|In this excerpt, Sara Davidson recalls a dinner party held in the '70s at Joan Didion's beachfront home, and an awkward interaction between the acclaimed novelist and a Hollywood star.|
I came out early to help Joan get ready. I'd moved to Venice, California, and often spent the night on the convertible sofa in Joan's writing room. When I arrived the day of the party, she'd already cooked enough food for sixty people: Mexican chicken, her signature dish, which was chicken shredded and simmered with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices and served with handmade tortillas and elegant bowls of sour cream, avocado, salsa, and cilantro.
We arranged her orchids and oil lamps about the rooms. When everything looked as she wished, Joan, John and I went to get dressed and then gathered in her study. Wearing a rose-print batiste dress (one of a matching pair she'd bought for Quintana and herself in the children's department at Bonwit's), Joan lit a Pall Mall. "We're ready for the party," she said, adding that she was always nervous before dinner was served. Hired help arrived to tend bar and set up the buffet, and I remember Joan and I discussing what we might wear under the filmy see-through clothes that were becoming popular in L.A.
An hour later, the great room and deck were overflowing with actors, writers, directors and producers, including Warren Beatty, who was in the middle of directing Shampoo, George Segal, Michael Crichton, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who'd teamed up to make Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, and Michael and Julia Phillips, who'd won Oscars for producing The Sting. Julia was the first woman to win the statue for producing and would later get divorced, dive into cocaine and write You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again.
Warren Beatty was working the room, telling people he wanted to do some "gynecological detective work. I'm a combination gynecologist and detective." He took me aside and said he had a crush on Joan. "I want to see her fly."
I told him I'd arrived early and given Joan a massage. He looked puzzled. "A verbal massage? Is that what you mean?"
"A back massage."
His eyes quickened at the suggestion of touching her tiny, delicate back. He walked to where she was seated, pulled up a rattan Huey Newton chair facing her, opened his knees and pressed her knees between his. "This is it for me," he said. "This is all I want, right here. I'm happy."
Sitting down next to Joan, I asked, "For how long?"
Warren looked at his watch. "I don't have to be on the set until ten Monday morning." He looked straight in Joan's eyes and, with a smile that could melt an ice queen, pressed his knees tighter around hers.
She fidgeted. "This is not . . . "
She moved her hand in circles in the air. Her husband was not around to complete her sentence so she said, with a shy smile, ". . . feasible."
The theme of JOAN is her passage from a young woman who “believes absolutely”
in the Western code of self reliance, who believes she can “bury the baby” and move on,
to an icon in her 70’s who’s forging a new code based on surrender…to what is.
JOAN contains material never published before:
- Her recipe for a novel that "takes."
- How to enter the "writing space" each day.
- How losing a child is different from losing a husband.
- Joan's evolution from a Barry Goldwater girl to a supporter of Jerry Brown.
- How she came to Zen Buddhism.
- Her response to the question: Can she ever really bury the baby?
“Charming and insightful…whether or not you're a fan of Joan Didion the writer, this memoir will have you marveling at the extraordinariness of Joan Didion, the person.” -- Erin Kodicek