Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Memoriam

London 1968

I just realized that it's November 30, which means that my father died 14 years ago today. By coincidence, I was scouring the New York Times online archives for family information, prompted by a woman who recently got in touch with me, claiming kinship. As it turns out, we're technically not related (she's my 2nd cousin's 2nd cousin, and worked for his mother in NYC 50 years ago) but I consider her family all the same. Given how often the Standers married their cousins back in Latvia--and even in the UK & US--for all I know she and I could have some common blood.

One of my searches turned up a Sunday NYT magazine article from June 9, 1968: "How Revolution Came to Cannes" by Harvey Swados, about the 21st International Film Festival. It contains this wonderful passage:
But no matter how they got themselves up, the girls found it difficult to compete with the men. The male birds of paradise, preening themselves in flowered prints and ruffled cottons and silks, were simply more interesting. Unquestioningly the fashion king of the festival was Lionel Stander, the gravel-voiced movie comedian, in triumphant re-emergence from his years of obscurity after the era of the McCarthyite blacklist. The actor, who will surely never see 60 again, appeared in a succession of brilliant costumes. One evening, he surpassed himself in a blue and white brocaded Nehru suit, set off with freshly bleached hair, ruffles and Miles Standish pumps with giant silver buckles. He was rewarded by the greeting of a dazzled friend: "Lionel, you have never looked more beautiful!"

Few who admired the rejuvenated movie star were aware that among the girls whom he outshone was an extremely attractive, extremely mod girl with short-cropped blonde hair and a short-skirted white dress who was not a girl at all but a transvestite. It should give one pause when even a transvestite can be upstaged by a super-elegant male in full plumage.
Actually, my father had turned 60 five months previously. In late December of 1968, I stayed with him and his 20-something then-girlfriend at the Dorchester Hotel in London. I have vivid memories of his sumptuous, wildly colored threads and her micro-mini skirts. Also of the clove cigarettes they smoked, which I was terrified were marijuana.

He's wearing the pilgrim shoes in the picture at top, which is much the worse for having spent the intervening years in a billfold-size photo album. That's me, age 13, on the right. Can you believe I thought I was fat? (I wore those green jeans with a matching sweater to school just once, whereupon I was known for years as "the Jolly Green Giant.") On the left is my friend Tory, who lived near the Dorchester. Dad's suit was of pumpkin-colored velveteen, the shirt striped bright blue. He cut quite a figure on Carnaby Street. "Your old man's a real swingah!" he crowed.

Several years later, I asked his 20-something last wife what happened to all those marvelous clothes. I was particularly fond of an enormous black cape, with a scarlet lining if memory serves (below, with London g.f.).

"Oh," she said in her Dutch accent, "I got rid of them. He looked like a feg."


Rome 1969


Eileen said...

Wha? That is a killer cape. I loved this post- the line about him saying swingah made me laugh out loud. I could hear it perfectly in my head.

Katie Alender said...

Great post, Bella. What we all want is to be a person others remember with fondness. I'm sure your father would enjoy this tribute!

(And it's funny what we consider fat when our metabolisms run as fast as a rabbit's... all that changes when things sloooow dooooown.)

Carleen Brice said...

Wow, you were a cutie, Bella! I remember those I-think-I'm-fat days. Oh, to be that "fat" again!

Are you still working on a book about your dad?

Bella Stander said...

Yeah, I wish I was that "fat" again now. Blog posts about my dad and collecting photos of him are all I can handle for now.

Shauna Roberts said...

I enjoyed your memories of your dad. Thanks for sharing them. He sounds like quite a character.