Edna and Sam, My Hero

Look at the image of her amidst the magnolia blooms during her Vassar years. She was gorgeous. After her graduation, a friend remembers seeing her, flame-fired red hair flying, as she ran down a street in Greenwich village, ‘…flushed and laughing like a nymph.’ Another remembered nostalgically her lips shaped like a valentine. She turned heads. It was the 20s and the world was opening up for women; to young women like her prepared to take it on with their words; young women prepared to take it up to the menfolk with their vivacity and sexuality, often in unconventional fashion. Her love life certainly became a talking point.

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Her talent was spotted early. A rich benefactor paid for her education and by 1923, at age 31, she was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Later came the Robert Frost medal for lifetime achievement. She was friends with all the literary giants of the era, refusing proposals from her male admirers until she met Eugen Boissevain, whom she married and cohabited with for 26 years, both taking lovers on the side. She managed to find time to regularly publish tomes of poetry and prose until her death in 1950 as a result of a fall down the stairs at her home. This was Stapleton. It went on to become a colony for artists and now it, together with its extensive gardens, is open to the general public.

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The great Thomas Hardy once wrote that America had two great attractions – the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay. In 1928 she wrote the haunting elegy ‘Dirge Without Music’.

It was cheap in JBs and I purchased it because he headlined. I’d never heard of this 2017 film although the blurb suggested it was his finest performance. I doubt that, but nonetheless ‘Hero’ is a worthy vehicle for the talents of one of America’s finest. He’s recently resurfaced in a role playing Jackson Main’s (Bradley Cooper) much older brother Bobby in ‘A Star is Born’. His Netflix release, ‘The Ranch’, is also popular.

In ‘Hero’ he plays faded star Lee Hayden, a Western icon with a golden set of tonsils. His best days are well behind him and in any case, he really only had one significant role for which he is remembered. He gets by these days on weed and whisky. His drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), is his best friend. At the dealer’s place he runs into Charlotte (Laura Prepon of ‘Orange is the New Black’ fame), a much younger woman – thirty-something to his 70, an age gap he’s not at all at ease with. She chides him not to dictate who’s she has to fall for, so the unlikely couple become lovers. This is compounded by a cancer diagnosis and a tribute speech that goes viral, bringing the limelight back again. Meanwhile he thinks he finally discovers why Charlotte is bedding him. Eventually he is forced to come to terms with some monumental changes in his life and at the pointy end of the film, Charlotte sits him down and reads to him Millay’s ‘Dirge Without Music’. It is a poignant and moving moment. Sam’s Elliott’s face, as this happens, is mesmerising.

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This actor is one of my movie heroes and Laura’s character is right in being so taken with his voice and moustache. The poem led me to Millay – another bright star who, unlike Lee, will never f-f-fade away.

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Millay’s poem ‘Dirge Without Music’ = https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52773/dirge-without-music

Trailer for ‘Hero’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjZ3af65fwk

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