Twenty-five Women I Fell in Love With Before I Was Twenty-five

The internet has likely made it superfluous, but in the mid 80’s, having stuff on your bedroom wall was important. It was a way to exhibit yourself, to curate your tastes for the outside world. Even if the world mainly consisted of your sister and that kid who lived down the street. A lame wall could have dire social repercussions. A really killer spread of hipness could reveal you as someone who knew things, who might even be invited to pool parties or made out with behind that tree. This is who I am, because this is what I like. Well, I liked bands, sports, and movies. I had Bowie and Zeppelin posters. I had Blade Runner and The Thing. There was also mid-80s Darryl Dawkins, plus my hero Chuck Foreman, who steamed toward the lens like the runaway cement truck he was. But mainly, it was the ladies. A rotating cast, pictures torn from magazines, movie stills, posters bought from the headshop at the mall. Even from the earliest age I had very definite opinions–preferring Janet to Chrissy, Maryanne to Ginger, Kate Jackson to Farrah, Shatner’s wig to Heather Locklear’s. Early attraction is an interesting phenomenon. Is it random or genetic? Indicative of certain personality traits (flaws?) or some deep pheremonal draw that we haven’t even begun to understand? All I know is that during my pubescent years, I longed for certain women in a way that transcended desire, reality, emotional development, and possibly good taste. Sure, maybe these crushes were pathetic, but they were also signposts, ones I can trace back to very specific points in my life, like ordinals on a topographic map– “Charlene Tilton? Well, yes, I was eight and we still had that torn yellow carpet in the hallway and I’d just finished reading Dune for the second time, and my favorite songs were Cold Gin and Happiness is a Warm Gun.” It’s interesting to see pictures of these women now, many years later. I feel like I know each well, that we’ve been in touch all along, having made a pact to age gracefully together. Writing this article was the equivalent of a reunion in a random Marriott, a bunch of old friends with cocktails and shrimp tails, a final chance to swap stories and gossip, maybe even flirt a little. Hey, the way I see it, if you were ever on my wall, I’ve got your back for life. Jacquelyn Smith? I owe you one. Hedy Lamarr? Let me take care of that for you. Tina Turner? Just tell me what you need. Emmylou Harris? Hold on while I adjust the volume.

 

1. Sweet Polly Purebred – shown here with the equally lovely Simon Bar Sinister, Sweet Polly knew how to wear the hell out of a spacesuit. Although she was mostly seen tied to train tracks or hospitalized in various comas. It wasn’t until years later I realized it was Purebred, not Purebread. My tiny boy-self wanted a whole loaf of that.

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2. Billie Holiday – the voice that soothed my nerves as an infant, that would quiet my wails in a single measure, still my favorite singer of all time. I love Billie as much as you can love someone you’ve never met, all the more so being fully cognizant that she would have hated the very concept of me. No matter. If our non-existent god existed, it would almost certainly be female, and if in its further non-existence it somehow figured out how to sing, such a god would without question sing like Billie Holiday.

 

3. Barbara Eden – Even though I was way too young to understand what it was, part of the experience of watching I Dream of Jeannie was to suspect Jeannie had a side that wasn’t quite as chaste as the show led you to believe. I mean, what really went on down in that bottle she lived in? Back then my sexuality consisted mainly of wanting to lie among the silk tapestries while she stroked the hair from my forehead, and maybe afterward conjured up some French toast. But some part of me knew one day I’d be older, and then the French toast, like her dubious purity, wouldn’t be nearly enough.

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4. Jane Greer – I have been deeply in love with Jane Greer since I was eleven, the year my taste for noir truly developed. My father was both a VHS fanatic and a fan of old films, so I had an education in noir even before I knew what the word meant. Out of The Past is one of the least compromising and most cynical films of the genre, like taking a long bath in turpentine while sipping a fine bourbon. Jane is more than just fatale, she’s pure evil. It doesn’t really turn out well for anyone, in the past or the present, but in the meantime she stands there in her silk housecoat, smirking through another lie. Also, even the butchest among us would be hard-pressed not to fall a little in love with Robert Mitchum by the final reel, not only for the slant of his Fedora, but the way he never really succumbs to Jane’s wiles. It seems there really was a Greatest Generation, when men–real men–could resist Jane Greer.

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5. Bugs Bunny –  Hard to know how to process this information now, but as a child I often found Bugs to be quite sexy, and, in fact, his animated cross-dressing is probably 20% of the reason I’m in therapy right now.

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6. Angie Dickenson – Ah, Police Woman. “Hold it, creep!” might have been the first full sentence I ever uttered.

