Sunday, December 24, 2006

Horrid Christmas Everyone

Merry Christmas Christians! And the rest of you heathens, pray to be delivered from the tortures of Hell! (Though your prayers are pointless. Everyone who doesn't accept Jesus as their saviour is going to burn forever. Sorry. Those are the rules. The upside is, all the really fun people will be there. If you're in Heaven, you must have been a real pill!) Of course, I'm a Christian Scientist, and Mary Baker Eddy didn't believe in Hell, but then she didn't believe in illness, death, coherent syntax, reality, living by the rules she set for others, West Covina, or drinking alcohol, so she was clearly insane. Anyway, I'm spending Christmas with the spirits of Christmas Past, so while I'm enjoying my stupor, Little Douglas will be sharing with all of us a Christmas Fable from his forthcoming book, My Gruesome Life, the autobiography of 1960s horror legend Guy Thanatos. A lovely man, but never mention Vincent Price to him. This is the story of his Christmas celebration back in 1944, when he, his - ah - friend, never-married producer Phil Ratio, and Guy's homicidal mother Evelyn spent Christmas with Joan Crawford and her family, told in Guy's own words. Do enjoy. - Tallulah.

Christmas With The Crawfords.
by Guy Thanatos.
(as told to Douglas McEwan.)

Richelieu, my newly-acquired chauffeur, drove Mother, Phil and I to Joan Crawford’s lovely Brentwood bungalow [By bungalow, Guy means gigantic mansion and grounds. -Douglas] on Christmas Eve 1944, where we intended to stay overnight and most of the next day.

My dear friend Billy Haines had introduced me to Joan almost as soon as I hit Hollywood. Joan was the sweetest, kindest, most gracious hostess in all of her house, which covered rather more territory than you’d think. When we arrived, she greeted us in the doorway, casually dressed (for Joan) in a $20,000 Orry-Kelly creation of shimmering gold lamé, with her husband, Philip Terry Crawford, whom I believe had some sort of show business connected job [Phillip Terry was a major film actor who appeared in some 67 movies between 1937 and 1972. He starred in The Leech Woman, a film of major importance in my own career, but that’s a story for another day. -Douglas], who was sparkling in a matching gold tuxedo with Christmas green piping, and little Christina in a Shirley Temple hand-me-down gownette by Adrian. I was wearing a $500 suit myself and I felt underdressed.

"Horrid Christmas!" Mother, Phil and I shouted gaily as we climbed out of my understated Rolls Royce.

"Merry Christmas!" Joan corrected, kissing each of us. Joan had mistletoe actually in her hair.

"We always say ‘Horrid Christmas’." I explained, "So, have a horrid Christmas Christina."

"It’s too early to tell." Replied the somber small child.

"Where’s that dear little angel Christopher?" I asked.

"Christopher misbehaved this afternoon and is being punished." Answered Joan in a more serious tone than before.

"What did the poor little boy do that would keep him punished on Christmas?" asked Mother.

"He got a little too excited about Santa Claus coming, and ran around the house this afternoon, laughing and shouting." Said Joan, one eyebrow arched, clearly vexed again at the memory.

"That sounds like every two year old on earth three hours before Christmas." Said Phil.

"Maybe the children of common people," snapped Joan, eyes flashing fire, "But my children will be perfect, and Perfect Children are never loud or obstreperous. Christopher must learn this now, mustn’t he, Christina?"

"Yes, Mommy Dearest!" Christina blurted out smartly.

As the maid took our coats, Phil asked Philip, "Do you go along with that policy?"

Philip’s eyes darted about in terror as he said in a quiet rush, "Joan knows best. Joan knows best."

"Really darling," said Joan, her Gracious Manners mode re-engaged, "I don’t believe it’s asking too much for my children to be well mannered and behaved. After all, they have every advantage over the children of nobodies. Don’t you, Christina?"

"Yes, Mommy Dearest."

"Good, darling." Said Joan, "Now let’s all go in and eat dinner and at Midnight I’ll go down and unchain Christopher, as I promised, and he’ll be up just in time for storytime."

At Joan’s house, at midnight on Christmas Eve the tradition (being inaugurated that evening. A new tradition.) was that the whole family, except servants of course, would sit around the living room with low lights, sipping eggnog, munching a single cookie, and listening while Joan read aloud a family Christmas story she had actually written herself. Until Midnight arrived, we had a sumptuous dinner, and enjoyed each other’s company, ignoring the occasional scream from Christopher in the dungeon.

