“That’s Vivien,” Derrick said softly, pointing at the small framed photo with his half-empty bottle of Dr. Pepper. “The world remembers her as a film actress, but the majority of her career was actually in theatre.”
Something in the actress’s face twisted a key, opened memories I’d closed years before. “My grandmother raved about her,” I murmured.
“Enchanted by beauty with one hand, and cursed by it with the other.” Derrick shook his head. A tiny leak burbled out of the earbuds draped around his neck, and I could hear Jon Anderson singing about mountains coming out of the sky and standing around. “Vivien believed her looks sometimes permitted others to think her frivolous. She denied being a film star, because stars live for publicity, adopt a fake life with false values. She considered herself an actress, because actresses are authentic. Actresses endure.”
I scanned the room again, noting the care with which he’d matted the prints, imagining the time it must’ve taken to track down exactly the right colored frames. I realized that each picture was positioned so perfectly that one could not conceive of placing them any other way. Katharine, Vivien, Joan, Carole—they were all here, the original Golden Girls of the silver screen, holding court next to Derrick Fehrenbacher’s closet.
“You look like you want to say something.” My cousin shifted in his computer chair, and it protested with an undignified groan.
A dozen questions yammered respectfully in the back of my mind. “Tell me about her,” I said, gesturing at the photo across from me.
“Ah, the Laughing Vamp.” A smile pulled the corners of Derrick’s mouth. “Howard Hughes signed Jean, you know. He was rebooting a silent film once adding sound to movies became possible, and the original actress had a Norwegian accent that he deemed improper for her character. Jean wowed them, of course.”