Saturday, July 30, 2011

Too Sweet A Song

Pale With Envy The Rose Doth Grow
If one is to discuss the psychology of another it cannot be done without addressing the topic of sexuality.  Agnes was born in the year 1900 on December 6th.  On the 22nd of January 1901 Queen Victoria died.  With her passed the Victorian Age and the industrial revolution became a full throttle obsession of every civilized nation.  As far as women were concerned it took nearly two decades for everyone to become obsessed with morality, psychology and religion.  By 1920 all three were served up to America with the delicacy of a velvet covered sledge hammer. 

Agnes began growing up in the Age of Innocence and became an adult in the Jazz Age.  What, you may ask, has this to do with her sexuality?  The answer is a very great deal.  In her formative years Agnes was an avid reader.  A trait she maintained until she died.  Her appreciation of Victorian and early twentieth century literature is highlighted by many of the pieces she performed in her one woman show.  Like every young woman in the early part of the last century she undoubtedly read children's magazines.  They were plentiful and cheap.  They were considered moral wholesome entertainment for children of both sexes.  What you don't know is that during the age of innocence it was perfectly acceptable for a girl to have crushes on other girls.  It was encouraged because it meant they weren't getting into trouble with young men and it was considered relationship practice.  In 1908 in an American children's magazine there was a story in which a teenage girl writes a love poem in honor of her female schoolmate.  It is a beautiful poem and goes like this:

My love has a forehead broad and fair,
And the breeze blown curls of her chestnut hair,
Fall over it softly, the gold and the red
A shining aureole round her head.
Her clear eyes gleam with an amber light
For sunbeams dance in them swift and bright
And over those eyes so golden brown
Long, shadowy lashes droop gently down.
Oh pale with envy the rose doth grow
That my lady lifts to her cheeks' warm glow!
But for joy its blushes would come again
If my lady to kiss the rose should deign.

Isn't it just a beautiful piece.  I adore it.  I would bet money on Agnes having read it.  It was published in total innocence.  In the belief that girls and women weren't sexual creatures but emotional ones.  I've read that somewhere before, oh yes, in an interview with Agnes.

Even well established magazines, some of which still exist today, like Ladies Home Journal published stories about "romantic friendship."  Ladies Home Journal published a story in 1919 called "The Cat and The King."
In the story a young college woman named Flora sees her idol Annette and the narrator observed the following:

"To the freshman gazing from her walk, it was if a goddess high-enshrined and touched by the rising sun, stood revealed.  She gave a gasp of pleasure."

Nobody batted an eyelash at the story because it was still considered natural.  Agnes read a piece her one woman show called "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver." It was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Millay was a feminist and a playwright as well as a lyrical poet.  She was a well educated woman graduating from Vassar.  In 1923 "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver" won a Pulitzer Prize. Her 1920 collection A Few Figs From Thistles drew controversy for its novel exploration of female sexuality and feminism.  She was bisexual.  Her work is amazing.  Agnes loved her work.

Agnes began her college career in 1919.  She once said that she had never gone on a date unchaperoned until she left college.  At Muskingum the rules and regulations governing intermingling of young women and young men were lengthy.  They were also strictly enforced.  Essentially the college acted as two schools under one roof.  A women's college and a men's college.  They attended some classes together but social groups were divided right down the line of sex.  There were men's groups and sports.  There were women's groups and sports.  Never the twain shall meet except under the watchful eyes of faculty, period!   It is such a huge departure from our education system today that if we suddenly hit a time warp and found ourselves in the middle of 1919 we'd be hard pressed to survive believe me!

Lavender With A Big Difference
It was during her years at Muskingum that Agnes probably flourished and floundered the most.  She flourished because she had the chance to learn, to perform in plays, to sing, to read and to be athletic.  One thing she does say during her "Lavender Lady" performance sticks with me, "I guess you could say I was a bit of a tomboy."  Agnes spent four years as a member of the women's athletic group flourishing.  Her floundering was most likely a result of inexperience.  She was a preacher's daughter.  She was not streetwise in any way.  Her social identity was strictly related to women.  While the young women around her began to experiment with the somewhat Bohemian loose morals of the "Jazz Age" Agnes did not.  She maintained her circle of female friends and did not venture beyond it.  In one of her first shows at college called "The Twig of Thorn" and Agnes played the love sick young male lead.  Her ability to play a cross gendered lead speaks to the fluidity of her personal sexuality.  It takes a very special woman to play a male role as a man and to be defined within that role as the lover of a young woman takes even more gumption.  I have witnessed roles cast across gender and seen distress at the idea of what people might think about the actress playing the part.

