martha coolidge

October 24, 1995

October 24, 1995

Perusing these diaries years later, I can’t help noticing how often I say something like “I want to hold onto the image…” – and how rarely (never) I do retain it. If I hadn’t written things down at the time, I wouldn’t recall most events, forget images.

I simply don't recallIt’s a weird sensation, reading my description of a conversation or encounter with no independent recall of the event. I don’t doubt that it happened, more or less the way I described, because (at least IMHO) my diary style isn’t emotional or subjective. I consider myself a “just the facts, ma’am” diarist. I had no reason to lie or embellish the truth because I had no intention of letting anybody (let alone the entire internet!) read my innermost thoughts.

Some, but not all, of my diaries.
Some, but not all, of my diaries.

Intellectually, I know I’m reading about my own real life but emotionally it’s like reading about someone else. In my unassisted memories of my life, I’m a much finer person than the girl who wrote these diaries. We all tell ourselves stories about our lives, whether or not we consciously frame it that way. I wonder how many of our life stories are true? I can’t be the only one who prefers to see myself in a better light.

Me in a better light.
Me in a better light.

It’s disheartening to face my pettiness, my envy of others, my callousness and my shallow values. I cared more about cute clothes and popularity than making the world a better place, I was more interested in myself than others. I take some solace in my belief that I’m less self-obsessed than I was as a teen-ager, but who knows? If I read the entries I write today in twenty years, I might be just as appalled.

Guaranteed, I won’t remember much, if anything, about today’s obsessions. It’ll be like reading another person’s diary. Barbra Streisand wasn’t wrong when she sang,

“What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten a lot of the laughter and good things too. That’s why I continue writing things down even if my thousands of diary pages are more likely to be recycled than read. I want to remember every single moment and image.

Laughter remembered with Martha Coolidge
Laughter remembered with Martha Coolidge

In the words of a Paul Simon lyric,

“Preserve your memories – they’re all that’s left you.”

 

January 24, 1980


january-24-1980

It was totally in character for the late Bill Bowers to treat fledging writers to lunch – he was legendary for his warmth and generosity. In his drinking days, he churned out three or four scripts a year. Sober, he slowed but not much. He wrote a whopping 39 movies including “The Gunfighter,” for which he received an Oscar nomination. On the Zoetrope lot in 1980, Bowers occupied one of two offices upstairs from where I wrote a Cindy Williams MOW project.

Bill Bowers, playing the part of a senator interrogating Michael Corleone in "Godfather 2"
Bill Bowers, playing the part of a senator interrogating Michael Corleone in “Godfather 2”

My UCLA screenwriting professor Bill Froug interviewed Bowers for his first book – the Screenwriter looks at the Screenwriter – so I understood what a privilege it was to spend time with Bowers. He regaled us with stories about old Hollywood, each one better than the last. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to write them all down.

Martha Coolidge at early Halloween party
Martha Coolidge at early Halloween party

The other upstairs office belonged to Martha Coolidge, a rising young director. We formed a friendship that outlasted Zoetrope.

Martha and me at a Halloween party
Martha and me at a Halloween party

One of my most satisfying moments as a writer occurred when Martha and I shared a room at the Oaks, a health spa in Ojai.

Martha and me at the Oaks
Martha and me at the Oaks

She’d read and liked my spec script “At 17” but re-read it at the Oaks. From across the room, I scrutinized her face for clues – did she like it as much on her second read? What was she laughing at? Was it meant to be funny? It was hopeless, I couldn’t gauge her reaction — until she turned the last page, tears streaming down her face. Genuine tears! Does it get any better than that? I’ve never felt so validated. (I cried my eyes out when I saw “Rambling Rose”. A true karmic partnership.)

Eating very very little at the Oaks
Eating very very little at the Oaks

Recently, Martha suffered a serious fall from a horse that left her hospitalized for weeks. In true Martha fashion, she amazed doctors by her incredibly rapid recovery. It was less surprising to friends like me because I’m well aware Martha was born to break down barriers, exceed expectations and amaze the experts.