As Joan went to check on the cooks preparing dessert, Philip, who seldom spoke, or did anything but moan slightly, suddenly perked up. He turned to us in a panic and said, "For God’s sake, flee! Save yourselves! It’s too late for me, but you can still get away!"

Joan entered the room and Philip, eyes screaming, said, "I was just telling the Thanatoses how lucky I am to live with the world’s greatest homemaker."

"Aren’t you sweet, darling?" Joan said, pausing beside her husband and presenting her cheek for a quick dry peck, before marching past behind us towards the hall door, giving my posterior cheeks a strong, surreptitious squeeze in passing.

Promptly at midnight Joan appeared in the living room archway carrying her storybook in one hand and Christopher’s semi-conscious form, with his newly bandaged thumbs, draped over her other arm. We all took seats on the massive sofas that curled around the twenty foot frosted white Christmas tree that dominated the room, with the blazing hearth to our right. Christina and Christopher were popped down beside Joan, who opened her book and began reading the following story:

Santa Saves Christmas!
A Christmas Fable by
Joan Crawford!

Once upon a time, in a fair land far, far away, there lived the most beautiful queen of all time. Her name was Queen Bee, and she was beloved by all her subjects for her splendid loveliness, her mighty wisdom and her graceful graciousness. Every knight errant for a thousand miles sought to win her, but she gave her heart only to her two stepchildren, Little Hagatha and her baby brother, Roquat the Squat.

"Excuse me, dear," said Philip, "But didn’t Queen Bee have a King?"
"Whatever for?" snapped Joan, clearly annoyed to have been interrupted, "When she needed a man, she had her pick of the drones. May I return to the story now, please?"

Although Queen Bee loved her stepchildren with all her lavish heart, they were wicked, ungrateful children, whose hearts were as black as their faces were ugly. They never showed any appreciation for Queen Bee’s self-sacrificing love for them. They treated the queen’s opulent palace as though it were no better than the filthy swampside hovel in which they had been born, common as dirt.

Little Hagatha had a long crooked nose, covered in warts, and a hump on her back, while Roquat the Squat was gap-toothed, cross-eyed and repulsive, yet Queen Bee gallantly ignored their deformities and loved them as much as she would have attractive children, giving them the finest clothes to adorn their misshapen bodies, feeling that people should have something nice to look at anyway.

But the deformities of their faces and bodies merely reflected the deformities in their evil souls. Christmas was coming, and by the gentle leave of Queen Bee, both Little Hagatha and Roquat the Squat had 100 farthings each, to spend on Christmas gifts. Naturally, any virtuous child would want to spend every penny on some perfect gift for their generous stepmother who cherished them so vigorously. But Little Hagatha and Roquat the Squat were nasty, selfish, wicked stepchildren, who lacked the Christmas Spirit. They coveted candy, even though Queen Bee had wisely forbidden them to eat sweets, knowing that candy treats would rot their teeth, thicken their too-plump waistlines, and further befoul their already revolting complexions.

So, instead of buying their loving stepmother a perfect set of pearl earrings, which would have looked elegant with the queen’s white chiffon gown and summer tiara, the two wicked, sordid little children bought candy for themselves, and gobbled it all down.

Did Queen Bee punish these two, nasty children as they deserved? She did not. When she opened her gift box, she found only empty candy wrappers inside. She was so deeply hurt that all she could do was weep. Clearly she should have punished these two spiteful monsters, but the fullness of her heart and the gentleness of her stainless soul made her weak and backsliding, and she allowed the nasty brats to get away with their crime merely because it was Christmas. The appalling children laughed merrily and pointed at the weeping queen, mocking her misery as they romped with the many toys the queen had given them for their Yuletide pleasure. This only deepened Queen Bee’s grief, causing her to fall into a magical sleep, from which she could not awaken.

The children’s obscene and noisy merriment was cut short by the booming laughs of "Ho! Ho! Ho!" that came echoing down the chimney.
"Hooray!" cried foul Little Hagatha and blemished Roquat the Squat, "Santa is here!"

Indeed, a moment later, that jolly old elf, Santa Claus himself, came bounding into the room from out of the fiery hearth. "Merry Christmas children!" he bellowed.