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7. Annabella – I wanted her to be my girlfriend so that we could hold hands next to my locker in torn leather jackets and give the finger to all the soccer kids. Who normally would’ve beat my ass, but would have run in terror from Annabella. It’s funny how you assume at that age everything is an original, when actually the Strangelove’s I Want Candy is a far superior version, but for me, living in a small town very late to cable and at the dawn of MTV, Bow Wow Wow’s video was a staple of the early rotations, and launched my very non-punk desire to shock the world. Not with my own music or attitude, of course, but with this young woman’s reflected badassery. Plus, you know, the veil.

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8. Gloria GrahameIn a Lonely Place is great for many reasons, the two most important being the presence of Gloria Grahame, as well as having the courage to maintain an utterly black heart to the very last frame. Miss Grahame often played the “second woman”, cast against someone with more delicate features, who wasn’t quite so wantonly dissipated. I really never had an interest in the other actresses, despite their superior refinement, preferring Grahame’s brute honesty and totally unwillingness to fake a single sneer. In fact, it’s her ruined performance in Odds Against Tomorrow that made me fall in love. Back when actresses were allowed to be older than twenty-four, and cinematography was about Vaseline lenses and louvered curtain-shadows, there were any number of women who could communicate the ugliness of all humanity in a glance, but for my money Ms. Grahame was far and away the best at letting you know exactly what you’d really signed up for, and with one look daring you to take it.

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9. Kira – Okay, first, that Rickenbacker. I own exactly the same bass, and there’s probably a reason, although that’s not why I bought it at the time. At least not consciously. In the background, there was always Kira. In the mosh pits and among the flying elbows, there was always Kira. Balancing the distortion and butchered vocals, there was always Kira, keeping time, making fools of Dez and Henry and Dukowski with her placid finesse in a sea of growling, mindless testosterone.

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10. Phoebe Cates – Yeah, I hate myself for being so obvious. I mean, what is there to say? Sure, it’d be better to pick someone more interesting/obscure, but if nothing else this list will be honest. Every guy who was a teen in the eighties harbors exactly the same dilemma. Just ask them. We all died a little inside when we first saw The Scene. It still kills us. Hum a few bars of the Cars’ Moving in Stereo and half the room will excuse themselves and go pull a Judge Reinholdt in the downstairs bathroom. Seriously, though? If you measure by the ability to precisely capture a time and place, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of the twenty greatest scripts ever written. It may be worth mentioning that one random afternoon two friends and I skipped school for a “Cates Fest.” Which, pathetically, meant we rented Paradise, Private School, and Gremlins, then smoked pot and watched all three back to back to back before my mom came home and made us snacks.

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11.  Puma – Oddly, there was a pretty thriving reggae scene in 80’s Connecticut. Somehow my friends and I got hooked into it and went to shows all the time, particularly the huge Woodbury Sunsplash which drew big headliner acts every year, like Aswad, Toots & the Maytals, Culture, Yellowman, and Black Uhuru. It was held on the slopes of a ski area. Here’s some footage from the ’87 show I was at, which looks a bit like Altamont. Later each summer, we’d hold our own Sunsplash in my back yard and crank this album all day long, among others. Did I want a Shine Eye Gal in little yellow mini to dance with? Did I want a girl with one name who knew everything I didn’t? Oh, yeah.

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12. Helen Mirren – The movie Excalibur sort of freaked me out. Mostly since my father took me to see it in the theater and I was twelve and it was violence-and-acid drenched with weird dream sequences and Cocteau-ish symbology and lots of dialog in Olde English. But it was also pretty great. Creepy and original. Oh, and also there was Morgan LaFey, played by Helen Mirren.  Man, was she evil. Maybe one of the best casting jobs ever. I’m still smitten. By the way, ignore young Liam Neeson here, who even then was obviously about to fly to Europe and kill 167 Bulgarians in order to rescue his daughter from a white slavery ring. Also very dong-wilty was Captain Picard showing up in every other scene. But Morgan? Sigh.

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13. Christie Brinkley – This is another one I can’t say I’m particularly proud of. I mean, she married Billy Joel fer chrissakes. She’s the Uptown Girl, the muse of one of the worst songs ever recorded. But, the truth is that I had this exact poster on my wall for at least a year. It must have been Christie driving that red Ferrari in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Really, there’s no other explanation. Oh, and my mother was horrified when I hung the poster. She told me to take it down immediately. I didn’t. And thus, another in a long list of tiny Rubicons was crossed.

