My Mother’s Voice

Alzheimer’s being the conniving thieving bitch that  it is, my mother wasn’t herself in the final years of her life. The  woman I visited in the Alzheimer’s special care unit was a stranger wearing my mother’s skin but not much else, like the invasion of the body snatchers had taken place, month after month beneath the surface, until one day we looked and the woman we knew was gone, replaced by some alien being. An imposter. Intruder alert. Intruder alert. She died back in 2012. Don’t worry; I won’t be getting maudlin on you.  My real mother–not that stranger in a wheel chair, head nodding on her shoulder–is who I want to think about today.  My real mother —Enid Maude Good nee Hayden, a prim, old-fashioned name, perhaps the only thing about her I didn’t love— was British-born and had a lovely London lilt to her voice her whole life even though she left England in the mid-1950’s. I suppose at thirty, her vocal patterns were already frozen in place.  Sounding like a cross between

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Before twitter there were fan letters: Dear Mr. Redford

November 12, 1973

Dear Bob Mr. Redford,I just had to write to tell you how hot and sexy talented, I think you are. 

Laura and I bickered over who was more desirable — Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood — with as much fervor as we girls once debated who our favorite Beatle was, Paul or John, George or Ringo. Laura's mother, tiny Corky, curled up in her easy chair with a ciggie and a cup of tea, pronounced both actors 'tall drinks of water'.

This was so long before water became such a desirable commodity that we actually had to buy it by the bottle, back in the seventies when water was still free even in the once desert lands of Los Angeles, that I never quite understood the praise. But yes, Redford could put his shoes under my bed any time, as our mothers might have said, mostly about men whose paths they would likely never cross.

I had it so bad for Robert Redford after seeing The Way We Were; wishing I were Barbara Streisand with her impossibly long elegant hands and nails, brushing his flop of blonde hair out of his eyes, that I was moved to write my one and only fan letter.

Sitting in front of my typewriter at a rickety card table in a corner of my bedroom—where I did all my serious writing when I was twenty; poems to old boyfriends, thinly disguised short stories about my life that I submitted to Cosmopolitan, sending them directly to the attention of Ms. Helen Gurley Brown, yearning to be Joyce Carol Oates or Erica Jong—I labored over just the right tone, each clack of the keys shaking the table.

I was determined to melt the movie star's heart and show him I was no ordinary fan; that this in fact wasn't a fan letter at all. As if I was some silly young thing with a crush! In my letter I didn't even touch on why I loved that handful of moles on his right cheek or the very sexy contrast between his light blonde hair and his dark mustache in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Or the way he looked in a suit in The Candidate. Instead I focused on my recognition of his enormous talents and my appreciation for the extremely hard work that went into his performances, his sensitive portrayal of Hubbel in The Way We Were, for example, so memorable, so extraordinary. The Way He Looked in his uniform? The way he looked in anything at all? What can I say? I didn't put that in the letter though. I stuck to the scope of his acting ability, his character choices, the artistic merits of his work, the way I imagined a thoughtful film critic might; not like I was some rabid stalker fan. Really, I did. 

Downhill Racer, Barefoot in the Park with Jane Fonda, This Property is Condemned with Natalie Wood. I simply let him know how much I loved every single one of his movies. Leaving out Jeremiah Johnson. His mountain man act — that gorgeous face covered with all that facial hair? — he didn't need to know what I thought of that. (Shhhh. Not much!) The Candidate with all those closeups. I could just watch him, content to see him do that little eye narrowing wink and the chewing thing that he does with his mouth, for hours. I didn't put that in the letter either.

When my missive was perfectly crafted, I retyped it slowly on my best cream linen stationery. It was important that it reach Robert—I knew his friends called him Bob but we weren't there yet—in pristine and perfect, typo-free condition. Naturally, I kept a carbon copy for my files.  Now, the question of where to send it. We didn't have the internet but we did have the periodical room at the Santa Monica library. After a couple of hours of perusing periodicals, better known as fan magazines, and cross referencing the mention of 'represented by' in one publication with a trade listing in another, I came up with his agent's mailing address in Beverly Hills.

Careful to put the 8 cent stamp on straight, I walked the letter to the mailbox down on the corner.

Then I waited. It took weeks.

Part of me never expected a reply: Robert Redford write to me? Come on! Then suddenly there it was, his name in the left hand corner. He wrote me back! I wanted to rip the envelope apart but I kept calm; finding my dad's letter opener, I took a deep breath and slit the envelope open slowly, setting it aside to paste in a scrapbook I was going to start keeping one of these days.

