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Authors: Gore Vidal

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Myra Breckinridge

BOOK: Myra Breckinridge
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Gore Vidal Myra Breckinridge

First published in 1968

For Christopher Isherwood


I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess. Clad only in garter belt and one dress shield, I held off the entire elite of the Trobriand Islanders, a race who possess no words for "why" or "because." Wielding a stone axe, I broke the arms, the limbs, the balls of their finest warriors, my beauty blinding them, as it does all men, unmanning them in the way that King Kong was reduced to a mere simian whimper by beauteous Fay Wray whom I resemble left three-quarter profile if the key light is no more than five feet high during the close shot.


The novel being dead, there is no point to writing made-up stories. Look at the French who will not and the Americans who cannot. Look at me who ought not, if only because I exist entirely outside the usual human experience... outside and yet wholly relevant for I am the New Woman whose astonishing history is a poignant amalgam of vulgar dreams and knife-sharp realities (shall I ever be free of the dull lingering pain that is my peculiar glory, the price so joyously paid for being Myra Breckinridge, whom no man may possess except on her... my terms!). Yet not even I can create a fictional character as one-dimensional as the average reader. Nevertheless, I intend to create a literary masterpiece in much the same way that I created myself, and for much the same reason: because it is not there. And I shall accomplish this by presenting you, the reader (as well as Dr. Randolph Spenser Montag, my analyst, friend and dentist, who has proposed that I write in this notebook as therapy), with an exact, literal sense of what it is like, from moment to moment, to be me, what it is like to possess superbly shaped breasts reminiscent of those sported by Jean Harlow in Hell's Angels and seen at their best four minutes after the start of the second reel. What it is like to possess perfect thighs with hips resembling that archetypal mandolin from which the male principle draws forth music with prick of flesh so akin--in this metaphor--to pick of celluloid, blessed celluloid upon which have been imprinted in our century all the dreams and shadows that have haunted the human race since man's harsh and turbulent origins (quote Levi-Strauss). Myra Breckinridge is a dish, and never forget it, you motherfuckers, as the children say nowadays.


I shall not begin at the beginning since there is no beginning, only a middle into which you, fortunate reader, have just strayed, still uncertain as to what will be done to you in the course of our common voyage to my interior. No, to our interior. For we are, at least in the act of this creation, as one, each trapped in time: you later, I now, carefully, thoughtfully forming letters to make words to make sentences. I shall begin by putting my cards on the table. At this moment (writing the word "moment"), I am not the same Myra Breckinridge who was the scourge of the Trobriand Islanders. She is a creature of fantasy, a daydream revealing the feminine principle's need to regain once more that primacy she lost at the time of the Bronze Age when the cock-worshipping Dorians enslaved the West, impiously replacing the Goddess with a god. Happily his days are nearly over; the phallus cracks; the uterus opens; and I am at last ready to begin my mission which is to re-create the sexes and thus save the human race from certain extinction. Meanwhile, I live no longer in the usual world. I have forsaken the familiar. And soon, by an extreme gesture, I shall cease altogether to be human and become legend like Jesus, Buddha, Cybele. But my immediate task is to impress upon you how disturbingly beautiful I am with large breasts hanging free, for I am wearing nothing but black mesh panties in this overheated room, whose windows I have shut because it is the rush hour (6:07 P.M., Thursday, January 10) and beneath my window the Strip (Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California) is filled with noisy cars, barely moving through air so dark with carbon monoxide that one can almost hear in the drivers' lungs the cancer cells as they gaily proliferate like spermatozoa in a healthy boy's testicles.


From where I sit, without turning my head, I can see a window covered by venetian blinds. The fourth slat from the bottom is missing and so provides me with a glimpse of the midsection of the huge printed plaster chorus girl who holds a sombrero in one hand as she revolves slowly in front of the Ch�au Marmont where Greta Garbo stays on her rare visits to Hollywood. The window is set in a white wall on which a damp splotch resembles an upside-down two-leaf clover--or heart or male scrotum as viewed from behind. But no metaphors. Nothing is like anything else. Things are themselves entirely and do not need interpretation, only a minimal respect for their precise integrity. The mark on the wall is two feet three inches wide and four feet eight and a fraction inches high. Already I have failed to be completely accurate. I must write "fraction" because I can't read the little numbers on the ruler without my glasses which I never wear.


