Saturday, July 21, 2018

In 1953, She was the most famous woman in the world


Seconds after I rang the bell, Ramon Lence, the owner of a small theater chain in Los Angeles, quickly ushered me into his Marina del Rey apartment, his red satin robe flowing behind him like the train of a gown.

“Come in, come in, sit down, this is so exciting.” I took a seat on a chair across from him, as he settled in on the couch somewhat like a Persian cat might. He put both of his hands on his knees and looked to the ceiling as though there was an expectation of communication with the almighty. Then, after a heavy sigh, Ramon glanced down at his hands for a moment before looking directly at me. “Steve", I am in love.” I wasn’t exactly floored by the news. I think in the sixty plus days since I had become general manager of his six theaters, he had made that declaration four separate times. Then he dropped the bomb. “I think I am going to ask her to marry me.” There were two people in the room. One was a fan of men; the other preferred the company of women. It was 1972, but I had learned early in life that people's personal choices were just that, personal. However, the possibility of Ramon getting married seemed extremely unrealistic.

“This is strictly hush hush. You cannot say a single word to a single soul, not even your wife. Well, ok, you can tell Vickie but you have to make it clear to her she can’t tell anyone. Do you trust her?” Ramon only paused for a second, and then, with hands flying every which way, he continued. “I have been seeing for her about a month. She’s soooooooooooooo beautiful, so pleasant, and so incredibly sexy. My mother adores her and I know you are going to love her too.” I raised my hand in an attempt to cut him off but he seemed not to take any notice. “I have entered into a creative venture with her, and I simply must have your help. You will have to fly to Hawaii next week, shit, ok; you can take Vickie with you.” He finally drew a breath but never slowed for a moment. “I am producing a play and Christine is the lead. I can’t go, I can’t fly, I just can’t, and I won’t. So you will be my eyes and ears and make sure the money goes where it should. But most importantly you will make sure Christine is treated with all the respect she deserves.” And as quick as that, his hands returned to his knees and with his head kind of rocking from side to side, he looked to me for a response.

My head was yelling, “impossible", but my mouth just said, “OK, I can do that.” At the ripe old age of twenty four, replete with a seven year old daughter and a one year old son, I had truly believed that the “vacation gods” had never heard my mumbled, “just a week alone with the wife” incantations. But in reality, I guess they must have. I immediately made a vow to become a much more pious person upon my return from Hawaii. A memory scan was quickly conducted to shed light on anything I might have inadvertently offered the gods in exchange for this trip to the Garden of Eden. I discovered no promised sale or lease of my eternal soul and, as such, found myself quite ready to accept this miracle with out any strings attached.

Ramon could wait no further for my expected interrogations. Not unlike the last witness of a Perry Mason episode, words just tumbled from his lips in a rapid staccato of facts known and unknown. “The play is “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad”; Christine has been touring the country in the lead as the wonderful Madame Rosepettle. Did you know that Rosalind Russell played the role in the Hollywood movie version? They look a lot alike, don’t you think? The critics just adore Christine’s performance and in the proper venue, with the right publicity the play should shoot straight to the heavens!” Suddenly, once again, Ramon suddenly went silent as he looked at me intently, surely awaiting some comment.

“Do I know Christine?” was my obvious response. As Ramon began to answer my four word question, I could feel the tumblers of my mind start to lock into place and all began to make sense. “Of course you know Christine. Everyone knows Christine. Well, maybe, you haven’t met her but you know of her. Christine Jorgensen, they made a movie of her life. You know of her, don’t you?” In a total moment of clarity, all things that had puzzled me became known. Suddenly, that which had confused me so completely now made so much sense that it was startling in its simplicity. Of course, Ramon might marry Christine. Why not? Later in life, Ramon would refer to this particular time as, “his period of straightness”.

I met Christine on the stairs as we headed out to the hotel pool. Vickie and Penny, Christine’s personal assistant, were already soaking up the island rays. It had been a pretty busy four days and it was going to be nice to just relax for the afternoon. Opening night was three days away and rehearsals were in full progress. Everything was on schedule as planned. I was still concerned about the state of the theater. I had asked Ramon what he was thinking when he first heard the name of this auditorium of the fine arts. The “Forbidden City Theater” didn’t cause bells of respectability to peal in my head, but what did I know? Ramon assured me that the theater was known for more critically acclaimed cabarets than the nude male revues or traveling burlesque shows whose lobby cards filled the glass showcases.

Christine was in a purple orchid one piece bathing suit. “Penny, do you remember this suit? I think the last time I had worn this was when we were in Barbados”. She turned her head half way and looked to me, “We had such a good time there, Steven, have you been?” “No, We haven't had the opportunity yet”, I replied, like it was something that was on our schedule of things to be done next week. One thing had become completely evident to me over these last few days. When one looked directly at Christine or even heard her speak, there was absolutely no question that this person was 100% woman. She, indeed, was the absolute imbuement of the leading lady. The question had turned one hundred and eighty degrees. The query became not, “how had this man become woman?” It was now, “How had this woman lived as a man?”

“You are getting beet red, Steven. Put some of this on.” Christine handed me a tube of some oily concoction. She was rubbing it into her legs. “If I don’t put lotion on my legs, my bacon strips get tan and I look like I have a bunch of brown band aids attached here and there.” She answered before I could ask. “I call them my bacon strips because, see, look, they are the areas that the doctors took for skin grafts”. And that is exactly what they looked like, squiggled pieces of bacon randomly placed on her thighs. That is the only discussion of her procedure that she ever mentioned. I was thankful for this small bit of information as it allowed me to discard all my preconceived ideas. All thoughts of over sized drill bits, plastic piping, Spackle and duct tape were excused from the classroom being held in the back of my head.
The Play came in went in a week, but it was quite a week. A couple of days later my wife, I and "the group" spent the day drinking with Tennessee William's and his 18 year old lover but that's another story.

This abstract is by Susan Styker and is from the cover of the book "Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography"
by Christine Jorgensen. (2000)

"Christine Jorgensen was arguably the most famous person in the world for a few short years nearly half a century ago,” writes historian Susan Stryker in her introduction to the new edition of Jorgensen's memoir. When George Jorgensen, a shy, American-born man of twenty-six, departed for Denmark in 1951, he returned one year later, newly named Christine Jorgensen, the first world-renowned transsexual. By 1953, over a million and a half words (the equivalent of fifteen full-length books) had been written about her in publications throughout the world. “It seems to me now a shocking commentary on the press of our time,” Jorgensen observes of her overnight headline status, “that I pushed the hydrogen-bomb tests at Eniwetok right off the front pages.”

About the Writer

Steven Lane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on In 1953, She was the most famous woman in the world

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By E Jo on January 28, 2007 at 08:45 pm
Wow! What an interesting story, is this non-fiction (did you really meet her)!?...Looking forward to the Tennessee Williams story.
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By Steven Lane on January 29, 2007 at 12:58 am
Absolutely a true story, we were with her for a little over a week. A very nice person. The play was a total flop. Tennessee Williams was a very unlikable person.
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By V on January 31, 2007 at 02:12 am
The first ever article I read of yours was another great story. And like I said that time, "God I LOVE a good story." Which then leads me to put in a request like 'Sheese.' When do we get the Tennessee Williams story???
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