At the age when many British post-teens go to Salou to explore the limits of beer consumption, Austin and Howard Mutti-Mewse caught a plane to California to have lunch with Ginger Rogers, barbecue with Frank Sinatra, have a drink at the Bob Hope’s garden and, in general, alternate with a rosy cast of octogenarian stars. It was 1991 and the twins were 19 years old, but since they were 12 they had corresponded with practically everything that was left of old Hollywood. At that time they exchanged correspondence with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Lana Turner or Katharine Hepburn, and telephone conversations with Tony Curtis and Marlene Dietrich (who called at three in the morning and sent them photos of themselves wrapped in old Christian Dior stocking cartons so that will not wrinkle). What began as fan mail led to a particular friendship with the protagonists of the golden age of cinema.
Austin and Howard have collected the letters, photos, trips and calls in I used to be in pictures (ACC Editions), a volume that, unlike typical Hollywood books, is full of unpublished stories, mostly thanks to lesser-known stars. One of these scenes stars Mildred Shay, a pretty heiress and starlet, cornered in the bathroom by Errol Flynn, the idol of early talkies, who ends up ejaculating on her “pretty green dress” (in Shay’s own words); or the occasion when Marlon Brando, after the death of James Dean in 1955, sent a wreath of flowers to Maila Nurmi – a close friend of the deceased and whom he blamed for his death – with a note that said: “You are also dead ”. (Nurmi became famous in the 1950s thanks to Vampira, a alter ego television similar to Morticia Addams, but much more sexy).
One of the best things about the book is the particular vision of its time that the stars had. They were completely on another planet.
AUSTIN: Anita Page [La melodía de Broadway, 1929] he received love letters from Mussolini, marriage proposals included. She referred to him as “that man who was a friend of that other man”. Who, Hitler? We asked him, and he replied: “Oh yes, of course!” These people were so protected in their world, so isolated … The only important thing was them, that there was someone else was an anecdote.
There are great stories, like that of Joy Hodges, the star of Service DeLuxe, y Ronald Reagan.
HOWARD: Joy and Ronald came from Des Moines, Iowa. They were friends. When she became famous in the 1930s, he was still on the radio, asking for her help to make his way in Hollywood. Joy got her an audition at Universal, but it failed, and when she found out that she had tested with glasses, she told him outrageously that no man in Hollywood wore glasses except Harold Lloyd. So she got him another trial at Warner Brothers, he followed her advice and it was a success. Years later, she bragged that if he hadn’t told her to remove his glasses, Reagan would never have been a star, and therefore not the governor of California, let alone president. But Joy had it for everyone. During a dinner at the White House, she told Gorbachev that she had to tear down “that wall,” and ever since the Berlin Wall fell, she boasted that she had ended communism.
On their tour of Los Angeles, Palm Springs and the surrounding areas, the Mutti-Mewses toured public asylums, luxurious retirement centers and all kinds of houses with pools. Inside, the script tended to look less like the tragic epic of Twilight of the gods than a scene from The golden girls (imagine Joy Hodges dispatching her friend Ginger Rogers, whom you were about to meet at the Thunderbird Country Club, an elite resort for retirees: “I would like you to do therapy. He eats too much Häagen-Dazs and he’s going to get out of that wheelchair ”).
The siblings were born in an affluent Sussex suburb (first Austin and, five minutes later, Howard). His father had an insurance business and his mother was a homemaker. It’s not the closest setting to the sunny Hollywood Hills, and in fact Austin and Howard wouldn’t have been able to break the ice with Anita, Ginger, or Maila if it weren’t for the Saturday afternoons they spent watching old movies at their home. Grandma, Violet. And above all, for his impeccable manners. “For her, before opening a gift, you had to have the thank you note written,” jokes Howard. There has never been better advice. When at age 12 they wrote that first letter to Lillian Gish, the diva of the ten years, and she answered them, Violet forced them to respond immediately. The actress, happy to learn that she had such young fans, suggested that they write to her friend Colleen Moore, another silent film queen, who in turn put them in touch with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. snow, “admits Howard.
Twenty-five years after that first trip to California, their lives have inevitably been intertwined with those of the stars they contacted as children. And not only because, in many cases, they made lasting friendships, organized exhibitions in his honor – the last one, on the photographer Frank Worth, in 2002 – and have become a kind of informal biographers. “Our interest in them has come to define who we are now, and even what we do,” agrees Howard, who, like his brother, works in the industry that loves nostalgia most: fashion. He is head of communication at Dockers, and his brother is a counselor at Hardy Amies and other British tailoring firms.
What impact do you think they had on the lives of those people?
A: An actress told us that we had given her youth back. I don’t think we were the only ones who wrote to them, but all their fans were their age. It was that youth, and that we were English and also twins, that attracted them.
They visited dozens of stars and were interested in their biographies and their careers, but rarely was that interest reciprocal.
A: It depended on the ego. Ginger Rogers wasn’t asking you, of course not. Bob Hope, on the other hand, yes. Some of them were still restless, thus they had managed to accept the decline of their careers, while others were famous, and just wanted to talk about it. When we went to nursing homes they knew that visiting time was limited, so they wanted to make the most of it. You were talking to someone and someone else would come up, hold your hand and ask, “Are you one of the twins? We heard that they are interested in old Hollywood. I was in movies too! ”
Some actress tried to seduce them.
A: One Christmas my wife and I took Mildred Shay, who was already a good friend, with us to my parents’ house. We were sitting at the table and all of a sudden he says to my mother: “You know? I still haven’t seen his penis! ”. My mother looks at her not knowing what to say and she continues: “I haven’t seen a cock since 1987, when my husband died. All I ask is that you show it to me, so that I don’t forget what they are like! ”.
How many of them had managed to maintain their lifestyle?
H: Some had invested well, while others spent as if it would never end.
A: But the facade was still there, although the men’s jackets were threadbare and the women’s dresses had seen better times. And the makeup. Everything said: “I still look like a star.”
H: I remember Mildred, when we accompanied her back to California. We were on departures from Heathrow and she kept looking around. We asked him if something was wrong and he exclaimed: “Everyone seems to come from the supermarket!” We were going to catch a transatlantic flight, and for her the right thing to do would have been to fire the plane with a gloved hand.
So the glamour exists.
A: Ginger Rogers was radiating it, it was like a supernova. You perceived that the entire history of the American musical was sitting before you. Or Liz Taylor. Even those lesser known actors had it, there was something very powerful about them.
And who has it today?
H: George Clooney has that aura, that mystery.
A: Back in the eighties, Bette Davis said that Meryl Streep was a phenomenon. That if she had to give someone her Hollywood queen crown, it would be her.
A: There is a big difference between the system of today and the one of before. So the studios created stars, many of them without substance, but Meryl Streep is also a very good actress. Beverly Roberts once told us that she had no idea why it was called the Golden Age of Hollywood. Most of the movies were horrible!