Articles and Essays

You might have noticed that heroes are in short supply these days. In this cynical age of instant and ubiquitous digital revelations, the pedestal has become a quaint artifact. The reality is, we know too much to enshrine so easily as we did in an earlier era. These days, many of the heroes from the last century have come under intense scrutiny, reputations incrementally evaporating with each tell-all tome.
     I am standing in front of the microwave with its door open, ready to insert the bag of popcorn that I’ll have for dinner. As I reach for the bag, I hear the lush strains of the opening notes of “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss. My body freezes, immobilized as if zapped by some 1950s, paralyzing ray gun. Before I can turn around to see it’s an ad on TV, I feel my eyes puddle up.
    In the last few days of 2010, my partner of more than 30 years inadvertently and begrudgingly let it be known that she had been deceiving me for years.
We both knew there was an issue with atypical dementia, stemming from multiple closed-head injuries in her youth. The diagnosis, describing a slow but progressive disease, had been confirmed by several neurologists.

Short Story: “Deconstructing Doris”

Note: As with most historical fiction, the people in this story are real. Many of the situations, however, are wholly imagined. This is one of the stories in a series that was inspired by the lives of Hollywood legends.
She was feeding the dogs in the cook’s kitchen when she heard the distinctive roar of his Porsche breaching the silence as it pulled up in the circular driveway in front of the contemporary house on Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills. She hurried to the front door, opened it and walked to the car to see Terry’s grim face.

I arrived early at the cemetery, just to be sure I was in the right place. The entrance was not well marked and there were no signs that said “Chapel.” I drove in past the many headstones to the only building on the premises. I walked in, accompanied by the resonance of my footsteps.

It was 1989 when the filming began, in an era of violent and graphic blockbusters and a culture driven primarily by white men. In other words, a Hollywood not so different from today. Everyone expected that the revolutionary and subversive “Thelma & Louise” would shake Hollywood into a transformation, but it turned out to be a minor tremor. Becky Aikman has written a smart, insightful and creative account, not only of the making of that film, but its cultural backstory in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge.

It’s probably politically incorrect to admit this, but I loved being a shrink. Much of the time, it was stimulating, challenging and, well, fun. For nearly 25 years, I was a clinical psy- chologist in private practice in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, seeing as many as 38 clients a week in 45-minute sessions. I haven’t done that in more than 20 years now, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about those years and all the people who invited me into their lives.

I was never much good at becoming a girl and I loathed every bit of the relentless indoctrination. Early family photos either show me looking uncomfortable in frilly girl’s clothing or smiling broadly while wearing my preferred dirty jeans and tee shirt. My mother offered to teach me to cook, but I had no interest. Sewing was completely a non-starter. I wanted to be outside, hitting a tennis ball against the wall or riding my bike around the neighborhood. When my mother decided I had earned too many Girl Scout merit badges, she refused to sew anymore on the sash “because it might hurt the other girls’ feelings.” When I was in the first grade, I wanted to be called Phil. An outlier at an early age.

 
 I seldom travel alone these days.  As I settle into my first-class window seat on the direct flight to LAX, it’s oddly quiet.  No clever palaver from my understudy, no exchange of notes from my director, no script to memorize.  Nice, really.  At the same time, the isolation is almost anxiety producing, as if I only exist in the presence of others.  Well, that’s precisely what my last boyfriend said and he wasn’t around long enough to know anything about me.  He was an egotistical jerk, anyway.  He was wrong.  So wrong.
From LADY: an essay, “Vicki”
 She was in her first year of teaching English and Social Studies at Emerson Junior High in West Los Angeles. It was 1954; I was 11 and feeling lost in my new
surroundings. The school resembled an institution, dark, crowded and filled with the noise of kids yelling at each other. I felt anxiety nearly every day and even stopped eating breakfast due to an iffy stomach. The school seemed at least twice the size of my elementary school and I had to take a crowded bus for a half hour each way.

