Word was that a Hollywood production company was coming to Memphis. To us, living in a backwater burg, with only a country store and a viscid pond and the face of Jesus on our water tower to recommend us to outsiders, this was big news. We hillbillies don’t know much about culture but we love our moving pictures.
Seriously, the news was this: a movie, not even about Memphis, was going to be filmed here, with real Hollywood stars (Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, Crispin Glover, James Cromwell) and a gifted foreign director named Milos Forman. The movie was a biopic about Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flynt. This last bit precipitated consternation in some corners: some Memphians locked up their daughters; some held round-the-clock bible readings; some went to the Pooja store to learn how to ward off evil spirits.
But, for me, this was the kicker: the film’s female lead was to be Courtney Love, she of the punk band Hole, she the widow of Kurt Cobain. I read with interest that the moviemakers had to take out a special insurance policy against her screwing up. She had to agree to a humiliating urine test every day. She had to have…a handler.
In the bookstore, where I worked, we had almost gotten used to visits from movie stars when some other films were made in Memphis (Mystery Train, The Firm, The Client,). I say almost because, well, dammit, I do get star-struck. Having no monarchs, American movie stars are our idols, our glitter, our buzz, our stalk-worthy celebrities. We’d had some illustrious film folk drop in the store and I chatted them up if they allowed chatting up, mostly to show our élan, to prove that we’re not all hick rubberneckers, but I mostly just let them shop. I never asked for autographs. In retrospect I wish I had. What is Michael Jackson’s signature worth, do you think?
So, thinking perhaps we might have some luminary visitors, I kept a copy of Milos Forman’s autobiography on my desk. I had admired The Firemen’s Ball, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’ Nest, Amadeus, Valmont and parts of Hair. It would be, you know, cool to have his memoir inscribed to me.
Milos never visited. But Courtney did. With her handler.
She was as tall as Jove’s roof and wore habiliment, scarves and bangles and sartorial flash, which made her appear royalty, if royalty can also be sexy. She was prettier than I was prepared for. But, from the moment she entered the store, amid a whirl of multi-hued leaves and pixie dust, I recognized her as something other. She had grace and oomph and stature. I was immediately impressed. She also had lips like Julie Christie. She probably still does. I wanted to kiss her. Instead I smiled as she breezed past. She met my eye and smiled back. My smile said, “Lordy, you’re purty and I recognize you and know your achievements, and your music can shake peaches from their tree, but I am not going to hassle you.” It was a lot for a smile to carry. Her smile said, “Hello, rube.”
Actually, she seemed downright pleasant. And she bought good books, smart people books (if you assume the copy of The Bridges of Madison County was a gift for an unsophisticated family member), novels of weight and enlightenment. And then, as she strode swiftly past my desk, she reached out one bejeweled, long-fingered hand and plucked off the Milos Forman book and added it to her stack. She then began to pay for her gathered treasures.
I took a hesitant step toward Ms. Love. I started to say something. I bit my lip. Why? Because I am a weenie and because she was a star, even if a minor star. I wanted to be in the movie of her life. I wanted us to star together in a TV series to be called Get Courtney Love. I did not want to alienate her by being so petty about one little book.
But the handler saw my consternation. He stepped forward and, in his nicest professional voice said, “Is there a problem?”
“No, no,” I tutted. “She just took my copy of Milos Forman’s book.”
“Oh,” he said, momentarily nonplussed. Then, his empirical brain saw the solution: “How about I get another copy and have him inscribe it to you and bring it back?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, please. And add some of the movie’s stars’ signatures.”
“Consider it done,” he said.
And then they were gone. And that was the last I saw of them or heard of them. I never got my signed Forman memoir. I never got to kiss Courtney Love. All I got was the gist of this story, which I have now passed on to you the way the ancients did with their heroic exploits. It is up to you to disseminate it now. My work here is done and I’m going back to the general store to whittle and talk about Paula Deen.
Corey Mesler has published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, numerous chapbooks, and 4 full-length poetry collections. His new novel, Memphis Movie, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press. He’s been nominated for many Pushcarts, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs a bookstore in Memphis.
Read More Columns by Corey Mesler
- Have You Heard the One About the Bookseller and the Farmer’s Daughter? or, “Hello, Would You Marry Me?”
- The Updike Joke and After
- Most Ambitious
- A Trip to the Fair
- On the Creative Spark
- On Calling Myself a Poet
- Why Iris Murdoch?