Read an Excerpt: 'Cloris'

Frau Blucher got inside me, and in the months after the picture was finished, she would appear when she hadn't been sent for. She'd take over my face, my posture, and I would have to move over for her. At dinner with George one night, I felt her rise in me.

"Honey, hold on," I said.

"What's up?" George senses when a visitation might be coming.

"Zis will have to stop!" My face was now Frau Blucher's face.

"What has to stop, babe?"

"Ich bin no Babe. Ich bin Frau Blucher." I fixed him with the Frau Blucher look.

"Right, babe, er, Frau."

"Zis eating of food must end."

"Right. Foul idea. We'll quit."

"Jawohl," I murmured.

I slid back into Cloris, and we continued our dinner.

"I thought we might need an exorcism," George murmured.

Another time I played the mother superior of a Catholic order in a television film called Dixie: Changing Habits. Suzanne Pleshette was Dixie, a whorehouse madam who, having been convicted three times, was sent to our convent instead of being imprisoned. There I was to show her a better way of life. In one scene we were shooting, I was supposed to reveal to her the beauty in the prayer of St. Francis. When the director said, "Action," I spoke my lines.

"The prayer, Dixie, begins, 'Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith ...."

The director called, "Cut!"

He and Suzanne were staring at me. It wasn't me talking; the voice of one-hundred-year-old Grandma Moses was saying the lines. I'd played her in a one-woman show the year before, and it was her voice reciting the prayer. The eyes of Suzanne and the director had been stapled to me as I'd cackled out the sacred words.

"Where'd that voice come from, Cloris?" the director asked, the eeriness of the experience showing on his face.

"I have no idea," I said. I was as startled as they were.

Suzanne began to laugh and pointed knowingly at me. She had experienced that phenomenon. Finally, all three of us were in stitches at the way that antique larynx had taken over and wheezed out, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace." That is the kind of schizophrenia that can go on inside you when you've played several very different women in a row.

At another point in the story, I was showing Dixie what we convent members did on our farm. I'd given her a few religious things to think about, and now I wanted her to see the benefit of growing things. I was driving a tractor, and she was standing on the flatbed trailer behind it, still dressed in her madam's fancy clothes. As we talked and I showed her where we grew the corn and the cabbages, I turned off the dirt road and into a field that had recently been plowed.

I knew very little about driving a tractor, and Suzanne knew even less about how to hang on in a flatbed trailer being dragged along behind a tractor. I didn't slow down as I made the turn, so when I hit the first row of hard dirt, Suzanne was tossed on her derriere. I didn't realize it, and I kept on driving and playing the scene, until the assistant director raced up and waved me to a stop. Suzanne tried to laugh, but she was in real pain and had to be carried to the nurse's vehicle. It turned out she was so badly bruised, she couldn't work the next day. Losing a day's shooting on a TV film is a very big deal.

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