Book Review: Forgetting Who We Are: Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia

 What’s your greatest fear? Speaking in public? Loneliness? Getting hurt? How about losing your mind? How does that fit into your hierarchy? Most of us worry a little when we forget our keys, misplace an item or can’t recall a name. But it’s easily attributable to fatigue, distraction or even age. But what if it’s the beginning of the end?
 When I was a child, my favorite things to draw were deserts and skyscrapers, an entirely accurate representation of my inner landscape. There were no people in my artwork up to about the third grade when I was commanded by the teacher to draw a human being. I drew a sailor. I had never been in a desert or a city with tall buildings. For that matter, I’m not certain I had seen a sailor in person, either.
What goes on behind the scenes in the White House has become a hot topic, perhaps more than at any other time since Watergate. A new book by Chris Whipple offers an historical perspective on who possesses the power behind the throne.
IT ALL STARTED INNOCENTLY ENOUGH. I just wanted some voice lessons. I have had a long love-hate relationship with singing and performing, often fallow for decades. Singing always seemed to intersect with my life. Or was it the other way around?
 Someone arriving on earth the first weekend in April would surely believe she had found a small, anachronistic, countercultural colony here at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California. There are people present from the far reaches of the planet, having migrated here for an annual weekend replenishment of spirit and nostalgia.
 Forget the profane Harry Cohn, the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer, and the lascivious Darryl F. Zanuck. Never mind the fictional sociopathic Sammy Glick. Enter Sherry Lansing, billed here as the first female to head up a major motion picture studio, breaking the sexist executive mold forever. Stephen Galloway has written a delicious valentine to her in Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker.
I’ve never really enjoyed her singing, but she is a legend, after all. She was primarily known as a scat artist, often ignoring a song’s meaning or depth. Melody could be elusive, as she affected the harmony lines and intonation of a tenor sax or an adventurous trumpet player. Her innovative stylings caused her to be worshipped by beboppers, revered by jazzbos everywhere. Though I wasn’t a fan, I appreciated the artistry, shared the passion for singing and wanted to meet the infamous Anita O’Day.
 
Book Review: The Inkblots in Fourth&Sycamore 
 The clinical psychologist hands a card to the man sitting directly across from her and asks, “What might this be?” It’s the standard opening in the administration of the ten-card Rorschach test, aka, the “inkblot test,” first published by Hermann Rorschach in 1921. The same question could be asked of this lengthy and over-inclusive history.

Escapism Literary Magazine: Fiction: “The Last Fan”

She used to be Joan Davis. Now she was just another 53-year-old has-been living behind tall, well- manicured hedges on Tamarisk Road in the Movie Colony in Palm Springs.

 

Beverly Park isn’t there any more, like so many of my childhood haunts – torn down in the name of progress or capitalism, which is one and the same to so many. In the late 1940s and 1950s, it was an amusement park, modest compared to anything that came later. Some have said it inspired Walt Disney to create his Disneyland.

It was not unusual for me to be filmed in my office. Since getting my Ph.D. and moving to Oregon, I had made frequent local and regional appearances, commenting on whatever disaster was in the news. Whether the Iran hostage crisis or the slaughter in Jonestown, I was often on TV, formulating what I hoped was an informed psychological contex
 
Patrick waited out the morning in the beige café just off the interstate. Everything looked dreary to him today. He had hoped for more but he knew the political realities of the little town of Wahoo. It had been a Republican stronghold since FDR. Just 30 long miles down a desolate backroad, a half-hour away from the state capitol of Lincoln, Wahoo was even more conservative in every way than the rest of the state, if that was possible.
If I were to come back as a musical instrument, it would be as a cornet in a hot Dixieland band.
Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.
In 1930, Cole Porter wrote the words and music for “I Happen to Like New York,” one of the thousands of the musical paeans to that magnificent city.  In her memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick manages to capture not just the layered tempos of Porter’s city, but the equally rich textured nature of her life in that metropolis.
When I was a little kid, I had a secret that I never told anyone. I was going to become a legend. It was merely a matter of getting in front of the right people, being seen and being heard. When I went to the movies or listened to records by the popular singers of the day, I knew I could do that, given half a chance. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I discovered not everyone wanted to be a movie star, much less of legendary status. What was wrong with them?
Other than family and friends, radio was my first contact with the outside world, providing palatable lessons in enculturation. More encouragingly, it taught me that there might be intelligent life outside my conventional and emotionally strangled household.
 
