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Or, rather, something I didn’t say and won’t say, but which I’m anxious you’re going to think I said: that Didion isn’t a brilliant writer.She a brilliant writer—sentence for sentence, among the best this country’s ever produced. in June of 1964 was no more Joan Didion than Norma Jeane Baker was Marilyn Monroe, or Marion Morrison was John Wayne, or, for that matter, Andrew Warhola was Andy Warhol. The California she grew up in—the Sacramento Valley—was closer in spirit to the Old West than to the sun-kissed, pleasure-mad movie colony. Both had been working as journalists, she for had been published the year before.I’m talking about the canonization of Didion, Didion as St. Didion is not, let me repeat, not a holy figure, nor is she a maternal one. —wasn’t in color is a detail almost too on the nose.She’s cool-eyed and cold-blooded, and that coolness and coldness—chilling, of course, but also bracing—is the source of her fascination as much as her artistry is; the source of her glamour too, and her seductiveness, because she The subject of this piece, though, is not just a who, Didion, but a what, Hollywood. Soon the whole town would turn psychedelic, and such evenings would seem so old-fashioned as to have been in black and white even if they weren’t.) Among the splendidly monochromatic: Ronald and Nancy Reagan, David Selznick and Jennifer Jones, Billy Wilder, Loretta Young, Natalie Wood.There are, I should note, two places in the book where the tone changes, becomes tender.The first is in “John Wayne: A Love Song.” (Didion admirers like, I suspect, to believe that that “Love” is ironic—it’s not; she’s sweet on the Duke, who in his simplicity and stoicism represents to her a masculine ideal.) The second is in “Goodbye to All That,” her profile of her young self.And in 1966, she’d have a baby—or, have a baby without quite having had a baby.
Says writer Dan Wakefield, a friend of the couple’s from New York, “They didn’t give a shit about the movies except it was a way to make a lot of money.
From the preface: “I went to San Francisco [for the title piece, about the hippie scene in the Haight] because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed.” And many of the stories “Didion” tells are real-life horror stories: a suburban housewife who, one night when she was out of milk, set fire to her dumb lug of a husband; High Kindergarten, where children were given LSD; Howard Hughes.
And yet the tone of the telling is noticeably, conspicuously not horrified; nor is it distressed, or even emotional; it’s the opposite, is composed, affectless, flat.
They rented Sara Mankiewicz’s, fully furnished, though Mankiewicz did pack up the Oscar won by her late husband, Herman, for writing So Didion and Dunne wanted in and got in, but they wanted in deeper.
Hollywood’s appeal for writers isn’t hard to figure: it’s about the only place they can strike it rich.