I've known the playwright Brad Fraser for about a decade. We’re neighbours and movie buffs, so we often watch classic films together. He’s the only person I know who has the patience to sit through a whole silent movie without fast-forwarding.
Our love of old movies led us to admire the film historian Jeanine Basinger, whose books Silent Stars and The Star Machine are fascinating. A Hollywood movie star is like no other person on earth - visually famous, overworked and overpaid, morally conflicted, self-centered, vulnerable, stalked and gossiped about - the pressures of fame are enormous, but still … who doesn’t want to be a movie star?
Brad is also a comic book aficionado, and he loves to draw. He’s worked on comic books based on his own plays (he did extensive work on a graphic novel version of Snake in Fridge) and he’s gotten really good at portraiture. Using iconic photographs of the great movie stars, he began drawing them years ago, and amassed a rather impressive collection of drawings. He’s often considered doing a gallery show, which would be fabulous.
One night last week, he called me over for a nightcap. He had been spending hours making decoupage cardboard boxes covered with colour xerox prints of his movie star drawings. It was like Santa’s workshop, only much, much gayer. He showed me some impressive work featuring Cary Grant, Prince, Ann-Margret and Betty Grable. He wanted to call the series Dead Famous, but I ruined it by reminding him that Ann-Margret had not yet passed on.
After a few drinks, he asked if I would like to do one myself. I embraced the challenged, drunkenly, and began slathering podge all over a small square cardboard box. For the lid, I stole Brad’s clever idea of uniting one large face with two smaller ones, designing a tableaux of Montgomery Clift looking at both Paul Robeson and James Cagney. Never heard of them? They were like the Johnny Depp, the Denzel Washington, and the Jack Nicholson of their day. Decades from now, your grandchildren will be saying “Denzel who?” That’s fame for you.
So what will Brad do with all these gorgeous little boxes? I don’t know for sure, but I’m hoping he’ll find a way to sell them. They are simply adorable and a must-have. I’m never letting mine out of my sight!