"What have you got for us, Santa?" asked the two greedy, repugnant children.

"Something so special that even your good queen couldn’t provide it for you." Said Santa, eyeing the children closely, "You know I’ve given toys and treats to all the good children of the world tonight, and now I have time to punish the wicked ones! Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Santa stuck Little Hagatha in her own Christmas stocking while he attended to Roquat the Squat. "Since your greed for candy has made you so plump," Santa snarled at Roquat, "You must be thinned down." Santa then took a box cutter and sliced Wicked Roquat open from forehead to toes, and peeled back his flesh and organs, layer by layer, while the boy shrieked, begging for the merciful relief of death.

Once Roquat was still, Santa Claus turned his attentions to Little Hagatha. "Just because you’re a filthy little delinquent, doesn’t mean you should die a virgin." Said Santa, as his belly shook like a bowl full of human-flesh jelly. "Guess I’ll have to give you one for Christmas." Then Santa made a woman of Little Hagatha underneath the Christmas tree, treating her like the infantile slut she was. When Santa’s pleasure was sated, he chopped Little Hagatha up very fine, and fed her to his reindeer.

As Hagatha expelled her final, agony-laced breath, Queen Bee’s eyes opened and she sat up. "Whatever has happened? I feel refreshed."
"The evil enchantment your wicked stepchildren had laid on you has been broken by their severe correction." Said the merry Saint.

For Queen Bee, because she was so good, Santa left a faultless gift: two new, perfect babies who would grow up grateful and well-mannered.
"And don’t worry," yelled Santa from his sleigh as he rode out of sight, "If those two turn bad, there’s plenty more where they came from."

And the beautiful Queen Bee had a Merry Christmas, a perfect life, and lived happily ever after.

The End.

As Joan closed the book, she took a moment to wipe the copious tears from her eyes, so deeply moved was she by her reading of this disturbing fable. Tears were flowing from Christina and Christopher’s eyes as well, as they clutched each other and shivered in terror. Only the still greater fear of what would happen if they had, kept them from soiling the sofa. Phil was wide-eyed with shock.

Mother was suppressing a tiny smirk and I was making a note to inquire later about the film rights to Joan’s tale. I’d heard that Joan’s tale was usually to be had quite cheaply.

"Well," said Mother, "Charles Dickens had better look to his laurels. There’s a new author in Christmasland."

"Thank you, Evelyn." Said Joan, "What enchanting praise, and from an angel. Well, time for bed." At Joan’s command, we all scurried off to our bedrooms.

"Pay no attention," Joan said, as she locked and bolted Phil and I into our room for the night, "To any odd sounds you may hear during the night. Sometimes the children get restless in the middle of the night. Just ignore all sounds."

Around three AM Phil and I were abruptly awakened from a brief but intense and unpleasant dream in which I was eaten alive by a revolting, bug-eyed monster who only said to me, "Hush. Close your eyes and pretend I’m Robert Taylor," though I know Robert Taylor smells much differently, to the sounds of children screaming in either extreme terror or pain. It was hard to tell which. We could hear Joan’s voice also shrieking, but the thick walls rendered Joan and the children unintelligible. The only thing worse than being forced to hear other people shrieking, is having to hear them but not understand what they’re saying.

Eventually the noise, which now included banging and thumping, moved downstairs and out of earshot, and we got back to sleep.

The sound of the song Jingle Bells amplified loud enough to fill the Hollywood Bowl brought us out of sleep Christmas morning and we hurriedly put on pajamas and robes for a nice, casual Christmas morning gift opening. Downstairs we found the living room almost drowning in colorful wrapped gifts. There was a riot of ribbons, mounds of holly, and bowls of candies and cookies. Philip Terry was there, and a small camera crew was setting up, but there was no sign of Joan or the kids.

Philip warned us, "Hope you don’t mind the cameras. Joan always films Christmas morning for her fans to see in the newsreels. The cookies and the candy are just for show. It’s worth your life to eat one."

"Where are Joan and the children?" I asked.

"In the dungeon. The kids are being punished. There was an incident in the night. Best not to mention it. They should all be up soon." Philip retreated to a corner sofa and didn’t speak again for sometime.

