Books

FRENCH GHOST :  Paris is Paradise for writers… even when they dip their pens in poison

 Release Date: January 10, 2022 from The Wild Rose Press  

Ghost-writer Melody Layne is stranded in Paris when the over-sexed but unloved French movie star who hired her to produce his memoir dies before the interviews begin. It’s a major financial relief when his enigmatic Spanish son re-hires her, but the seductive Carlos Ortega is strangely silent about his reasons for funding a feel-good bio about a father that he clearly despised.  There’s enough romance in the air for Melody to ignore this apparent paradox… at least until  she uncovers a hidden cache of very personal death threats addressed to the actor. Some of them were mailed from Spain…

Excerpt

“You never met him?” His eyes brightened and the 100,000-volt smile that followed was totally worth waiting for.  “Naturally, I assumed … but if you never met my father, you’re a very lucky woman.”

                  “Well, actually, I –”

                  His cell phone chimed but he ignored it. “Please tell me about this book. Who have you interviewed so far?”              

“No one.”

                  He raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Who were you planning to interview?

                  “No one.”

                  “¿Estas loca?” The smile disappeared and he pushed his chair back defensively, as if my brand of crazy might be contagious. “You intended to write an entire biographyabout a public figurewithout doing any research at all?”

                  “It wasn’t a biography, it was a memoir.” I tried to keep the testiness out of my voice.  It didn’t help that I agreed with him. Perfectly innocent trees would have perished for a hard-cover manifesto that portrayed Charles-Henri Banville as a non-toxic lifeform

                  “A book that tells everything from his point of view? Everything he did? Everything he did to other people?” My host shook his head. “That’s not what I need.”

                  “That’s all there was in the contract.”

                  “Your contract, if I understand correctly, was taking the lies that man told as the truth? If I knew another writer…” He paused. “Unfortunately, time is short. My lawyers will draw up the new contract and send it to you.”

                  He didn’t ask me if I wanted the job but since I did, I saw no reason to make a fuss.  He reached for the bill just as I slapped my voice recorder down on the table.

                  “You want research?” I asked. “Let’s get started.”

Not My Halston

In May 2021, Netflix debuted a 5-part ‘tell-all’ mini-series about the iconic fashion designer Halston. A lot of it wasn’t true. I know, because I was there.

Aside from an occasional frisson of PSTD when I read more than a page of Vogue, I haven’t thought much about Halston since I contributed an essay about Halston’s outrageously edgy lover/window designer Victor Hugo to “Silver and Suede: Halston and Warhol” (Abrams) in 2014.  The nightmares caused by my first post-college job – two years of servitude to one of Fashion’s All-Time Bullies – have mostly subsided.

I joined Halston at the beginning of His Last Act. He’d already sold his name to a corporation; the Bohemian buddies from his hat-designing days got the cold shoulder if they showed up; while coke-fueled nights at Studio 54 put paid to his heretofore rigorous Mid-Western work ethic. As the designer became increasingly nasty and erratic, the prevailing mood in his tiny atelier shifted from tension to sheer terror.   

There were only ten of us and aside from his in-house Ivy League lawyer and the woman who ran the workrooms, we never had job descriptions unless  “indentured entourage suffering from terminal Stockholm Syndrome” counts as a career. Why did we put up with the screaming, the insults, unrealistic demands and explosive tantrums? I have no idea. What could he do except fire us? As the designated person in charge of forging Halton’s (rather Donald Trumpish) signature on gift cards and fan mail, I remember sweating bullets when he dumped an enormous,  24-carat gold trimmed crocodile address book on my desk and was told to fill it up in his handwriting. Problem? After Liza, Liz, Andy, Elsa and Bianca… what friends? 

Netflix brought it all back. It’s a very weird experience to see a chapter of one’s life fictionalized with actors (who look nothing like the people you knew) saying and doing things they never would in real life… and perhaps more importantly in the Halston-verse… not wearing the right clothes.  The sets, however, were spot-on… especially Halston’s creepy, tomb-like East Side townhouse which (with its catwalk mezzanine and no-rail staircase) always scared me when I had to retrieve something he’d forgotten to bring to the office. 

One can’t really fault the scriptwriters. True, they should have checked in with the very few Halston employees who survived the 80s but (also true) no writer, short of Sophocles, has the chops for Halston’s bitter saga of talent, beauty, hubris, disgrace and death.  Jay Gatsby personifies a purely American decline and fall but there’s something altogether archaic and Greek to Halston’s undoing. It embodies Aristotle’s recipe of ‘pity and fear’ induced not by the protagonist’s “vice and depravity but via an error of “judgement and shortcoming”.

This fits kike an Ultrasuede glove. For all the wild debauchery surrounding Halston, it was –  in a sense – an age of innocence. New York’s party people hadn’t yet tumbled to the idea that mass quantities of cocaine or unprotected sex with strangers might be fatal. Certainly, the owners of a cash-only club like Studio 54 expected to do prison time for tax evasion (even with Roy Cohn as defence) and Halston blithely signed his name away to a corporation in the kind of deal that Faust would have passed on.

Was it Halston’s move from his cosy East Side townhouse to the haughty splendour of the 52nd floor of the Olympic (!) Tower that so angered Zeus and Hera? Certainly, he never caught a break after that. The night before the move, a freak storm piled 4 feet of snow all across Manhattan. Shortly after moving in, a sheik’s indoor swimming pool flooded the fabric rooms. The mirrored showroom walls kept smashing with 7 and 7 and 7 more years of bad luck. Since messengers with bad news were always shot, Halston was always the last to know anything that was going on.  

It was an unhappy period for all concerned but here are the things that Netflix got wrong.

  1. Ewan McGregor? Much too short and too nice even when in a rage. Halston’s Darth Vaderish mystique depended on an all black wardrobe, mirrored sunglasses worn inside, and HEIGHT.  (The guy who played Victor Hugo was perfect.)
  2. Halston had an in-house lawyer.
  3. Elsa Peretti did not stomp on the sable Halston gave her in a nightclub. She threw it into a fireplace.
  4. Frumpy clothes and frizzy hair on Halston employees? Never!
  5. Sassy Johnson did not buy his drugs.