I've Got a Crush!
I am a woman who is given to crushes. I’ve had crushes that are appropriate, and others that are insane; crushes that last a moment, or a lifetime.
My first crush was Raquel Welch in “Fantastic Voyage” and my most recent is e. e. cummings as depicted by Edward Weston in a photograph in the New Yorker that I learned was also used on a stamp!
Image: Raymond Bryson
Those early crushes were on people who seemed to a live a life far removed from mine (but isn’t that what movie star lust is?) or were long dead, like Alexander Hamilton, who I gazed at adoringly on the $10 bill. I loved his straight patrician nose, strong chin, badly rendered eyebrows and slightly pouty lower lip which gave him a hint of vulnerability in a man who seemingly had none, that is, until Aaron Burr shot him dead, the bastard. Alexander and I both had messed-up families, and later slept around. He’s even partly Jewish.
When I was 17, I met a Broadway playwright, Howard Sackler, who I made a beeline for at a party because of his resemblance to Alexander Hamilton. We had a relationship that didn’t end well. He wanted Eliza Doolittle and I wanted a founding father.
I consider my crush on Alexander Hamilton the forebear of my now several-years-old crush on George Clooney, which gave me a retroactive crush on Cary Grant.
For as long as I can remember, I had crushes on writers like other girls had crushes on Davy Jones of the Monkees or Barnabas Collins from “Dark Shadows.” As a young teen, I daydreamed that I was one of the 1920s literati at the Algonquin Round Table (though I’d settle for being their cocktail waitress).
I was in love with the witty Dorothy Parker and took to saying, “What fresh hell is this?” — as if all teenagers say that. That crush turned into one for the modern-day acerbic wit, Fran Lebowitz, who I’ve met twice, and around whom I was completely tongue-tied both times.
After reading a biography of the grumpy but brilliantly funny George S. Kaufman, I went through an “I love big noses” phase, and attended marathon Marx Brothers film festivals (he wrote a bunch of their films).
Later, the Coen brother’s “Barton Fink” was one of my favorite films. It featured John Turturro as a writer who happened to look a lot like George S. Kaufman. John Turturro became my modern-day George S. Kaufman crush.
Some time after the Algonquin crush, I developed a hankering for the silent film stars Buster Keaton, who was oddly good-looking and so talented, and Louise Brooks with her innocent bob haircut, a foil for raunchy sexuality on film and off.
Then I was madly in love with Lillian Hellman. Her writing was pretty good but her persona sealed it: the haughtily handsome-faced toughness, a contender among men, but a lover of men; and her righteous testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee where she said, “I cannot and will not cut my conscious to fit this year’s fashion.”
In college, I told my women’s history professor that I wanted to write about Lillian Hellman and she said dismissively, “She’s awful; so male-identified.” I hate to tell you, Professor Esther Katz, but you look a lot like Lillian Hellman (and I had a crush on you too, until you said that).
That was at NYU; I lived not far from there and so did Susan Sontag. I saw her often in the neighborhood. I would never even so much as say hello because she was too saint-like to treat in a pedestrian way. I imagined her office in Soho, disheveled and filled with brilliant thoughts. Did she have an assistant? I wondered that for years and tried to get up the nerve to ask but never did. I imagined running her manuscript to the copy shop, filling her coffee, bringing her mail.
One day, I was walking to the gym in Soho near another famous neighbor who I saw often. We were walking past the Broadway-Layfayette subway station entrance, boarded up for years and serving as an ad hoc homeless shelter. As if rising from the dead, a disheveled man sprang to the ground from the top of the shelter and said excitedly, “Jeff Goldblum! You’re a great actor! 'The Fly' and 'The Big Chill,' man!” He shook the actor's hand and Goldblum, who seemed a little startled, was as gracious as could be. At the next block, I turned to him laughing, and what I meant to say was, “What a fan that guy was!” but what came out of my mouth instead was, “What a crush that guy has on you!”
Originally published on Purple Clover