I went to RedCat theater last week to see Andre Gregory give a reading of his unfinished play, Bone Songs. Gregory introduced the evening then read through the play scene by scene accompanied by actors Larry Pine and Leslie Silva. In between each scene, Gregory told stories about his life. He’s a good story teller. You may have seen the 1973 movie My Dinner With Andre. If you haven’t, rent it, it’s one long good story. My theater companion even preferred the stories to the play.
Gregory’s family escaped France three weeks before Germany invaded then took one of the last ships to leave England before Germany started bombarding that country. A sister ship sailing at the same time was torpedoed. Gregory’s ship picked up survivors. He was five years old at the time.
His father was a wealthy businessman, he owned the Brentwood Country Club at one point, and his mother was a socialite. During the 1940’s, the family lived in Hollywood. Gregory describes looking out at the family’s tennis court one day and seeing, no lie, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Thomas Mann playing tennis. Three of the most beautiful people in the world and a man who wrote about beauty.
What a hotbed of repressed erotic energy that tennis match could have been. Flynn was having an affair with Gregory’s mother. He’d already weathered a trial for statutory rape and would go on to date a fourteen year old in the last years of his life. Mann was over sixty five but then so was Aschenbach, the protagonist in Mann’s book Death in Venice, as he lusted after the beautiful boy Tadzio in his sailor suit. Greta Garbo had a long, tempestuous love affair with noted lesbian Mercedes de Acosta starting in the early 1930’s. During one of their difficult periods, de Acosta had an affair with Dietrich, who was married at the time.
I could imagine a disputed line call rising to the status of a full blown screaming match with Garbo and Dietrich taking the opportunity to communicate how they really felt about sharing a girlfriend.
Gregory describes looking out at the family’s tennis court one day and seeing, no lie, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Thomas Mann playing tennis. Three of the most beautiful people in the world and a man who wrote about beauty.
It would make a great premise for a movie script. Four famous ex-pats meet briefly on a tennis court in Hollywood and talk about their lives and loves. It has everything – espionage, war, sports, two versions of homoerotica and a love triangle. This would have been during World War II. Dietrich performed for the allied troops and recorded an anti-Nazi record for an American intelligence agency. Mann’s books had been burnt by Hitler’s regime. Garbo worked as a British agent against the Nazis in a real life version of her movie Mata Hari.
Throw in a cameo appearance by Ronald Reagan – he starred in a war movie with Flynn – and you have a veritable survey of Hollywood during the war.