Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When the Artist Met His Muse, Part I

As Valentine's Day approaches, a true story from the archives...

Be forewarned: I am a Jamie Lee Curtis fan. A big fan. The biggest fan. Now, please don’t rush to assumptions. My lifelong obsession with the preeminent scream queen of 80s slashers is not of the creepy Kathy-Bates-stalking-James-Caan-in-Misery variety; it’s more of the I’d-love-to-ask-her-to-tea-and-pick-her-brain variety. Stalking is so unbecoming of a gay man, after all. No, my love of Jamie Lee Curtis is culled from an early fascination that somehow never ebbed, instead strengthening to become part of my life and personality over the past almost thirty years. Just like many people identify the important events of their life by a particular song, my memories are marked by Jamie Lee’s films and accomplishments.

As early as my love of slasher films developed, so did my adoration for Jamie Lee. I can still remember the first time I ever laid eyes on her celluloid image as a terrorized babysitter in John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween. I’m not quite sure if it was her vaguely androgynous looks, or her slightly crooked smile, or her eyes that told of a wisdom beyond her years, but Curtis’ portrayal of Laurie Strode in that feature film debut captured my heart – and hasn’t let go since. Now I admit that my relationship with Jamie Lee is terribly one-sided. I’ve only met her once, yet my admiration of the offspring of Tony Curtis and the late Janet Leigh goes deep.

Since 1978, I have followed her career and personal ups and downs. I’ve amassed what can only be described as the future Jamie Lee Curtis museum… clipping every single blurb mentioning her name from countless newspapers, collecting posters, lobby stand-ups, and other memorabilia from most of her 40+ feature films and TV movies, tracking down every professional and candid photo ever taken of her from infant to the fabulous woman she’s become at age 47. I’ve snatched up every autograph I could find, acquired multiple signed copies of every one of her delightful children’s books, taped every talk show appearance from Leno to Letterman, and have even come to be the proud owner of a Jamie Lee Curtis bobblehead. Yes, I said bobblehead (remember, you were forewarned!). Few people who have ever met me can hear the name Jamie Lee Curtis without thinking of me. If Entertainment Tonight features a segment on Curtis, I routinely receive calls from friends and family members from as far away as Florida alerting me. I wear t-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as "Property of Jamie Lee Curtis" and even have a license plate holder on my Chevy Avalanche proclaiming my status as #1 fan.
It’s important to note that my devotion to Jamie Lee goes far beyond the contributions she made to the horror genre with her early appearances in Halloween, The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, and Halloween II. These were but the catalysts that launched, and then cemented, my fandom. I have been equally smitten by her work as a deft comedienne in films like Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda, Drowning Mona, and her ABC sitcom Anything But Love…have been thrilled by her roles as an action film star in Blue Steel, True Lies, and Virus…have marveled at her subtle, nuanced performances in supporting roles in smaller art house films like Amazing Grace and Chuck, Dominick & Eugene, A Man in Love, and Queens Logic…have been bowled over by breakout dramatic turns in Love Letters, Nicholas’ Gift, and The Heidi Chronicles…have been warmed by her motherly roles in sweet coming-of-age films like My Girl, Forever Young, and House Arrest…have been amazed at her versatility at playing both villain in Mother’s Boys and heroine in Halloween: H2O. I remember being moved almost to tears when noted New York Times movie critic A.O. Schwartz singled out Curtis’ virtuoso performance in Disney’s Freaky Friday remake as being Oscar worthy…shouting with glee that year when Golden Globe nominations were announced and threatening a boycott of the Academy Awards when her work was passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I remember proudly exclaiming “That’s my girl!” when female friends of a certain age marveled at Jamie Lee’s now-infamous More magazine spread, done sans make-up or touch-ups to dispel the myths of Hollywood glamour...or squealing with delight when one of her kids books hit the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Why the strong kinship? Perhaps it started with her publicly stated feelings of being an outcast as a teen…similar to my own growing up gay, scared, and alone in suburban New Jersey. Perhaps it is our shared status as being the products of divorce. Perhaps it is the fact that she later embraced the gift of adoption in forming her own family…similar to the gift my own birth mother gave me when she put me up for adoption at birth. Perhaps it is the conviction of her opinions, the fierceness for the causes she believes in…perhaps it is in her courage and ability to successfully reinvent herself, to keep herself from being pigeonholed as one thing or another. Say one thing about Jamie Lee…it will be difficult to boil her legacy down to one specific film or life event. Scream queen…comedienne…sexy starlet…sitcom star…children’s book author…adoption advocate…champion of women’s aging…all titles she’s earned and can wear proudly into her golden years.

Now Jamie Lee Curtis has become my writing muse. I believe that it’s no small coincidence that my very first magazine cover was a feature article I wrote on Curtis for Autograph Collector magazine; to the contrary, I think it’s nothing short of divine intervention…a sign. The Literary Six sprung from my fondness of those early Jamie Lee slasher films, and the book is co-dedicated to her. I derive inspiration from her tenacity at surviving in the fickle world of Hollywood, her courage in often eschewing the “safe bet” and following her heart in new creative directions, and in her struggle to accept herself for who she is – flaws intact.

On September 5th, 2006, I ventured into New York City for an early evening Barnes & Noble book signing event for the launch of Curtis’ seventh children’s book, Is There Really a Human Race? Unlike the one previous time when I met her in person during her book tour for the adoption-themed Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born and was rushed through the line so quickly that I couldn’t even tell you what (if anything) I said to her, I planned on coming prepared. Armed with camera and copies of both the AC cover article and another piece I wrote about her late mother, Janet Leigh (ironically, also a scream queen in her own right for her infamous shower scene in Psycho), I planned to wait patiently towards the back of the line - unlike the previous time when I arrived four hours early and was the second Halloween geek behind the velvet rope. I planned to wait while she greeted the tikes and toddlers who adore her whimsical children’s books and exchanged pleasantries with parents, hanging back until I could respectfully approach her for my owned signed copy of her latest tome. The articulation of my appreciation of her work and the inspiration she has given me would be well-rehearsed and phrased with an eloquence worthy of her attention. Then, as the coup de grace, I would proudly hand her a copy of The Literary Six, opened to the dedication page and signed and inscribed with words that will convey her profound impact on my life. It was my hope that Jamie Lee would then grant me what would be the crown jewel of my fandom…my holy grail, if you will.

A photo.

And if I were to be granted that coveted photo op with this amazing actress, author, and activist, it would be framed, enshrined, and present every time I began to write from that day forward. So, what happened when this artist went in search of his muse…?

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