Love Knows No Sex
"You know when I was a little girl I was my mother's despair.  I was a bit of a tomboy I suppose.  I know  I used to like to lie flat on my stomach in the wet grass and drink cool water from a spring on my grandparent's farm in Ohio and then I would do home with the front of my dress all grass stained and muddy and it would cause quite a "to do.""  I can imagine that pinafored young lady coming home muddy and grass stained.  I was only ever forced into a dress on Sundays for the very same reason.  It speaks to her sense of freedom does it not?  To admit you were a tomboy when the masses were whispering about her sexuality already.  It is why I have always believed she viewed passion and love as an emotion shared between human beings but not necessarily between male and female or any combination therein contained.  These were standards that were accepted before 1920, standards she had be reared with.  Sex was something quite different from love and love was like bread you could fill yourself with it and still want more, more, more.  Interest in the physical wanes with time but love will link you with another human being forever.

Inertia And Its Beauty
There are people who have read the Boze Hadleigh interview with Agnes and dismissed it.  I think they read it with the idea that it couldn't possibly be true and most definitely searched for any reason they could to point out that would make it untrue.  I read it with the idea that I wasn't there and I could not judge its truth or validity.  Then I reread Quint Benedetti's book.  He taped the classes at Agnes' acting school.  He was grateful that he had because he still had her words to listen to and I am grateful he recorded them because I believe without knowing it he has proven the Boze Hadleigh interview is indeed valid.  How you may ask? With this word, interia, yes inertia.  In one of the lectures Benedetti taped Agnes talked about inertia and in Boze Hadleigh's interview Agnes talked about, yes indeed, inertia.  Not a common word at all.  Certainly not one used as a descriptor in everyday conversation.

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. Agnes stated to Hadleigh that "Life tires one out-not alot but increasingly.  One can't underestimate inertia....inertia is the result of our struggles, my boy."  It was a hallelujah moment for me.  I had connected the two with a word that wasn't exposed as a conversational word for Agnes until well after Hadleigh's book had be written and published.  Benedetti writes, "..It’s just calculated to produce shock which will lead to lesser shock and lesser shock ending up in inertia."  I think I have just fallen in love with the word inertia!

"Well I Have Loved Women Of Course."
" But I don't want anyone misinterpreting what was beautiful and even spiritual."  Spiritual love was an enormously Victorian idea.  That was the whole point for romantic friendship between women, a spiritual connection with one another.  Love of one soul for another soul.  I don't care one bit to know with whom she shared this beautiful and spiritual love.  That isn't the point of it at all.  The heart of the matter is to respect that and to be grateful that she chose to tell someone about it before her passing.   Agnes could have ended the interview without uttering any of these words.  Hadleigh offered to turn off his tape recorder and she counters with " Leave it on. Leave it on.  You apparently have your informants.  I don't know what you've heard and I don't want to hear, and some of it may even be true."   She could have stopped at any time.  Barbara Stanwyck threw Hadleigh out of her house.  Agnes did not, she made the choice to speak.   She emoted the Victorian spirit in all of its purity, "With two women, it's more difficult to know where love leaves off and the other begins, with men it's clearer."  She continues with, "A woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female.  Love doesn't have a sex.  It's men who have to bring sex and activities into everything....Women operate on a different plane; the feelings are emotional not physical."  Pure Victorian and beautiful in every sense of the word.  It is a humanist view.  Here is this beautiful woman, a grand dame of the entertainment industry, showing us the beauty of her soul.  Think of the juxtaposition that this Victorian view has with her religious sensibility.  She had the ability to be two different people maybe three different people as I see it.  She was also smart enough to  know that what she was saying was truly controversial and as she says, "If I make a statement to you now, it will be used and misinterpreted and one way or another  it will represent me, if it's controversial or shocking enough, in who knows how many books.  On the screen or in a book, even a famous supporting actress never receives the same in depth....the amount of time that any star, great or indifferent, always receives.  As an actress I'm used to this.  I have no option, as a person I do.
My life has been as long as any, I've had to struggle more than most people in my very privileged profession and although my career might be described or capsulized in a few paragraphs by some writers, I won't let that happen to my life.  Certainly not to my private life, having others try to understand or illuminate me, all in the space of one or two pages."  It bears out in a phrase that she constantly repeated, "I know what I'm about."  She certainly did, without any doubt, know what she was about.  Every nuance of every personality she let show was a result of a disciplined spirit that understood the rules of the world and how they must dictate your life but that they could not dictate your spirit, they could not dictate your heart, the could not dictate your soul.
That was a task left to her and her alone.  A part of her guarded by pillars and mirrors and mazes that only the owner could show anyone safely through.

Next installment:  Forensic Conclusions Are More Difficult Than You Will Ever Know!

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