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liberace-scott-thorsonI just saw Behind the Candelabra on HBO GO on my iPad. Between you and me, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have wanted to stick around for this one. The truth is, I had never seen you in a movie or on TV. I knew you as a pop culture icon– a flamboyant gay performer who, at one time, was the highest paid entertainer in the world. In. The. World.

But, with my borderline unhealthy obsession with celebrity culture, I couldn’t resist checking out the movie starring Michael Douglas as you, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson. What was shocking to me wasn’t so much anything about your consentual adult relationship. What shocked me was that anyone with two eyes and two ears didn’t realize that you were gay. Really?

What I also don’t understand is why you went to such great lengths to hide this fact. This is where the generation gap widens to its most significant distance. I don’t get it. OK, maybe I do. On a much smaller scale, I understand that to come out must have been incredibly scary at that time– the 70s and 80s. In fact, director Steven Soderbergh couldn’t even get a theatrical release for the movie because people thought it was “too gay.” That’s ridiculous.

What strange, contradictory life you must have lived. With your 15-foot fur capes, your countless candelabras, the make-up, the jewelry, the hair and plastic surgery– you weren’t hiding who you were. You exploded your personality onto everything and everyone within a 20-mile radius. Why, then, did you deny so fiercely that you were gay? I think that’s sad.

I wonder what you would think about all the marriage equality goings-on now? I hope you’d be right out there with every other celebrity advocate shouting from the rooftops that denying civil liberties to gay Americans is the last bastion of true prejuduce this country faces. I hope you would come out and be on the right side of history.

michael-douglas-matt-damon-behind_the_candelabra-01But you weren’t known for your personal life or your politics. You were known for your showmanship, the decication and reverance you showed to your audiences and your musical abilities both as a pianist and an arranger. You were the ultimate entertainer, and you lived a lifestyle that seemed absolutely absurd to the outside world. I mean, how many rooms and vases and pianos (real and tiny) does one person need? Well, I suppose it’s not a matter of need. It’s a matter of taste and living the fantasy and building a brand. You did that, and you did it spectaularly.

I hope that from wherever you are, you can shine a little light on Scott Thorson. For all your midwestern manners and gentlemanly reputation, I think he got completely screwed. Yes, he shouldn’t have become a drug addict. That was not cool. But no one has a script for living the Liberace life. No one. Give him a break from the great beyond. He’s in a jail in Reno right now and he hasn’t seen the movie. I think it would break his heart all over again. Please just send him some love, some luck and a few bars of something to soothe his soul. He’s not a bad guy. Neither were you. If you believe in reincarnation, try to come back as someone who doesn’t really care what people think. You may not get a mansion, but you’ll never be lonely.

Always,

Capra

joan-sizedFor all intents and purposes, I should have absolutely no idea who you are. However, you’re in luck. I just happen to be one of those teens who’s actually interested in stuff like film history, hollywood scandals and personality disorders. Maybe not in that order.

So the reason I’m writing to you now is that I’ve been suffering from terrible insomnia lately. I suppose I could get a machine that radiates soothing ocean sounds. I could try to get my hands on some of that yummy codeine-infused pineapple-flavored cough syrup that made my aunt pass out in her spaghetti squash last summer. But, no. I just HAD ro turn on Turner Classic Movies the exact moment your movie, Autumn Leaves, started.

How is it that I can get bored watching summer blockbuster trailers, but instantly sucked in by your relentlessly unnatural eyebrows and voice which strains to be soft, but can’t. My Mom and I watched Faye Dunaway’s take on you in Mommie Dearest probably a dozen times. It was one of her favorite movies. We bonded over it. My mom’s sense of humor is awesome that way.

Anyway, Ms. Crawford, back to the movie. Man, if there was a way to capture the 1950s pathos of a self-loathing single woman, this is it. Your character sure knew how to pick ‘em. And, given what I know about you, you never would have allowed yourself to play this part (and very convincingly I might add) if there wasn’t just the tiniest part of you in there… somewhere.