From the get-go, she’d eat almost anything but blueberries were a clear favorite. Brooklyn loved to share mine each morning so I’d always add extras to my fruit bowl. Eating together on the couch was an eagerly anticipated activity for both of us.
There’s no telling when or how inspiration might strike a writer. It can come from a dream, an innocuous conversation with a friend or even from a newspaper article about a house for sale.
The night club is dark and seedy, but I can easily identify the bones of what was once reputedly a hot spot for the Rat Pack in the 1960s here in Palm Springs. An alleged quote from Frank Sinatra covers much of one wall, meant to evoke a different era: “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy but the bible (sic.) says love your enemy.”
How old was I when I realized I was the family’s black sheep? As long as I can remember, I knew I could not trust my parents with my real self.
It happens around the same time each morning. I’ve bounded out of bed, placed the glasses on my face and made my way into the kitchen after carefully disarming the house alarm.
The trouble started on stage, as might be expected. Being good mattered more than anything to her, even more as she got older. She tried to figure out what was wrong, how she got off track this way. Now it had gone on too long.

The whole thing had mattered too much, of course, as I knew it would.

“Love Finds a Way,” D.W Griffith wrote in 1909, but it wasn’t any easier in those primitive days before computers.
Looking back on it now, I realize I was set up. I had been hired by a man with a long-term grievance against his colleagues and he used me to satisfy his unfinished business.
Dear Adam
Dear Adam

NoiseMedium, December 14, 2016

Good afternoon. In your last email, you referred almost casually to having discussed suicide with your therapist. I know this is not a subject new or unfamiliar to you. You and I have talked about it several times before over the years, often under far more urgent circumstances. I appreciate your giving me permission to address this topic with you again, this time with seemingly more time to deliberate. And I value the trust. We’ve been friends a long time and…Continue Reading
Sinatra's Mic
Sinatra’s Mic

Angels Flight, July 28, 2016

How did I get here? I was standing in a Capitol Records recording studio holding Sinatra’s microphone in my hand.I had dreamed about doing this all my life but I never really thought it would happen. Still, it wasn’t totally unreasonable. I had already made many of my showbiz dreams come true over the years. I had appeared in a half-dozen films, had my own local television show, had been a disc jockey on the radio, was in a dozen or so commercials, and traveled all over the country singing in jazz clubs and cabaret rooms. There was just one thing missing. Continue Reading
Manifest-Station
Home
The Manifest-Station, August 18, 2016

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house,…Continue Reading

 

Lenney on Lenney
Lenney on Lenney
The Coachella Review, July 12, 2016

A graduate of Yale and the Bennington Writing Seminars, Dinah Lenney also trained at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse School, home of the esteemed Sanford Meisner technique. Like writing, acting has taken her to myriad places—stage, screen and theater—allowing her to play a wide variety of roles.

Dinah has taught both acting and writing courses all over the country. She has also spoken at a TED conference at USC, a presentation integrating her interest in all the arts, “When Life Meets Art.” With Mary Lou Belli, she wrote Acting For Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide.

And she has written two memoirs,…Continue Reading

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Tribute to Noel Neill: A Celebration of Her Life
Metropolis, Illinois
November 5, 2016

She wasn’t always Lois Lane.

Noel arrived in Los Angeles from Minneapolis with her mother in 1938 and earned her living as a nightclub singer. She was 17 years old. Bing Crosby heard her and hired her for his club in Del Mar. It was a great time to be a singer. The legends of Tin Pan Alley were writing the music we’ve all come to know so well. The popular tunes of the day were written by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern. Her favorite song, though, had been written in 1930, an early collaboration between Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields: “Exactly Like You.” She put it on her song list whenever possible. Ironically, it wasn’t her singing that led to the movies. It was a fluke encounter with a horse. Continue Reading

 

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