I am certain that I can eventually capture the reality of Myra Breckiriridge, despite the treachery and inadequacy of words. I must show you as I am, at this instant, seated at a small card table with two cigarette burns at the edge; one is about the size of a quarter, the other the size of a dime. The second is perhaps the result of a burning ash, while the first... But there is to be no speculation, only simple facts, simply stated. I sit now, perspiring freely, the odor of my lovely body is like that of new bread (just one metaphor, then I shall be stylistically pure), mingled with a subtle ammoniac smell that I find nearly as irresistible as all men do. In addition to my extraordinary physical presence, I studied the classics (in translation) at the New School, the contemporary French novel on my own, and I learned German last year in order to understand the films of the Thirties when UFA was a force to be reckoned with. Now, at this arbitrary instant in time, my hand moves across the page of an oblong black notebook containing three hundred blue-lined pages. I have covered eighteen pages already; that leaves two hundred eighty-two yet to be filled, if one counts the present page of which I have used twelve of thirty-two lines--thirteen with these last words, now fourteen. The hand is small, with delicate tapering fingers and a slight golden down at the back near the wrist. The nails are exquisitely cared for (lacquered silver) except for the right index fingernail, which is cracked diagonally from the left side of the tip to the part where the flesh begins, the result of trying to pry loose an ice cube from one of those new plastic ice trays which so freeze that unless you half melt them under the hot-water tap you can never get the ice out. There are limits, however, to describing exactly what I see as I write and you read. More to the point, one must accept the fact that there are no words to describe for you exactly what my body is like as I sit, perspiring freely, in this furnished room high above the Strip for which I am paying $87.50 a month, much too much, but I must not complain for a life dream has come true. I am in Hollywood, California, the source of all this century's legends, and tomorrow it has been arranged for me to visit Metro-Goldwyn.-Mayer! No pilgrim to Lourdes can experience what I know I shall experience once I have stepped into that magic world which has occupied all my waking thoughts for twenty years. Yes, twenty years. Believe it or not, I am twenty-seven years old and saw my first movie at the age of seven: Marriage Is a Private Affair, starring Lana Turner, James Craig and the late John Hodiak; produced by Pandro S. Berman and directed by Robert Leonard. As a small girl I used to yearn for Lana Turner to crush me against her heavy breasts, murmuring, "I love you, Myra, you perfect darling!" Fortunately this Lesbian phase passed and my desires were soon centered upon James Craig. I saw every film he ever made. I even have recordings of his voice. In Parker Tyler's masterpiece Magic and Myth of the Movies, he refers to James Craig's voice as "some kind of Middle Southwest drawl, a genuine lulu." I can certify that James Craig was in every way a lulu and for years I practiced self-abuse thinking of that voice, those shoulders, those powerful thighs thrust between my own and, if I may be candid, no matter what condition James Craig is in today, married or not, decrepit or not, Myra Breckinridge is ready to give him a good time for old times' sake.