So, let me get this straight. You loved this script about a lonely woman in her 40s (I think) who works from home as a typist. You go to a movie alone and then wander into a diner where a chatty younger man convinces you to date him. You spend a majority of the movie doubting yourself and not understanding why this guy would be into you. Um, he has no job, then he’s a tie salesman, then he lies about it, he shoplifts, he forgets to tell you that he was married, he lies about his military service, his father and ex-wife are having an affair and trying to shake him down, then he has a psychotic break, slaps you (hard) and practically crushes your hand (one of the money-making typing ones). You have no choice but to get him committed. By the end of his sanitarium stay, you’re convinced he’s been “cured” of his need for you and so you decide to let him run out on you even though you’ve been nothing but patient, loving and supportive. Huh?

That is ALL kinds of crazy.

Between that and roles like Mildred Pierce, you seem to really like to play the pious, sensitive lady who’s been wronged. But that’s why you were a great actress. Only really great ones can put on a show like that. I’m not sure if I was riveted by your performance or the sheer nuttiness of this kooky mid-20th century boy/girl dynamic.

Ms. Crawford, what sort of mother, wife, friend, starlet would be if you had born in 1980, not 1908? Who would you be without lights on you? Would you disappear, or finally come to life? I’m torn between admiring your clear ambition, and sort of wondering what it was all for. You were not the characters you played. None of us are, I guess.

Always,

Capra

RayI’m so sad you’re dead. I don’t know why, because you were 92 and that’s a respectable age to move on. But can I just say how much I love your work? You were a genius. And you inspired tons of people to follow their twisted little hearts and make art the point of their lives.

As the father of stop motion awesomeness, you did something artistic and new and totally weird before modern special effects made us all jaded and not appreciate when we’re seeing something absolutely extraordinary. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie and thought, “OMG. How in the HELL did they DO that?” I know how they did. With computers. The end. Yawn.

That lack of wonder is really sad. And your effects in It Came From Beneath the Sea, Jason and the Argonauts, Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and, later, Clash of the Titans were surreal and odd, it didn’t matter that we all knew that the characters were shot, second by second, by some really, really patient guy. I mean, that must have been the most tedious way to make something move. But if that’s not love, I don’t know what it is.

I’ve started to make my own stop motion movie. It’s called “White Ball vs. Red Ball.” I’m still working out the story, and everything is turning pink and I’m running low on the clay budget, so I’m still learning. But I’m patient.

But people tend to get caught up in your special effect-iveness (see what I did there?) The truth is that you were drawn to stories which were timeless and dramatic. Stories dripping in mythology and tension. You were a storyteller destined to set up permanent residence in the hearts and minds of ten year-old everywhere. Sure, there were battles and grotesque creatures, but there were always heroes and something to fight for, not just against.

I’m glad you got to finish your last film in 2002, The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Sure, it only took fifty years to make, but whatever. You did it. Mr. Harryhausen, if celebrities could be guardian angels (and I think they are) you’d be the Patron Saint of Patience and Wonder. Thank you for giving us your time and your craft.

Always,

Capra

Twenty years ago this weekend, your Dad and his buddies released Nevermind. My parents loved it. They still do. Yesterday, they listened to the whole album from beginning to end and told me about what it was like back in the early 90s. When they heard about your Dad’s death in 1993, my Dad was in his own band and my my Mom was writing a lot of poetry. It seems like a million years ago. For them, it feels like yesterday.

It must have been strange having Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love as parents. A rock God and sort of a hopeless mess with her own talents and contributions that have been wildly overshadowed by her nutty personality. I can’t imagine it. Let’s face it. Your Mom seems completely crazy. And by crazy, I mean that it’s probably a really smart idea to keep your distance. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about her. At least your grandmother and aunt stepped in when it counted. I hope they were nice to you.

I recently saw the photos of you that were taken by Hedi Slimane. I think a lot of people were surprised by them. But to me, you seem like someone I’d probably like to compare reading lists with. I’m assuming you’re as much of a book dork as me.

