Continuing the transcribed interview with Madame X from PART VI
[tell me about [NAME REDACTED]]
……[NAME REDACTED] was crazy. But you know insanity is an amazingly good distraction. I was…Basil and I had called it off as we did periodically. And [NAME REDACTED] just made all the moves. And, you know, he was attractive and charming and wondering what this crazy man would do next was…well it filled up time. And he was good company on a good day. Nothing much more to say…the press crawled all over the stupid things he did. It was painted very lurid, really it was just ridiculous. He was tinged with farce. Tattooed with it maybe. In big letter…right here.
But…when all that came out [Basil] was mad as hell with me. He was saying “he’s a degenerate, what’s the matter with you.” He was a degenerate. But…I guess I wasn’t being all that rational or together myself by then. It was hard…the situation was so hard. Being detailed off by the man you love to find happiness with some random other man. As if…if I don’t find this happiness I’m failing. Didn’t he see what he was asking of me. I said to him “I can’t just transform into some woman who doesn’t care about you just to make it easier.” Oh we’d fight so much then. So much. We were both going slightly mad with the strain. You know there was no future. He felt terrible for keeping me from having a future. I felt terrible for not being able to be happy with some man who wasn’t him, because I knew if I could…I knew it would…at least it would be an end. We’d break it off for a few hours or days, but…it was too hard. It was too hard to do. So you know it was…on again and off again….
And I was watching him just…fall apart. He was so thin. He barely ate. He was living on nicotine and whiskey a lot of days. His nerves were like bowstrings…You’d put your hand on him and you could feel this…this fine tremor all through him, all the time time. And he..he always got migraine headaches… but round then he..they would be really dreadful…. He’d just have to go to bed in the dark. He’d lose his temper explosively, at nothing. He’d excoriate people…friends, colleagues…just rip them up for nothing. Willie told me…he was very worried about him …he told me he just wasn’t recognizable as the same man at work. He hardly talked or joked. And you know he never lost his humor. He’d always be able to joke – blackly – about whatever mess he was in. So this man sitting alone, lost in his own thoughts…it just wasn’t him.
Six, seven years since I’d first met him…oh God, and this shining, wonderful brilliant man was…he was like a different person……It was awful..an awful thing to see. And he was good…he was a good man. He had heart and soul and mind. And…
[you loved him very much]
And respected him and admired him. He was incredibly decent. Incredibly brilliant. I was privileged to know him. Even more privileged to be loved by him.
[how did it end, when finally it did?]
He went east. Put a continent between us. He’d…he’d never wanted to be here in Hollywood, but it was…. The catalyst was us…me. It was desperation, not rationality. He wasn’t rational by then. I mean…he was in debt and walking away from this five-figure weekly pay check because he just couldn’t take any more of anything. I was helping to ruin him. He…he couldn’t go on and he just knew nothing else would end it…. He had no work to go to. But I think he’d rather have been on welfare than stay.
People thought he was losing his mind and they were not wrong. He …he used to say Sherlock Holmes was haunting him…and……and…. He’d say he was cursing him. That he was inside his head. He’d pace up and down and up and down the room like a caged animal, ranting about him. He was…. You know he was…at breaking point. When we were at the beach house he’d go walking, just him and my dog, and I’d think “please God let him come back, please God he doesn’t just…you know walk into the sea.” Id try to communicate to [my dog] to watch him and take care of him. Each time he came back I’d be saying “thank you” inwardly and just want to hug him and hold him.
I knew he had to go or go mad. I knew I had to let him go. We said goodbye. And…you know I knew this was it. Not like all the other times. This was it. It was about the hardest thing I ever had to do…you know not to just hold on and cry and say “please don’t go baby.” I actually don’t know how I did it. As soon as he’d gone…I…I didn’t know how I’d done it. And that was it…
[how did his wife feel about it?]
I don’t know. I was 3000 miles away. I don’t really know anything about how he was from the moment he walked out my door for the last time. Ouida was happy to see him put the distance between us I think. But she was a Hollywood person. She liked being a Hollywood wife. And I don’t think she would have liked her endless money supply drying up.[laughs] So I don’t know how that went.
[didn’t you have mutual friends who could…you might have heard from]
We had mutual friends but almost none of them knew about us, at least not openly. So you know I couldn’t ask for some detailed breakdown of his private life. [laughs] I got to know Karloff quite well later on, and he was a crony…one of the undesirable chums. I [worked with] him a few time, and… he’d…and he’d talk about Basil sometimes…. Tell me he’d seen him, you know just talk, but not so that I would really know. Really know how things were. He didn’t like Ouida… but…none of the undesirables liked Ouida. Vincent didn’t really start talking to me until after Basil was gone. And it turned out Basil had told him about me…but by then he was dead.
[what about the Bruces?]
He…he…Basil pretty much closed that friendship.…They were so close, but he…because you know it was a connection with me…because we both loved them…and it would be a way back. So he ended the friendship. But…and that hurt Willie a lot. I didn’t know what to say to them. It was a very sad thing to see.