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14. The Duchess – Bo Diddley changed my life. For some random reason, in Cape Cod of all places, I bought a cheap Best of Bo Diddley cassette in a gas station. I’m not sure why. I guess because he was holding a cool rectangular guitar on the cover and I dug his stance, rocking a rad red plaid blazer, but I was into LOUD back then, so it was way out of my usual realm, but something about the cassette just called to me from among the hot dogs and Gatorade and Waylon Jennings key-rings. And then I got home and played the tape. That shuffle rhythm! I’d never heard anything like it. Every one of his songs used the exact same percussive technique, over and over again, and it was intoxicating. I played that tape for my Van Halen and Rush-loving friends, and even they could not deny the power of Bo Diddley. Suddenly all these metalheads were into “Pretty Thing,” Diddley blasting out of the back of chopped Novas at keg parties. But it would be years before I found out about his backing guitarist, the Duchess. If I had known about Norma-Jean Wofford in those day, I might have expired on the spot. Literally, her existence could have killed me. The first time I saw a clip of those metronomic hips, not to mention the way she casually wristed out chords, all silken and Promethean in white heels, otherworldly, I was doomed. And man, she could play.

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15. Sean Young – I don’t understand why so many people hate the show Girls. I catch it now and again, and rarely enjoy it, but my lack of enjoyment seems beside the point. It’s not made for me. It’s a show that addresses an experience I couldn’t even begin to understand, let alone relate to. Sure, I spent plenty of time aimlessly post-graduate, sleeping on futons and meeting women in bars. But those years were pre-phone, pre-internet. It might as well have been the Mesozoic era. Who cares if I like Girls or not? There’s not a lot of production staff in LA worrying about what percentage of the 19 year old girl demo wants to borrow my Coleman Hawkins albums either. In any case, I feel the same way about Blade Runner. Which is basically my Girls. Blade Runner speaks to me, to my very specific time and place, to my grim apocaplyptic teen-hood. The need for cool art design and future tech and tough-guy stoic profundity. If young Dunham-loving women are like, “I hate this movie, all the characters are repellent and the dialog is ridiculous”, that’s okay. It’s not for them either. But you know what else is/was for me? Gorgeous, emotionless, terrifyingly androidal Sean Young.

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16. Madchen Amick – For a brief, shining moment, she swept into my life on the shoulders of James Spader and the underrated psycho-thriller, Dream Lover. And then she was gone, apparently never to be seen again. I can’t name a single other movie she was in. Of course, now she’s on a lot of TV, but there was a pretty wide gap of hungry Amick-less-ness in my life. In any case, for at least six months in 1993, I was deeply invested in all things Madchen. I kept trying to explain her to my friends, and they kept going “Mad-who?” and “Am-what?”,  like I was speaking Hungarian. Hey, if Hungarian is the language of pure love, maybe I was.

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17. Françoise Hardy – Sigh. What else do you need to know? The voice, the corduroy skirts, the turtlenecks. The breathless ballads. The everything.

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18.  Lizbeth Scott – Oh, she was severe. Clearly brooked no fools. And liked to read, so we had something in common. From Dead Reckoning to Too Late For Tears to I Walk Alone, Lizbeth was treated badly by her leading men. Bogart to Dan Duryea and pretty much everyone in-between. But she always bore it with a certain stoicism, the affairs and pistol whippings and being dumped for someone more tediously domestic. She led astray many men in those years, with the damning certainty of her eyes and gravel voice. Hey, if for whatever reason Lizbeth required a tallish fourteen-year-old who was way more mature than he seemed, I was coming along too.

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19. Jean Bowdling – the infamously flat-chested Bowdling was one of the lesser members of Andy Warhol’s factory clique, easily outshone by Candy Darling and Edie Sedgewick, but she continues to have a following among erotic photography collectors and enthusiasts of barely watchable avant-garde film. Bowdling was renown for her ability to seem tragically vacuous, and has been feted on hundreds of websites for the degree to which her vanity throbs like a neon beacon beneath veils of arty pretension. Little is known of what became of Bowdling, who is said to have developed a nasty Romilar addiction around the time Valerie Solanis shot Andy Warhol, a crime for which Bowdling is rumored to be somewhat complicit. Last seen on film in an Israeli remake of Chinatown called They’re Sisters, Moron. Below in a still from Warhol’s third film The Fan and the Blinds, which I saw at a screening in college, and by the end of the third reel was hopelessly in love.

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20. Bailey Quarters – I had zero interest in Loni Anderson. In fact, I could never understand how the whole crew down at the radio station on WKRP in Cincinnati weren’t falling all over Jan Smithers in every scene instead, but they never really seemed to notice her. Meanwhile, Loni, precursor to a generation of silicone and peroxide vacuousness, soaked up all the stares and drool. Hey, Jan with her cute business suits and oversized glasses and clear managerial acumen was just my cut of unrecognized superiority.

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21. Susanna Hoffs – as the tough young punk rabble-rouser I imagined myself, I was predetermined to hate the Bangles on sight. It would have been mortifying to admit that their songs were anything buy syrupy radio confections for pop dimwits and new wave losers. But secretly I dug them. Sure, Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian are pretty unbearable, but when I saw them do Hero Take a Fall on Letterman, I knew I’d found something. And that something was the lead singer, Susanna Hoffs. Oh my lord, did I wear that VHS out (I taped every single episode of Letterman from 1982-1986). Was it the haircut? The eye makeup? The way she looked shyly/nerdily around while delivering each line? The totally invested tambourine rattling? No clue, but it cut through my Corporate Rock Sucks nonsense like a knife through a cliché about butter.