Quentin Crisp

Your tattoos tell me that you’re really smart. You have a lot of references to art and celebrities on your body which are really interesting to me. Like I’ve said before, I am not the tattoo type of girl. But I do appreciate that you happen to appreciate the cultural contributions of others. That’s what my whole blog is about… appreciating little pieces of the human puzzle.

So let’s break it down. First, you have a huge portrait of Quentin Crisp on your back. This is a very interesting choice. He wrote The Naked Civil Servant and was a major 70s gay icon. He was the ultimate effeminate chap from London. Why did you choose him? He was a writer, illustrator, actor and artist’s model. He just seemed hip beyond measure. I hope you write about him someday.

Then there’s the text on your arm– lyrics from Jeff Buckley‘s song, Grace. It reads:

“”There’s the moon asking to stay
Long enough for the clouds to fly me away
Well it’s my time coming, I’m not afraid to die.”

That’s pretty heavy. I love Jeff Buckley, too. You have excellent taste. I especially love Lilac Wine. That is an awesome song. I can’t help but think that he also died tragically at a young age. He was a talent beyond measure, like your Dad.

Then there’s the French phrase on your back:

L’art est la solution au chaos.

Art is the solution to chaos. Some people have said that this is sort of an inelegant translation, but we get the point. Your life has been publicly riddled with chaos… suicide, parental drug use, inescapable fame that you didn’t ask for. Wow. Thank God for art. Seriously.

Anyway, I hope all is well in your world. Keep doing your art thing. And you don’t have to use a pseudonym if you don’t want to. People will take you seriously. Trust me.

Always,

Capra

If I come rushing toward you at Comic Con, don't be frightened. I just need a Christmas card pic.

OMG. I just found out that all of you kids (now grown waaaay up) from the original Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory will be in Austin for Comic Con in November. Call me weird, but I liked that original, kooky 70s version so much better than the Tim Burton version– but do NOT tell Johnny Depp. M’kay?

Aside from the fact that I have a serious sweet tooth, your movie has stuck with me like an Everlasting Gobstopper in my soul. OK, maybe that’s stretching it (like delicious toffee), but the point is that Charlie won in the end. His integrity, his honesty, his truth– it all meant something in a world of thieves, consumerism and selfish brats. Go Charlie.

It will be incredibly satisfying getting my picture taken with all of you. This, of course, means I absolutely must dress up like Willy Wonka. And I will also be scrapping my famous Christmas card ban this year and definitely plan to have the most epic card of all time. Would you guys mind wearing Santa hats? Just think about it.

These conventions are pretty intense, I know. My friend Eliot goes to them every year and he always assumes a dashing Dr. Who persona. It’s sort of his thing. I used to not tell people that I went to Comic Con. I was afraid of the social stigma. But then when I went to my first one, I saw half of the drama club, most of the band and four guys from the tennis team. I’m sure there were more, but there is absolutely no way I could identify anyone in a Boba Fett or a Neytiri get up.

So anyway, I just wanted to let you know that when you see a teenage girl dressed up like Gene Wilder holding a bunch of Santa hats and rushing toward you, don’t be frightened. Like the song says, “There is no place I know that compares with pure imagination…”

Always,
Capra

I think it probably has hit you already, but there really should be a law against getting someone’s face tattooed on your body. What possessed you to get a not-so-flattering image of Jesse James’ 5th grade school photo inked across your rib cage? That seems completely, over-the-top intense. You guys hadn’t even gotten hitched yet. I’m not trying to make you feel worse than you probably already do. But I think there’s sort of teaching moment here, if you will. This might be a moment that goes out to all those heartsick girls who want to proclaim they’re doing undying love for some dude. You can help them.