[how long did it take to get over losing him?]
A long time. It was a long shadow. I missed him. I missed him in my life every day. Always. You make what you can and you live your life…I missed him…I missed me…the person I was…that aspect of me that went when he went. I didn’t want to see anyone, I was… I remember thinking “ok this is the rest of your life.” And you know just a few months after he left my dog, […] died. And…and she’d been..I’d always thought of her as our dog. She loved Basil. We…we missed him together. She’d snuggle up to me. And comfort me. And then she was gone too.
I just remember feeling cold all the time. Inside and out. Cold. It felt like London in winter. One of the worst times of my life. He said “live your life, be happy.” But I didn’t really do that very well. I was so worried about him, I missed him so much…I was pretty wretched really. I … pretty much wanted to die a lot of the time.… [laughs]. I’d go to my beach house whenever I could. It was…it was the place I associated with our happiest times and it made me feel a bit better. I didn’t want a man, I didn’t want anything to be asked of me by anyone. I used to spend a lot of time alone. Just sitting and thinking. I used to go sailing sometimes with my girlfriends. That was just heavenly. Just escape. I loved the sea.
[eventually, a few years later you married Bernardo]
I suppose I gravitated to other lost people, people who were grieving. David Niven who…you know was mourning Primmie [his wife]…Errol, Gable, Bobby Walker.
[you dated Clark Gable]
Barely. It wasn’t about anything like that really. He was…his life was wrecked [due to his wife’s death]…we kept each other company a while.
[why did you marry Bernardo?]
Bernie was…he was…. We were both drifting and we thought maybe we could be a salvation or a refuge for each other.
[were you happy?]
Well he was screwing [NAME REDACTED] a year after we married honey, so what do you think?
But we gave it a try and stayed friends after [NAME REDACTED] took him on.
[and then Giovanni]
Giovanni…oh God…I got married to Giovanni because I was pregnant. I knew it was a mistake. He was pissed off and I felt like a teenager in trouble. He thought I’d done it on purpose. He was convinced I wanted to trap him into marriage. But why the hell would I? I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant. You know… my tubes were shot. They told me I’d never conceive. I thought Juliet was stomach flu for three weeks. And…and when I knew I was pregnant Giovanni said, “are you going to see to it?” And I said, “I’ve wanted to have a kid for ten years, so no.” And he said, “Ok, so I guess we have to get married.” It was [the 1950s]…you didn’t have the option of being an unwed mother in Hollywood if you wanted to work. So… … So, I went to Reno and got a divorce and married Giovanni. You can tell I was going for class at this period in my life. Reno and Giovanni. Throw in a rhinestone tiara and a drag queen and we have a full set.
[did you love each other?]
Giovanni…Oh God…he was…you know we weren’t even really exclusive. He was fun…we had some good times…. But in a lot of ways it was twenty-year long one night stand. We had not much in common beside drink and sex. […]
[did you regret not having a child before?]
…I’d been pregnant in ‘42…but….
[oh really? by David?]
Not unless he was mailing donations to me.
[oh by Basil]
I was a few days late and crying all the time even more than usual back then, and he said “X, I think you’re pregnant.” After another week I knew he was right. It was Christmas Eve I had it confirmed. I was six weeks pregnant. David was home…he was just about to go overseas, I was supposed to be giving him a nice send-off. I came in after I got the news and sat down by the fire and there were mince pies my mum had brought over..and I looked at them and had to run out to vomit. My mum came out into the bathroom and said “you’re knocked up aren’t you.” It was a perfect end to a perfect year.
[what did you do?]
…I was…part of me was…in that first moment of knowing, before reality hits. I was actually thrilled. Excited for a while. You have this…the life force is there and you have the feeling “we’ll manage somehow, it’s do-able somehow…” It was Christmas Eve, I was pregnant with our child. It felt right. But then you sit and you think…and…this was 1942. What could we do? I couldn’t openly have a baby with a man while we weren’t married. You know, that was…it proved you were having unmarried sex, so you couldn’t do that. You could…there were rigid codes back then. You could screw whomever you liked but you had to be able to deny it in public. If you’re ready to pop with Sherlock junior you can’t deny anything.
I was married to David who hadn’t slept with me since God knows when. Could I ask him to pass this kid off as his? I…God help me I thought about it…I sat down with him that…one of the last days he was home and…and I nearly asked him. I truly nearly asked him. But then…I thought “X he’s going to war, he’s going to be risking his life, he might die out there like so many others have already, and you’re going to ask this of him before he leaves? This is what you want him to take away?”
You know he probably would have said yes…because…because he was that decent and kind…but how the hell could I ask him? And there was Ouida…she would know it was her husband’s child I was carrying. It…you know, what the hell would she do? She’d wanted to have a child of her own for so long and now here he was fathering one on some other woman. It was only a year ago she’d taken all those pills…there…there really wasn’t any way.
