Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


It’s been a strange week here in Los Angeles.  The temperature hit 100 degrees on Wednesday, and although I may be a mad dog and an Englishman even I know my limits.  In addition to that, I’ve been demolished by some hideous bug I must have picked up on the plane, and even getting out of the chair to walk to the bookcase has seemed like quite an expedition.

So, thus immobilized, I have been reading Joan Didion’s forthcoming memoir Blue Nights, and watching a rough cut of a forthcoming documentary titled Betty Page Reveals All.  You might think that Betty Page and Joan Didion were some way from being soul sisters, and yet, and yet …

It's hard to think of Didion without picturing those famous photographs showing her with her Corvette, and outside her house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.  She just doesn’t look like a woman who does a lot of walking. 

But she also lived in New York for long periods of her life, and most people in New York are forced to be walkers one way or another.  Her book The Year of Magical Thinking contains a few references to walking in the city in general and Central Park in particular, and she mentions at one point that she stops wearing sandals because they catch in the pavement and starts wearing Puma sneakers instead.  I had never tried to image what these Didion sandals actually looked like, but if I had done I’d have assumed they might be at best “sensible.”  

But now I read in Blue Nights, “I had lived my entire life to date without seriously believing that I would age.  I had no doubt that I would continue to wear the red suede sandals with four-inch heels that I had always preferred.”  If any pictures of these preferred sandals exist I, alas, have never seen them.

Did Joan Didion really walk the streets of Manhattan wearing red suede sandals with four-inch heels?  Or is that further evidence that she didn’t really do much walking at all?  Maybe she just posed around in them.  There are very few women who can walk happily in four inch heels, though Bettie Page was one of them.

In the documentary, someone points out, and footage proves the point, that Bettie Page could walk every bit as easily in high heels as out of them.  There was no wobbling or teetering for Bettie, though there was no shortage of strutting.  True, in the movies she didn’t walk very far, often confined to a very small stage or set, but you felt she could have covered huge distances should the need have arisen.

It may have had something to do with her hips.  They were extremely broad in relation to her waist and maybe that gave her added stability.  She also looks as though she had very strong legs. And she was initially discovered while walking on the beach at Coney Island, though whether in heels, I don’t know.

Joan Didion, to all appearances, does not have broad hips or strong legs, though she has always been light - eighty pounds for most of her life - a little less now, or so she reports in Blue Nights.  I’m told that being light makes walking in heels much easier too.

Bettie Page ended her modeling career abruptly in 1959.  There were good reasons: a Senate Committee was investigating the world of S&M and bondage photographs, she was getting older  - mid 30s - though it seems she’d always lied about her age anyway, and whether cause or effect, she also became a devout Christian.  She “disappeared” and had a hard life that included periods of madness and incarceration.   But she could never leave the pin-up world behind her, or rather it would not leave her, and in the end – with some help from Hugh Hefner – she decided to embrace her cult status, though (with a few late exceptions) she chose not to be photographed.

It was Joan Didion who wrote, in A Book Of Common Prayer, "You have to pick the places you don't walk away from."

1 comment:

  1. Even with grey hair and a plaid shirt Betty Page was HOT!