Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Being Your Own Grandchild, or Ednaism 101

I wrote yesterday about a type of person I like to call Your Own Grandchild:

"These are the people who constantly ask, "Don't I look so cute in this?" They are the ones who send holiday cards featuring themselves posing alone in antlers, or Santa hats."

The term came about over a decade ago when a friend gleefully showed me the Christmas cards she planned to send.

"What are you, your own grandchild?" I teased her. She appreciated my wit about as much as I appreciated her photos.

Many of the wacky characters who write the books I adore, auto-beauty-ographies, are Their Own Grandchildren: exhibitionists, attention-whores. Perhaps draining in person, but delightful in print. Or on screen; books exploiting intimate beauty secrets could be considered one prototype of reality television. (Think Denise Richards getting spray-tanned at home with only the barest minimum blurred.) Which brings us to Edna Wallace Hopper, my muse. I like to say she was the world's first reality star because she had her face lift filmed and shown to an audience.

Edna embodies the type I'm talking about. The photo above, in which she poses in ruffles, with kittens, and adorned with giant bows, was taken when Edna was about thirty-five years old. But this, written when Edna was in her mid-fifties, takes the cake:

"...how would you like to be taken for your own granddaughter or grandson? Wouldn't that be thrilling? It would, and is. I know, because I have been taken for my granddaughter. Not once, but many times. And I have had to carefully explain that the so-called granddaughter and her pseudo grandmother are one and the same person.
... Not long ago a woman called at the box office of a theater where I was playing and said I was a fake because the real Edna Wallace Hopper had died and been buried and she herself had attended the funeral. The manager of the theater was much annoyed and had me go before a notary and swear that I am Edna Wallace Hopper, not her granddaughter, or anyone impersonating her."
I tease, but Edna was not quite as full of it as she may sound. She was indeed world-renowned for her time-defying looks (see face lift, above). A 1953 New York Times theater review notes:

"Edna Wallace Hopper, whose age is a classified matter but who is known to have past her eighty-fifth birthday... appeared in a scene from the same play in which she acted at the Empire more than sixty years ago."

By my best calculation, Edna was actually only seventy-nine at that time. She was a wily one; she shaved years off her age for most of her life, but then deftly went the other way and began to say she was older than she was later on, so as to appear younger for her age.

"She won a tremendous ovation from the audience after her portrayal, during which she skipped across the stage with the agility of a schoolgirl and coyly impersonated a sun-bonneted coquette."