by Stacia Friedman
If I have to blame someone for screwing up my life, for giving me unrealistic expectations and filling my head with romantic hooey, I blame Audrey Hepburn. More specifically, I blame her 1957 film “Funny Face.”
There I was, a gullible prepubescent, sitting in a majestic rococo theater, drinking it all in and getting it all wrong. As I learned some 20 years later, working in a book shop doesn’t lead to a contract with a top modeling agency in New York, a free trip to Paris and a happily-ever-after love affair with a world famous photographer.
No, my friend, all working at Borders ever got me was chronic lower back pain from carrying heavy-as-cement boxes of books and a crook in my neck from stacking the shelves. It also filled me with loathing for young mothers who use bookstores as daycare centers while they traipse off for a manicure.
As for romance, it turns out that photographers (at least the ones I’ve known) are happy to bed just about anyone — male or female — but are unlikely to whisk a girl off to Paris and propose, let alone join their beloved on a raft and float down the Seine River while music swells. That’s another thing about ’50s musicals: I don’t necessarily expect fireworks in bed, but where’s my Henri Mancini soundtrack when I need it?
In retrospect, no sane adult believes in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus or Hollywood movies. But I wasn’t an adult. I was a little kid at a very impressionable age. If Audrey Hepburn — with her huge doe eyes, angular jaw and itsy-bitsy waist — could be instantaneously transformed by a chance encounter and find True Love, then so could I.
This flawed reasoning motivated me to seek a career in the fashion industry in New York, where “Funny Face” took place. Like Audrey, I went to Paris. But not with Fred Astaire. I went with a balding manufacturer old enough to be my father. Now here’s where it gets confusing.
In “Funny Face,” Audrey Hepburn falls head over 6-inch heels for Fred Astaire who at the time was 58 to Audrey’s 28. That was the same age difference between me and my boss. Let me tell you, the attraction was NOT mutual, and dancing down a flight of stairs wouldn’t have helped.
Speaking of dancing, that’s another romantic myth perpetrated by Hollywood. The average, heterosexual male does not like to dance. Not in the streets of Paris. Not in a Bohemian nightclub. And not on café tabletops. Men who do like to dance tend to have great abs, an adorable butt and march in the Gay Pride Parade.
Watching “Funny Face” now, I understand my childhood fascination. What little girl doesn’t want to run down the steps of the Louvre in a red chiffon gown, trailing behind her like gossamer wings? Who wouldn’t want to be “discovered” and transported from a dreary clerical job to being a supermodel?
The part where I jam on the reality check brakes now is the love story between Hepburn and Astaire. A fashion photographer picks a girl off the streets to be a model in Paris, you can bet he’s going to try to get in her Spanx. But marriage? I don’t think so. In real life, the photographer is on Wife No. 2 or 3 and is paying alimony up the yin-yang. He’s looking for a tasty side dish, not an entrée.
There I was, coming of age in the erotic heat of the late 1960s, expecting every lover to propose, if not the next morning, well, at least by the third date. (Astaire did it! Why shouldn’t the college dropout I met at a Grateful Dead concert?)
I spent my 20s longing for the same chance encounters, magical transformations, designer gowns and true romance that Audrey Hepburn found just by batting her false eyelashes. What did I get instead? A string of one-night stands and a bouquet of STDs, and I didn’t hear violins when I had sex. I heard my roommate having even better sex in the adjoining room.
Ultimately, you can’t sue Hollywood for creating illusions. That’s their job. And it could’ve been worse. Instead of “Funny Face,” I could’ve seen Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal,” which came out the same year. Not only would that film have given me screaming nightmares, but it would have sent me into psychoanalysis at the age of 10.
So, it is with bittersweet nostalgia that I put the life lessons of “Funny Face” into perspective. It was just a fantasy. But, damn, I’m so glad I tried to live it.
Stacia Friedman is a Mt. Airy resident (formerly of Chestnut Hill), humorist and freelance writer. In her novels, “Tender is the Brisket” and “Nothing Toulouse,” she hones in on women writers who are, in her description, “on their way up, down and sideways.”