Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How Jim Brochu Met Joan Crawford.

One of the best things about being with Jim Brochu is that he has led a most interesting life and he knows how to tell a story. He grew up around adults in his little hometown of Brooklyn, and his father, a widow who had a "Mad Men" association with liquor, worked on Wall Street.

Pete was handsome. All the ladies wanted Pete, but Pete was a confirmed bachelor, social alcoholic, in the Old Word sense with a kid in military school. And the two of them would go palling around together taking vacations on cruise ships. Jim could see New York harbor on the roof of their apartment building. He loved ships, especially the Titanic lore. Pete scoring with the ladies.

Pete at the Captain's Table.

This was ticker tape departure era cruising. Big parties with celebrities!

In this newest installment of his autobiography, Watching From the Wings -- chapter one is Marlene Dietrich -- he describes the moment she arrived. (Scroll down on the page).

Dad told me Joan Crawford was one of the greatest movie stars of all time - an Oscar winner - and suddenly I was interested. We formed a small welcome aboard committee, went down to the public room where Miss Crawford’s bon voyage party was in full swing and knocked on the door. After a moment, the door opened and there stood a beautiful lady in a black and white polka dot dress with a huge black picture hat framing her red hair.

I only got a glimpse of her before Bill King stepped in front of me and said, “Miss Crawford, my friends are sailing with you and I just wanted you to meet them.” Joan said a hello to no one in particular and started to close the door as Bill King put one foot inside and said, “Miss Crawford, may I kiss you.” Without seeing the reaction on her face, all I heard was a soft, sweet “No” as the door closed. We went back to our party.

That is a movie star. Every encounter is a scene. But as much as I love his stories about the celebs, Jim has a genuinely love for the New York City of his youth. It was a world of its own. As I said, that "Mad Men" era between the fifties and the hippies. Sometimes the view can bring something chilling.
I would run to the roof early in the morning to see the new ships sail into the harbor on their inaugural call to New York, greeted by the fire boats spraying them with a rainbow-infused welcome. I even watched the Stockholm limp into the harbor the day after it rammed the side of the Andrea Doria and sank it. The sight of the ship with its bow seared off was chilling, especially after watching the footage of the great Italian liner sink the night before.
His last encounter with her would be sad if it didn't make you laugh. All through his life, Joan would write Jimmy letters about his weight. She played cheerleader to his constant assurances that he was doing better.
The last time I talked to Joan was Easter, 1976. It was the first and only time she had called just to chat. I could tell that she had been drinking and kept calling me by my father’s name, “Pete.” I would say, “This is Jimmy, Joan.”

“Ah yes, Pete. How is Jimmy? Nice boy. Too fat.”

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