters and family, but to producer Eddie Choates. She told him:
I read about two books a day – nothing else to do in this god awful town. We have moved into another apt in this building. It is lovely. Big airy rooms and nice furniture and decorations. Barry [Fitzgerald] has an apt – a large one – about ten minutes drive from here. He has dinner with us every night. My cooking has become most proficient!
The building she was talking about was 1843 North Cherokee Avenue. It’s a beautiful building, built in the 1920s and lovingly maintained. The entrance is shaded by palm trees and there’s a small fountain just in front of it. It’s on an insanely steep hill, which I’m sure Aideen cursed, as the couple had no car. It’s quite high, with wooden staircases and an elevator too old to function any more. Padding quietly along the dark corridors, you can hear people moving around inside behind each door. Someone has pushed open the sash window at the end of the corridor on the second floor so that it’s possible to climb out onto the fire escape, but now there’s only a view of the parking lot behind it.
This is it:
and this is me in the lobby:
(With special thanks to JJ for charming the guy with the bull dog to let us in for a peek around.)
For the Reiki people, this is the photo with the ‘orb’. There had to be one.
I’m starting to love the lifestyle in LA – but I do understand what Aideen means when she complains about the heat. She told Eddie:
The Californian air gives one such an attack of inertia that to write a letter sometimes seems the equivalent of a ten mile walk in the sun.
There is a lethargy that kicks in soon after noon. Like her, I’m spending afternoons in the cool shade of my sitting room with my books and my notebooks (the anomaly being the Internet). It’s hard not to wonder how she kept herself all those long, hot afternoons when she’d read all the books and scripts she could find. Transcribing her letters from this time, I started to realise there was sometimes a jaunty tone to her correspondence which suggested someone a little tipsy.
How many auditions did she try to get while she lived here? Arthur Shields was still married to Bazie Magee, who was back on Sandymount Avenue in Dublin, so Aideen had no Visa and no equity status. Did she stride past the fountain and up that hill to get a taxi to read at the studios? To have head shots taken and to meet producers and agents? [People in this city are obsessed with head shots. It’s almost obligatory at customs.]
Between 1942 and 1947, when she moved to Sierra Bonita Avenue and had her daughter Christine, did Aideen still have hopes and dreams of a US career for herself? Or did she ever think of going home? How angry was she with Barry and Boss as she spent her days doing their cooking and cleaning?
Sometimes I wonder if this trip is going to pose more questions than it answers. But perhaps I need a siesta or an iced latte, before I start thinking like that.