Blue is my favorite color. It’s not that I don’t love other colors, the lush greens of a vital earth or a deep Chanel red lipstick I put on almost every female model (not because I am against change, it is just to me the sensuous luscious red of a women’s lips lights my fire.) I also love a deep, deep rich black or the calm of a gray.
But there is something about blue, the endless serene delicacy of blue. It is not any blue; it has to be just the right blue, a delicate and primordial shade of robins egg blue.
I guess I am not alone with this fixation on blue. Mystical African, Southern, and Arab cultures as well as others, line their porticos with this powerful blue to fight off the evil eye and surround themselves with safety. It is a testament to the power of blue.
Upon graduation from college, my young new wife and I decided to see America. We acquired a VW camper with a pop-up top and off we went for eight weeks to see what lies between.
Even then this child of privilege had no love of the great frontier. Daniel Boone was for books, mountains were best viewed in post cards, and mosquitoes were to be avoided at all costs. So this little camper had a comfortable bed, kitchen, and two good door locks, but most of all it had a generous father who would send us to a hotel every few weeks to take a shower when needed. I suggest if you have to camp you do it no farther than a day’s trip to the nearest Four Seasons. Anyway, after four weeks we reached Los Angeles at the home of my wife’s aunt, who lived on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. As soon as she came out to welcome us to her home, even before the words of welcome or hello could be uttered, she took one look at the camper parked in front of her home, and with her high pitched patrician voice, informed us of the urgency to get “that thing” behind the house to the service road.
No one in Beverly Hills should be forced to gaze out their window and see anything but money. Nothing so plebeian should ever block their view.
I couldn’t figure out if this was an L.A. version of the high life, low life, or some life in between.
While in L.A. we did make a trip that helped cement my life and career as a photographer. One afternoon, we went to visit a childhood friend of my wife’s (Topo Swope) at her parent’s home (John Swope and Dorothy McGuire.) We drove off Sunset Boulevard down this long driveway to a courtyard and there right in front of me in all its glory stood their front door, their entryway. It was painted the exact shade of blue I loved and I knew immediately that what lay within had to be extraordinary.
But stop, wait a minute. I have to tell you some things about my travels down some new road that led finally to this magical door. It is time to slowly invite my other half into the picture, my beautiful delicate first wife, and her famous family.
For since that first travel across the ocean, where I first met her, my life began to slowly change.
Oh I had known wealth and power, but I had not known intellect and curiosity like I was to encounter. Her parents, her siblings (and over time I will get to all of them) were made up of lots of stars, movie stars, novelists, and playwrights, what a combo.
Over the years and as time goes on I will tell you more. I met my share of celebrities (whom I was happy to meet) but really held no special allure. It was the writers, playwrights, poets, painters, essayists, who had a tremendous effect on little ol’ me. My door was not only opened, it was turned inside out. Not to fame fortune and glory, although they all had that in abundance, but ideas, lifestyles and the ability to be original. It was also different from the life I grew up in, yet to me it melded into something no one could ever take away from me; originality.
So as the front door of the Swope house was slowly opened, I entered into what was one of my favorite houses in America, the home of John Swope, the photographer, and Dorothy McGuire, the actress.
John Swope was what I wanted to be. He was handsome, extremely funny and one of America’s greatest talents. He lived in an extraordinary beautiful home with style and character and filled with his photographs. Dorothy his wife, was beautiful and slightly out there, but oh so…glamorous. It was rumored that even into their fifties they always slept naked and they often seemed very much in love.
John’s small problem, which I could relate to, was not his talent but his money. He came via Harvard from a long line of elitist money. His father (Gerard Swope) was CEO of General Electric and had left him entitled. It was never necessary, and perhaps it was not possible to fight the battle for fame. He had a famous wife, beautiful children and great, great talent. He once told me a story about a visit to England where he overheard a woman saying, “There is Dorothy McGuire, the famous actress and her nobody husband.”
Even though he was not well known, to me he was one of the greatest men I ever met. I loved his photographs. They were warm, compassionate and full of life. He lived the life I wanted to have. He processed his film and made his prints in a small darkroom off his living room.
He traveled the world with Dorothy to participate, laugh and explore. They worked and played and seemed to keep it all in the right perspective.
But wait a minute! This is sounding a little like my parents. His children were always alone and although it was great for Dorothy and John, doesn’t someone always have to suffer in life?
So there are always two stories to be told. There is the story of the beautiful house and lifestyle, and then there is the story of what lies within. Like all good stories it depends on where you are standing.
It was a great honor to walk through that pale, delicate, blue door and have some years with John Swope and many friends of my in-laws. They all radically changed my life for the best. As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to the conclusion that the life you choose has consequences.
Does this mean you stop and do not go forward? Should my father have traveled less, cared for me more? Maybe, but probably not. He would not have been the man he was if he did.
He gave me the strength (along with John Swope and others) to go forward, to find my own way, to live my own lifestyle, to fight ruthlessly against banality and a life of quiet desperation.