Actually, I have a lot of questions about the whole tattoo game. I, of course, don’t have any because I’m only 16. But I’m just curious as to why people get them. I’m a Gemini, so I can barely commit to what I’m going to have for breakfast, not to mention something permanent stabbed into my skin.  Actually, I am into scrapbooks and journaling, and I suppose it’s sort of the same concept. You want to document your experiences, chronicle them somehow, celebrate them. But pink hair is probably the closest I’m going to get to altering my looks.

Sure, that might change. But it would probably take me years to decide what to get. An animal? A pattern? A saying? Some elaborate scene? And then there’s the portrait tattoos which you’re obviously an expert in. Allowing someone to tattoo you takes the sort of courage and trust I just don’t have.  I mean, what if they completely screw up? And, as in your case and probably countless people before you, what happens if you break up with your portrait? Are you just going to say to yourself, “Well, that’s just a chapter in my life. It’s fine,” or are you getting that thing lasered off, like, immediately?

Maybe you could make him into something else. Like an evil clown. Aren’t those popular? Or how about making that portrait look like Herve Villechaize and just tell people, “I got a tattoo of Tattoo.” That would be clever, right?

Listen, I’m not going to believe all the online gossip about Jesse James with yet another woman, but it certainly sounds like he is a serial cheater. If that’s the case, good riddance to him. Maybe you could tattoo some choice words over his face… maybe something like “Avoid THIS guy. Trust me.”

Always,

Capra

I was working on a fan letter to you. You know, just checking in. I had heard that you had been having some problems lately, especially since that really terrible performance a few weeks ago that was all over YouTube. I was going to tell you that I hope you’re feeling better, and that no amount of money or fame is more important than actually being alive.

Then you died.

I suppose I can’t blame people who immediately grabbed on to the spooky fact that you were 27 years old, just 11 years older than me. You could have been my big sister. Being the newest member of “The 27 Club” seems to be both accurate and belittling. I look at my four year-old cousin and I wonder if he has the addiction gene like you did. Any of us could. My grandfather had it, and so did my great grandmother. But they got better. Maybe they didn’t seem happy all the time, but they were alive and they did manage to have moments of joy in their lives .What I’m saying is that they could get there to, you know, themselves.

I don’t know what it must have felt like to 1) feel completely uncomfortable and miserable while sober and 2) have the power to control your condition, but basically decide not to. For the non-addict this seems insane. But it’s a brain thing, a self-esteem thing, and maybe an art thing.

It makes me anxious, as a young artist myself, to see the myth of the tortured, suicidal artist play itself out yet again in the headlines. Is creating good art more important than life itself? Is it more important than taking that big step to accept that itchy, hopeless feeling for the rest of your life so you can live another day? Why did you wrap yourself up in your image and how much and well you produced music so much so that you couldn’t bear to face your flaws? If we were, like, really little kids and you saw a little girl saying “I have to get this right, I have do better, people won’t like me unless I give them something great” wouldn’t you do everything you could to sweep that little girl up in your arms and say, “No, no you’ve got it all wrong. You’re good enough just being you, right here and right now. Now worries, OK love?” I have a feeling you would be really nice that way.

But now it’s too late. A very deep, damaged part of yourself gave in and gave up. You couldn’t fathom living day in day and out without the comforting, buffering haze of drugs and alcohol. You forgot the feeling you had when someone close to you would hold you and rock you to sleep if you were low in yourself. You forgot the joy of swinging too high on a playground swing and then hurling yourself into the air, a little scared that you might land too hard, but relieved and excited when you didn’t. You forgot the feeling of having cousins over you haven’t seen in a long time and sleeping in a tent under the stars. Did you ever do that?

I don’t understand addicts. But I do understand that addiction is a real disease that really kills. I am sad for you, Amy. I was going to say that I’m sad for all the world who will never experience all the music you had left in you. But I actually don’t care about that so much. I guess I care about you because I don’t personally know anyone, at the moment, who is slowing killing herself or has actually self-destructed. I knew you through pictures and recordings and reports. You were a human being– a person who died from a terrible disease that millions of people have. I am sad for all of them, too.

Rest in Peace, Amy.

Always,

Capra

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