Finally the cameras were ready and Joan, Christina and Christopher made an entrance. We were all in our PJs and robes. Joan was in a negligee and morning jacket that probably cost close to what the house had, and was wearing more jewels than Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. Christina was wearing another Shirley Temple ball gown, while Christopher, only two years old, was in a tuxedo. "Merry Christmas everyone" said Joan at her most mannered, "How lovely to see that we’re all just casual this morning. I just crawled out of bed."

"She sleeps in all those jewels?" asked my mother out of the corner of her mouth into my ear.

For the next two hours, we watched as Christina and Christopher sat still in chairs before the camera and unwrapped one gift at a time, carefully, so the wrapping paper could be used again by the less fortunate. The maids handed the gifts to the children while Joan struck poses around the room, downed cocktails, and watched the children like a hawk for any unseemly display of gratuitous excitement or exuberance. The children opened each gift, exclaimed in a restrained manner how delighted they were by the gift, made a note of who gave it for their thank you notes later on [The children were expected to write a personal thank you note for every gift. Joan had given them 50 gifts each herself, and they were required to send her 50 thank you notes each. Christopher was only two and couldn’t write at all. This was not considered an excuse. "You’re never too young for manners." Said Joan - Douglas], set it aside and went on to the next. When they were done, Joan made a little speech about how the happiness of her children was what Christmas meant to her. Then the camera crew left and the movers arrived, packing up all the gifts again to haul away to the less fortunate. The kids got to grab one toy each to keep, but they had to snatch fast.

Then we went into the dining room. At five of the place settings a lavish Christmas feast was laid out and waiting, at two places there was a somewhat less appetizing meal waiting, two week old steaks crawling with mold and maggots.

"Those are Christina and Christopher’s plates," explained Joan, "They still haven’t finished their dinners from two weeks ago, and they don’t get fresh food until they’ve cleaned those plates. Waste not. Want not."

"But," asked my darling Phil, "Wouldn’t that old, rotten meat make them sick now?"

"Please" cooed Joan, "You make it sound like I’m serving them Bette Davis. That meat was fresh and delicious when it was first given to them. If it makes them a little sick now, they’ll learn to eat their dinner when it’s fresh."

"You’re awfully strict, aren’t you?" asked Phil, "I mean, it is Christmas."

"You mustn’t judge me too harshly," Joan said, "I may seem cruel, but I’m cruel only to be mean."

While we gorged on the palatable food, the children sat and stared at their plates. Christopher tried a bite of his foul former meat and puked on his plate. Joan simply called for the maid and went on with her story of how she’d taught John Barrymore some new tricks while they were shooting Grand Hotel. "He may have loved that Garbo slut on camera, but off screen, I had the key to his pants." She said, "He was a real man, not like some married men I could mention."

Philip just stared at his plate and ate his ham faster.

"I forget," said Mother, "But wasn’t Mister Barrymore married when he made that movie."

"Possibly," said Joan, "He often was. What’s your point?"

After dinner, Joan got out her checklist. "Now let’s see. We’ve hung the stockings by the chimney with care; we’ve read a soothing Christmas fairy tale to the children; we’ve punished the children for last night’s little incident; we’ve opened gifts; we’ve taken the children’s toys away from them; we’ve eaten dinner. What haven’t we done? I know. How about a game?"

"A game! A game!" The children clapped and cheered, until Joan froze up.

"Christopher!" Joan snapped at her most severe, "Christina! Is anyone else jumping around and squealing? Do you want the Thanatoses to think you’re ill-mannered little brutes?"

"No, Mommy Dearest." The two suddenly terrified children said in unison.

"Then why are you carrying on like uncivilized little hyenas?" Joan asked, "I think we’ll have to pass on the games and make another visit to the Dungeon."

The children began screaming in horror. As Joan dragged them off shrieking through a door marked Playhouse Of Pain, Philip poured himself a tumbler full of straight bourbon with a shaking hand, and Mother, Phil and I slipped out the front door to the driveway, where Richelieu was waiting to drive us home.

During the leisurely motor back to Maison De Thanatos, Mother sighed and said, "That Joan is weirder than the Pope’s bar mitzvah. But that was the nicest horrid Christmas I’ve had in years."

"How so?" I asked Mother, who may have had a fault or two (or not) but who was truly a saint compared to Joan.

"For once I didn’t have to lift a finger." She replied, "Joan made it all perfectly horrid on her own.

"Horrid Christmas Mother," I said, " and a ghastly new year."

© Copyright 2006 Douglas McEwan

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