May 2, 2014
Some years back, I went to "The House of Castle" to learn ballroom dancing, because at one time, I thought I could get work as a gigolo. I didn’t become a gigolo, but I did learn (sort of) the Castle Walk. Basically what I have to do is go forward while my partner goes backwards. This sounds easy, but I’m by nature a non-agressive person, so I have to ‘act’ in a sense to perform this dance properly. That, and always stepping on my dance teacher’s foot. Irene who was much older than me, has been a dancer throughout her life. I first discovered her in a photograph by Philippe Halsman, where she is in her dance studio, jumping up into the air. I was impressed by her beauty and grace, especially doing the jump for her portrait. It was at that moment that I decided to take her dance class.
Although she was much older, as I stated above, I found her to be perfect. When you learn ballroom dancing, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your teacher. Irene had consistently showed me kindness and patience - a lot of patience by the way. Regardless of the fact that she was driven by the beat of the music or the melody, I was mostly affected by the song’s lyrics. I have consistently been drawn to Lorenz Hart’s lyrics, due to their misery, yet playful stance with respect to the vocabulary. At the very best, I can only reach bitter-sweetness, which for me equals a version of happy. With her in my arms, I feel like I’m traveling three feet in the air over a desert landscape. In my head, it was a Halsman imagery!
Irene at this time was offered a live TV show that played in the middle of the afternoon. It was the first time dance show, and the entire series focused on her and her dance studio “The House of Castle.” She offered me a role in the series, as one of her dance partners. I was taken on board, because as far as I know all the other males in this series were handsome. But she told me that I have a sense of character, and being a character is actually more important than being handsome, with respect to dance.
So for five days a week, in front of a TV audience, and broadcast live over the CBS network, I danced with Irene. The name of the series was “The House of Castle, ” which was her actual dance studio, and every episode she showed the audience how to do ballroom dancing. It was quite successful, and for a while it seemed that I had a home there and in people’s heart, as I struggled to dance with Irene, in front of, perhaps a million viewers. Then the worse thing happened.
I had some sort of seizure on the show, where I found myself on the ground. There was at least ten seconds of me writhing on the floor, where the cameraman focused on the background dancers, who were always in the shot. As the camera panned towards the dancers, a couple of the stage crew, picked me up or dragged me off to the side. What happened was a complete mystery, but it did get me fired from the show. Some have called it a Pinky Lee curse of some sort, but for me, it was heartbreaking because I was so close to being a success, or at the very least, having a position in a life that was suitable for me.
Time-to-time, Irene made contact with me to see if I was OK, but whatever happened during that shoot, our relationship changed from day into night. As her show got more popular, she stayed further and further away from me. Years later I relocated to Paris, and got a job as a ‘double’ for the actor/singer Serge Reggiani. He hired me when he saw me drinking at a local bistro on the Saint Germain des Prés. He mentioned to me at the time that he liked how I smoked my cigarette. It was around this time when I read in the Hedda Hopper’s column about Irene’s death. It was a combination of whatever happened to… and an obituary, in the Hedda style. The dance studio still exists, but I heard it was purchased by a Russian millionaire, who opened a series of dance studios throughout Russia as well as in the States.
As I was hanging out at the set for “Le Doulos, ” waiting for Serge to finish his scene, I came to the conclusion that I am really a shadow for other people. Not only Serge of course, but also for Irene, who taught me so much, yet even that, I was a mere phantom to her appearance on television. It is through the cracks of life, where I find myself at home. As I went home, and walking down St Michel, I heard “You Don’t Own Me” from a jukebox. I thought to myself “yes. ”