Buck Loner is not the man he was when he was the Singin' Shootin' Cowboy of radio fame--movies too: he made eighteen low-budget westerns and for a time was right up there with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. In those old movies he appeared to be lean and tough with slender hips and practically no ass at all which I don't find entirely attractive. I like a curve to the masculine buttock, on the order, say, of Tim Holt's in The Magnificent Ambersons. Mr. Holt, incidentally, decrepit or not, has a good time coming his way if Myra Breckinridge should happen to cross his path as she is bound to do now that Hollywood is finally, literally, at her feet (lovely feet with a high instep and naturally rosy heels, fit for any fetishist). Today Buck Loner (born Ted Percey-in Portland, Maine) is fat--no, gross!--with breasts even larger than mine. He is huge and disgusting and old, and obviously dying to get me into bed even though I am the recent widow of his only nephew Myron Breckinridge, the film critic, who drowned last year while crossing over to Staten Island on the ferry. Did Myron take his own life, you will ask? Yes and no is my answer. Beyond that my lips are sealed...... In any case, let us abandon that daydream in order to record the hard facts of this morning's encounter with my husband's uncle, Buck Loner. "Never knew that boy of Gertrude's had such an eye for feminine pulchritude." This sentence drawled in the once famous Buck Loner manner was, I fear, the first thing he said to me as he helped me into a chair beside his redwood desk, one coarse redwood hand lingering for just a moment too long on my left shoulder, in order to ascertain whether or not I was wearing a bra. I was. "Mr. Loner," I began in a careful low-pitched voice, modeled on that of the late Ann Sheridan (fifth reel of Dough girls-). "I will come straight to the point. I need your help." That was the wrong thing to say. To ask for anything is always the wrong way to begin a conversation but I am not one to beat about a bush, even a bush as unappetizing as Buck Loner. He sat back in his steel and black leather chair, a very expensive item selling for about four hundred dollars at the best office supply stores. I know. I worked one entire year at Abercrornbie and Fitch, and so got an idea of just how expensive nice things can be. That was the year poor Myron was trying to complete his book on Parker Tyler and the films of the Forties a book I intend to finish one day, with or without Mr. Tyler's assistance. Why? Because Tyler's vision (films are the unconscious expressions of age-old human myths) is perhaps the only important critical insight this century has produced. Also, Tyler's close scrutiny of the films of the Forties makes him our age's central thinker, if only because in the decade between /935 and /945, no irrelevant film was made in the United States. During those years, the entire range of human (which is to say, American) legend was put on film, and any profound study of those extraordinary works is bound to make crystal-clear the human condition. For instance, to take an example at random, Johnny Weissmuller, the zahftic Tarzan, still provides the last word on the subject of soft man's relationship to hard environment... that glistening overweight body set against a limestone cliff at noon says the whole thing. Auden once wrote an entire poem praising limestone, unaware that any one of a thousand frames from Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) had not only anticipated him but made irrelevant his efforts. This was one of Myron's insights that most excited me. How I miss him. "How I miss him, Mr. Loner. Particularly now. You see, he didn't leave a penny..." "No insurance, savings account, stocks, bonds, safety deposit box maybe? Gertrude must've left the boy something." Buck fell into my trap. "No," I said, in a throaty voice with a small croak to it not unlike (but again not really like) that of the late Margaret Sullavan. "Gertrude, as you call her, Myron's angel mother, did not leave him one penny. All that she owned on the day she died, Christmas Eve 1966, was a set of bedroom furniture. Everything else was gone, due to a series of expensive illnesses in the family, hers, Myron's, my own. I won't bore you with the details but for the last five years we supported a dozen doctors. Now Gertrude, your sister, is gone with no one to mourn her at Frank E. Campbell's Funeral Church except Myron and me. Then he died and now I'm absolutely alone, and penniless." During this recital Buck Loner directed toward me that same narrow-eyed gaze one detects in photographs of President Johnson whenever he is being asked a question about Bobby Kennedy. But confident in the efficacy of my ultimate weapon, I merely offered him a sad smile in return, and blinked a tear or two loose from my Max Factor Supreme eyelashes. I then looked up at the lifesize photograph in color of Elvis Presley which hangs behind Buck's desk, flanked by two American flags, and began my pitch. "Mr. Loner, Gertrude, Myron's mother..." "A marvelous woman..." he began huskily but no man alive can outdo me in the huskiness department. "Gertrude," I positively rasped through a Niagara of tears unshed, "with her dying breath, or one of her dying breaths--we missed a lot of what she said toward the end because of the oxygen tent and the fact she could not wear her teeth--Gertrude said, 'Myron--and you too, angel girl--if anything happens to me and you ever need help, go to your Uncle Ted, go to Buck Loner and remind that son-of-a-bitch'--I am now quoting verbatim--'that the property in Westwood just outside of Hollywood where he has his Academy of Drama and Modeling was left to us jointly by our father whose orange grove it was in the Twenties, and you tell that bastard'-I'm sorry but you know how Gertrude talked, those years as a practical nurse left their toll--'that I have a copy of the will and I want my share to go to you, Myron, because that property must be worth a good million bucks by now!'" I stopped, as though too moved by my own recital to continue. Buck Loner idly stroked the bronze bust of Pat Boone which serves as the base for his desk lamp. A long moment passed. I studied the office, admired its rich appointments, realizing that half of the ground it stood on--some fifty acres of 'Westwood's finest residential property-was mine. The proof was in my purse: a photostat of Buck Loner's father's will. "Gertrude was always a high-spirited gal, ever since she was yea-high." He indicated what looked to be a Shetland pony; on one finger a huge diamond glittered. "Poor Gertrude died most horribly, Myron wrote me. Great suffering at the end." He smacked his lips, the unmitigated shit, but cool it, Myra baby, I said to myself, and half of all this will be yours. Sudden daydream: Buck Loner hanging upside down like a fat sack of potatoes while yours truly works him over with a tennis racket strung