Drawn to Hollywood

How did the inception of “Elsie Harris Picture Palace” come about?
I think the story has been lurking in the shadowy corners of my subconscious since I was a little girl?

I have very specific memories about my childhood… particularly around the age of seven.
I remember my mother taking me to see a West End production of the musical “Sweet Charity” when I was six. The heroine was a dance hall hostess with a tight black dress, stiletto heels and a heart shaped tattoo on her shoulder.

Vintage Cinema by Jessica Martin
She was a sad clown for whom life offered no happy ending.
I thought she was magnificent.

As soon as I got home I got out the spiral bound notepad I always drew in and etched my childlike representation of Gretchen Weiler as Charity Valentine singing “If they could see me now”.
That’s how I kept the memories of potent moments alive for myself… by drawing them and animating them for my soul’s keeping.
By the time I was seven, I had seen Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” at the Columbia cinema in town, seen “The Sound of Music” at The Gaumont, North Finchley and probably drawn Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews many times over. But one of my most mesmerising moments of showbiz enchantment was in front of the small screen one dreary Sunday afternoon.
It was a very special television documentary about an enigmatic movie star who only needed a surname. The name when uttered could create magic more powerful than any Cabbalistic intoning.

Talkies History - Garbo
The programme opened with a long sequence of this beautiful actress playing a Queen who is about to renounce her throne.
I could not take my eyes off this lady with her strange, languorous voice, tragic, forlorn eyes and regal bearing.
The woman with thick eyebrows who was talking about her seemed very mundane in my opinion.
I had no idea that Joan Crawford had inhabited the same Hollywood as this Garbo.
From then on my tastes in film and heroine worship seemed fixed on anything black and white, from the thirties or forties. When my mum bought me Daniel Blum’s “A Pictorial History of the Talkies” she knew that for me this was as good as an illustrated bible.
What has all this got to do with a book that I am creating now, so many years later? It is that the seeds for my love of the film industry, film books, the lost era of the thirties were all sewn at that early age and fertilised with that very special book.
My mum was no nostalgia buff. On the contrary, she was the epitome of the swinging sixties young woman, very much up with the times, the fashions (how I struggled with her desire to put me in a mini dress for my First Holy Communion) but she recognised and encouraged my idiosyncratic obsessions.
When we went for tea at The Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch, usually after a film at the Odeon, she would tell us stories about when it used to be a Lyons Corner House and of the Nippies who worked there… waitresses in black and white uniforms who inhabited a romantic world of glamorous dining.

So fast forward to a few years ago.
Quite a few of my childhood dreams had been realised.

Lyons Cornerhouse Nippy
I first became a singer with my father, then became an impressionist giving voice to many of the personalities I had idolised for years and then became an actress.
I sang and danced on the West End stage. It was as if my drawing had been a magic ritual all those years ago… casting spells that would manifest in the fullness of time.
And the drawing?
The drawing, that had been my constant compulsion till I was eighteen.
That was yet to be rediscovered.

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