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22. Samantha Eggar – the darling of a spate of hilariously awful 60’s British horror movies of just the stripe I loved to burn away a sunny weekend afternoon hunkered in the basement watching, I basically fell in love with her overbite. Not to mention the slightly upturned nose, the tendency to smirk at danger. Just before screaming. But it was the way she parried the loathsome Robert Culp in A Name for Evil that put her up on my wall. Or maybe how she outwitted the detestable Terrence Stamp in The Collector. Or possibly the elan with which she licked the baby in The Brood. Or how she stood there confusedly dubbed in Italian in The Etruscan Kills Again. Or the way she was so wild, so willing in The Wild and the Willing. Or maybe just standing there covered in blood in Welcome to Blood City. No matter which, I pined for the security I’d have, should we finally be together, if while making out we found ourselves trapped in an underground lair crammed full of various psychopaths and devil worshipers.

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23. Rebecca DeMornay – Another choice without much originality or creative thought, but, hey, if you were sixteen and saw Risky Business in the theater, you either immediately fell in love with her or Tom Cruise. My boss Keith sure talked about Tom strutting around in his Fruit O’ Looms often enough. It’s a truism that all white male hetero-whatevers of a certain age and economic strata have the secret desire/unacknowledged fantasy of rescuing a prostitute. There’s a reason, after all, that a genuinely cynical and ugly film like Pretty Woman is revered as a classic. Let alone a love story. Yes, we rescuers of strumpets and liberators of trollops demand only one thing in return for our noble efforts – a beauty unmarred by rampant drug use, STDs, and the general wear and tear of a life on the streets. Oddly, Julia Roberts didn’t seem bruised or strung-out in any way. Neither did Jane Fonda in Klute. Or Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Or Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn….well, maybe the analogy ends there. In any case, Rebecca DeMornay was pristine. And the way she loathed Tom to the bone, while so easily running circles around him? A very powerful lure. Deep down, all men really want is to be righteously hated by a woman who doesn’t even deign to put effort into her pretense of love. Hey, I knew I was being manipulated, sat there played like a demographic drum. But I still fell for it.

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24. Gal Costa – as a fledgling high school crate-digger, I was somehow lucky enough to come across this album at the back of an antique store, in the usual messy pile of neglected/abused vinyl and vintage purses. I remember that day well, because I also scored a Shuggie Otis, the first Grape Jam, John Barleycorn Must Die, and Al Kooper’s Super Session. And there’s no way I paid more than five dollars for them all. In any case, among the situations in my life in which I feel it is proper to be immodest, if not outright brag without compunction, my dumb white suburban self was smart enough not to leave Gal Costa in the bin. Those eyes! Frankly, I didn’t have high hopes for the music. In fact, I was sure it sucked. But there was something about the way she gazed off into the future. I definitely wanted to go there with her, to wear furry scarves together and drink caipirinhas all afternoon while lazing in hammocks woven of our own bohemian excellence. Then I got home and fired up the turntable, heard the voice, and was gone. It’s a fantastic album musically and conceptually, trippy and daring. But the way Gal eased through every measure like crossing a crowded restaurant, the only person with somewhere important to go, changed my life. This album sat propped next to my stereo for six months, right next to Black Flag’s Everything Went Dark, a period during which I was nearly convinced I was moving to Brazil. Or at least a punk squat in Hermosa Beach. “…my leetle grass hopper, her playne cannot fly verry high…”

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25. Linda Harrison – There’s probably a good reason she has exactly zero lines during the entirety of Planet of the Apes. But who, in the end, needs to talk when you can run terrified through the fields while an ape on horseback runs you down with a cudgel and a net, and still look utterly fantastic in a torn snakeskin mini? Ah, Nova, my sweet, silent Nova. I may have loved you most of all. Possibly because a dystopic ape-planet seemed like the most realistic scenario in which we might meet. Or maybe it was the way you’d need me to translate your thirst for muddy water, or hunger for a strip of raw snake jerky, to the rest of the captive homonids. Hey, what could Charlton Heston give you that I couldn’t? Nothing, that’s what. After Planet of the Apes I was never the same again.

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                                 ****TOTALLY FREE BONUS LOVE****

The fabulous Senta Berger, who I saw in that French movie I can’t remember the name of, and even at age 11 instinctively knew the rest of my life would be one long aching fraud.

 

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Sean Beaudoin

About Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of five novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His new short story collection, Welcome Thieves, is just out with Algonquin Books.
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