Martha also at the Oaks in Ojai
Martha, also at the Oaks in Ojai

Imagine that. My first paid writing job, and I got Bill Bowers and Martha Coolidge as office-mates – how lucky can one girl get?

 

 

January 9, 1983

january-9-1983

 valley-girl-screen-shot

This entry fails to convey the excitement of seeing Martha Coolidge’s low-budget feature “Valley Girl” for the first time. Even in rough cut, the film was a revelation – so much better than it had any right to be on so many levels. Intended as a teen exploitation film, it was done on a painfully low budget – $350,000 to be specific – with a cast of largely unknowns.  To quote Wikipedia:

“Martha Coolidge, the director, received a token salary. Most of the crew and some of the actors were friends of Martha from film school, and worked for free. There were almost no retakes.

Martha Coolidge and Deborah Foreman in Valley Girl (1983)
Martha Coolidge and Deborah Foreman in Valley Girl (1983)

The executives gave them only a small artistic budget, which included wardrobe. The cast and crew put all their own clothes on a table, and that became the wardrobe. The gowns and suits at the prom were promotions.”

Their wardrobe was their own clothes.
Their wardrobe consisted of their own clothes shared between themselves.

The plot was nothing new – a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Martha managed to work magic with these relatively ordinary elements and created something special that no one – not even the original investors – anticipated.

In retrospect, it’s a perfect time capsule for the time in which it was made. No wonder it went on to earn more than fifty times its production cost (domestic, does not include international).

Martha Coolidge and I relaxing at the Oaks (a few years after Valley Girl)
Martha Coolidge and I relaxing at the Oaks (a few years after Valley Girl)

January 8, 1996

january-8-1996

Charlie, John Rowell, Gale Ann Hurd, Martha Coolidge on Paso Finos at Castaic
Charlie, John Rowell, Gale Ann Hurd, Martha Coolidge on Paso Finos at Castaic

 For a few years during the 90s, John and I got very involved with Paso Fino horses. In yet another example of what happens when I forget who I am, I love the image of myself riding a horse – my very first childhood idol was Annie Oakley – but I am not much of a horsewoman. I believe you can tell a lot about someone’s personality by the way they ride a horse. My friend Martha Coolidge and my husband both approached it as an exciting challenge, a test of strength and will – the harder it was to ride (dominate) a horse, the more they liked it.

Linda Fefferman, Martha Coolidge, Eva Gardos at the Agua Dulce ranch
Linda Faferman, Martha Coolidge, Eva Gardos at the Agua Dulce ranch

I approached it in a timid, more cowardly fashion. My attitude was, if I’m super nice to the horse, maybe the horse won’t throw me.  This meant I came loaded with apples and carrots to buy their affection and rode with a mind-set of “please go this way, please don’t go too fast.” As anyone with the slightest knowledge of horses can confirm, my approach does not work. The more hesitant I acted, the more nervous the horse became, making a mishap all but inevitable.

Petting a horse in the hopes it will like me
Petting a horse in the hopes it will like me

Luckily, I connected with a larger-than-usual Paso Fino named Ramon – a gentle giant – steady as a rock.  To ride him, all I had to do was avoid a full-blown panic attack. Ramon coped with any and all natural obstacles, the epitome of calm. (I’m told before he came to Agua Dulce he was a trail horse in the Sierras and saw it all – a possible explanation for his steady nature.) Soon other nervous riders caught on to the advantages of riding Ramon and he became a much-in-demand horse.

Feeding horse treats in the hope it will like me
Feeding horse treats in the hope it will like me

As a writer, I was every bit as nervous as I was as a rider but there was no Ramon to carry me safely home. Every assignment brought new challenges and I never felt certain I could meet them.  Although I know a fair number of writers, the nature of the profession is such that I never observe them at work. Consequently, I don’t know how many – if any – write from my swamp of insecurity.  I suspect there are quite a few.


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