But the letter wasn't from Robert Redford. It was from some woman, Debbie or Cathy, the president of his fan club. His fan club!? I didn't write to his fan club! Not only was it not a letter from Robert Redford, it wasn't even a real letter from this Debbie or Cathy, the president of his fan club person. It was a form letter, like some piece of junk mail, a flyer, inviting me to send $2 to PO Box blah blah, and they would be happy to mail me an autographed picture of Robert Redford in return. Thank you for your interest. Sincerely president of the @#$% Robert Redford Fan Club.

After the hours I'd spent drafting the perfect letter, detailing—intelligently detailing — all of his talents and he had the nerve to send me a form letter for an autographed picture? It wouldn't do. Not at all.

I was so angry I wrote another letter, pouring out my heart once again, angrily decrying my shabby treatment. Like I was some spurned woman in a Victorian novel. Please, Good Sir! I demand that you reply in your own hand else I shall have to assume that you are not at all interested in the genuine care and solace of this good woman and thereby pronounce you a scoundrel and a scallawag. 

Oh, I ripped him a new one. My fingers flew over those keys; typos be damned! And this time, the cheap white paper would do. Then I mailed it back, back to the exact same address. Send me a stupid form letter asking me to send two bucks for an autographed picture, huh?! I'll show you!

When the response finally came, the Robert Redford in the left hand corner, I couldn't wait to hear to hear what he had to say for himself. I'm so sorry, Simone! I didn't know you were a real fan! How about I make it up to you and buy you a cup of coffee next time I'm in town? I didn't bother with the letter opener, I just tore that envelope open.
If you would like an autographed picture of Robert Redford please send $2 and we would be happy to ... signed Debbie or Cathy the president of the @#$% Robert Redford Fan Club.

I never did write another fan letter. To Redford or anyone else — unless you count the occasional overly gushy tweet here and there. I don't know if Laura ever wrote to Eastwood. I doubt it; she's always been the more level-headed one. While I've mellowed over the years there are still times when my impulsive nature gets the better of me; when I expect too much, when I get swept away by passion and forget to look before I leap.

After all these years, I still hold a soft spot for Redford, and marvel at his achievement. How he went from 1970's movie star and stud muffin to the man who put independent cinema on the map in a place called Sundance. Sundance. Just the name still makes me sigh. As for Clint Eastwood, I have no room for his empty chair.


  1. I don't know, I think you chose much better than Laura. After all, Redford is still a hunk in his 70s and Eastwood, well, he can make a good movie, but you wouldn't want his shoes under your bed these days. He'd be likely to spend the whole night talking to an empty chair. I can't believe that you remember it was an 8 cent stamp. Great memory.

    1. LOL! That empty chair! I confess ! Knowing the stamp had to be miles less than what we're paying now, I was curious and looked it up. I'm sure that's cheating according to the rules of memoir, call mine neo-memoir if you will. No one's watching:)

  2. You so perfectly express my own desires to write to Robert Redford. In '73 I would've only been about nine and I had probably already begun crushing on Redford by then. Throughout my life he's always been my standard reference for what is a "beautiful man". Movie stars are tough, though, they touch us emotionally, powerfully — and yet it's not real. He leads a life somewhere without us fans who love him. It's kind of a sad thing as I think about it. Celebrities become these dreams we can never touch even though they live in the real world with us. I found your article and read it just now because I was in fact, after all these years, still fantasizing about writing to Robert Redford. I think it's the one thing I still hope to do before I die, or he dies. He's 28 years my senior. But, as your brilliant memoir reveals ... I would've written a letter with your same intent, and mentioned similar movies (add in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but totally agree about Jeremiah Johnson).

    I bet you and I are like thousands, tens of thousands?, more?? young girls/women who wanted to speak to Robert Redford with the same heart you did at your typewriter when you were 20. Girlfriend, I feel you. I wish we all could've reached him, have him been touched by how we admired him not only for his beauty on screen but for, as you wrote, his character choices, etc. I wish I could still reach him, and what would I say? Not much. What could I say that would be any different from any fan who ever wrote to him or to any other celebrity for that matter?

    I'm not trying to be so cynical, but more nostalgic and empathetic. Let me just end with this (and I think you'll understand).

    Ahh. Robert Redford :).

    1. Ah, yes! I so do understand. Thanks for the comment, :)

  3. I would still love to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Redford. A picture would be amazing. Still a fan and still have a HUGE crush!!

    1. I love that his personal life remains scandal-free!

    2. I love that his personal life remains scandal-free!


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