Jean Stein‘s “West of Eden: An American Place” is a great literary time trip about four Hollywood legends and an also-ran– Edward Doheny, Jack L. Warner, Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones and Jules Stein (i.e., Jean’s dad) — told through a series of oral-history passages. It’s a saga of the spirited, bent-out-of-shape Hollywood royals of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — intimate tales of eccentricity, flamboyance and (putting it very mildly) curious, compulsive behavior.
I bought a copy during the Santa Barbara Film Festival but I’m only just getting around to reading it now. I’m passing along two excerpts from the Jennifer Jones chapter — both from the memory of Robert Walker, Jr., the son of Jones and actor Robert Walker (i.e., Bruno Antony in Strangers on a Train). Walker, Jr. (Stein refers to him as “Bob Walker) was the guy who said grace (a kind of prayer) during the hippie commune passage in Easy Rider.
Excerpt #1, about the 13-year-old Walker’s experience during the 1953 filming of John Huston‘s Beat The Devil, portions of which happened in Ravello, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast: “Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman were also down there to do a movie [i.e., Journey to Italy/Viaggio in Italia], not that many miles from us. At the time I was madly in love with Ingrid Bergman. At some point during a break in the filming, we all went to Capri for a few days, and she was with us. I remember her lying above the blue grotto in this beautiful, light blue bathing suit, and her blonde Swedish hair blowing in the wind. I thought she was a vision of loveliness.
“Then we were all in Naples and heading to Rome, probably to do some more work for the film. I remember Mother got into a limo, but [my younger brother] Michael and I ended up piling into Rossellini’s big Ferrari convertible. We all little goggles on, and those little cloth helmets that they used to wear to keep their hair in place. The Ferrari looked very racy and sporty and had a number on the side, I think. Rossellini was driving. He took off and must have been going 120 miles an hour to Rome. I must have been in some kind of hog heaven, little kid heaven.
“I don’t know why Mother let us get into the car with this maniac, but it was magical, the roof open so the Italian night was flying around our heads, all the little road markers and the trees. It was just heaven — faster, faster — I’m sure we were egging him on, and he’s gearing down beautifully and then gearing up beautifully. He’s playing the thing like an instrument, and it’s a Ferrari for crying out loud. The engine was like God was speaking. I remember the road. I remember the night.”
Excerpt #2, a story about the differences between Bob Walker and his younger brother Michael, and a parable about not carrying guilt and the weight of the world on your back: “Michael was quite an interesting character. He carried enough darkness for the two of us. All through his life he carried the dark stuff about Mom, and the only things I’m carrying now about Mom are the beautiful moments of her that I remember. It’s just the luck of the draw that I’ve been blessed with the ability to allow my troubles to dissolve. I don’t carry them with me.
“Have you heard the story about the two monks? Two monks come to a river, and they’ve sworn the highest vow that they won’t touch women. They aren’t even supposed to look their way or entertain any thoughts about women whatsoever. Absolutely chaste. But they come to a river and this young lady is trying to get across, and she’s got a jug of water or some kind of burden. Well, one of the monks picks her up immediately in his arms and puts her on the other side. The other monk is absolutely aghast but finally struggles against the stream and catches up with the other monk, who is now well clear and far down the road.
“The second monk eventually catches up and says “Tom” or whatever, “what happened? You know that we’ve taken these vows never to touch, much less look at a woman and never speak to one, and what have you done?” And Tom says, “What are you talking about? I left her behind an hour ago. You’re still carrying her. You’re still thinking about her.”
Great story! I am a Tom type of guy all the way. Between 95% and 97% of the Twitter community, trust me, is comprised of bothered, bent-over, guilt-trippy assholes who can’t shrug stuff off or let their shit go, and so they take out their rage and frustration on the Toms of the world.
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre during the 1953 filming on Beat The Devil.