“Whatever she could lay her hands on”

I’m fascinated by the idea of transformation: the idea that a person might be born one thing, and then through intention, will, perhaps practice, become something else.

If it happens at all, true transformation is exceedingly rare, although to appreciate how rare you need to look past appearances. Consider the picture painted by this review of a biography of Ava Gardner (“A Wicked, Wicked Life,” by Lee Server), online at the Literary Review. Reviewer Frank McLynn writes that Gardner

exemplified the classic rags-to-riches fable. The seventh child of a North Carolina sharecropping tobacco farmer, she was what the unkind describe as poor white trailer trash, with accent and ambitions to match. The height of her aspirations was to be a secretary in New York, but she was ‘discovered’ from a chance snapshot in a photographer’s window and whisked away to Hollywood for the big star build-up, purely on the basis of her looks.

Her physical circumstances were radically altered. Yet if you read on in the article, you learn that Gardner lived the sort of chaotic, alcohol-sodden life that you can glimpse by flicking on an episode of Cops. The changes to her life were purely superficial.

A contemporary with a somewhat similar experience is Archie Leach — aka Cary Grant. Like Gardner, Grant was born into near-poverty, went to Hollywood, and assumed a life of wealth and glamour. As part of his apparent transformation, Grant changed his name as well as his accent. But was he really transformed? I don’t know. But he seems to have had doubts himself; he’s quoted as saying, “I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each.”

McLynn concludes his piece on Gardner thus:

As she herself often admitted, she was at root a simple country girl, with a country girl’s values and attitudes, pitchforked into a world of unreality simply because of her beauty. She grabbed whatever she could lay her hands on, and after all who could blame her?

I can’t blame anyone for grabbing what is handed them. But I also can’t give up the idea that there should be more — that as self-aware beings we should be doing more than reacting to what happens to us.

Assuming, of course, that the alternative is even possible.

[tags] transformation [/tags]

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One Response to “Whatever she could lay her hands on”

  1. Deb says:

    I think of Cary Grant as someone who was an admirable, thoughtful, caring person, but maybe he always was, even when he was poor.

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