with copper wires. "I never knew Myron," he added, as though this might somehow make spurious the relationship. "Myron never knew you." I was deliberately redundant. "I mean he used to follow your career with interest, collected all sorts of stories about you from the old Radio Times. And of course you were to have figured at some length in one of the chapters of his book Parker Tyler and the Films of the Forties; or, the Transcendental Pantheon." "How about that?" Buck Loner looked pleased, as well he ought to be. "I suppose my nephew left a will?" I was ready for that one. I told him that I possessed three wills. His father's leaving the orange grove jointly to Gertrude and himself, Gertrude's leaving her share of the Westwood property to Myron, and Myron's leaving his entire estate to me. Buck Loner sighed. "You know," he said, "the school ain't doin' too well." Phonetically that is not exactly what he said, but it is close. I am fortunate in having no gift at all for characterizing in prose the actual speech of others and so, for literary purposes, I prefer to make everyone sound like me. Therefore I shall make no further effort to reproduce Buck Loner's speech, except when something particularly vivid stays with me. Nothing vivid was said for some minutes while he lied to me about the financial status of the Academy of Drama and Modeling. But of course everyone in show business knows that the Academy is a huge success with an enrollment of one thousand three hundred young men and women, all studying to be actors, singers, models. Some live on campus but most live elsewhere and drive to school in their jalopies (a marvelous Forties word that I heard for the first time in Best Foot Forward--oh, to have been an adult in those years!). The Academy mints money. When Buck had finished his tale of woe, I crossed my legs slowly and deliberately (my skirt was practically mini, my legs divine), and was rewarded by a noticeable increase in Buck's salivation. He swallowed hard, eyes on that triangulated darkness beneath the skirt, forever inviting the question: is it you-know-what or panties? Let him wonder! No man will ever possess Myra Breckinridge, though she will possess men, in her own good time and in ways convenient to her tyrannous lust. In any case, Buck Loner is a three-time married man whose current wife, Bobbie Dean, once sang with Claude Thornhill's band in the Forties, and is now a passionate Jehovah's Witness, forever saving sinners in back streets. Gertrude thought her common. "Naturally, this is all quite sudden, Myra, I may call you Myra? Even though we never met but then you are my niece-in-law, and so practically kissin' kin." There is a crash outside my window--was a crash (in the time I took to write "there is a crash" the tense changed). Two cars have collided on the Strip. I heard breaking glass. Now I hear nothing. If the accident was serious there will soon be the sound of a siren. More than ever am I convinced that the only useful form left to literature in the post-Gutenberg age is the memoir: the absolute truth, copied precisely from life, preferably at the moment it is happening. Buck Loner made me an offer. While his lawyer and my lawyer work out a settlement, he would be happy to give me a job starting now and extending until the school year ends in June and all the talent scouts from TV, movie and recording companies converge upon the Academy to observe the students do their stuff. I accepted his offer. Why not? I need a place to live (as well as an entr�into the world of the movies), and so what could be better than a teaching job at the Academy? I will also enjoy meeting young men (though whether or not they will enjoy meeting me remains to be seen!), and the Academy is crawling with them, arrogant, cocky youths; several whistled at me in the corridor as I made my way to Buck Loner's office. Well, they will suffer for their bad manners! No man may jeer at Myra Breckinridge with impunity! "Now we have an opening for you in our Acting Department--that's for movie and TV acting, we don't go in for stage-type acting, no real demand..." "The theatre is finished..." I began. "You can say that again." It was plain that he was not interested in my theories which reflect more or less Myron's thesis that this century's only living art form is the movies. I say more or less because though I agree with Myron that the films of the 1940'S are superior to all the works of the so-called Renaissance, including Shakespeare and Michelangelo, I have been drawn lately to the television commercial which, though in its rude infancy, shows signs of replacing all the other visual arts. But my ideas are not yet sufficiently formulated to record them here, suffice it to say that the placing of the man in the driver's seat (courtesy of Hertz) reveals in a most cogent way man's eternal need for mastery over both space and distance, a never-ending progress that began in the caves at Lascaux and continues, even as I write, in the Apollo capsule with its mixed oxygen environment. "Your work load will of course be light. After all, you're a member of the family and of course I'm taking into account your terrible recent loss, though it has been my experience that work distracts our attention from grief in a most extraordinary way." While he was filibustering, he was studying a chart. He then scribbled a note and gave it to me. On Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings I am to give an hour course in Empathy. Tuesday and Friday afternoons I teach Posture. "You seem particularly well equipped to give the course in Posture. I couldn't help but notice how you looked when you entered the room, you carry yourself like a veritable queen. As for Empathy, it is the Sign Kwa Known (sine qua non) of the art of film acting." We sparred with one another, each lying to beat the band. He so pleased to have me "on the team" and me so happy to be able to work in Hollywood, California, a life's dream come true and--as they used to say in the early Sixties--all that jazz. Oh, we are a pair of jolly rogues! He means to cheat me out of my inheritance while I intend to take him for every cent he's got, as well as make him fall madly in love just so, at the crucial moment, I can kick his fat ass in, fulfilling the new pattern to which I am now irrevocably committed. Or as Diotima said to Hyperion, in H�lderlin's novel, "it was no man that you wanted, believe me; you wanted a world." I too want a world and mean to have it. This man--any man--is simply a means of getting it (which is Man). There goes the siren. The accident was serious. I stretch my legs. The left foot's asleep. In a moment I shall put down the yellow ballpoint pen, get to my feet, experience briefly pins and needles; then go to the window and lift the blind and see if there are dead bodies in the street. Will there be blood? I dread it. Truly.

BOOK: Myra Breckinridge
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