[did Basil want the baby?]
Not like I did. You know it was growing in me. I was all sentimental and teary and imagining a little boy who’d grow up looking just like him. He…I think he wouldn’t let himself do anything like that because he knew it was impossible.
[what did you do?]
There was no choice. Only one thing to do. So I got pretty drunk over Christmas and January I went and had it all scraped out. I was making [NAME OF MOVIE] at the time and I was back at work next day. So I was running round the moors and stuff being [CHARACTER NAME REDACTED]and going off to cry in between takes. [NAME REDACTED] thought I was upset because of the sheep dog…for God’s sake.
it’s a long story. […] And it was just…oh the whole thing was a farce, but…She was in a different world from me. By then I couldn’t have cared if they’d given me a goldfish in a bowl.
[I get the impression this stayed with you?]
I knew girls who had five or more abortions and they just saw it like having a tooth filled. I guess it depends…. Around seven months later I used to wake up hearing a baby cry. I…And I always felt I knew it had been a boy. It would have been an August birth. He’d be a man now, with kids of his own. Round the time it was due I started…I was…I ached to have this little thing to hold in my arms. It was like physical pain. I’d see babies and…I’d just have to cuddle them. Fill this empty space with something baby-shaped and baby-smelling. I’d want to cry. That was why…it was one reason Basil felt he was keeping me from having a life…he…I wanted a baby so much but we couldn’t. We’d never be able to have a baby. And he’d say “you have to find a man who can give you children.” Only it was…he didn’t understand it was our child I wanted most. You know I wanted to have kids with him and raise them with him, not just…. And then years later I went to a gynecologist and he told me the termination had messed everything up and I’d probably never conceive. So that was ironic news. My one chance of motherhood had been flushed into a bucket January 1943.[laughs]
[And then there was Juliet]
Yes. A weird kind of miracle. Giovanni’s miracle baby. […]
[did you [and Basil] ever meet again?]
…I met him…about six, eight years down the line. I was married to Giovanni. He was back in Hollywood briefly. We had a civilized conversation. But you know we had to be…we could have been back in the midst of it in no time. So we weren’t going to be casual chums.
[so you never really maintained any contact?]
We didn’t talk often. If… if there was a crisis or…for example when my mum …when she died…he…we…he called me. Just to…just to talk and pay respect to Mary. To make sure I was going to be ok.[…] But day in day out, no…no we didn’t…we weren’t in each other’s lives.
[you regret that very much don’t you]
You look back and think…twenty years we could have had. Even if we’d just been friends. The times I wanted to talk to him…share things with him. […] I wanted to be able to ask him things, talk things through…and… him to just tell me I was ok and doing ok. And he was never there for all those moments…he was…. And I was never there in his life. And I knew he wanted me sometimes. I just knew. We were still involved. Even when we didn’t talk for months or years. Even when the… … We were just…. Involved with each other. I knew. The day he died. I suddenly had the feeling he was there. Such a weird overwhelming feeling he was there beside me. I could…I had that feeling of…being…I don’t know…protected…loved I always had when he was there. Just the feeling I associate with him. It was so strong I actually looked up, as if I expected to see him. And I knew. Right then. He’d gone. I’d never see him again. And later that day I heard…
[how would you describe that relationship?]
With Basil? Oh…you’d have to say it was a disaster really. I mean I think you could count the genuinely completely happy days on one hand… But we enjoyed each other and we understood each other.… Even when things were awful we had…moments. Just…after my father died we went to the beach house…it was just him and me and my dog. I just spent the week just…sleeping and resting and…. He knew to let me have the time. When I wanted to be held he’d hold me. When I wanted to be left he’d just know to leave me, he’d take my dog out for long walks down the beach, give me space. When I wanted to talk he’d listen. Evenings I’d just lie by the fire, listen to Mozart, the Requiem and The Magic Flute or he’d read to me, and…it was…heaven, and…it helped me so much. It gave me my strength back. And that was because it was him. We knew each other so well by instinct, we could just be. And…when it was good it was……and it could have been ok if things had been different. I think we could…I think we could have given it a try.
[would you have married him if you could?]
Yes. Yes, I would. He asked me to go to England with him, when Ouida initially said she’d divorce him, and we were going to be married as soon as we could. David said “darling, I promise I won’t stand in your way, and I won’t drag your name through the dirt.” He was a hero about it. But Ouida did what she did…and so…
[would you have made a go of it?]
I don’t know…I don’t think we’d have done any worse together than apart…. I’d have liked the chance to try anyhow. I think the person I was when was with him was worth a lot more than…. You know people are catalysts for each other. I liked what I was with him. …maybe there would have been less booze and pills. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so broke and so played out…maybe…I don’t know.
- X Part V (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- X Part 1 (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- X Part II (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- X Part III (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- X Part VI (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- Madam X and leaving Los Angeles (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)
- X Part IV (thegreatbaz.wordpress.com)