by Lisa Janssen
Carole Eastman. Contrary to the most typical gadabout, she did produce one masterwork, FIVE EASY PIECES. But so quietly that she is rarely remembered behind the towering actor and director.
One of the pleasures of being a fan of popular culture, is uncovering the connections along your own tangled path. This is science level fandom, the level that one needs every scrap of information about every person, book, record, movie they love in order to properly evaluate why they love it, and if there is more out there to love.
If you are like me, (and I bet you are if you read this blog), you often come across a name that pops up again and again, near and far to those things you love. They pop up in more than one place, sometimes in totally disparate camps of your fandom.
I call them culture’s gadabouts. By nature or chance, they travel in concentric circles, never creating their own masterworks, but playing crucial, hidden roles in those of others.
The name Carole Eastman (aka Adrien Joyce) kept cropping up in my path. First as screenwriter for both Monte Hellman’s THE SHOOTING, and Bob Rafelson’s FIVE EASY PIECES, two powerhouse films, idiosyncratic archetypes of the time, and two huge milestones on my fan path.
Carole Eastman was a mystery to everyone around her, a nearly lone female presence in that old Raging Bulls stable, noted and quoted in every Jack Nicholson biography and tome on the “New Cinema,” but she is only present in relation to the subject.
Corman + Hellman + Nicholson
You can see her in a couple of bit parts on 1950s TV, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the Untouchables. I’ve read she was a model, appearing in Vogue and the like, but I’ve found only one photo from that phase, this Seventeen Magazine ad for perfume.
Typical of the gadabout, she seemed to just fall into things. In Jeff Corey’s infamous acting class (infamous because so many “Raging Bulls” met there, and Corey had been blacklisted), she met Jack Nicholson, and became a part of his circle of pupa-stage Easy Riders. Her first credit with this crew is writing words to the theme song of the Corman/Hellman Creature from the Haunted Sea. In an inexplicably long sequence in this otherwise short film (see at 30:45 here if you can’t sit through the whole thing), Betsy Jones-Moreland sings Eastman’s obtuse lyrics:
Oh, kiss me, baby,
Please kiss me fine;
I’ll make you forget what you got on your mind.
Oh, kiss my full lips –
They’re nice, you bet,
So kiss them, baby
They’ll make you forget the war.
Oh, kiss me, baby –
I can’t divine
If you ever wanted me
Or got caught between the devil
And the creature from the haunted sea.
Soon after, Jack Nicholson sells Hellman and Corman on Eastman to write the screenplay of THE SHOOTING, this austere and perfect screenplay, that unfolds its story almost wordlessly. People begin noting her intensity and intellect. On the commentary track of the Criterion release of The Shooting, Hellman says that she, “was aware of the Germanic influence in the early settlers, and the grammar reflects that . . . There’s a kind of poetry, very much, about her dialogue.”
Nicholson + Rafelson
Contrary to the most typical gadabout, she did produce one masterwork, FIVE EASY PIECES. But so quietly that she is rarely remembered behind the towering actor and director. I heard that she holed up in the Chateau Marmont to write the script, with Rudy Wurlizter a Chateau neighbor (put those pieces together). What a strange place for dark introverted people to hide in, right on top of the psychically loudest street on earth.
It was notable that it was a woman that told the story of semi-cad Robert Dupea, and wrote the badass dialog about chicken sandwiches word for word.
By coincidence or fashion, two projects Eastman worked on had to do with her old trade of modeling. She co-wrote the English translation of Jacques Demy’s MODEL SHOP, another European take on American hippies and Los Angeles. The film contains some very rad sets, a house on the beach when the oil derricks still pervaded Santa Monica and Venice, and the “Model Shop” of ill repute.
Model Shop trailer:
The other, PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD, may or not be more personal. One of Eastman’s last screenwriting credits, the film charts the mental disintegration of a high fashion model played by Faye Dunaway. It’s sad and pretentious, and whose fault that is we’ll never know. The director Jerry Schatzberg claims it’s the story of an old girlfriend, and the heavily male conveyance of female experience and mental states is laughable, but as he says, “it was always received well in France”
Puzzle of a Downfall Child:
Eastman is quoted as saying, “A male director has a very different set of eyes and experiences which lead to distortions in the translations.” She had trouble with Bob Rafelson, she had trouble with Mike Nichols, who directed THE FORTUNE from her script. Starring two of Carole’s supposed admirers, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, it was a terrible flop, and the blame ultimately fell on her shoulders. She was accused of having, “an extremely high opinion of her abilities,” regarding herself as a, “Virginia Woolf.”
Conjectures on her mental state and personal life are tossed off as there is no fully formed person embodying them, but surely they made her career impossible:
Monte Hellman: She didn’t like to be touched.
Peter Biskind: “Her sexual orientation was a matter of endless debate… men hit on her all the time, but she never seemed to have a lover, of either sex.”
Buck Henry: She was born to be an eccentric old lady.
Robert Towne: She was, “shaped like a gorgeous tulip on a long stalk.”
Being an eccentric tulip is no way to survive Hollywood, no matter what your brilliance. I wonder if she and Elaine May ever met.
Lisa Janssen is a contributing writer for PleaseKillMe.com
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